Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Amanda Illing

Amanda Illing is famous for tearing down walls in Chambers. When she joined Hardwicke as Practice Director in 2009 (from Matrix Chambers) one of the first things she did was to rip down the partitions separating the different members of the admin team, so that managers, clerks, marketers, finance bods, fees collectors, could all see one another, hear one another and work as one team. She has strong views about where corporate success comes from that have stood her in good stead: giving individuals clarity about what their role is, how they fit into the bigger picture; giving them appropriate support, training  and motivating them to perform to their very best; and a cultural emphasis on getting relationships right, both externally and internally, pulling everyone together in the same direction. Three years into her job at Hardwicke and she lands the CEO role when her predecessor leaves. Given the impact she had had at the set, this is no wonder. 

I caught up with Amanda just as she was celebrating her award win at the Modern Law Awards this month, as Non Lawyer of the Year. I wanted to know the secret of her success, especially as her award win coincided with a number of stories of high profile exits at the Bar, CEOs leaving not just their sets but the profession as a whole, so dispiriting was their experience. Only a few years ago it seemed something of a fad for chambers to appoint Chief Execs or other strategists with similarly grand titles. Yes we may be seeing some fall out, but perhaps it’s more about a separation between the wheat and the chaff, the good and the bad, the effective and the ineffective. I put this to Amanda when we met up over breakfast. 

“I would say a lot of the stories you read of Chief Execs being parachuted in to Chambers and pressing the ejector seat button only months later probably has more to do with a mismatch of expectations. I have been very lucky both at Matrix and Hardwicke to have heads of chambers and other senior members very supportive of the need for change, and this makes all the difference. In fact Hardwicke employed its first Chief Exec an unbelievable 20 years ago. So I didn’t have the burden of being a complete trailblazer.” So is she saying they were ready for her? I ask. “Heads of Chambers Nigel Jones QC and Paul Reed QC are two of the most forward-thinking, business-focussed and strategic barristers I’ve worked with.  I’m very lucky to have a great relationship with them.  But I have still managed to give them some challenges and surprises!” she grins.

I was keen to know her thoughts about the role of the traditional clerk in an age of business developers, marketers, practice directors and chief execs at the Bar. Was there space for them still? I have long been of the view that barristers clerks have something very special to add to the marketing mix, often being much closer to the coalface, knowing exactly what happens at that moment when legal services are bought and sold, than most legal marketers in the swankiest of City law firms could ever hope to be. But how do they fit in to the new landscape at the Bar?

“The clerking role (or I prefer the title practice manager to make it more accessible to the client) remains absolutely key to any chambers, but I wouldn’t call it a traditional one anymore. The role has changed almost beyond recognition and there are plenty of excellent examples of long established clerks who have made the transition highly successfully. The expectation around the role is very different today. Being out in the marketplace no longer means having the odd beer with your solicitor mates in The George in Fleet Street. It means travelling to your solicitor clients perhaps at the other end of the country (or even the world) and investing in time for professional, strategic conversations about scoping work, getting feedback about chambers’ performance, taking the time to find out what your client really needs from you and how you can improve your service to them. I believe that the job title attached to this role is far less significant than what people actually do. All sets are facing challenges and need to update their way of doing business. All are having to rethink their approach to service delivery and how to market their services to a solicitor client base that rightfully expects a lot more from the Bar. Any barrister who thinks they can stay tucked away in their ivory tower, stepping outside to advise a client when it suits them, at a timetable that suits them, needs to understand the story has changed. We are running businesses now and chambers need people who can help with this transition, in terms of how to structure the business, cost the work, present the services, and coach and manage the people in the business so they are properly equipped to operate in such a changed environment. These people could come from any background, eg clerking, practice management, business development, you often see former litigators and also former military personnel making a great impact in these roles! The key is to gain the trust of those around you, ie the head of chambers, the management board, the clerks room, all the members and the support staff, because the job is to marshal your troops and lead the organisation forward into new territory. Relationships are key to this because a leader is nothing if nobody follows them!”

I’m glad Amanda is at the helm of Hardwicke. It is great her very special skill-set has been recognised by the Modern Law Awards, but I am well aware that her colleagues at Hardwicke know already how lucky they are to have her. 
We had fun creating Kysen's first Flipboard magazine this week. Our latest Social Media Update (designed to keep the professions updated about business use of social media) was distributed in the usual way earlier this month (email link to a PDF on our website). Shortly afterwards, we released it on Flipboard, its faux-magazine format and high visual impact designed to make browsing online easier and more enjoyable, especially viewing material on iPhones and iPads. We're keen for feedback. Which format works best for you and the way you use our update? You can compare the PDF with the Flipboard version here.

It was only this Summer, that Flipboard launched the ability to create your own magazines to share with people who don't have the app, so this medium is very new. Just after we released ours, the FT launched a brand new MBA magazine on the platform. At Kysen, we do like to be #OnTrend you know ;)

Proud to be a friend of Claire Dyer whose first novel, The Moment, has been published by Quercus Books this month. it's about a couple who meet again at Paddington station after 25 years and think of the lives they've lived and what might have been. Following a launch at The Paddington Hilton, the major highstreet bookstores promoting Claire's debut are Waterstones, Tesco and Asda among others, but I noticed that the WH Smith on Paddington station concourse is pushing it particularly enthusiastically. I commute through Paddington station every day so am thoroughly enjoying The Moment, being able to see the scenes Claire describes so well not just in my mind but In Real Life.

I also love Claire's social media campaign. Fans are being invited to tweet about the book on their daily commute with the aim of reaching the attention of @railbookclub and getting an endorsement. Quercus is also running a "share your own moment" campaign primarily through Facebook, inviting people to share their own experiences of key moments that changed the path of their life from what might have been. 

For the record, Claire says her personal "moment" was when she met her husband of 25 years and her life became charmed. Aaah.

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