For years, global law firms have heard the message “think global, act local.” Vast legal, economic, political and cultural differences from one country to the next can dramatically alter the results of a global law firm’s marketing and business development initiatives. Though we start with the foundation of a “global” strategy for the global law firm and its clients, we must tailor law firm marketing tactics to the local market. The multi-polar world we live in changes how we approach law firm marketing for global law firms.
In Bright Ideas, Leigh Dance, President of ELD International global legal services management consultancy, interviews David Syed, senior partner for Europe at global law firm Orrick. Syed speaks about a “whole range of things happening simultaneously in places like China, Silicon Valley and the Middle East, causing these markets to be much more prominent in world markets because of the value that is being created there. As a result, we are seeing the emergence of a much more multi-polar world..There has been a paradigm shift in the way we have to structure and organize to serve the multi-polar world. It encompasses how we train lawyers, what legal services we give, what law, what language, where we put our resources, how we bill and collect, how we assess profitability and performance… it really impacts the whole spectrum of a global law firm’s activities.”
The activities Syed describes include global law firm marketing and business development strategy. Other legal industry leaders share Syed’s ideas on the emerging multi-polar world. Bruce MacEwen, founder of the Adam Smith, Esq. blog, and Bright Ideas contributor, believes that “the cocoon of a firm’s departmental, practice group and geographic ‘silo’ is no position from which to become truly global.” He recommends devoting “serious management time to exploding these comfortable silos, and encouraging (and rewarding) global mobility and coordination.”
Norm Rubenstein, a parter at Zeughauser Group and author of “The Key to Credible International Branding” in Bright Ideas, recommends that when “a client hires outside counsel to assist it with a matter in another jurisdiction, it is looking for a firm that appreciates the nuances of bringing together a team of highly experienced local practitioners and maximizing the contribution that they make individually and collectively. Whether the firm has an office and lawyers on the ground in one or more of the places where the client’s work requires expertise and attention or whether it commits to finding proxies…the focus should not simply be on being everywhere, but on working strategically and compatibly with culturally diverse lawyers who understand and appreciate the clients’ issues and concerns in its many geographies. That focus must relate both to substance and service delivery.”
Peter Kalis, chairman and global managing partner of Global 50 law firm K&L Gates and contributor to Bright Ideas, concludes that for “law firms, the challenge translates this way: Align your business with the business of clients and potential clients in an era of intense globalization and consolidation, or risk the peril of obsolescence. For corporate law departments, encourage your law firm partners to serve you in the way you do business in the 21st century- not the way that law firms did business in the 20th century.”
For global law firm marketers, learning to work effectively in the multi-polar world may require a new way of thinking about business development and global law firm strategy.
Global law firms and corporate law departments alike share the goal for high performance and success in their respective business or function. The link between the two involves connecting legal supply by “playing the global card” and leveraging capabilities for full global reach: in terms of coverage of legal services in diverse markets worldwide. Global legal strategy must be driven by how law firms or corporate law departments plan to maximize their global reach.
In a June 2009 Adam Smith Esq. guest piece, Bright Ideas Editor Leigh Dance discusses global reach as “the holy grail of opportunity today”. Regarding global law firm strategy, Dance suggests “the biggest opportunity you have to out-compete other global law firms is to deliver your clients a combination of your legal skill, your IT expertise, your cost control sophistication and your global reach. Every day, I see global law firms miss a chance to win by playing the global card.”
Global corporate law departments need the help of global law firms to meet the demand of international skill and coverage required in today’s global markets. “Most corporate legal functions don't come close to matching the international breadth and depth of most global firms, yet their companies are truly global. A year ago I was amazed to hear more than three quarters of a group of 100 large global in-house counsel say their corporate legal function is not sufficiently global.”
Therein lies the golden opportunity to link global legal strategy between law firms and corporate law departments: law firms must help corporate law departments spread their global reach. Dance, President of ELD International global legal services management consultancy, advises law firms to “Connect the clients' situation from one jurisdiction to another and demonstrate your value by spotting key issues which help them avoid costly, distracting problems. Internationally-positioned law firms will come out far ahead if they can manage to effectively offer clear and compelling global legal service. They will win by showing clients what they can do that matters to the client in the short- and mid-term.”
Challenges in the global legal arena are both universal and completely specific to the organization. There are many and they change constantly, and every organization must execute its strategy differently as a result. You simply cannot take an off-the-shelf strategy for law firm expansion globally, or a manual for ‘delivering corporate legal services in Zambia’ and expect to apply it with any success.
While we are seeing massive changes in global financial markets, there is no turning back the globalization of business, and the legal services that support it. These changes will bring new approaches and new models. But rather than ‘wait and see’, the key is to look out to the horizon to plan the way forward for your organization.
While the challenges you face to succeed globally should focus on action, they must start with critical thinking. That is the premise behind the Bright Ideas book. I invited big thinkers in global legal services from around the world to address the topics near and dear to them. Their bright ideas should help you find your way forward.
E. Leigh Dance, Editor of Bright Ideas: Insights from Legal Luminaries Worldwide
Global law firms face strategic challenges related to size, scope, locations, practices and services they offer, technology to support their global infrastructure, legal talent with diverse cultural backgrounds, broad practice qualifications, pricing, local and global competition, global client relationship management, quality control, client and internal reporting and communications, building a global identity -- and that’s just a start.
Global corporate law departments face strategic challenges related to the range of laws and regulations where their companies operate, increasing complexity and geographic breadth of transactions, ethics and compliance landmines from one country to another, motivating and managing global in-house legal teams, using technology to improve productivity, budgeting and metrics on a global scale, driving greater value from law firms, selecting advisors in remote locations worldwide, handling investigations and other potential crises remotely-- and that’s just a start.
You must start by clarifying where you are now and where you want to be,
then look at foundational best practices,
and then tailor your strategy and implementation to your organization and its specifics, including:
Foundational best practices come from gathering information and insights from others around you, and this book provides that sort of resource. Engage in conversations on key issues with your peers and read with both a critical and open mind. Don’t be overly swayed by the noise of the day.
The development, implementation and adjustment of the strategic plan then requires involvement of a number of business disciplines and the full commitment of the leadership of the firm.
Profits from Bright Ideas book sales will go to Advocates for International Development, an international pro bono organization. www.A4ID.org