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Let’s talk about your law firm’s “collegiate culture”

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Collegiate“:

‘consisting of several colleges or parts’

very formal: ‘sharing ideas and responsibilities with the people you work with, in a friendly way’

– Source: Macmillan Dictionary

Business development professionals, like myself, often talk about the need for businesses to have a “collegiate” culture if the business is to have any real chance of turning a profit. Obviously when we talk about “collegiate” here what we mean is:

“the sharing of ideas and responsibilities with the people you work with in a friendly way”

rather than:

“consisting of several colleges or parts”.

But for business development professionals who operate in the professional services space, the thought of a firm actually having or  implementing a “collegiate culture” is more along the lines of a ‘nice to have’, than a reality.

There are lots of reasons why this is so, and to be fair most of them have more to do with the benefits and rewards system that breeds behaviour in law firms than a lack of willingness on the part of any firm to implement this type of culture.

And so it was with great delight that I read earlier this week the CEO of Shoosmiths (Claire Rowe) saying that a collegiate culture was how to keep staff happy and turn a profit.

Imagine, the nirvana of happy staff and making a profit.

Actually, where:

“We have a transparent and open environment, there are no secrets. We have very honest conversations with our people to set our plans. Our staff enjoy a set-up which means they can achieve their personal objectives in a supportive way”

it really isn’t that hard to imagine.

It also shouldn’t be that difficult to implement such an environment.

So it was with equal disappointment that I read the following day, on the same website, how DWF were to “take account of non-billable work in [their] new appraisal model” (my bold for emphasis).

I’m not sure if the management/HR team at DWF are aware quite how polar opposite their publicly stated approach is to that of Shoosmiths. And to be fair to the management of DWF, they may not have been aware when talking to the publisher of the website that the Shoosmiths story was going to be published the day before.

Regardless, the message to young lawyers is clear: At Shoosmiths we believe in transparent and open environment with personal respect; whereas at DWF if you are not billing, we will give you credit for whatever it is you have done, but we are not overly happy about the whole situation!

And it is worth noting that, from an #Auslaw perspective, it is not only the young lawyers who get this message. As far back as September 2010, Bob Santamaria – ANZ Bank General Counsel – stated in the Australian newspaper that:

“Law firms now are being run more as businesses and for profit, and that is affecting lawyers, good and bad”

going on to say:

 “There will be very, very good lawyers who are jaundiced by some of that approach that is applying in the big firms.”

In other words, if you can get the foundations of your culture right – and preferably making this a collegiate culture – you are some way to attracting some of the best talent around and, hopefully by extension, some of the best clients.

I happen to agree with Bob Santamaria. Indeed, I will go one step further:

If you can get a collegiate culture going in your firm that has values aligned with those of your client, you will almost certainly be as happy and profitable as Shoosmiths.

So how collegiate is the culture in your law firm?

RWS_01

ps – if you are interested in what a firm’s values might look if they were selected by their client, Cordell Parvin’s “If Your Clients Could Choose Your Law Firm’s Vision and Core Values” is a good starting point

#BizDevTip: “Today’s lawyering is about the experience of your service delivery…”

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This week’s #BizDevTip looks at the importance of great client service delivery from the client’s perspective.

For the last month or so I have had the following quote – attributed to Joey Coleman  – pined to my board at work:

“The experience you create for the customer is the last great differentiator.”

Pretty controversial stuff for law firm partners to grasp – and we all know how hard partners work at trying to avoid controversy!

So it was with particular interest that I read last week’s “In-house interview” on The [UK’s] Lawyer website with Steven Webb, head of legal, Premier Farnell, who stated:

“Some external firms think that knowing the answer to the legal question is worth something – and it is, but only a bit,” he says. “There are eight firms in Leeds that could do an acquisition for us, but [what sets them apart is] customer service – things like how advice is delivered…”

The appropriate part of Steven’s comment worth repeating…

 “but [what sets them apart is] customer service – things like how advice is delivered”

There you have it: Validation!

And so, a tip that young lawyers today might want to keep in mind is that:

today lawyering is less about being technically expert [a given], and more about delivering an exceptional experience your client can remember…

RWS_01

‘Mark Brandon: UK law is focusing too much on the wrong things’ – A response from Australasia

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Over the last weekend I (@RWS_01) got into a tweet exchange with the author of a recent good analysis post on the thelawyer.com – ‘UK law is focusing too much on the wrong things‘ – Mark Brandon (@MotiveLegal). As part of the exchange, I promised Mark a response to his article.

First off, as it has been some time since I worked directly in UK law, my reply to Mark’s post should be read from an Australasian perspective.

Second, in my reply I have used the same numbering and headings as Mark used in his original post.

So, here goes.

1. The mega-consolidators will struggle

I partially agree with Mark on this one.

If, as I think Mark suggests, law firms are merging simply to ‘purchase’ market share, then I generally agree with him. Likewise, if by ‘conglomerate’, Mark means ‘full service’, then I would also agree.

However, as someone who lives and works in an environment (#Auslaw) where there are roughly:

  • 30 law firms,
  • who earn in excess of A$50 million per year in revenue,
  • with a population of approximately 23 million people,

then I have to say that the trend of consolidation seen in the sector over the past two to three years here will, and needs to, continue.

Will some of these mergers/consolidations result in regional (Asia-wide) mega-firms? Yes, I believe they will [and indeed, with the likes of King & Wood Mallesons, have].

Will these firms struggle? Some yes (most likely those who, as Mark suggests, have consolidated solely to purchase market share), but those who have the right strategy and culture in place, ie where the consolidation is done in consultation with clients, resulting in a more efficient and better service to the client – rather than solely for the financial benefit of the partners of the firms involved, will likely thrive.

Finally, I have to say that I disagree with Mark’s comment that:

“When it comes to law firms, there is such a thing as ‘too big’.”

2. Vereins are over (more…)

The hidden dangers of discounting your fees

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Today’s post is a short rant about the practice and dangers of discounting your legal fees, followed by a useful collection of 20 questions I found earlier that you should be asking yourself if you are discounting your fees.

I’ll start off by disclosing that I hate it when lawyers discount their fees. I especially hate it when this is done without any request by the client – a far more prevalent practice than is perhaps admitted – or consultation with others in the firm (including the practice of discounting on other lawyers’ rates in your firm without even asking them if this is OK!).

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That’s another fine mess we’ve gotten into!

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“That’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into!” – Oliver Hardy

A lot has been written in the past few weeks on Dentons* decision to no longer publish ‘meaningless‘ (their word, not mine) annual Profits Per Equity Partner (PEP) figures, the latest of which “Partners divided on reliability of PEP and need for transparency” was published on the legalweek.com website last Friday.

While I have a level of sympathy with Dentons argument – and the reality is that PEP figures really are meaningless to all but those who work in the firm, at the same time I do feel that the makings of this situation are those of the law firms themselves.

To expand, in the days prior to LLP status, law firms avoided the press – both legal and non-legal – like the plague. Then publications such as Martindale-Hubbell, Chambers and Asia Pacific Legal 500 started to gain traction and firms started to disclose the business/deals they had undertaken in the past 12 months in the hopes of getting good listings/rankings. In most cases this was done without firms asking their clients if they put any credit in these rankings and their feedback on the benefits of such a strategy.

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