A number of law firms have been busy of late launching businesses to deliver complementary services. This isn’t just a monumental development for the legal sector but for its business services professionals too. This is what we are beginning to see at Totum, as we increasingly help law firms to recruit business talent into new initiatives aimed at broadening and diversifying legal service offerings.

In our July quarterly report, we highlighted a trend among firms setting up separate advisory businesses. Examples are fast growing and include: Lewis Silkin’s HR consultancy; Bird & Bird’s Aves Enterprises, which includes change-management consultancy Baseline, a joint venture with ASE Consulting; and RPC Consulting, which recently acquired UK-based software and consultancy business Marriott Sinclair.

These businesses could reinvigorate firms in the mid-tier, where we see most of these changes happening. But some, we predict, will become strong and profitable offerings in their own right.

In this quarterly report, we expand further on this trend, sharing our insights from some of our most recent work in this area. For us, these new initiatives represent a significant shift in legal service delivery – and one in which business services professionals will play a starring role in positions that are both different and exciting.

The start-up opportunity

We have been working with firms to recruit talented business services managers into some of these complementary businesses. This has been at all levels of seniority, including helping firms to set up fully-functioning business services teams from scratch.

But it is perhaps the opportunities at the most senior levels that we think might prove the most exciting for all business services professionals in law. For these are leadership roles that offer ambitious business services directors a real chance to prove their worth – in taking on a new business and making it fly.

Job titles at this level vary, and we often find ourselves working with firms to help articulate the scope of these new and unique roles in law. But a common theme is the requirement for senior director-level candidates who have the experience, ability and broad business background to turn these nascent operations into established success stories.

We have sought out those who have the experience of heading up business units and have the entrepreneurial skills to understand and grow new service offerings. The remit is typically broad: responsibilities include building client relationships and new and sustainable business streams, recruiting and developing the right talent to support solid growth, and expertly handling day-to-day operations to meet strategic objectives in the most efficient and productive way.

These directors work alongside the most senior law firm leadership teams ensuring that the new business is fully aligned with the overarching business development plan. But they have the opportunity to shine in their own right as true business leaders. For some, this may ultimately result in heading up a business that is every bit as successful as the brand that spawned it. In some instances, it could lead to such professionals getting equity in the business, if it is structured in an appropriate way to allow this.

The bigger picture

In our view, this will have major repercussions for all business services professionals in the legal sector. These new leadership roles will reinforce a growing perception that the legal sector can offer second-to-none career development opportunities for management professionals – helping to attract and retain talent at all levels. If there is still reticence to appoint a professional business manager as, say, a law firm CEO, then seeing them heading up hugely profitable complementary brands should dispel any illusion that only lawyers can lead in law.

And it will inevitably help to bring in new and different talent into the profession. We have been helping firms to bring into these ventures professionals from a surprising array of backgrounds as well as from outside industry (particularly other professional services firms). There is no identikit model – we are just seeing an increasingly open-minded approach that we welcome as an invaluable source of further innovation in law.

The national view

Not that the opportunities are limited to complementary services. These changes represent an increased willingness among firms to review their service delivery and the operational structure that underpins it. And that means growing opportunities for business services professionals elsewhere too.

We touched upon this in our last report – the growth of legal services and support centres in regions across the UK resulting in a rising need for good candidates outside of London. In response to this, we have been spending more time in the regions ensuring that we have the know-how and the resources to support growing law firm capabilities here.

One example is Birmingham where we recently spent time meeting with law firms and candidates across business services functions. The city is enjoying considerable investment – its Snowhill development is just one of many, but it promises to be the UK’s largest hub of professional and financial services outside of London. DWF and Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co are already tenants in new offices at One and Two Snowhill respectively, helping to make Birmingham a destination of choice for talented business services managers.

In particular, we have found firms across regions interested in candidates who have experience of working for firms in London. It’s hardly surprising given the sophisticated roles enjoyed by business services professionals in City firms. But with firms investing more in developing operations outside of London we are also seeing more reason for talented candidates to seriously consider the shift.

And further afield…

Internationally too, the legal sector continues to make its moves. The economic slowdown in China is obviously something that we are watching closely as recruiters, but we remain extremely busy across regions including Australia, the Middle East, South Africa and South East Asia.

Regions of particular and rising interest include South Korea, which we have seen become a destination of choice for a number of firms in recent times including Allen & Overy, Clifford Chance, DLA Piper, Linklaters, Milbank Tweed and Stephenson Harwood. While the majority of firms have no physical business development (BD) presence in South Korea, demand is increasing for BD support from surrounding localities - typically Hong Kong or greater China. We expect this to develop into dedicated roles in South Korea in due course.

South Africa too is becoming something of a hub for BD professionals as firms either seek to employ their first BD managers or expand their existing team. Firms setting up in Johannesburg include Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF), DLA Piper, Chadbourne & Parke and Allen & Overy. It is interesting to note that DLA Piper has employed chief operating officer Michael Whitaker to lead the launch of its Johannesburg office, a move that we think can only reinforce the value of business services professionals at the very highest international levels.

At Totum, we are supporting firms through the recruitment process across a whole variety of roles across the globe. But at least as important is the consultative role that we play – helping firms and candidates with advice, from sharing insights into how firms are developing and structuring international business services teams to helping individuals manage their own life-changing relocation. When the decision making is global we know just how important it is to work alongside law firms and candidates delivering objective and honest advice wherever we can help.

Networking, networking

In fact, across our teams we take our advisory role very seriously. We know that we are in a unique position to share a perspective on the broader market that only we as recruiters often get to see. But we can’t take our position for granted either. So we’ve been spending a lot of time recently attending, and networking at, industry events – including The Lawyer’s Business Leadership Summit & Awards, the Buying Legal Council conference, and the PM Forum conference. We are also looking forward to attending further events in Manchester and Birmingham, as well as the Legal Futures Innovation conference in London on 17 November.

We always pick up useful insights at these events. But perhaps one of the more notable quotes we heard recently came from consultant Tim Corcoran: “When we have a flawed process and good people, the flawed process will win every time.”

We entirely agree. But right now, we are in the happy position of being able to see firms bringing people and processes together like never before. Firms get the challenge and they are seeking out process improvement and project management experts to fix the fundamentals – it’s the start of a shift that we think will transform how law firms function. It touches on all the other factors we have discussed in this report too – the way firms structure themselves and their service offerings, as well as the strategic and operational choices they make both nationally and internationally.

It is a huge privilege as a recruiter to be working with law firms and candidates at the heart of what is the most significant period of change that the profession has ever encountered. From sourcing business management leaders to placing specialist experts who can achieve lasting operational change, we have this feeling our work together has only just begun.

Tips and recommendations

  1. With so much change, we find that no one role or brief is the same. Roles are increasingly bespoke and often tailored to a specific initiative or requirement. Candidates should always look beyond the job title. Likewise we are always on hand to support firms in scoping out new roles and job descriptions to best attract great talent.
  2. We are sourcing more candidates who can offer new skills from broader backgrounds. This can only be a good thing for improving the talent mix in law. But law firms need to consider how they can best support and integrate such talent for long-term success – it may require more upfront effort but will unlock more great potential.
  3. Job descriptions are vital first points of contact for candidates seeking out a new role. And yet we find that many firms still don’t give them as much attention as they deserve, sometimes even just regurgitating old specs for new roles. Firms that make a point of describing their culture and/or detailing specific projects of relevance achieve more interest and success.
  4. We are working on roles across the globe as firms increasingly realise the value of business services professionals in all locations. UK candidates are in high demand but relocating is a big decision. Understanding the challenges and opportunities of overseas roles is vital.

Please let us know if there are any burning issues that you would like us to cover in our future reports. We are only too pleased to share our insights based on our many day-to-day experiences of the legal market. Contact:[email protected]

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