Friday, 5 February 2021

Vanessa Ugatti



I had a fascinating discussion recently with a woman who describes herself as the “True Worth” expert, and knowing so many lawyers who work themselves into the ground at times, run ragged by client demands and huge workloads, I had to share what I learned from her on this blog.  Quite simply, Vanessa Ugatti believes too many conscientious lawyers are not getting a fair return on their hard work and the value they provide.   

Clients come to Vanessa overworked and underpaid because they have difficulties around pricing and billing, and because they so often find it hard to resist pressure from their own clients to over-service.  The good news is she has solutions that can turn this around for them, for good. Her service is something I believe every lawyer should know about! 

From my days working in-house in law firms, I remember the levels of anxiety I would see when talking to lawyers about their approach to billing clients.  So many times I saw intelligent professionals avoid talking to clients about money, then drop an unexpected bill and duck for cover! When the client responded in shock and horror, the lawyer would be quick to discount the bill, writing off hours of valuable work they had done.  And of course this negative experience then created a perpetual cycle, as they were even more nervous about approaching the topic of billing the next time around.  And this doesn’t even touch on the subject of the swathes of Work-In-Progress that never gets billed.  This type of behaviour around billing is not only a disaster for the individual lawyer, meaning they have to work doubly hard to meet their financial targets, but it makes financial management and capacity planning a nightmare for firms.  So I started to run coaching sessions to encourage better behaviours around billing: open and up-front communication with clients at the outset to manage expectations around costs and payment stages, and then again at the time of billing, so clients would know what to expect before an invoice hit their desk or inbox. In talking to lawyers about why they were so shy to talk money, I soon learned how tied this was to their level of confidence in the true value of their own work and their standing as professionals. 

Vanessa takes this to a whole other level.  She digs deep to unearth the psychological blocks that get in the way of people seeing their own worth and the value they add in their work for their own clients.   

“My clients are clever and self-aware”, she tells me, “But it can be hard to see, acknowledge and tackle these sort of issues by yourself.  In theory it’s a no-brainer: better billing practices mean generating more revenue ethically without having to get more clients, do more work or compromise value (or personal values) simply by lawyers charging what they’re really worth and getting it.  But in practice, it can be a whole other matter, impacted by some very personal issues people carry with them about where their identity comes from and the strength of their own self-worth.” 

Through consultancy, in-house workshops, one-to-one coaching and motivational speaking, Vanessa gets to the bottom of what’s really happening in people’s minds to make lasting changes to their attitude about themselves and their worth, and their behaviours around pricing their work and billing.   

Given the legal profession is working so hard to address mental wellbeing in the workplace, and challenging unhealthy but long-entrenched work patterns and cultures, surely it makes sense for more focus to be placed on why they are so often keen to write off WIP and discount bills.  Making sure lawyers see the value in their own work and encouraging them to bill properly can short-circuit the need to over work and make a big difference to their mental health.  A subject close to Kysen’s heart, and that of many of our friends-in-law.  (If you missed Emma Cessford’s guest blog last month, interviewing RPC’s Ed Fitzgerald on the topic of mental wellbeing, you can access it here.)  Thanks for the insights Vanessa! 

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 The debate continues about how to clear the backlog in criminal trials that’s been created by 
social distancing requirements (although many believe the crisis is rooted in the withdrawal of funding from this part of the justice system over decades).  The numbers are alarming: there are now 54,000 criminal cases in the queue, which is a record, and means defendants are being held for longer without trial, and victims and their families are having a long wait for justice. 

The Labour front bench has called this week for a reduction in the number of jurors from 12 to seven and we are being told that the Justice Minister us ruling nothing out… including the idea of judge-only trials for less serious cases.  But as a top trial lawyer, 7BR’s Collingwood Thompson QC, told me last summer and wrote in The Times, trials without juries MUST be the last resort.  He came right off the fence in expressing his views that this would be very bad for justice, as for a number of reasons judges are far more likely to convict.  If you have a subscription, you can read his full article here.  

So what’s the solution?  Answers on a postcard please...

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The news that the
Lawyer’s Hot 100 has recognised Fred Banning made us all smile this week. It’s highly unusual for the legal title to recognise marketing specialists in their annual list of the profession’s most excellent and relevant movers and shakers. However, Fred, Head of Corporate Communications at Pinsent Masons (and with great pride, a Kysen alumnus) is not just a stand-out marketer but also this year, a campaigner who has made a huge splash nationally. Diagnosed with cancer, Fred has been tirelessly fighting for the terminally ill to receive the Covid vaccine, appearing on the Today programme and across many other outlets, attracting support from NicolaSturgeon amongst others. We’re behind Fred 110% and so pleased to see his well-deserved Hot 100 inclusion.

You can ask your local MP to support Fred’s Early Days Motion here: https://edm.parliament.uk/early-day-motion/57850/terminal-illness-and-covid19-vaccination