international law firm

Forget the Gadens merger, the big news today is Olswang’s announced ‘Revenue Share Scheme’

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Pretty much all anyone involved in the Australian legal sector will read about in the industry news today will be the reported three way tie-up between Global behemoth Dentons, Australian law firm Gadens and Singaporean firm Rodyk & Davidson, which is still subject to a partner vote but you assume is pretty much a done deal.

Although this may have a profound effect on the Australian legal market in years to come, in much the same way as the K&L Gates / Middeltons merger has hardly set the sector alight, I somehow doubt this merger will too.

There is, however, another piece of news being reported this morning that could very well have a massive effect on the local market – and that is the news that Olswang has established a ‘Revenue Share Scheme’ that it hopes will incentivise staff (it is being reported the scheme is open to all employees at the firm, from partners through to business services staff) to refer clients to the firm through a referral bonuses scheme that will pay an employee who introduces a new client who subsequently spends more than £20,000 in the first year instructing the firm, 10 per cent of the instruction fees in the next year.

I worked under a scheme very similar to this is Asia just after the Asian Financial Crisis and I can vouch that provided you get your conflicts worked out (because trust me, this leads to a lot more potential conflict situations), then this type of scheme can be very incentivising.

While I doubt this type of scheme will be introduced widely here in Australia too soon – after all, why do we get paid salaries, I can see this becoming more prevalent and certainly having a more profound effect on market practice globally.

It’ll be left to the test of time however to see whether – in five years time – everyone is discussing their 10 per cent bonus or the Gadens-Dentons tie-up!

BTI’s The Mad Clientist: New Business for the Taking: Corporate Counsel Shift Work Back to Law Firms

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In private practice and looking for a good news story to read this weekend? Then BTI Consulting Group’s The Mad Clientist may well just have it.

According to his latest blog post,

“After 4 years of feverishly bringing work in-house [following the GFC] corporate counsel are reversing course.”

Is that cries of joy I hear ring out?!? If so, the news only gets better. Because not only are in-house counsel shifting work back to law firms, but the type of work they are sending out is the sweet spot big ticket matters. Indeed, according to BTI’s study of 322 corporate counsel, “Chief Legal Officers expect a tripling of bet-the-company litigation, increases in class actions, and substantially more securities litigation.

But before you go clambering over your other partners to get on the phone to your in-house counsel contacts, keep in mind that (1) the study was done in the USA, and (2) BTI is of the opinion that:

“The big winners will present themselves to clients as strategists and discuss risks and exposures before the matters ever start. The bigger winners will discuss prevention, potential settlement postures and learn about the business risks posed by the new matters.”

Putting that aside for a second though, we can but hope that the tide is turning here and that the pendulum has once again swung back in favour of private practice. But in order to be best placed to take advantage of this development, you need to be working through your client plans (including engagement and communication actions) now so that you can be ready to take full advantage of whatever 2016 throws at you!

Until then, “have a great weekend!”

A ‘Failure To Deselect’?

A Failure To Deselect

Read a fantastic rant by Barrie Seppings – Director of Creative Strategy at wordsearch, the world’s leading marketing network for architecture, property and real estate – on the Firebrand Ideas Ignition Blog yesterday titled “Copywriters: What the %$@#* are you saying?“.

Barrie’s post get my approval merely for quoting Don Watson, Paul Keating’s former speechwriter, brilliant book Death Sentence – and if you have ever written a tender and not read Don’s book, please do!

Anyhow in his post Barrie makes mention to something I had not heard of before and which he terms a ‘Failure to deselect‘, being:

“… a fear that unless we say every single thing we can possibly say about a brand or product, we therefore fail to communicate the full range of the brand’s attributes. And we therefore fail as marketers. So, to avoid failure, we use all of our words to try and say all of the things.”

Now, swap out ‘brand or product‘ and ‘marketer‘ and replace it with ‘law or regulation‘ and ‘lawyer‘ and does this sound familiar to you?

It certainly did to me. And in this time of ‘doing more for less‘ in law, it got me to thinking: are we actually suffering from a ‘failure to deselect’?

Is an iTunes store for professional services the next big thing?

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Today the Australian Financial Review has published a very interesting article (‘iTunes store for professional services‘) that states:

“Global professional services giants will invest hundreds of millions of dollars over the next 18 months to build iTunes-style repositories of software-supported services that can be distributed to clients through a digital shopfront anywhere in the world.”

going on to state that: “[KPMG] is throwing $US200 million to $US300 million ($425 million) at populating this repository with “disruptive technology assets”“.

All sounds a bit far fetched doesn’t it?

Or does it?

We already know that a number of leading law firms in Australia have developed client facing apps since Gilbert + Tobin’s Telco Navigator app was awarded ‘Services to the industry’ in the professional services category at the 2014 Communications Alliance and CommsDay (ACOMMS) Awards.

Most recently this has included the very informative K&L Gates Hub platform, which is described as being:

“a digital destination for timely insight on critical issues at the intersection of business and law.”

So while law firms may not be throwing $US200 million to $US300 million at this development, there’s little doubt that iTunes (as well as Google Chrome App) may well play a significant role in the way law firms distribute their thought leadership in the future.

And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, it made me recall another quote I read this morning to the effect that in the future it may well be the case that your firm’s differentiating factor could be as simple as having the human touch.

Which would you prefer: to be well known, or well paid?

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This week saw the publication of Acritas’ report of the ‘Best Known Firms the World Over, 2015‘.

For regular readers of this blog, my views of reports of this kind should be pretty well known by now (hint: I don’t hold them in much stock).

However, this year’s Acritas report goes a step further:- not for who is in the report, but for who isn’t.

And who might they be?

Well, in Slaughter & May and Quinn Emmanuel, only two of the most profitable law firms in the world.

Which rather goes to show that either:

  • (a) “detailed telephone interviews of 1,059 heads of legal departments, their deputies or chief operating officers at 1,048 companies at randomly selected companies with gross revenues of at least $1 billion” means that neither of these firms is that well known, and/or
  • (b) there’s very little correlation between being well known and being well paid.

Given the choice though of coming top of a league of well known law firms or top of a table of most profitable law firms (profits per equity partner), I know which I’d choose.

3 ways you can grow your book of business today

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It’s very much been a story of doom and gloom in the Australian legal marketplace of late. Demand is down. The Aussie Dollar has fallen through the floor and seems to keep going. It’s nightmare and has been for some time.

As someone who advises law firms on business growth strategies, all this doom and gloom can be down right depressing. If, that is, you let it.

As for me, I prefer to talk things up and I enjoy looking around for the opportunities rather than dwelling too long on the negative. With that in mind, here are three ways and places you could be growing your book of business today:

  1.  Thailand

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Rohini Kappasath (handle @TalkingAsia on twitter) recently tweeted that there are 180 Australian companies – large and small SMEs – operating in Thailand who are looking for growth and guidance.

When I questioned Rohini where these numbers came from, he told me (vid DM) they were provided by DFAT (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade).

Think about that for a second: 180 Australian companies operating in Thailand who are looking for growth and guidance. I wonder how many of these companies are currently represented by Australian law firms? Having lived in Thailand for 12 years myself, I’d hazard a guess not too many.

Massive opportunity going begging here.

  2.  Malaysia

Headline in yesterday’s The Star Online:

“Domestic F&B players strive to expand into Australia”

with a lead paragraph that reads:

“The domestic food  and  beverage (F&B) sector is striving to expand into the high-value Australian market as reflected from the participation of 18 Malaysian exhibitors at the Fine Food Australia 2015.”

18 Malaysian exhibitors at the Fine Food Australia 2015 with,

“Ninety-five business meetings with over 80 potential business partners were arranged by Matrade for the Malaysian companies during the event”

and not a single law firm in sight (from what I can see).

Massive opportunity going begging here.

3. Inbound M&A

Headline from yesterday’s Australian:

“Foreign takeovers tipped to surge”

with the following graph:

inbound M&A

Other than, “massive opportunity going begging here”, not really sure I need to add anything to that!

So if you practice law in Australia and you are wondering what you can do about your ever dwindling revenue stream, all I can say is the work is out there: you just need to go looking for it.

* did you notice how I didn’t need to mention China once in this post… …quite clever that really.

#BizDevTip: Always be thinking of ways you can improve how you communicate with your client

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Research shows us that (aside from technical expertise) timely, responsive communications are high up on the list of things clients are looking for from their lawyers. This begs the question: how well do you communicate  with your clients, and what could you be doing to improve the experience?

For example:

  • when a client calls do you answer straight away? If not, do you call them as soon as you can after you are free?
  • when you get an email from your client, how long does it take you to respond? Do you ever respond to tell them you have received the email and are looking into the issue?
  • do you send tip-bits of information you read to clients if you think it might interest them (Saw This And Thought Of You)?
  • do you call your clients on a Friday afternoon to ask them how their week was and what they’ll be doing for the weekend?
  • do you ever tell your clients how they can contact you during holiday season?
  • does your client know your mobile phone number?
  • do you schedule regular meetings with your clients to talk through their work-flow issues and how you might be able to improve your timely and responsive communications with them?

Always remember, you have two ears and one mouth: by listening to your clients you are far more likely to hear their needs and concerns than if you do all the talking.

Currency woes strike again!

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It’s that time of the year again when law firms in the UK (at least those with LLP status) publish their annual accounts and, once again, it would appear that currency exchange fluctuations have played a significant part in the profit and loss (P&L) sheets of most with international operations (‘Currency woes hit growth‘ – subscription required).

As I pointed out back in March 2013, and then again in August 2014, the Australian operations of international law firms were not going to be sitting pretty when it came to reporting full year earnings in GBP or US$. At the time the experts were predicting mid 80 cents on the US$, and things can only be said to have taken a turn for the worse since then.

Failing a dramatic turnaround in commodity prices, it doesn’t take a genius to work out this will remain the same unless – or until – the Australian arm of international firms can muscle in on the [hopefully much more attractive US$] rates their offshore partners set up for them on advisory or transactional matters (see my post ‘Can a falling A$ make selling Australian legal services easier overseas?‘).

Alternatively, if you are an international firm with operations in Australia you could do what I have seen a number of firms doing during this reporting season and talk up you Australian earnings in “local currency contributions“. Because all things being equal, these firms have worked hard over the past 12 – 18 months to get their strategy on track and have most likely seen real growth in local currency contribution terms.

What are my pricing options?

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You hear a lot these days about ‘pricing‘. This might be as it relates to Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) or Value-based pricing (VBP).

Indeed, all the noise around this issue can get daunting at times.

So for today’s post I thought I would share a graphic that I have created from the many RFTs (tenders), RFQs (quotes), RFPs (proposals) that I have been involved in over the years and which I have named: “What are my pricing options?“.

Also, I’ll let you in on a little secret:- there’s isn’t such as thing as an “Alternative Fee Arrangement” – only pricing options or fee arrangement. Likewise, if properly explained and clearly transparent, all pricing options are value-based.

There’s one caveat I have though: any pricing option that includes a ‘discount’ or ‘volume discount’ component isn’t a pricing option – as you’re not getting your asking price!

I hope your find the graphic useful and if this is a subject you are interested in learning more about I would suggest you start with the Association of Corporate Counsel’s (ACC) Value-based fee primer.

To succeed in the future, law firms need to specialise

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Over the course of the past week I have seen two news items that include comments by prominent industry experts advocating that for law firms to success in the future they will need to specialize.

The first item was a short [1 minute 40] video interview of David Lat (editor of Above the Law) titled More ‘Shakeout’ Coming for Big Law, Says Above the Law Editor in which (the recently married – congratulations David) Lat touches on the issue that for firms to survive going forward, they will need to get much better at the specialization game.

The second item, from the same day (11 September), was an article (‘How future-ready is your law firm?‘) on the Australasian Lawyer website that included comments by Keynote speech presenter Jordan Furlong of Edge International and Tim Williams of Ignition Consulting Group at last week’s ALPMA (Australasian Legal Practice Management Association) Annual Conference on the Gold Coast (at which I was not a participant).

In essence the article promulgates the experts opinion that the “future of law firms will be specialisation, rather than expansion” and that “In reality, clients have changed from wanting to be loyal to a full service firm to shopping around for the best firm suited to a particular project.

Both the article and Lat’s interview video raise an interesting issue and I have to say that while I largely agree with William’s view that:

“Buyers [today] are seeking best in class solutions to their problems. They no longer need to fall back on a generalist firm that they can count on for everything in their hometown.”

it has yet to be fully explained to me why some, but certainly not all, full service firms cannot also claim that they provide “best in class solutions to their clients’ problems”.