My colleague Jordan Furlong and I penned an article in August 2014 on NewLaw  for the ALPMA website. In that we defined NewLaw as “any strategy, structure, model, process or way of delivering legal services that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed”.

We featured some firms as examples of NewLaw, including some from Australasia. At the time it was quite easy to identify firms ‘doing something different’. In the short time since then, this type of ‘new’ simply does not seem so unique and special any more, and a number of firms are doing something in this space.

We didn’t mention Nexus Law Group then, mainly as we didn’t know of them or what they were in the process of doing. That has changed: Nexus Law seems to be getting a lot of attention and recognition and it appears, for good reason. Continue Reading New angle on NewLaw

There are many interesting and innovative structural and strategic options for law firms nowadays which can be attractive to clients. It is wise for these to be considered in planning for your future.

The way legal services are delivered to clients and how firms are structured to do so, should undergo a significant transformation. This must also be factored into planning for the future.

So-called ‘NewLaw’ firms have been quick to capitalise on the opportunities this has presented, with an array of innovative structures and service delivery models all of their own. In this way they are determining their firms’ destinies, rather than having this dictated to them by market forces.

You can learn about these transformative practices as well at a Masterclass Workshop to be presented by my Edge International colleague, Jordan Furlong.

Jordan (at Edge we call him our ‘futurist guru’!) is a leading legal industry analyst, commentator and consultant, and will provides practical advice for traditional law firms looking to import and integrate relevant ”NewLaw” features into their businesses, in order to position themselves for their chosen future.  Jordan will be supported at the workshop by new Edge International Australia principal, Dr Neil Oakes.

Continue Reading Determine your law firm’s destiny

NewLaw, particularly in Australasia, has quietly begun to call some shots, pushing old ways (and larger firms) aside, winning some important chunks of work and clients, and recruiting top people in the process. (Sean Larkan – Edge International)

I recently posted on nimbler firms chipping away at others’ brands. Well, it seems they have been at it again – baking some more of BigLaw’s cake and eating a few more slices along the way.

Following this theme, an Edge colleague (Jordan Furlong) and I recently published a short Inventory of NewLaw in Australia focusing on what some smaller and mid-tier firms have been up to. The definition we used for NewLaw was:

“Any strategy, structure, model, process or way of delivering legal services that represents a significantly different approach to the creation or provision of legal services than what the legal profession traditionally has employed”

This definition allowed us to encompass not just law firms, but also new legal talent combinations, legal service managers and legal technology that both changes how lawyers practice and places the power of legal service provision in clients’ hands. We decided not to include American legal documets and consumer law portals, innovative legal companies and technologies whose primary focus is the marketing or management of law practices or e–discovery providers or accountants

I have long been an admirer of the mid-tier in Australasia – about a decade ago people were about to write them off but they have bounced back and then some. This has translated for them too – many are earning the same and more than the top ten, and doing some really exciting and innovative things into the bargain which is going to set them up against all comers for the future.

Continue Reading Well dang! Those nimble NewLaw firms are at it again!

Pollinate Energy a small social enterprise start-up and brainchild of a group of young Gen-Y Aussies has found a way to get inexpensive light into tens of thousands of Indian homes. Visit www.pollinateenergy.org.

Remembering back to when I helped run large law firms I recall how impressed we often were with the energy, enthusiasm and good ideas that came out of our young people, especially when it related to helping others. We’d heard all the stories and media reports of the so-called ‘me’ or ‘my’ generations but in practice found the opposite was generally true.

On this theme, some months back I posted an article about the things we learn from young people (involving my son and his best mate, and the funds they had raised cycling and mountain biking for a charity) – well, it turns out the story had an even happier ending, as they went on to do a third ride and managed to reach their target of $100 000 for Youth Focus, a charitable enterprise in West Australia which supports young people at risk of suicide.

Continue Reading Gen-Y comes through, again. . . and makes light of darkness

Each year I carefully review Interbrand’s excellent report on the top 100 global brands. No professional service firm brands feature there so you may well ask, what relevance do these largely commercial or corporate brands have for law firms? The reason I do is that Interbrand provides useful summary reports as to why these brands consistently outperform other brands and grow in value and we can learn from them.

Message from the top global brands – simply carrying on as we always have and hoping it will suffice, won’t work – nimbler brands will bake our cake and eat it – Sean Larkan, Edge International

First though, a few quick pointers in regard to brand (which are expanded upon in my book (no plug intended!)):

  • our brands are what other individuals think, not what we think (based on principles developed by Marty Neumeier in the Brand Gap);
  • we need to ensure that what we say we offer, we actually deliver (brand fusion™);
  • there are at least three types of brand we should be aware of – organisational brand, individual brands and our employment brands – each have their peculiarities and potentially, great value;
  • building a high value brand takes a whole bunch of highly talented people working together as a team i.e. your whole firm, legal and support.

Here are the points from the Interbrand report which I thought would be of interest to law firms:

  1. through the influence of social media brands are increasingly shaped by clients and others, and less by organisations themselves;
  2. design is no longer low priority – it is now the key to a brand’s appeal;
  3. corporate citizenship is no longer a nice to have or ‘add on’ but a palpable ethic that must weave right through an organisation and radiate outward – some law firms are doing a great job of this;
  4. a message we have heard before, but a reminder that the marketing rules have changed – the consumer’s voice now carries much more weight;
  5. simply carrying on as we always have and hoping it will suffice, won’t work – nimbler brands will bake our cake and eat it;
  6. something else we have heard often enough before but don’t really seem to heed – the new world involves engaging actively with our clients;
  7. as Apple (presently the top global brand – a cool $100b) has taught us,
    • brands can change lives, not just with products, but through an organisation’s ethos; 
    • brands can enable us to do more, more easily, and for us to truly experience and believe this;
    • customers value a company with a reputation for revolutionising how we work and communicate;
    • it as an organisation thinks differently, which we like, and seems to deeply consider the customer experience (us);
    • . . . . . thereby building trust and charisma, resulting in a leading brand for which users feel there is no substitute (i.e. charismatic);
  8. As a result brand is more than ever, a top leadership issue, not something to simply be delegated to marketing;

In an upcoming article on ‘NewLaw’ my colleague Jordan Furlong and I will highlight a number of law firms (mainly small and mid-tier) in Australasia who are doing something different and often special in the way they deliver service, and clients seem to be responding. I believe a number of them are well down the road to following some or all of the principles set out above.

I would value your thoughts and comments!

Sean Larkan, Principal, Edge International

 

The President of the Law Council of Australia today published a column in the ALMJ along the lines of the title of this blog post – as a request was made for readers to complete an important survey, and given the importance of the subject-matter and the tight time-frame I have taken the liberty of repeating the column verbatim below. Links to the surveys have been provided. [See also the recent LLB post referencing Jordan Furlong’s article in the latest Edge International Communiqué on this subject]:

You can possibly help women lawyers in Australia by completing the surveys referenced in this post – please see the clickable links (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

“In my first column for the January edition of the Australasian Law Management Journal I referenced addressing the high attrition rates of women lawyers as a priority for my tenure as President.

Since this initial column, the Law Council has made significant progress in this regard. On May 6, the Law Council officially launched the National Attrition and Re-engagement Study (NARS). Research shows that there are significant gaps in diversity in more senior roles in the legal profession. Although women are graduating with law degrees and entering legal careers at higher rates than men, significantly fewer women continue into senior positions within the legal profession.

The Law Council of Australia has engaged Urbis to undertake a national research study to address diversity within the legal profession. Through this study, the Law Council is seeking to obtain quantitative data and confirm trends in progression of both male and female lawyers, and produce a report outlining practical measures which can be implemented to address the causes of high attrition rates among women lawyers, and re-engage women lawyers who have left the profession. Continue Reading Women lawyers in Australia – how you can possibly help

The challenging future legal and business environment which is widely anticipated will demand a lot more from law firms than providing quality legal advice. This is the view of Ian Robertson, long-standing managing partner of Holding Redlich’s Sydney office, writing in The Australian (apologies; link requires subscription or log-in) recently.

Whether it be around service offerings, fee levels, management of fee-related activities or developing individual brands and thought leadership around industry sector knowledge, law firms will want to work out what they will bring to the client table in future. Simply basing decisions on past experiences is not likely to be enough.

This advice backs up on the findings of a recent survey of Australian managing partners and chief executive officers indicating tighter times ahead – with recruitment levels and profit margins expected to be down over the next five years based on deteriorating business confidence.

For Australasian law firms the writing is on the wall for some or more of the following:

  1. Better service at lower fees: this is simply because clients have more choices, are more canny and have realised it is increasingly a buyer’s market. Even more challenging is that given market conditions this will be coupled with fewer and smaller transactions and disputes. The only possible exceptions will be in resource–rich states such as Western Australia.
  2. Fee estimates, fee capping and fixed fees will be the order of the day: on top of this clients will look for real value and will carefully analyse all charges to ensure they are justified.
  3. Quantitative leverage will be rejected: clients will accept leverage, but only qualitative leverage, in the sense of high calibre, suitable staffing on a team where work is pushed down to the lowest (highly)competent level and charge-out rate. Continue Reading Volatile future will demand law firms bring more to the party

The world’s first listed legal practice, Australia’s Slater & Gordon (S&G), announced its agreement to buy national UK firm Russell Jones & Walker (RJW) for £53.8 million on the 30 January 2012.  My UK-based Edge International Partner Chris Bull joins me in this post as we consider some of the implications of this transaction and how the respective markets are viewing the development.

The S&G acquisition of RJ&W in the UK is a good example of successful law firms implementing carefully thought-through strategy and vision using merger or acquisition.

The S&G and RJ&W joinder is significant:

  • an acquisition as such, not a merger, by an Australian law firm of a significant UK firm.
  • the fact that the parties operate largely in the personal legal services space rather than the corporate market.
  • it will establish, when ratified, a foreign and publicly owned ABS (alternative business structure) in terms of the new UK Legal Services Act.
  • the amount involved.
  • the exclusion of outside parties such as insurers and investment companies.

This is a positive and exciting development for the legal profession generally but particularly the UK and Australia:

  1. Merger and acquisition as an outflow of carefully thought-through strategy: as recently stated we see this as affirmation that many law firms see acquisition and merger as simply one possible strategy in achieving their vision and carefully thought through strategic key objectives. It is not a knee-jerk reaction to client or market pressure. Continue Reading Slater & Gordon and Russell Jones & Walker tie up confirms law firms as business-savvy innovators, not ‘merge or die’ desperadoes

In the recent WSJ article “Stark choice for lawyers – firms must merge or die  author Jennifer Smith reasons that due to client and competitive pressures law firms have a ‘stark choice:  to ‘merge or die’. As a result, she says, there has been a ‘flurry’ of merger deals.

A decision by a law firm to merge or not should ideally be the result of a carefully thought through strategy, and implementation of that strategy and the firm's vision, not a knee-jerk reaction to competitive and client pressures. It should certainly also not be because other law firms are doing it. (Illustration adapted from FT image, graphic artist unknown)

The author’s conclusions are hard to reconcile with the actual numbers relied on; only sixty deals world-wide last year (2011) which is understood to be based on the Altman Weil Mergerline. While it is hard to get accurate numbers of law firms per country, based on a rough guesstimate of close to 60,000 for the USA and say 30,000 for the rest of the world, this number represents a minuscule fraction. It leaves one to wonder what is happening to the other 99.9% of law firms?

Unfortunately headlines and statements like this appearing in a respected publication like the WSJ, when repeated, re-tweeted and commented on, can over time lead to unintended and unwanted trends in the legal profession. As I have written elsewhere, while lawyers are sometimes referred to as cats (the oft-repeated being hard to herd/manage etc.) law firms can be like sheep – if one respected firm does something (especially when the pressure is on) others are more likely to follow suit (remember the ‘wait and see’ attitude about staff cuts during the GFC?). It seems some firms will not do anything different until others have tested the water. We have all heard the question around the partners table “what are Able Bodied and Bloggs doing about this?” Continue Reading Wall Street Journal’s ‘law firms must merge or die’ revisited

I had always assumed a practice area like family law, by its nature, required direct partner intervention at every level – particularly ‘face-time’. It was also a practice that could not be commoditised. Nor could it be spread geographically. Also, unlike some other practice areas, there didn’t seem to be scope for a para-legal to play as significant a role.

Scott McSwan, innovative Managing Partner of McKAYS Lawyers in Queensland, Australia, had other ideas and debunks these reservations – his ‘think different’ approach has led to the establishment of a successful, geographically distributed and highly leveraged Family Law practice and business model. He agreed to share some of his experiences. I believe there are lessons in this for law firm leaders, and not just in relation to Family Law

A Family Law practice, traditionally regarded as requiring face-time from partners, can be leveraged - if you have the right calibre people and excellent support systems

Sean: where did this all start – what was the spark? Continue Reading Family Law practice – can it be leveraged and geographically distributed?