Monica Burch reflects on 25 years of practice and discovers that the law is a side-show with relationships the main act.
This coming September I celebrate 25 years in a law firm. One of the key lessons learned over that time is that legal practice isn't about law, it’s about people.
Making new law? Bravery and intellect and client persuasion skills are essential. An M & A deal? Success demands stamina, management ability, clarity and an understanding of client business and what is important for that client going forward. Retention of great people? You have to create an environment where they can thrive and build an outstanding reputation as an employer in the market place,
Not only are all of the above important but how you manage the departure of people is also key. You need to understand that your treatment of people when they leave is as important as when they arrive. You may well disagree with some of the above and think of different attributes and skills - but my point is that whether you are in a law firm, another business or management, it’s not about what you are selling, making or advising but about how you undertake these tasks and how you motivate others - whether on the supply or the customer side.
The relationship is key
In thinking about relationships with clients, it’s not about the next transaction or the fees, in my view, but about the relationship. What distinguishes great businesses and great customer service in your experience? What makes you, as an individual, return to a business? What help might the client need? What does the individual instructing you, or leading the team, need? What pressures might they be under that you can help with?
Without doubt, there is often a very human struggle here - putting your own irritations, insecurities, thoughts subservient to both those of the client and the team you are leading which is delivering.
However, delivering a service in this way will build your own relationships and standing whether you are leading a team or leading a business.
In the boardroom
At board level the same rules apply. It is essential to try to gain an insight into the other person's perspective and the group dynamic, to ask questions in the right way and to gauge the reaction when you do so. Are these reactions in the ordinary course of events or does an individual have genuine concerns?
When you follow this course, the move from lawyer to board director or into another business becomes an evolution rather than a change that needs a new set of skills and thought processes.