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

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

 

Many law firm partners want their firm to either be pre-eminent or to seek pre-eminence. Few realise that there is a serious price to pay.

Look at the vision statements of most firms and chances are you will find words like ‘successful’, ‘leading’, ‘premier’, ‘top’ or similar. Nothing at all wrong with that. But the key thing to realise is that to seek and achieve such lofty visions takes serious commitment, both at the top and throughout a partnership. Without that understanding and buy-in from all partners, leaders and managers in a firm, any visioning or strategy process will be flawed from the core and likely be doomed to failure.

‘Pre-eminence’ – ‘yeah, that sounds good, let’s go for it’ one will hear law firm partners say, but how many realise that there is a price to pay for such lofty visions? The reality is that most firms seek pre-eminence or some version of it. However, if they are truly serious about such a vision, they must realise it takes enthusiastic and consistent commitment and adherence by a majority of partners to a wide range of key things. The firms that manage to achieve this rise to the top and stay there while others muddle along.  (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

What then is this price to pay if you seek such status? In essence it goes to the heart and core of everything you do in the firm but here is a framework of some key things that I feel will be an essential part of any such quest:

  1. Leadership: strong, trusted leadership, not just at the top, but throughout the partners and managers, and a proper understanding of leadership and how it can be fostered and developed;
  2. Direction and Vision: clear direction from the key leaders and an agreed vision bought into and understood by all as to where they want the firm to go and what they want it to be. This takes a very clear understanding of ‘basics’ such as which practice areas, industry sector areas and geographic areas will be focused on and how the firm will differentiate itself through particular ways of delivering service; Continue Reading Many firms seek pre-eminence; few realise there is a price to pay

In the April edition of Edge International Communiqué three of my partners address important issues and provide insights and outline opportunities for the legal profession:

Jordan Furlong, in Law Firms and Women Partners: You’re Doing it Wrong emphasises that if firms are following typical practices in how they promote women into equity positions they are missing a strategic opportunity and effectively sabotaging their own market viability by:

Too many firms are making a dumb mistake when it comes to hiring and promoting women partners (Sean Larkan, Edge International)
  • wasting vast talent opportunities;
  • overlooking or ignoring what women (half the population) could bring to firms in various ways;
  • a continued reliance only on hours to measure productivity and contribution which short-changes women.

As a result firms are less capable and less competitive. He leaves us with the tantalising idea of the benefits that will be enjoyed by the firm which ‘gets this right’!

LLB view on this issue?

One thing law firm leaders can do much better is to actively communicate with and keep in touch with prospective women equity partners in their firms. Too often one hears of a female partner who, rather than make a fuss, quietly leaves and joins a corporate or maybe takes a break from law, too often lost forever. Also, a multi-pronged disaster for a firm. Maintaining this type of active contact and keeping the communication lines open can avert this type of issue cropping up. It requires a genuine effort from leaders which builds trust, as well as a good dose of flexibility.

In ‘Five Keys to a Successful Lateral Hiring Strategy‘, Ed Wesemann argues that law firm lateral hire strategies often don’t work , due mainly to poor execution, not the strategy itself. He sets out a workable strategy for firms to follow when lateral hiring:

  1. set the bar high enough to ensure you hire winners not losers;
  2. use internal networks to identify good candidates;
  3. do some research around your short-listed candidates;
  4. be in direct touch with candidates – they appreciate this and you will learn a lot more; and
  5. find out what the candidate is truly trying to achieve by making the move to your firm.

LLB view on this issue?
Lateral hiring should be undertaken as the implementation of an agreed strategy. Too often it arises as a partner in another firm or a search executive has approached a partner in one’s own firm. While this can sometimes still result in a happy ending, it can also waste time and divert a firm’s leadership away from the key issues and even the areas where truly strategic hires should be made.

A focused strategy using Facebook’s very own rich data on users can prove to be a boon for carefully targeted business building strategies by law firms (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Jeff Morris offers a very interesting take on using Facebook strategically to target and engage with very specific potential client groupings in “Strategic Social Media. This is made possible as Facebook has very rich searchable data about their users. This provides a very unique opportunity to target your audience very carefully and strategically, not by talking about or trying to ‘sell’ your firm but by sharing, and doing so with content that users want to read. Jeff throws up some fascinating insights and great ideas.

LLB view on this issue:

Many law firm leaders do not view social media as a strategic tool that firms can use in this way or that they should pay much attention to. I disagree, social media interactions provide a very powerful window into the heart and soul of a law firm (and this is how others connect with us emotionally, which is critical as this is how they assess our brands) and a fascinating picture of a firm, and its all up there for everyone to see and experience. In some respects, a ‘brand offer on steroids’. So, very strategic.

Sean Larkan, Partner, Edge International

 

The Gouldian Finch, research conducted at Macquarie University in late 2012 has shown, uses just one eye and one side of its brain to choose its partner for life. In the study published in Biology Letters the researchers found that ‘Beauty, therefore, is in the right eye of the beholder for these songbirds, providing, to our knowledge, the first demonstration of visual mate choice lateralization‘. Black-headed males choose black-headed females, and used only their right eyes and left side of their brains to do this.

Here’s looking at you kid, that is, if you are on my right-hand side and are the right colour – the Gouldian Finch chooses its mate by using only  its left brain and right eye. While clients may not do precisely this, we need to recognise they are all individuals, are different and use different criteria to choose our firm or our partners for that next assignment. It is also these individuals who determine the power or otherwise of our brands – Sean Larkan (Image: (c) www.birdsville.net.au)

This provides a timely reminder – we somehow seem to assume that all clients fall into one amorphous group – ‘clients’  – and that all our marketing and approaches to them can be similar and should produce the same results. Of course, this is wrong. Each client is very different. Each individual at every client is different. And it is these individuals who choose our firms or the partners at our firms for their next assignment. It is also what they think, these individuals, that constitutes our firm brands, and the individual personal brands of each of our partners. Some of these individuals are notoriously one-eyed. Others adopt what one may call a balanced approach, taking all factors into account. In each case we need to understand and respect this.

What can we learn from or do as a result of this?

  1. firstly, simply understand and respect their individual differences. Some clients are definitely left-brainers, detail people,  even pernickety (excessively precise and attentive to detail; fussy), want every ‘i’ dotted and ‘t’ crossed, while others rely on trust and relationships and that you will do the right thing by them and ‘sort out the detail‘ – the ‘just tell me where to sign‘ type. Others are a wonderful balance between these extremes; Continue Reading Are clients one-eyed when they choose your law firm?

LEX AFRICA, widely regarded as Africa’s leading, and certainly its largest, law firm network, celebrates its 20th anniversary at a time when there is unprecedented interest in Africa and attention from foreign investors and businesses. From humble but determined beginnings in 1993 with just five founding firms, LEX AFRICA has grown steadily to now number 29 country members. Recently Boussayene Knani & Houerbi of Tunisia joined this vibrant network.

As Nigel Shaw of founding firm Kaplan & Stratton in Kenya told me recently growth for this leading African legal network has not been a numbers game; it has been all about quality. : ‘. . . . in time, building on our founding principles, I would like to see us have a network that covers the whole of Africa and still with firms of lawyers who are considered to be the very best in their jurisdictions’. LEX AFRICA has long recognised that doing business and undertaking legal matters in Africa presents some special challenges. As a result, one of the key founding principles for the network was to only admit as members leading law firms from strategically important African countries – this underlying principle has built a strong foundation of quality to ensure clients referred to any member will be in good hands. This provides comfort to both the referrer and clients.

There has been an increasing interest in and focus on Africa in recent years not least of all due to the location of the SKA (single kilometre array) satellite station on the continent. Member firm Werksmans played a pivotal role in SKA project and it is anticipated member firms will continue to provide support to it.

I chatted to a few long-standing members and include some of their thoughts below but need to declare my interest – while managing partner of Werksmans back in 1993 we founded the network so I have remained keenly interested in its phenomenal growth and evolution over the past 20 years. I was chuffed to attend the AGM in 2012 in Maputo and be part of the 20th anniversary celebrations recently in Cape Town RSA. What struck me when I met many of the members at the Maputo meeting was how well they seemed to know one another. Clearly, regular personal contact and the building of relationships over many years seems to have built trust and respect and ensured active communication amongst members. It appears to have stood LEX AFRICA in good stead.

  1. I asked Osayaba Giwa-Osagie of Nigeria what initially attracted him to the LEX AFRICA network and what has kept his firm so active and committed since then?

As the Senior Partner in Giwa Osagie & Co, it was my responsibility to attract new clients to the firm and also to expand the firm. Many years ago I met Charles Butler, CEO of Werksmans and we struck up a good relationship after we had some good dealings with each other. We joined because we wanted to belong to a reputable network with a strong brand that would provide comfort to anyone who dealt with us. In turn we were comfortable knowing we had to earn our keep and produce quality legal services.

  1. What do you find most powerful/valuable about your membership? What do you like best? Continue Reading LEX AFRICA – Africa’s leading legal network, turns 20

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 Always deliver what you say you do or offer to deliver

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

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 Your employees are far more powerful than you think

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 Losing high calibre lawyers or staff – don’t see it for what it isn’t