The early 90s: phones like bricks; hair like a children’s pop-up book; and legal loves everyone. And they are in hire mode…. Somehow I managed to wangle my way into a pucker London law firm where I found myself on the first day of my articles alongside 20 lady Oxbridge graduates who had a whole set of attributes I thought I could never compete with. So, not surprisingly, I made some assumptions such as…
“I know how this works for a bloke like me; I work harder than anybody else and know more law than the rest of them put together, and that’s how I communicate my value.”
And that’s precisely what I set out to try and do. At one point, it was going so well that I was actually able to build up such a huge pile of files on my desk that nobody could see me behind it. Brilliant – people just left me alone to get on with my work without bothering me. I saw myself as a ‘work-doer’, and – funnily enough – so did everyone around me. As a consequence of this, I just got more and more work to do. I thought that was what success looked like and I suspect those around me saw things differently, asking themselves questions like: “Who is that bloke who does the work again? And… Let’s give him some more while we get on doing something much more interesting.”
After a few years of private practice, I decided to give in-house a try. When I got there I “knew” what I had to do…. In transitioning from private practice to in-house, I had managed to shift my attitude towards work and I stayed employed as an in-house lawyer for a number of years. Around 2004/5, I was lucky enough to be asked to help to run something called the Addleshaw Goddard Client Development Centre. The CDC was the first consultancy started by a law firm to help in-house lawyers communicate their value as effectively as possible and we are pleased to continue to work closely with in-house lawyers today.
After working with in-house legal teams in the CDC, I quickly started to notice that they fell broadly into two categories; we might call the first category “service”. Service teams see their role as being one of responding to requests from the business to mitigate risk. On the other side of the spectrum, I saw what we might call “experience” teams. Experience teams are involved at the early stages, are high on the radar of the key decision makers and are seen as an essential part of the business. The fundamental difference between them is this: Their focus on relationships…
Service teams are not focused on relationships, and so they create relationships with their clients by accident. Whilst experience teams think hard about the experience they want to create for their clients along with how they want their clients to feel. They do this by creating relationships on purpose.
In my view, all lawyers have a choice about the kind of relationships they want to build with their clients and whether they want those relationships to happen by accident or on purpose. I think lawyers that actively engage with this question are likely to face a different future compared to those who don’t.
After 10 years of coaching lawyers at all levels, I also believe that looking at relationships is a matter of leadership for lawyers. By leadership, I simply mean doing what others in the same space haven’t done yet. I don’t believe leadership is a matter of genetic make-up or that only some can lead whilst others can only follow. In my view, everyone has leadership capabilities and that developing them is simply a matter of practice.
The ability to foster and develop effective relationships has long been recognised in the wider business community as an essential part of the personal development of any corporate leader. If we don’t receive relationship management training at law school, then private practice can be a difficult environment where we simply put relationship development in the “just a bit too difficult box” – especially with the chargeable hour issue lurking at the end of every day. It takes work but a focus on relationships can mean a lot more fun for lawyers.