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.


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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.


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In the May edition of Edge International Communiqué Edge partners highlight three key focal points for legal leaders:

Nick Jarrett-Kerr in ‘Core Competence and the Competitive Edge  considers three vital attributes that make up the core competence of a law firm,which he argues goes way beyond mere ‘competence’ – it:

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A long-standing powerhouse in providing legal and business/commercial/corporate advisory services out of Cambodia and Myanmar (since 1993), Sciaroni & Associates has announced  the opening of its Laos office.

Sciaroni & Associates, a long-standing provider of business, corporate, commercial and legal services in Cambodia and Myanmar has announced the opening of its office in Laos (Sean Larkan, Edge International)

Daniel Noonan heads up the office. Daniel has been advising on foreign direct investment, mergers and acquisitions and commercial regulatory matters for the past 5 years.  Prior to joining Sciaroni & Associates, Daniel had several years’ experience working for Baker & McKenzie in Vietnam. In Laos he worked for an international law firm advising investors entering the country as well as existing business operators.  Daniel studied law in Chicago and in Tokyo and is admitted to the Bar in Illinois. He speaks English and conversational Japanese. Email: dan@sa-asia.com

Since economic integration with ASEAN and the WTO, Laos has experienced strong economic development and has one of the region’s highest GDP growth forecasts for 2013. As a result, the country’s developing and increasingly diversifying economy offers unique business opportunities for investors.
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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;
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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:
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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

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

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.
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My wife and I bought a small farm three years ago. As the grazing was leased out to a beef farmer the quality of the boundary fencing was paramount. The lady we purchased from told me up-front (and has reminded me ever since!) – ‘now Sean, remember to walk your fence-lines‘.  She was essentially saying check them regularly for breaks, leaning or weak posts, or other issues, but also to see what was really going on around the farm – ‘you never know what you may pick up‘.

This advice reminded me of my days helping to run large law firms – I happened to enjoy walking around, at least weekly, talking to staff and partners in various sections of the firm – apart from being enjoyable, it was amazing how much one picked up and could convey in those informal interactions.

Remember to walk the fence-lines of your firm – talking to partners and staff – you will pick up on issues, identify achievements and be showing an interest in those who make the wheels go round (Sean Larkan image ©: Austral Eden region, NSW)

I did notice though as I got busy, or we had to deal with one or other crisis, this practice somehow seemed to slip into the background, priority-wise. Sometimes too, one may be tied up with a merger – ‘important stuff‘, and it always got priority. It always took time to get back to the walking around ritual, each time reminding myself – ‘can’t let that drift’.

I had this message brought home to me again last week when the editor from the publisher of my upcoming book on law firm branding arranged a new time-table for me. I had fallen behind my schedule – she said with my consent she would ‘walk my fence-line’ i.e. keep closer tabs on me. What a nice way to say ‘listen, I am keeping an eye on you – time to start delivering‘!

There are a number of benefits flowing from walking the fence-line:
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