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“I have been hugely impressed by Melissa. She has a wealth of experience and contacts and this, together with her proactive approach, enables her to achieve first class results.” Jonathan Hand, Barrister, Outer Temple Chambers

Tommy Hill British Superbike Champion opens the offices of Fletchers, leading bike injury solicitors firm

Darling it’s over. It’s not you – it’s twitter…

April 17th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

As we all head away for the Easter break hoping for a harmonious few days away, it might be a good idea to leave the smart phone at home. It may not come as a shock to many to learn that new research indicates that Twitter users might actually be damaging their relationships as a result of social media use.

We’ve all been there – you’re having a conversation with someone and either they, or you, are halfheartedly attempting to continue it whilst at the same time being unable to tear eyes away from what’s dominating a newsfeed.

The research from the University of Missouri, USA found that Twitter causes relationship conflict. Whilst this in itself isn’t likely to be enough to split a couple up, relationship conflict is linked to very serious relationship issues like infidelity – physical and emotional – as well as break ups and divorce. The study found that the more active people were on Twitter, the more likely it was that this would cause arguments between two partners, which could well result in some serious problems.

Then of course there’s the issue of flirting online – either very publicly through a Twitter feed or privately via direct message. Even if there has never been any physical contact between the ‘unfaithful’ partner and the person that they are flirting with it can still be an enormous kick in the teeth for their other half – and twice as humiliating if it’s plastered all over social media for all to see.

Interestingly, when the study looked at Facebook usage the effect was seen much more in those in relatively new relationships and not those that were better established. However, this was not the case with Twitter, which affected just about any relationship it touched! Russell Clayton, who was the author of the research said ‘I found it interesting that active Twitter users experienced Twitter-related conflict and negative relationship outcomes regardless of length of romantic relationship…couples who reported being in relatively new relationships experienced the same amount of conflict as those in longer relationships.’

Of course there are some clear lessons to be learned here that apply to just about any use of social media, not just in a personal romantic context. For example, if you’re going to use social media make sure that you’re happy for the world to see what you post or Tweet – including your other half (or your boss). Make sure you take time out from the virtual world to interact with real human beings, whether that’s spending time with a partner or catching up on face to face meetings with clients, as well as social networking. And finally, if you find yourself frantically scrolling through Twitter every five minutes because you don’t want to miss anything – even if it’s the latest updates from the MD Communications Twitter account! – then you might have a bit of a problem and it’s perhaps time for a social media break…

Global Business Development for Smaller Firms

April 16th, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

The modern reach of large international law firms is incredible. Firms that were once linked only to a region of the UK now have global reach, listing offices across Europe and Asia, and there are now many transatlantic tie-ups and a few high-profile mergers between UK-headquartered firms and firms in Australia.

It may seem difficult to see how smaller legal practices might fit into this picture when your entire practice could comfortably fit into the reception area of a Skadden Arps or a Herbert Smith Freehills.

However, in key ways the competitive edge the largest firms have over smaller firms has been shrinking.

The global boom in extractive activities has shifted client attention to jurisdictions that, for the most part, don’t feature in the list of permanent offices maintained by large firms. Baker & McKenzie has an office in resource-rich Peru – but few other international firms do, despite the fact that $131 billion of mining investment is expected to go into copper-rich Peru and Chile by 2020.

The growth in global trade (and particularly interest in such jurisdictions) has created fresh opportunities for small and medium-sized legal practices, which are now able to compete for business in a space that was once the preserve of large international law firms.

But the process of taking advantage of the opportunities on offer is not always obvious for smaller practices. The chances, however, are there. Here are some lessons that many smaller practices could profitably take on board—many come from clients who, by a certain amount of luck, won impressive instructions they had not sought, but whose experience is instructive.

Lesson 1: Be Clear What You Wish to be Known For
One firm I know got its first big international case because of its expertise in civil fraud claims. Its first major cross-border instruction, a $ 250 million-plus claim, was not the result of a pitch, but came from a client in South America that had looked at its record in securing freezing orders. A complementary practice that the firm had, defending parties facing criminal prosecution in high-value fraud cases, also looked good and credible to any observer.

The point is that smaller firms will never be a mini-version of the global giants – they stand out by being best in a niche. ‘Get big or get niche’ may now have the ring of a cliché, but in this context it rings true.

Lesson 2: Do Some Research
Once you have correctly identified, or built up, what you are known for, look carefully at how it might match a target jurisdiction. This need not be detailed research, but a look at publicly accessible information will give vital pointers.

If extractive industries are generating investment and income for a jurisdiction, is it doing so for a sovereign wealth fund, or for (now) high-net-worth individuals? If your firm is known for private client work, the latter is good, but the former may present fewer opportunities.

Lesson 3: Think About Cultural Links
You should identify people in your firm, even support staff, who have cultural links or linguistic skills that may help the business you are trying to build. Some firms will recruit to achieve this – they are well advised to do this only where research has shown they could fill a market need (see Lesson 2).

Lesson 4: Ask What Matters to Useful Contacts
The most inaccessible and powerful individual or company will have things they care about other than profit—the charities or good causes you care about may overlap with theirs.

If that is something you genuinely share with them, it is a good basis for a future relationship based on trust.

Lesson 5: Make Contact
A common cause of delay in implementing business development plans is a firm believing that the plan has to be too perfectly honed before being enacted. Lawyers are often risk averse, which makes them vulnerable to a march being stolen on them by peers who can overcome fears to gain first-mover advantage.
This is how entrepreneurs think. When your business plan is dependant on co-operation and association, you need to get started on the process of starting conversations that may, or may not, lead to immediate work.

Unpredictable conversations may produce opportunities that neither side had imagined. If going to international conferences, such as those run by the ABA, is part of your business plan, this open-minded approach is vital.

Lesson 6: Be Patient
This follows on from lesson 5 . Having made contact with professionals in other jurisdictions work may be immediate—or years down the line. This is a way to build trust, and to be in mind when a peer in another jurisdiction needs help with a matter for a client.

Growing a business means taking chances—you must have seen that with your own clients. Sensible gamblers set a limit, and when investing time and money in growing a business, it is advisable to be honest about what you can put in. But reputation growth that translates into instructions has a random element—if you are serious about your business plan, the ROI will often take a while to show.
If one lacks patience, often any investment was best not made at the outset.

Lesson 7: Create the Right ‘Background Noise’
Even in more traditional jurisdictions, people will Google your name and that of your firm. If you are quoted on, and have written on, your area of expertise, that is reassuring for potential clients.

If you can identify legal developments in your own jurisdiction that have implications for businesses in another, such as money laundering or bribery legislation, immigration or tax changes, there may even be opportunities to provide comment and articles in your target jurisdiction.

Lesson 8: Keep it Personal
Face-to-face meetings and social bonding remain hugely important in many jurisdictions, and the hurried transactional mindset that comes with the Anglo-American business style is seen as plain rude in many of the jurisdictions which are now of more recent interest. So invest time in attending conferences such as the ABA, contributing to the work of its committees, and be willing to travel.
And be generous with your time and with your favors. If they want tourist recommendations for members of their family, be helpful if you can. This is, after all, about establishing trust from people who could afford to trust someone else instead.

Lesson 9: Have a Social Media Voice
Even in a sector such as law the trend towards using social media in business is hard to ignore. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that it is so very effective in boosting profile and providing a way to demonstrate expertise to a wide pool of ‘listeners,’ as well as its cost-effective nature and the inescapable reality that it’s now a key part of a competitive marketing strategy. Social media has particular benefits for smaller enterprises, as it doesn’t require huge resources or an internationally renowned name to generate success. You don’t have to shout the loudest to win on social media—you just need to have a voice, so invest some time in honing your own to see almost- instant results.

Lesson 10: Market, don’t sell
There is an enormous difference between marketing genuinely useful and credible services and a hard sell. For many smaller firms, the increase in competition in recent years means more pressure applied by the economy and bigger firms looking to take over more niche practices as they lose competitive advantage. Fear of an imminent demise can lead to an undervaluing of what you have to offer. Although focused marketing might be new to some in the sector, a clear marketing strategy that incorporates elements of all of the above will ensure your firm is competitive, recognised, and will also create demand. It will help you define a place in the market and create a loyal client base in a way that resorting to hard selling just doesn’t do.

This list is far from exhaustive, but for smaller law firms may help shrink the competitive advantage enjoyed by the very largest firms in profiting from the growth in global trade.

*This article first appeared in Law Practice Today – the global magazine of the American Bar Association.

Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

As you may have read in my previous blog, last week I was in New York attending the ABA Spring Meeting 2014 taking part in a session called ‘The New Normal.’ This was designed to look at the ways in which the legal industry all over the world has been responding to recent change, as well as to the ongoing evolution of legal services. It was a panel discussion attended by a number of leaders in the legal field and I was there to represent both the UK and the reputation and brand issues facing law firms all over the globe.

Each attendee was assigned several specific areas on which to contribute and I was focused firstly on how client demands might be leading to firms becoming more agile organisations overall. The financial crisis has certainly ensured that nothing will ever be the same again in the legal market and the entire sector has changed dramatically since 2008. There are now pressures on in-house counsel to demonstrate they are ensuring value for money and the foundation of billing has changed – clients now expect firms to distinguish between high value work and routine, commoditised work, both with respect to fees and priorities. Social media was an area that I also raised as part of this discussion and the importance of this was demonstrated by Nina Barakzai, in-house counsel from BSkyB, who indicated that at the Legal Week conference recently she had looked at the social media presence of firms as an indicator of whether they were innovative and willing to change. This seemed to be a rather divisive point as several members of the audience picked up on this in the coffee break.

Firms have also had to change the way that they run themselves in response to the need for a legal advisor to now not only be a business savvy, legal expert but also a trusted advisor. This has resulted in changes to allocating work, charging, offshoring and outsourcing, hiring professional business service managers – rather than leaving management to lawyers – client liaison and relationship management.

Another area that I spoke about was those firms in mature markets winning more in growth jurisdictions. The BRIC markets have been targets for a while and there is a lot to learn from this when looking at MINT markets, as there a number of common aspects. For example, it is essential to establish presence and reputation locally so as to compete amongst the indigenous firms – being a ‘branch’ of an HQ firm just doesn’t cut it anymore. Cultural differences are key to the entire process and must be studied and understood, which requires good local hires. I told the audience that we found this in our research when compiling interviews for our White Paper entitled “Untapped Potential – UK Legal Services & Latin America” – which poses the question that while UK plc. has woken up to these opportunities, could UK LLP be doing more? And can it do more in such a way as to assist businesses in Latin American countries to fulfil their economic promise more quickly?

Then there’s the issue of international reputation – demonstrating that this can be useful and adapted on a local level is important so as to make it useful and relevant to local clients. Part of this is appreciating that countries do things differently – for example, some countries don’t bill by the hour so how does an international firm that uses this process avoid being seen as an expensive option?
The legal world needs to adapt in order to keep pace with modern business – the globalisation of trade has reached a stage where legal advice coverage cannot be provided through mergers and office set-ups by large international firms. This is driving a move away from an ‘infrastructure’ approach, to one of collaboration or association. It is worth noting that there is potentially a ‘levelling’ effect here – removing the advantage very large firms enjoy over smaller commercially focused law firms. However, to close the gap, small and mid-size firms need to focus hard on networking, business development, and building business relations with other law firms based on trust. Equally, large firms, to stay ahead, need to develop those same skills, and compete for key contacts in a way that some are unfamiliar with. One of the major challenges firms face with respect to client service lies in describing to the client the ‘client experience’ in this new world. Part of this is emphasising and putting greater value on, the role of lawyer as ‘trusted business adviser’ – a role more talked about than delivered currently.

All these challenges lie ahead in the not too distant future for every member of the legal services market. Whilst the requirement to evolve might be proving challenging, if the ABA Spring Meeting was anything to go by, the industry is more on the ball than many give us credit for.

For a copy of the White Paper Untapped Potential – UK Legal Services & Latin America please email us.
Visit our inbound and outbound pages for information on our international services.

Social Media and Disaster Response

April 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

Social media has been responsible for a number of far-reaching changes in modern society. We’re all aware of the way it has provided a fantastic, free marketing channel, as well as a way to communicate with a vast number of people on a totally different scale to anything that has been seen before. However, one area that is perhaps considered less is that of the effect of social media on disaster situations.

A case in point is the recent disappearance of Flight Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which has sparked mass interest in the final location of the mystery airplane from all corners of the globe. Whilst the apparently unexplained disappearance of the flight made headlines as well as trending on social media, there was another more unexpected aspect of the social media response to the disaster. This was the way that social media actually began to be used in the search attempts, with people from all over the world getting involved in trying to find out what happened to the flight and its passengers. The hashtag #MH370 has been trending almost since the plane disappeared and social media users from across the globe have been looking through satellite images to help in the search for the missing craft and posting results on Twitter.

Whilst this is probably the most recent high-profile incident like this, it isn’t the first time this has happened. For example, during Hurricane Sandy, there were a number of emergency response organisations using social media tools to coordinate their aid efforts – the Red Cross established a social engagement team to track comments about the disaster across various social media platforms and the NYC Mayor’s Office used social media to distribute information about shelters and updates on the storm.

If you think about it, turning to platforms like Twitter and Facebook in a situation such as this is entirely sensible – we are increasingly using social media platforms to locate and share information and to communicate with each other, whether strangers or friends and loved ones. Effectively, this means that the audience is already there – we are already all focused on these timelines, and in much greater numbers than those watching the TV news or listening to the radio. Social media also offers the opportunity to send out information and to get it back – data can be collected from across an enormously wide area, the entire world in fact, meaning that a much clearer picture of a situation can be obtained much earlier on in a disaster situation. Then there’s the fact that it’s free – aid response efforts don’t have to be hampered by budgetary restraints as it costs nothing to Tweet and could trigger a million responses.

Given that a smart phone is the one item that most of us are likely to have close to us pretty much 24 hours a day, many are predicting that it will overtake more traditional forms of media as a primary source for disaster-related news, sooner rather than later. In addition, as we are all becoming more and more addicted to our portable technology, it’s likely that social media will become the ‘go to’ source for communication and information across many other new areas too.

MD Communications and the ABA Spring Meeting 2014 in New York

April 1st, 2014 | Posted by Melissa in Blog - (Comments Off)
Melissa Davis

Melissa Davis

With ongoing globalisation of the legal services market, as well as some fairly sizeable upheavals in individual jurisdictions, such as England, there has been a need for many organisations to take another look at strategy, to think again about priorities, and to attempt to streamline in order to create a structure that is more agile and better able to respond to the changing legal market.

This week in New York, I’m tackling all the fundamental questions that are currently arising from this brave new legal world at the ABA Spring Meeting 2014 by taking part in a session called ‘The New Normal.’ We will be looking at issues like what new practice models and collaborative approaches have emerged. And what are the leadership skills that have been required and how have law firm leaders coped with the stresses and strains of difficult choices? The idea is to generate some spontaneous round table discussion from a panel of law firm leaders from numerous jurisdictions and sectors – and I will be there representing MD Communications and the UK.

The outcome of the session is likely to be of particular interest to those firms currently feeling the effect of recent changes and will begin by looking at the way in which service provision has altered over the past two years and how firm strategies have evolved in response. The session will look at whether there is an increasing demand for global legal services and cross cooperation that stretches across jurisdictions, as well as whether legal services have become a commoditised product with price being the principle driver when selecting a firm for many clients.

I will be contributing on the question of whether client demands have led to firms becoming more agile, as well as the kind of approach that firms in more established markets should be taking in order to win work in growth jurisdictions. Client loyalty is another topic on the agenda – whether this has changed and become more dependent on where a firm’s expertise lies and how an organisation has successfully positioned itself in the legal market. On an individual basis, the session will look at how these changes have affected law firm managers and the leadership skills they’ve had to develop, as well as questioning whether the legal profession has become a much less attractive option to young lawyers, for example when compared with going in house.

Finally, the session will look to the future – asking for recommendations to those firms in developing countries that are looking to establish themselves and develop a strong strategy and presence in the market. The question of uncertainty will also be on the agenda – how firms can cope with this, as well as the best ways to prepare for it to minimise negative impact on business.

The session is taking place on Thursday 3rd April and I will be reporting back afterwards to share the conclusions that this group of industry professionals has drawn.