Thursday, 29 May 2014

Steve Blundell

So nice to see old friends getting together in a shiny new business venture. Redstone Consultants launched just two months ago in February, but I've known quite a few of its consultants separately, and thought very highly of them, for a very long time. 

Managing Director Steve Blundell is one of the most famous names in law firm business strategy, familiar to me since my earliest days as a junior marketing assistant back in the (ahem) 1980s, when professional services marketing first began.  He was then marketing manager at Touche Ross (I remember Kim Tasso introducing him to my then boss) and one of the first members of the profession's "Informal (ie meetings down the pub) Marketing Forum" the pre-cursor to today's PSMG, its then half-dozen members being the only marketeers in the entire world focussed on the professions. Oh what a Brave New World it was. Since then Steve has had a blazing career, with roles in-house in both accounting and legal firms (Baker TillyPWCDenton Wilde Sapte) before co-founding his own consultancies, first Gracechurch (10 years ago) and now Redstone. Few have such an impeccable personal brand so like most people I'm always interested in What Steve Does Next. So when Redstone invited me to a "Strategy Room" breakfast discussion, I took the opportunity to ask him what his new consultancy is all about and how it differs - not only from its closest competitors, but what Steve himself has done before. 

"I'm a strong believer that creating and implementing competitive strategy is as much about leadership, organisational design and tackling internal cultural issues as it is about analysing and responding to external market factors – though these are critical too. Successful strategy is about bringing to bear the full suite of functional skills you find around a boardroom table, but the professions often struggle with the softer skills side and with the part that's focussed internally. But HR, IT, Marketing and Finance functions are all equally key to the piece; it's the COMBINATION that makes for success in the most competitive and challenging of markets" (domestically with ABSs and globally with the rise of the far East). "You can see this in the complementary skill-sets of our founding directors. Clients tell us our most vital contributions are in the areas of strategy, organisation design, culture, positioning, business development and relationship management. Clare, you and I both agree that Jo Larbie is second to none when it comes to HR, professional development & learning. Your interview at the time of her book launch (How To Make Partner and Still Have a Life) highlights exactly the skill-set and wisdom that our clients say adds the value; then we have Keith Wells, a genius when it comes to brand strategy; Katie Dignan" [another good friend of Kysen] "is one of the profession's very best sales developers, with in-house sales and BD roles under her belt at top firms Herbert Smith, and Pinsents" [where, incidentally, she coincided in-house with Kysen's own Clare Turnbull] "Marco Smith worked as BD director for DTZ before becoming head of European BD at Baker McKenzie; Moray McLaren, has a most unusual reputation as both academic and practical marketing specialist, beginning with a stint as Head of BD at the IBA, then at SNR Denton, then Associate Professorships at the Catolica Global School of Law and IE Business School's MBA programme - and now a continuing role at the groundbreaking internet-enabled global classroom Law Without Walls; and Peter Cornell, Chairman of our Advisory Board.  Peter was Global Managing Partner of Clifford Chance, went on to work with Guy Hands at Private Equity firm Terra Firma and now is a partner with Metric Capital; that’s just some of the leading lights in our team. But before any of these individuals engage with a client, it is of course diagnostic skills that are the most crucial; being able to pinpoint where a law firm's critical challenge is (it's not always where it's senior management think it is) and identifying what type of intervention, and in which parts of the business, is going to help the firm most in moving forward ahead of competitors.  Is the real issue for the business about staff engagement and incentivisation? Is it about the need to migrate lawyers' skills to capture opportunities in a very changed market? Is it about improving profitability and helping the senior team understand the levers behind the figures?"

Clearly Redstone is no one-size-fits-all consultancy. They are all about getting under the skin of what clients' issues really are and delivering bespoke solutions. Their big advantage is their strength in depth, and the sheer range of management skills they offer across such different disciplines, and from which they can draw teams in Europe, North America and Asia to deliver just the right kind of mix to meet clients' very particular needs. Now that's what I call value-add. 

There's no doubt Redstone will do well, given both the pedigree of its advisors and law firm leaders' need for support as the legal profession faces an unprecedented level of change. But what excites me more is the thought of all the firms that will fare so much better, now this particular brand of management consultancy support is here.
Prize for Story of the Week has to go to "human cannonball" and former lawyer Gary Stocker, the "high-flyer" who gave up a six figure salary to "launch" himself on a new career path. Gary gave up a lucrative job as law/writer and legal recruiter, and switched his £1million home for a caravan, to develop his circus act. Yes, the press had fun with this story; you can count the puns hereHe says his new job is much harder and pays a good deal less, but gives him much more freedom and variety.

Someone should put him in touch with Lawyers On Demand. Doesn't he know theses days you can have it all? A fun circus job AND a continuing career in law? But then that's quite a juggling act to pull off.... 
Guest post by Honey de Gracia.

The Kysen team walked with the Lord Chief Justice and over 8,000 people at this year's London Legal Walk. The event was aimed at raising money for the London LegalSupport Trust, which funds Law Centres and pro bono agencies in and around London. We know these agencies do a fantastic job; helping London's most vulnerable citizens receive the legal advice they need makes a huge difference to these peoples' lives, reducing debt, poverty and homelessness, and combating discrimination and injustice. And we also know how short these agencies are of funds to be able to continue their work. 

It was a pleasant day to walk for the cause, as the sun graced us with rare pro bono stints. Just like last year, our colleagues in the legal industry exchanged their usual suits and wigs for athletic gear... and then some. We bumped into clients from Fladgate, Serle Court and Squire Sanders to name a few; some journo friends from Legal Cheek; and we walked alongside inspirational academics, also civilians who strongly support the Trust. 

The route went on for over 10k and by the time we got to the finish line at The LawSociety our legs, feet, and bodies were sore. The Trust had rewarded finishers with a small street party which involved food, drinks and entertainment - even massage beds! The biggest reward, however, was knowing there's so many people prepared to go the extra mile to support the cause for legal aid. Literally.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Ed Tillotson

The legal profession could learn some business development tips from The Lawyer's Ed Tillotson. I spoke to Ed this week about a new service line offered by The Lawyer. No, it's not just the opportunity to buy more advertising space; not about firms/sets being able to publish their Client Guides to a wider audience using a Lawyer platform (although this is increasingly popular amongst their advertorial packages). So what is it? This might surprise you but The Lawyer team is now offering "article writing training" for would-be contributing authors of Lawyer content. 

"But The Lawyer magazine and its parent Centaur are in the business of publishing aren't they?" I hear you ask. "Not education and training..." I'm baffled by this new direction, so I took the opportunity to quiz Ed this week. 

"Receiving so much content from lawyers as we do at The Lawyer, it's been clear for a long time that there is a need for article writing support. Not least because the rise in social media usage and the proliferation of blogs has brought a new informality to professional and business writing and it's not easy for people to grasp where the line now is between being too stuffy on the one hand and too casual on the other, also how this applies across the blogosphere and in traditional print. Also, some of the most brilliant legal experts out there have real difficulty in putting their expertise across, or explaining complex legal points to less specialist/sophisticated audiences. And the in-house marketing people who act as go-betweens don't feel able to step in and improve the writing, for fear of misunderstanding the law and garbling important legal points. So we saw an opportunity to develop a new thread to our tapestry of business lines for law firms."

This is a subject close to Kysen team members' hearts: we spend hours each week finnessing material our clients give us so it is in perfect shape (on a good day) by the time it reaches our press contacts. Being legal PR specialists, and trading in legal topics on a daily basis, we have the confidence to tamper with technical text, change it where necessary to ensure it is specifically tailored to a given readership; that it is perfectly judged in terms of the level of knowledge and sophistication it assumes of the audience; and is written to engage, inform and sometimes entertain. In contrast, most in-house business development managers will simply not have the time, nor the right skill-set to do this, because their job descriptions are much much wider than just PR so they are not as immersed in legal topics as we are.  

"We deliver training through Econsultancy and it's proved extremely popular so far. I have to admit we have an ulterior motive too; the more confident a firm is that its lawyers can prepare strong content, the more they'll be tempted to take advantage of the new array of options to promote their content on our various platforms." 

Smart thinking: helping lawyers learn how to package their expertise in a form easily digested by target audiences is an essential part of them learning to market their expertise. But did you see what Ed did there? In selling this idea to the profession, he's demonstrating that his own business development skills are of the highest order. What he's doing here is repackaging The Lawyer's intellectual capital. Clearly not content to be restricted by such trifles as the fact Centaur is a news and publishing business, why not just dream up completely different ways to make money from all that wisdom and knowledge at the magazine.

That's what I call thinking outside the (text) box.
I've said in this blog before that Evening Standard court reporter Paul Cheston is one of journalism’s best story-tellers. Anyone keen to learn how to write to engage readers better would do well to study Paul's opening lines. I always say, Paul illustrates "text-book story-telling" at its very best, getting right to the heart of the most tantalising aspects of a story right away.  And this week we were treated to what might be his career best. Honestly. Writing up an interview we had arranged for him with Middle East "fixer" Daad Sharab, reflecting on her court win last summer when her opponent Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal became the first member of the Saudi royal family to be held to account and cross-examined in a British court, he crafted the most impactful opening line to a news story I have ever read, anywhere, ever. I'm not exaggerating: just count how many punches he packs in this one single sentence:

"The woman who  humiliated one of the richest men in the world has told for the first time how she delayed a brain operation to make legal history."

Masterful Paul.  Honoured to know you.
Guest blog by Adele Baxby

Being so used to following Supreme Court’s cases and judgments for our clients, it was great to step past the security and see the court itself this week, brought to life at night at a superb event: Court adjourned! Twilight hours at the Supreme Court

First up for the Kysen team was a talk in the white expanse of Court Two from the architect Hugh Feilden from Feilden + Mawson. Explaining the challenges his team faced when renovating the building, Hugh’s talk was a real eye-opener. As were his explanations of the significance and symbolism behind everything from the words used as art throughout the building, to the jazzy carpet designed by Sir Peter Blake (which certainly has echoes of his Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover).

Next we heard from court blogger and artist Isobel Williams. She told stories about moving from sketching Occupy protesters outside Saint Paul’s to judges and barristers in the Supreme Court. It is impressive that with just ink and an A4-ish sized piece of paper she manages to capture so much of the tension and emotion that often runs high in these court rooms, all while sat at the back of the room (occasionally perched precariously on a bench at busy trials).

Our visit ended in Court Room Three - an impressive room which is used to hear appeals from all over the world. Sitting in one of the green leather chairs it really brought home the importance of the decisions made in these rooms – especially in Court Three where, at times, lives can be on the line. 

Monday, 12 May 2014

Alex Aldridge

When Legal Cheek founder Alex Aldridge spoke about monetising online content at an event this week, I was all ears. How the media industry is adapting its business models in the digital age, and how the maverick world of blogging is becoming more business-like, are two subjects very close to my heart.

Alex was a guest of a "Pivotal Tribes" Question-Time-style panel discussion, which attracted 140 or so bloggers and would-be-entrepreneurs. Fellow panelists included Guido Fawkes alter ego Paul Staines, Student Beans founder James Eder and fashion & lifestyle blogger A Lady in London, Julie Falconer.  The audience hungrily gobbled up their tips for monetising content and turning blogs into successful digital businesses.

Alex was representing the legal community, billed as found and editor-in-chief of "the UK's most widely read legal blog", and I was keen to know how he feels about being part of the establishment. "I think for anyone this transition from internet hobbyist to professional media outlet is always an interesting one. Looking back now at the start of the legal twittersphere and the explosion of legal blogging in 2010, it's interesting to see how many names have disappeared from the scene. Not necessarily because they weren't so good, but sometimes people just lacked the time or ran out of steam. There's definitely been a slowing of growth, with just a handful of legal bloggers remaining now, a much smaller core. We've definitely seen the end of an era in legal blogging, but the rise of the "superblogger" is just the beginning: legal blogs that continue to go strong include Richard Moorhead's Lawyer WatchDavid Allen Green's Jack of Kent, Carl Gardner's Head of LegalLucy Reed on family topics, plus now there's Colm Nugent's emerging Wigapedia alter-ego and, of course, The Conversation."

Alex has been named the "Guido Fawkes" of the legal world which he finds very flattering, he tells me, although he is keen to underline Legal Cheek's liberal credentials in contrast to Guido's famously right wing stance. "What is interesting about the parallel though", he says, "is that political blogging being a few years in front of its legal equivalent, you can see what lies ahead. Paul [Staines, Guido Fawkes founder] began as a hobbyist in a sea of other political bogging enthusiasts. Where others have dropped off, he has kept going and today is a full blown professional media operation." [Since 2006 Staines also owns a digital advertising agency advising on social media campaigns, most notably the successful Boris Johnson London Mayoral Campaign in 2012.]

Legal Cheek now employs its first full time member of staff, reporter Tom Connelly who joined six months ago. "It certainly feels to me much more a serious business now I have someone else's salary to think about! But the profile of our advertisers has changed hugely since our early days. Now we list Hogan Lovells, Mayer Brown, Hardwicke, The University of Law, Norton Rose Fulbright, amongst other advertisers and are able these days to pick and choose to keep the quality of the names.' 

And has Legal Cheek's audience changed too?  "We aim to be the social media website for the legal profession and the BuzzFeed for law students and lawyers. So yes, as social media usage permeates through more layers of the profession, our audience does change. As you'd imagine we've always had a huge following from the student community and barristers have been quick to latch on to the profile-raising opportunity provided by Twitter. We have a big following amongst associates too. Law firm partners have been amongst the most reluctant to engage with social media, particularly at the senior end, although there are notable exceptions. Mayer Brown's Head of Finance Dom Griffiths springs to mind, for one... and engagement from this group is growing all the time. We now have 90,000 unique visitors to the site (equates to 250,000 page views) every month now, 83% from the UK."

Most definitely a serious business with serious advertising partners to match. But don't get too "establishment" Alex, we like you as the maverick you are! "Don't worry," he says, "I'll always remain the outsider... and the thorn in the establishment's side!"
Serle Court's Annual Party is always an event to look forward to in the legal calendar and this year's bash at the Barbican was no exception.  It's always staged somewhere exciting: this year the Barbican's Conservatory and Garden Room (you'll see from the photo this space is like a mini urban Eden Project); in previous years the The Museum of London, The London Transport Museum and the very beautiful St. Luke's. The food is always first class also but more than anything it's the wonderful company we all enjoy. We always bump into the other clients and friends. 

As ever, I had great fun catching up with Russell-Cooke's Francesca Kaye (although far too briefly) and Edwin Coe's David Greene, both known to us as past presidents of the LSLA. Also got to know some of the peeps I hadn't met before from client firms: Russell-Cooke litigator Mary Hodgson, Head of Fladgate's regulatory, governance and investigations team, Sophia Purkis; also had an illuminating conversation with a high profile judge that I can't say anything about for fear it might suggest he courts publicity.  Clearly he doesn't. 

Thanks for the invite Nicola! A really special do! :)
Speaking of David Greene, over canapes at the Serle Court party he regaled us all with a fabulous story.  When "leaning in" at a lunch with Lord Justice Jackson to clear the air over the LSLA Litigation Trends survey that criticised his reforms, David suddenly realised to his horror that his tie had found its way into his Lordship's soup.  The phrases "Jackson reforms" and "in the soup" will forever be linked in his mind no doubt!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Katie Tibbitts

I'm enjoying getting to know Katie Tibbitts, the new PR executive who's just joined the Mayer Brown comms
team. With four years experience under her belt working with law firms, she knows her way around the "idiosyncracies of a parntership decision-making structure" and has been able to hit the ground running, which is good news as she's now working with one of the busiest, most ambitious comms teams in town.

Over drinks at The Hospital Club we talk about how lucky she is working under the leadership of Helen Obi. As regular readers of the blog will know, I've known Helen for some 10 years and rate her as one of the 
very best in her field, famous for setting creative and challenging targets for herself, her team and the wider firm, so being a brilliant person to learn from. To give just one example, she talked in The Conversation last  year about videoing interviews with clients to impress upon lawyers the importance of knowing what really matters to customers).

Katie joins from South East regional firm Thomas Eggar so is finding life at City giant Mayer Brown interesting to compare. We talk in some depth about how experience in the different corners of the legal marketplace can enrich the PR advice you are able to give any law firm [or barrister] client.

"It's fascinating for me to learn about the global piece, how changing markets around the world shift the emphasis of work and marketing activity inside a big international law firm. At Thomas Eggar we had to be just as close to our chosen markets of course, attuned to what clients needed and sensitive to how that changed as markets change. It's just that those markets are different. And the culture of each marketplace is quite distinct also. In the regions there's a greater crossover between people's commercial, social and personal lives. Obviously with global business this doesn't play out in quite the same way. As I'm learning the new market dynamics of Mayer Brown's business, I'm fascinated to spot the differences and see the similarities compared to a much smaller law firm covering Sussex and Surrey."

I've often said if you asked me to swap Kysen's client portfolio for one generating twice the income but from only eg four Magic Circle firms, I wouldn't blink before turning the opportunity down. What I love most about our portfolio at Kysen is the sheer variety of work, giving us insights and opportunities to learn across the entire breadth of the profession, from global firms such as Mayer Brown, international commerce giant Holman Fenwick Willan, Italian firm Bonelli Erede Pappalardo, to niche players like Brecher, regional firms such as SA Law; opportunities to understand how solicitors work differently from barristers representing Serle Court, 7 Bedford Row, Hardwicke, etc, also working for legal associations FOIL, ELA & LSLA; business associations supplying to the legal profession such as IP valuation specialists Intangible Business, and so forth.

Katie has made some smart choices in her career to become a specialist, with deep knowledge of the sector she's chosen to work in. I like her approach and the way she is thinking about her new opportunity. She's a smart operator. It's clear she'll go far. 
I was in heaven this week at the St Albans Film Festival, courtesy of our good friends SA Law who are headline sponsors. The widow of great man of cinema Stanley Kubrick, Christiane, is a local and she launched the Festival one year ago. Bizarrely, St Albans has no cinema! But the organisers turned this to advantage, making a virtue out of the need to find alternative venues. So for the inaugural event this year we were treated to a screening of Hitchcock's The Birds in the city's cathedral. How atmospheric! We were also treated to a special celebrity guest appearance from the Harry Potter cast: Hedwig. I heard that over the bank holiday weekend Jaws will be shown in... yes you've guessed it... the local swimming pool, viewers invited to swim during the film... if they dare!

Thanks SA Law for a fabulous fun-filled filmic evening! Spectacular hospitality. You're definitely keeping your reputation for doing things differently!
Hats off to Honey de Gracia for taking up the Live Below The Line challenge this week. This Global Poverty Project is designed to raise funds for charity (Honey chose Child Hope UK) at the same time raising awareness of the word's poor. Did you know there are over 1.2 billion people worldwide living in extreme poverty, which equates to 20 times the population of the UK. That's not a typo: I did say 20 times. Shocking. Honey's food and drink budget has been limited to £1 a day (defines the poverty line) for five days. Those of you who know her will be well aware she's "barely there" already, she's so diminutive. Her feet have been known to leave the ground when out with an umbrella on a windy day in Covent Garden. Thankfully, she's remained healthy and not lost any weight (she couldn't afford to!) We've been keeping a close eye.

Well done Honey! If you'd like to support her, you can make a donation here.