A fundamental of a successful brand is building trust. You build trust when other individuals who experience your service, product and brand offering trust that you will deliver on what you offer to do thereby achieving what I term ‘Brand Fusion™’. In turn this builds loyalty, that much sought-after, but rarely achieved status. But, it can be won. It just takes effort and making sure you do in fact deliver on what you offer.
It seems so obvious doesn’t it? Why would firms not do this? However, it is surprising how few organisations and professional service firms deliver; those that do, you will notice, achieve lasting success based on sound fundamentals with a trusted brand at the top of the list.
Always deliver what you offer. So, if you say ‘contact us’, make sure your website and links actually make it easy and intuitive to do just that, ‘contact you’, and make sure it is a person at the other end! If it does not, don’t offer it, as you will simply annoy actual and potential customers and lose their trust, respect and this will hammer their loyalty.
Let’s consider one very simple and obvious example where countless organisations slip up. Ever had an issue with a product or service and tried to communicate this with the company or organisation concerned? Ever tried to get hold of a real human via their ‘contact us’ link? I bet you have! I have, often, and sadly I must say most companies come up wanting, particularly the bigger, most ‘successful’ ones. The reason is simple: ‘contact us’ in plain English means you can get in touch with a person in our organisation in this way. The reality of experience proves all too often this is not the case.
While I have the feeling that most law firms don’t perform badly on this example (mainly because you can in fact get hold of a human being when you have an issue and more often than not even the head of the firm). For the sake of the profession, long may this continue. But you need to remain keenly aware of getting even these simple things right and all the other stuff that you ‘promise’ to potential clients and recruits. You then need to test everything else that you ‘offer’ and make sure this is experienced at every touch-point by everyone who comes into contact with your organisation. The truly great organisations do this, even the big ones. That is why their brands engender trust and loyalty. Remember, people who trust a brand ‘buy now and ask questions later’.
I have recently experienced two encouraging exceptions to this: Continue Reading
Law firms seldom pay much attention to their capital structures. This has certainly been the case traditionally. Management of this important area was and still is often delegated to ‘the partner who seems to have the best handle on the financial stuff‘, sometimes the banking partner as he or she works with financial institutions! Given recent experiences via Dewey & le Boeuf and Goldman Sachs this seems like a risky option. Instead, very careful strategic financial advice and planning is required. Far more attention should be given to the strength of firm balance sheets than they received in the past. I asked Cameron Taylor to join Legal Leaders Blog as a guest on this important subject.
Cameron has for the past decade annually analysed, reported on and presented the financial and performance results from Australia’s leading Legal Benchmarking Survey, FMRC, at their large firm meeting. He has 15 years experience in law firm management at a senior level and as a consultant working with international and domestic law firms in Australia on financial strategic issues.
After the Goldman Sachs meltdown, the CEO, speaking to the U.S. Treasury Secretary: “I’ve never rooted so hard for a competitor (Morgan Stanley). If they go, we’re next!”
His first comment to me on this was: ‘predicting rain doesn’t count – building a financial ark does!’ He continued:
A 2007 study described Goldman Sachs as one of the truly great professional partnerships, “a global juggernaut with such strengths that it operates with almost no external constraints in virtually any financial market it chooses, on the terms it chooses, on the scale it chooses, when it chooses, and with the partners it chooses”.1
A year later its financial position was so dire its CEO speaking to the U.S. Treasury Secretary said “I’ve never rooted so hard for a competitor (Morgan Stanley), if they go, we’re next!” 2
Two decades of rising profits and few disasters have resulted in law firm balance sheets being a dull subject which is given limited attention by management and boards. This benign neglect of fundamental financial structures, when they are capable of generating infrequent but severe adverse consequences, is dangerous.
CAPITAL STRUCTURE MATTERS FOR LAW FIRMS
It doesn’t matter whether your firm is big or small, your capital structure matters. Undoubtedly, it is a subject of strategic import and it deserves serious attention on a regular and technically thorough basis. Make sure you get good advice and understand it.
Alternative growth structures such as Swiss Vereins, global alliances, non-merger affiliations, expansion strategies and a great deal more is covered in the latest edition of the Edge International Review. It provides essential insights for legal leaders – in fact, just what legal leaders need to know about!
The latest edition of the Edge International Review 2012 – essential reading for all legal leaders and senior managers
The review is downloadable from www.edge.ai. Download your free copy now! Alternatively click on the article links below to go directly to something that takes your fancy.
Interesting items you will find in this edition include:
And there is also a special section on the popular Swiss Verein structure:
- Enter the Swiss Verein (21st century global platform or just the latest fad?) By Nick Jarrett car and Ed Wesemann
- Harvesting the diamonds (cross selling in a multinational law firm) by Gerry Riskin
- Come together (creating a collaborative business development culture despite separate profit pools) by Michael J White
- Lead the way (leadership, guiding principles and brand strategy and a Swiss Verein) by Sean larkan
I take this opportunity of wishing all readers a wonderful festive, Christmas and holiday season and 2013, and thank you for your support, comments and sharing your insights and learnings during this first year of legal leaders blog. It has been a fun journey – I have learned much along the way and made many new friends and professional colleagues. I look forward very much to sharing thoughts and experiences next year!
Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International
Lyda Hawes is the Director of Client Services at LexBlog, the company that developed this blog. From time to time she and I have discussed the topic of management and leadership and I asked her to share her thoughts in this guest post. She also writes for LexBlog’s Client Services blog, Please Advise. Apart from this, as all who deal with her will confirm, she is one of those special people you get to deal with in the business world from time to time – Sean
Leadership vs Management? In this guest post Lyda Hawes reviews this age-old distinction. I always encourage managers to develop their leadership skills and leaders to exercise good management skills as and when that is required as part of their role – Sean
Comparing the difference between leaders and managers is a popular topic in the leadership blogosphere. In fact, if you do a Google search on “leader vs manager” you get over 30 million results. While I expect there are examples that extoll the virtues of managers buried somewhere in those 30 million sites (well, at least I am aware of one, the one I wrote almost a year ago, Managers are People Too), the general consensus is that leaders are where all the cool stuff like vision and strategy take place, and managers are often left to the less fun task of managing tasks. In the 1989 book, “On Becoming a Leader,” author Warren Bennis gave us these comparisons (cited from The Wall Street Journal):
- The manager administers; the leader innovates.
- The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
- The manager maintains; the leader develops.
- The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
- The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
- The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
- The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
- The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
- The manager imitates; the leader originates.
- The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
- The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
- The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing. Continue Reading
Again and again I come across senior law firm executives who are frantically busy with or concerned about their latest ‘big thing’ but who on enquiry struggle to relate this to the firm’s vision and strategy. Sometimes the latest item getting all the attention has arisen as a few other key competitor firms are doing something similar and are getting some publicity. Or it may have cropped up in a recent firm board discussion or perhaps it is simply an idea that the managing partner or CEO feel strongly about and want to implement – and to hang with the written document!
It is interesting how often strategic initiatives which are undertaken in the months and years after hard fought and agreed written vision is settled, go off in various often unrelated directions. Sometimes strategic initiatives or major issues taking up senior leadership’s time and energy fall into this category. This is sometimes the rule rather than the exception. It is almost as if the written vision and strategy does not exist or matter. (Sean Larkan 2012)
This is so often the problem with vision and strategy in a firm. A huge amount of work gets invested in getting it done and signed off, but invariably it then gets relegated to the ‘dusty shelf’ category seldom again to see the light of day and certainly not to be the driving framework for all key activities and initiatives in future. What a pity. How unnecessary – an opportunity lost.
Why does this happen? Probably due to one or more of the following . . . .
- the strategy simply gets forgotten;
- its too much hassle to pull it out, read it again and make sure what is being done aligns with it;
- what is being worked on is ‘so obviously important and urgent’, that it ‘must be done’ notwithstanding what might be in the strategy;
- the latest version of the strategy wasn’t really finally signed off and agreed with the partners as that last meeting was postponed. . . . .
- where is the latest strategy document anyway?
What steps should be taken to get maximum benefit out of both initiatives?
- get out the written strategy, dust it off and read it!
- make sure what is being done ties in with it. If it does not, suggest this as a stress-test of the strategy and update it;
- if it was not done before, use the opportunity to summarise the strategy into a page or two so it will never again be an excuse not to pull it out and test some initiative against it;
- announce the new initiative as being an outflow of the revised strategy – this gives the strategy standing in the firm and will make it more relevant when it is (hopefully) reviewed in a year’s time;
Take these simple steps and suddenly your strategy stops being the forgotten, unpopular, under-used management tool but rather, an incredibly important living framework guiding all important strategic initiatives of the firm in achieving its vision.
Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International
While ethics is – or should be – important in all businesses, it is especially relevant for businesses that are trust-based, such as legal practices. Cynthia Schoeman of Ethics Monitor joins us as a guest today to provide her expert views on this important subject.
Leadership commitment to ethics is a primary factor in establishing an ethical culture in a trust-based organisation like a law firm. Leader behaviours effectively demonstrate to employees, colleagues and clients what will or won’t be tolerated. (Sean Larkan 2012).
The services and advice offered by the legal profession require a high level of client trust both as regards expertise and integrity. This exceeds the level of trust required in many other businesses, for example, in the retail industry where a customer’s interaction may only entail a transactional purchase.
A high level of trust is very advantageous for the success of a legal practice. Among other benefits, it deepens and strengthens relationships and fosters client loyalty. Given this correlation (between trust and success) it should follow that building and maintaining trust is imperative.
There are many ways in which a practice can generate client trust. It builds trust when the practitioner assigned to the matter has the necessary knowledge and experience, and when he/she acts with integrity, in accordance with the law, and in the best interest of the client. Continue Reading
Salaried partners as a proportion of total partners in law firms are on the increase. However, there are good, bad and not such good things about many implementations of the salaried partnership regime in firms. It makes real sense to ensure that your salaried partner structure is working in the best way possible. This means putting it together well and managing it well with constant reviews and stress-testing along the way.
This increased use of salaried partners was one of the clear findings of the 2012 Edge International compensation system survey of leading firms in the US, Canada, UK, Europe and Australia. This is a world-wide trend and is a reversal of the position of only a few years back when it seemed the appointment of salaried partners was on the decline.
Putting together an optimal salaried or fixed share partnership regime can be one of the wisest moves that law firm leadership ever undertakes – it can result in countless benefits – providing for succession and the long term health of the firm, a happy and hugely productive group of salaried partners and properly managed, very profitable and satisfactory for the equity partner group. (Sean Larkan 2012)
I wrote an article on this subject in the ALMJ (Australian Law Management Journal) which is available for download as a PDF. A precis of some of the key points follows:
I am a strong believer in appointing salaried partners and believe that properly structured and managed this structure and system has the potential for many benefits for all concerned. To name a few:
- it is a good way to show appreciation and recognition;
- it is a good testing ground before equity partnership;
- it is a confidence builder;
- salaried partners have the opportunity to find their feet and understand the partner culture;
- it provides status;
- it can be an ideal alternative to equity partnership for some;
- it is ideal for some who may never meet the criteria for equity;
- it can help out with tough decisions where realistically it may be “impossible” to appoint equity partners;
- it can provide a realistic buffer to poaching firms; and
- sometimes it is a counter to lawyers leaving for greener pastures.
Having said this, I have consulted to a number of firms where we came to the view that the salaried partner system within the firms had either not been implemented properly or was not being managed satisfactorily. The result was that the salaried partner group was so disenchanted and it had, quite unintentionally for all concerned, become the enemy within the camp.
This situation can arise when:
- salaried partnership is used simply as a blockage to equity;
- salaried partnership is used to “park” under-performing partners;
- they are not treated with respect or provided with opportunities in regard to communication, consultation, listening, sharing of information, access to clients and so on;
- salaried partners are partners in name only or as glorified employees (it is not unusual to hear equity partners call them just this);
- they come to be viewed as nothing but a “necessary evil” (believe it or not this does happen!);
- salaried partners have not had conveyed to them the true nature of the regime in the firm;
Some outcomes of this are:
Law firms don’t recognise that the balance of power in relation to their employment brand lies not in their hands, but in the hands of their employees. To make matters worse, some of this power also lies in the hands of former employees, potential employees and other “employment stakeholders” such as recruitment agencies and digital media channels dedicated to commenting on the foibles of law firms.
Law firms don’t appreciate that the balance of power in relation to their employment brand lies with their employees, and even their former and potential employees, as well as with other parties like recruitment agencies . These other parties determine the brand. Firms assume it is what they offer that matters, but that is but one small component in the mix. (© Sean Larkan 2012)
This is because a firm’s employment brand is based on how the firm is perceived and experienced as an employer by existing employees, past employees and potential employees, as well as by other parties such as recruitment agencies and the media. Its employment brand is not what the firm thinks it is, but what these ‘others’ think it is.
This is a harsh lesson for most firms to stomach. It can be mystifying. Firms assume their employment brand is based on what they say in their recruitment materials, on their website, what they do, what they decide to offer employees as part of their employment package, and so on.
Instead, the power lies in the hands of others, the firm’s employees, past employees, potential employees, and others in the recruitment and media industries. What employers offer to their employees is merely part of what we call their employment brand offering. Firms still have a great deal of work to do to build their employment brand. For a start:
- you must clarify your employment brand offering – identify, clarify and agree all the things you do offer to existing and potential employees and what makes working for the firm special and sets it apart. Bear in mind that standard features and benefits don’t make much of a difference; they don’t differentiate a firm as all firms offer them anyway – if they don’t now they can easily and quickly replicate them;
- you must achieve Brand Fusion™ which is essentially ensuring that what you offer is actually experienced or has been experienced in the case of past employees. This is no mean feat given that you are largely dependent on the exigencies of individualistic, independent-minded partners to act as your front-line troops in making this happen; Continue Reading
Like finding the toilet roll empty, or getting a puncture, some things never come at a good time. But, of course, these things do happen so most of us have learned to respond with equanimity and of course maybe even do a little forward planning!
The same applies to losing a really top calibre lawyer or support staff member (especially to the dreaded opposition); just when you thought he or she was well settled and was going to be part of your landscape forever (‘even though I hadn’t told her, I thought she had ‘future partner’ written all over her’). It is always unwelcome, sometimes seems a bit unfair (‘we always treated her so well and she seemed so happy’) and the timing is always bad (‘I have just introduced him to the the new oil and gas matter and client loved him‘).
When something unwelcome happens, like losing high calibre staff, the challenge is always to retain some equanimity and try to understand it for what it truly is, and not for what it is not. This doesn’t mean not acting, or simply doing a few operational things as a knee-jerk reaction on the surface of things. It requires in-depth strategic analysis, careful review and thoughtful implementation with a view to re-building trust in your employment brand. (Sean Larkan 2012)
Especially for firms that put a lot of time and effort into their people, events like this can cut to the bone. It can be very demoralising and quickly impact confidence. Sometimes it seems incomprehensible as you feel you are doing things right.
Real concerns should arise when it starts happening with some regularity and becomes a pattern. It is not just an isolated incident based on exceptional circumstances. Word about things like this – key staff losses – can spread like wild-fire, and this can have a severe impact on a firm’s employment brand and on engagement levels. Social media, Linked In facilities for recruiters, plus recruitment agency networks ensure the market knows about these patterns long before most firms even realise its happening. This is when leaders and managers need to take remedial action and get to the bottom of it.
As much as these events require a decisive response from leadership, the danger is that it can often cause knee-jerk reactions and the implementation of solutions which may seem okay on the surface, and may even appease (including one’s conscience), but in reality don’t do much to change anything substantive for the long term.
In the work I have done with firms around people strategy and we consider these strategic issues, two things come up as common threads:
- when times are good – staff recruitment is going well, staff calibre is good and turnover is down – firms assume it is because they are doing a heckuva lot of things right (and have earned this status because of all the good things they are doing around people). Interestingly, dig deeper and you may find this is not in fact the case. They may have hit a lucky streak (it happens) or be regarded as the ‘flavour of the quarter‘ in the recruitment channels (it happens). Further investigation can reveal that many of the people fundamentals have not in fact been properly addressed;
- when times turn bad (sometimes, unaccountably, not long after they were good), firms are invariably surprised and anxiously cast around for causes. They tend to hone in on what appear to be the obvious reasons (e.g. a few partners with poor records of managing staff, benefits needing tweaking etc), try to address these and too quickly conclude ‘job done‘. Unfortunately, superficial, knee-jerk responses usually achieve very little, even though they may keep a board and some partners happy for awhile. Chances are that down the line the same problems will still exist, the reason being that they are founded in culture and well established cultural norms which and run deep to the heart and soul of what the firm is or isn’t about. They therefore need much more thorough, thoughtful treatment.
When this sort of pattern arises around losing key staff it is a sure signal that firms need to take very careful and serious stock of what they are or are not doing in relation to their people. It’s a big job, it is complex and touches on so much of what a firm is or is not; it should quickly becomes priority numero uno.
I would start by asking some or all of the following questions:
- are our partners and managers more focused on meeting their own targets and performance criteria than they are on delegating good quality work and providing good access to clients, good feedback and other support staff crave and need to grow;
- what is the state of our employment brand? Do we have a brand strategy? Do we understand brand and what constitutes our employment brand? Do we achieve Brand Fusion™ i.e. ensuring what we promise and say we do in regard to people, we actually do and deliver? Continue Reading
I know that a managing partner is appointed to lead and run a law firm and should do just that – get on with the job. However, there are many things that a firm must in turn do, ideally up-front, to assist their newly appointed managing partner and to give him or her a fair shot at making a go of a very challenging and sometimes trying role. Leaders, particularly new ones, are real people and need real help and support. Wise firms put this in place.
A new managing partner and no doubt his or her partners will be raring for him or her to take up the role and ‘make a difference’. It is worth spending some time however thinking about how to make it easier for him or her and to provide proper support – upfront.
The problem is that due to the strange animal that is the law firm partnership or equivalent, most firms don’t really get involved to implement just a few basic steps that can serve to make or break a managing partner, or at least increase the chances of success and his or her maintaining some semblance of normal life. The right steps taken up-front, and a few carefully thought-through foundation-stones laid, can make his or her life so much easier and get a much better outcome for all concerned.
Partnerships have this strange view that because they have chosen someone from their ranks who they believe has the credentials to lead (and usually does) that this is the end of the matter – the new incumbent can and will sort out any teething snags or issues arising in relation to the role and will simply work out work and time pressures and so on. The problem is that most new incumbents believe this as well. They don’t want to undermine the partners’ confidence in them or give any indication that they are struggling and need help.
It is not a good combination and can quite unnecessarily lead to a bad outcome, and be tough on the managing partner. It is fair to say that the root causes of many managing partner roles not panning out can be traced back to what is or is not done in these early stages.
What are some of the challenges faced when a new managing partner is appointed?
- a fear by the managing partner he or she will, over time, lose a highly successful practice;
- a fear (by the incumbent and the firm) that the managing partner may never re-build a practice after the role and may be left high and dry. This can cause all manner of defensive behaviours which can work counter to making a success of a leadership role; Continue Reading