branding

How well are we doing at exporting #Auslaw?

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Finally, some years after the Australian Government first announced and then consigned to the dustbin  its ‘Australia in the Asian Centurywhitepaper, a fair amount is being written around the issue of exporting Australian professional – read, ‘legal‘ – services, including:

While it is undoubtable that the export of Australian legal and professional services is a trending issue on an upward trajectory, it is still probably a little early to say (as the College of Law post does) that “Australia is now trending on a global scale” (vis-à-vis the export of our professional services) – although, to be fair, the export of Australian lawyers (to which the College of Law would have a particular interest), particularly to the UK and New York, has been ongoing since the early 1980s and continues to this day.

Moreover, given that the Australian International Disputes Centre (AIDC) was established way back in 2010 (with the assistance of the Australian Government and the Government of the State of New South Wales) and still lags behind both the Singapore International Arbitration Centre and the Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre, the export of #Auslaw has undoubtedly been a slow burn.

So while I for one applaud the latest chatter around an impetus to export #Auslaw, I hope that this time we are serious and take the time to have a robust conversation about whether or not we wish to seriously promote (and lobby) the export of #Auslaw overseas. And, assuming we decide we do wish to progress with the export of #Auslaw overseas, we put in place concrete national plans to move this initiative forward rather than taking the lacklustre state-based approach we have to date.

National survey finds that there are 66,211 practising solicitors in Australia

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The ‘2014 Law Society National Profile of Solicitors in Australia’ report was released this morning on the NSW Law Society website.

The first time this report has been updated since 2011, key findings include:

  • there are now 66,211 Practising Solicitors in Australia – a 12% increase since 2011.
  • of all practising solicitors in Australia:
    • 34,10 (51.5%) were male, and
    • 32,110 (48.5%) were female.

This represents a significant increase in the proportion of female solicitors since 2011  – when the percentage number ratios were 54.6% male to 43.4% female.

  • while the mean age of Australian solicitors has remained roughly the same at 41.9 years – compared to 42.0 years in 2011, interestingly the largest proportional growth age bracket is occurring in the over 65 years age group (with a 38% increase in this group since 2011).
  • as at October 2014, the majority of practising solicitors in Australia were private practitioners  – 70.2%; with the percentage numbers in other major sectors of the profession in Australia remaining fairly static since 2011 – 15.8% were corporate solicitors and 9.6% worked in the government sector.

Most interestingly, while overall the Australian legal market remains represented by small practices – 2,155 firms (17.3% of the total) had 2 to 4 partner and 514 firms (4.1% of the total) had 5 to 10 partners:

  • there are now 77 law firms across Australia where the number of partners exceed 40 – representing a 300% increase from 2011, and
  • there are now 74 law firms across Australia where the number of partners range from 21 to 39 – representing a 111% increase from 2011.

In addition to potentially showing significant consolidation in the Australian legal market over the past three years (the overall percentage representative number of sole practitioners is actually down roughly 3% in 2014 from 2011), these numbers would appear to indicate that the slow death of large law firms, and the professional more generally, is being greatly over exaggerated in the Australian legal press.

Indeed, one could argue that now more than ever the market in Australia is highly competitive and that it is becoming increasingly important that you and your firm be able to communicate what differentiates you from the crowd.

If you haven’t already, I’d like to recommend that you take a look at the report – it contains some very interesting statistics; including, for the first time, statistics on the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

Your law firm’s brand recognition: How much does it really matter?

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Earlier today Dr George Beaton (@grbeaton_law), Partner in Beaton Capital and an associate professor at the University of Melbourne, posted the following question to Twitter:

“Which firm is the ‘world’s strongest’? Skadden or Baker & McKenzie or Jones Day. Confusing”

George I

With a twitter pic link to an article on the Global Legal Post website that contains links to the following “Related stories”:

George II

Leaving aside the issue of financial strength, as George’s tweet clearly infers brand strength, the question I always ask when I see news items and survey responses of this nature is this:

Does it really matter?

And the answer to that really depends on what my firm’s overall strategy is.

Taking a step back, whenever I’m asked in my role as a business development consultant by law firm partners of the importance of such survey findings I will often respond by asking them the following question in return:

Imagine we are on a long distance flight on an important business route – say Sydney to London or Tokyo to New York. Now, say I give out a questionnaire to all 300 plus passengers on that plane asking them the simple question of whether or not they have heard of your firm. Would you prefer:

A. a greater percentage of passengers in first class to have heard of you?

B. a greater percentage of passengers in business class to have heard of you? 0r

C. a greater percentage of passengers in economy class to have heard of you?

Now if your firm’s business plan is to be doing “premium work for premium clients”, then my guess is you’d want a greater percentage of first class passengers to have heard of you. Similarly, if your business plan is to be working with the top ASX 200 companies, then I would hazard a guess you would want to be known by both first class and business class passengers, with the edge being on the greater brand recognition among the business class passengers. Finally, if your firm’s business plan is to be a leading B2C law firm, that I’m guessing you wouldn’t mind if your brand is widely recognised by the economy class passengers.

A very simplistic way of looking at this issue? Very much so.

But, at the end of the day, despite headlines that read ‘Top legal brands grow 45pc faster than others over last four years‘, I’m very much of the view that surveys of this nature fail to ask a more critical question, namely:

Do you regularly, or have you ever, instructed one or more of these firms you have heard of in the last three years?

Because, does it really matter if you have heard of me but never given me any work (ie, fed me)?

And all of this is before we get into the even more interesting discussion of whether or not you instruct individual lawyers (lawyer name [brand] recognition) – either at my firm or elsewhere – regardless of which firm they work for (lateral hire movements)?

After all, we have a long flight ahead of us…

I know the Burberry brand but that doesn’t mean I buy from them

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I know the iconic luxury goods brand ‘Burberry’. Established in 1856, Burberry have been clothing the rich and famous pretty much continuously since. In Sydney they have a flagship store at 343 George Street. Here’s the kicker though: I have never knowingly bought anything from Burberry.

While this may all sound fascinating, you could well be asking yourself about now what this has to do with the selling of legal services? And it wouldn’t be an unreasonable thought too.

So without further ado, let’s move on to the issue at hand.

Last week saw the publication of the Acritas Global Elite Law Firm Brand Index 2014 to much fanfare. As Acritas themselves proclaim, the Index:

“…reveals the firms which are adapting most successfully to the changing market and winning client loyalty and favorability as a result.”

And while this would seem to be a pretty compelling reason to analyse the Index more closely by itself, managingpartner.com goes on to comment, according to the results of the Index, that:

“Multinational clients are more likely to instruct law firms which have a strong multi-jurisdictional presence and capabilities and a collaboratively working style and value focus”.

All I can say is – “Wow!”. If this is truly the case, then it goes without saying that the Index should be considered one of the most important and compelling benchmarks in the industry and it needs to be in the reading list of every managing partner, business development director and head of finance. Because the simple fact is, if my firm isn’t on and near the top of this list, I need to be very concerned.

But, before the panic starts to set in, how is the Index compiled?

Ahh, well here is where it seems to start falling apart. According to the Acritas website,

“The Sharpelegal Global Elite Brand Index is determined through four open-ended questions from the full survey to find out from general counsel:

  • the first law firms to come to mind
  • the firms most considered for multi-jurisdictional deals
  • the firms they feel most favorable towards
  • the firms most considered for multi-jurisdictional litigation.”

Did you notice that there was/is not a single open-ended question to the effect:

  • Did you actually buy legal services from this firm?, or
  • If you bought legal services from this firm, in how many different jurisdictions did you buy them in?, or
  • Did you use the same firm of lawyers in multiple jurisdictions in one transaction during the course of the last 12 months?

And therein lies the problem with the Index: while it is certainly really nice for my ego that my firm is one of the most recognised legal brands in the world (and just to be clear, I don’t actually work for the firm that came out top in the Index by some margin -Baker & McKenzie), the simple fact is that this doesn’t pay the bills.

Which brings me back to Burberry, a brand I most certainly know, would consider buying from (if I won the lottery), and feel very favourable to, but from whom I’ve never actually purchased anything…

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

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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