Sunday, 27 May 2012

Simon Harper

Lawyers On Demand (LOD)'s Simon Harper likes dreaming up new ways for lawyers to find fulfilment at work. In the week that this award-winning alternative legal resourcing business announced plans to spin out from its parent Berwin Leighton Paisner and become independent, he spoke to us about his thoughts on how different lawyers' lives can be when they are brave enough to go after what they really want in life. We're all familiar with the story of how far the legal profession lags behind most other business sectors when it comes to promoting work/life balance and flexible working. Images of in-house restaurants, delicatessens, supermarkets, GP centres of even sleeping pods spring to mind as some of the more memorable examples of the lengths some firms go to to convince employees they don't actually ever need to leave the office. A couple of shocking suicides in the profession a few years ago galvanised change and today at least the rhetoric is that work/life balance is a good thing. Magic Circle firm Allen & Overy for example now has a Parents@A&O and a Carers@A&O initiative. But LOD take this to a whole new level, offering market-leading lawyers the opportunity to continue working at the top of their game, (for such mouthwatering clients as Financial Times, Gucci, Orange, BSkyB), but also having time to pursue other demanding interests in their lives. Some of the lawyers in their team are balancing work with raising a family, although this makes up a surprisingly small proportion of LODers. More are pursuing personal interests such as writing novels, teaching yoga - one is even a vicar!

When I asked Simon this week why he thought LOD had been so successful since its launch in 2008 (they have grown in turnover from 0-7 million pounds, and in freelance lawyer numbers from a pilot of 8 to a team of over 100) he talked about its universal appeal:
'One of the first lawyers to join our freelance pool, Sameera Khan, describes her moment of epiphany, on a Sicilian beach asking herself 'Surely my career should offer me more than this?' A classic 'Is this it?' moment that nearly everyone can  relate to. It takes a combination of reflection  and action' he says 'to make a change. It's something I can get quite evangelical about: I want to encourage people to really go for it, to push the boundaries and really strive to work in a way that gives them autonomy and fulfilment. The workplace is opening up now to new ways of doing things - perhaps one of the positives that's come out of this economic crisis, necessity being the Mother of Invention as they say. I love Roman Krznaric's idea' [the author of 'How to Find Fulfilling Work' which, by the way, tells the story of Sameera Khan as a case study] 'that to find fulfilment we should aim to be wide-achievers rather than high-achievers.'

Sameera for example enjoyed being able to combine a career with LOD as an investment funds lawyer, on an LOD assignment in the wealth management legal team at Coutts & Co, with her social entrepreneurial side developing a community hub in her native Brighton for the exchange of creative ideas and skills over tea and cake.

LOD's spin out from BLP has been designed to give the fledgling business 'more oxygen' as Simon and co-founder Jonathan Brenner have big ambitions for the future. The ongoing relationship with BLP remains key (they will be a major stakeholder in the spun out business) as the backing of this strong international brand has been a major factor in LOD's success to date. But the founders' excitement in being free to take the business in the direction they want as fast as they want, is palpable. From working closely with them in recent months we know how energised and tireless they are, regularly working around the clock and at weekends. Of course there's an irony here: work/life balance anyone?

An interesting week in the world of social media.  This last week or so must have been an emotional rollercoaster for Facebook founder Mark Zuckerbergeven for someone so famously dispassionate: first the long-awaited 100 billion dollar Facebook flotation, then his wedding to long-time girlfriend Priscilla Chan (would love to see the size of that prenup!), followed only days later by the disastrous news that he is to be sued (along with the investment banks involved) for misleading smaller investors by concealing falling revenue growth forecasts. Apparently the Facebook IPO has registered more 'pokes' than 'likes' on its own social media platform. 

And all this in a week that saw a fascinating revelation that the world's leading CEOs now consider social media as important as face-to-face communication.  Also a week in which the eminently conservative and secretive investment bank Goldman Sachs started tweeting.  Apparently this move to embrace social media is part of a new vision for a more 'open and friendly' Goldman Sachs, after a run of negative media coverage following an ex-employee's expose of an internal culture of greed and widespread disrespect for clients. New PR Supremo Jake Siewart, hired this March to turn the bank's image around, was PR advisor to the Clinton White House so knows a thing or to about handling difficult news.  You can follow their tweets here.  
Great excitement at the re-opening of Leicester Square this week.  As such close neighbours to 'Premiere Square', and being in the business of PR, we felt duty bound to test out the ambiance of this famous London landmark after its 15 million pound makeover and report back to you.  So we decided to have 'team beers' at a pavement cafe after close of business on Friday (Yes, we did it for you!)  And we had such perfect weather for it!

So what did we think?  Well, some of us couldn't remember what the Square looked like before the makeover, it's been shrouded in builders hoardings for so long! But we very much liked the posh new granite paving, the arty stainless steel railings, the fancy water feature around the Shakespeare statue. And we all felt that whereas before the Square used to feel quite dowdy and rather forgotten, now it is bright and proud - far more in keeping with its international reputation as the stage for red carpet UK film premieres.  And don't you just love those statistics and 'fascinating facts' that you always find in press releases for launches of this kind? The Evening Standard told us on Wednesday that 50,000 granite blocks in 17 different sizes had been used to replace every paving stone in the square, but most of all we enjoyed reading about the special coating that's been applied to the granite to make it easier to remove chewing gum!

Next we need to sort out a method for reserving our places by the red carpet.  Being just around the corner, there must be a way we can do this without having to queue from 5am.  Ideas and tips on a postcard please...

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