Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Paul Martenstyn

Fountain Court's Paul Martenstyn is not one for standing still. In fact he believes the key to success for any business in an increasingly competitive  market is to get comfortable with constant change and enjoy the opportunities for creative thinking and innovation it brings.  

I met Paul for the first time on stage at the Halsbury Legal Awards, as I handed him and his team the Award for Business Development.  A barrister’s clerk of some 17 years standing (and now Fountain Court's Deputy Senior Clerk) I'd heard some impressive stories about his forward-thinking attitude to legal marketing and how he successfully blends traditional clerking with modern day marketing.  I was keen to know more, so I asked for a conversation in a less formal setting (ie off stage!)

"Something I think we've really got right in our marketing at Fountain Court is that we see business development very much as a team activity, with barristers, clerks and other staff all working together.  It's not seen as just a job for one or two people who have "business development" in their job titles somewhere.  And we work together towards a Common Goal, (still an anathema in some sets), which is described  in our three-year strategic marketing plan" [which Paul himself was asked by his Head of Chambers to create at the end of 2013 which coincided with the start of his reign].  

As well as being a team player, Paul has done a lot to develop his own personal knowledge of marketing. Encouraged in 2006 by his then Chief Executive Ann Buxton, when they were both at Hardwicke Chambers  (given his penchant for doing things differently, I was not surprised to learn he had chalked up six years as first junior clerk at this most innovative of sets early on in his career) Paul embarked on a Chartered Institute of Marketing course focused on professional services marketing. In 2007 he was the first barrister’s clerk to be awarded the CIM qualification.  Now that's dedication!  Evenings and weekends taken up with study, balancing that with the day job (and not exactly a 9 to 5 job at that) and a new baby at home.  Phew!  But he says it has most definitely been worth it.  "It was fascinating learning about SWOT analyses, SMART objectives, looking at the business of chambers, seeing what it wants to become and then working out how to get there. He then brought those skills to Fountain Court when he joined the magic circle set in December 2008, and was Alex Taylor’s first senior clerking recruit.  Fountain Court conducted a client Perceptions survey in 2010, which formed the basis of a new direction, clients and contacts giving us a new perspective on ourselves and what our future could be.  A direct result of this is the development of our international strategy for example, and the clarity we brought to the planning: first the secondment of two junior barristers into a magic circle law firm’s Singapore office, then the hire of Kanaga Dharmananda SC from King & Wood Mallesons in May this year, and more recently" [just two weeks ago to be precise, on 24 September] "the launch of chambers' Singapore office, ahead of the opening of the International Commercial Court in Singapore in 2015.  

"The marketing training has completely changed my perspective across everything I do in my role.  The smaller things as well as the seismic. For example, we are much more strategic now in our CRM programme we choose to do with solicitors and the seminars we lay on, etc.  We know how to identify and target firms we want to do business with, ie those that are penetrating the market in an interesting way themselves, and who can take our practice in the direction we want to go in, ie that aligns with our strategic plan.  

"A particular  benefit of my studies, I would say, has been in helping me understand so much better what our clients need and want", he says.  Really?  This last point  surprises me.  I would have thought that nothing could improve on the classic clerk's role of lots of face-to-face contact and listening in to clients to understand what's important to them.  I've blogged before about how much clerks have to offer a business because they are right at the coal face, hearing first hand from clients and developing an instinctive sense over time about why clients choose to buy a particular legal service, or don't.  So what could you possibly learn from a marketing course that could add to this?  His answer is interesting:  "Certainly there's no substitute for the face-to-face, but for me personally, what the study of marketing has added to the conversations I have with people is a much clearer understanding of the business context surrounding our chats, so their business development imperatives, and their strategies, and how our work fits in to this."

So having got this far, and especially after winning the Halsbury Business Development Award (and a top prize at the Chambers and Partners UK Bar Awards, as Banking Set of the Year, just one week later), does Paul feel he can at least tread water for a bit?

"I’m actually close to completing a two-year leadership & management course"' he tells me.  I told you this man never stands still!  "It's specifically designed for barristers clerks, created in conjunction with the Institute of Barristers Clerks (IBC) and the very visionary Fiona Stuart- Wilson (Director of UMD) and run by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM).  It takes two years to complete and you are awarded a Level 5 Diploma with the option of a year’s further study at Edinburgh to achieve a BA Management degree.  I have two assignments left to do, one on performance management, looking at how to follow through from the Bar Standards Board's formal guidance on the subject; and one on Innovation.  This latter one is a form of marketing, as it encourages us to analyse the market chambers is in, how it fits into it and where the opportunities are for it to grow.  I'll be developing a strategic plan to give back to Chambers once the course is complete."

I suggest to Paul that this leadership and management perspective  must be a useful follow-on to the CIM course, adding the new dimension of how to bring everyone in the business along with you, once you've worked out the best strategic opportunity and direction for the business.  "Encouraging followership" is a particularly challenging aspect of leadership in a legal business, for all sorts of reasons readers of this blog will be very familiar with.  He agrees.  "That's why this course is so valuable... and why being bespoke for barristers clerks makes all the difference.  More and more clerks are signing up for it and I really think this course will transform the Bar's ability to adapt to change. This course has been designed specifically for current or aspiring senior clerks and so far there are over 25 fellow clerks on the course with me" 

I ask Paul if he thinks all clerks starting out today, or coming through the ranks, should think about this level of marketing & management training? "Absolutely I do.  Not just for their own benefit (although I do think more and more chambers will expect to see some sort of marketing qualification in clerks moving forward) but for the good of the sets they work with ... and for the Bar as a whole. Equally as important is I have been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some naturally gifted and hugely successful senior clerks in my career, and none better than the current number one in my opinion, Alex Taylor. Working as his number two, and so closely alongside him over the past six years has been invaluable, and as a mentor I could not ask for anyone better. That level of experience coupled with the training is I believe a winning formula".

Things are looking up for the Bar.
One of the latest threats to free speech in the UK is focussing its attention on ...of all places... the art world.  Did you see the story at the end of last month about the Barbican cancelling a world renowned production after it was stormed by protestors claiming the installation was offensive?  And did you hear the impassioned comments this weekend of Arts Council Chair Peter Bazalgette and playwright Richard Bean as they spoke out publicly against this attack on artistic freedom?

The issue is far from straightforward however.  Exhibit B used live black African actors bound, gagged or shackled, "to force the audience to engage with stories of exploitation". To add to the tension, the artist Brett Bailey is white South African.  Personally I wouldn't choose to go to an exhibition where I would have to walk around a room and face live black African models in shackles. The feeling would be just too strange.  But should they be banned?  Can it ever be right to stand in the way of freedom of artistic expression on these sorts of controversial subjects?  I'm not so sure...

And there's artistic censorship of another kind at this year's Turner Prize, which has just opened at Tate Britain.  One exhibit (James Richard's film collage Rosebud) has been given an X-rating for its graphic depiction of body parts and officials have apparently resorted to sandpapering out bits unsuitable for general public consumption.

Others shortlisted artists feature craft & design (Ciara Phillips), spoken word (Tris Vonna-Michell) and more film (Duncan Campbell).  There is not a traditional painter or sculptor in sight.  And all finalists this year are less well known than in some other years, the judges wanting to "look to the future".  Well, I'm all for that.

Turner Prize winners will be announced in December.  But I'm going to get to the exhibition as soon as I can!

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