Friday, 21 December 2012

2012 Review

What a year it's been!  Looking back at my 2012 blog posts, it's hard to believe so much has happened to a profession not really known - let's face it - for its revolutionary spirit.  Maybe all that's changing...

The year began auspiciously with Jomati Consulting's report After The Golden Age: The New Legal Era.  Tony Williams told the Conversation in January how the changes we were witnessing in the business of law firms were fundamental and permanent - and how only fools consoled themselves with the notion that normal service would resume once the economy returned.  And legal news stories breaking over the ensuing months only served to underline his point as the first licences for Alternative Business Structures (ABSs) were granted and firms made their market moves.

During the course of the year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk one-to-one with the people behind some of the most interesting stories: Neil Kinsella on RJW's merger with Australian law firm giant (and world's first listed law firm) Slater & Gordon; Jeremy Hopkins on the irrepressible rise of Riverview Law; Tim Oliver on Parabis's long awaited grant of its ABS licence - nervous regulatory  authorities taking an entire eight months to get their heads around an application for a structure designed to enable private equity investment; and solicitors regulation poacher-turned-gamekeeper Andrew Hopper QC, who was quite vocal throughout the year on what he called "the essential disconnect" between the bright strategic thinking at the top of the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the pettifoggers charged with administrating the new system on the ground.  O dear.  There have been some unhappy moments this year as a result of this disjointed thinking.  But Tim insisted he was confident the SRA has come to realise it needs to recruit some different thinking into this arm of its organisation and skill up - and he believes that although it was painful for Parabis being in the vanguard, the firm has at least paved the way for others following behind to have a smoother ride.

In the midst of all this market drama, a smile was raised by brand valuation consultancy Intangible Business.  Co-founder Thayne Forbes reminded us that in this Brave New World of legal services, particularly with new types of investor stepping in to the business of law, firms need to understand their "brand value" as never before.  We loved their Law Firm Chocolate Bar Challenge

And would you believe it, this chocolate-themed blog post was by far and away my most popular of the entire year.  Without a doubt.  See, I always told you lawyers are fun to work with!

We also enjoyed getting closer to some of 
the "esteemed mavericks" in the legal blogosphere.  The Conversation featured Mike Semple-Piggott talking about his famous Charon QC blog and being the most dangerous man in legal education; Professor John Flood on his Random Academic Thoughts blog and blowing students' minds; Alex Aldridge's Legal Cheek and how the increasing influence of the leading bloggers brings with it a new accountability - even for these men on the fringes of polite legal society. 

What interesting times we live in.

Merry Christmas everyone!  
If you haven't had a chance to view our wonderful video Christmas card, 
take a last look here before you break for the holidays.  

See you in the new Year!

The Conversation returns on 13 January 2013

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Buddy the Elf

Buddy the Elf says the Brave New World of Christmas Services has changed beyond recognition. Ever since Earthly Rewards Management Consultants got involved in the business of the North Pole, change seems to be the only thing that's constant. 

"I was nervous at first, not knowing how my world - my comfortable little life I'd been living for the past 200 years - would change", he tells me over a cup of hot cocoa in Covent Garden. "The first revolution was the outsourcing of our gift wrapping department to India. That was a shock. Colleagues and friends I'd known for a couple of centuries just suddenly weren't along the corridor from me any more and I had to adapt the way I did my own job to liaise with a completely new team of colleagues in a totally different location - who I would never get to meet face to face. The next shock was the outsourcing of the Naughty and Nice lists to a Managed Services Provider in Ireland. We all anticipated disaster. But I have to say that apart from one or two small glitches in the very earliest days, the transition has actually gone very well. And it's certainly lowered the level of stress we used to see around here. O my word! I remember that moment every year when Twinkle would be found in a heap of jangled nerves on the floor of the processing room, entangled in a never-ending ribbon of paper, her face the colour of her scarlet waistcoat. Thank goodness those days are over. 

We all worried that the Spirit of Christmas would be lost in this new efficiency drive, that quality would be compromised and the heart would go out of the business. But if anything, I think life has improved. At the North Pole, with all the non-core activity happening elsewhere, we can now focus on what we do best - and what I love doing best - hand-crafting toys for the children. Everything here is now focussed on that element and making sure we all do it to the very best of our ability.

And with our new "Elf Engagement Programme" giving us golden opportunities to talk to The Big Man about our daily lives and work, how things could be made more efficient, and at the same time how our working lives could be made more fun - we have developed a new company mantra: "Work to Live". I even have more free time now to keep in touch with my family and friends - including my old chums from the gift-wrapping department, now working for Amazon in the next town." 

So life is quite merry for our Buddy. And may your Christmas be too!

Here's a heart-warming seasonal story I stumbled across on Twitter -  a Christmas tree, a lawyer with an axe and an early present for some special needs children.  Chris Sutton is a paralegal in Mundays' Family team. He attended a Surrey business networking event last Friday where guests were invited to chop down  Christmas Trees on Barrossa Common. (Chris: "Don’t you wish all networking events were this fun?") Later, he was invited to take a tree back to the office, but as Mundays already has a beautifully decorated tree in its reception, he thought a more deserving home would be Portesbery Special Needs School in Camberley. 

This picture shows the tree in situ, now wonderfully decorated by some of the Portesbery children who are  severely autistic or have similar learning difficulties.

So lawyers have hearts? Most definitely. This is the proof.


I asked for a little help from my (twitter) friends, in making last minute suggestions for  books to buy the lawyer in your life this Christmas.  With only seven shopping days left til Christmas (yikes!), we thought you'll probably be grateful for any Amazon-enabled solutions.  
Here are some of the suggestions:

Always a fan of tales about innovation and revolution, @LegalTwo recommended Charles Arthur's Digital Wars, which recounts the story of the battle between Apple, Google and Microsoft and is interesting for anyone interested in seismic market change.  As @LegalTwo puts it, it's a story of "how lazy incumbents get found out by people who truly understand the customer experience."

@LBCWiseCounsel has a new book out this year that any forward-thinking lawyer will love: The Tale of the Old Badger, the Young Fox and the Wise Owl discusses the general topic of adapting to change and how to skill up to grab the new opportunities emerging.

Lastly, a reminder of two books out this Winter from Kogan Page that have featured in this blog before: David Tovey's Principled Selling - How to Win More Business Without Selling your Soul; and Jo Larbie and Heather Townsend's How To Make Partner And Still Have A Life.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Milan Dalal

Milan Dalal thinks professional advisors could gain a lot from listening to clients more. I know Milan as Director of Brook Intelligence Centre, but prior to this he had senior business development and comms roles at Grant Thornton and Olswang. I caught up with him shortly after his company had launched a new service via the Legal Week website. Legal Week Reports offers profiles of the world's top companies, in 10 key sectors, "to help law firms gain a better grasp of the businesses of clients and potential clients".

Over coffee our conversation turned to his thoughts on a recent report on "Effective Client-Advisor Relationships" produced by the FT in conjunction with Meridian West and the Managing Partners Forum"The continual feedback from the in-house lawyer community is that clients want their lawyers to understand the commercial context they're operating in, so how the advice they give plays out for the client in real life. For the client, legal issues are not theoretical. They are very real. But so often their legal advisors seem disengaged from this fact. 

"You see this at its most acute in pitches for new business. The best way for lawyers to win new business is to show that the legal team actually takes an interest in the client's business. It sounds so basic, but you'd be amazed how often lawyers will forget to do this. In a pitch situation particularly, their first instinct is to talk about themselves- their credentials, their expertise, maybe their knowledge of the target client's sector, with a little bit about the client's business tacked on at the end. In-house lawyers will always say that lawyers pitching to them should spend less time talking about themselves. The conversation should be flipped: far less "we are this, that and the other..." and far more "we've noticed this about you, we wondered if this or that may be an issue for your business". Lawyers can still pack in a lot of information about their strengths this way - in terms of knowing the law, understanding the sector and the business context. Instead of just talking about how they don't only give legal advice, they also help clients meet their commercial objectives, they are actively demonstrating it. 

"Professional advisors often don't get that clients will assume an awful lot about levels of expertise and legal skill. Lawyers wouldn't have made it on to the pitch list without these "hygiene" factors being taken for granted. So none of this needs to be covered in a pitch. Clients do buy business relationships though, so what matters to them is whether they can engage with the people in front of them. They'll be thinking about whether they could work with the legal team presenting". 

According to the Report, clients want a more strategic, commercial dialogue with their advisors, "particularly in a more complex, uncertain and global business environment". 

A big challenge. But at least the profession has Milan to help it rise to the occasion. 

What's the price of bad publicity? Apparently about £20m over two years. Neatly put - by barrister, media pundit and blogger Rupert Myers

It seems the only reason Starbucks has agreed "voluntarily" to pay more tax than legally required is because its UK customers expressed such outrage and anger at the company's position and threatened to boycott the coffee shop altogether. The story does sum up the point very neatly indeed. In the words of Starbucks UK Managing Director Kris Engskov speaking to Sky's Jeff Randall: "we have reacted to our customers... we have seen that doing business responsibly is good for the bottom line and this is a good example of that". Well, quite. 

Fun was certainly had at Kysen's "Magic of Christmas" party this week, as the team decamped to a vault room in the basement of Tuttons Bar on Covent Garden piazzaHoney and I managed to keep secret our surprise guest until the night: magician Stephen Barry, who amused and bemused us in equal measure with his mind-reading and sleight-of-hand magic tricks. His website (take a look- he does a lot of celeb events so you'll see some fun pics of an astonished Ant and Dec, a surprised Angela Griffin and a puzzled Harry Hill) claims that he can "make the impossible possible, close up and right in front of your eyes". And that's exactly what he did on the night. Definitely a fresh twist on the genre. For example, he got us reading his mind, guessing correctly which cards he was holding! 

Favourite moment of the night? A completely unintended one: Stephen, having wowed us into the palm of his hand, seeing Mariana's amazed gasp when he used her full name ("how did he know my name?")- before he pointed out he was only reading her table place name. We won't let you forget that one in a hurry, Mariana! 

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Jo Larbie

If you want to make partner and still have a life, Jo Larbie can tell you how. Jo is a talent management and professional development specialist who's worked with a variety of professional services firms over the last 15 years or so, such as Bircham Dyson Bell, DLA Piper, Stoy Hayward, Eversheds. I caught up with her just before the launch of her book, How to Make Partner and Still Have A Life - co-written with Heather Townsend and published by Kogan Page this week. It's a distillation of her knowledge and wisdom garnered over the years, condensed into something very practical, that readers can use as a guide for effecting change in their lives. 

"The phrase "Partner Material" is bandied about in professional firms to separate those associates who are from those that aren't" she tells me. "But no-one really knows what this means. This is a problem for firms, as well as those aspiring to partnership - not to mention those already in a partner role! And of course, today the partnership itself is changing - it's no longer the only career destination for top talent in professional firms. 

"From the individual's point of view, the key is to decide objectively if partnership is for them, and if it is, what they need to do to make that happen. My book is aimed at helping people unpick what "Partner Material" is, helping them decide whether it's a role they want, assist in the job of skilling them up for the task if they do want it, and also guide them through the conversations they need to have with managers and peers to make it clear to everyone that that's what they are aiming for and to seek their help and advice along the way. The days are gone when you could make partner by working very hard and someone just noticing you. Today you need to have an astute understanding of the targets the business is working to - ie what matters to senior management - and then make sure you are excelling at those things. And never confuse input with output!"

Jo says that talented people are often shy about broaching the subject of their ambitions with their bosses. "But it's all about how you present the issue. A good idea at appraisals is to say something like: "If I want to be a partner, what do I need to do? Can you tell me about your experience? How did it change for you? What should I think about doing differently?"

Some senior partners mistakenly think the different attitude of Generations X and Y is about a lack of commitment compared to their day. This is not true. Trainees and associates today just have different expectations of work and life. In particular, their time scale is different: they don't believe in deferred gratification. They don't want to be shut in a room and fed work, for some later prize. They want it all now - interesting and challenging work and time to enjoy a meaningful life outside of work! And considering that most young lawyers today come out of law school with a £30-50K debt, who can blame them!  My book attempts to shed some light and help spawn a generation of professionals who can enjoy both their work and their lives!"

I've ordered copies of How To Make Partner And Still Have A Life for several friends already. In my book, talent coach Jo Larbie is a very talented lady herself! You can buy it from Amazon here.

A good night was had by all at the London Solicitors Litigation Association's Annual Dinner this week.  The great and the good of the London litigation scene (Litigaterati? Maybe not) were there in force, treated to sumptuous food  in the Law Society's beautiful Common Room and a speech by Lord Falconer: wonderful tales of his role as Blair's first Justice Minister and the "fun" he had taking ministerial responsibility for the poisoned chalice of the Millennium Dome.  

But it was LSLA President Francesca Kaye that gave us the most food for thought.  In recapping on where we are with the Civil Justice Reforms, she raised a very interesting question: the current fashion for Oligarchs to stage their legal battles in London's is generating huge amounts of money (and therefore taxes) for the country, but why is this not being used to reinvest in the whole civil justice system and its infrastructure, such as IT, to ensure we can continue to provide the level of service that big litigation requires at the same time as benefitting everyone else in the system? When you think of all the cuts and the different imaginative and multifarious ways that Legal Aid is being withdrawn, "Why" indeed.
Stocking fillers for the lawyer in your life #2  Only 22 shopping days left till Christmas (yikes!) so we thought you might appreciate a couple more gift ideas for the lawyer in your life who has everything. New at the book store is of course Jo's and Heather's book on How To Make Partner and Still Have A Life, but for an old favourite you can't do much better than Gary Slapper's Weird Cases and More Weird Cases - comic and bizarre cases from courtrooms around the world. Here's a flavour:

"Courts have seen judges do things like try to turn off a musical tie playing "We wish you a merry Christmas" while sentencing a defendant to prison, fall asleep in the middle of trials, flip a coin to decide a case, demand a foot massage from a clerk, and get sentenced for judicial racketeering. Courts have listened to the defences like that of a bogus dentist caught using DIY tools on his patients and a man who based his defence on being as hapless as Homer Simpson...The cases featured in Weird Cases are those that truly stand out as odd, even among all the unusual dramas that challenge the courts. The chapters are: Compensation and Punishment, Love and Sex, Food, Drink and Drugs, Judges, Death and Violence, Pets and Animals, On the Road, Lawyers, and Jurors, Friends, and Neighbours."