As the world changes and emerges from a generational crisis there is an increasing need to work together and form affiliations as there is inevitably strength in numbers and diversity. I believe that we will see much consolidation in the legal markets in the next few years. Those in existing Networks or Affiliations will be well served to review their arrangements and to take stock of “what they want to be” in the new world.
I highlight below some thoughts which may act as a checklist for leaders of legal (or other professional services) Networks/Affiliations.
Does the Network Have A Vision?
- Without a vision a Network is only a collection of members who are largely uncoordinated, inadequately organised, inadequately resourced and with no real purpose. In short, they are just a “loose affiliation” of individuals or firms with no articulated sense of purpose or direction.
- This may be acceptable to some Networks but realistically such bodies serve as simple referral platforms without any real commitment to or from their members. Frankly, this is not a sustainable platform for growth or quality offerings to clients.
- If the Network wishes to be more robust in its offering, the leadership (if any) needs, in conjunction with its members, to articulate a vision and to decide how closely linked the Network aspires to be. This is not about financial or operational integration (which may well come later) but creating a cohesive offering to the market.
The “Current Reality” Of The Network
- On the assumption that the Network decides to be more “connected”, the first objective is to establish is its “true” not its “perceived” status in the market. Often loose Networks have an inflated opinion of their reach, ability, quality, and visibility. What the Network needs is a “reality check”.
- In my opinion, this assessment is best served by an independent review of the existing workings, connectivity and market perception of the Network.
- As part of the independent review, it is imperative that a large cross-section of the membership is consulted. This has a dual effect: (i) members have a voice in the Network of the future; and (ii) the views are not a narrow representation of the Networks “current reality” which is often the view of Network leaders.
- Any independent review must include dialogue with clients that is served by the Network.
- An independent review will provide a sense of comfort to the members that there are no “agendas” that are being pushed by the leadership.
- Once a “starting point” has been established then only can a vision/purpose be articulated.
- This vision then needs to be “sold” to the members.
Selling the Vision and drinking the “Cool-Aid”
- The independent review and the implementation of the agreed resulting recommendations are the key to building the Network for the future.
- Adoption of the recommendations by a majority of members are a must. This is a slow and involved process of “story telling” so that the members “buy-in” to the future vision of the Network.
- The one key question that members will inevitably ask is “What’s in it for me”? The response will very much depend on the current status and the future vision of the Network and what it is trying to achieve.
- In my experience, there will, inevitably, be a sub-set that buy into the vision immediately without much convincing, there will be a group “on the fence” and there will be a group that will “dig their heels in” and refuse to change.
- The key is to focus on those “on the fence” and convince them that adoption of the recommendations is for the greater good of the Network and will pay dividends to all members in the future
- Do not expend too much energy on those who are not willing to change as these members signify a lack of buy-in to the vision. Such members are unlikely to contribute and possibly not the right Network partners for the future.
The Implementation Phase
Once there is general buy-in from the members the next step is to formulate an implementation plan to roll out the recommendations.
In my opinion, there are five main elements in achieving the goals that have been identified:
- A laser like focus to achieve the agreed goals
- A client-centric focus
- Good and transparent governance
- An adequate and sensible budget and resources
- Regular updates with accountability
All of the above are facilitated by having a number of relevant Work Streams (and inevitably sub-work streams) driving the various facets in the implementation of the recommendations. The work streams should be headed by relevant experts who are accountable to a central authority overseeing the overall reforms that are being implemented.
The End Game
The end game does not exist!
All businesses are “a journey not a destination” this is no different for a Network. The main question the Network needs to decide upon is how close it wants its affiliation to be. In my experience this will evolve over time and the Network will reassess itself periodically.
Remember that almost all of the established major professional services networks out there have evolved over time rather than through some revolutionary event.
Being bold and taking the first step requires a “leap of faith” and some investment but it will surely pay dividends in the long run.
Edge Principal Yarman Vachha is based in Singapore with four decades of experience in the professional services industry globally. He has run global legal business across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is a subject matter expert in improving profitability, operations, remuneration structures and governance within law firms.