Milan Dalal thinks professional advisors could gain a lot from listening to clients more. I know Milan as Director of Brook Intelligence Centre, but prior to this he had senior business development and comms roles at Grant Thornton and Olswang. I caught up with him shortly after his company had launched a new service via the Legal Week website. Legal Week Reports offers profiles of the world's top companies, in 10 key sectors, "to help law firms gain a better grasp of the businesses of clients and potential clients".
Over coffee our conversation turned to his thoughts on a recent report on "Effective Client-Advisor Relationships" produced by the FT in conjunction with Meridian West and the Managing Partners Forum. "The continual feedback from the in-house lawyer community is that clients want their lawyers to understand the commercial context they're operating in, so how the advice they give plays out for the client in real life. For the client, legal issues are not theoretical. They are very real. But so often their legal advisors seem disengaged from this fact.
"You see this at its most acute in pitches for new business. The best way for lawyers to win new business is to show that the legal team actually takes an interest in the client's business. It sounds so basic, but you'd be amazed how often lawyers will forget to do this. In a pitch situation particularly, their first instinct is to talk about themselves- their credentials, their expertise, maybe their knowledge of the target client's sector, with a little bit about the client's business tacked on at the end. In-house lawyers will always say that lawyers pitching to them should spend less time talking about themselves. The conversation should be flipped: far less "we are this, that and the other..." and far more "we've noticed this about you, we wondered if this or that may be an issue for your business". Lawyers can still pack in a lot of information about their strengths this way - in terms of knowing the law, understanding the sector and the business context. Instead of just talking about how they don't only give legal advice, they also help clients meet their commercial objectives, they are actively demonstrating it.
"Professional advisors often don't get that clients will assume an awful lot about levels of expertise and legal skill. Lawyers wouldn't have made it on to the pitch list without these "hygiene" factors being taken for granted. So none of this needs to be covered in a pitch. Clients do buy business relationships though, so what matters to them is whether they can engage with the people in front of them. They'll be thinking about whether they could work with the legal team presenting".
According to the Report, clients want a more strategic, commercial dialogue with their advisors, "particularly in a more complex, uncertain and global business environment".
A big challenge. But at least the profession has Milan to help it rise to the occasion.
What's the price of bad publicity? Apparently about £20m over two years. Neatly put - by barrister, media pundit and blogger Rupert Myers.
It seems the only reason Starbucks has agreed "voluntarily" to pay more tax than legally required is because its UK customers expressed such outrage and anger at the company's position and threatened to boycott the coffee shop altogether. The story does sum up the point very neatly indeed. In the words of Starbucks UK Managing Director Kris Engskov speaking to Sky's Jeff Randall: "we have reacted to our customers... we have seen that doing business responsibly is good for the bottom line and this is a good example of that". Well, quite.
Fun was certainly had at Kysen's "Magic of Christmas" party this week, as the team decamped to a vault room in the basement of Tuttons Bar on Covent Garden piazza. Honey and I managed to keep secret our surprise guest until the night: magician Stephen Barry, who amused and bemused us in equal measure with his mind-reading and sleight-of-hand magic tricks. His website (take a look- he does a lot of celeb events so you'll see some fun pics of an astonished Ant and Dec, a surprised Angela Griffin and a puzzled Harry Hill) claims that he can "make the impossible possible, close up and right in front of your eyes". And that's exactly what he did on the night. Definitely a fresh twist on the genre. For example, he got us reading his mind, guessing correctly which cards he was holding!
Favourite moment of the night? A completely unintended one: Stephen, having wowed us into the palm of his hand, seeing Mariana's amazed gasp when he used her full name ("how did he know my name?")- before he pointed out he was only reading her table place name. We won't let you forget that one in a hurry, Mariana!