Sunday, 28 October 2012

Bob Empson

Bob Empson's family is convinced he is a spy.  Formally he is Managing Director and founder of award-winning management consultancy White Maple Consulting Ltd, describing himself as a 'trusted strategy advisor, change and performance coach'.  He was previously head of Smith & Williamson's management consulting business, a partner/director at Baker Tilly Management Consultants, President of the Institute of Management Consultancy - and is now also a tutor on Warwick Business School's MBA Programme.  

Over a career spanning 30 years to date, Bob has worked for some 200 companies in 35 countries, across six continents.  This is where his family, especially his daughters, start to get suspicious.  One trip in particular triggered the thought: his travels on this one business assignment took him to Paris, to Shanghai and also to Moscow. (Camera pans away from view of lone man at the top of Shanghai's Oriental Pearl TV Tower.  Cuts to aerial aerial shot of Red Square's Saint Basil's Cathedral, a figure in a heavy coat and dark glasses seen crossing the Square clutching a mysterious package.)  His daughters' suspicions are not helped of course by the fact that "business consultancy" is a common cover in the world of espionage (in books and films at least).  And if you check out his Twitter this week you'll see his profile explains there'll be no more tweets until he's back in the UK as he "has no access to Twitter due to the Great Firewall of China" and access to his files on the cloud is also blocked. Hmm. Also, he is not just a cerebral fellow: on 4 November he will be running the New York Marathon, to raise money for Stroke, a charity of which he is a Trustee - so physically he has form.

We met up over lunch recently to discuss our approaches to our work with professional firms and to explore common ground.  I had met Bob through a law firm client we have in common, Russell-Cooke, and I know the esteem in which he is held for the work he has done with them over 20 years.  Senior Partner John Gould has publicly credited Bob's contribution to the firm as key to it's sustained and profitable growth over that period, and its elevation into the Top 100.  

"When it comes to change management, or even just moving a business forward, you need to work with individuals of course, starting with the leadership team, which is where performance coaching for senior executives comes in." He tells me. "But more importantly, you  need to understand the dynamics of the organisation as a whole - how decisions are made, the internal forces and influences that can take ideas forward or, conversely, that can potentially hold them back.  So orchestrating the right groups of people to come together to discuss the right issues, being mindful of setting the right agendas to shape conversations and decisions, is all part of the day job.  This is what makes the difference with implementation in my view.  And a strategy is not worth the paper it's written on if you can't put it into action on the ground."

So Bob not only advises on business strategy for Russell-Cooke but also plays a particularly interesting role staging the firm's annual partner meetings, grouping people and facilitating discussions, also devising the agenda, in a way that makes sure everyone is focussed on the pertinent issues and that time spent on the day is used to best effect to move the business forward. John Gould puts Bob's success with Russell-Cooke down to his detailed and contextual understanding of the firm's business model, its operations and its individuals.  He says this has been key in helping the firm, which at the end of the day is part of an industry that is "instinctively conservative", to embrace change.

An interesting approach.  I look forward to working with him.  But I can't help wondering...  Could this management consultancy role be just an elaborate cover...? 

You can support Bob's New York Marathon run here.
Apparently the now iconic Aston Martin should never have got the gig.  A fascinating film fact I learned reading up in preparation for the new Bond film Skyfall this weekend: producer Cubby Broccoli's first choice of car for the secret agent back in the 1960s was in fact the new E-Type Jag, not an Aston Martin at all. At its unveiling that year at the Geneva Motor Show (1961), this beautiful, sleek new Jaguar sports car had taken the public by storm. The film company asked for three, but Jaguar was struggling to keep up with public demand at that time, so boss Sir William Lyons refused to give up any of the cars as he needed them to fulfil orders.  Aston Martin stepped in and the rest is history: brand value and sales went through the roof as the partnership between Aston Martin and Bond became one of the most famous on celluloid.

Could it possibly be that our very own Charon QC is another secret agent travelling incognito?  Can we take another look at the picture of that red Jag he's just bought for his UK Legal Tour
Bringing class to an Essex classic: in a style statement that almost went under the radar, as The Telegraph put it, Judi Dench sported a 007-logo Swarowski crystal tattoo on her neck at this week's Skyfall premier. This woman must be very sure of her brand.  A risky strategy, but it worked: our National Treasure is most definitely pulled the image of crystal tattoos upmarket, and not the other way around. Brand Judi Dench is far too strong to be subsumed by this little bit of Essex. A succinct tutorial in brand attachment for you!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Meirion Jones

Meirion Jones must be one of very few men combining a career in fine art with legal marketing.  When he visited me in Covent Garden to chat about a client we have in common, he had just come from a meeting with publishers to discuss progress on a comic book he is bringing out next year.  He showed me some sample pages and they took my breath away.  He studied graphic design, illustration and art history at Central Saint Martins, part of the University of the Arts London, in the 1980s so I needn't have been so surprised.  But these images are both technically brilliant and packed with dramatic impact.  Take a look here.

Fine art being such a notoriously precarious career, after graduation and with a young family to support Meirion put his creative talents to use in the world of corporate communications and business development.  He began at communications agency Grayling and then moved on to a number of the firms most famous for leading the way in the early days of professional services marketing: Coopers & LybrandPinsent Curtis (where he worked with Kysen's very own Clare Turnbull in the mid-90s, in fact he hired her into the firm), Edge EllisonAllen & Overy and Lovells.  He set up his own marketing and business development company Client Critical in 2009.  His passion for art has remained alongside the day job throughout the years and he has continued to develop story lines and illustrations for his comic book ideas - and next year we can all look forward to the best of these finally seeing the light of day.  

Meirion has also found ways to bring the arts into his marketing training programmes, his innovative approach to business development training for partners winning him high praise from the judges at the FT Innovative Lawyer Awards.

"I tell partners that when pitching for business they have four different roles to play: detective, project manager, also poet and actor.  The role of detective is key at the start of the pitch process, making sure to dig deep and find out as much as you can about what the prospective client really needs and wants - not just in terms of the technical brief, but the commercial context surrounding their need for legal advice also and, crucially, what they really want from the business relationship with their lawyers.  So cultural points and soft issues need close attention as well.  Next, having learned all this and decided how you would approach the work in a way that meets the prospect's needs in all its aspects, project management skills are required to pull the work of the pitch team together - the people working behind the scenes as well as those presenting.   Next, the role of the poet: reducing down everything that you want to get across in your presentation into the most succinct form - not just words, but careful use of imagery perhaps, also an appreciation of how the vocabulary you choose conveys additional layers of meaning which can either help or hinder what you are saying overtly.  The role of the actor of course comes as you face your audience, presenting your proposed solution to the target client face-to-face in the most convincing way you can."

Lawyers as poets and actors. I like it. No wonder he has such a reputation for capturing the imagination of clients and colleagues alike.
The Jimmy Savile horror show continues to fester, with seemingly ever-more-shocking details revealed almost daily.  Amongst the reams of commentary on the story, I particularly appreciated Daniel Finkelstein's opinion in The Times this week. He points out the irony that the two biggest media scandals this year have been caused first by the tabloids taking an over-zealous interest in celebrities (the phone hacking saga); and second by the tabloids FAILING to take an over-zealous interest in celebrities (well, one in particular - Savile).  He suggests Savile's behaviour hints at what might be lost if tabloid newspapers are restrained from so-called sceptical reporting of the behaviour of the famous.
And finally, we really did enjoy the wonderfully creative stunt from QualitySolicitors, campaigning against the rise of the Faceless Solicitor in the post-Legal-Services-Act world.  Word reached me in the City on the morning they set up camp in Covent Garden last week, so I made sure to pay them a visit on my way back to the office.  On reaching the corner of Drury Lane I was greeted by a number of "faceless solicitors" dressed in pin-stripe suits, each sporting either a spring onion, tyre or pile of coins for a head to make the point that legal advice is in danger of becoming increasingly faceless as new types of legal business models emerge in the newly deregulated environment.  

The pop-up QualitySolicitors office was manned by lawyers altogether more personable, who spoke in passionate tones about their Keep Solicitors Local campaign ("Be Vocal - Keep Solicitors Local") linked to their insistence that the personal touch in legal advice is important and should not be lost. The stunt moves to Birmingham this weekend, then on to Manchester and Leeds they tell me. 

Great street campaign.  Nicely done.  But unfortunately they have now come a little unstuck with the accompanying Twitter campaign. Their decision to send cheeky messages to solicitors unsolicited seems to have backfired and Twitter has now suspended their @FacelessSol account.  What a shame!  The campaign started so well!  A bit of Face-Saving required now methinks ...

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Dr Nick Southgate

Lawyers On Demand introduced me to The Fun Theory and Dr Nick Southgate.  LOD Founders Jonathan Brenner and Simon Harper have long argued that lawyers should make their work and life more fun and challenge traditional career options: you can have the career and life you really want - it's just about making it happen.  They recently launched a series of free Life With Law events designed to open up lawyers' minds on work and life by offering new tools to think differently - not necessarily to choose the LOD path, they stress, but to make change. 

Nick Southgate spoke at the first of these free events.  He is a "philosopher turned advertising planner" who is now part of the faculty of The School of Life, founded by workplace philosopher Alain-de-Botton.  He runs, among other thing, the School's famous "How to Be Cool" class. His take on how we could all do work differently had the 100-strong Life With Law audience at BLP’s offices in London Bridge transfixed.  “The Fun Theory is all about using fun to change behaviours for the better. If you want to encourage someone to do something different, ie if you want to change their behaviour, the best way is to use fun as an incentive. The same applies to yourself. If you want to break out of old patterns and challenge yourself to achieve new things, to do things differently, then you'll have more success if you make that fun too!”

Nick showed us this wonderful video of a Fun Theory experiment, where the public were encouraged to use stairs in preference to an escalator at a Swedish underground station by transforming the steps into a working piano keyboard, complete with sound effects. "You would expect more people to use the stairs once they were transformed.  But what's amazing is that by the end of this experiment, the public actually queue up to use the stairs, leaving the escalator empty! Other famous Fun Theory experiments include encouraging people to use a litter bin by adding a sound effect making it sound like the world's deepest bin each time someone throws a piece of rubbish in it. So much fun, you even see kids scouring the park for litter to put in it!"

Having Fun? Legal careers? Aren’t these two phrases mutually exclusive? Well, that' the point of Life With Law: they don’t have to be. Hence Dr Nick’s invitation to speak at the launch of the new series of free talks, promoted in The Evening Standard as offering guidance how to get out of the rat race.  This first event focused on “the surprising science of better decision making” and “discovering the life that you really want.” The speakers were chosen specifically to help lawyers reflect and then be inspired to make their most ambitious ideas happen, and to develop the skill sets necessary to take them in their desired different direction.

"If you want to make big changes in your life, for example if you want to find a more fulfilling way of working, then you need to think of it in terms of a challenge to the old order – ie be very mindful of how you make decisions", says Nick. In other words, much like heeding the old adage: if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. Easy to say but how do you change established behaviour patterns? Nick's co-presenter John Purkiss, author of "Brand You", urged us to think about our “values” and “talents”, and not to start thinking about career options until we’ve understood these in granular detail.  Wise advice indeed.

For information about Life With Law's next events, you can follow them on Twitter here.
Enjoyed a very civilised Afternoon Tea at the Houses of Parliament, as a guest of SA Law. Marketing partner Julie Gingell is Chairman of the Watford Chamber of Commerce, who had organised a Day Out in Westminster and I was lucky enough to be part of the select guest list. We had a tour of both chambers, Lords and Commons, followed by Afternoon Tea in one of the private rooms.

Our host at the House of Commons was Watford MP David Gauke, who has the very grand, and we presumed antiquated, title of  "Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury".  He talked to us over tea about his role. "I was very excited when I found out this was to be my title.  I thought it must relate to some very special activities unique to my role and date back probably to the time the Houses of Parliament were first built. But sadly I found out an Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury is basically Minister for Tax and this grandiose title dates all the way back to... 1994." 

So all the PR you could possibly want wrapped up in a five-word job title. Neat.

A small handful of news stories turn your stomach and the Jimmy Savile revelations are definitely in this category. My goodness, how did we all miss this?? I remember feeling creeped out on my sofa at home just watching Jim'll Fix It on a Saturday evening in the 1970s. But still none of us clocked what was really going on. As one tweeter put it: "Jimmy Savile's decision to dress like a cartoon paedophile at all times now seems like the cleverest double-bluff ever."

Let's just hope some of the people who helped keep this under wraps are brought to account.  At least there are now moves (independent of this story) to tighten up laws surrounding failure to report child sex abuse.  And regarding the Savile case, the BBC has launched no less than three separate internal inquiries, no doubt worried by reports that victims are queueing up to sue on the grounds that the nation's favourite "Auntie" owed a duty of care to the children and teens taking part in its programmes.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Jeremy Hopkins

Riverview Law's Jeremy Hopkins thinks that the "law firm partnership model" is well past its sell-by date. Chatting over coffee in Covent Garden with the former clerk of 3 Verulam Buildings, now Director of Operations at groundbreaking Riverview, I didn't know whether to call him Jeremy or @Jezhop - we've been happily exchanging tweets for the last year or so using our assumed Twitter IDs, but this was the first time we'd had a proper conversation in person.

I was keen to learn more about the Riverview phenomenon. It seemed like no sooner had they taken the legal world by storm at the start of this year with a unique fixed-price direct-to-barrister service backed by DLA Piper, than they were launching in New York! Phew! This brave new legal business really doesn't stand still! And the latest of course, is their FT Innovative Lawyers Award as 'Standout' legal pioneers. 

"I do think the whole partnership model for law firms is flawed. It means the centre of gravity of the business in the wrong place and puts everything out of kilter: law firms look at their cost base first, then work out how many billable hours they need to cover that cost and to start making a profit. Where's the customer in this picture? I absolutely love it when we're recruiting for our solicitor business and we tell candidates there'll be no billable hours. In fact we don't even record them. No time sheets!" So how do you measure activity in the business, I ask? The answer is far more radical than I expect: "We measure our lawyers' performance by client satisfaction surveys."

Riverview founders Karl Chapman and Adam Shutkever have an established pedigree turning established industry business models on their head and making a success out of doing things differently. Chapman for example set up AdviserPlus, a highly successful HR outsourcing business, before turning his attention to law. Personally I think Riverview's master stroke was the appointment of a seasoned clerk, Jeremy, as Director of Operations. I've long said that whilst barristers may be temporally behind solicitors when it comes to marketing and PR, having clerks at the centre of their business potentially puts them light years ahead: unlike many marketing professionals in big City and other law firms (there are exceptions and they know who they are) clerks are at the sharp end, at the very centre of where legal services are bought and sold. They know more about that key decision - why potential clients choose to go with one organisation/individual over and above the competition - than anyone else in the business. 

"I do feel that at Riverview I have the opportunity to put into practice all the ideas accumulated over some 25 years watching lawyers get the provision of their services so wrong, and offer a way to do it better." 

And do you know the story how Mr Hopkins got his dream job? He wrote about Riverview in one of his regular article contributions to The Lawyer magazine and on the strength of that, Riverview bosses rang him up to ask for a meeting and offer him the role of Director of Operations! That says a lot about the power of the media: to change the life of one man; and change the trajectory of an entire profession. 

The plight of my hunger-striking friend, Dr Narinder Kapur, has become something of a Twitter phenomenon. His campaign began with the more traditional end of the media - Daily Mail, Evening Standard, The Guardian and his local paper Cambridge Evening News - but quickly spread to Facebook and Twitter as people read these stories online and from there tweeted and Facebook-liked them. The Indian community jumped in to support him, the story reaching The Times of India among others, as did various human rights bloggers and tweeters. Nice to see The Good Doctor's story go viral.

He has now completed his 5-day hunger strike but is threatening to stage a longer one if his demands for a more open, fair NHS - one that listens to whistleblowers and others concerned for patient care and safety, rather than condemning and ostracising them - are not met. You can show your support for Dr Kapur by retweeting his story here.
Visiting friends at Weightmans, we found time to swing by the Turner, Monet, Twombly exhibition at Tate Liverpool. I love this idea: juxtaposing artists you wouldn't ordinarily think of together, to shake up your preconceptions of each. It really did make me look with fresh eyes at some pictures I've known all my life (Turner and Monet that is - didn't know Twombly until this exhibition).

A poignant note was added by a very enthusiastic guide who explained all the works shown were from the artists' last years. All three had achieved acclaim by this stage, so had nothing to prove as such. Exciting to think what great artists would do with this freedom. Trouble is, by this stage they were limited by their ageing, failing bodies! Twombly apparently had to wait days between thinking of an idea and being able to execute it in his studio, often tiring mid-brush-stroke. A salutary lesson for all of us; do as much as you can, while you can!

Monday, 1 October 2012

Dr Narinder Kapur

Dr Narinder Kapur feels extremely strongly that we need a more just NHS. I use this adverb advisedly: The Good Doctor is so shocked about effects of NHS cuts on patient safety and care, and particularly about how NHS whistleblowers are treated if they try to do anything about it (he himself was sacked unfairly from his role as Head of Neuropsychology at Addenbrooke's Hospital for raising the alarm) that he is going on hunger strike this coming week. Inspired by Gandhi (whose birthday it is this Tuesday, 2 October), and his brand of peaceful protest, Dr Kapur will set up camp outside the Department of Health from 8am to 5pm each day, except for Tuesday when he'll be attending a conference at the British Medical Association, "Protecting Whistleblowers - Working together to create a safe culture for patients and doctors."

I met Dr Kapur through his lawyers earlier this year, when he was in the Employment Tribunal this March against Addenbrooke's. Ironically, just days before his Tribunal hearing kicked off, then Health Secretary Andrew Lansley (who is also Dr Kapur's local MP), called for a change to the NHS Constitution to protect whistleblowers. The rhetoric is clearly there. It's just the reality that isn't matching up.

Dr Kapur took time out from planning his current hunger strike campaign to talk to me this week. "The aim of this hunger strike demonstration is to bring pressure to bear. We need change! My strong belief is that having a fair and open NHS means better care for all of us. We have to stop this culture of cover-up if we are to face the NHS's challenges and prevent the negative impacts on patient care and safety that so easily happen when budgets have to be cut.

"Promises are being made to open up NHS culture and protect those who speak out. But so far I don't see much evidence of change on the ground. Are these promises any more than political posturing?"

These are serious issues requiring an equally serious response. Dr Kapur's hunger strike certainly makes that point.  "I am undertaking this 5-day hunger strike with reluctance but with resolve.  It pains my heart to see how failures in the NHS have contributed directly or indirectly to harming patient care, to a waste of public funds and to distress for NHS staff and their families.  Over the last to years I have raised my concerns in a wide range of settings - NHS, legal and political - but with no tangible outcome to fix these failures in the NHS system.  

"I am fortunate that God has given me the strength, knowledge, experience, determination, resources and good health to be able to make a protest in this way.  I regard it as my moral and ethical responsibility to do what I can to bring about changes in the NHS."

The points Dr Kapur wants to see embedded in the new NHS regime can be found on his website:

A likely candidate for the
Van Rouge Tour?
Charon QC's marketing campaign for his "Van Rouge" tour has got to be one of the best I've ever experienced. Mike Semple Piggot, the man behind  the fictitious Charon QC persona and who founded BPP Law School back in the day, is planning a tour of the British Isles over the next year in a camper van (I told you this campaign is brilliant) to interview the nation, lawyers and the general public alike, to find out what they think of our legal system. He will be posting daily podcasts, vox pops, blogposts, under the banner 'Reports from the front line'.

So calling for financial support, as he'll have to drop his London consultancy work to do the trip, he sent what has got to be one of the most engaging fundraiser emails/tweets to his contacts in the legal profession. Example: "I need a bit of help to fund a van, recording equipment and petrol etc. The sponsor costs are modest: £250 for a logo on the new Tour Blog and a mention in reports from the front line. £500 gives you a logo sticker on the van itself." Well that did it. I was sold! And we're in good company: The Law Society, Riverview Law, Boutique Firm of the Year Brecher  are just three of a large number of sponsors already - and this is just since Wednesday. Apparently he is buying the camper van this weekend.

To keep up to date with the Tour, look out for the dedicated Van Rouge Tour Blog which Charon QC will be setting up soon.

Big excitement in my household (we have teenagers) as JK Rowling's latest book came out. But this time an adult book and a rather bleak tale by all accounts, called The Casual Vacancy. Reaction from the reactionaries has not been good: "Surely it's not right for the woman who's been writing for our children so many years to bring out such dark, socially challenging material?"

In defence of Ms Rowling, I thought the Telegraph's Lorna Bradbury put it best: "It's clearly absurd - and not a little misogynistic to view Rowling as some kind of benevolent aunt, and someone whose job it is to protect and nurture our children. And it is something she has roundly rejected, declaring recently that she never represented herself as our children's babysitter or teacher."

If you're intrigued, you can buy the book here.