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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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:

  1. it is a good way to show appreciation and recognition;
  2. it is a good testing ground before equity partnership;
  3. it is a confidence builder;
  4. salaried partners have the opportunity to find their feet and understand the partner culture;
  5. it provides status;
  6. it can be an ideal alternative to equity partnership for some;
  7. it is ideal for some who may never meet the criteria for equity;
  8. it can help out with tough decisions where realistically it may be “impossible” to appoint equity partners;
  9. it can provide a realistic buffer to poaching firms; and
  10. 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:
  1. salaried partnership is used simply as a blockage to equity;
  2. salaried partnership is used to “park” under-performing partners;
  3. 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;
  4. salaried partners are partners in name only or as glorified employees (it is not unusual to hear equity partners call them just this);
  5. they come to be viewed as nothing but a “necessary evil” (believe it or not this does happen!);
  6. salaried partners have not had conveyed to them the true nature of the regime in the firm;

Some outcomes of this are:


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You can be the brightest spark in the office but if people can never get hold of you, or after they do you take ages to respond or are simply unreliable, no-one is ever sure you will do the job, professionally you are going to do yourself in.

Nothing beats being accessible, responsive and reliable. You can be the sharpest tool in the workshop, but if you can't be found, don't respond well when used or don't do the job you are called on to do, people will eventually tire of using you. The same applies to professionals. (Sean Larkan image - Old Dairy Gerringong - ©2012)
Nothing beats being accessible, responsive and reliable. You can be the sharpest tool in the shed, but if you can't be found, don't respond well when used or don't do the job you are called on to do, people will eventually tire of using you. The same applies to professionals. (Sean Larkan image – Old Dairy Gerringong – ©2012)

I know of one professional who is highly sought after due to his niche practice and ability. As a consequence he is very busy and time-poor. So busy in fact that he has an automated message responding to his emails, always, saying ‘sorry tied up doing x, y or z. Your enquiry is important, I will revert etc’ – unfortunately, you usually don’t get a response from him, not even later. You soon get the message, his work is more important than your enquiry or message. He has made himself inaccessible, is unresponsive and in your mind will probably not be reliable to deal with. In fact he also appears to be discourteous.

On the other hand we all know professionals who are busier than most, but who still manage to be remarkably accessible, courteous, responsive and reliable – some come to mind for me – Michael Katz, chairman of Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs, Rob Otty, Managing Director of Norton Rose RSA, Jordan Furlong my partner in Edge International, Giam Swiegers, National CEO of Deloitte, Australia, John Poulsen managing partner of Squire Sanders (formerly Minter Ellison, Perth), Roger Collins Chairman of Grant Thornton Australia and Derek Colenbrander CEO of CareFlight Australia.

One of the most enjoyable responsibilities I had as a former managing partner of large firms was to do a short introductory talk to new recently-joined lawyers. The discussion, which we tried to make interactive, commenced by asking what they felt they would need to do or be to succeed in a large firm environment. As one would expect coming from the brightest law school graduates, the responses were varied and fascinating. However, not many picked up on these seemingly obvious attributes: accessibility, responsiveness and reliability. It was possible to emphasise these, providing examples, without names, of lawyers who did not have the best university pass or who were not regarded as the best technical lawyers in their practice area, but who rose to greatness and built substantial practices, at least in part due to these characteristics. I also emphasised that a big part of their early success would depend on their courtesy to staff, mainly support staff.

Your personal brand:
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As highlighted in PART ONE and PART TWO of this series, there are real leadership lessons for legal leaders from the career, achievements and life of the late Steve Jobs – who in just two stints of 9 and 14 years, founded and then transformed Apple Computer into the world’s most valuable company. These were the lessons highlighted by Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs biography, in an April 2012 Harvard Business Review article ‘The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs‘ (subscription required).

In this post we include a final batch of important lessons, again with liberal editing and interpretation for legal leaders.

Jobs liked engaging face to face but was tough on people, was a strategic guru but totally focused on detail, strongly believed in the confluence of the humanities and sciences and in staying hungry and foolish – so many contradictions, such a genius, and so much, with the right attitude, we can learn from him. (Image composite by Sean Larkan courtesy of Google Images – photographers unknown)

 13    Engaging face to face and death(?) to PowerPoint

Jobs felt that creativity came from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions and was a great believer in face-to-face meetings: “. . . you run into someone, you ask what they are doing, you say “wow”, and soon you are cooking up all sorts of ideas“. He designed his buildings to promote unplanned encounters and collaborations. He felt that if you did not encourage that you would lose a lot of innovation in the magic that is sparked by serendipity.


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It does seem like we have been laying into angry or difficult partners lately – so much so, you (almost) gotta feel sorry for them! (not really, we all know how difficult they can really be and how much time and positive energy they eat up) –  3 recent posts attest to this:

  1. Difficult partners

Last week I posted PART ONE of a short four-part series on the real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs, based in part on an HBR article (subscription required) of a similar title by Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs autobiography. We continue the theme today!

A number  (but not all) of these provide great leadership and management pointers for legal leaders. I hope to persuade you to take some of these on board but of course they should not be slavishly followed – maybe emulate some, adapt others for your needs, your leadership style and firm needs, or simply think deeply about them.

It is not often in one’s life-time that one gets to experience, read about and learn from a unique character and leader of the ilk and achievements of Jobs. In his life-time he made no bones about pinching ideas and inspiration from others – I don’t think it is an opportunity any of us mere mortals should miss!  I wrote an article on related points in our Edge International Communiqué (PDF) which may also be of interest.

Of reading things not yet on a page, reality distortion fields, avoiding bozo explosions, making products feel friendly and casual and staying hungry and foolish – some of the many lessons from the business genius that was Steve Jobs, and what it can mean for law firm leaders (image compilation by Sean Larkan with thanks to the folk at Google Images)

6   ‘As leaders we need to read things that are not yet on the page

Jobs felt very strongly about understanding deeply about what clients want. However he regarded this as completely different to asking them what they want – simply because he didn’t feel they knew until they were told! He felt one needed to exercise and use one’s intuition and ascertain and nurture the desires of clients. As he said “our task is to read things that are not yet on this page“. He developed his intuition when studying Buddhism in India and felt it was a lot more important than intellect. Eknath Easwaran, mentioned in my last post, would have said the same.

There are lessons here for law firms as most like to follow what others are doing and not necessarily take the lead.  This is due to the prevalent fixed mind-set and passive-defensive styles of avoidance, oppositional and conventional behaviours, thinking and interaction that prevails, governed in many cases by an innate fear of failure. There have however been some wonderful examples in recent years, particularly in Australasia and Africa, of law firms doing some very innovative stuff!

7   You don’t have to be the first cab off the rank, but when you do go, you better offer something unique.
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Walter Isaacson, author of the Steve Jobs autobiography, commented in an April 2012 Harvard Business Review article ‘The real leadership lessons of Steve Jobs‘ (subscription required), that following the publication of his book many writers have tried to draw management lessons from Steve Jobs, however, most of them, incorrectly, became fixated rather on the “rough edges of his personality“. He feels that one has to recognise that Jobs’ personality and approach to business were inextricably inter-twined, and we should go beyond this to appreciate the keys to his success.

A number  (but not all) of these keys provide great leadership and management lessons for legal leaders. I hope to persuade you to take some of these on board. In practice I find that very few firms do. I wrote an article on related points in our Edge International Communiqué (PDF) which may also be of interest.

In the quirky and sometimes controversial way Steve Jobs led and managed, there are important lessons for legal leaders. To make the most of these does require a different attitude and approach to that which one normally associates with leading a firm in a conservative profession. (composite image with thanks to the folk at Google Images)

Jobs was an amazing human being. He achieved incredible things as he managed and led Apple to become the world’s most valuable company. Remarkably, this all happened in two relatively short periods between 1976 and 1985 (9 years) and from 1995 to 2011 (14 years) during which time he was booted out of the company but then brought back to resurrect and save it. A lot of this had to do with his leadership and management styles.

He transformed:

  • personal computing
  • animated films
  • music
  • phones
  • tablet computing
  • retail stores
  • digital publishing

He created:

  • Apple, the company
  • Apple Stores
  • iMac
  • iPhone
  • iPod
  • iPad
  • Pixar
  • iTunes
  • iTunes Store
  • MacBook
  • App Store
  • OSX Lion

Not bad for a college drop-out!  So, what are some of the lessons legal leaders can draw from all this?

1   Focus – ‘deciding what not to do as important as deciding what to do’


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A notable Indian law firm merger came into operation on 1 April 2012. The merger was facilitated by my Edge International colleague Bithika Anand  between one of the oldest law firms in India, “Udwadia & Udeshi” and one of the most dynamic young law firms “Argus Partners”. This merger is interesting

Lex Africa, the first and largest network of African law firms, is holding it’s annual general meeting in April 2012 in Maputo, Mozambique. I thought I would mention Lex Africa in case readers ever need assistance in Africa and want a referral to a reputable firm. I am also delighted to be attending the

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.
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