Friday, 24 September 2021

Lara Squires



Legal marketing supremo Lara Squires thinks lawyers need to get a much better grasp of their brand positioning, to give them confidence in pricing themselves properly.  This is a major issue for the profession she says.  With a new competitive framework as firms and their clients prepare to pull out of Lockdown, she's worried there's going to be a race to the bottom in terms of price, with lawyers undercutting each other to win mandates.  

This is a topic we've visited before in this blog, in conversation with Vanessa Ugatti, who specialises in training lawyers to see their worth and price themselves accordingly.  For Vanessa, the issue is largely one of psychology and getting lawyers to see themselves differently.  Lara's take on the topic is that it's intrinsically linked to how a lawyer understands (or doesn't) their firm's brand.  

"Yes it's about the L'Oreal factor, and pricing confidently telling clients *they're worth it*", Lara says. And she agrees it's also about the Stella Artois positioning too, (one of my advertising faves), giving your customers comfort in being "reassuringly expensive".  "I often price myself as more expensive than competitors in a pitch situation, and then explain why I am more expensive, ie demonstrating how much more value I offer", Lara tells me.  "I do think there's a lot lawyers could learn from these consumer brands.  I often invite partners to compare their firm to supermarket brands, to help them get a handle on where they think they're positioned and where they want to get to. But there's often so much confusion within one partnership as to where in the market their firm is positioned.  In a situation like this, what hope does a firm have of communicating a clear positioning to its target audiences.  I had a classic example recently: a small firm of six partners, and when I took them through this exercise two of them said the firm was like Lidl, two said it was akin to Waitrose, one likened it to Sainsbury's and one Tesco."  Lol.  
 This confusion raises a huge continuity point about how the firm comes across, she warns.  "What are the partners communicating to the outside world if they have such different ideas about what the firm is? This is the real challenge and firms need to address it urgently: how individual partners see the firm versus how the world sees it.  Lawyers need to think about brand in terms of its importance in the story it tells about a firm.  They need to become much more comfortable evaluating the emotive aspects of their business and why people are drawn to them over other firms.  Retail brands do this so well.  Think of The White Company for example, offering lots of things that are white but not exclusively ... but ensuring everything in its stores and all the products they offer are clean lines and a kind of Zen living.  The difference between what Premier Inn offers compared to Boutique Hotels is clear for all to see." 
We can only dream of a time when law firm brands are so clearly distinguishable from one another as these retail brands.  But with Lara advising the marketplace, I'm starting to think that day will come a little sooner. 

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Nothing gets a busy PR team more excited than a request to support a client in their litigation battle,
especially when it involves a multi-million pound fraud, celebrity status and a police chase. Edmonds Marshall McMahon have successfully brought a private prosecution against Elie Taktouk who has been sentenced to seven years in prison on 11 counts of fraud relating to a failed property redevelopment in Knightsbridge. Their clients, Adrien and Frank Noel, were defrauded of £2.49 million by the tycoon who leveraged his reputation to con the investors into investing large sums through a series of calculated lies about the true state of the redevelopment.  Taktouk who failed to show up in Southwark Crown Court was later detained by the police at the Chelsea Harbour Hotel. Taktouk reached celebrity status after his wife Daniella Semaan, left him for the former Arsenal and Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fàbregas. This case highlights why private prosecutions are a vital part of our justice system, at a time when the state prosecutors are struggling to investigate and prosecute for complex fraud. Private prosecutions are becoming increasingly more significant as they provide a fast and effective option for individuals, corporates and charities as state prosecutors continue to suffer from a lack of resources to investigate and prosecute complex fraud.

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There's been so much coverage of the vaccine question as life and work starts to return to some 
sort of normality, you'd think we'd all be tired of the topic. 
 (We've been placing employment experts here, there and everywhere in the press on these sorts of topics for weeks!)  But the Strictly vaccination drama made us all prick up our ears.  The BBC quoted strictly star Gorka Márquez, who claimed that reports that some professional dancers on the show are refusing to be vaccinated against Covid are ‘pure speculation’.  Márquez told This Morning that everyone is free to make their own decisions.  “You go in the streets right now and some people might be vaccinated and some people might not”, he says. As the months go on, we’re bound to see more of these ‘vaccination drama’ stories, whilst business of all kinds increasingly grapple with the question of encouragement vs. enforcement when it comes to staff being vaccinated. We’d do well to remember it’s not just the corporate world coming up against these challenges.  Watch this space, because employers are only going to need more guidance as we come closer to normality! 

Friday, 11 June 2021

Katie Cramond


MWE’s Katie Cramond has given a lot of thought to how we need to present differently in the digital environment.  And of course this is a subject close to everyone’s hearts at the moment, as so much of our business life has transitioned to Zoom or Teams.  Indeed this was a recurring theme at The Lawyer’s Marketing Leadership Summit (#TLMLS21) this week.  In fact an entire session was devoted to “How can law firms cut through the surge in online information to get content engagement”.  (We will be posting a series of guides on various of The Lawyer’s platforms, looking at different aspects of this, and reposting them here too.) 
“The virtual environment is here to stay”, Katie says.  “It’s clearly going to be part of our “new normal”, even as we go back to in-person as our default.”  She’s right: apart from anything else, we’ve learned through the pandemic that you can vastly increase audience numbers and connect with clients and prospects much further afield if you allow at least an element of online attendance.  And it’s good for a firm’s carbon footprint, to tick that ESG box!  So we will all be getting used to “hybrid” events in the future I am sure… another hot topic of discussion at #TLMLS21, especially around the issue of how to make these work for both audience types, and how to avoid a compromise that is worse for all!  [On this point, Laura Ottley of Addleshaw Goddard had some very good points to make about the benefits of engaging specialists to help you work the medium better.  She’s had advice to stage TV-style panel discussions (think Question Time ... or Graham Norton, depending on the image you want to project 😉) and learn from your own viewing experience how this format works equally effectively for the studio audience as it does for people at home watching remotely.  But more on this another day…] 

“As with any new medium, you need to take time to think how it works”, Katie says, “rather than just do a version of what you normally do on a different platform.  So think about your “staging”, ie camera angles, lighting, backgrounds etc, and your clothes.  It’s a balance though, between being sufficiently rehearsed and mindful of how you come across … and still being authentic!"
 “A common mistake people often make on Zoom calls”, she observes, “happens when it comes to sharing documents on the screen.  Remember, this takes away from the human face-to-face interaction.  All too often, presenters come to the natural end of a document on screen being useful, but they continue to display it, filling the whole screen, making the faces of those on the call shrink into tiny boxes in the corner.  Not ideal for quality communication.  So close down those documents as soon as they have served their purpose and return to good face-to-face contact with the people you’re trying to engage with.” 
Similarly focussed on optimising engagement with the people on the call, Katie advocates plenty of interactivity in your presentations, even the use of polls to aid this. 
We may all be excited about the return to in-person business, but online marketing, having exploded in Lockdown, is here to stay. We marketeers and comms specialists can help our lawyers and clients adapt to the new normal.  This is the time we can really show our skill and our value-add, so let’s make the most of this moment! 

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So enjoyed The Lawyer’s Marketing Leadership Summit this week (and proud to be a sponsor).  I particularly loved how the organisers included so many GCs in their panel sessions.  A wise move, giving all the marketeers attending hard evidence to go present to their partners, as they take ideas back to their firms.  “We heard FTSE 100 GCs say [this or that] is important to them…”  Even a lawyer can’t argue with that! Interesting how many times the plea for lawyers to “be more human” came up in talks by GCs.  “Legal expertise is a given.  What we want to know is what a firm’s lawyers are like as people, and the values and approach that’s unique to their (and their firms’) way of doing business and helping clients.” 
The Summit also introduced me to The O Shaped Lawyer Movement, which aims to change the way lawyers’ skills, mindsets and behaviours are developed.  Their mantra is “People first; then lawyers”, believing the lawyer of the future will practise in a more human-centric and emotionally intelligent way, and that this will result in better service to clients in a more diverse, inclusive and healthy environment.  Well, I’ll vote for that!  Expect to read more about this initiative in this blog soon! 


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The Summit’s (virtual) room was full of some of the profession’s greatest and best marketeers and comms professionals, including many clients and friends of Kysen.
  A shout-out to: 7BR’s Hannah Sparkes, AshfordsMichelle Johnson, BDBF’s Paula Chan, BBK’s SonitaHayward, Cripps PG’s Julia Hepner , Liz Carter and Rachel Smith, Hardwicke’s SallyWollaston, Keystone Law’s Kristina Oliver, Mayer Brown’s  Helen Obi, Mills & Reeve’s Rob Neal and Julie Mortimer, Morton Fraser’s Tania Hemming, MWE’s Katie Cramond, Quadrant’s Sarah Longden SHMA’s Ben Buckton, CYK's Robert Coffey, RCR Partnership's Victoria Ash, LSL Family Law's Helen Childers, Atkin Chambers' Emily Morris, Radcliffe Chambers' Georgie Watts, ELA's Rebecca Churchill, Eversheds Sunderland's Judith Green, BDBF founder and consultant Arptia
 DuttWeightmans’ Sarah-Jane Howitt, Payne Hicks Beach's Ruth Napier and freelance marketing specialist Victoria Brentwood. Also delighted to see ex-Kysenites Norton Rose Fulbright’s Heledd Phelps-Brown and Bird & Bird’s Sophie Bowkett.  What a great and talented community to be part of!  

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Rhian Huxtable


If ever there was proof how poorly the term ‘non-fee-earner’ describes those in law firms who aren’t lawyers, Rhian Huxtable’s research into the customer experience is it.
His company insight6 specialises in exploring ‘client journeys’, from the background research they do before making an initial enquiry, to their first point of contact with a firm, then looking at what happens as they request (and then receive) information, and finally exploring what happens between that point and their enquiry being converted into a firm instruction.  When you break it down like this, it’s easy to see just how many people, from different professional disciplines (receptionists, secretaries,  marketeers, lawyers) are involved in reeling in a client.  And once they become a client, this full range of professionals all continue to be involved in the client’s ongoing experience, in addition to the IT team who are responsible for digital communication working smoothly and the finance team who send out bills and maybe have to chase for payments, and so on and so on.  Everyone plays a role in earning fees for a firm and contributing to clients’ perceptions and thus the firm’s wider reputation.  That’s why the term ‘non fee earner’ is such a bad fit – yet you will see from my recent LinkedIn survey detailed below, just how prevalent the use of this awful term still is. Indeed one City firm senior partner told me he worked at a firm recently that talked about ‘fee-earners’ vs ‘fee burners’!  I remember working in-house in marketing roles myself and being labelled a ‘fee-spender’ in stark contrast to the hallowed ‘big fee-earners’.  But that was in the ‘80s and ‘90s and I had hoped that attitude was long gone.  Clearly there’s more we need to do to understand how clients see the contribution that everyone makes in the law firm, beyond just the legal advisors. 

So what else does Rhian’s work tell us about the client’s-eye view of legal service provision?  Just as I was poised to start writing up my interview of him and everything he told me about this, (and actually quite randomly), I had the opportunity to ask one of his clients and mine.  How entirely appropriate!  Instead of using his own words, I can tell you how one of his customers found the experience of working with him!  The Family Law Company’s very wonderful Kerry England, (she’s a dynamo and one of the most creative legal marketeers around – you may remember her Only Human campaign that we profiled in this blog before), has worked with Rhian previously at Stephens Scown.  She says what Rhian is particularly good at is the critical part that happens after gleaning the customer insights: getting partners to listen to what they need to do differently and actually getting them to change.  He does this by getting under the skin of their practical and psychological blocks to change, starting with three simple questions: 1. What do we think is not working as it should do? 2. What can we do to fix it? And 3. What are the blocks that stop you doing those things to fix it. And he manages to do this without making anyone feel defensive.  That’s the big difference, she says. That and the fact that everyone he coaches in the firm, which covers people at all points in the organisation from receptionists and secretaries to partners, respect his pedigree, honing his customer experience skills over 16 years at much-loved high street brand Boots. That’s why he’s worth his weight in gold, she tells me.  And this comes direct from the experience of a customer! 
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I am sorry to report that over 40% of people we asked told us their firms still use the term “non fee-earner” to describe the many talented people that work hard in making their contribution, but who are not lawyers. We posed our question via a LinkedIn survey and 80 people replied, showing it’s clearly a theme people are interested in. One equity partner in a City firm put it well: "It suggests non-fee-earners or non-lawyers are somehow not as important as lawyers. Quite frankly the term fee earner itself is rather offensive too, given that it suggests that a lawyer’s primary purpose is to earn fees rather than to service clients”.  Quite. 

I always loved that Unsung Heroes campaign led by Managing Partners' Forum, urging the profession to rethink how it assesses and describes how different people contribute value in their firms. But that was launched in 2004 and I'd kind of assumed the issue was behind us now. Sadly, it would appear not. But there is hope: another respondent to our survey, Daniel Fletcher of Trowers & Hamlins, pointed out: "I do think a silver lining of the pandemic is that it has really showcased the talents of BD and marketing folk and hopefully this will see a shift in how they are viewed - as professionals".  And not before time! 
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Law firms going public has become a topic of increasing interest in recent years.  Paul Hodkinson, Editor-in-Chief of Legal Week, wrote a 
fascinating article on the subject last week, taking a controversial line and opening up a vital discussion.  The trend has been driven in large part by advancements in technology.  This has led many tech-savvy and forward-thinking firms to consider whether an IPO could be an effective way of raising the huge amounts of capital they need to take their business to the next level.  Paul created an interesting conversation around this last week, when he made some arguments against law firm listings – he takes the opinion that history provides only cautionary tales, and there may be more suitable alternatives.  There are clearly strong arguments flying around on both sides of the debate.  So what do you think?  We’d love to have your views, so please do reply to this post with a comment. Alternatively, perhaps this could be a good topic for Kysen’s new LinkedIn survey next week…  We’ll keep you posted!                       
This story posted by Jack Rodway and Svitlana Lyekar 

Friday, 19 March 2021

Matt Kay

Vario managing director Matt Kay is missing the randomness of office chat and thinks our professional life risks being the poorer without it.   

 I took the opportunity to speak to Matt as he settles into his expanded role as head of Pinsent Masons’ new professional services practice group, Vario. He has made such a success of the firm’s contract lawyer resourcing arm since taking over the lead five years ago, that he has now been given a key role in the wider firm’s  journey to transition from a law firm to a ‘professional services business with law  at its core’.  As Matt is a leading expert in workforce dynamics and resourcing teams for best effect in all sorts of different and changing circumstances, I was keen to hear his insights. 

“In Lockdown our days have become far more structured now that most of our meetings are conducted online”, he told me.  “On the plus side, this has proved to many more bosses that employees can be trusted to be more, not less, productive when working remotely.  But on the other, in a different sense people’s output is in danger of being watered down because our interactions are so much more formal, narrowly task-oriented and to that extent straitjacketed.  We no longer bump in to people, have unexpected chats that spark new ideas which we might then set up a meeting to explore.  Everything is far too scheduled and pre-booked to allow for this serendipity.  Yet we can see now that pre-Lockdown this was so often the way new ideas and initiatives got started.  Teams and Zoom are great for allowing us to carry on and get done what we need to do to keep things going.  But little happens outside of that.   

“Also”, he continues, “We spend a lot of time online with the same people. The professional bubble of people we interact with is a lot smaller, ie only the collection of people we need to interact with directly to do our job. What’s being lost is the ad hoc interactions that normally just happen by chance in the office.  The opportunity to bounce ideas off someone as you have an unexpected conversation. This is part of the everyday process of operating in a large office environment.  Indeed modern offices are designed to encourage exactly these sorts of random interactions, because experience has shown how valuable they are to businesses: open plan, comfortable seating around coffee areas, breakout spaces.  The challenge for us now is to rediscover this in the virtual environment. The answer? To build more casualness in to our scheduling.” 

We often talk about the importance of business certainty. But Matt has given me a completely new perspective on the value of unpredictability and uncertainty. Vario is a brand known for turning established business practices on their head, doing things differently and leading where others follow.  Every time I speak to their managing director he makes me think again about business norms I’ve accepted as a given. I’m looking forward to the next chat Matt! 

***

Complex personal injury specialists Bolt Burdon Kemp claim to be “Champions” for their clients … and rightly so! They have just conducted a study that reveals only a paltry 2% of British civil and criminal courts are fully accessible. Why haven’t we heard more about this before? Credit to BBK for bringing this to our attention. This clearly needs to change. 

As they say in their report, “for many people, going to court is seen as a necessary evil…a way to help them gain justice or get redress for crimes committed against them or negligent behaviour that has adversely affected them”. Its’ a daunting process for anyone to go through, we know. But even more so for clients who have issues with their vision or hearing, or those with mental health issues or childcare responsibilities. In 2019 the Government admitted that 31 out of 56 courthouses in the Greater London were inaccessible. Did BBK find anything had improved one year on? You can read the detailed results of their investigation here. 

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Regular readers of this blog will know we are all fans of award-winning freelance journalist Catherine Baksi hereI just love her totes minx style, and her humour. We spotted on Twitter that she was preparing a talk this week to the Westminster Legal Policy Forum about the state of legal aid and to sum up her thoughts on the matter she created this brilliant graphic (with a little technical support from @LegalCheek_Tom, she tells me). Genius!   

Friday, 12 March 2021

Arpita Dutt Talks to Adele Baxby Meehan

This week, our Content and Creative Director, Adele Baxby Meehan takes over The Conversation

Childcare is as essential to this country’s infrastructure as roads and bridges. It’s time government recognised this. This latest budget was a missed opportunity.” This came from Arpita Dutt, a leading equality and whistleblowing lawyer,  ELA Legislative & Policy Committee member and Lawyer Hot 100 alumnus, in our recent conversation. We were talking equality in the workplace and what might really change things for women. Arpita then quoted a stat which floored me – an investment in good quality childcare would produce 2.7 times more jobs as an equivalent investment in construction. Real action is needed to ensure women reach senior positions, especially in light of the pandemic and the step backwards equality has taken. And it’s not about paying lip service to the problem but taking real action. We don’t all need mentoring. Women generally know what they’re doing. They just need the space to do it”, Arpita said and I couldn’t agree more.

In relation to this, Arpita pointed to a positive trend she’s noticing in law – the rise of the boutique firm led by women. We’re seeing more and more niche boutique employment firms established by women. Karen Jackson’s didlaw, Farore Law established by Suzanne McKie QC, CM Murray founded by Clare Murray and Workwise Legal from Alison Humphry and MadeleineHughes, for example. No one is treading on anyone’s toes in this market as they all operate in their own niche practice areas. I think we will see more firms like this emerge and that should be celebrated.” Arpita expects to see more female legal entrepreneurship too and when asked why, she said: “The traditional law firm reward and recognition structure doesn’t suit women and women often aren’t encouraged to express their own vision or voice in some firms.” Speaking of the pandemic’s impact on workplace cultures, Arpita thinks that although working flexibly and working from home might be more accepted when we get back to ‘normal’, part-time work is still resisted by many firms, especially litigation teams. Forging their own way is a path increasingly explored by female lawyers who find the traditional law firm unsupportive and stuck in the past.

It was enlightening to speak to Arpita – her observations of the legal market are made through a particularly clear lens. She has recently deliberately taken some time out to reflect and this act of slowing down, she says, has allowed her to see where the legal market is heading. After helping to establish the employment firm BDBF, Arpita has decided to chart a new career. For now, she has a renewed focus on charity work and has also taken a step towards front line work again, volunteering for the Rights of Women workplace sexual harassment helpline and sitting on the advisory committee. This, she told me, has been eye-opening as many of the women calling the helpline have strong cases of discrimination or even sexual harassment and physical abuse but still feel too vulnerable to take legal action because they don’t want to experience retaliation and be out of work. Another example of the long-lasting impact COVID-19 could have for women.

In light of International Women’s Day this week and the worrying statistics around how the pandemic has impacted equality, Arpita, who speaks so passionately about the issue, left me feeling hopeful. There is still a way to go but I am confident with individuals like Arpita at the forefront, the conversations will continue to go in the right direction.

Please consider supporting the Rights of Women cause here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/rights-of-women/

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This week we enjoyed seeing the number of businesses celebrating women in recognition of International Women’s Day. One of our clients, Brook Graham, gave a lovely shout-out to some of the women who have helped shape their business (including our own Clare Rodway).
Since working with Brook Graham, after they became part of Pinsent Masons Vario last year, we have learnt so much from this team of expert diversity and inclusion consultants. From conversations with the team, I know much more about intersectionality for example and how gender and race e.g. can combine to create a particular type of discrimination, and how much businesses need to wake up to this. And Brook Graham’s ethos of taking a meaningful approach to culture change is so important – in this day and age it’s not enough to talk about D&I issues. What’s needed is meaningful change. So, consider this a shout-out back at you, Brook Graham – keep up the great work!

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Favourite news story of the week easily went to the announcement that Terry Boot is replacing Peter Foot as the Finance Director of ShoeZone. This highlights the brilliant phenomenon of nominative determinism – the idea that you lean towards a job that fits your name. Indeed, when I was a teenager, I worked for a bookbinder and bookshop owner who went by Scrivener. In law, Corporate Counsel wrote about nominative determinism in 2009 and highlighted that in 2002, 0.002% of the population had the surname Counsell or Councell but three people of this surname were listed as barristers - over 1,000% more than might be expected based on statistical probability. And of course, there was Lord Judge, LordChief Justice, who served from 2008 – 2013. It’s clear – there’s more to your name than you might think.

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Amelia Jones, Senior Account Manager at Kysen PR writes about IWD and the real issues businesses need to think about

A Mumsnet survey for IWD highlighted 1 in 5 working mothers during the pandemic have had to slash their hours in order to cope with the increased childcare, and most frustratingly of all “more than a third said their careers had been affected in a way that was not true for their partner”. 

Do businesses need to be alive to these issues? I think so.


Women taking on more caregiving responsibilities than their partner, despite working full-time, sadly isn’t a shocking statistic, and the pandemic has only exacerbated this problem due to school closures. We can’t change individual family dynamics, but what businesses can do is create more support and opportunity for women, taking into account what their personal circumstances might be.  

Despite the lack of good quality investment in childcare by the government, companies can do more to support families with their childcaring responsibilities. The ROI highlighted by Arpita could do much to help women flourish in their careers – giving them the space, time and opportunity to do so. The alternative is that we continue to lose talented and skilled women in our workplaces. 

Steps should be taken to improve equality for women at work, taking into account the responsibilities and pressure in today's society. Although it’s frustrating - we can’t change cultural expectations and socially constructed roles overnight - companies could take more of a tough approach in challenging why women’s careers are negatively impacted by the pandemic. As in the end, our industries will lose out the most.  

Friday, 5 March 2021

Tania Hemming

Tania Hemming thinks the word ‘innovation’ is overused. Morton Fraser’s Marketing & BD Director believes expectations and clarity around when the word innovation should be used needs to be challenged more often. The word 'innovate' is to make change, do something in a new way, to introduce as or if new - not all innovation needs to be monumental or life changing. And are we talking innovation or differentiation?

We’ve all been there, when you are asked to promote something as "ground-breaking" yet it is essentially a "seen before” initiative. Whilst these developments by a firm may be important to promote in some form or other, dressing them up as innovations runs a very real risk of undermining credibility in what the firm says and how it is perceived by its clients.

Tania believes the answer is in being far more precise about what we mean by the term innovation, rather than using it glibly as a buzzword: are we talking radical change? True market disruption? Or just incremental progression of a market idea? The lines may be blurred and that's ok, but let's be clear and communicate that by using the right language and label.

I met Tania at The Lawyer’s Marketing Leadership Summit last November, when she took part in a roundtable discussion we hosted entitled “When every law firm is an innovator, how do you differentiate your innovations?” Her contribution was insightful, particularly around the use and misuse of the term innovation, but sharing the floor with a dozen other top law firm marketers meant it could only be short. So I invited her to a one-to-one over Zoom to hear more.

“Our understanding and expectation of what a new idea or initiative can do needs to be crystal clear”, she told me. “When we first think of innovation we probably think of radical change but it doesn’t need to be seismic change to be of value. Incremental changes can be just as important in moving everybody and the market itself forward. But you need to present developments as they truly are, because exaggeration undermines credibility. We need to challenge our perception of what we are seeing as being innovative, we need to be clear about the level of change you are talking about and can we truly say they are disrupting the market? Is the change architectural, or is it radical? Is this something entirely new? Or a development of an existing idea or taking a concept from one market into another?"

Tania also pointed me towards a survey conducted by Altman Weil last year (Spring 2020) called “Law in Transition”, which revealed shockingly that 70% of law firm partners see themselves as the main obstacle to change … and 60% of those are unaware of what they need to do differently.

Tania is keen to ensure that innovation is not seen as a one-off initiative but should be a strategy within the firm and an evolutionary process. She also said, "The question is how to embed that into a professional culture that is often seen as conservative. With law as a cornerstone of society how brave do you want to be, what risks are you prepared to take, and are you prepared to fail". She continued, "These factors aren't something that comes naturally for law firms. I am fortunate that my career in professional services has been with law firms that look to push the boundaries and 'put their head above the parapet', what is radical change for one person is often incremental for others. If we are going to speak "innovation" to our clients, we have to understand what their perspective is and what the value is to them."

The importance of “Client-centricity” is a topic that comes up regularly in this blog as I interview leading legal marketeers on a wide range of topics. Lawyers need to communicate in their clients’ language and they need to understand the value they are adding in the context of clients’ own business worlds, and as they see it. Law firms need to distinguish between radical and incremental change from their clients’ perspective. Let’s take a good hard look at the word innovation in our press releases and marketing speak and challenge ourselves to be realistic about what the initiative can really do. Let’s focus on describing it accurately, promoting the benefits and value-add that will give clients true advantage, but let’s not bury their true value under meaningless buzzwords.

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Our good friend Catherine Baksi, award-winning legal journalist and all-round dudette (remember her rocking up on Sky News sporting a leather bomber jacket and in her cut-glass British accent quoting a Clash lyric to explain the Supreme Court's prorogation judgment?) told us this week about a campaign her father @ArunBaksi is leading.  He is working tirelessly, she says, to point out the inherent unfairness in how social care is means-tested, but health care isn’t. It's a no brainer when someone brings it to your attention so right away we signed his petition to bring about change.  You can read about the campaign here and sign the petition. Please do also share on social media and help us put the word out far and wide.

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My home town of Reading was all a-buzz this week after the sudden appearance of a very cool piece of graffiti on the side of the old Reading prison wall.
  "Is it a Banksy?", tongues wagged on Facebook and in real life?  It looks like one". It certainly does, the image depicting a convict escaping down the outer prison wall on a rope made of bedsheets weighted down by a typewriter.  Is it supposed to be Oscar Wilde, famously interned in Reading Gaol for gross indecency in the 1870s?  (Reading is very proud of this history.)  The face looks more like Robert del Nadja to me, founding member of the band Massive Attack and Bristol graffiti artist, often rumoured to be Bansky himself. But maybe it's just the rock star sunglasses...

Sure enough a few days later Banksy claimed the artwork was his.  Just love this video s/heposted on Instagram showing how s/he did it, with wonderful art direction from the US's famed Bob Ross, presenter of The Joy of Painting.  Enjoy!  


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