India Opens Doors For Foreign Lawyers & Foreign Law Firms – Part IBithika Anand and Nipun K. Bhatiaa
A three-part series on Indian Bar Council’s Historic Announcement & What Followed Thereafter
In a path-breaking development in the legal sector, the Bar Council of India (BCI), on March 15, 2023, allowed foreign lawyers and law firms to practice foreign law in India on a reciprocity basis. The development was announced through Bar Council of India Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022 (BCI Rules), enabling international lawyers and arbitration practitioners to advise in India.
The objective, as stated in the rules, was to open up the law practice in India to foreign lawyers in the field of practice of foreign law; diverse international legal issues in non-litigious matters and in international arbitration cases, which would go a long way in helping legal profession/domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India.
With these Rules, the debate on whether the Indian legal sector would be opened up to foreign lawyers and law firms was put to rest. However, soon after the announcement, the domestic legal sector in India came up with mixed reactions. Most regarded it as a significant and positive step – hoping for opportunities for collaboration and tie-ups and making the domestic sector more competitive. Many others, however, pointed out that such a significant development should have sought the view of the fraternity before notification. There are fundamental issues that needed to be addressed before such an impactful decision was taken and many lawyers felt that the BCI has taken them by surprise.
Soon after the announcement, the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) decided to call for a meeting to discuss the new BCI Rules and their favourable or adverse impact the Indian legal profession, particularly Indian law firms.
In a three-part article series on the subject, Bithika Anand and Nipun K Bhatiaa will discuss how foreign law firms and lawyers are permitted to practise law in India (albeit in a restricted, regulated, and controlled manner), the representation filed by the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) and reactions from across the globe on this watershed moment for the Indian legal sector.
The Bar Council of India (BCI), on March 15, 2023, introduced the Bar Council of India Rules for Registration and Regulation of Foreign Lawyers and Foreign Law Firms in India, 2022. The rules allow foreign lawyers and law firms to practice foreign law in India on a reciprocity basis. The BCI believes that this move will help the legal profession/domain grow in India and benefit lawyers in India as well. The BCI had stated in its statement of objects and reasons:
“Time has come to take a call on the issue. Bar Council of India is of the view that opening up of law practice in India to foreign lawyers in the field of practice of foreign law; diverse international legal issues in non-litigious matters and in international arbitration cases would go a long way in helping legal profession/domain grow in India to the benefit of lawyers in India too.“
India is not expected to suffer any disadvantage if law practice is opened up to foreign lawyers in a restricted, well-controlled and regulated manner. The registration fee for a foreign lawyer is $25,000, and for a law firm, it is $50,000. However, they are not allowed to practice Indian law in any form or before any court of Law, Tribunal, Board or any other Authority legally entitled to record evidence on oath.
Purpose & Safeguards
The Bar Council of India’s decision to allow foreign lawyers and law firms to practice foreign law in India on a reciprocity basis aims to create opportunities for the growth and development of the legal profession in India. The Rules have been introduced in a restricted, well-controlled and regulated manner to ensure that India does not suffer any disadvantage from the move. The stringent registration process, which includes several documents and undertakings on oath, has been implemented to ensure that only eligible applicants are granted registration.
Registration of foreign lawyers
Foreign lawyers and law firms cannot practice law in India without registering with the BCI. However, a foreign lawyer or foreign law firm can practice law in India on a ‘fly in and fly out basis’, for the purpose of providing legal advice to a client in India on foreign law or international legal issues. In this case, the lawyer/firm cannot have an office in India, and their practice cannot exceed 60 days in any period of 12 months. To summarize, the restriction with respect to registration is not applicable to the practise of law by a foreign lawyer or foreign law firm if:
- such practice is undertaken on a ‘fly in and fly out’ basis for the purpose of giving legal advice
- such advice is rendered to the client in India regarding foreign law and diverse international legal issues
- the client has procured such expertise and advise of such a foreign lawyer or foreign law firm in a foreign country, and the foreign lawyer or foreign law firm does not maintain an office in India for the purpose of such practice; and
- such practice in India for one or more periods does not, in aggregate, exceed 60 days in any period of 12 months.
Moreover, it has been highlighted that the ‘right to practise law’ in the concerned ‘foreign country of the primary qualification’ is the primary qualification for practising law in India under the BCI Rules.
Documents required for registration
An application for registration of foreign lawyers/law firms must be accompanied by several documents, such as a certificate from the Government of India, a certificate from the Competent Authority of the concerned foreign country of primary qualification, a certificate of the competent authority of the concerned foreign country of primary qualification that no proceedings of professional or other misconduct are pending either before it or before any other authority competent to entertain and decide such proceedings, and other relevant documents about the matter.
Undertakings required for registration
The applicant is required to provide a declaration on affidavit that they have not been convicted of any offense and have not suffered any adverse order in any disciplinary matter. They must also provide an undertaking on oath that they will not practice Indian law in any form or before any court of Law, Tribunal, Board or any other Authority legally entitled to record evidence on oath. Moreover, they are required to declare on oath that they fully understand and appreciate the fact that, on registration, they shall not be entitled to and shall not claim any interest on the guarantee amount deposited by them with the Bar Council of India.
From Confusion to Clarity, and vice-versa!
Soon after the announcement, many lawyers pointed that the Rules seem to be unclear and ambiguous on several grounds. Several Indian lawyers were of the view that there was no involvement or participation from the stakeholders and the Rules seemed like a midnight declaration – automatically applicable without any dialogue. Ideally, even the Government often circulates draft Bills before they become statutes, calling for comments from the stakeholders. Many felt that the correct methodology should’ve been to circulate Draft Rules, giving a timeline for stakeholders to share their views; and then come out with the Rules. The Rules, as it seems, provide no clarity on scope of operation (Lack of clarity on what foreign lawyers and law firms can do or can’t do). One important aspect that emerges from the Rules is that a foreign lawyer/law firm can advise only on foreign law, except in the case of international arbitration matters. The objects and reasons of the Rules says that the Rules are to enable foreign lawyers to practice foreign law in India, notably:
“Taking an all-inclusive view, the Bar Council of India resolves to implement these Rules enabling the foreign lawyers and Foreign Law Firms to practice foreign law and diverse international law and international arbitration matters in India on the principle of reciprocity.”
However, even the reciprocity principle raises several questions – Is it country-wise? What does it mean in terms of global law firms that have offices across the world? The confusion surrounding the scope of work that foreign lawyers can do prompted the BCI to issue a clarificatory Press Release.
Press Release by the BCI
The Bar Council of India (BCI) issued a Press Release on March 19, 2023, to address the misgivings surrounding the published gazette notification regarding the entry of foreign lawyers and law firms in India. The Press Release stated that foreign lawyers can advise clients only on foreign and international laws. They can’t appear in any court, tribunal, board, or regulatory authority that can take evidence on oath. Further, foreign lawyers will be allowed to practice only in non-litigation areas and their entry into India will be on a reciprocal basis.
The Press Release, it seemed, echoed the message of welcoming foreign lawyers to India, but with a limited scope, no courts, and a bit of subtle advice to ‘Drive in Your Lane’! The following points give a quick Summary of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed, as per the Rules and the clarification issued by the BCI.
What is allowed?
- Advising clients on international law
- Only to clients with an address/principal office in another country.
- Appearing for their clients in international commercial arbitration.
- Practicing transactional/corporate work on a reciprocal basis.
- Setting up offices in India on a reciprocal basis.
What is not allowed?
- Advising clients on Indian law or any other domestic law.
- Appearing in courts, tribunals, or statutory authority in India.
- Practicing litigation work.
- Any other work that requires enrolment with the BCI.
- Any other work that requires enrolment with a state bar council.
The case for Liberalization
Liberalization has proven to be a powerful catalyst in creating dynamic and efficient markets across different sectors. The previous liberalization efforts in India have played a significant role in boosting economic growth and generating employment. Thus, if and when India’s legal market undergoes liberalization, it could have a similar effect by opening up Indian law firms to sophisticated technologies, expertise, and global best practices that could enable them to deliver superior legal services. However, it is also important to note that a majority of law firms and lawyers in India, especially those in rural and interior parts of the country, may not be fully aligned with foreign law firms and may continue to operate in a more traditional and conservative manner. Therefore, any liberalization of the legal sector must be implemented in a way that safeguards the interests of all stakeholders and promotes a fair and competitive market for legal services.
Allowing foreign firms to practice in India is like taking a leap of faith. Perhaps, this could inject new blood into the legal system, and bring in new ideas, new practices, and new opportunities. But when you open the doors to global competition, you also need to create a level playing field in the homeland. Indian law firms and lawyers are less than none in the world in terms of their knowledge and acumen. But do they have the same opportunities, rights, and access to resources and markets as their foreign counterparts? Isn’t it worthwhile to consider removing barriers or restrictions on the web presence and active business development to ensure fair competition between Indian and foreign lawyers?
In the next article in this three-part series, we will discuss how the announcement of Rules was followed by the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF) holding a meeting to discuss the Rules and resolving to make a representation to the Bar Council of India (BCI) highlighting its concerns with the opening up of the Indian legal market, notably the issues regarding the timing of this step and how it will be implemented.
Coaching For Lawyers: Transforming Emotion To Energy In MotionBithika Anand
World over, one-to-one coaching is a highly effective method used for achieving better performance. While coaching has been an extremely popular concept across the globe, in India coaching for lawyers has started to gain importance over the last few years. Keeping in mind this recent growth of coaching for lawyers in India, this article aims to discuss how coaching for lawyers can be a catalyst to their growth and evolution through the stages of career transition while also promoting workplace confidence, wellness, resilience, and mental strength.
THE CONCEPT OF COACHING
Coaching is a transformative conversation – a conversation that involves listening, exploring, bringing awareness, and making choices. It is focused on the ‘coachee’, i.e., the one who intends to change the status quo. A coachee is the one looking for a change – this could be something as macro as a quest for personality transformation or reaching a goal; or this could be smaller bite-sized initiatives like pursuing a hobby or aiming for fitness, etc.
Now, if a coachee is the one intending to change, then what does a coach bring to this conversation? The coach is the change agent, the catalyst, the one who sees the coachee’s higher purpose and enters the transformative conversation only to accelerate change and maneuver the direction towards desired outcomes. It is not necessary that the coach has the expertise, background, or experience in the area of interest of the coachee or the situation at hand. The coach doesn’t bring domain expertise or content knowledge to the coaching session. A coach doesn’t give answers but asks the right questions for the coachee to delve deeper and find the answers within.
The basic concept of coaching revolves around conversation and asking questions. For lawyers, coaching can bring numerous fixes which they face in their professional life. The key questions circle around work-life balance, efficient working, progression in one’s career and choosing from the various opportunities in the legal field. The beauty of coaching lies in not answering a question or making a decision on behalf of someone, but in asking the right questions to the coachees to make a decision which fits best for them. Several times, coaches hold the hand of coachees and aid the process of introspection.
ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
Most of us are aware that the legal field comes with its own share of pressure, deadlines and stress, which are often associated with anxiety, depression, mental health issues and day-to-day behavioral changes. For instance, the senior lawyers working in law firms are expected to generate revenue as per financial targets, which are often overwhelming. This adds up to their existing workload, thereby making the working condition more miserable with all the added stress. This gets worse for the young partners, who find the transition difficult, as they have been used to working under the guidance of their seniors, without worrying about business development and targets.
A coach dedicated to lawyers’ coaching understands the background and lifestyle of lawyers. They are able to identify the causes of deteriorating mental health and are trained to identify issues which a coachee may find hard to express. Coaches help them in thinking in the right direction, especially while taking a life-changing decisions, leaving a positive impact on their mental well-being.
ATTAINING WORK-LIFE SYNERGY
Another vital dilemma in a lawyer’s life is the aim to achieve a favorable work-life balance at a point in their lives. Diverse expectations to be met, within a given time range, may often have an overbearing impact on lawyers, resulting in a mental conflict between deadlines and work. This is a challenge that all lawyers face, regardless of where they work. Personal time takes a backseat because of the deadlines. To top it, work can be monotonous and uninteresting at times, which can lead to a loss of interest, a lack of commitment, carelessness, and missed deadlines.
For lawyers, work and career choices are often based on opting for or sacrificing quality time with family. There are also bi-polar phases of being workaholics to advocating for life-work synergy. A coach helps coachee in identifying their priorities and how to balance them during these transient phases. Coaching is also helpful in helping coachees realize what really matters to their deeper self and how to take decisions that are in alignment with their inner calling.
TAKING CRUCIAL DECISIONS
Whether it’s the burden to increase profitability or discussing a career goal to achieve something one has always dreamt of, a coach helps lawyers with crucial career decisions and guidance. They step in to mitigate the overwhelming effect and help a lawyer take decisions from peaceful and settled state of mind. This includes sessions where they help a lawyer in listing down ways to achieve the said goal or discussing pros and cons of a crucial decision with reference to future prospects. Through visualization and kinesthetic experience creation, coaches can help a lawyer in thinking from a third-person perspective and help them realize how different variables matter while making a choice.
Coaching helps lawyers across all age groups and professional streams towards development and implementation of business strategies, augmented productivity, improved leadership, teamwork, and relationship management skills. It also assists lawyers in identifying goals, breaking them down into bite-sized objectives to make them achievable and to avoid a general sense of overwhelm. As an effectively guided process, it triggers deep & structured changes to the thinking process, helping the lawyers overhaul the way they approach & organize work.
PANDEMIC, TECHNOLOGY & NEED FOR COACHING
Technology has transformed the world into a global village by binding people together in the times of social distancing. However, technology has also brought extreme changes in the way of working across all industry sectors. The Indian legal sector hasn’t been spared changes from the ‘new normal’ surrounding the increasing work from home and remote-working culture. Client expectations have risen dramatically as a result of the widespread use of technology to remain available and accessible round the clock. The access to internet, information and documents from anywhere in the world has put lawyers under a lot of pressure. Clients are increasingly expecting their lawyers to be proactive in deliverables. The long working hours have transformed into odd working hours and weekend working. The overbearing expectations from clients have further contributed to work-related stress in lawyers’ lives.
However, with the help of communication tools and techniques, coaches have been successful in handholding the lawyers in all realms of their lives – right from commercial-centric business decisions and leadership skill enhancement to more personal-oriented life issues and career choices. During the pandemic, a greater number of lawyers have resorted to appointing coaches to promote out-of-the-box thinking and to be able to look at the issues from a different perspective. Through constructive feedback and partnering with lawyers in their growth journey, coaches help them build confidence and create self-accountability towards goals.
FOCUSSING ON THE SILVER LINING
Coaching is an empowering exercise. One of the first principles any coach is familiarized with is that ‘people have real resources within’. A coach only activates the imagination, curiosity, and energy flows through which the solutions come to the surface. While every profession deals with its own set of challenges. It is important to be guided by someone who is aware of the functioning of the profession. Such a coach plays multiple roles of counsellor, therapist and a sounding board. But the most important role played by a coach, when it comes to lawyers, is that of an accountability partner. With the right mix of emotional and professional connection, they trigger the thought process and prove to be catalysts of finding solutions from within the coachees. They not only help in identifying the turbulence, but also help in resurfacing from it through a collaborative ‘experience building’.
During the course of this ‘experience building’, the lawyers are made to think about larger vision, values and evaluating a situation from diverse perspectives. They are guided into identifying factors in their internal and external ecosystem that are conducive to their goals. This exercise paves way for the identification of resources that were always available with the coachee. Coaches neither find new solutions, nor acquire new resources. They only create the shift of energy within the coachee – from emotion to energy in motion.
Training & Skill-Building – Creating A Culture Of Knowledge-SharingBithika Anand
Training, development and skill-building are concepts that have largely been under-rated in law firms. The debate often is – whether they are a cost or an investment? The dilemma also stems from the uncertainty concerning the return on investment and how to scientifically measure the value addition from training and development activities. This article aims to discuss the benefits associated with skill-building and how can law firms foster a culture of knowledge-sharing, mentoring and growth.
Is it worth the time, effort and money?
One of the primary issues that firms cite for underinvesting in training is attrition. The possible movement of lawyers from one firm to another is the cause of hesitation in initiating skill-building initiatives. The question that often emerges while deciding whether or not to initiate a training & development programme is – “Will the lawyers take the benefit of training and join the competitors for better pay-package?” However, this clearly under weighs the high productivity, efficiency, responsiveness and quality that lawyers achieve when imparted with right skill-set. The untrained and unaspiring lawyers would want to stay with the firm as long as they can. It is often the aspirational ones that are the most mobile. Training can serve a brilliant retention tool for those who are sharp and growth-oriented.
Law firms need to consider training to be an important component of ‘cost of doing business’. Also, training creates skill sets, rather than focussing on leveraging the existing skill sets. This becomes a huge distinguishing factor as most of the law firms hire from a similar talent pool. Their ‘competitive edge’ emerges from not just hiring the best lawyers from the available pool; but spending time, effort and money to groom their lawyers into becoming a wholesome professional.
Technical Training or Skill-Building?
Law firms also face a tough choice in selecting a training programme. While some firms conduct active surveys to identify areas where their lawyers feel they need hand-holding, others develop their programmes with diverse emphasis based on demography, practice areas and sectors services by the firm. The most popular training programmes involve training the lawyers on technical legal aspects, as these programmes upgrade their knowledge of law and familiarize them with practical aspects of application of law to real life issues.
Other programmes focus more on skill-building. Several firms are cognizant of the fact that a knowledgeable lawyer will always have a good head start, but as they grow up the ladder, they don several hats – of being a counsellor, mentor, rainmaker, decision-maker and a manager. While most of these skills are acquired ‘on the job’ organically, training can be of immense value in building these skills.
Another significant area, for those who practice law in providing services to businesses and industry sectors, is in the commercial-legal domain. These training programmes involve training the lawyers about business issues and practice nuances that are specific to the industry sector they cater to. These programmes are organized on the fundamental premise that ‘law is an applied science’. A lawyer with only core technical knowledge, but limited business knowledge, may not do justice in working with clients. These commercial-legal training programmes are aimed to add value to their client-servicing and help lawyers in understanding of commercial issues, especially those pertaining to clients’ industry sectors.
Fostering a Training & Development Culture
Firms can create a culture of training & development by having their senior leadership members (say, Partners or Senior Partners) commence training and knowledge-sharing sessions on real and practical issues. This could be something as basic as a debriefing after every litigation matter is concluded or after every major transaction is closed. This also serves as a great pre-cursor to starting a full-fledged training programme. A culture of knowledge-sharing proves to be the catalyst in changing the attitude of lawyers towards training. When firm’s own leadership invests time in sharing their learnings and key takeaways, the growth is organic and relatable. While domain experts and subject matter specialists from outside add a new dimension to the training programmes, internal training and skill-building often the first step in creating an environment of receptiveness.
Benefits of Training & Skill-Building
The most tangible outcome of training and skill-building is the enhanced quality of work product. This also results in increased trust in delegating work to trained resources. When seniors delegate work with trust and confidence, not only does it result in reduced stress, but also creates a symbiotic relationship between the seniors and juniors where the juniors respond with enthusiasm and high morale. A law firm that is recognized for investing in training its lawyers often enjoys a reputational edge. Such firms witness the best of the best lawyers applying to work with them, thereby resulting in enhanced quality of new recruits. Clients are also more receptive of engaging with skilled lawyers and if the juniors in the firm are trained well, the benefits of such engagement results in higher leverage and better profitability on client mandates.
Law firms that actively take part in creating a culture of knowledge sharing give due emphasis on organic mentoring and skill-building. Senior lawyers in such firms often play the role of a coach and mentor; and helping their team members learn and grow doesn’t feature low on their priority lists. In fact, they take up engagement with their teams as one of the key responsibility areas; and tasks like delegation, supervision and feedback become a part of performance evaluation at the senior level. They allow their junior team members several opportunities to work with them and observe them in court and client meetings. Such firms have in-built performance reward mechanisms that encourage, recognise and reward effective delegation. Certain firms actively contribute to making their environment conducive to training and development by encouraging their lawyers to continue making themselves valuable in terms of market standing and venturing into newer areas of practice.
Firms that invest in building and creating skills in their lawyers gain competitive advantage that comes from the ability to develop the resources. Training and skill-building need to reflect in firms’ value system. Traditionally, good execution, rainmaking and client retention are the parameters that are usually reflective of a lawyer’s success in the law firm model. However, with changing times, performance on mentoring and coaching the team is not the most negligible and side-lined parameter. Firms desirous of all-inclusive implementation of a training programmes follow a top-down approach; setting the two-fold expectations at the senior level crystal clear. First being the training for personal growth of the senior leadership, where they are trained to not just build a volume of work, but also the diversity of work and its quality. They are trained to transition towards high-end and qualitative work, while supervising the work of the junior lawyers in the team. The second aspect is their involvement in training their juniors. Firms’ evaluation systems must ensure that senior leaders do not constantly excuse themselves from conducting sessions or being a part of training initiatives arranged for the junior lawyers.
To sum up, the cost associated with not training lawyers will outweigh the costs of training lawyers and building an engaged team. For the lawyers who stay with you, and lots will if you have an environment that fosters training and skill-building, the benefits will outnumber the risks of breeding a team that may grow complacent.
The Art of Maintaining Client Relationships During Times of CrisisBithika Anand
As our inboxes experience a surge of emails and subtle marketing messages, we wonder whether many companies now see ‘being commercial’ as the new definition of ‘being professional’. Many of us are experiencing a sudden lack of work due to the current global pandemic; however, this presents an opportunity for us to genuinely connect with our clients and colleagues. As firm believers in nurturing relationships, we write this piece to share our views on connecting with others on more empathetic grounds amidst these testing times. If you’re curious about how some lawyers are still finding fresh mandates amidst the lockdowns and standstill of economic activity, read on.
A lot has changed globally over the past few weeks. We are witnessing unprecedented times and none of us was prepared to fight the global outbreak of this pandemic that has left several nations across the globe amidst a lock-down. Most of us are under a house-arrest and are now serving our clients from home. Thanks to technology, we have been connected like never before. A lot of organisations, as well as individuals, have explored totally new ways of working from home. That being said, things are not the same for everyone. A lot of our friends from the legal fraternity have witnessed a sharp decline in their work – firstly, because the courts have either suspended their operations or are only functioning specifically to cater to urgent matters; secondly, because economic activity is at an all-time low. A lot of us who have been yearning to have some free time to explore hobbies, now have a break from our otherwise hectic schedules and finally have down time. However, as time passes, many are now finding it difficult to find new ways to pass the time. Legal services providers, particularly, are finding it difficult to cope with this sudden ‘free time’ that has been bestowed upon them. Therefore, most of them are either finishing up their pending drafting work or are catching up on reading about things like evolving laws and upcoming industry sectors. Several others are interacting online more frequently than before with both clients and fellow members of the legal fraternity.
Empathize and Engage with your Clients
We have frequently been asked by colleagues from the legal field about what they should be doing during this time to ensure that they not only make productive use of this situation but also reach out to the fraternity on a larger scale. As firm believers in nurturing relationships, we give only one piece of advice to our lawyer friends: This is the perfect time to empathise with your clients and engage with them. This is an opportunity to go the extra mile for your clients and connect with them not only on commercial pursuits but also on a personal level. By doing so, you will gain even more of your clients’ trust and confidence. It is helpful in build long-lasting relationships to reach out to your clients in a selfless and serving manner. Have you picked up the phone and asked your clients how the outbreak of this pandemic has hit them commercially? Have you asked them how they plan to cope with the sudden lockdown of economic activity? Have you asked how you can help them build a contingency plan? If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, you know the difference between ‘practicing law’ and ‘the business of practicing law’.
Extend a Helping Hand
We do understand that some of your clients may not be in a position to afford the fees of a lawyer at this time. Cost-cutting is the new normal and every penny saved does make a difference. But we do have a question: If you don’t reach out to your clients now when they likely need you most, why would you expect them to reach out to you when things go back to normal?
Some of us are making a big mistake by not extending a helping hand. If you’ve billed your clients in the past and have good professional ties with them (that have lasted for years in some cases!), then this is your time to pay back to those relations. Reach out to your clients and ask them what kind of help you can offer to them. Just like you, they may also be struggling with their contracts and agreements. Perhaps suggest reviewing any contracts or agreements that may be in question and offer to assist them in understanding those further. This is the time for you to offer to review their business plans and explain to them the legal aspects they need to bear in mind, while keeping in mind the sensitive business environment. This is also an opportune time to help them and their team members with online workshops/sessions on technical skill-development and legal knowledge enhancement.
Look Beyond Commercial Aspects
Endeavour to maintain a constant connection with your clients and check in on several developments as each day unfolds. As a service provider, one of your primary duties is to keep your client informed of the steps taken by legislature and judiciary, especially pertaining to areas of practice that may concern them. Take this time to study the upcoming laws that may affect your client’s businesses in the times to come and get yourself abreast with the latest legal developments. As business and law cannot be practised in isolation, utilise this free time to enhance your commercial acumen, especially related to the industry sectors to which your clients belong. At this time, when most businesses are contemplating a cost reduction to remain sustainable, legal fees should be the last thing that you should be discussing with clients. Of course, we do understand that at the end of the day we are all running a commercial venture and sustainability is as much an issue for you as it is for them. But that’s what differentiates a service provider from a trusted advisor. If you can help them sail through these challenging times, you can impress them, and most importantly build a relationship that will last for a lifetime.
Engaging with clients with the intent to resolve their issues and digging deeper to understand the practical challenges they may be facing right now is more impactful than sending them mere cut-copy-paste messages and business-promotion emails. Your communication at this point in time has to be strategic, well thought out and definitely not something that appears to be driven by commercial intent. If you need to go out of your way to make your clients feel welcomed at this point in time, please do so.
Gestures that Count
Are you wondering how some lawyers are still able to get new mandates and fresh instructions from their clients, even amidst this lockdown and general slack in the economic activity? It is because in order to build a successful practice, these lawyers are also working hard to build an ongoing relationship with each client. Such relationships survive long after the first agreement or mandate signed with a client. In these challenging times, and otherwise, never take your attorney-client relationship for granted. Even if you call your clients or engage with them just to say ‘hello’ and have a brief conversation with them, trust me they will feel valued. Small gestures like this will go a long way in building the perception of a dependable protector in the minds of your client. Such a client may not react well to a sales pitch, but they will at the very least be formulating a (likely positive) opinion of you. If you specialise in a particular practice area, try and explore participating in online/virtual events. This will show that you are reliable and assist in impressing your clients. Sharing passion and commitment for the work that you do will bring progressive changes to the field right now. This further strengthens clients’ perceptions on how much you care about the fraternity as a whole; and not just your individual legal practice.
It is hard to over-emphasize the value of building on relationships. Lawyers and law firms give a lot of thrust to business development. However, in that process, the relevance and importance of client retention can sometimes become somewhat diluted. It is also equally important, especially during the tough times all of us are witnessing today, that existing clients are valued and taken care of. What might today be a simple day-to-day consultation on simple issues could possibly in time evolve into open communications, matter updates, advice on business decisions and joint engagement in community-level activities with your clients. The silver lining to these troubled times is the opportunity they offer to grow new relationships and to be there for your current clients.
What Does It Take to Be a Thought Leader?Bithika Anand
We often come across the term ‘thought leader.’ Many of us wonder what is implied by this term, and how one might embark upon the journey of being recognized as one. Contrary to popular belief, those at the pinnacle of their professional journeys or those who are visionaries do not automatically become thought leaders. It is only when they are recognized by others in their particular fields for their expertise, authenticity of information, novelty of ideas and authority of opinions that they can be called ‘thought leaders’. Such individuals require passion for building a network of influencers, consistency in the steering of knowledge initiatives, and the ability to take a stance on issues pertaining to areas of specialization.
In this article, we discuss the role of thought leaders, and what it takes to be on the path of thought leadership.
Who is a ‘Thought Leader’?
A thought leader is an individual who is recognized as having authority in a specific field or area of practice, whose skill and expertise is renowned and sought. This person has proven authority in a specialized area, and is highly regarded by those who wish to excel in that area. Thought leaders are known for being pioneers or for being revolutionary in their thinking, with the ability to intellectually influence the lives of those who are a part of the ecosystem surrounding the area of their expertise.
Choose your Area of Expertise
Just as no great task is accomplished without a plan and a clear vision, becoming a thought leader in a legal field requires clarity of thought. Thought leaders choose an area of expertise and stick to it, rather than attempting to gain experience and disseminate knowledge in every practice area or industry sector. Those who wish to be recognized in future as thought leaders in the field of intellectual property rights (IPR), for example, do not normally need to delve into developments in other fields (say, taxation or insolvency). However, if there are taxation nuances that may affect transactional work in intellectual property, they need to be well-versed in those areas.
Thought leaders may also be more specific in the area of their expertise than others — choosing, for example, niche fields within the IPR practice (trademarks, copyrights or patents, for instance). Whatever the choice, thought leaders must focus on augmenting knowledge in the area they’ve chosen and deepen their skills. Instead of widening the base of their practice across several areas, they will need to dive deeply in a chosen area and understand the allied or complementary areas. When they have direct experience and expertise in a particular area, their chances of being looked up to and followed are robust.
Being the ‘Go-To’ Person Is the First Step
As mentioned above, thought leadership requires consistent demonstration of expertise, exposure and experience in a practice area or an industry sector. An impressive body of work, comprised of years of successful cases, matters, transactions, opinions and legal work are necessary, but these are not enough. Internally, would-be thought leaders need to become the ‘go-to’ person within their organization; externally, they need to become ‘trusted advisors’ to clients, academia, judiciary, peers, competitors and students.
And yet this is only the first step. Thought leadership is more than execution, service-delivery and rainmaking. Thought leadership occurs when you develop and share informative content curated or drawn from your expertise and experience – influencing the relevant industry sector, and not just a few specific clients. Thought leaders involve themselves in initiatives that impact the fraternity as a whole and build credibility through deliberate involvement in issues of larger interest, not all of which are driven by commercial interests. Over a period of time, their opinions and insights are almost considered ‘sacred’ owing to the weight and gravitas they carry. In short, the transition from a go-to person or a trusted advisor to becoming an ‘influencer’ is the first stage in the journey toward thought leadership.
Knowledge Dissemination and Engagement
You’re a thought leader when people start following you, and this ‘following’ is not just subscribing to or following your social media pages. This ‘following’ means that like-minded professionals start aligning with you owing to path-breaking legal work, and your ability to get involved with the business sector in decision-making. Other initiatives include disseminating knowledge through erudite articles, thought papers and participation in government initiatives and policy-making. It is relatively easy in the age of social media to demonstrate one’s expertise through blogs, social-media profiles and online publications. However, effort needs to be made to combine an understanding of the law with economic trends and evolving jurisprudence.
Thought leadership also includes engaging with stakeholders from an area at a more strategic level, enabling the perception-builders to believe in your expertise even when you do not deal with them professionally. Thought leaders make an attempt to share views on the latest economic, legal and social developments. They utilize a network of followers and collaborators to connect with those who are involved in creating federal regulations, and they are invited to make submissions representing their suggestions and viewpoints towards legislative developments. They can also strike a chord with their followers by simplifying statutes and legal jargon, and extending help on a pro-bono basis. Actively engaging with others in the legal sector by way of initiating discussions, answering questions, providing guidance and exchanging valuable information goes a long way toward establishing intellectual prowess as a thought leader.
Thought leadership requires one to go beyond “networking” – i.e., establishing relationships for reasons other than mutual commercial benefit. It involves building relationships in advance of when you may actually need them. There is no scorecard of mutual give-and-take, but an earnest effort to trust the synergy amongst the network of one’s contacts. This facilitates information-exchange and the sharing of ideas among those with a common interest in an area of practice. It also allows individuals to be in touch with contacts and other thought leaders, which enables an exchange of valuable information not necessarily available outside of the network.
Through engagement and dialogue with legal professionals and industry leaders, thought leaders consciously keep themselves updated with what’s happening in the economy, their area of practice and the industry sector(s) they serve, which allows them to learn about legal, sectoral and economic developments. However, while participating in events and discussion forums with other thought leaders is one of the ways to hear and be a part of the voice of the fraternity, voracious reading and investing time in research are also imperative, irrespective of the stage in one’s professional journey. Insights based on credible research and gathered from a network of reliable sources from the fraternity lend trustworthiness to the content of thought leaders, giving them authoritative voices.
Thought leaders align themselves with forums specific to their practice area or industry sector and participate in relevant initiatives, from events to publications. This gives them an upper hand, as all those connected with an industry sector seek access to information before they get to the decision-making stage, especially when such decision-making pertains to high-stakes matters or big-ticket business decisions. At this stage, people reach out to thought leaders for authenticity of information and authority of opinions, rather than seeking only service delivery.
Thought leadership is a tool of differentiation from others in one’s field. Starting from providing a legal perspective on business issues, thought leaders transcend towards engaging with the broader legal community. They influence not just their clients, but also those who form a part of the fraternity, including in-house counsels and legal-team members, C-suite executives, service providers to the legal fraternity, members of the judiciary and academia including students, teachers, etc.
Thought leaders enter into strategic relationships with other influencers and also draw from their experience, audience, peers and followers. Along with sharing substantial amounts of value-added content, they need to get themselves involved in issues pertaining to their areas of practice and industry sectors, which may involve taking a stance that supports or condemns a view.
Most importantly, learning is a continuous process for thought leaders. They are always required to be on top of their game, keeping up with the latest trends and exploring new ideas.
Digital Marketing for Law Firms: A Double-Edged Sword?Bithika Anand
In today’s competitive landscape, legal-services providers can no longer rely only on word-of-mouth and referrals to generate new clients. With technology changing almost every aspect of our professional lives, marketing has also undergone a complete overhaul. Websites, blogs, search engines, e-mail, social media, e-books, mobile phone apps have seamlessly made their way into our lives in a such manner that today, any branding initiative is incomplete without digital marketing being a part of it. However, digital marketing doesn’t come without its own share of potential risks. This article outlines possible cautionary best practices that lawyers should follow, to add gravitas to their marketing strategies and to avoid falling prey to risks associated with digital marketing and social media.
Access to Clients Comes with Responsibility
Perhaps the biggest advantage of having a digital presence is the access it provides to potential clients who may be looking for legal services. Online directory listings have allowed law firms to be discovered by those who are looking for assistance in particular service areas. Those firms with an online presence through social media profiles and websites that take advantage of search engine optimisation (SEO) tools are more likely to appear near the top of the results when a potential user searches for firms with particular expertise.
However, with greater access comes greater responsibility. Today, potential clients also approach firms with an expectation that they will respond almost on a real-time basis. An online presence, especially on social media, naturally gives birth to expectations of a quick turnaround time – and not just in the time frame of a nine-to-five work day. If you’re not able to furnish the same in the expected time frame, you tend to lose business to competitors. This is not only because your competitors also have an online presence, but also because the potential client did not get relevant information from you when sought, and hence looked for alternatives.
A great advantage of digital marketing is the bi-directional approach it offers, in comparison to traditional marketing. Traditional promotional initiatives (like print directory listings) were based on a business-to-customer approach, where firms could provide information to potential clients without enabling a platform where those potential clients could also respond. But digital marketing has not only allowed a channel for potential clients to interact with firms, but also the opportunity for them to gain more trust in a firm’s brand, as they can learn more about it and its lawyers. However, this comes with a red flag, too. A client who has had a bad experience in dealing with a firm may not shy away from sharing the experience publicly. While some of these risks could be mitigated by keeping checks on who can tag your online profiles in their posts or who can post on your profile pages, a significant loss of reputation can occur during the time elapsed in taking corrective action to remove negative feedback of this kind.
Wider Reach; Specific Approach
Another feature of digital marketing that makes it stand apart from traditional strategies is that it allows firms to reach a wider audience than ever before, at almost at the click of a button. However, the quality and quantity conundrum needs to be resolved wisely here. Your clients, both existing and potential, must connect with your branding or knowledge initiative. If you create a newsletter that is focussed on the real estate sector and legal issues surrounding real estate, construction, infrastructure, etc., and your clients are not all related to that sector, it would make no sense for you to send it out to everyone in your mailing list. A pharmaceutical client or FMCG company would be disappointed to go through a newsletter that contained absolutely nothing of their interest: they might not even open your future newsletters. Therefore, firms must have a personalised and individualistic approach when utilising digital marketing. Firms must take stock of demographics and have a strategy to approach each kind of target client. Rather than reaching a broad audience, the goal should be to reach a specific or niche audience. Whether you’re approaching a single person or a million, your targeted content must be relevant, engaging, timed well, and should offer value to the end-user.
Cost, Training and Expertise
The entire idea behind the creation of a brand is the opportunity it offers for a firm to stand out from peers and competitors, positioning itself as a ‘thought leader’ or ‘expert’ in certain areas. The reputation of being a ‘premier’ service provider who is well-equipped to achieve best results for clients will naturally make potential service-seekers gravitate towards you. However, to have a well-crafted digital presence, firms need to invest in developmental expertise; marketing for law firms requires a skill-set that comprises a unique combination of technical expertise and creativity. First, those in charge of developing a firm’s brand strategy must be well-versed with any relevant legal restrictions in their jurisdiction. Second, law firms should focus on ‘content marketing’, i.e., blog posts, e-books, articles, research papers, newsletters, vlogs, case studies, podcasts, webinars, etc. ‘Content’ will help to address questions or queries of potential clients and make them buy into your expertise even without retaining you professionally. The only drawback with this, however, is the cost and effort. Once you start being active on social media, you can’t subsequently choose to be intermittent with your posts. The social media presence has to be ‘active’ and your content has to be recent and relevant. These initiatives may take up otherwise billable time of lawyers. Hence, it is advisable to hand this kind of work over to experts recruited specially for the purpose, or to outsource it to those who are adept at handling such marketing campaigns. In both cases, the costs must be factored in and compared with return on investment.
Digital Marketing Can Leave a Trail
While digital marketing, including social media initiatives, come with pros that far outdo the cons, mistakes or lack of etiquette can be forgiven but not forgotten. Your profiles, as well as the content you post, is an extension of your image and must hence be handled with caution. Most digital platforms are public and firms should not post anything that current or potential clients may find offensive – endorsing a particular political view or party, for example. Similarly, grammatical errors will always be noticed (whether someone points them out or not). So before the firm website goes live, or before one presses the ‘share’ button on a social media post that represents the firm, it would be worthwhile to spend five minutes in proof-reading the content. Digital content leaves a footprint, so firms must ensure that theirs is not outdated or factually or legally wrong. It obviously goes without saying that the firms need to educate their lawyers and other staff members not to jeopardise their clients’ interests by posting any confidential client or firm-related information on social media.
While ‘word of mouth’ networking and referrals have been the traditional ways of branding for lawyers, having an online presence is almost non-negotiable in today’s world. However, both approaches must work together. With certain wise practices and cautious use, digital marketing can pave the way for traditional marketing, as after a referral, potential clients are likely to look for online brand perception and ranking before engaging a lawyer or law firm. Therefore, having a balanced marketing strategy that combines the elements of traditional as well as digital marketing will go a long way in building a sturdy reputation and reinforcing a brand that is seen in a positive light.
Building and Leveraging Relationships: The True Essence of Business DevelopmentBithika Anand
The concept of ‘business development’ is often over-rated when it comes to law firms. The phrase may resonate with such metrics as ‘financial targets,’ ‘meeting new contacts,’ ‘cold-calling,’ ‘attending events at relevant forums,’ ‘undertaking activities that contribute to the revenues and profitability of the firm,’ etc. Most firms like their partners to be ‘rainmakers’, the ones with the right personality type to go out, speak to the clients and ensure a perennial flow of work.
However, how we define ‘business development’ is undergoing a change with time. This article aims to focus upon what constitutes the true essence of business development.
Sector-specific Awareness and Commercial Viability
Law firms are increasingly aware of the importance of the longevity of relationships, and they are encouraging their partners to get into the deeper realms of what makes a difference to their clients. Most partners today are choosing to become well versed with the sector-specific challenges their clients’ industries may be going through. With in-house general counsels also playing larger roles in shaping businesses, law firms are extending the horizon of their advice to include commercial viability, rather just confining themselves to legal issues at hand.
Consistency and an Innovative Approach
Most successful partners today are guided by a commitment to making a difference in the lives of their clients or business prospects. If you are able to convince a prospective business contact about your ability to turn their life around, there is a fair degree of chance that work will make its way towards you. This principle, however, does not diminish the fact that business development requires patience, and there will always be a gestation period before your contacts turn into work for your firm. During this gestation period, your essential virtue is ‘consistency’. One needs constantly to take the initiative to stay in touch with prospects and clients. Instead of leaving the ground when there is no response from your prospective contact, figure out ways to connect with them on non-work issues as well.
Forward-thinking partners these days create well-articulated business-development strategies whereby they keep professional relationships warm by circulating legal updates or disseminating knowledge and awareness about the latest developments in laws and court matters, etc. Some take an even more personal touch, congratulating their contacts on their personal achievements and the achievements of their organizations. You may devise your own innovative measures, such as offering to conduct a training session, hold a help-desk, or undertake similar initiatives for the team or employees of your prospect or client.
Partner with Clients on Business Vision
Connecting with your clients to keep the professional tie warm and generate work from them is still a micro-level step. Partners also need to reflect on how many times they connect with their clients at a macro level – for example, holding discussions with respect to clients’ larger business visions. Are you being included/consulted at the time of major business decisions, such as a client’s decision to open an office in a new city, to launch a new product or service line, or to undertake organizational re-structuring? A successful business-development effort will lead you to become deeply entrenched in your clients’ businesses. This will not only help you in evaluating your own service offerings to them, but will also make you more aligned with their business vision, rendering your advice more relevant and commercially sound.
Knowledge Dissemination and Thought Leadership
The ecosystem to which lawyers belong is person-oriented. Any service sector that undertakes the role of a consultancy thrives on relationships and ties, as the relationships once built usually tend to be long-lasting (unless other factors like performance and costs are impactful enough to permeate and disrupt the attorney-client relationship!). With pressure mounting on in-house legal departments to play a larger role in growing an organization (while keeping the costs at bay), businesses are also much more informed about the facets of legal work today than they were a few years ago. While they seek value for money, money isn’t always the sole criterion in the selection or rejection of a law firm if the value proposition is robust.
Law firms, as well as their partners, must understand the potential of investing in professional relationships, and must move from being merely ‘lawyers’ to also being ‘thought leaders’ or ‘visionaries’. Your firm’s partners must utilize various available platforms to extensively disseminate knowledge and write about the fields in which they practice. This should be done not only to spread awareness of issues among your clients, but also to ensure that they know how and when to seek your assistance in moving towards suitable legal recourse.
The Journey from ‘Contacts’ to ‘Conversion’
Disseminating information is especially important in economies where the regulatory environment is constantly changing, and new developments occur frequently. For firms that are moving into new and emerging areas, partners must strive to make in-roads to participate in macro factors affecting the industry as a whole: policy-making, for example, and engaging with relevant forums/organizations pertaining to their areas of practice. While your ‘brand’ may be your ability to be reckoned as a ‘specialist’ or ‘thought leader’, the way to ensure a steady flow of work is to invest time and energy in establishing and leveraging your professional relationships. Establishing a connection on its own will be of no use until it reaches the stage of conversion into client mandates. The journey from ‘contacts’ to ‘conversion’ requires promptness in submitting proposals and fee quotes, and consistent follow-up. The rate of conversion from contacts to clients may be low, but efforts need to be sustained. Once your contact becomes a client, partners need to work towards successful closure of the new mandate by delivering quality service.
More than ‘Networking’
‘Business development’ is often used synonymously with the word ‘networking’, which has, in fact, far more raw and commercial connotations. The essential difference between ‘business development’ and ‘networking’ is the spirit of building relationships. Conducting business meetings to obtain immediate work or short-term professional fulfilment, for example, represents a myopic view of business development. However, such events also offer opportunities that partners may miss out on by ignoring the ‘human’ element to these meetings and contacts. One may meet people who may not be immediately inclined to give you work, but meeting them with a long-term view could benefit your firm when you cross paths with them again someday. Besides the direct commercial benefit (immediate or otherwise), each meeting or contact can give lawyers a different perspective about a prospective client’s life, their management style, their driving force, their success mantra and many other aspects of their personality.
To sum up, business development is much more than the ‘procedural’ or ‘operational’ aspects of writing e-mails, connecting over professional networks and following-up. Fostering deep-rooted relationships, with a genuine intent to partner with clients at the macro level and to contribute to the growth of the economy, will actually set a strong foundation on which one can sustain business development efforts far into the future.
Storytelling Is an Effective Communication StrategyBithika Anand
“Storytelling” may seem an odd word choice for a profession like law, which focuses on very academic-oriented activities like drafting contracts, legislative provisions, proposing a regulation, writing a will, researching case laws, etc.
However, the increasing competition faced at home and abroad demands that lawyers make efforts to guide their teams to surpass expectations and discover new approaches, in order to stand out from the crowd.
Lawyers may think of themselves as legal scholars, as professionals, as persons having a gravitas of sorts; hence, they may prefer presenting facts and figures as opposed to telling stories. However, “thought leadership” is a unique differentiator. Lawyers need to create compelling content to engage their stakeholders. Storytelling is an excellent way to achieve this.
Of course, a story is not merely made up of character, nor is it a recitation of facts: there has to be a storyline. Facts and figures are more amenable to being absorbed and recorded by computers. People hardly remember them unless they are effectively emotionalized and embedded in a story.
Decision-making involves persuasion, and persuasion requires emotions. Emotions require less effort than logic… hence decisions based on emotion are made more quickly than those based on logic. In court rooms, lawyers often build narratives naturally, weaving the chronology of events and acts in the form of a story to generate emotional responses and create a ground for empathy. This is true even in corporate practices. Clients are more interested to know how our solutions have impacted other clients than how we did it. The impact is very emotional, and can be best described in the form of a story.
Storytelling is an important strategy for growth. Through the use of storytelling, lawyers can foster the emotional connections that create a sense of meaning for the contributions made by them and their stakeholders.
Lawyers Have Stories to Tell
Newsletters are an important tool for client engagement and expressing thought leadership. Generally most newsletters sent out by lawyers and firms share articles on a topical issue, and report developments at the firm level. To capitalize on the strength of storytelling, they may also share case studies that relate how legal issues were impacting clients, how the problems were resolved, and how the solutions improved the client’s situation.
While creating client collaterals, marketing content or blogs, lawyers can focus on the issue while also making their points more relevant, easier to understand and more interesting by creating dialogues, scenes, and characters as are found in movies / ads. This way audience re-call value becomes much higher.
Firms /lawyers can also talk about their pro-bono/CSR initiatives using success stories of real social heroes… and how it moved them to be part of these initiatives. Even failure stories generate emotions for the firm and enhance the image of the firm as a socially responsible entity.
In today’s age of “word-of-mouth” marketing, client testimonials are also stories and, when effectively weaved and shared, can be of great value to firms and lawyers.
Creating the Story
For a story to be liked it has to be real and people should somehow relate to the values the story imparts.
Organisations – such as law firms – can also use stories to help their employees and clients understand the vision and purpose they want to create for themselves. Today, clients are more inclined to want to know what an organization does and why it matters, and how this will make a difference. The best way to communicate this message is not through flow charts or diagrams, but through the use of stories that evoke imagery of where the organisations have been, and where they want to go next.
There are numerous examples of how organisations have benefited by sharing stories about their contributions and how they have impacted not only the economy but society at large. In this way, they have been perceived as trusted and responsible organisations and have thereby been able to attract more commitment and respect from their stakeholders.
What Makes a Good Story?
The best structure, elements, techniques and characters completely depends on your audience. The same story can be presented in different ways to persuade different people to do a particular thing, or not do something, or to make a certain decision.
In order to be a good storyteller, one needs to listen to stories. There are many stories out there. Every individual has a story and, therefore, lawyers must ask for their stories – of course, within the limitations of professional conduct and related to issues they are facing. For instance, instead of asking “What happened?” one can ask why it went wrong, how matters got to this point.
As a strategy this could be the biggest differentiator, as every story can have a unique perspective and therefore can relay messages in a desired manner to the target audience. A strategically aligned story can not only help stakeholders visualize the change the lawyer, firm or organization intends to bring, but also can also solidify support and can make stakeholders comfortable about future outcomes and results.
To conclude, storytelling is a powerful tool, and a story with a well-crafted narrative does amplify whatever one wants to communicate.
The Role of the Law in the Growth of an Economy, with a Special Focus on Developing EconomiesBithika Anand
Law and Business are not mutually exclusive sub-sets. Neither of them can be practiced in isolation. However, the interplay of law and economic growth has always been an intriguing subject for legal researchers and those associated with the legal sector. With an increase in the number of opportunities available for growth, especially in developing economies, businesses look to explore the latest dynamics and trends that have a positive impact on them. They also need to examine these and other issues within the limits of what the law permits.
We* will examine this issue from two perspectives. The first one is the interaction and interdependence between the legal and industry sectors. The second is the role of the judiciary in shaping the growing economy.
INTERACTION AND INTERDEPENDENCE BETWEEN THE LAW AND INDUSTRY SECTORS
Integration of the legal fraternity with other industry sectors facilitates knowledge exchange for the mutual benefit of both. Knowledge-sharing amongst various sectors, including the legal sector, benefits all of them, as they are able to embrace the best practices followed by each other. This is especially true for developing and dynamic economies, which are on one side witnessing rapid commercial development, but on the other must manage uncertainties concerning the dynamic regulatory environments they face. In such economies, the legal sector is usually in a state of metamorphosis and is constantly reinvigorating itself. Knowledge of legal implications enables the top executives to design commercial aspects within the four walls of legal permissibility. Similarly, a strong understanding of the business side lends quality and finesse to the advice given by lawyers.
A constant interaction between business and legal fraternities facilitates discussion of the issues and challenges they face in order to find probable solutions. With the inexorable shift of the economic fulcrum toward developing countries, a constant interaction with legal professionals will allow industry sectors to brainstorm over how to accelerate growth and how to steer businesses into clear waters, away from any potential storms.
The technical knowledge of lawyers, and their ability to practically apply legal knowledge to draw an outline of what is legally permissible, makes a robust contribution to the range of the skills that are needed to augment development of commercial activities. In emerging markets, technological advancements are coupled with possible regulatory developments, which usually creates a lot of uncertainty in the commercial business environment.
It is vital to understand that lawyers contribute every single day not only to making businesses sustainable, but to helping them flourish. By completing business and contractual obligations and commercial transactions, resolving disputes, facilitating the flow of funds and investments, encouraging innovation through the protection of intellectual property rights, and advising entrepreneurs on viable business solutions, lawyers are able to positively impact the growth of the economy. In a developing economy with competitive businesses, lawyers also help their clients to address and even avoid pockets of market concentration through competition-law enforcement.
THE ROLE OF THE JUDICIARY IN SHAPING THE GROWING ECONOMY
Another key factor that needs to be outlined here is the role of judiciary. While political machinery is at the forefront in driving an economy, the uncertainties surrounding new and upcoming laws in growing economies are often settled through the judiciary. The judiciary also plays a key role in determining how emerging laws are implemented, and how to pave the way for archaic laws to be replaced over a period of time. Political machinery determines the structure of the legal system of an economy, and the judiciary sets out how the laws that are enacted are implemented and applied. However, in everyday business, lawyers also play a significant role in this area as well. An economy with an evolved legal system and ‘state of the art’ laws will still be struggling to find its feet if the quality of the lawyers and others who hold primary responsibility for implementation of the laws (general counsels, senior advocates, judges, etc.) are not up to the mark.
The legal sector has wide-ranging economic impacts, as it has close connections with the institutional architecture of trade and commerce. Economic performance and the functioning of a commercial institutional architecture are closely interdependent. A stable institutional set-up, backed by the legal sector, is the key facilitator of economic development through the promotion of more sophisticated economic activity.
(*This article was written by Edge International Principal Bithika Anand and Edge International Affiliate Consultant Nipun Bhatia)
A Stitch in Time: How Continued Engagement with Your Resources Can Effectively Address AttritionBithika Anand
Attrition is not an issue alien to law firms. Owing to the nature of the service and the personalized relationships that develop with clients over the course of advising them, the separation of lawyers from firms – especially if they are senior lawyers or have been around for a while – hits firms quite hard. In most cases, the exit of a lawyer also drains the training and man-hours that have been invested in mentoring them to the firm’s and clients’ working style. Especially at Indian law firms, it is not unusual to offer such lawyers a better pay package or a higher designation in order to make them reconsider their decision to leave the firm. In this article, we examine how law firms can avoid such instances and start taking measures in advance, avoiding the need for such solutions as an afterthought.
While sudden or unplanned exits of human resources affect most professional services firms, law firms are perhaps one of the worst affected since such separations may impact clients who may have developed great levels of trust, confidentiality and comfort with such lawyers. The exit of well-connected senior lawyers, front-ending a large number of clients, may even have the potential of affecting the revenues of the firm to a considerable extent. Such exits may be followed by the departures of some key clients too, or may have a cascading effect where other colleagues and team members may also follow the exit of such a lawyer.
Until a few years ago, especially Indian law firms offered increments in packages at very high percentages, or immediate out-of-turn promotions as a dire measure to address possible losses from such exits. However, today law firms are increasingly waking to a more professional and engaged way of dealing with their resources. Managing partners are increasingly encouraging their human resource development teams and reporting partners to assess how their firms can avert such instances by way of more integrated approaches to dealing with the lawyers. Partners, for instance, work closely with the lawyers in the team and it would not take much for them to engage with their team members on issues apart from work. For instance, a genuine effort to understand the aspiration level of the lawyers in the team, or to understand what drives their passion, would go a long way toward deciphering what could retain the lawyers in the firm. To add to this, conversation on non-work issues like marriage, pregnancy, aspirations for a better work-life balance, etc., can help the partner to understand if there are any personal factors building up that might eventually motivate the individual to decide to leave the firm.
Similarly, human resources (HR) development managers or teams are professionally trained to engage with the resources and help the partners/firm in observing the trends – and where red flags are noticed, forewarning the partners and firm of possible potential departures. Successful HR managers are often able to turn lawyers around by addressing their concerns and skilfully manoeuvring them towards enhanced working efficiency. There are law firms where HR managers drive the efficiency and productivity of the lawyers and work closely with the partners in managing their entire practices. Allocation of work, developing hierarchy and reporting lines in the team, the study of time records, assessing work loads on a weekly basis, and reviewing feedback from clients are some of the ways in which such HR managers ascertain whether any resources are over-worked or under-worked. These scientific and objective studies help in ensuring that there is not only fair distribution of work amongst the team, but also that each member’s skills are utilized to the best of their abilities. Obviously, firms where HR managers play such pivotal roles witness very few cases of lawyers leaving the firm due to being over-burdened, or to inter-personal issues arising out of favouritism or imbalanced work allocation.
HR managers help to moderate any possible negative feedback, conveying the same to the lawyers with due regard to sensitivity of the issues and without disrupting immediate working relationships with seniors or peers. They also observe and address any small/inconsequential inter-personal conflicts that may culminate in larger grievances; they may do this by way of team-building exercises, moderation of feedback, etc. HR managers also play a pivotal role when lawyers join the firm by testing softer issues like aspirations of the candidate (money, designation, high-profile work, etc.) which have an impact beyond just the technical expertise of the lawyers.
Apart from reducing the factors leading to unwelcome exits, we need to also ask whether making amends by way of “out of turn” increments and promotions is a solution at all. The answer is in the negative. If a resource is moving away purely due to monetary aspirations, the firm should ideally not offer an increment as an after-thought of resignation, because such a resource will always keep evaluating the market for better opportunities. Also, once a resource gets the feeling that the firm is trying to retain them by way of a better pay package, there may be chances of such behaviour being repeated in future. This also sets a bad precedent for other lawyers in the firm who may follow the trend and may undertake hoax resignations as a tool to have their remuneration or designation re-negotiated. Furthermore, many times the reasons for separation are not purely money-oriented. If there are larger inter-personal issues, or issues with respect to growth of an individual in the firm, no amount of monetary compensation can address these issues, and it would be futile to even consider the same as an afterthought.
Ideally, firms should figure out and implement ways in which partners can also engage with lawyers informally – for example, by way of team outings, working lunches, team-building sessions, periodic huddles, etc. These smaller initiatives work as a catalyst towards better camaraderie amongst the team members, and help HR managers to identify circumstances that may possibly lead to an exit by a member so that they may design timely remedies before a possibility turns into a reality. Increments and career progression should be a part of regular evaluation cycles, which may not always be annual. This way, the firm can be proactive in its remedies, rather than reactive.