Business in law: The podcast

We were delighted to recently record a podcast with Infinite Global on the changing face of business services in the legal profession. You can listen to the podcast by clicking here, or on the image above or on the link at the bottom of this page. Alternatively, read on for a blog summary of Tim Skipper and Jamie Obertelli’s podcast chat.

Background to change

Jamie Obertelli: How did Totum come into being and how do you currently service the legal sector? Tim Skipper: We set up in 2003 to exclusively recruit business services roles into legal. We now have 15 consultants who focus on various business functions – for example, BD / marketing, Finance, HR, IT, Risk etc. I have been recruiting for over 20 years and recruited the Marketing Director into Stephenson Harwood in 1997. What is the landscape like in the UK at the moment? Are there trends that are starting to develop that Totum has early sight off? Law firms are focusing more and more on recruiting great business services people into their functions which has been a trend that has gathered pace in the past three or four years. From that, we are seeing a number of brand-new roles developed around innovation, pricing, diversity and inclusion, client relationship management and technology.

Feeling valued

How are law firms addressing some of the issues and divisions that arise from the partnership model – for example, talented business services feeling underappreciated compared to partners? Is this still an issue and are any firms taking steps to address these? It has always been an issue in some firms but there is no question in my mind that over the past five or so years law firms have grasped the fact that a successful law firm is the sum of its people including lawyers, partners, paralegals and a whole range of business services people. For the most part law firms are valuing their business services. It is a cultural and leadership thing: if the managing partner doesn’t lead from the front and really regale the firm on the value of their various business services people, there is an issue. But for the most part this issue has gone away. Are law firms incorporating business services better? We have heard of some law firms who have non-fee earners sitting amongst the lawyers to stop them from being too siloed. Is that something that all firms are looking at? We ban the word non-fee earner at Totum as we feel it’s derogatory and doesn’t present the business services community in the right light. In many of the law firms that we recruit for – for example, at CMS, their business services directors sit alongside the Managing Partners and Senior Partners in an open plan office. In other environments and older fashioned offices, yes, you might get business services disconnected from the lawyers and the partners with whom they interact. But for the most part this is not the case.

Business services leadership

Will we have a non-fee earning partner becoming managing partner one day? We have seen this already happening and have recruited several Chief Executives into mid-size law firms – those with around £15 - £30 million turnover. It can also happen when the current Chief Executive is retiring and there is no obvious successor and they choose to go down the route of recruiting a business services professional as their new Chief Executive / Managing Partner. We haven’t seen it happen yet in the much larger international law firms where there is the model of Managing Partner and Senior Partner, and increasingly the COO reports into the Managing Partner. Do you think that paradigm will shift or is there more work to be done? I envisage that in five years’ time there will be more firms where the CEO is not a qualified lawyer.

Recruiting the best

What about resourcing the next generation of talent? Are firms looking outside the traditional recruitment methods? For the recruitment of a Director in any function we will discuss the option of candidates from outside the sector and the most obvious are from other professional services – property, management consultancy, and the Big 4 accountants. Where we are finding the skills are in short supply, in areas like transformation, digital and innovation roles or sector focussed BD roles, we will look outside the sector. For example, we are recruiting a Senor Global Director for the Oil and Gas sector and they want to recruit someone from that background. Although we encourage firms to think outside the sector for the shortlist, quite often when it comes down to the final two the person from law wins the day. We try to work with firms to take the ‘risk’ and when they bring in someone from outside the sector, we encourage proper integration and coaching. We believe the best business services teams in law are a mix of people, some of whom know the sector and others who don’t know it but bring new ideas to the table. How do you get a feel for candidates who ‘fit’ a particular firm as most candidates will have similar technical skills? We have recruited business services professionals into 48 of the top 50 firms over the past ten years. We know the firms really well and, for many of them, we have recruited several of their Directors and many members of their teams. You gather that knowledge on a gradual basis but before you go out to recruit anybody you really need to establish the culture and environment, what the leadership, Managing Partner, Practice Group Leaders and the other business service Directors are like. If you are recruiting a Marketing Director, that person will have to work with the HR and Finance Directors and, as a recruiter, this research can take quite a bit of time and it may even delay kicking off a project whilst you meet as many people as possible. It’s about preparation before the recruitment process starts. It also about ruling out the candidates who looks brilliant on paper but might not fit. We also measure how long our placements last in their roles: it’s not good for us if they leave not long after joining.

Drive to innovate

How are law firms adopting more diverse thinking and drivers for disruption? A lot of the disruption we believe has been driven by law firm clients. Clients want more for less and have less to spend on their external counsel. They want fewer suppliers and more diversity. Of course, law firms still want to maintain their levels of profitability – to do that they are having to deliver their services differently, which is driving a lot of newer roles around innovation, pricing and client service delivery. Do you think law firms are still reticent to embrace digital as a route to market? We have recruited a number of Heads of Communication, which can mean a raft of things but digital will be at the heart. Candidates with really good digital marketing or digital comms experience will be able to command a premium as they are quite difficult to find. But, yes, you’re right, there are many firms who will shy away from digital and social media (by which, we still mainly mean LinkedIn), but some firms are looking to embrace Instagram and most will have Twitter. It is still early days but digital is a good example of where candidates are coming from outside the sector and are making a difference. Click here to listen to the podcast in full, or if you would like to chat to Tim Skipper about business services recruitment in law, you can contact him at [email protected]