Fifth in the series of legal marketing interviews, this time with Richard Brent – Editor of Briefing at Burlington Media Group.
How have you seen law firm management styles change over your time in the industry?
I think the very biggest change for law firm management over the last decade hasn’t been so much style as substance. The arrival of project and process management as serious disciplines means firms have had to get their heads around all the change that these involve such as scoping and re-prioritisation – all that good agile delivery stuff – and principles of continuous improvement. And decide whether they want to hire that in, or go the DIY route. However, these arrivals have also been connected to firms becoming a lot more operationally dispersed, with lower-cost centres and more business partnering, for example. I’d say that has necessitated management style becoming a lot more consultative and collaborative.
What do you think will have the biggest impact on the legal sector in the next 5 years?
I’m sure many would point to either AI or the Big Four being the big disruptors over five years. And no doubt they will both challenge the traditional law firm and sharpen its competition. But I think the ‘biggest’ driver of change will be how clients want to be served in new ways in the years ahead – whether that’s using a greater range of technology such as apps and portal-style working, or combining new skillsets to deliver more value in person (or perhaps something we don’t even know about yet!). Every law firm most likely says it, but I genuinely think it’s modern customer experience where firms have most opportunity to differentiate. And the opportunities in that area are changing fast.
In your experience what should law firms try to avoid when looking to grow their firm?
There are lots of key things law firms should try to avoid – losing talent, inconsistent process (and therefore brand), unprofitable work, working in functional silos. All are things that we regularly hear they can still struggle to manage today.
What impact will the ‘millennials’ have on the sector and how should it respond?
Millennials may well be more tech-savvy than their parents – but otherwise, I’m personally sceptical that the generations can be easily divided up in terms of typical behaviours or personality types. However, I certainly don’t think law firms can now row back when it comes to things they’ve done like agile working, helping with work/life balance and commitment to improving diversity in the workforce across the board. These things are now part of the employer brand promise, and younger talent will hold firms to account. I think reverse-mentoring schemes and the like are also great in a more multi-generational workforce, but as with any improvement initiative the specific outcomes from them need to be measured.
Why is getting the right culture in your firm important?
The right culture is important because a law firm’s brand is as much how people behave day to day as what clients see in a pitch document or an email. Culture isn’t even the same as a firm’s set of published values, however much it may want the two to align. Culture almost inevitably changes over time, it can get worse as well as better, and it can (probably) spiral out of control.
How important is legal marketing for a law firm and what approach should firms take?
Given all of the above, I’d say the marketing function has never been more important. From clearly and consistently articulating a great employer brand to making a success of changing delivery channels, these are jobs for marketing (albeit with input from colleagues … and perhaps even lawyers). Not to mention that the firms are now competing in this space with the likes of brand EY Riverview Law. As for ‘approach’, I find the case for ‘sector marketing’ pretty convincing – it makes the work of law firms clearer, and it’s more obviously aligned with how their clients view the world. Law may be complex (I’m no lawyer), but firms should strive for both clarity and client perspective.
What is your funniest ‘law’ related story?
Funny law story? I met my current boss (Rupert Collins-White) at a law firm press party back in 2009, or thereabouts. That firm has since been merged up – and he’s had a bit of a brand makeover too. Rupert had a significantly different shade of hair then, but that’s not even the funny part. I was working for a different legal sector magazine at the time. Not long after that I decided I’d like to try writing about something else for a change, which I did very successfully for several years – and now here I am! How we (yes, really … ) laughed. But with the market as it looks right now, I honestly wouldn’t rather be writing about anything else.