Sunday, 29 April 2012

Victoria Thomson



SA Law's Victoria Thomson prefers to see business in 3D. Like the current trend for re-mastering classic films in 3D, the story of law firm sector specialisation is not new as such, but often comes as part of a firm's evolution. What was particularly interesting to hear from Victoria when she visited us this week was just how much of an impact this shift of perspective has had on the people in the business and the way they think.

We all know the story of the commercial benefits of a sector-led approach - clients responding to teams of lawyers that understand the context of the particular discipline of legal advice they are giving in a more nuanced way. And focussing on sectors is not new at SA Law either, the firm long being known for its specialist expertise advising the SME sector.  But identifying sector heads with strong leadership skills and asking them to report to senior management on how their business is going from this sector perspective, rather than from 'departments' defined by legal discipline, this is a new approach for the firm.

'Sitting in on the sector head reports to Management this month, what was so interesting to see was how much more they reported on their plans and progress like a corporate business, not just in the presentational tools they are now choosing to use - far more PowerPoint, Gant charts, Excel spreadsheets - but more fundamentally in having a far more rounded understanding of how their own particular category of legal advice to a client fits together with advice from other legal disciplines that their colleagues are also giving. It really is like they are seeing their clients' needs much more in 3D. 

It has also galvanised the teams internally and given a boost to everyone's client care and business development efforts. We're lucky we have such strong leaders heading up each of the sector groups (Education, Healthcare, Charity and Social Enterprise, Retail, Sport) as their role is going to be key to the success of this approach. I'm so glad we did this and it's fascinating to see how it has altered the business mindset of all those involved..'

Now any technique that helps legal practitioners make that challenging transition into commercially-minded business people is very good news in my book. Interesting how this shift to a sector-oriented approach has changed mindsets to the extent that it has. 

***
...but sore bums expected at the firm next week as an SA Law team of 13 takes part in the Olympic Gold Challenge to clock up 2,012 sporting kilometres before the Games start this July. The team will be cycling from Land's End back to St Albans, a punishing 75 miles per day for four days, to raise 12,000 pounds for Keech Hospice Care for terminally ill adults and children with life-limiting illnesses. Together with their training miles, covered through rain, ice, wind and shine over the last few months, each team member will have done 1,000 miles, or more than 1,600 km, by the time they cross the finish line. 

If you'd like to make a donation, I'm sure the team would appreciate your support. You can click here to donate.

***  
Good to catch up with fellow 'Twegals' at Lex2012TweetUp this week in Holborn. I could only stay for half an hour as I had another event that night (they don't call me Two Parties Rodway for nothing!) but I managed to catch up briefly with @BrianInkster (always good to see him when he's down south), @LindaCheungUK (self-professed 'Blue-chip escapee' and CEO of CubeSocial which offers software and other techniques for winning business via social media - do check out their website), @HeatherTowns (esteemed FT author on the subject of business networking and my new best friend after she came to my offices that day with a home-made cake), old friend and legal marketing supremo @RedStarKim@GavWard (a delight to meet him in person for the first time after a year or so of exchanging ideas on Twitter), @legalaware (love his tweets so again great to finally meet him in person) and the inimitable @colmmu.

A couple of people I missed on the night, but who I will be aiming to catch up with over coffee in the next few weeks, include @jezhop (Director of Operations at the new Riverview Law), @AjeetMinhasGTB (co-founder of Minhas & Dixon LLP) and @pupillageblog (author of the very popular tongue-in-cheek guide 'for bewildered would-be barristers') all of whom I have the pleasure of tweeting with regularly but rarely meet. Need to fix that! Just love Twitter for making new friends and keeping in contact with people. 

Contact  @BrianInkster or @LindaCheungUK if you fancy coming along to the next Legal TweetUp, likely to be in the next few months.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Thayne Forbes


Who'd have thought that chocolate would be the next new angle on the story of the deregulation of the legal services market? I'm always interested in new angles on the LSA/ABS story and this week I was in for a delicious treat when Thayne Forbes, co-founder of world-leading brand valuation company Intangible Business paid us a visit. Intangible Business works regularly with law firms typically valuing brands in the context of eg M&A transactions or commercial disputes. But this week Thayne had a lot to say about law firms' own brand valuation issues - and when he made the link with chocolate brands he really got my attention. 

Thayne is challenging law firms to develop a deeper understanding of what their brand means to their business, as he believe that in a fast deregulating legal marketplace branding is increasing in importance. He describe how a not uncommon lawyer response to the concept of branding is 'Reputation is key to our business of course, but we're a law firm not a chocolate bar, we don't have a brand'.  I have long advised law firms to think of their brand as a 'promise' as to what people can expect from the firm -  and the strength (or otherwise) of a brand relating directly to the extent to which the experience of the firm backs up that promise (or doesn't).  Thayne concurs: in essence, Intangible Business describes a brand as simply 'a promise of what to expect'. And they have now launched a game challenging legal professionals to show their understanding of branding by matching up law firm characteristics to well known chocolate bar brands.  If you're intrigued to learn more, click here to read Thayne's colleague Keith Lucas on the subject of Chocolate Bars and Law Firms

Although over the last decade many law firms have developed a highly  sophisticated grasp of what branding is really  about - not just the big City or national firms, but some smaller regional firms too - many are still content to dismiss the concept of brand value as 'far too woolly for a business as serious as law to be concerned with'.  But Thayne talked to me about brands in law firms in a totally new way and gave me real (chocolatey) food for thought. 

'I have seen a number of disputes, particularly where a partner has left a firm, or has been effectively kicked out, and a good part of the argument about compensation has focussed on the value that the individual contributed to the firm's brand or vice versa. The reality is that most partnership deeds normally expressly preclude issues of brand value being disputed in this way so as one partner goes out or one partner comes in to the partnership issues of an individual's contribution to the firm's brand are not debated. I think it is perhaps for this reason that lawyers have got into the habit of thinking that these issues of brand simply don't apply to their type of business. But they do, and the issue inevitably comes up where such partnership deeds don't apply. And the value of a law firm brand can be enormous.'

Deregulation and non-lawyer investment in law businesses will put brand valuation on the table as never before.' Interesting times ahead.

To take part in Intangible Business's Chocolate Bars and Law Firms game, click here to name a law firm and say which chocolate bar it should be and why. The prize for the top suggestion is a Magnum of Champagne. The winner will be announced in May 2012.

Chocolate and Champagne? Now that's my kind of client! 

***
Uncanny timing for the Brighton Conference on the future of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) which kicked off this Wednesday (18-20 April 2012); the UK Government is all set to challenge ECHR powers to interfere with UK affairs and is hoping to sign up to a package of reforms - The Brighton Declaration. The irony was that the conference opened in the midst of the furore over radical cleric Abu Qatada's appeal to the ECHR against his deportation to face terrorism charges in his native Jordan; questions over whether or not his appeal had been lodged within the deadline; and whether the UK Government in fact knew when that deadline actually fell anyway! News reports from the Conference have made fascinating reading. So far I particularly like Lord McNally's analogy when urging that the reforms must put more onus on individual member states to consider human rights issues at the national level, and not leaving the job entirely to the ECHR: 'Responsibility of individual member states for human rights should run through the reforms like the letters through a stick of Brighton Rock' he said. Sweet. 

***
The Pre-Raphaelites are coming to London. Excited to hear the news this week that the Tate Britain is to stage an exhibition this Autumn promoting the Pre-Raphaelites as the rebels - the Damien Hirsts - of their age. Looking at their paintings in the 21st century it's hard to imagine just how much their work shook the art world. Alison Smith, curator of Pre-Raphaelites: the Victorian Avante-Garde, explains how John Millais' casual depiction of Jesus in Christ in the House of his Parents outraged Victorian society inviting criticism even from Charles Dickens.

Rebellion as 'passé' - now that's a theme: could be a good one to take the teenagers to... 

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Mary Heaney


The Day of Reckoning for lawyers has come, according to legal publishing entrepreneur Mary Heaney, original founder of Legal Week, takelegaladvice.com, insidedivorce.com, and more recently Global Legal Post (formerly European Lawyer and Global Lawyer). I met her and colleague Maria Sunderland for lunch this week - and we all thoroughly enjoyed looking back down the years: I have known Mary since the days she was a humble news reporter at The Lawyer, even before she became News Editor and then Editor - and years before she left to launch rival Legal Week. 

I asked her to expand on this theme of the legal profession's Day of Reckoning. 'When I look at all these changes coming from deregulation and the advent of ABSs, also the changing buying patters of in-house lawyers [as famously described in Jomati's End of the Golden Era report], I see how easy it has been for years for lawyers to make money and how now they are having to work much harder for it. From the high street client to the big PLC legal team, clients are demanding something different.'

So do you think lawyers have been complacent all these years? I asked.

'What I'm saying is that now we are seeing a wider gap between the extremely talented and the middle of the road' Well, that's got to be good for consumers of legal services, whenever they are in the marketplace. 

Adapting to change is something that Mary knows a lot about. She's famous for her itchy feet and always wanting to move on to the next big challenge. She did well on the sale of Legal Week to Incisive Media in 2005 but bored quickly of a life of leisure and returned to the legal publishing market in 2006 to launch the groundbreaking takelegaladvice.om. This is Europe's first and only online comparison site for legal services and is dedicated to bringing transparency to the legal market enabling consumers and businesses to make truly informed choices about the lawyers they use. 

Our meeting this week came shortly after the launch of the new-look Global Legal Post, an amalgamation of The European Lawyer, Global Lawyer and LegalDay.com. But the big new idea for the new magazine is to be a digest of legal media and content specifically designed for busy lawyers always on the move.

'Lawyers' appetite for information is more voracious than ever, but they need it in new ways. Whether in-house or in private practice, they are moving faster than ever. We offer news via a number of channels, to suit all needs: the immediacy of the website and e-alerts, as well as a monthly hard copy. Also, we are amalgamating the most important legal news and delivering it in one place for them on the one hand, and providing original insightful content on the other.'

Their international reach is impressive, as you'd expect given their history: almost 90,000 lawyer subscribers reached across the globe, 50% in house and 50% in private practice.

Exciting to sit back and watch Mary Heaney take over the world...

***
Satirists had a field day this week with the news that plans to extradite radical cleric Abu Hamza have been approved by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. For some reason, the story sparked some particularly creative offerings from cartoonists, comedians and other satirists.

Nicknamed Captain Hook by the tabloids because of the hook replacing his right hand and his missing eye, most of the satire focussed on his appearance. 

The Times published an excellent cartoon by David Haldane, depicting the arrival of Abu Hamza's false arm at the US Department of Justice and the caption 'We're receiving him in monthly instalments.' My favourite though, has to be this key rack pictured left. Bad taste I know, but priceless.

***
Only 10 days to go till Sundance LondonRobert Redford's film and music festival - in London for only its second year. This will be my first visit and I can't wait. 

Treats in store include an evening with the great man himself and T Bone Burnett, moderated by Nick Hornby, a myriad of features and shorts by up-and-coming filmmakers, plus musical delights such as sessions by Tricky and Rufus and Martha Wainwright.

...but because watching Robert Redford on screen is always time well spent, here's a link to a video snippet of the great man discussing his plans for Sundance London with Sky News. 


Monday, 2 April 2012

Katy Scruton


I've had kind offers of info on places I'm travelling to before (Tony - thanks for the loan of the Klimt books. I'll return them when I get back from Vienna after Easter) but when Amnesty's Katy Scruton offered to send me some info on Russia for a trip to Moscow I'm planning with my son later this year, of course what she meant was reports of human rights abuses there.

Katy is a membership co-ordinator at Amnesty International. She is interested in engaging with lawyers so I try to bring lawyers with me to Amnesty events whenever I can, to introduce them to her. (Lawyers, if you'd like to try an Amnesty event with me, drop me a line in the comment box below.) There is a natural overlap between the work of lawyers and Amnesty, the organisation's mission being to uphold the rule of international law.  For me the arrangement we have with them has opened doors to experiences that have been heart-breaking (meeting Troy Davis' family at the House of Commons), fascinating (Amnesty's Media Awards celebrating the best in Human Rights journalism) and fun (celebrating their 50th birthday at the House of Lords and being quite star-struck meeting Amnesty co-founder and esteemed lawyer and journalist Louis Blom-Cooper QC) in equal measure.

Katy is passionate about her job. 'I do realise I am extremely lucky to be employed by an organisation that I so believe in and to do work that I have a real conviction for.'  Over lunch we discussed the various campaigns Amnesty is focussing on at the moment - supporting people demanding change eg in the Middle East and North Africa; campaigning against the death penalty, eg Japan's recent resumption of executions; women's rights eg in Afghanistan and in the Middle East and North Africa. Also the specialist networks eg on Children's Human Rights; TeachRights for teachers wanting to bring human rights into their classrooms (of which my own children have been beneficiaries).

We also talked about Amnesty's wonderfully creative use of social and other new media platforms: their range of videos and mini-films to put across the essence of a campaign in an attention-grabbing way, then pushed out via Facebook and Twitter for that viral effect. Check out the selection at Amnesty TV. A personal favourite of mine is the satirical (and sartorial) cartoon created for Fashion Week this February that I came across on Facebook (and of course passed on): two fashionistas discussing the new 'Child Labour Range', challenging people to question whether they know who makes their clothes. You can watch the video here.

A smart piece of communication from a very smart organisation.

***
Loved the way the pasty tax story got so out of control this week. It started badly, the surprise Budget announcement that VAT will be charged on hot takeaway food suggesting a Treasury out of touch with the pressures of people on low incomes struggling to feed families. Then it got worse: when quizzed in the House by John Mann MP, son of a baronet George Osborne was unable to recall the last time he'd eaten a Greggs pasty. And after - oh dear - David Cameron stepped in to fill the breach and reminisced about a delicious pasty he'd eaten at Leeds station, it turned out the outlet he though he'd bought it from closed down five years ago.

Well, that was it! The press then had a field day: Osborne was described by The Sun as the 'Marie Antoinette of the 21st Century' and on Twitter it was suggested he had probably had to be 'briefed' after his faux pas that pasties were 'similar to mini boeufs en croute'. Painful for the PRs having to handle this I'm sure, but highly entertaining for the rest of us.

I have a fascination with the relationship between 'food' and 'class', so particularly loved this piece by The Economist's Bagehot: 'Pasty-gate as proxy for Tory angst about class.' Enjoy the article here.

***
This blogpost would be incomplete without some oohing and aahing about the weather. Hasn't it been wonderful! We finished a really good week at Kysen - particularly fascinating work, some great "hits" and a number of very enjoyable meetings with clients - not to mention trips for some to Birmingham and Milan - with drinks on our roof terrace. Did I mention we have a roof terrace? [Yes Clare, all the time, in conversation and on Twitter...  Honey ;-)]

Let's hope there's lots more sunshine to come this Spring! Have a great Easter break...

Please note I'm away next week so my next blogpost won't be until 15th April.