Edge Expands Global Capabilities
Edge International is delighted to announce the continued expansion of its global capabilities with the addition of two partners in the United Kingdom.
Nick Jarrett-Kerr is one of the leading UK and international advisers to law firms and is currently Visiting Professor Nottingham Trent University in the Nottingham Law School, College of Business, Law and Social Sciences where he leads the strategy modules on the Law School's MBA in legal services.
Chris Bull is in the top tier of business professionals within the legal market and is outgoing head of Integreon's Global Business Solutions Group. He previously spent 12 years as Finance Director and then Chief Executive/Chief Operating Officer of UK law firm Osborne Clarke and has worked as a management consultant and accountant with PWC and Ernst & Young.
Nick and Chris will be combining with their Edge colleagues to give law firms in the UK, Europe and internationally, strategic and operational advice, support and assistance on their business critical issues
Report from the Legal Services Laboratory
New business models are becoming a reality for UK law firms.
By Chris Bull
The scheduled introduction in October this year of non-lawyer ownership of Alternative Business Structures (ABS) by the UK's Legal Services Board has attracted comment and debate in legal markets worldwide. Although there is currently some uncertainty about the exact date when the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) will be able to begin ABS licensing, there is clear commitment for it to happen this year. While external ownership is headline-grabbing, it is only one example of evolving business models for legal services businesses being used in the UK; which is clearly playing the role of the global legal industry's 'laboratory' today.
There have been 500 expressions of interest in ABS applications which Edge International anticipates will yield several hundred actual applications when initial submission are accepted next month. We expect to see several forms of ABS emerge in the first wave of applications including:
- vertical integration; large corporate users of volume law firm services typically in financial services, integrating a 'law firm' into their group structure to reduce their legal spend and enhance margin
- retail legal services; large retail or B2C businesses adding consumer legal products to their service offerings, bringing the necessary qualified legal capability inside the group (the reforms were regularly dubbed 'Tesco Law' when first announced in anticipation of this)
- consolidators; following the, not always successful, example of accounting and real estate markets an external investor would back a management team (perhaps the lead Partners in a 'nucleus' law firm) in rapidly undertaking a series of acquisitions of law firms in order to create a scaled legal brand
- invest-to-grow model; a law firm takes external funding, probably in return for a minority stake in its equity, in order to undertake the significant investment it requires to achieve its growth strategy (large-scale IT investment; introduction of new senior lawyers and team hires)
Whilst the introduction of ABS is dominating the headlines, we are also seeing other innovations in law firm business models. A number of law firms are determined to compete head-to-head with new entrants to the market by reshaping their firms to be leaner, fitter and more focused. In the most intense battlegrounds of small and medium sized firms and volume legal services some firms are now spinning out focused limited companies or limited liability partnerships that can compete in this space without the constraints of the traditional partnership. A good recent example is Cardiff-headquartered firm Hugh James, who have recently spun out Involegal, billed as a "high quality provider of volume outsourced legal services". Other UK firms are actively reviewing conversion from Partnership to Limited Company, in the wake of the widespread adoption of Limited Liability Partnership (LLP) as the default structure for UK law firms over the last 10 years.
We will report on further ABS developments in futures issues of the Edge International Communique'. Contact the author, Chris Bull.
Law Firm Positioning
Competitive positioning involves selecting markets according to a law firm's capability, performance and client segmentation.
By Nick Jarrett-Kerr
Of all the issues about which I have spoken or written over the last two years or so, my 'positioning diamond matrix' has attracted by far the most attention and comment.
The purpose of the diamond is to help law firms and their practice groups to identify where they might sit in their chosen markets in terms of competitive positioning, perceived level of capability and performance, and their ranking on the various tiers of client segmentation.
The diamond contains nine generic law firm (and practice group) types. At the top of the diamond are the Market Rulers. These are the firms that in any jurisdiction or locality stand out from the crowd as the leading firms. These firms have the best clients, do top tier legal work and are at the top of the league tables for capability and financial performance. Competing just below are the Challengers and Designer Labels. Challengers are - as the name suggests - firms who are competing strongly to join the top tier of leading firms. Designer Labels including niche boutique firms and also firms with a tight portfolio of highly specialized services or sectors. Both these types are competing at high level - the diamond shape of each segment illustrates that firms in any segment are competing to some extent with firms in segments immediately above (and below) them on the matrix.
As you move down the diamond matrix, the competitive position of each segment becomes weaker and less differentiated. There are also far fewer firms in the top three segments than in the rest of the diamond. Bulk Providers include firms relying essentially on volume business in commercial work or, indeed, for private clients and consumers. Local heroes are the leading firms in regions, cities and towns within the jurisdictions being assessed. Endowment firms were once mighty but have become complacent and rely for their competitive position on their legacies of a rich client base, renowned (but declining) partners and historical positioning. Utility Players are safe pairs of hands, good at many things but not truly renowned or particularly specialized. Minor League firms are the many firms at the bottom of the legal heap.
The point of the matrix is to help firms honestly appraise their current competitive positioning, and then to work out a repositioning strategy. I have, for example, been working for an employment and labor law group in a regional law firm who have frankly admitted that they are a Utility Player Group - good at most things but not yet the 'go to' group for the employment issues which keeps Chief Executives awake at night. They are working on strategies to become a Designer Label Practice Group. I have been also working for a Utility Player firm which has some elements of Local Hero status and would like to move up the diamond. Contact the author, Nick Jarrett-Kerr.
Gunfight at the OK Corral
When complacency about real issues provides a false sense of security
By Sean Larkan
When approached for advice by firms who are clearly in trouble, it is surprising how often partners in those firms are oblivious to or complacent about the situation. It seems you can throw a GFC (global financial crisis) at a firm, have their competitors stealing staff and clients, debtor and work in progress levels skyrocketing and profits plateaued, and yet still be faced with partners not wishing to rock the boat or confront issues. When you talk to partners in such firms it is not uncommon to hear things like "at least our profit levels are okay" or "we have an okay bunch of lawyers and staff turnover is not too bad".
While this situation is all too common, the root causes can be quite complex and difficult to tackle. While complacency is often blamed this can be a cover for things like avoidance behaviour or even fear. Or partners simply feel they can't be bothered, as without added discomfort they are still able to make a 'good' profit. In other words 'it ain't broke so don't fix it' or in Australian terms 'she'll be right mate'.
Unfortunately all these explanations avoid the real issues. Complacency in whatever form it presents itself must be addressed - not necessarily with a belt of ammo and six-guns, but confront it you must. Try some or all of the following depending on what your instincts tell you:
- ask partners what they think - face to face is best if you can do it. The issues are bound to surface.
- study industry benchmark surveys and highlight obvious issues
- review top 25 client lists and fees generated per client over recent years and note trends.
- analyze staff engagement and client reviews for issues. Do the same with staff exit interviews.
- plot where each practice group and industry sector group lies on the "life-cycle curve" - if they fall into the 'mature' or 'decline' phase, it can prompt action.
- have all partners rate (say out of 10) the strategic importance and separately, the strength of each practice group and industry sector group in the firm and plot this on a matrix. This will quickly highlight areas of potential as well as areas for attention.
- get an external objective review undertaken
- arm yourself with examples from the business world of organizations (ideally clients of the firm) renewing and transforming themselves so they can adapt to competitive forces or trends.
Armed with these inputs you will be in a much stronger position to highlight the real issues, address your concerns, engender some passion and energy amongst partners to address them and at the same time engage partners in the process, all without a shoot-out. You might even manage to persuade partners to change their ways in future by taking a tip from violinist Nigel Kennedy: 'I hate complacency. I play every gig as if it could be my last, then I enjoy it more than ever'. Contact the author, Sean Larkan.
Filtering Your Contacts
To Create a contact that will be of value to you in the future, you need to be diligent in your follow-up now.
By Ed Wesemann
The recent opening day bid-up of LinkedIn's public offering was another reminder of how attuned professionals are to creating networks. But, networks are like gardens and, in order to survive, never mind grow, they require some measure of care.
Unfortunately, most of us spend so much time trying to collect business cards and finding ways of linking with valuable contacts that we fail to do anything to maintain our network.
This became clear to me when I learned that Facebook, as a part of its normal algorithm, filters out status updates from any "Friends" with whom you haven't interacted recently.
Now, given the volume of emails and Facebook posts I routinely get from people I barely know, I'm not sure that such an algorithm is a bad thing. But the point is, we tend to do the same thing ourselves to our networks without even realizing it. Suppose, for example, that you meet someone at a social event. You talk for a few minutes and exchange business cards. That person goes into your network (however you organize it) as a possibly valuable contact. But what is the realistic shelf life of such a contact? Could you really call that person up in six months and, with a straight face, say "Remember me? We met at that United Way party last May?"
Most of us are pretty good at doing some sort of follow up immediately after we make a contact but then - nothing. True networkers tell us that it takes three "unfulfilled quid pro quos" (things you do for someone that does not require they do anything in return) to establish a contact. It can be as little as a voice mail message to pass along some form of industry news or a clipping from a magazine that you think will be of interest. The point is, to create a contact that will be of value to you in the future, you need to be diligent in your follow up now.
By the way, the importance of following up is not just for contacts. Lawyers are great pessimists and tend to filter themselves out of all sorts of opportunities. This is never truer than with marketing presentations. We make a proposal or presentation to a potential client and that's it. We might make one follow-up phone call or email but if we don't hear anything back, we filter them off of our contact list as not being interested. People are busy and considering your proposal may not be at the top of their priority list. We're all afraid of being like the pushy insurance salesman, but a good rule is never filter out a prospective client until they actually say no.
The bottom line is that filters are good when we are in control of their use. Contact the author, Ed Wesemann
|At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners
August 2, 2011: Pamela Woldow gives the Keynote at the Association for Continuing Legal Education Meeting in Boston, MA
August 5, 2011: Jordan Furlong speaks at the ABA Annual Meeting in Toronto, ON
August 9-10, 2011: Nick Jarrett-Kerr speaks at the CLT Management Conference for Lawyers in London, UK
August 22-23, 2011: Jordan Furlong speaks at the International Legal Technology Association Conference in Nashville, TN
August 23-24, 2011: Pamela Woldow speaks at the International Legal Technology Association Conference in Nashville, TN
September 9-10, 2011: Gerry Riskin speaks at the LAWASIA Conference in Hong Kong
September 17, 2011: Nick Jarrett-Kerr speaks at the Welinkar Institute of Management in Mumbai, India
September 22-23, 2011: Pamela Woldow speaks at the Association of Legal Administrators Large Firm Administrators' Retreat in Chicago, IL
October 5, 2011: Gerry Riskin speaks at the LawAustrralasia Conference in Freyeinet, Tasmania
October 7, 2011: Nick Jarrett-Kerr gives the Keynote at the Lawnet Annual Conference in Forest of Arden, UK
October 18, 2011: Nick Jarrett-Kerr gives the Keynote at the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers Business Conference in London, UK
October 22, 2011: Pamela Woldow speaks at the Association of Legal Administrators Conference in Las Vegas, NV
November 17, 2011: Pamela Woldow speaks on Best Practices in e-Discovery in Pentagon City, VA
November 17, 2011: Nick Jarrett-Kerr gives the Keynote at UK200 Group Annual Conference in Liverpool, UK