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The Challenges Of Leadership Are Different To The Challenges Of Management

Published in Managing Partner magazine
March 2016

Law firm leaders face many challenges and carry huge responsibilities. Decision making that will define the future of their firms, for better or for worse, rests on their shoulders. They must develop, evaluate, shape, and articulate a vision and strategy in ways which engage and motivate others. They need the ability to build a broad and deep consensus so that the mandate they carry out is robust.

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Attitudes to anticipate your law firm’s future

From next month, I will be writing a monthly column for Managing Partner magazine  in which I shall examine the how law firms can position themselves to create a future that is both profitable and sustainable – the concept of ‘future-proofing’. To achieve this will mean being prepared to take decisive actions today (which some may regard as being unnecessary or overkill) to ensure that firms are able to cope with that which is appearing on the distant horizon, as well as whatever is just around the corner.  Read more

Want to disrupt the industry? It’s time to run a different race

My guest article for LexisNexis The Future of Law blog.

We have seen many examples of efforts to improve efficiency and to reduce costs since the start of the great recession. We have witnessed firms conduct restructurings, enter into outsourcing arrangements, implement process reengineering, invest in IT and knowledge management systems, reshape partnerships and consider alternative business structures and external investment.

The core challenge, however, lies in developing strategy which is not centred on running the same race as everyone else, only faster or better. Such “me too” strategies in a law firm context are difficult to sustain in the longer term. This is because, within a peer group, incremental operational efficiencies can be relatively easily replicated and so any cost or profit advantage that has been achieved is fast eroded. The risk is that the reality of pursuing such strategies over an extended business cycle is simply a reduction in fees-charged per unit of activity in what fast becomes a race to the bottom. That is not to say that innovation in operational efficiency is not important but rather that it is unlikely to be sufficient.

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It’s time to compromise on merger candidates: start looking for a doable deal

Over the past four years, the ‘perfect storm’ of deregulation and economic downturn has crystallised issues for managing partners. Having drawn comfort from the belief that they had a strong and profitable business, albeit protected by regulatory barriers and driven by an exceptional period of bull market activity, firms have come back down to earth with a deafening thud.

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Spring into Action!

“Vision without action is daydream. Action without vision is nightmare.”  Japanese Proverb

Without a clear vision, coupled with a strategy to deliver it, firms leave their future success to chance.
But the vision must be more than clear, it must be achievable. And the strategy to achieve it must be founded in the firm’s resources, capabilities and client opportunities. Most importantly, and self-evidently, any vision will only become reality through changes to the behaviours and activities of people across the firm.

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Creating a Clear Line of Sight

“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Sam Walton, Wal-Mart Founder

The client must sit at the centre of any strategy – those we serve today and those we engineer our firm to target in the future. Without a strategy that delivers superior value for clients at a price which generates sustainable levels of profitability, no firm can survive.

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Leading by Example

“Time is neutral and does not change things. With courage and initiative, leaders change things.” Jesse Jackson

Leading a professional services firm can be an unenviable task but strong leadership, setting a clear sense of purpose and direction for the business, has never been more important. What is also crucial is that leaders, by their actions rather than their rhetoric, create an agenda for change and demonstrate the high levels of energy and resilience needed to alter the direction of their businesses. They need to walk the talk and be seen to do so!

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Getting over the gain line!

“Other things being equal, the higher your speed the better.” Jim Greenwood, ‘Think Rugby’

The British & Irish Lions’ tour of South Africa brings home the importance of ‘getting over the gain line’ – that imaginary line on the field which marks the point at which the ball is closer to the opposition try line than it was at the start of the move!

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