Edge International

A Network Leaders Checklist

Yarman J. Vachha

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.

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.

Beyond ‘Networking’

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.

Knowledge Insights

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.

Summing Up

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.

Building and Leveraging Relationships: The True Essence of Business Development

Bithika 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.