Interested in roles that can make a real difference? We talk to Nimisha Patel about joining the legal sector in 2023 as a Head of Transformation.
Nimisha Patel joined Charles Russell Speechlys as Head of Transformation just under a year ago in February 2023. By that time, she had already built a formidable business career, including nearly 19 years in programme and project management and business consulting at EY.
But, with several family members who are solicitors, she had always been interested in the legal sector and started looking at moving into a law firm a few years before she found her current role. ‘It’s a stressful profession and I felt that if I could bring into a firm my skills across consulting and project management, I could make a big difference,’ she says. ‘But it was difficult because firms typically want someone with legal experience.’
The role at Charles Russell Speechlys, however, opened the door into law. ‘It was a new role for the firm and one that I could shape as the first member of the team. My job is to deliver strategic projects and empower the firm to thrive in this ever-changing world, turning strategy into actionable steps and delivering a change capability so that the firm can evolve at a rapid pace through purposeful and impactful transformation projects. It’s about achieving the firm’s vision,’ she says.
In choosing a candidate from beyond the confines of law, Charles Russell Speechlys would benefit from the fresh insights and wider experience that are instrumental to a transformation role designed to shake things up. After all, not only was Nimisha a Programme Manager Director and Business Consultant at EY (she describes this period as eight different careers in one firm), but she was also a Delivery Lead at BP, and has experience working across a wealth of sectors including government organisations (policing, national highways, HMRC, to name but a few) and charities.
‘I can bring all of that experience together nicely into a package in this Head of Transformation role,’ says Nimisha. ‘I was a consultant within so many sectors that when people ask about my sector experience, I can genuinely say I’m any sector you want me to be. I’ve done so many things, and that wide experience is a gem in a role like this.’
Nimisha even has a Mindfulness Craft business on the side, which includes corporate wellbeing workshops and events. And that too links into her transformation role, giving her a deep understanding of the cultural context for successful change – how ‘wellbeing is part of the transformation journey,’ as she puts it.
All of this helps with a role that must connect into all aspects of the business if it is to be successful. Translating strategy into action, Nimisha undertakes transformation projects that involve fee earners and/or business services units, while others will impact the whole firm and not just in the UK, but also globally. ‘My role is pivotal in ensuring that that we can stay ahead of the game and we’re doing the right projects,’ she says. ‘It’s having that continuous conversation and sense/temperature check that we are really focusing on the right things.’
Its strategic importance means Head of Transformation roles should sit at an executive level, ideally reporting direct into a firm’s COO. ‘Transformation needs to be an independent function that reports into the C-Suite – because then you have sufficient oversight,’ says Nimisha. ‘At that higher level, transformation professionals can be involved in strategic thinking and lead projects to implement a firm’s strategic vision. And, as firms mature, the function can then expand offerings into newer roles for the legal sector – around project management and process improvement – that complement the function’s work around strategic project delivery.’
Apart from supporting firms to modernise from the inside out, transformation roles such as Nimisha’s have grown more popular in recent years as firms have increasingly recognised the importance of being able to respond quickly to unexpected events in today’s uncertain times. So many things have happened from pandemics to economic turbulence arising from geopolitical conflict, that firms need the ability to identify and clear potential roadblocks in organisational structures and processes – so that they can move quickly if the market unexpectedly shifts. ‘You must have the capability in place first – so that when something happens you can recognise it and adapt fast,’ says Nimisha.
It’s still early days for Nimisha as Head of Transformation but she is excited to be in a position to develop the team from scratch. ‘I was the first member and now I’m starting to grow the team out,’ she says. ‘I’ve got project managers now within the transformation function and we’ve started to develop a governance framework and methodology for project management.’
Facing internal resistance to change can be a familiar challenge for those working in transformation roles. While Nimisha hasn’t encountered this personally, she thinks the key to overcoming those difficulties is building relationships to gain credibility and finding ways to communicate the rationale for projects (and their outcomes) in a clear, simple and easily digestible manner. ‘With my background, I know the importance of using the right tools to share information visually, to not be too wordy and to not expect people to plough through bulky reports. Little things like that can make a huge difference when people are so busy, and they help everyone to use their time more efficiently,’ she says.
Ultimately, Nimisha’s role will help lawyers to make better data-driven decisions, and her team’s projects will support the firm’s client-centric approach as she helps connect the dots, improving firm-wide efficiencies, enabling agile working models and harnessing opportunities from today’s digital transformation to truly modernise the legal business model.
‘It’s about lifting the legal sector to the next level,’ says Nimisha. ‘Business services functions have been so valuable over recent years, but perhaps there has been a danger that they become silos, each one a separate landscape that is brilliant in its own right but is not linked up. Having people at the top who can see the opportunities for collaboration and streamlining processes, bringing together ideas and aligning all of it with strategy, makes a huge difference.’
Nimisha is delighted to have been able to apply her broad background to implement positive change in the legal sector. And that value is now extending beyond Nimisha. ‘The team that I’ve hired are not from the legal sector either. I’ve purposefully looked for people from other places, who were also consultants, because I know the great impact they will have. And the feedback from them has been fantastic. They can see the value they can add and that is hugely rewarding.’
Transformation roles in the legal sector are making a real difference to the firms that have implemented them. With the ability to harness existing strengths, improve firm-wide efficiencies and inject fresh ideas to spearhead innovation, these are professionals who can unlock potential and help firms move with the times.
Totum has helped many firms to recruit across transformation and change roles. If you would like to know more about how we could help your firm, including providing support to scope out your next senior transformation role, contact Marie at [email protected]