Monday, 18 November 2013

Helen Obi

Helen Obi is undoubtedly the client who has surprised me the most in my 25 years... inviting us to appraise her and her comms team at Mayer Brown. Before we met up for lunch, she sent me a list of criteria to assess them by, eg skill-level, relationship with us, plus some questions about what we would like them to do more/less of, asking me to promise to be frank. Helen and her team are our clients. And she was asking us to appraise them. I was impressed... and intrigued. I’ve known Helen for many years, first working with her at DLA Piper where she was Head of Communications for 10 years, then last year we worked on a project together for BLP, and now happily for us at the start of this year she took up a permanent role heading the comms team at our very good friends at Mayer Brown. Over lunch I took the opportunity to quiz her about the supplier-feedback idea and what was behind it.

“There’s lots of good reasons for taking this 360-degree approach to keep improving the team. But perhaps the main one is to be seen to be practising what we preach! Together with the Business Development team we are constantly telling partners and fee-earners they need to listen to their clients and other stakeholders more. In such a competitive environment it’s essential to know exactly where your clients see the real value in what you do for them. Lawyers need to understand that often clients take their legal expertise as a given (this often comes as a shock to them), and find the value-add in other things. Perhaps the way that the service is delivered. It might be the relationship that is valued more than the tasks.  In part linked to this, it may be the lawyers' strategic view that they value, that comes from so-many-years experience advising in a particular sector. The point is, if you don’t know what it is that the client values, how can you hone your services (and price them) to encourage more flow from the profitable areas of work?”

I took the opportunity over our lunch to find out more about what Helen has been doing to elicit feedback from the firm’s clients.

“It’s really exciting: we’ve just completed a series of client videos, capturing on film what clients have to say about the firm and the teams that look after them. The idea is to play them back to partners through a series of presentations Sean [Connolly, senior partner] is giving internally. It's so much more powerful delivering this feedback by video, rather than circulating a written chart feedback report. People really feel they are hearing it from the horse's mouth. The reaction to the first one we did was very telling: word spread like wildfire as those who'd attended and seen the videos chatted about it in the corridors to co-workers enthusiastically. It has gone down incredibly well."

And has the firm learned anything new? "What the lawyers have taken away is how detailed and real the feedback is. It underscores the point that you can't assume you know what clients value. The answer is always quite nuanced. One client for example, talked about how he appreciated the team's understanding of how his needs has changed as the market switched. In his experience he said, the legal profession can be quite slow to adapt when client needs change in this way. But our team got it right, talking openly about how to reconfigure the service we provide, so the expensive private practice resource is focussed on the bits of the work that really need that level and sophistication of input."

Reading the latest about Mayer Brown in the legal press this autumn and listening to the word on the street, the phrase on everyone's lips is that Mayer Brown is a firm on the move. Sean is driving change and people internally and externally are sitting up and taking notice.  With such creative techniques as these client feedback videos in play, I'm not surprised.

Isn't it nice when someone you've known for so long can still take you by surprise.
Great minds think alike. The Cabinet Office has brought out a board game "Legislate?!": a fun way to learn about the passge of laws from Bill to Act. Clearly we have set the trend with our own PR training game SuPR Powers

I love how the worlds of business and politics are both embracing these more visual, creative approaches to putting information across.  You can register for Legislate?! here.
Feeling festive yet? I most certainly am :)   Christmas decorations are up in Covent Garden already - and yes I will gloat that these are by far the best in town. Eat your heart out Oxford Street!

But what's really put me in the mood is working on some fun Christmas themes. My favourite so far is placing commercial insurance lawyer and amateur thesp Peter Forshaw of Weightmans in the Evening Standard on the topic of the health & safety hazards waiting in the wings of every Christmas pantomime. And of course the Standard's sub-editing team had just as much fun with the headline as you'd expect: "Pantos aren't really a danger? Oh yes they are, say law experts." Love it!

You can read the full article here.

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