Why a Following is Essential

1 Jul 2016

Traditionally, law firms have focused on ‘the client of the firm’, building the firm brand and downgrading the power of key Partners and their client followings. However, it seems the rest of the world is moving the other way and according to Forbes, one of the trends of 2016 is the power of personal authority and personal brand. In the case of a lawyer, this means developing yourself into a mini business with your own following of clients. Ultimately, in todays uncertain economic climate, having a following is the best way to ensure your job security and career progression.

For the generation of partners who came of age around the time of the 2008 credit crunch, their career journeys will have been very different to those who came before them. Senior Associates and Junior Partners had to adapt to an environment of limited deal flow and survive amongst the collapse of the global financial markets. In certain ways, this event has changed the face of the legal market forever and a whole new breed of Junior Partner was born. Now, law firms expect resilience, they expect innovation and they expect business development to be a key skill that their Partners can bring to the table. Eversheds lawyer Antony Walsh (who made Partner in 2011) says: “People talk about the new normal but I have only been a partner in the post-crunch era so the work you need to put in to win new business and create deep relationships is all I have ever known.”

The success stories of the credit crunch generation have come from young lawyers such as Oliver Lazenby from Freshfields and Tim Lake from DLA Piper, who saw the crumbling economic climate as an opportunity to broaden their experiences, find niches where they could still win clients and develop personal relationships that kept them busy and a step ahead of their peers. Nicole Livesey of Pinsent Masons agrees: “In my experience there is no substitute for personal relationships when it comes to winning instructions – people buy from people.”

Lawyers need to know their clients through and through. Being commercially aware and understanding what keeps your clients up at night will give you a competitive edge. If you understand the environment in which your clients operate in, you open the door to more valuable relationships. Being able to demonstrate clear knowledge of your clients challenges and make predictions, sets you apart from the other lawyers in the market and will attract new clients to you and thus your firm.

According to research conducted by Legal Week, more than half of Partners predicted that lawyer job cuts will occur in the near future, and that was before we knew the results of the referendum. Now with Britain leaving the EU, no one really knows what this will mean for the UK legal market. Within Legal Week’s research, most of those surveyed were cautious in their predictions of the next financial year, with 44% predicting only a 1-5% growth for law firms. Firms will be looking at costs and efficiencies, so lawyers should respond by making themselves cost-effective and efficient. Having a following means that firms can rely on you to be a sound business decision, rather than a risk.

It is likely that the importance of having a following will be built into the next generation of lawyers from the start, as part of the ‘21st century set of essential skills.’ A new breed of lawyer is being born, a modern legal entrepreneur, and that is what your clients and your firm will come to expect. LOD compiled a report of 8 critical skills that will set you apart as the ‘superior lawyer of tomorrow.’

These include:
1. Collaboration skills — being able to thrive within complex work environments across offices, cities and time zones;
2. Customer service — remember your duty of care to your clients, they paid for a service and at the end of the day, they can go else where if they wish;
3. Emotional Intelligence — have the courage to counsel, show empathy and perspective, respect and understanding, don’t hold your clients at arms length;
4. Financial Literacy — know your away around a financial spreadsheet, show your clients you know how their business works;
5. Process Improvement — do more with less, learn to improve your systems, source your work effectively and accurately measure your productivity, be your own manager;
6. Technological Affinity — Being open to and having an affinity for the newest technological advances is fundamental to a modern lawyer, your clients also rely on technology advancement therefore it is imperative you keep up with the times;
7. Time Management — Get your priorities in order, learn to delegate and plan ahead;

And last but not least…

8. Relationship Building i.e. build a following — to be a Partner in a law firm you need to demonstrate you can bring in your own work and build a strong client base, which ultimately relies on your ability to build relationships, so learn to market, network, connect, build trust and be reliable.