Tag Archives: brand

Digital Marketing for Law Firms: A Double-Edged Sword?

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.

Real-Time Feedback

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.

Summing Up

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.

Edge International Principal Bithika Anand advises on India-specific growth and business initiatives. She is an honourary consultant to the Society of Indian Law Firms (SILF), where she works with the organisation and its members advising and assisting in complying with best-industry practices. Nipun Bhatia, who contributed to the article, is Vice-President, Strategic Management & Process Redesigning at Legal League Consulting.

Simplicity

There is one thing I have learned over many years helping run large law firms and since then consulting to professional service firms: keeping things simple and as brief as possible is the essence of achieving success. That means ‘easy to understand and to apply’.

The reasons are simple too. Professionals, in particular those in ownership or senior roles, simply don’t have the time, motivation or gas-power to take on yet more complex, lengthy systems or processes to get things done, especially when it is outside their comfort, practice or client-zones.

I have spent most of my time figuring out how to deal with relatively complex issues and challenges, but in a way that is easy for busy professionals to understand and apply. Put another way, I learned early on not to put anything on the table that was too complex or time-consuming. People simply switch off or don’t give it the attention it deserves. Also, philosophies, concepts or approaches have to be simple enough to able to ‘walk around in peoples’ heads’. Then they don’t need to consult a lengthy document or manual to remember the essence, or need a new dose of discipline to get these things done.

One rider to this; simple approaches and ways of doing things take a lot of thought, dedication and effort to identify, work out, test and prove in the field. This is sometimes not so simple! So, this is one of those things that is easy to talk about, but tricky to achieve in practice.

Let’s take a brief look at a few areas where these principles can be applied in practice to good effect. Coincidentally, they happen to be the areas where I do and enjoy most of my work.

Strategy

Strategy is one. This principle applies equally to strategy for the whole of the firm or for a department or individual: only include the essentials, use a practical, proven framework that gets results, and which can be summarised in six to ten pages or less. Break the exercise down into pre-strategy essentials that need to be settled, actual strategy formulation and then post-strategy implementation and stress-testing. Be able to summarise the key aspects on one ‘strategy snapshot’ page – ideal to hand out to new recruits or even existing and potential clients so that they know what you are about.

Finances

We can never move too far away from the finances when discussing anything to do with firm practice in professional services. In this area, after dealing with many firms internationally, it has struck me how often partners and staff are drowned in reams of lengthy financial reports and analyses. It soon becomes clear that very little of this material gets absorbed and truly serves any purpose.

All of the excess material might keep a certain type of management happy – those who like to think, ‘At least they can’t say they didn’t have the information’. But that of course is not the point. The point should be to help everyone get results.

In this area, I have found a key is to produce a monthly (or on-demand) one- or two-page financial snapshot or dashboard report that is colour-coded, and summarises partner, partner-team, department and firm standards for performance and actual performance on key financial variables. If one needs to dig deeper in relation to a key variable – e.g., total lock-up days – one can always request that detail from the finance or accounts team.

Following the earlier point, it took us about three years of formulation and testing until we got this right, and working to our complete satisfaction. Then it was a case of refining it each year.

People

I long ago came to the conclusion that the key to results in the management of people is ensuring a truly genuine interest is taken in anyone for whom one is responsible. We developed a new philosophy, system and approach to ensure this took place throughout a firm – the Responsible Partner and Development Discussion system. With this system, most people at every level reached something like their full potential, they were happy, partners attracted good staff who stayed longer, and our employment brand and engagement levels grew stronger.

Again, this was kept as simple as possible. That is a key reason why it works.

Succession Planning

The system we developed for the management of people has a number of off-shoot benefits. One is addressing the hardy annual issue of succession planning. So many firms struggle with this. Some introduce quite complex monitoring and management systems to address it, but with limited results.

As in other areas, succession planning can be kept quite simple. If something like the Responsible Partner philosophy mentioned above is adopted and applied rigorously, over time it automatically builds succession throughout a firm, and it has the benefit of being organic. Let me expand on this a bit. If a partner uses the approach successfully and builds a high calibre team of professionals at different experience and competency levels over time, she or he will find successors start to pop up within that partner team. It takes a good few years, but it is guaranteed to happen: this has been proven time and again.

Achieving success in practice today undoubtedly takes high levels of competence and performance in a number of different areas. It used to be that working like a dog and looking after clients was it. The rest could more or less take care of itself. Those days are long past.

Contribution Criteria

Practice and client needs have become much more sophisticated and challenging. Trouble is, in many firms, partners and staff still don’t really know what they should be expecting of themselves or one another. It is important to spell this out in summary in a positive, constructive way which propels the firm forward and acts as a motivating guide to individuals to contribute in various key areas. These will include hardy annuals like financials, business development, people and support for the firm, but also things like building the capital fabric of the firm, building succession and active support for the brand, and raising each of these to exemplary levels through innovative approaches.

Brand

Finally, brand is another key area which can get attention. Everyone in the firm should understand what the firm’s understanding of brand is. ‘Brand,’ as I teach it, is the aggregate of what other individuals think and feel about the firm as a practice, as an employer, its services and the key individuals within it. Everything brand-related flows from this simple framework and makes it easy for everyone in a firm to grasp the nuances, concepts and necessary support systems to strengthen a firm’s brand, its employment brand and the brands of individuals within it.

Dare I say it? I believe that adopting this ‘simple’ approach to everything relating to leadership and management also makes this part of practice fun. More practitioners and staff will want to participate in and contribute to these initiatives as they will feel they ‘get it’ and don’t need a course in management to get results and get things done. This in turn grows future leaders and managers internally.

Edge Principal Sean Larkan is a former corporate/tax lawyer with extensive experience in conference and retreat presentation and facilitation. As an Accredited Practitioner of Human Synergistics International and a certified Master Coach, he offers Edge clients knowledge and experience in such areas as leader, group and organisational behavioural and cultural diagnostics and coaching, and serves as a critical adjunct to firms’ strategy implementation. He is the author of Brand Strategy & Management for Law Firms. 

Online Reputation Management for Professionals and Their Organisations

Online Reputation Management (ORM) has become one of the latest marketing and brand buzz-concepts. This is one every professional should be concerned about and should understand.

Much has already been written about ORM, as any search on the internet will show. I have found that much of what is available online does not explain where ORM fits in with other important brand concepts – thereby help readers understand why it is important, why it creates personal and organisational risk, and how to manage it. Ideally, your and your organisation’s ORM should be a strong contributor to the strength of your brands.

In this short note, I will try to address this issue in the context of how I explain the concept of ‘brand’ to clients, as outlined in my book Brand Strategy & Management for Law Firms.

Your ‘Brand’ and Your ‘Brand Offer’

Your personal and organisational ‘brands’ (your brands) are what other individuals think and feel about you or your law firm. What people think is due in part to what brand offer you make to market, and whether you deliver on that and they experience it.

Your ‘brand offer’ in turn is what you put out to market as your offer to the market – what you offer or promise to do or can do or deliver on.

Your brand offer can comprise a number of important attributes – your technical, leadership or management expertise, experience, reputation and style, your ethical behaviour, whether you live up to what you promise to deliver, and your accessibility, responsiveness and reliability. It also includes how you interface with those who work for or with you and for whom you work, what you have written or said, your experience, expertise and reputation, your thought leadership, level of emotional intelligence (EQ), communication skills and style, personal values, etc.

The combination of all these aspects, and how other individuals experience these attributes and feel about you and your firm as a result, contributes directly to your brands.

However, keep in mind that your brand offer is generally not your brand as such. It is what you offer to market. Your brands are what others think and feel about your personal brand and your organisation’s brands.

Online Components of ‘Brand Offer’

What is published online by you or about you also becomes part of your ‘brand offer’ to market in the form of your online reputation, digital footprint or ‘presence’. What is online about you can be a challenge because you will have authored or published some of it, while other pieces will come from others in the form of comments, complaints, reviews of something you have written or said, and so on. It all goes into that online melting pot.

Of course, whatever is out there is searchable and ‘findable’ and may influence what others think about you and your firm, which means that it influences your brands. So, it becomes part of your intended or maybe unintended or even unwanted brand offer and can in turn influence your personal and organisational brands. In this way, it also becomes part of your brands as such.

So, this cause-and-effect nature of your online presence and reputation means it is both part of your brand offer to market as well as being part of what others think or feel about you – i.e., your brands. It is for these reasons that it is particularly important to do all you can to manage your online reputation.

Brand Fusion

This in turn impacts what I term Brand Fusion (BF) – that is, whether what you offer is actually delivered on by you and experienced in that way by other individuals. BF is important as it directly impacts trust in your personal brand, and trust is the foundation stone of a strong brand.

Given the weight and attention given to what is online – written or published by or about you – and that many people do online research before making purchasing decisions or commitments, it is worth taking care to ensure that your online presence is as favourable as possible. It lives there for a long time and is not easy to alter or take down, particularly if you were not the author of it and have no control over the relevant media. This can create risk for individual professionals and their organisations, and even cause damage.

Managing Online Brand Risk

What can you do to manage this risk? For a start I suggest the following:

  • Create awareness amongst professionals in your firm by having someone with expertise come in and explain the importance of ORM, where it fits into brand, the risks involved and how it can impact your or your organisation’s brand;
  • Research this topic thoroughly and have a clear policy for your firm around online publishing and even speaking engagements undertaken by any of your professionals, to ensure they are qualified to do this and will not mis-state or mis-speak;
  • Consider using one of the many online tools which can virtually search the internet and then vet and report on anything it finds about the firm or its professionals. This becomes an ongoing due diligence of what is ‘out there’;
  • If you don’t take the latter step, at least do a manual search from time to time or have a qualified person do it for you; and
  • Take active steps to manage what is online and try to have damaging material removed, corrected or responded to as soon as possible after it is published.

Do this and you will be better managing two important elements of your brands – your brand offers to market as well as what others think of you or your organisation – i.e. your actual brands.

A final word of caution on a subject beyond the scope of this short article: Where firms do create a formal or informal policy prescribing what staff can or cannot publish online, one enters a complex area in that a lot of the online activities of your staff members will be through private channels they belong to. How far can one realistically regulate that and dictate to staff what they should and should not be doing? This will also differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

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Edge Principal Sean Larkan is a former corporate/tax lawyer with extensive experience in conference and retreat presentation and facilitation. As an Accredited Practitioner of Human Synergistics International and a certified Master Coach, he offers Edge clients knowledge and experience in such areas as leader, group and organisational behavioural and cultural diagnostics and coaching, and serves as a critical adjunct to firms’ strategy implementation. He is the author of Brand Strategy & Management for Law Firms. 

Retirement Benefits – Does your Firm Provide a Nest Egg?

For many years, a generation of law firm partners has become accustomed to funding their own retirements through personal savings and schemes. They know that their naked-in-naked-out style of partnership means they will never be able to extract value from their years of effort. However, partners in highly profitable first-generation law firms – those they have founded in the last thirty years or so – are waking up to the realization that the legacy they have built up has some value that does not necessarily need to be given away. They are therefore becoming increasingly reluctant to envisage free entry (other than fixed-capital contribution) to the firm by new partners with no benefit to those who built the firm. After all, new partners come into a firm which enjoys the benefits of an established brand, a sustainable client base, and a successful business recipe – all painstakingly developed by the hard work and skill of the founding partners.

Historically, goodwill started to be excluded from accounts of law firm partnerships in the 1960s and 1970s. Existing partners were often at that time compensated for goodwill write-out by being given an annuity – sometimes for life – to reflect the fact that they had not had an opportunity to build up a pension. According to one report for example, after 15 years of partnership> at Clifford Chance, retiring partners were allowed to receive an annuity of 17% of their final profit share for five years, rising to 23% for partners with more than twenty years of service. The annuity solution has remained in place for a few law firms and accountancy firms, with different arrangements in place for valuing the annuity by reference to the average of the last five years compensation or on an agreed multiple of the firm’s underlying profitability, and payable over a five- or ten-year period.

As a possible alternative, some firms are considering asking new partners to buy their partnership share on an agreed valuation methodology. Valuations of any law firm as a going concern is notoriously difficult, particularly in jurisdictions such as the USA and Canada where law firms are not freely marketable outside the established legal profession. Some firms – especially those burdened with debt – are worth little or nothing, but at the other extreme we often see firms that are so profitable and valuable that any market valuation of an incoming partner’s share becomes an unaffordable proposition.

The annuity option is therefore possibly more viable. However, to take this forward, founding partners who want to reserve retirement benefits for themselves need to answer three questions:

  1. Is their firm worth anything now or likely to be worth anything when they leave?
  2. More specifically, is their firm sufficiently attractive to new partners if the entry deal was to include retirement provisions for the founding partners?
  3. If satisfied about their answers to the first two questions, what provisions are likely to provide fair protection for the retiring founder partners whilst remaining affordable for the continuing partnership?

Whilst the founding partners will presumably continue to derive income benefits from their shares of an increasingly profitable business, a balance needs to be struck between – on the one hand –encouraging and rewarding talented new lawyers, and – on the other hand – compensating the founding partners for their heavy investments over time.

Law firm brand success calls for leadership, education and structure!

Brand is such an important asset and so fundamental to the success or failure of every law firm that it is a strategic, not an operational or administrative, issue. It is therefore surprising how few firms invest in developing a common firm-wide understanding of brand and a supporting strategy – or put in the effort to strengthen its various components. Those that do reap some remarkable rewards.

Firms with well-known brands will sometimes feel they don’t really need to spend time on their brand as it is in ‘good shape’ and they haven’t had to do too much to get it there. What they fail to realise is that their brand has become what it has by accident, or even luck, as an off-shoot of other things being done well, rather than being a successfully implemented strategic initiative.

The importance of developing a common understanding around brand, but keeping things as simple as possible while doing it, cannot be over-emphasised. There are hundreds of thousands of books and articles on brand, many of which relay different approaches to brand, and use unique pieces of jargon. It can all become very confusing to non-brand aficionados. For brand to work in a law firm, it has to be broken down to a succinct educational and implementation process. Senior lawyers simply do not have the time or the stomach for anything more complex or time-consuming.

The first thing to understand about brand, and contrary to common belief, is that brand is not what we think it is or what we offer to the market by way of our skills, reputation and other attributes, but, quite simply, it is what others (mainly clients or non-client influencers) think.

And that is where the first challenge arises. Brand is a very personal, individual matter. It is about what individual people (or an aggregate of them) feel and think and experience about our brand. We can’t tell people how to feel and think; they will decide. This requires appreciation and respect and then the effort to address this challenge. There are many subtleties involved and no quick fixes; it takes time, persistence and consistent effort and interactions to influence such feelings.

Even those firms that have been educated around a common understanding of brand often find themselves derailed from sufficient focus and effort to grow and develop their brand. This is why it also takes the involvement of senior leadership and management, which in itself is another challenge. Such people do not often feel they need to get involved in such matters and prefer them to be ‘done by marketing’.

Two other important things to understand about brand are firstly that brand comes to the fore in three main forms – organisational brand, individual (usually partner) brands, and employment brand. Each needs to be understood and nurtured. These types of brand also need to be aligned, as they strongly influence one another. For instance, a well-regarded employment brand will contribute to a firm’s overall brand, while a strong organisational brand will contribute at least something to an employment brand.

A second important characteristic is that the most important foundational element to brand is trust. Trust is at the heart of all strong brands, and again relies on how individual people feel and think about a brand. It is very personal. It takes effort, consistency and time to build trust in a brand. Hard to build, easy to break.

One of the biggest influences on this issue of trust is ensuring that what the firm promises (e.g., on its website or in its published materials) is actually delivered on by the firm and everyone in the firm, achieving what I call brand fusion.

Let’s look at a simple example; a firm may make some bold statements on its website and in graduate recruitment brochures about taking an interest in individual staff development and ensuring new employees get good coaching, access to good work and so on. If a number of partners do not do this (a common issue!) or even the senior HR personnel clearly do not see to this, there will be no brand fusion and trust will never build in the employment brand, resulting in massive opportunity cost to the firm. This cost can come in the form of delays in hiring and higher recruitment costs, not getting access to the best people, higher-than-normal staff turnover and so on.

A very useful exercise to provide structure and discipline is to develop a short-form, written brand strategy. I always recommend in an early iteration of such strategies that the first focus be on education and creating a common understanding around brand. It is then important to achieve consistency by ensuring all new entrants to the firm are carefully inducted into this understanding and appreciation around brand. The strategy also has the benefit of identifying leadership around the effort, creating direction, highlighting strategic key objectives around the brand, allocating responsibility and providing for some form of report-back and review of progress. In this way one can ensure key members of the firm are involved in the project from an early stage and that over time, desired results are achieved.

Even with the above efforts and other key related initiatives, experience has shown that brand initiatives invariably need to be followed up on, stress-tested, updated and re-energised from time to time.

Without doubt, without this type of approach and some needed structure, discipline and leadership, one of your firm’s most powerful and valuable assets may be relying on chance for its survival and prosperity.

Getting the job done: Some practical examples

A year ago, I published an EIC article titled Forget systems and structures – getting the job done is the key.

In that article I suggested effort often goes into putting in systems or structures, but not enough emphasis is put on ensuring the success and implementation of projects – and that, consequently, results don’t always follow.

Successful firms succeed because they get the right things done. This gets results, the real test of everything we do.

On the strength of feedback, I would like to expand on this theme and look at some practical examples and how these may play out in law firms.

The obvious one is developing and implementing strategy. I have found that three things are vital for successfully doing this:

  1. Get all the pre-strategy items agreed and out of the way before you commence developing the strategy per se: I call these “Core Purpose” while my colleague Nick Jarrett-Kerr refers to them as “Strategic Intent.” These would include things like determining locations, practice areas, industry sectors to focus on, values and cultural attributes (guiding principles), profit-sharing and leadership structures, and the like;
  2. Limit the number of Strategic Key Objectives (those things, if you achieve them, which will have nothing less than a massive impact on your firm) you identify in the strategy process to a maximum of five or six, and appoint task forces headed up by one person (who has power to co-opt others) to get the job done. Report on progress;
  3. Formally stress-test the implementation, success of the strategy and make necessary changes at least annually (properly done, you will get more results out of this than the first part of the process).

The next is your brand (your firm brand, employment brand and individual brands), arguably your most valuable but misunderstood firm asset. Ensure this is done:

  1. Get a brand strategy specialist in to help you, someone who is not principally focused on names, logos, colours, printing, websites and other aesthetics. These are important, but come later;
  2. Ensure a common, simple understanding around brand (you need to all speak the same simple language and know that you each play an important role in strengthening and supporting your brand) and educate each and every member of your firm around this – every lawyer, every support staff member, every partner; this is not something you leave to ‘marketing’. It is a strategic matter which should be owned by firm leadership;
  3. Develop a brand strategy to ensure the critical elements are tackled and actually implemented. In the first year this may chiefly involve item 2 above, but that is no bad thing. One example of these elements is achieving Brand Fusion™ – i.e., ensuring that what you as a firm suggest or promise (review your website and brochures to find many examples) you actually deliver, and people inside and outside the firm actually experience in practice;

A final example is achieving consistent, across the board partner-team performance and contributions. Most firms who seek our advice point to this as an ongoing issue.

It is hard to summarise this complex matter in a few points, but these are key areas to address:

  1. Ensure all partners have a clear understanding of what it means to be a partner and the range of contribution criteria they need to meet;
  2. Ensure those contribution criteria are focused on the right, critical elements for the firm at its particular stage of development, growth and market positioning. This will differ from firm to firm;
  3. Develop a suitable feedback, support and development system for partners to ensure regular feedback, actioning of issues and support where needed;
  4. That there is absolute clarity around partner responsibilities and accountabilities for building and running successful teams of lawyers (a somewhat controversial subject in some jurisdictions). We have developed a sophisticated Responsible Partner™ methodology to address this;
  5. Develop an efficient one-page ‘snapshot’ or ‘dashboard’ reporting system, which is produced at least monthly, and provides feedback on all critical performance and contribution elements;
  6. Ensure some form of appropriate partner accountability and consequences based on the above results.

The above are just three examples, but do even these and you will be well on the way! I hope they provide some useful pointers. I would be happy to expand on these based on individual firm circumstances.

Are You Driving your Bus?


You are a walking / talking brand!

The way you dress, the way you communicate (both in person and over the phone), the way you present – all have an impact on your personal brand. Your brand in turn can be linked to your success.

Are you aware of your brand, and are you driving your brand?

We all have the choice to define ourselves, or to be defined by others. What do we want to be known for? What do others say about us? Personal branding is our promise of value and we need to be in the driving seat! To be in a position to define ourselves we need to know who we are and what we stand for.

We need to:

  • Become more self-aware; this will help build our confidence levels, increase the options that are open to us and help us manage any self-limiting beliefs;
  • Develop our presence and the impact that we have on others;
  • Be assertive: state what we want, what we need and the costs of not getting them;
  • Manage our career and our personal brand, which is 100% our responsibility;
  • Evaluate what we are passionate about, our skills and our values, and then be determined enough to take action.

How are you driving your bus? Are the distracting influences of day-to-day issues and stresses badly affecting how you cope, or are you in control of “your bus” – “your brand”?

We all need to take ownership of our lives to avoid being swept away by the challenges of our busy lives. For many of us, our lives and our happiness are determined by the subtle and not-so-subtle expectations of others. We let them drive our bus.

We all would have experienced this at some stage; for example, our parents wanting to live vicariously through us; our friends or life partners attempting to persuade us to do something their way; and even the typical expectations of the companies that we work for. And it’s easier to go with the flow than resist.

When we get to the point of self-determination, at which we take responsibility for our lives, then we drive our own bus. However, with responsibility comes accountability and the realisation that each decision we make carries with it a consequence of that decision. We cannot blame anyone but ourselves for the outcomes of our decisions. We cannot blame them for who or what’s on the bus, nor where the bus ends up. We are at the wheel and we have the map book (or TomTom)! It is up to us to decide where, when, where, why, with whom and how we drive the bus.

We all need to use our own set of unique skills, our strengths, our talents, our passions, our intellects, and not be influenced by others’ expectations. We need to find this sense of self, where we can answer not what we want but who we are, where we want to go, who we want to be, what is important to us, what we value and what we believe in. It is when we take time out of our overly busy schedules to slow down, to stop and think about these questions that we start to take control of the bus.

So what should we do? Well, we all know that speed kills – it kills creativity, fun, health and wellbeing, it increases stress levels and most importantly we miss out on the journey because we are going too fast. So let’s slow down and – dare I even say it? – Stop! Stop the bus and take the time NOW to invest in yourself. Start with some proactive self-reflection ­– it will be one of the most important activities that you will do in your lifetime. Self-reflection is the foundation to your life. Once you find that inner you, that’s when you can shine anywhere, any place, any time because it comes from within.

Self-Reflection

Norman Vincent Peale said ‘One of the greatest moments in anybody’s developing experience is when he no longer tries to hide from himself but determines to get acquainted with himself as he really is’.

In a world that is constantly changing and providing us with challenges, honest self-reflection is key to our sanity, development and growth. We should regularly examine what has, and hasn’t, worked, despite how painful it may be to look in the mirror. Self-reflection helps us with direction, our communication and our life experiences.

For self-reflection, we need to stop, sit back with that glass of wine, coffee or tea and answer the following questions:

  • Who am I?
  • Who do I want to be?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What is important to me?
  • What do I value?
  • What do I believe in?
  • What do I have to offer?
  • What are my attributes?
  • What are my dreams?
  • What do I want to experience?
  • What are my goals across my ‘wheel of life’ (mental, educational, health, social, cultural, spiritual, family, home, finance, career, etc.)?
  • What are my successes to date? (To answer this one we need to first define what success means to us, because it means different things to different people.)

Once we have stopped and thought about where we are at and where we want to go, we then need to set some SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound) to help us get there.

 

The More Things Change…

Improved Better Increase Enhanced Quality Superior ResultsObservations on 30 years in the legal profession

As I enjoyed a break in the New England mountains of Australia last week, kayaking and fishing for the magnificent native Murray cod, I realised I had been closely associated with leadership and management of law firms for close on thirty years – about twenty in managing partner roles in three jurisdictions, and ten in consulting to the legal and corporate world, with the benefit of working with firms from various parts of the world.

In thinking about this time, I realised that while a lot has changed (technology, areas of practice, social media, etc.), much seems to remain the same, and it’s not all good! A few thoughts on the latter, which I hope will be helpful to readers:

  1. Law firms still fail to appreciate the value of brand and the importance of developing an understanding of it in its three forms – organisational, individual and employment;
  2. When things appear to be going really well (and they do sometimes!), the biggest mistake one can make is to relax or take collective eyes off the ball. Things change quickly;
  3. While some firms have strategies of sorts, very few attend to the “pre-strategy essentials,” take the partners along for the ride, or achieve implementation or results from it;
  4. Quite a few firms have agreed values and cultural attributes. Unfortunately, these are seldom observed or enforced. Sometimes it is because people are confused about what they mean, or they may sound similar to every other law firm, or – in many cases – a number of high-profile partners ignore them and so set a bad example. It is for this reason that I advocate going down the path of Guiding Principles and making them enforceable;
  5. Very few partners, still, build or leave in their firm on departure what I call “capital fabric” – those many things which contribute to the long-term, fundamental, foundational strength and well-being of the organisation long after they have gone;
  6. In similar vein to the last point, it is seldom part of the DNA of the firm for partners to build succession. When they leave, the cupboard is bare;
  7. What is missing in many firms is a structural and philosophical “engine” whereby the things that are discussed and agreed at partner meetings or by leadership are naturally, as part of the firm’s DNA, applied throughout every section of the firm, both legal and support services;
  8. Firms still fail to appreciate the power of ensuring that a genuine interest is taken by senior individuals, both legal and management, in the personal well-being and professional development and success of people for whom they are responsible. This has implications for staff turnover, recruitment costs, engagement levels and the strength of a firm’s employment brand;
  9. For any young people coming into law firms three things remain extremely powerful – reliability, a true sense of responsibility and accessibility;
  10. Speaking of young people, they have opportunities to venture into new fields in legal practice like never before, in particular in relation to industry sector specialties. We always encouraged our young lawyers to develop these interests at an early age and know their industry of interest better than the clients in it;
  11. When thinking of appointing a new person or partner, firms often fail to apply a simple but effective test such as ensuring the candidate is “high calibre, committed and a team player”: they need to tick the box on each of those to get across the line;
  12. Whether the legal profession or some consultants (in particular) like it or not, there will always be a place for time–based billing as one of various bases for billing; the reason? Many clients like the clarity of the option;
  13. The power of team work and teams, whether in a hierarchical sense (e.g., between a partner and his/her lawyers) or between groups (a property practice group teaming with a town planning practice group) is underestimated and undervalued;
  14. The effective use of the salaried or fixed-share partner/director is a massive missed opportunity for many firms. Properly structured and managed and supported by the right philosophy, it can become the economic powerhouse of a firm;
  15. Most firms have pockets of high-level expertise within them. Few convert this into true thought leadership and the individual and organisational brand value and power that go with it. The missing link is effective communication;
  16. When one considers styles of thinking, behaviour and interaction within law firms, one of the standout styles on the part of both partners/directors and firms would be avoidance, in the sense of not taking tough decisions, putting off dealing with underperforming or misbehaving partners, etc.
  17. As the support service “manager” regime has taken hold in small to large firms, so more and more power is often devolved to them. Unfortunately, few seem to exhibit creativity and too often act subtly as blockers to change, particularly when it may impact their turf or role. Properly led, with the right calibre of manager, these individuals can easily contribute as much if not more than partners; and
  18. Somewhat in summary of the above, every firm I have ever worked with, no matter how ‘good’ or not so good or big or small, has had loads of potential and unrealised opportunity, very often right under their noses. To take advantage often takes consistency, persistency, strong leadership and team-work, not rocket science.