Saturday Essay: The Importance Of Entrepreneurialism In LawMalcolm Simpson, Managing Partner at law firm, Walker Morris, discusses the importance of entrepreneurialism in law and the future of the legal profession.
Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky on Unsplash
It would be easy to suggest that the legal profession is typically associated with being cautious and considered, with lawyers being focused on containing and evaluating risk, but many of the best lawyers and firms also have an entrepreneurial approach.
Entrepreneurship is driven by opportunity and a willingness to take risks, but in a calculated fashion, to constantly shift the odds of success . It is something that should be embraced in law, to drive practice forward and to find different ways of doing things.
At Walker Morris we pride ourselves on building and encouraging legal entrepreneurship, giving our people the freedom and flexibility to develop their careers in the way they want to – we take people with ideas and help them achieve their career goals. We make sure our lawyers have an opportunity to put their ideas into their practice, trusting their instincts and experience and giving them room to grow in their profession and skillset. Not only do they develop as individuals, so do their teams, and of course, there is in turn a great benefit to the wider firm and legal profession.
A ‘disruptive’ approach
Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash
Our firm has always had a different approach – somewhat disruptive – and we have never been frightened of breaking the mould. We are in a unique position in that we have offices in only one location, outside of the City – based in Leeds – and we have really come into our own as a single site law firm in the current market.
In the last few years there has been a dramatic shift away from a one stop shop in the City, with work being disaggregated as it is less costly to deliver it regionally, but most firms of our size do now have a presence in London. Walker Morris competes with these City firms successfully, working to the same high standards, on national and international cases, but without the significant overhead of a network of city centre offices.
A decade ago, we noticed that US clients were very comfortable working with regional firms, so long as they have the best people and the right credentials. These clients were not drawn to the City in the same way many larger UK companies were but, with increasing price pressure and the resulting drive to disaggregation, we have started to see this with domestic clients in recent years too.
We have established a firm that has a very different look and culture to the ‘traditional law firm’ and, because of this, operating with a flatter structure rather than a strict hierarchy. Whilst the legal industry is considered quite formal and often conservative, in my experience it is crucial to develop a working environment that allows for flexibility in different aspects of the business, including how the team choose to work.
The rise of the legal entrepreneur
Photo by Héctor J. Rivas on Unsplash
This unique, one-site philosophy is at the heart of the enterprising approach we take in what we do – in our partnership, our practice, our teams and with our clients. At the very heart of the process of entrepreneurship is the recognition of opportunities, followed by the desire to seize these and create something more.
The success of our firm is because of our people, and their fresh approach and ambition, which we nurture by pushing people to work just outside of their comfort zone. This enables us to see what our people can do, and more importantly, they can see what they can do too, and continue to push the boundaries as they grow in confidence with every new accomplishment.
To provide legal professionals the chance to explore their entrepreneurial spirit, individuals should be given more latitude in ‘climbing the ladder’, enabling them to build something for themselves and develop their own unique practice.
I think it is true of any industry that the more ownership and autonomy given to employees, the greater their level of engagement and productivity. Law is no different, and so we have looked at how we provide this for our people, offering them a career they can shape with freedom, at a leading firm with a different, modern attitude, outside of the City.
Photo by Melinda Gimpel on Unsplash
We have seen real, tangible success for our firm and people as a direct result of trusting them to craft new services and implement different ways of working. For example, Jeanette Burgess, partner and Head of the Regulatory & Compliance Team, joined our firm 14 years ago, bringing valuable experience from a number of difference perspectives, having previously worked for a national private practice, the UK Financial Services Authority enforcement team, and Provident Financial plc.
Jeanette built her team from the ground up; it includes former industry practitioners who have experience at the delivery end of financial services – to now operate one of the largest regulatory practices outside of London. Our industry experience in this arena is second to none, and the growth of the practice in our firm is down to Jeanette’s tenacity and enterprising action.
Similarly, Dan O’Gorman, Partner in our Corporate Team, joined the firm five years ago, and his drive to expand our services was palpable. Dan is now Head of International, spending his time investing in relationships in the US and Europe as well as the UK, and is recognised as a leading lawyer with particular experience in cross-border transactions, advising corporate, institutional, private equity and financial sponsor clients on both public and private M&A transactions and equity fundraisings.
Dan has a unique ability to bring cohesion to multijurisdictional teams. Recognising this, along with his experience and appetite, enabled Dan to really accelerate his own career and was key to the development of our International practice.
A new law firm for a new world.
Of course, one of the biggest challenges for any business is getting the best people through the door in the first place, and perhaps more importantly, keeping them. I expect any law firm or other business that is not willing to adapt will risk losing talented employees as a result and may also struggle to attract new talent if they are reluctant to update working practices in line with what the future workforce wants.
As we approach the end of 2020 it is safe to say the attitudes towards agile working have certainly shifted and – given that employers, across all industries, can no longer argue about the negative impact of flexible or remote working if roles have been successfully fulfilled during the crisis – this presents an opportunity for law firms to reflect on their current work practices and adapt them for the new post-pandemic working world.
The focus of putting in ‘face-time’ at the office is likely to change, with firms needing to rethink how they manage and analyse team performance – how partners, directors and associates can work together and maximise productivity remotely – as well as considering training on how to lead in a virtual world.
Leeds University Business School
Recently, Walker Morris partnered with Leeds University Business School on a survey that covered a range of issues related to home working and the return to work. We wanted to know what mattered to our people, how we could give them more freedom in how they work and encourage innovation, spurred by autonomy and trust.
We know now for example, that our male employees tend to want to spend more time at the office than female employees, and that among our younger employees, those aged between 18-24 years old, the social aspect of work is important, and they want to spend a reasonable amount of time in the office to maximise opportunities for training and career development.
Around a third of total employees had children and they didn’t consider family home to be the most productive environment when having to balance working life and childcare during lockdown.
These findings really do highlight the changing attitudes brought about because of the pandemic and how important it is that we are open to discussing employees’ changing desires on the way they want to work going forward. This is something that must translate into law firm culture, allowing all individuals in the legal profession to have more autonomy over how and when they carry out their work – providing they are still delivering a high-quality service.
Ahead of the curve
Our one-site philosophy, coupled with our desire to embrace and shape legal entrepreneurs, has put Walker Morris in a relatively strong position in 2020. We have been able to weather the Covid-19 storm better than many because we already had different ways of working and a culture of trust.
Recently, many law firms have been questioning their large City offices, especially in central London. We’ve seen a shift away from the City for all but the biggest deals since the Covid-19 pandemic and, even then, many aspects of the work have been handled outside of London. This process, which saw some City firms establishing secondary offices in the regions, has called into question the long-term viability of some traditional, large City offices – a thought that has only been exacerbated whilst so many of us have been forced to work from home this year.
As a result, the physical location of a solicitors office is becoming less of a priority – this is not only important for clients, but it will also open up the talent pool for law firms looking to recruit the best people from all around the UK. Now, more than ever, individuals can enjoy a high-powered career whilst enjoying the tranquillity of living away from the city. I expect this is something that more individuals will decide works better for them in years to come, especially if living close to the office is no longer necessary.
Whilst this year has been tough for many, it has led to many law firms and other businesses evaluating the cost-effectiveness of spending large amounts of money on expensive city offices.
I would implore the legal profession to be brave. Embrace the challenges of this year and examine the opportunities they present. Our approach demonstrates that by really having the courage to think differently – and not just only think – to act, lawyers can fly, and longevity, for their careers and their firms, is the result.
Whilst this year has been challenging for all, I believe it has also provided a time for all types of businesses and every industry to reflect, not only how or where they work but also how they can support employees.
Entrepreneurialism in law is so important and it must be celebrated within the industry to encourage those that want to grow to grab opportunities with both hands and to build something new, something more.
Malcolm is Managing Partner and has overall responsibility for the firm. He has nearly 30 years’ experience handling commercial disputes. As well as being an accomplished trial lawyer, he is frequently involved in arbitrations, mediations and expert determinations. He has been recognised as a leading litigation lawyer by both Chambers and the Legal 500 for many years. He was a judge for The Lawyer’s prestigious European Awards for a number of years, is listed in Best Lawyers in the UK and recognised in the prestigious Acritas Stars database as a stand-out lawyer. He is the long-standing adviser to a number of global and major UK corporations and has strong connections with law firms in the US, Europe and Asia.
Malcolm regularly advises on a wide range of commercial disputes including disputes arising out of company mergers and acquisitions, complex projects and trading contracts and agreements for the acquisition and development of property. Malcolm is currently advising a FTSE 100 company on a number of very substantial claims for breach of contract and against professional advisers.