Nick Jarrett-Kerr LL.B is a specialist adviser to law firms and professional services firms world-wide on issues of strategy, governance and leadership development as well as all important business issues facing firms as they compete in difficult market conditions. In the last twelve years, he has established himself as one of the leading UK and international advisers to law firms. He has been involved full-time in professional service firm management for over twenty years.

He is a regular writer and speaker on management and leadership topics with an emphasis on strategic and business planning, as well as issues of governance and structure, partner compensation and strategy execution. Prior to becoming a consultant, Nick (who is a UK solicitor by training) was for eight years the Chief Executive Partner of Bevan Ashford, a leading regional firm in Great Britain, during a period of enormous growth starting in the depths of the 1989-1992 recession.

In the last few years, he has consulted to firms in more than twenty countries on four different continents on issues relating to strategy, governance, mergers, equity/ownership structures, partner performance, succession issues, profit sharing and other business-critical matters.

Nick is the author of Law Firm Strategy – After the Legal Services Act published in November 2009 (Law Society Publishing) and of the recent best-selling Special Report Tackling Partner Underperformance in Law Firms published in October 2011(Ark Group).Nick has a regular monthly column in the Managing Partner Magazine in which he writes on matters in the front of the minds of managing partners. Much of Nick’s written work is available on his website and blog at www.jarrett-kerr.com.   Nick is currently Visiting Professor at Nottingham Trent University where he leads the strategy modules for the Nottingham Law School MBA strategy modules.

Strategic Planning

Nick has regularly advised law firms internationally of all sizes on their strategic planning, and in addition has frequently conducted both full and abbreviated strategic and operational reviews.

  • Intensive review or audit of a law firm’s existing strategic
  • Strategy reviews with Boards and Management Committees. Typically the shorter or lighter versions of this will involve a financial and practice group review followed by two separate full days with the Board of Management Committee. This can then result in the preparation of a strategic framework for further consultation and agreement in the firm.
  • Advice to firms in a emerging and growing jurisdictions to establish local dominance or a strong position that enables them to compete with international firms.

Mergers and Acquisition

As Nick wrote in his chapter on mergers for the book Law Firm Strategy – After the Legal Services Act, “It has frequently been observed that merger is not a strategy in itself but needs to be considered as a tool to implement or assist strategy. Equally, growth for growth’s sake is not a strategy”.  His philosophy is that when a firm is seeking to merge, acquire or be acquired it is important to ensure that the partners obtain the highest possible long term benefit from the deal.

  • Advice to firms on some or all of five distinct elements of merger planning – agreeing the firm’s Strategic Focus; initial research of the market and identification of potential targets; creating a shortlist, approaching potential targets and arranging an initial exploratory meeting; merger negotiations and implementation; merger integration to maximize the potential from the concluded M&A project.
  • Merger facilitation

Governance and Management

Many law firms increasingly find that the structure of their firm was built to cope with historical challenges and is

  • Structuring the firm’s equity to allow the gradual empowerment and eventual transfer of control to the firm’s next generation of partners, along with the implementation of all the required changes in governance, performance measurement and compensation that are related to this issue.
  • Changing the firm’s equity and remuneration system from purely financial factors (including originations) to a system that encourages and rewards the right behavior across a spectrum of performance and to illustrate non-finance related behaviors in a tangible way so that they are understood and accepted by the partnership.
  • Advice on equity and governance structures.
  • Changes to the management structure in growing firms or in firms that have transitioned to LLP or incorporated status.
  • Changes to decision-making processes so as to be able to reach quicker decisions and to be more market facing.
  • Advising 0n the processes and means of assessing responsibilities and accountabilities throughout the organization and to ensure each business unit has clear and unambiguous business objectives, in line with the strategy.

Partner Development, Profit Sharing and Compensation

  • Creation of a balanced scorecard approach to partner development and assessment.
  • Facilitating the drafting of partner criteria for accession, promotion and development, and has helped identify Key Areas of Performance for firms to concentrate on the critical areas where partners are expected to perform – and to assess and value such efforts.
  • Design of lockstep, intolerant lockstep, and discretionary rewards systems and hybrids of them.
  • Partner Development Programmes to help partners to develop and grow.
  • Detailed recommendations for performance management systems, including competency frameworks for associates and partners, promotion criteria, definitions of roles and responsibilities at every level, methodologies for tackling underperformance, and the design of metrics and KPIs on an individual and group level.

Strategy Execution

Even where a carefully crafted strategic plan is in place, its implementation is frequently poorly done. Nick often sees strategic planning exercises ending up with a list of initiatives and action points which land firmly in the laps of the managing partner or top management team often leaving them with an impossibly large list of initiatives.

  • Helping firms to take a serious and methodical approach to strategic planning and implementation.
  • Formalizing firms’ approaches including the role of the Top Management Team in implementing strategy.
  • Helping firms resolve their strategic intent into a prioritized list of strategic initiatives accompanied by detailed action plans and performance indicators

Law Firm Economics, Funding and Profitability

The pursuit of profit lies at the heat of every partnership endeavour and the strategy of every firm needs to be tested against the imperative to improve the firm’s overall economic position.

  • Partner and associate workshops on subjects such as working capital management, pricing and the levers of profitability.
  • Advising boards and managing partners on profitability optimization and long term funding and investment plans.
  • Pricing Strategies
  • Deep and shallow dive economic analysis

Case Study One

Strategy Review carried out for a prominent Asian commercial law firm of 200 lawyers. We were able to help the firm to define its strategic intent to become the dominant independent commercial firm and then worked with them to create a strategic plan that encompassed five strategic projects each with implementation plans and measurable criteria. This work was followed up some time later by individual business planning sessions with every partner to enable them to produce coherent and action-oriented practice group business plans.

Case Study Two

Governance and Organisational restructuring engagement for a 46 partner (600 people) professional firm in North America. This group had more than doubled its partnership numbers in the last ten years and – recognising that the group should move towards a corporate structure – had constituted a management committee and hired an external chief executive. In practice, however, the partners still were clinging on to the ideal of consensus management and insisted on every decision being approved by the whole partnership. We recommended a number of incremental plans to strengthen the management committee, to streamline the decision-making processes and to assist with better consultation and communication. We also drafted roles and responsibilities at various levels, including a partners’ code to help gain better accountability and buy-in.

Case Study Three

Operational Improvement engagement for a leading Practice Group of an European firm, the group consisting of 30 lawyers. This group had been experiencing increased international competition affecting the attraction and retention of both clients and talent, and performance had slipped as a consequence. During a six month retainer, we reviewed the group’s strategy, undertook a significant face-to-face client/referrer feedback process (some twenty clients and referrers), facilitated the groups business plans, helped tighten up time-recording, reviewed working practices and knowledge management and coached the group’s partners in leadership skills

The Strategic Planning Process
White paper discussing strategic planning and a methodology for conducting a strategy review – Published September 2013

International Alliances: How They Work, What They Deliver and Whether to Join
An article reviewing modern forms of international law firm alliance and the strategic challenges that such associations face – Published Autumn 2012

Enter the Swiss Verein
This article, co-authored by Ed Wesemann and Nick Jarrett-Kerr takes a look at possible structures for international mergers – Published Autumn 2012

Market Positioning
Nick’s now famous Diamond Positioning Matrix sets out nine different generic types of market position, is also divided vertically into five segments of client demand. The description of each generic type and its unique features helps to understand where firms might stand and how firms can develop their strategic choices. – Published Autumn 2009

Harnessing Resources and Capabilities
A firm’s intangible assets can be defined as its ‘intellectual capital’ – its resources and capabilities made up of its human capital, its relational capital (which includes clients, brands and networks) and its structural capital (which includes its processes, working methodologies and culture). This article explores how the effective application of the firm’s intellectual capital can confer sustainable competitive advantage for a firm if harnessed and organised correctly – Published June 2009

Strategies for Integrating Client Services within Alliances and Networks
This article suggests seven ways in which alliances and networks can provide a more seamless and integrated service to their clients – Published January 2009

Firm of Purpose
Survival in tough times requires law firms to rethink how they develop their strategies and implement consistent working practices.  This article  suggests seven ways in which firms can develop a one-firm approach and bring to bear consistent methodologies and processes to client matters – Published July 2009

Facing Facts
This article offers guidance on the most common delusions, and half-truths facing firms today – Published November 2010

Radical Proactivity
Five strategic projects to get firms ahead of the game – Published June 2009

Reality Checking
Strategic documents of law firms often are a patchwork quilt made up of many separate plans and business recipes — sometimes as many as there are partners in the firm. This short article provides a simple way of testing the effectiveness of a firm’s strategy. – Published May 2009

If you always do what you have always done
There is an old saying which goes “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you always got”. Until the recession, this worked for most firms who managed to grow and remain profitable on the back of well tried and tested business recipes and relying on a loyal client base. Now client loyalties are strained and competition is growing. This article makes the case for doing something different, something deliberate and planned in the firm’s strategy and business recipe – Published April 2011

Taking Advantage of a Recession
Adverse economic conditions can provide an opportunity to dramatically enhance a firm’s competitive position in a relatively short period of time. – Published July 2008

Fleshing Out Partner Roles
This article supplements Nick’s White Paper on Partner Roles and Responsibilities.  In it he addresses the subject of behaviours and success indicators.  In order to demonstrate the attainment of an objective or the making of a valuable contribution, it is often helpful to examine actual to behaviours exhibited, facts evidenced and specific outcomes achieved and this piece suggests ways of approaching this – Published April 2013

Partner Roles and Responsibilities
This White paper sets out to introduce some suggested methodologies for a firm to follow in order first to clarify what the firm expects of its partners and then to define what roles and responsibilities it needs them to perform. – Published January 2011

Anticipating Scandal
It is difficult and in some cases impossible to anticipate extreme or asymmetrical events, but the risk of ethical disasters and rogue partners can be reduced by robust systems.  In many cases, law firms cannot forecast natural disasters, countries facing sudden political or economic catastrophe, or clients suddenly going out of business.  Nick shows how Law firms can reduce their exposure in the case of “accidents waiting to happen” through the building of robust systems, a dedication to the improvement of quality, the reinforcement of a positive and transparent culture and through consistent and watchful leadership. – Published December 2011

Brainless No Brainers
In this short opinion piece Nick discusses the perils of over-hasty decision making and suggests ten decision-making rules which firm leaders should apply – Published June 2010

Change Projects in Law Firms
Law firm partners and leaders ought to have some plans to cope with some of the obstacles to their projects and the implementation of them which could occur along the way.  Anticipating such barriers can often lead to them being headed off.  In this White Paper Nick considers some of the main obstacles to change in law firms and sets out six communication and implementation steps which should be applied in any change programme – Published May 2011

Control or Consensus
As a law firm grows, many of the governance and management systems need to change as well.  Firms can find that their management and decision-making can become stifled either by the need for consensus in a growing partnership or where the founder partners just get too busy to make decisions quickly.  In this article, Nick examines the stifling points in law firm governance and decision-making – Published March 2011

Criteria and Guidelines for the Promotion and Admission of Equity Partners
This White Paper suggests some essential steps which law firms should take to establish promotion criteria to equity partnership/membership and suggests a framework for promotions – Published May 2011

Equity Points for Top Performers
In this article Nick suggests 20 objectives for  Equity Structures in law firms – Published May 2010

Governance in the Growing Partnership
No governance structure can entirely prevent disasters occurring but a coherent and balanced management structure clearly helps if aligned to the strategic and business needs of the firm and which contains the appropriate provisions for mature and sensible accountability.   This article (2007) examines the issue of governance in the growing law firm and suggests some possible management models – Published June 2007

“Growing Culture – Can Professional Service Firm Leaders keep a grip on their firm’s Culture in a period of growth and change?”
Most law firms find that they are quite different now in the way they do things, from what they were five or ten years ago.  In this article, Nick examines the impact of changing conditions on culture and considers whether leaders can control culture as the firm grows.  Practical suggestions and steps are summarised to ensure that fine rhetoric is matched by partner behaviour – Published September 2010

How Partner Compensation Can Support Strategic Goals And Economic Objectives
For many firms, partner compensation has long been managed in isolation from the firm’s overall business strategy, which is primarily focused on external factors, such as markets and clients. But, by aligning compensation models with strategic objectives, firms will be far better equipped to achieve their goals.  Nick suggests four main ways in which a Compensation and Rewards System can support the firm’s strategic direction and goals. – Published June 2011

Internal Affairs
The development of partners requires them to have an advanced set of life & business skills in order to be owners and managers of their law firms and at the same time to become trusted and valued legal advisers to their clients.  This article (October 2010) first appeared in the New Law Journal and sets out how partners should develop additional skills – Published October 2010

Knowing the Performaholics in your firm
An important feature of law firm leadership is to try to understand what it is that inspires and interests your people.  This White Paper suggests that partners can be bracketed according to their orientation towards performance and their attitudes towards altruism – Published March 2011

Leadership for the Long Haul
The ‘First 100 Days’ for any managing partner may be challenging but life tends to get even harder during ensuing periods in office. Managing partners often find that they have been selected or elected with a mandate to deal with short term problems which need no more than competent administrative skills to solve. After their initial honeymoon period, they then need to develop leadership skills to succeed in taking the firm further forward and to deal with resurfacing longer term issues. This article helps leaders to focus on leadership skills for the long haul and to convert from well-paid administrators into true leaders – Published April 2011

Leading Questions
Effective leadership can help a law firm to thrive, but it relies on not only suitable management structures, but also appropriate management styles, and aligning the two to achieve results.  In this article Nick shows you how to get the balance right in law firms – Published August 2010

Linking Targets
The issues of partner performance and rewards are rising on law firm agendas, especially with the impact of new age discrimination legislation. Law firm leaders talk a good game about how the firm ‘rewards what it values, and values what it rewards’ but in reality many firms give scant regard to anything except seniority and billing. Nick suggests ways in which law firms can get the best out of partners across all areas of the firm by setting the right targets and sharing profits based on the achievement of those targets. – Published June 2011

Shaking up Profit Sharing
This article considers the steps needed for the successful implementation of new profit sharing systems. The issues touched on include partner accountability and performance, the wider role of a law firm owner, partner development and progression, and how firms reward, compensate and reward their partners – all of which go to the very heart of the partnership ethos. The brutal truth is that any radical changes to a firm’s partner remuneration systems require a great deal of time and planning and will involve the firm in considering a whole range of  issues. – Published December 2010

Striking Partners
In this article, Nick suggests ten typical reasons for partner underperformance and ways of dealing with them.  The article is extracted from a much longer chapter in “Tackling Partner Underperformance in Law Firms” (Ark 2011) – Published May 2012

Tackling Underperformance
Partner performance management systems attain their sharpest focus in how they cope with the issues of non-performance and under-performance.  Nick suggests three essential infrastructure elements which will help firms address this difficult problem area. – Published June 2011

Business Planning for Practice Groups and Individuals
Surveys and studies show a link between planning and performance: even brief, informal and straightforward business plans help firms perform at a higher level than those that make no plans. To reap the full benefit that business plans can deliver, follow these guidelines for the preparation and implementation of law firm, practice group, and individual business plans. – Published Spring 2012

Change Projects in Law Firms
Law firm partners and leaders ought to have some plans to cope with some of the obstacles to their projects and the implementation of them which could occur along the way.  Anticipating such barriers can often lead to them being headed off.  Nick considers some of the main obstacles to change in law firms and sets out six communication and implementation steps which should be applied in any change programme – Published May 2011

Control or Consensus
As a law firm grows, many of the governance and management systems need to change as well.  Firms can find that their management and decision-making can become stifled either by the need for consensus in a growing partnership or where the founder partners just get too busy to make decisions quickly.  In this article, Nick examines the stifling points in law firm governance and decision-making – Published March 2011

“Deliberately Strategic – Linking Competitive Strategy to Effective Implementation”
This article studies how law firms can link competitive strategy with effective implementation, and suggests how the Managing Partner and Top Management Team can perform their roles as promoters of strategy, sponsors of strategic initiatives, coordinators of process improvements and motivators of others. – Published October 2010

Executing Strategy
Implementing strategic goals can sometimes be a painful process.  In this article (Nick examines how a combination of effective leadership, structure, systems and discipline can help law firms to realise their development goals and avoid the obstacles preventing the proper execution of strategy – Published March 2010

Juggling Priorities
Law firms sometimes tend to spend a huge amount of time in agreeing their strategies and then proceed to implement them in a haphazard and arbitrary manner, often biting off far more than they can immediately chew.  The result can often be an increasing list of half-completed and abandoned initiatives, and a frustrated partnership. .  In this article, Nick  sets out ways in which a firm can juggle its priorities and resources to implement strategic projects in an ordered and methodological manner – Published January 2011

Shaking Up Profit Sharing
This considers the steps needed for the successful implementation of new profit sharing systems. The issues touched on include partner accountability and performance, the wider role of a law firm owner, partner development and progression, and how firms reward, compensate and reward their partners – all of which go to the very heart of the partnership ethos The brutal truth is that any radical changes to a firm’s partner remuneration systems require a great deal of time and planning and will involve the firm in considering a whole range of other issues. – Published Winter 2010

IN the Nick of Time
This article focusses on a number of rescue remedies that firms in the early stages of financial difficulty can consider, a combination of which can be harnessed to help firms improve or recover – Published May 2013

United We Stand
Many law firms may be considering merger as an option in response to increased competition in the marketplace, but the process is never simple. Nick explains how to assuage partners’ fears and make a merger work for you. – Published August 2011

Cooking Up a Business Plan
If the ingredients are carefully chosen and the right questions are asked, the formulation or drafting of the plan becomes straightforward.  The key is to frame objectives which are aligned to give the best chances of future success – marketing, branding and general business development and client-focussed goals, efficiency and business process improvement goals and objectives for skills-building as well as sensible but stretching financial targets. – Published March 2012

LMS Business Planning Toolkit
This Business Planning Toolkit is designed to help practitioners to understand how to draft and implement business plans, including plans for individuals, teams and the firm, and through all stages including securing buy-in and reviewing the plan following initial implementation. The toolkit is written by Nick Jarrett-Kerr with additional case studies by managing partners at three Section member firms. – Published September 2011

Cooking

I have always been a keen cook.  At one time my wife Sarah and I ran a pop up Caribbean

Restaurant from our house near Bristol – our home overlooks Blagdon Lake which in fact is a nineteenth century reservoir – the oldest one in England.  So I get a view of the lake when I am cooking.    I enjoy creating pan global dishes, baking gluten free bread and playing around with spices.  My signature dishes are butternut squash stacks with red rice, peppers, pine nuts and feta cheese and also slow cooked turmeric flavoured lamb with spicy lentils and okra. 

Opera

I am an opera freak – mostly Mozart and Verdi, but fairly eclectic.  Sarah and I are trying to work our way around the opera houses of the world and to see live the best singers that the twenty first century has to offer.  At one time, I sang in the chorus of a local opera society’s production of Verds La Traviata but I currently travel too much on business to enable me to attend rehearsals on a regular basis

Sailing

I sail with friends when we can but we don’t have our own boat.  I am keen on navigating but my boat handling skills need to improve.  I make a good galley cook when I am not feeling seasick

Walking

Sarah and I have an energetic and high maintenance collie cross who need an hour or so brisk walking every day.  Luckily, our lakeside home on the edge of the beautiful Mendip Hills in Somerset gives us terrific access to some terrific walks

Gardening

For many years I have  tended a large organic vegetable garden. We downsized in 2010 which means my vegetable growing is limited to anything I can grow in my greenhouse.

Creative writing

I have written two management books with another in progress, and I also have a regular column in Managing Partner Magazine.  This does not leave me much time for creative writing but I do have a couple of novels at various early stages of being written.

Family

Sarah and I have three grown up children.  Only one is married so far and we have two beautiful grandchildren with whom we spend as much time as we can.  Our lovely daughter in law has an active award-winning bog at www.circusqueen.co.uk .  She is married to our eldest son Laurence who is a creative director in advertising.  He has a bog called www.chasingwilderness.co.uk.  Out middle son teaches in Bangkok and is a keen juggler and poi spinner, whilst our youngest has a start-up marketing business in Bristol. 

Arts and Crafts

My wife is a Creative Bookbinder and has her studio in our garden.  I am not good with my hands so she doesn’t felt me near any of her books though I do help with her accounts, technical computer stuff and also enjoy having colour schemes and designs bounced off me.  Check out her fabulous work at www.jarrettkerrbindery.co.uk.  Her love of arts makes us regular museum and gallery visitors.