Edge International Communiqué
Insights and Analysis from Edge International, the Leading Global Consultancy to the Legal Profession

May, 2013    
Core Competence and the Competitive Edge

Three vital attributes that make up the core competence of a law firm


By Nick Jarrett-Kerr 


Resource-based strategic planning proposes that a firm can gain sustainable competitive advantage through the development and harnessing of its intangible assets, notably its organisational capabilities, knowledge, expertise, skills and experience that enable the firm or practice group to frame and pursue strategic objectives.For the last couple of decades, the expression "core competence" has been used to describe a firm's (and its lawyers') activities, abilities and talents that allow them to perform at least at the same level as their competitors or - preferably - at a superior level. 


However, the term "core competence" has lost much of its resonance through over-use and nowadays seems to imply little more than that the firm is able to perform competently.  Just being adequate may not be enough for future success, so it is worth reminding ourselves of the three vital attributes that make up a firm's core competence. 

1. Core Competence must imply sustainable value. The first attribute is that the holy grail of strategy is the gaining of sustainable competitive advantage.  Nothing is forever, and no competitive advantage can last infinitely. However, sustainability implies a long-term game and accordingly the development of skills and capabilities within a law firm needs to be focussed not just on this year's performance, this year's compensation or this year's short-term objectives, but on a longer term view of the competitive landscape.Very few law firms seem to be focussed on value creation, but it is worth remembering that any 'open-market' valuation of a professional service firm is based on at least a five-year forward view of the firm's expected profit line.It is well worth pursuing the same features that would ensure that the market would find your firm valuable, even where the firm's ownership and succession strategy remain internal.

2. Core competence should enable a firm to outperform its rivals.The second attribute or core competence is that it ought to allow the firm to distinguish itself from its rivals and to outperform them. In a professional sector containing many look-alike firms, being the only show in town is difficult to achieve, but many firms have found that their specialist skills, tailored solutions, and know-how resources have enabled them to become preeminent in their chosen fields of operations.


3. Core Competence must have Strategic Importance.The third element of core competence is that the capabilities should be strategically valuable - not just for value creation and enhancement, and not only to enable the firm to become and remain competitive. In brief, core competences should help the firm with its recruitment, retention and succession strategies, should enhance the firm's brand and reputation and should enable the firm to pursue and gain better and more profitable clients.


Hence, the expression "core competence" is not just synonymous with general skills, but is both broader and deeper, encompassing such words as knowledge, talents, specialisms, distinctiveness and competitive capabilities. It is well worth asking the question, "What makes our firm so special that clients will readily engage us in preference to our rivals?"


Financial Budgeting Is Strategic: Leaders, Get Involved


Budgeting is too important to be left to support staff or to the partner who has "a good feel for the finances."

by Sean Larkan


Financial budgeting should receive a more strategic focus in law firms. It should also have leadership involvement - not be viewed as the annual nuisance exercise when partners are asked to commit to and sign off on targets they and the managing partners have no confidence will ever be achieved or any attempt be made to make good on them.

This is even more relevant as financial trend data in the US and elsewhere is pointing to client dissatisfaction with their return on investment in law firms. There is:  

  • declining demand for law firms to do legal work (clients have choices),
  • gaps between standard billing rates and collections are widening alarmingly,
  • partners are doing less work (at their higher rates clients don't want or need them),
  • and at the same time firms are struggling to maintain financially viable qualitative leverage rates, one key to profitability.

For a start, and as one step, the health monitor should be placed on both the budgeting process and firms' approach to budgeting. It is a wonderful opportunity to do much more than simply get the numbers together. It is a time for leadership communication, listening, coaching, and focusing your people on the key thinking, behaviours and processes that are critical for success, as well as aligning strategies within your firm, all with a view to supporting the overall firm vision and strategy. It should not be relegated only to support staff or the partner who "happens to have a good feel for the finances." It is too important for that.


Budgeting is also about building true accountability on the part of partners. Budgeting done well is also a fantastic stress-tester of many other activities in the firm. To name a few:

  • whether partners are building capital fabric™ (things that contribute to long-term, foundational strength);
  • the partners' understanding of critical issues around pricing and its impact;
  • whether partners understand and are countering insidious habits like "eating time" and "leaking time";
  • how partners are doing in relation to people. Are they keeping what should be the most important financial cog (the partner-lawyer team) well-oiled?
  • the status of partner brands and thought leadership. Are they constantly re-building true value for money for clients?
  • whether partners have a true understanding of and strategy to tackle the critical financial variables the firm is targeting for attention.

This is strategic, not administrative. It is therefore vitally important. You have partner focus. I suggest you take the opportunity and use it to absolute best advantage.


 Contact the author, Sean Larkan 

Lateral Partner (Business Development) Integration

What do the law firm and the newly recruited lateral need to do in order to be successful?
by Michael J. White, Esq.


In a recent EIC article, I discussed the frustrations law firms experience in successfully recruiting desirable lateral partners; i.e., relatively few quality laterals willing to move for the large number of interested firms. The previous article laid out some strategies firms can adopt to be more successful in the recruiting land grab for lateral partners; however, once recruited, what do the law firm and the recruited lateral need to do post-recruitment in order to be successful? How can both firm and partner set, and have fulfilled, expectations that will cause each to ascribe unambiguous success to the relationship?

The below checklist lays out a framework firms might consider adopting in some form to create a track record of success with lateral partner integration efforts, and in so doing, make it easier to recruit the next desirable lateral partner. These checkpoints are relevant during the recruiting process, and become operational tactics during the onboarding process.


"It Takes a Village"

  • Establish shareholder commitment to an ongoing intentional level of lateral partner support and awareness
  • Is lateral partner success important enough to us that we'll actively participate in causing it to occur? 

Clear definition/articulation of why the firm is unique; the "Value Proposition"

  • Define, educate, document
  • What makes us special?
  • How does our differentiation translate into reliable and practical commercial advantage? How does it make it easier to bring work in the door? 

Establish lateral integration committee

  • Small is desirable
  • Sends clear message that firm is serious about lateral success
  • Allows for ongoing feedback from lateral, particularly in early stages; two-way communication and managerial channel 

Best practices intake

  • Have dedicated discussion with lateral recruit about organizational and managerial approaches he/she has seen at previous firm that "work" that he/she would like to see adopted

Synergy analysis

  • Assessment of practice group/sector/partner synergies to be jointly developed by firm and the recruited partner
  • Exchange information on, and educate about firm clients and recruited partner clients
  • Identify target rich clients; identify synergistic sectors/practice groups
  • Assess collaboration appetite of relevant firm relationship partners/synergistic practice group partners/synergistic sector partners; create core list of clients, sectors, practice groups, and partners related thereto based on
  • Validate presumed synergies through meeting with relevant partners

 Integration/synergy plan

  • Create opportunity-specific tactical plan
  • Post-recruitment: how will recruited partner and firm collaborate on identified opportunities after recruited partner moves over?

Law Firm Partner Accountability

  • (synergistic) Partner-specific concurrence
  • Ongoing commitment - what is the nature of the accountable partner(s)' commitment?
  • Bonus construction - how can the accountable partner benefit financially from providing desired support?
  • The "collaborating partner commitment" - can the accountable partner(s)' commitment be documented?

Communication Strategy

  • External
  •  Website
  • Non-website external communication of announcement
  • Internal communication of successes along way

Lateral Partner Objectives/Plan

  • Separate from the integration / synergy plan, the recruited partner creates this document to define success over a meaningful period of time-specific objectives, strategies, and tactics, and the resources he/she will need to accomplish them


  • "What makes (law firm) different?" one pager
  • One page description of the law firm lateral partner integration philosophy/elements
  • Collaborating partner commitment document
  • Opportunity plan
  • Synergy analysis checklist
  • Lateral partner objectives/plan


Contact the author, Mike White 

Archived Edge International Communiqués 
In This Issue
Nick Jarrett-Kerr presents three vital attributes of law-firm core competence
Sean Larkan explains the strategic importance of budgeting
Mike White discusses the integration of new lateral partners
  Gerry Riskin

Gerry Riskin 





Ed Wesemann

Jordan Furlong 


Pam Woldow
Doug Richardson 

John Plank 

 John Plank








New York,

Ft. Lauderdale, 

Mike White

Of Counsel 

Legal League Consulting, LLC  
Dehli and Mumbai,
At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners   

 JUNE 2013

Jordan Furlong June 20
Keynote Presentation 
State Bar of Texas Annual Conference: "The Adaptable Lawyer"
State Bar of Texas
Dallas, TX




Gerry Riskin August 07
National Association of Bar Executives (NABE)
2013 Annual Meeting
San Francisco, CA


Edge Blogs

Jordan Furlong's  



Ed Wesemann's: Creating Dominance


Pam Woldow's At The Intersection


Gerry Riskin's Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Nick Jarrett-Kerr's NJK

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