Spare a seasonal thought for the lawyers

You can spot a lawyer a mile off at Christmas.

They’re usually the ones not enjoying themselves (well, I guess you could say that the rest of the year too).  At the time of year when the rest of the office winds down, with the exception of the execs driving towards the year-end chequered flag at break neck speed, the lawyers wind up (and get wound up).

While the Communications and Marketing teams tune in Spotify to their Christmas playlists, the only music the lawyers get to listen to is the hold muzak on the numerous conference calls they’ll be dialling into during the December run-in.

As the sales teams stumble between client lunches to the sounds of laughter, the lawyers only get to enjoy black humour engendered by the knowledge that what should be the most fun month of the year isn’t meant for them.

While the IT team worry about how long the free bar will hold for at the office party, the lawyers worry about how much work they are not doing by being there and how tired they will be the next day as the latest round of drafting summons them from their slumber.

And as the office gets deserted increasingly early, the lawyers get left alone in darkened, desolate conference rooms feel increasingly lonely negotiating clauses that no-one else but them will read.

Whilst we all shudder the first time we hear Slade’s Noddy announce that ‘IT’s CHRIIIIISTMAS!’, the lawyers almost break-down, knowing what the month is going to bring for them.

One thought keeps the lawyers going during these dark December nights.  The thought that next year, it won’t be like this, they’ll have changed the way they work, gained more control, learned to dictate the timetable, resourced things differently, forced clients to help themselves more, and just generally taken a big picture January review of the changes they will make so that next year is easier.  It will be better next year, they say.

Maybe they even believe it.

Except usually, that thought gets lost the moment the monster deal is inked or the revenue targets have been hit or (most usually) the non-lawyers decide they want to stop for Christmas after all and stop answering their emails.

The lawyers breathe, crank up their Amazon shopping basket (Prime account, obv), shoot to Waitrose for the organic three bird roast, grab the Hunters for the mandatory Boxing Day walk, chuck a load of money at the Boden sale (you can never have too many chequered garments in your casual wardrobe), fall asleep on the sofa as Jools plays out New Years Eve and before they know it, they’re back at it, the horrors of the December run-in forgotten once more for another 11 months.

Remember folks, a lawyer is for life, not just for Christmas.  Be nice to yours this December.  And remind them this year, just to hold that thought they had about making things better for next.

Badge of (dis)honour

This post was originally published by The Lawyer in November 2014

It’s time for GCs to forget the heroic ‘I do everything myself’ culture and concentrate instead on driving their business, and that means outsourcing.

A significant privilege of what I can no longer call my new job at Lawyers On Demand (LOD), is the number of GCs and other in-house counsel I get to meet, of all shapes and sizes (the in-house teams that is, not the lawyers themselves).

But one of the flip sides of life on the sell-side is that occasionally meetings I’m looking forward to can get rearranged on short notice, because the in-house lawyer we’re scheduled to see has been called to fight a fire.

I can’t help but put on my *ironic smile face* when this happens.

Those of us who work in or with the in-house side of our profession hear all too often about the pressure that in-house teams are under.  The amount of work they have to do.  The increasing focus on corporate governance.  The reliance on them by the board to stay the right side of the line.  The sometimes unfair passing of responsibility from ‘the business’ to the in-house lawyer.  The long days and late nights.  The lack of light at the end of the tunnel.  The inability to stop and take stock.  The contractual churn. The lack of resource to do all this with.  This is a running machine which never gets switched off.

But at the risk of stretching the theory of the challenger sale, I sometimes wonder if in-house lawyers bring some of this onto themselves.  Or at the very least, if they don’t do as much as they might to resolve the position they invariably find themselves in.

It’s a truism that many in-house counsel do face the pressures referred to above.  They’re difficult to deal with every day.  It therefore surprises me how in-house counsel often, in fact almost always, feel compelled to say, “we keep as much work as we can in-house”.

Those of us who’ve worked in-house have all said this mantra.  It’s a badge of honour, you’re not a real in-houser until you’ve said it out loud, “I do it all myself”.  Maybe it’s a form of addiction therapy, “My name is Tim and I’m a workaholic”.  Or less succinctly, “I’m an in-house lawyer with more work than I can ever hope to do and we do as much of it as we can ourselves sitting on this burning platform”.  Done, well said, you’re now a proper in-house lawyer, you may wear your badge.

The fact that work might occasionally be outsourced, that the in-house team sometimes is thinking about asking for and may even get outside help, is like the in-house lawyers’ omertà.  No-one in the family must admit that happens, because that is tantamount to admitting failure, to giving credence to the belief that the in-house team is not capable of doing it all.  Because that’s why we were hired isn’t it?  To do everything.

This feels like an early nineties flash back.  Back to an era when lawyers who left Big Law for the then relative novelty of the in-house legal department were whispered about as lawyers who “couldn’t hack it” in a law firm.  Even by 2000 when I moved in-house, there was still a sense from some that I was leaving the first class lounge for a career trip at the back of the plane.  As a result we did do as much work as we could possibly manage in-house, because it countered the view that we weren’t good enough.

The world has changed.  It’s now the in-house lawyers who have the most coveted positions in the profession, who are dealing with the category ‘A’ work, who have the ear of the CEO, who are working on deals that tomorrow will make the front pages of the newspapers (or iPad app, if you prefer).  Yet even though everyone now recognises it’s the GC whose career is at the front of the plane, many in-housers are still unable to let go of the belief they must do it all.

As lawyers, we don’t like to think of ourselves as mere service providers.  Yet in a corporate context, this is certainly where the legal team sits.  We are no more or less special than our colleagues in IT, Finance, Marketing, Communications and HR.  It’s funny isn’t it.  You don’t ever see any of those teams trying to do everything on their own.

But in the in-house legal team, we like to do it all ourselves, so we can keep polishing that badge of honour.

In-house lawyers can arguably learn a thing or two from our colleagues in IT.  The CIO is in many ways a curator of technology services.  The routine big-infrastructure stuff tends to get outsourced.  Contractors may be used for specialised skill gaps.  The big suppliers come into play for high risk projects.  And the IT Executive team drive the technology strategy.  It’s a sensible mix of in-house and external expertise, a horses for courses approach.

My guess is that many GCs would see themselves as having failed if they were seen as curators of legal services.  But I don’t think this is right.  I think it’s time to consign that badge from the early nineties to the dustbin.  Conduct the orchestra brilliantly, don’t be a one man band, unable to play anything to a decent standard.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not in favour of the in-houser who outsources everything, the so-called ‘telephone operator’ as I once heard that type of lawyer memorably referred to (great phrase).  But I am in favour of looking at how to put out the fires which constantly burn in most in-house teams which, in many cases, are easily extinguishable with a little thought.  I’m in favour of taking a step back, of looking at who is doing what, where and why.

Does it really make sense for that lawyer over there to be submerged in sales contracts?  Do you really want junior lawyers churning through NDAs that no-one ever reads anyway?  Why is that transactional lawyer having to get involved on the DD on a project when they could add far more value elsewhere?  Does it make sense to always use your panel firm for most things, just because you always have and they discount their “standard rates”, whatever that means?  Does your in-house team even need to be touching that bucket of non-strategic contracts?  Why aren’t they spending more time on the strategic work over there?  And the perennial old chestnut, how long does overflow you can’t get to have to be there before it ceases to be overflow and becomes value-reducing BAU which can suck the life out of the legal team.

The last decade has seen the rise and rise of the in-house lawyer.  It’s a privileged position.  The quality of work has never been higher for GCs and other IHLs.  But neither have the stakes.  The best in-house legal teams help drive their business forward by deploying expertise efficiently and allowing themselves time to understand and influence the business drivers.  But many can’t achieve this, because they are drowning in ‘too much work’.

The CEO didn’t hire you to do everything yourself.  The CEO hired you to help drive the business forward as quickly as possible, whilst keeping it safe.

It’s time to throw out that badge of (dis)honour and decide what type of legal team you want to be part of.  For those who don’t take the time to just stop a minute and have a look around, there’s a risk that someone else might end up doing it for them.

It may just be time to get a new badge.

It’s time for ‘hei hei’ Hyypiä

It’s been apparent since the first time Sami sat in the Albion dug out on 9 August 2014 that something seems to be missing at the Albion this season.  It’s the ‘L’ word.

Leadership.

Gus, for whatever faults he might have had towards the end of his reign, he had leadership in spades.  The players would run through brick walls for him.  The fans would have done too.

Whilst Garcia did not have it in the same way, he did at least have an air of quiet authority and would get off the bench to make his feelings known.  No-one who was there will forget the passion shared by players and fans at the City Ground last season, and Oscar must take some credit for that.

But Hyypiä does not seem to have that ‘L’thing.  He sits on his bench passively for most of each match whether we are winning, losing, pressing, defending, in control, off the pace, whatever.  When we have a game by the scruff of the neck, like we did for the first ten minutes against Fulham yesterday, the players don’t know how to seize the moment.  When we’re being bypassed and outfought in midfield as happened during much of the second half, the players don’t know how to react.

I am not one to call for managers’ heads simply for failing to deliver instant success and nor do I want passion for the sake of it without tactics. This is not a knee-jerk blog post of Angry from Hove.  However,  I’m beginning to worry.  Although so far this season I’ve discounted the possibility of relegation on the basis we’re “too good to go down”, we are now beginning to sleepwalk into what could become a relegation dogfight before we even realise it.  Shiny new stadiums offer no defence against a lack of points.

Before continuing, it is only fair to put the case for the defence of Hyypiä.

First, the spine of our team has gone, anyone would struggle to refashion a side which over recent seasons has lost players like Kuszczac, Upson, Bridcutt, Barnes and Ulloa.  Not to mention Murray, Bridge, Spanish Dave and Orlandi.  Second, he is trying to mould what amounts to a brand new team, or at least two thirds of a brand new team.  Third, he is new to the Championship (which was no secret to the board which appointed him), which is one of the hardest leagues to escape from (out of the right exit, anyway) and requires a certain knowledge of how best to go about doing it.  Fourth, Brighton have arguably over-performed since we arrived at the Amex and as a result expectations amongst fans of what the team should achieve this season are quite possibly unrealistic. And finally, us fans don’t get to see him in training, where for all we know the players could be prepared to die for the guy.

But, and there is a but coming I’m afraid…..

But, notwithstanding these mitigating factors, for me it is time to say “hei hei Hyypiä” due to that apparent lack of the “L” word.  He must have something deep down, he did as a player, you don’t command the central defence at Liverpool for ten years without being gutsy, but at the moment he hasn’t found his managerial mojo.

Saturday’s second half against Fulham is the evidence-in-chief against him.  Darren Bent did what he’d been brought in to do, we saw some class positioning from him in and around the box, when his chance came, he didn’t need the second touch which our beloved CMS usually takes and unlike so many wasteful shots we’ve seen this season, Bent both hit the target and evaded the keeper.

Yet instead of at least consolidating our position or even better pushing on from it, we melted and Fulham bulldozed or passed their way through us for the rest of the second half.  Brighton looked like a team not sure how to convert a winning position into a win.  For the third time in three games.

As we huffed and puffed our way to trying to stop Fulham, as we misplaced passes, as we wasted set-pieces and as we failed to make the most of Bent’s clever movement (okay, fair enough, the rest of the squad don’t know too much about how he plays yet), what did Sami do?

Sami did what he almost always does.  He stayed sitting down, looking on like a somewhat detached observer who has somehow by accident found himself sitting on a bench inside a football stadium.

Surely it would help our players to look up and see the gaffer at the side of the pitch, cajoling them, advising them, berating them, encouraging them, applauding them, engaging them, reminding them, maybe occasionally even intimidating them, but most of all leading them.

As for the fans, we recognise it.  I don’t think I’ve heard a single chant in favour of Sami since he arrived.  No Gus Poyet my Lord, No Oscar Garcia drinking Sangria.

In fact most tellingly of all, we’ve heard the Albion faithful on away days singing that they are Tony Bloom’s blue and white army.  Whilst it is right to give thanks to The Lord our God and King (aka TB), this in itself is recognition by us, the fans, that Sami is not the man.

Sorry Sami, but it’s time to say hei hei (or näkemiin if we’re going to get formal about it).

Over to you, Tony.

This post also appears on North Stand Chat, the chatroom/message board for all things Brighton & Hove Albion

What makes a good lawyer?

It’s September and the lawyers are back from holiday.  You can tell, the trains are busier, less friendly and humming with the tappy tap of smartphones.

Like most, I love my holidays, but the idea of booking one always fills me with horror.

It’s not the idea of the holiday I don’t like, but the knowledge that I’ll spend more time and effort searching for it than I did when I bought my last house or car.  I’ve known lawyers put more hard yards into the due diligence they undertake about holiday destination than they would ever consider doing for a client deal.  We’re all driven by a fear of finding out that someone else found a better holiday than us at a better price.

As buyers of holidays we can pretty much get hold of perfect information with a few clicks of the mouse.  Not just about geographic location, but potential accommodation, nearby restaurants and random stuff to do.  Last year I even pre-booked a ranger-led walk in the Highlands several weeks in advance (since you’re asking, it was rained off).

A lot of us make our buying decisions by subscribing to the wisdom of crowds theory, which in holiday land manifests itself through the data available through Trip Advisor.  On the whole and in particular where there is strength in depth of reviews, the Trip Advisor community knows what constitutes a ‘good’ holiday.

We choose our holidays based on readily accessible crowd-sourced management information (we used to call it ‘a recommendation from a friend’).  Big Holiday Data is filtered for us to use, analyse and base our decisions on.  It makes it easy for us to decide what is likely to be a ‘good holiday’ before we click-to-buy.

So we lawyers either know, or know how to find out, what constitutes a good holiday.  But once we’ve exchanged our swimwear for our grey suit and are back in the office deciding who to instruct, who to hire into our team or who we might recommend, do we know what makes a good lawyer?

If you ask a lawyer what makes a good lawyer, you’ll get a range of similar answers. “Excellent technical skills”, “someone who can be commercial”, “an ability to apply the law practically”, “deep client knowledge”, “sector specialist” and so on.

But none of those descriptions remotely answer the question of what makes a good lawyer.  They merely state the characteristics of what lawyers think makes a good lawyer.  They don’t actually describe what, for example, constitute “good technical skills” or how well someone must know a client before they are said to have “deep client knowledge”.  The descriptions are subjective by nature.

Lawyers in traditional law firms have generally had their performance measured by metrics like billable targets, billable hours, hourly rates, recovery rates, WIP and the golden goose that is PEP.  But none of these metrics actually measure lawyer performance, they merely measure lawyer activity, which is quite a different thing and all too often confused with being about quality.

Neither are in-house lawyers immune from the inability of the profession to “rate” its constituent parts.  The best in-house teams will tell you that they aspire to lead by and implement best practice.  And you will hear GCs tell you that they have a “first class” legal team, I’ve done it myself.  But how do they really know?  Concepts like “best in class” are laudable but all too often flawed by subjectivity.

We live in a world of Big Data and the legal sector can look embarrassingly out of date when you compare the legal sector with verticals such as marketing where ROMI (Return On Marketing Investment) is such a recognised concept that McKinsey specialise in it, or with sectors such as education and medicine, where qualitative league tables are readily available for prospective customers to review before making a buying decision.

Change is however on the horizon.  A few of Lawyers On Demand’s (LOD) more innovative clients are starting to use a two letter acronym in the conversations they’re having with us.  MI.  Management information.  These clients are asking LOD to curate MI specific to their teams and business.  For example, how our LODs are spending their time and what on.  And not solely as a reason to see how long a particular task took and query why.  But also because they are interested how their own “end users” of LOD’s service are using our LODs.

Clients want to know if, for example, there is a significant variance between the amount of lawyer time required by their marketing team, compared to the sales team.   They want to find out why a particular individual may require our LODs to spend 25 per cent more time in internal meetings than the average.  They want to see which end user clients are releasing a steady pipeline of planned work to our LODs and which are creating the daily fire fight by throwing ad hoc buckets of petrol onto the fire as and when they feel like it.  And also, yes, because they are interested if Lawyer A gets through more work than Lawyer B and to find out why.

One reason why our clients are interested in how our LODs spend their time is because it is likely in many cases to replicate how the core in-house team is being asked to spend its time too.  Inefficient instructions are likely to lead to inefficient lawyering.  Or to use a data analogy, c**p in, c**p out.

The use of MI and data is a step in the right direction away from subjective judgments.  But even then the focus of MI is often activity dressed up as performance.  For example, whilst a Sales Director might rate Lawyer A higher than Lawyer B, because Lawyer B gets more contracts concluded, a Finance Director might prefer Lawyer B’s approach to assessing contractual risk.   Perhaps better to have a slower pass-through of robust contracts, rather than a fast pass-through of flaky ones.

Even better to have a fast pass-through of robust ones, but how do you measure the robust bit?  What is a “good contract”?

Perhaps the legal profession can learn from academia where no paper worth its salt is published without being put through a rigorous tyre kicking by the authors’ peers or even, in a research context, his competitors in a field.  How about a similar system where the lawyers at Firm A spot check a small percentage of Firm B’s work to verify that it is indeed of Magic Circle quality?  And vice versa, of course.  Or perhaps more realistically, where an in-house team subjects it’s work to oversight by one of the firms on its panel or maybe by another in-house legal team.

I have a view on what makes a good lawyer and I bet you do too.  We may even think the same things make one.  But it doesn’t mean we’re right.  And even then, we may both agree that a well drafted liability clause makes a good contract, but we might not agree on what that clause looks like.  But if ten lawyers reviewed a contract and gave it an average mark of 7 out of 10, I think we’d feel pretty comfortable that this peer review proved that the contract was at least “good enough” which likely reflects well on the lawyer who negotiated it too.

Of course, we live in a real world.  Magic Circle firms won’t be swapping drafts to ask for a mark out of ten.  Nor will in-house teams.  Enlightened law firms and their clients might do occasionally.

But the answer to what constitutes a good lawyer or contract is in the data.   If legal service providers can invest in curating MI that helps their clients interpret the data that is created in the process of a contract negotiation, then that can only be a good thing for providers and clients alike.

Lawyers will often tell you that what keeps them awake at night are the unknown unknowns.  Well perhaps MI is one way of turning some of those unknowns into knowns.  It’s the colour by numbers approach to lawyering if you like.  Join the numbers and paint the picture.

Risk management without subjectivity, whatever next.

Terrace nostalgia

[I originally published this post on my original blog (http://legalbrat.blogspot.co.uk/) in 2012, which I eventually moved over here because the look-and-feel was, well, unreadable. Because I like it (I think it’s okay to nostalgically re-post a post about nostalgia) and today is Non League Day where the football terrace is still alive and well, I thought I’d indulge myself and re-post it.  If you’re going to a non-league game today, enjoy, its certainly bound to be more enjoyable than this.]

I normally blog about law.  For a change, I’m blogging about football.  And more specifically about my club.  Brighton and Hove Albion.  We’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen etc.  Let’s see how it goes, bear with it…..

It was twenty and more years ago.  The walk down the Old Shoreham Road to the Goldstone Ground.  In short sleeves in the spring, huddled against the cold in the winter.  A scarf on whatever the climate.  Past that pub on the Sackville Road cross-roads (but never in it).   Skirting the West Stand with only one destination in mind.  The North Stand.  Turn right, push through the big iron turnstile with blue flaking paint.  Ticket to the turnstile operator behind the mesh grille.  The unmistakeable and satisfying clank of the turnstile as you pushed it.  And you were in.  Away from the worries of the world, whatever they might be, where for 90 or so minutes nothing else could get into your mind.

Through the turnstile.  The stench of the men’s toilets at the foot of the North Stand steps – nothing more than a brick shack with a huge metal trough attached to the wall.  Jog up the steps.  Turn right.  Pass the first entrance to the stand, turn left into the second entrance, the splendour of the pitch in front of you, down a few steps, duck under the barrier and now you were really in.  Into the pen towards the top of the North Stand, behind the goal, just to the left.  We’re the north stand, we’re the north stand, we’re the north stand Brighton boys.  Murmuring an hour before kick-off, volume building in that hour and rocking at 3 o’clock.

The smell of cigarette smoke.  Jostling on the terrace steps to get your place.  A tribal place.  Definitely an edge to the atmosphere, it never would go “off” but it sometimes felt like it just might.  A strange mix of the safe and friendly but ever so slightly edgy.  I was young, not one of the stand’s “top boys” (and I don’t mean that in a hooligan sense), I was there to observe and enjoy rather than as one of the master of ceremonies.  This was a place miles away from village boredom, from school monotony, from ‘A’ Level stress, from anywhere.

What a place this was.   The surge on the terrace when a goal went in that dragged you along like a rough sea.  You could end up yards away from where you had been standing.  And if you were unlucky, end up painfully pinned against one of the terrace bars while the hoards surged around you.  The added magic of a night match, the floodlights only adding to the atmospherics.  Maybe even a few seagulls circling above for posterity, their spiritual home as well as your own.

Enjoying that we were the North Stand.  Affectionately mocking the quiet West Stand (can you hear the West Stand sing), encouraging the altar-boy sounding family South Stand (South Stand South Stand give us a song), never quite sure what to make of the stalwarts who stood on the uncovered terrace that was the crumbling East Stand where grass could sometimes be seen between the cracks in the steps.  And loving it when one of our heroes applauded our efforts, we used to imagine that they’d like to be in there with us.

A clear pecking order even within the North Stand – I never stood right at the top, it would have been discourteous do so, that was where the leaders stood.  You would never start a song, which was the job of the mighty Krispies (he still exists apparently).  You would never contradict a view you heard that you disagreed with.  But despite that, you belonged.

Some great days and nights and memories.  Kurt Nogan scoring a late winner in front of the North at a night match, the first game I took my girlfriend  to sometime in the early nineties (she is now my wife which is somewhat amazing considering that I thought that was a good early date).  Losing four-nil to table-topping Sheffield Wednesday and managing to chant for most of the second half “We’re going to win the League”.  Almost beating Liverpool in a cup replay until Rush and MacMahon turned on the style.  Dean Wilkins (brother of Ray for non-Albion readers) scoring a last minute free kick against Ipswich to take us into the play-offs.  Beating Millwall in the play-off semis.  “Bravely” taunting Leeds fans one lovely sunny day only for the North Stand to scarper back down the Old Shoreham Road once the Leeds support took our invites literally and invaded the pitch, seemingly intent of invasion of our stand (I have never seen a stadium empty so quickly).  Thrashing Luton (then a top flight team) in the cup.  Heroes like Digweed, Keeley, Nelson, Bremner, Chapman, Curbishley, Byrne, Small and of course Crumplin.  And what seemed like every week celebrating Brighton-based celebrities who would be paraded on the pitch – Sir Des of Lynam, Chris Eubank and most surreally Detective Inspector Burnside (Burnside Burnside give us a wave), or at least the actor who played him.

90 enjoyable minutes, even if the football was not always so.  Because those minutes were so far removed from the mundanity of normal life – which for me at this time was school or being home during student holidays (something the more seasoned North Stand congregation would enjoy recognising with the intra-stand banter of “It’s back to school tomorrow”).

Twenty or so years ago.  And then the ground closed in 1997.  Sold, thanks to the actions of a few individuals who didn’t love the club (euphemism).  Homeless and so came the wilderness years.  The club lost thousands of fans as it camped first in Gillingham and then at the soulless and non-atmospheric Withdean.

Fast forward to 2011 since when we (the Albion) have one of the best stadiums in England.  The Amex (or the American Express Community Stadium to give it its full sponsored title).  Padded seats, video screens for replays, good views from everywhere, no surges after a goal, the toilets don’t stink, people can’t smoke, you can buy edible food, we have fan zone on the video screens before the game, Sky Sports in the bars – the edge to the terrace atmosphere has gone but there is still a great atmosphere, it’s just different.  It’s a safe environment where I’m happy to take my Dad and young children.

I wouldn’t swap the Amex for the old Goldstone.  That was then and this is now.  But occasionally, just occasionally, I miss the pungent atmosphere of a rocking terrace as a goal goes in, the gallows humour as  a result goes awry.   Rose-tinted spectacles?  Maybe.  But that’s what memories are made of.  Above my desk at home I have a wonderful framed photograph of the North Stand taken by that most brilliant photographer of football stadia, Stuart Clark.  His photos bring memories to life.  And a good long look at that photograph brings those memories very much alive for me.

If you got this far you must be a Brighton fan.  Or someone who is very tolerant of a lawyer’s musings on a subject he is not qualified to write about.  Thank you for reading.  And if you are going to any match today, whoever you support, enjoy, and remember what a beautiful game this is.

Lawyers: show your clients some love (well, empathy at least)

It’s 12 months since I stopped being a lawyer.  Well, I still cling to my practising certificate just in case it’s ever needed as a life jacket, so technically still am a lawyer.  I guess what I mean is it’s that long since I stopped lawyering.

And one thing I’ve belatedly developed over those 12 months is an empathy with the sales-teams that used to be some of my in-house clients.  However hard I tried to ensure that my old legal team supported our sales colleagues, I was motivated to help them for not entirely the right reasons.  I knew their work was critical to the business because it brought in revenue.  Quite frequently, I would prioritise legal resource based on deal value.  And this is why I was motivated to help them, to push the revenue indicator in the right direction.  I wasn’t always motivated to help out of a sense of empathy, that a colleague needed some help to push months of their own hard work over the line.

Quite frequently too, I regarded these sales contracts that crossed our desks as more akin to order forms, which the hapless sales person had only had to pick up the phone to their client to get approved.  I guess I sometimes even dismissed sales as akin to order taking, something that didn’t require too much thought.  Surely not much of substance can have happened before the legal team was engaged by the business to review the small print?

As a result my empathy with some (not all) of my sales colleagues was occasionally (they can determine how occasionally!) lacking.  I’ll admit that one of my biggest bug-bears was the sales rep who’d turn up in the legal department with a low revenue deal, claiming it needed to be prioritised because “this is just the start”.

I now realise that I was missing a lot of the sales picture.  Sales takes time.  It takes skill.  It takes emotional intelligence.  It takes listening, a lot of listening.  It means persuading clients to try something new, sometimes to start small and think about going bigger if they like it.  It can even require a little bit of luck.  It is far far more than order taking.

I’ve certainly not mastered (or even half mastered, in fact make that quarter or an eighth for that matter) the art in 12 months.  But I certainly understand a lot more about it now than I did a year ago.  And as a result I know that if I ever went back to lawyering (*shudders*), that I’d be a better lawyer because I’d have a better understanding of how much work has gone on in the background before the legal team get asked to look at a sales contract.

I’d be more emotionally engaged in the process of helping to conclude a sale.

I was talking to a seasoned sales professional a couple of weeks ago with many impressive deal miles under his belt.  He was expressing frustration with the legal process at his company and how it slowed his deals down.  I suggested he take his in-house lawyers to a couple of sales meetings, to give them a feel for the sales process.  To help with the empathy thing (it has to cut two ways of course).

Whether he does or not, I don’t know.  But I’d be willing to bet that it would improve the contract turn-around speeds he currently enjoys if he does.  Empathy can be one hell of a motivator.

Advise, don’t execute

[This post was originally published by The Lawyer in May 2014]

We regularly read that the legal profession is on the edge of revolution.  We are told that in one corner stand the revolutionists (Reinvent Law London is coming to a conference centre near you next month) and in the other corner is Big Law defending the status quo.

For those who missed it, George Beaton’s excellent blog post last Autumn set out both sides of the argument (belated kudos must go to Peter Kalis of K&L Gates for the most acerbic and amusing legal blog post comment of recent times, although it is admittedly a niche category).

Yet in these arguably self-interested debates about the future of our profession, there is one voice usually missing (sadly, this was generally true of the debate beneath George’s post too), which is that of the buyer of legal services.  The voice of the general counsel.

One might wonder why the GC’s voice is not heard more often, why GCs the world over are not wading into online debating arenas to cast quick judgment on whether New Law or Big Law is the future.  Can’t they make time in their diaries to discuss the future of the profession with keyboard warriors who haven’t practised as lawyers but still know better?  Don’t they care about the service they receive?  Don’t they care about the future of law?

Of course they do.  Not only do they care, it is they who will do most to influence what it looks like.  However much of a pent up frenzy we might hear at Reinvent Law next month (I’ll be there but, perhaps paradoxically as a wannabe influencer of change in the profession, wondering whether any passionate calls for an instant reboot before we are all doomed go too far), it will generally not be those at Reinvent Law and conferences like it who will do most to influence the change they profess they want to see.

Whilst proponents of change might doubt that GCs can influence things from outside of the reformist tent, what perhaps they need to realise is that it is the GCs who are actually sitting comfortably in the tent whilst the reformist protests carry on unnoticed outside.  The only way of finding out what GCs are really thinking is to sit inside the tent with them.

Which happily is what many of us who are want to bring a fresh perspective to service delivery spend most of our time doing.

And what are we hearing?

If there is a persistent theme it is a move towards what several GCs have defined to me as ‘an advisory and not execution strategy’.  To paraphrase, that means keeping the high level strategic advisory work in-house and outsourcing much of the day-to-day ‘doing’ of other work.  That ‘other work’ covers a wide range from complex, to routine, to repetitive.

Corporate boards demand their GCs to take on the role that the law firm client relationship partner once played and the opportunities for in-house lawyers to be (*cliché klaxon*) strategic advisers and not simply capable document turners (or ‘contract monkeys’ as one colleague once memorably referred to me and my in-house team) have never been greater.

Many in-house teams don’t want to be spending their time on what might broadly be referred to as ‘business as usual’ work, that’s not where they can make the most impact for their business.  And by the way, BAU doesn’t mean routine and commoditised work.  It generally means regular work-streams which have a complex twist requiring legal judgement somewhere along the way.

So where does this leave the role of external advisers?  If the high level advisory work that they once specialised in is now being done in-house, where do they now sit in the value chain?  Well, like any business in an industry in a state of flux, it’s time to pivot.  And pivoting might mean any number of things.

The Magic Circle, quite rightly, stopped pretending that they want to carry out business as usual work years ago and pivoted towards big ticket ‘bet the farm’ transactions or litigation.  The mid-tier (define that as you will) has perhaps found pivoting more difficult – they don’t play in high value M&A or IPO land and realise that seeking to be an ‘all things to all people’ full-service law firm is not a sustainable strategy.  Happily, we now see a few firms looking at doing things differently.

Neither is New Law immune from the need to pivot.  With a self-interest disclaimer safely inserted at the beginning of this sentence, at LOD we’ve been required to respond to clients who don’t always need a full-time secondee through our On Site model, and instead want an alternative to outsourcing BAU work where there might be peaks and troughs in demand.  Our On Call service is being used by many clients to outsource the ‘doing’ instead of doing it in-house or sending it to law firms.  LOD lawyers are doing the ‘execution’ whilst the in-house team concentrates on the ‘advisory’.

The real harbinger’s of change are not the noisy reformists or even necessarily the GCs on the speaker circuit, but instead what one GC I recently had a coffee* with (*it may have been a beer) referred to as ‘the silent majority’.  Those in-house lawyers quietly going about their day jobs with little fanfare and tweaking their strategies to meet the needs of their business.  It is these silent revolutionaries who will really influence the future shape of our legal profession.

And it’s an exciting place to be inside the tent, listening, as GCs rip up the rule book and start from scratch.