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Archive for February 18th, 2011

MEMORANDUM – EYES ONLY

To:  The Partners

From: Dr Erasmus Strangelove, Partner and Director of Education, Strategy and Psyops

Gentlemen,

In keeping with our tradition and work best practice ethic,  I am assuming that you will all have been too busy to read the legal press this week. My earlier memorandum on competitor activity this week, not unduly alarming, revealed a few possibilities for proactive approaches.  There were, however, two articles in the legal press this week, one of which is so potentially dangerous in its thinking that it could threaten the very foundation of our great firm. I shall deal with this matter first.

1.  I refer you to an article by Legal Week editor Alex Novarese dated 18th February 2011: Mind your own business – should clients be telling law firms how to run their shop?

2.  Briefly: Mr Novarese is putting into the minds of general counsel some fairly dangerous and subversive thinking when he states: “A recent article on Legal Week about an adviser review at Deutsche Bank reminded me of a concept that has gained traction in recent years: the notion that clients should get actively involved in the business model and inner workings of their external counsel.” I have added italics to draw attention to the salient point of concern.

3.  Even in these dark days when general counsel are taking work away from firms in The City, I am advised that many still have time and the inclination to read The Lawyer and Legal Week and, I am advised, some have even taken to tweeting away on twitter – something which our Pysops unit (See: Operation Twitter Storm of October last) is particularly proud of on the premise that they may become addicted and, ergo, have less time to do valuable legal work themselves and pass it back to us.

4. Mr Novarese continues with a further subversive notion: “On one level, such a stance is taken as a sign that clients are finally taking a proactive approach to securing value from their advisers. And, to a point, there are good reasons to go down this road. For a client to insist on something as cosmetic as moving their work to fixed fees by implication will force changes to law firms because the industry’s infrastructure is so wedded to time-based billing.”

5.  We do not have any issues with our clients on hourly billing since we moved to our Platinum Value Bill service with 150% of our carefully judged ‘bunce’ being paid on account, but it is the first part of the paragraph which is of concern: It would be most awkward if clients started to investigate our workings to determine whether they were getting value.  The whole idea behind value billing is that we get value, not the client,  and for the editor of a respected legal weekly to put these ideas out into the public domain is, frankly,  (borrowing from the style of our revered leader, Prime Minister Camerondirect) ‘absolutely appalling’  and, almost certainly, a breach of our human rights.

6.  Mr Novarese continues his crusade to demystify the dark secrets of our glorious profession with this remarkable statement: “And it would be ludicrous to suggest that clients shouldn’t take any interest in how law firms run their business. You would want to know that your go-to adviser had rigorous systems to maintain quality and solid standards of ethical behaviour because major short-comings in this respect would probably impact on you as the client.” I really do not need to add comment to this.  Res ipsa loquitur. The man is absolutely right, of course, but being right doesn’t mean he should tell everyone? I shall agenda this for dissection at our next Partner’s meeting.

7. I turn now to an absolutely splendid article in The Lawyer from David Mandell, founder, Mandell Corporate: Opinion: Private clients may be profession’s new sugar daddies.

Unfortunately, The Lawyer, is also widely read in the profession and there is a danger that competitors will pick this up.  I extract and quote the most dangerous idea:

But after a recession more horrible than any other recent example, the dotcom bubble included, what is today’s big puzzle for our profession, ­specifically in relation to the positioning of private client work? For years lawyers have been weaned on a business vocabulary comprising ’core and non-core’, ’objectives and ­strategies’ and ’key performance indicators’. The mantra of grow or shrivel; merge or ­meander; or go small, niche and powerful is ingrained. Private client teams have become second cousins and non-core to the ­corporate focus, and shed.

I never fully understood that reasoning. Why send your firm’s best private clients to another firm when they get ’the Knock’ (or, more likely, divorce papers), which is exactly when you want you and your business to look after them.

Distress buying is where client relationships are formed (and broken). And it is not a revelation to say that the most durable client relationships are borne out of crisis purchases where there was no beauty parade or ­presentation- probably no more than a phone call and a recommendation to the client along the lines of, “See this lawyer – they won’t be cheap but they’re seriously good and will look after you”.

8.  We have, of course, formulated much of our growth on aggressive poaching and by doing our best to create distress to allow us into the distress buying market –  with some success, I add, mindful of my part in the bonus discussions – item 1 on the agenda for Sunday.

Gentlemen, we meet at 1.00 on Sunday to consider our bonuses and stratagems for the following week.

Dr Erasmus Strangelove

Strength & Profits

***

With thanks to the following for sponsoring the free materials for students on Insite Law magazine: Inksters Solicitors, Cellmark, OnlineWill.co.uk, BPP University College, David Phillips & Partners Solicitors, Wildy & Sons, Camps Solicitors accident claims

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As I rose this morning, recovering further from a nasty foot injury and the meds, news reached me from RollonFriday.com that College of Law staff in Chester are going on a makeover and learn how to ‘dress for success’.

RollonFriday with their customary (and pleasing) acerbic style note… “Staff at the College of Law’s outpost in Chester are to be beautified (“taken on a journey of discovery”) by House of Colour, which will be providing them with image consultations and make up lessons. The staff are to be given the Gok Wan treatment, which is all very charitable of the legal world’s favourite charity. Well, when you’ve paid £10,000 for your LPC, the very least you can expect is a fragrant tutor, right?….”

It occurred to me that I could usefully use up some of my time by going into the legal fashion business and my sketches above give an indication of my preliminary thinking on the matter.  I note the increasing tendency for men to turn up in suits without ties and, even, mon dieu, to team up a pair of faded jeans with a pinstripe suit jacket.  The legal profession is, on past form, unlikely to give up their stiff and formal fancy dress or pinstripes – so my thinking is…why fight it?  Let us, as a profession, celebrate diversity and colour…. which are ‘very of the moment’ in Bar Council and Law Society think tank rooms…

For corporate commercial lawyers, hinting at expertise in drafting, I have gone for the black coat and stockings look with a gold buckle on the shoes to hint subtly at considerable wealth.  You will note that our 21st century facing commercial lawyer eschews the iPad accessory for a hand made quill pen and parchment for added exclusivity and disbursements. Litigators tend to be the jack the lads of the legal world.  A red coat, tricorn hat – hinting at the triad of litigation: plaintiff, defendant and judge (noting the use of ‘plaintiff’) will give the modern litigator an edge and strike fear into the hearts of those new No Fee, No Win companies.  For partners, a  look being studied at Muttley Dastardly LLP by Dr Erasmus Strangelove, an understated elegant bit of haute couture.

For counsel…. I have really pushed the boat out with this very of the moment, very 21st Century Lady Gaga look… accessorized with a horsehair wig. I think it may catch on.

#LAWBLOG

I was not able to be on the panel at #lawblog last night and had to pull out, sadly, because of a nasty foot injury and the associated medications. I was disappointed.  It would have been a pleasure to meet all who attended.  I did enjoy the #lawblog tweets and, I understand, Adam Wagner of 1 Crown Office Row is planning to write it up and post a podcast recording.  It is good to see that blogging is alive and well.

See Adam’s post:

That was the future of legal blogging

Adam Wagner has followed up his earlier post with this….

A sense of doom is gripping the legal profession in the face of significant cuts to the justice system. Amongst other consequences, legal aid may soon be reformed almost out of existence, meaning that lawyers will face the double jeopardy of fewer clients and more nightmarish cases against litigants in person.

I was musing last night that I am not really a law blogger.  I blog about law, politics and anything that comes into my head, sober and over refreshed. I have no idea why I do… save that I do it for pleasure and hope that readers enjoy a mix.  I have decided that I may be (at times)  more of a hooligan law blogger.… I like to run onto the pitch and chuck the odd metaphorical bog roll at the profession or the crowd.  I may even take up streaking……

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