Sunday, 25 March 2012

Mike Fieldhouse

A clear sign that firms are waking up to social media is the fact that Mike Fieldhouse is getting busier and busier. I met him for tea this week and he told me he had just signed up a Top Ten firm he'll be advising on social media usage and policy. A former lawyer, Mike works closely with the very wonderful Heather Townsend, author of the FT's 'Guide to Business Networking' (both online and offline) whom I've interviewed for this blog before.

Mike and I were discussing how law firm attitudes to social media have changed in just a very short space of time. Not much more than a year ago the typical response from a major firm was 'social media may be great for some businesses, but it's never going to be relevant in the legal/accounting sector because our work is so discreet/confidential/and things our employees say could be held against us'. Today the conversation is different. 'Social media is clearly important, so how do we manage these issues... that our work is so discreet/confidential/and things our employees say could be held against us?'

"Firms are now doing it and they are starting to think more and more about how to formalise and professionalise their approach", says Mike, "which is where Heather and I come in. Our role is to help set the parameters for social media usage, devise policies that work with the culture of the firm, recommend baseline programmes of social media activity for people and train them in how to do it.

"The next challenge though, is how to perfect who is doing which part of the firm's social media activity: what should the partners and fee-earners be doing? What should the marketing/PR team be doing? Does it work having a junior marketing exec tweeting on behalf of a busy department head, or should the partner be doing it himself? And how does it link with PR? What sort of opportunities are there to work with the established media on social media platforms?" 

This is a subject close to my heart of course. We talked about the MIPIM blogging and tweeting for Estates Gazette and The Lawyer we organised for one client this Spring; the various opportunities for guest blogging on the websites of established media titles, nice nationals such as The Times and the FT and the fun opportunities eg inviting employment law clients to tweet from their sofas watching The Apprentice on TV using a special hashtag for The Lawyer magazine.

And yes, I did take that opportunity to step on to the soap box and sound off on one of my favourite themes: the opportunities for firms' senior partners on social media platforms. So many times the senior partners will opt to 'leave the likes of twitter to the younger generation'. But they only need to reconnect with someone they've done business with before but have lost touch with over the years, and with no track record to prove in the way that 'the youngsters' have to, their reputation already soundly established, work can follow far more immediately.

There's lots more here to talk about between me, Mike and Heather as firms get really serious with social media. The idea of some joint talks and webinars was mooted, linking social media policy, training, tactics and PR. 

Watch this space....

The most arresting story of the week has to be the one about the defendant in a murder trial who was brought to court in his hospital bed to give evidence at the Old Bailey. He made legal history no less.
A suicide attempt while in custody left the defendant extensively paralysed. News reports describe him in the well of the court lying down in his hospital bed propped up by pillows and surrounded by nurses. 

But it was court artist Julia Quenzler's classic pastel and charcoal depiction of the scene that caught my attention. Immediately recognisable in the papers as an official courtroom sketch, but so incongruous with the hospital bed at the centre.


There must be a God up there... Those of you who know my passion for film will understand my excitement this week reading in The Evening Standard that a second branch of the London Film Museum will be opening this April. The article featured this wonderful image of Marilyn Monroe going over her lines between takes for The Misfits; also a wonderful snap of Charlton Heston on the set of Planet of The Apes, taking a break with a colleague in full ape costume. Just two of the delights on display at the new museum. Halfway through the article I started to obsess - where is the new site? I must go to the opening.... before reading the Museum opens in Covent Garden, less than five minutes from our office! 

Someone up there is definitely smiling down on me!

Monday, 19 March 2012

Gary Morton

Riverview Chambers represents a sea change in the way legal services can be delivered, there is no doubt.  This is the first of DLA Piper-backed LawVest's mould-breaking 'alternative legal business structures', one of a handful of exciting business innovations in the sector currently in the queue for an ABS licence. We've all read the legal news stories: two firms under one brand Riverview Law - Riverview Solicitors and Riverview Chambers - will offer businesses a 'different experience of law' by offering fixed pricing on legal jobs. But I was interested to learn from to Gary Morton this week, one of the barristers who led 3 Pump Court's charge into the new Riverview venture, about how this ground-breaking development benefits his own chambers.

'So far we've signed up to supply employment services for Riverview. And in this part of the legal world, peaks and troughs can be difficult to manage. You may spend weeks at a time in Tribunal. At other times you prepare for a three-week hearing, then the case settles the day before court leaving a gaping hole in the diary that can't be filled at short notice. Our dual membership at Pump Court and Riverview means we can fill the gaps with work that is more piecemeal in nature coming from a different part of the market, eg one or two day cases. I also think there's an intellectual benefit in having a steadier flow of work and a more diverse range. It enables you to exercise your skills more constantly, rather than having to switch it on and switch it off. I believe strongly it creates better barristers.'

But doesn't Riverview Chambers conflict with 3 Pump Court?

'Not at all. It's complementary. That's the point. In a sense we are just using the Riverview Chambers umbrella to service one particular client that is Riverview Solicitors - in the same way we service other big law firm clients at 3 Pump Court.'

3 Pump Court is famous for its collaborative culture: these guys are the antithesis of the classic image of the remote, standoffish barristers that sit in their ivory towers, quite removed from their clients and the rest of the legal team. And Gary in particular will tell you that he thinks more naturally 'as part of a collective' than as an individual - his background as a Trade Union organiser becoming apparent here. So it was no surprise to hear him enthuse:  'What really excites me about this new venture is the opportunity to take team-working between solicitors and barristers to a whole new level. Barristers do like to work with solicitors they know well, will often choose to work on a succession of cases together. But in this new structure we can take this so much further, fine-tuning how we work together, becoming slicker, more efficient - which of course from the client's point of view means more economical. '

If this is a sign of things to come in the brave new world of legal services, the future does indeed look bright.

Sometimes a story is best told in a single image.  Now we all know the Duchess of Cambridge is a very photogenic young woman and we are certainly used to seeing pictures of her gracing our newspapers, magazines and screens daily. Yet one photo of her this week stopped me in my tracks - despite my republican leanings.  This arresting image (left) was reproduced everywhere.
You can count the story lines just looking at this picture of her  impromptu hockey display on her visit to Team GB this week. 
- The unfusty royal - prepared to pull on a sweatshirt and trainers, give it a go and be a good sport
- A woman with skills - once captain of the school hockey team, at Team GB her technique 'wowed crowds and impressed officials' according to the Telegraph.  

- Effortlessly glamorous - being Kate Middleton, even in trousers worn for a public occasion and incongruous grey sweat top and trainers, she still managed to look fabulous.
- And look at that smile and that wonderful body language. This young woman may be living life in a goldfish bowl, but she's cool and relaxed - and knows how to have fun. #

A very welcome Tonic came mid-week in the form of our 'Spruce Up for Spring' session in Covent Garden. Clients and friends who are members of our Tonic Club volunteered for free makeovers (at Bare Escentuals) or traditional wet shaves (at ├╝ber trendy barbershop Murdock), followed by drinks all together at nearby Hospital Club

Tonic is designed exclusively for people working in-house in professional firms in PR, marketing or management roles.  As its name suggests, the idea is to offer a 'tonic' - these roles may be joyous and rewarding but we all know there are frustrations too!

Thanks Nicola, Victoria, Jacky, Sarah, Sam, Andy, Chris, Lauren and all my fine colleagues at Kysen for making it such a fun evening. Looking forward to Part Two on 12 April.. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Adrian Wooldridge

Spent a fascinating afternoon with The Economist's Schumpeter, one of my favourite weekly columnists. What a treat! Essentially a business and management column, Schumpeter was launched by The Economist three years ago, designed to offer insights to "help people see business straight". It is named after the famous economist, intellectual and political scientist Joseph Schumpeter, who knew the power of a sound bite: in the first half of last century he coined the term 'creative destruction' - the idea that companies rising and falling would unleash innovation and in the end make economies stronger. He believed vehemently that innovation was at the heart of economic progress and he promoted the idea that business, and capitalism, could be a force for good - at a time when the prevailing sentiment was anti-business.  

"Queen Elizabeth owned silk stockings. The capitalist achievement does not typically consist in providing more silk stockings for queens, but in bringing them within the reach of factory girls, in return for steadily decreasing amounts of effort" was one of his most famous observations.

The man behind Shumpeter is impressive in his own right.  Management Editor Adrian Wooldridge is one of the most thoughtful and though-provoking journalists I know.  Take a look at this week's article "Slaves to the smartphone" on the "evils of constant connectivity" and how we should all get a life.  And this one from earlier in the year on "The dangers of demonology", which argues that hatred of bankers is in fact one of the world's oldest and most dangerous forms of prejudice.  Now that's a challenging idea.  

Adrian is also the author of several intriguingly titled business books: "The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea", "A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalisation", "The Right Nation - a study of conservatism in America", and "Masters of Management: How the Business Gurus and their Ideas have Changed the World - for Better and for Worse".  This man is alive with interesting, original, often counter-intuitive ideas. If ever you have an opportunity to engage him in conversation, grab it! Lucky me: I got to spend a lunchtime and a whole afternoon with him as he talked to a number of clients for a piece he's researching on the changing fashions for organisational structures. It was utterly fascinating.  Will reveal more soon...

"Austerity MIPIM" are two words I never thought I'd see side by side.  But Brecher managing partner Nicky Richmond has been busily blogging from MIPIM this week for both The Lawyer and Estates Gazette and has been talking about just this.  Gone are the days of the property department jolly. This year if you're there, you're definitely there to work. Nicky more than most: on top of a gruelling diary of hardcore business meetings, from dawn to dusk, across breakfast, lunch and dinner, she has been sending me two draft blogs before 9am each morning.  Star client!  You can read her Estates Gazette blog here and The Lawyer one here - although this one comes with a health warning.  She took a particularly dim view as some of the proceedings towards the end of the week seemed to slide back into the lairy excesses of the early noughties, and being Nicky she told it just how it was. And it wasn't pretty.

As I post this, Nicky is on her way back to London - returning with a suitcase full of new clients and deals.  Now that's how it's done!

Didn't we all miss Steve Jobs this week, with the damp squib that was the launch of iPad 3. The market was seriously underwhelmed.  Now Mr Jobs was a man who might have got on well with our Joseph Schumpeter, had their times on this mortal coil coincided. Jobs' magic gift was his ability to take potentially elite, complex technology and translate it into a mass consumer product, because of his intuitive understanding of the consumer mind, habit and heart. The latest iteration of our beloved iPad seems no more than a bit of tinkering around the edges. A new high definition screen? Faster microchip? Hardly revolutionary.  Let's hope Apple finds new inspiration soon.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mark Johnson

Happy 10th birthday to TPP Law! Managing partner Mark Johnson joined me and colleague Clare Turnbull for lunch this week to celebrate a phenomenal 10 years success since he launched his business in 2002, and we took the opportunity to ask him how reality had matched up to expectation.  With a career that began with roles at top firms such as Theodore Goddard (now Addleshaws) and SJ Berwin, Mark is a highly specialist public projects  lawyer, with a particular emphasis on innovative and cutting edge partnership contracts and new delivery models for public services.  It is no coincidence that we met to celebrate the success of his highly respected niche firm just days after a survey by Winmark Chief Legal Officer Network highlighted that FTSE100 companies are increasingly choosing niche law firms (also some mid-market players) in preference to magic circle firms for most things except for those very special deals that still require some real 'magic' - as Jonathan Ames put it when he wrote about the phenomenon in this week's Times

Mark is renowned for his methodical approach to his work for clients and his business.  This is the man who attended Harvard Business School's week-long Leadership in Professional Service Firms programme as part of his business planning process.  So did it all pan out just as he expected?  What in particular does he think he has learned over the last 10 years?

"First and foremost, I learned that creating a business plan requires a collaborative team effort - the whole firm needs to buy into it and understand it.  It can't really be imposed from above.  Equally important is staying close to the market: get the senior team out and about making connections and finding the next assignment - not sitting at their desks in the office.  In my previous firms there seemed to be an assumption that if you were not in the office you clearly weren't working!

Next, I'd emphasise the importance of training and development, which is critical to attracting and retaining talent."  This is a subject close to Mark's heart and Kysen was very grateful when he shared his wisdom back in 2010 as we prepared for our own Investor In People accreditation. (Thanks Mark!)  "Law firms have got much better at this over the past ten years," he continues, "but many have some way to go.  We have a very structured training plan for everyone in the practice at all levels.  Crucially, senior lawyers need to make time to mentor and coach junior staff.  Lastly, I'd say that you can't achieve success on your own - the right level of business support on finance, IT, business development and PR is essential.  Fortunately we have worked with some excellent partners in these fields."  (Thanks again Mark!)

Well, with old snobberies diminishing and in-house lawyers increasingly demanding a real and evidenced value-add,  the future looks bright for TPP Law.  Here's to the next 10 years!

Some gift horses should most definitely be looked in the mouth! Huge fun was to be had on Twitter this week, as journalists and others raced to tweet ever-increasingly inventive 'nag gags', after news emerged that ex News of the World boss Rebekah Brooks had been loaned a retired police horse from the Met.   Check out #horsegate on Twitter to enjoy the fun.  

The Guardian took to the saddle with a game of its own, inviting readers to contribute their best horsegate jokes.  Enjoy them here.

What was your favourite?
And so to the Oscars...  which, with The Artist and The Iron Lady both sweeping the awards again, seemed rather like a sequel to last month's BAFTAs.  Meryl Streep reprised her role as Cinderella - (you'll remember her losing her shoe on the steps up to the stage on her way to collect her Best Actress BAFTA) - winning only her third Oscar ever, despite being the most nominated actress in history: Cinderella shall go to the ball!

And Jean duJardin charmed us once again, with a coy follow-up to his wonderful joke at the BAFTAs ...."In the words of Buster Keaton...[silence]".  This time he delighted us with: "If George Valentin could speak, he'd say....."  ...well, if you want to know what he'd say, click on this video link - and enjoy!