I am often asked for my views on the main challenges faced by leaders, or what to look for in potential leaders. While internal thought processes immediately scurry through dozens I have come across from experience and recent assignments, on brief reflection, a few always rise to the surface as being particularly important.

Of course, leaders have to provide direction, make tough important decisions, give speeches and lead strategic initiatives. But realistically they also have to build trust in themselves and the organisation through their leadership. Directly related to this is the oft-discussed activity of listening, which is to some extent common sense but is also part-science and part-art.

Continue Reading Listening by leaders – it’s part-science, part-art

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

Performance Reviews should have as their main purpose to assist the person concerned to reach their full potential and succeed. Unfortunately both terminology and practice don’t always serve to achieve this. This does not have to be so.

It seems a momentum is developing in the corporate world for organisations to move away from performance reviews, certainly the once a year, formal jobs. It is only a matter of time before this trend gets some traction within the professional services market. I would caution against this. The rationale about moving away from performance reviews seems to be:

  • once a year is not enough and is far too long a gap between ‘discussions’;
  • they are not popular;
  • they are not done well;
  • they are often disguised as something else (e.g. a retrenching tool);
  • they don’t achieve what they should.

While all of these points may be true in many cases it is not necessarily a good reason to not have them. It has always been a concern for me what they are termed and how performance reviews are conducted and perceived in both the corporate and professional services worlds. As a result they certainly don’t do what they are meant to and are most often even resented.

Continue Reading Don’t rush to join the ‘anti-Performance Review’ herd!

Picking right people resized
Picking and grooming the right successor in the context of the firm’s future strategic needs is arguably one of the most important duties every partner should have and carry out. Few do.

Arguably one of the most important things a partner should and can do for his or her firm before he/she retires is choose and groom a suitable successor. Given the ageing in the profession worldwide in recent decades succession is a subject that is getting more and more attention, and rightly so.

More and more clients are wanting advice on how to address succession within their firms. A common theme one comes across however is that it is assumed there is some sort of single system or process one can put in place which will address the matter and that will be that. It is also sometimes assumed the issue can be addressed ex post facto, sort of ‘in arrears’, and all will be well. Unfortunately it is not so easy, nor should it be. It is far too complex a subject for that to be the case. These are some of the many reasons why succession is not properly addressed by professional service firms.

For instance, for the right person to succeed a partner it would normally take years or even decades of preparation by both the partner retiring and the successor in relation to his or her personal brand, , technical skills, practice area, industry sector, staff and most importantly, clients. There are many things that need to be taken into account and put in place over time.

It is relatively easy to do a quick test on how your firm is travelling in the area of succession. Think of the last half dozen partners who retired or left the firm. How many developed suitable successors who covered the items mentioned above? Go further, ask how many left anything of lasting benefit in the firm? You may be surprised and saddened at the outcome.

Continue Reading Partner succession is not a standalone

In talking about client relations lawyers like to talk about the importance of using simple English, killing clients with kindness and generally keeping things simple for clients. It seems years of training and our natural lawyerly DNA inhibits this. So, instead, we are killing clients with complexity and bloody mindedness. Clients use this as yet another reason (did they need another?) to try to get their ‘legal’ work done elsewhere (i.e. outside the legal profession), sometimes at all costs.

Yes, that complicated mess is the array of plugs and wires for an office building! Something like the complex layers of mush some lawyers seem to be making of clients’ favourite projects! (Photo Credit: Bitterjug via Compfight cc)

This was brought home to me twice in the last month in conversations with clients, both interestingly enough experienced lawyers themselves.

The first client, let’s call her Sue, heads up a very sizable charity and has recently been involved in some very large commercial transactions worth millions of dollars. As most will know many charities have been forced to fend for themselves nowadays and so engage actively in supportive commercial activities. Inevitably Sue had to engage lawyers. Her legal bill with her main firm amounted to millions of dollars per annum.

Continue Reading Killing clients with complexity – be sure to recognise and address it

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!

Open plan offices are not new, even for law firms, and no doubt there are a couple of examples in your region. The jury does still seem to be out though in regard to the pros and cons.

While there are those who proudly espouse the virtues of ‘open plan’ with benefits like:

  • better staff interaction;
  • everyone seen to be on the same footing;
  • more work gets done, etc.

others think they are a crazy idea. Arguments against tend to revolve around confidentiality, the need to work in peace, no interruptions and so on.

Continue Reading Open Plan offices and Darwin’s natural selection bring unexpected law firm benefits

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?

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

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?

  1. a fear by the managing partner he or she will, over time, lose a highly successful practice;
  2. 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 How firms can give their managing partners proper support, upfront