'Law firms are to my delight and to my inspiration very different animals'

Clifford Chance's head of internal comms on his experience moving to the legal sector after working for industrial giants including Philips

As firms seek ways to modernise and break with past traditions to become more nimble and efficient, some have been looking to other industries to bring in specific operational expertise.

Clifford Chance, for instance, in 2017 hired the former global head of internal communications at Philips International, Paul Osgood, to head up the firm’s internal comms team as part of a broader effort to transform the business.

At Philips, Osgood helped oversee the change in brand positioning from a consumer electronics company to a health technology-focused business, using what he deemed an ‘inside out’ approach that relied on its own employees being brand ambassadors.
“What all firms want is to bring in skills and expertise that may well help with transformation and there is arbitrage in being able to transform faster and more effectively and therefore in one sense it’s a bet that bringing people like myself into the organisation will actually help that process,” said Osgood, speaking at the recent Law Firm Marketing Summit.

Comms levers

However, the internal comms levers that might have worked at a large organisation like Philips don’t necessarily translate to how a law firm and its lawyers operate.
“One of the things I found was that my ability to perhaps be aware of what some of the solutions are, for example if I pull lever 42, I pretty much know what will happen,” said Osgood. “That’s absolutely not the case within a law firm, law firms are to my delight and to my inspiration very different animals, so it’s none of the same old same old, but actually thinking about lever 42 and whether pulling that will achieve the same thing.”
One area of difference that Osgood has experienced is with the use of enterprise-wide social media platforms. During his time at Philips, employees across the organisation’s more than 30 global locations would engage on the company’s internal social media platform to ask questions and see if any of their 115,000 colleagues could help. More than half of questions posted would typically be answered within an hour, and almost nine in 10 would be answered the same day. That same level of enthusiasm for social media is not yet matched in law firms, says Osgood.
“Arriving at Clifford Chance, it was fair to say there was a thudding halt and it’s made me think quite a lot about what is the role of enterprise-wide social media in a law firm,” he said. “My feeling is that it requires a very deliberate act to move to a different platform where you do not usually work and bill. For many, this seems a bridge too far.”

Where social media has been successful in the firm is with its affinity groups

Where social media has been successful in the firm is with its affinity groups – which provide a forum to promote and develop culture around diversity and inclusion sub-groups such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality. Those groups have been engaging Yammer for that purpose, and it has allowed those groups to become global in nature.
For communicating effectively to internal staff, Osgood says the firm has the most success using V-mail given that it allows to embed video and other imagery, with messages sent in that format achieving a roughly 75% open rate.
“We’ve recently reframed the template for this, so it’s much more Twitter-esque now – so if you want to know about this item in very few words, here you are, and if you want to know more you can click through,” said Osgood. “Some people love to click through and they love the detail and they may find the topic particularly interesting, but the reality is that we know that for many people what they want is that Twitter-esque approach which says at least I know a little bit about a lot, so that précis of the content can be very important in helping equip our people with knowledge and understanding.”

Different generations

Given the breadth of generations across the firm and the fact that longer-tenured lawyers tend to engage less with digital communications, to ensure their internal messaging has effective reach, Osgood’s team has to use a variety of comms channels.
“One hit doesn’t win your audience, so you actually have to think about the channel mix,” he said. “I was recently working with the global managing partner on a communication to the partners, and something that we talked about was how should we deliver that. Because of the nature of the message we decided it should be an old fashioned memo as that would give it the space to explain and describe as opposed to going for the V-mail, which we often send to the partners when we want to cover a lot of ground in not a huge amount of depth. So it’s thinking about the channel and then using the language within the channel that is most appropriate.”
He added: “Our goal in this type of business is really around content curation. The content is the content, but curating it in such a way that it is appropriate to be consumed in whichever shape or form that we deliver it is probably more important.”

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