Following the announcement that DMH Stallard and Riverview Law have signed a formal strategic alliance I thought it would be interesting to get Tim Aspinall’s view on this bold move. To read more about Tim please click here
What is the connection between Riverview and DMH Stallard?
DMH Stallard and Riverview Law have a shared vision for the way that legal services should be delivered. Like us, Riverview Law were keen to capitalise on the rapidly changing market and had innovative ideas for doing so. We have what Riverview Law needs to grow even faster, including a large experienced team with a great reputation for delivering services efficiently. Riverview Law has what we need to grow, including a strong brand, sales and marketing. Both of us believe in fixed pricing and Legal Advisory Outsourcing.
The truth is we have been working together for some time now having already undertaken a number of market tests where both DMH Stallard and Riverview Law pitched for work that neither of us could have won independently. The market tests clearly demonstrated that for a wide range of requirements – from complex litigation to high level technical advice – the alliance is a winning formula.
Who made the first approach; you or Karl Chapman (CEO of Riverview law)?
Initially it was me who made contact with Karl. It was clear from an early stage that Riverview Law’s outlook matched how we had been positioning DMH Stallard for some time. We know that the delivery of legal services needs to change so it seemed like an obvious conversation to have. As it turns out it was!
What do you both get from this arrangement?
That’s a good question.
Because of our shared philosophies the alliance brings a perfect arrangement to capitalise on the Riverview Law model and brand and DMH Stallard’s legal heritage and experience in areas such as M&A, commercial property, disputes, employment and other areas of business law.
It gives each business the opportunity to offer more services to customers, work together to win new business, develop existing business and create new fixed price products.
Added to this over time we can take best practice from both firms to create a very powerful legal force combining traditional law with modern delivery – exciting isn’t it?
Do you think the relationship will stay as a strategic alliance or could it become a merger?
The legal market is undergoing significant change and in order for both organisations to take full advantage of this change and provide customers with the services they need we have decided that there are some areas where it makes sense for us to work together Our strategic alliance achieves our goal of extending our offering to customers and right now the alliance is our core focus.
We will, however, both continue to win and deliver work separately and run independent businesses under our respective names.
What do you see as the main challenges for you both as you move forward together?
I think some people feel that expecting a traditional law firm to work alongside a disruptive innovator like Riverview will be our biggest challenge, but we don’t see this as an issue more of an exciting opportunity. Perhaps it will be dealing with all the extra work we’ll generate together, but that’s the kind of challenge we’d both like to have!
DLA Piper own 21% of Riverview Law – do think this will create any competition issues?
DLA Piper is one of the largest and most innovative law firms in the world and so we would be flattered to find ourselves competing against them. Riverview Law naturally briefed DLA Piper and their other large shareholder, AdviserPlus, and both organisations were and are highly supportive of the alliance.
Riverview have some very advanced technology at their disposal – will you be using any of it?
We have been investing in technology for some time now and have similar BI (Business Intelligence) software to them. Getting accurate management information to our clients is an increasing need that we have both responded to and are happy with the results. One thing we may look to leverage between the two firms is CRM. Riverview operate a very advanced version of Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM system which we are going to be taking a serious look at.
Will there be other strategic alliances in the future?
We have a strong working relationship with Riverview Law but we are both independent businesses pursuing our own strategies. Our focus is on making the new alliance successful, but who knows what might happen in the future.
If you have one message for the legal profession what would it be?
If you could take a sneak preview of the legal profession in 5 years’ time I think you would be looking at a completely different landscape than the one we have today. The legal world is changing at a frightening pace and those firms that can’t adapt in parallel are going to be left behind. I have no intention of letting DMH Stallard be one of them.
I happen to know DMH Stallard very well (they are a client) and as regular readers will know my relationship with Karl Chapman stretches back to the early 90′s so I will watch this relationship with interest in the coming months.
DMH Stallard are a well thought of traditional law firm with a great track record and a strong brand in the south east.
Riverview are a disruptive force in the marketplace especially in their use of technology and processes. By bringing the two together I would expect to see a very interesting hybrid emerge which could potentially be even more disruptive than either could achieve alone. Time will tell I suppose.
Silhouette Image courtesy of Vlado / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
The Bryan Hughes Interview
Bryan Hughes is the CEO of Eversheds an international law firm planted well within the top 10 of the UK legal hit parade. He is an affable family man who claims to make a habit of losing golf balls and doesn’t look his 50 years (he tried to convince me he was 14 when he joined Eversheds in 1984) but underneath his pleasant exterior he’s a determined, focused and very switched on lawyer-turned-businessman. Read more about Bryan here.
Now, here’s how Bryan sees the world….
You have ambitious expansion plans – can you sum them up for me?
We have always had a 3 year business plan but during our last round of planning we decided to look further ahead, in fact to 2020 and not just so we could call it our 2020 Vision! Our short term objectives are to consolidate our global organisation by standardising our offerings, filling the gaps and turning our investment sites (they’ll be the ones that make a loss) into profit centres.
Our 2020 vision is about taking this platform and spreading the reach still further. We all know that there is an increasing movement of business from west to east but we still need to establish ourselves in the US so an American move is certainly a real possibility in the future.
What is your response to those who would say now is not a good time to invest?
Well they said that 3 or 4 years ago too but we carried on regardless and have continued to add turnover and profit to the firm. We know that if we invest wisely and stay focused we can steal a lead on those of our competitors who are “waiting for the good times to come back”. We believe in ourselves and our strategy so why wouldn’t we invest in it?
With expansion on the agenda why the recent redundancies?
Nobody likes to have to let people go; it’s always painful but we have realigned our business to reflect the market and the needs of our clients and we needed to staff up accordingly. Very sad but also very necessary I’m afraid.
What are the major challenges you’re facing with this strategy?
Pretty much the same as everybody else I’d say: we live in times where change is the new status quo and we have to keep up so we constantly need to refine our plans to keep ourselves on target. Added to that there is less business about which is being chased by too many lawyers and with new entrants turning up all the time it’s tough out there.
Bottom line: If you can’t give the clients a good reason to choose you they’ll simply go with the cheapest. High quality, great service and value for money are valuable assets that clients want and we just concentrate on making sure we deliver them.
You have a very progressive IT department – how does it add value to the average lawyer in the firm?
This question has two answers. Firstly our lawyers simply want to take IT for granted. They just want it to work 100% of the time wherever they are on the planet and they don’t want to have to think about the enormous amount of work it takes to consistently deliver this. Well why should they?
Secondly we see IT as an enabler; something to give our lawyers an edge in a market place where you need all the edges you can get. Whether it’s enabling a completely mobile working option or allowing people to link their own Smart Phone or tablet to our network our IT team are saying “yes” as opposed to the proverbial sharp intake of breath.
Lawyers are traditionally techno-phobes – how have you got round this?
Well our younger lawyers have been brought up on computers so totally get how important they are and have no hesitation about using them. Some of the more experienced lawyers have also made the leap into the information age with ease whereas others……. (stares wistfully out over St. Pauls)
In short what counts is their ability to provide great legal advice and IT is just one of many tools we use to help us do this quicker and more effectively.
You were the first firm to issue iPads to your lawyers – did this pay off and do you have any other projects coming up that you can share with us?
Yes I think it did on all sorts of levels. Sure there was some PR value to it but it enabled our people to use technology in situations that would be impractical if you had to fire up a laptop. They also improved our ability to communicate and engage with our stakeholders. Added to that the lawyers thought it was “fun-computing” if there is such a thing (I am an IT man so I told him there is – not sure he was convinced).
Moving forward we are working on a ‘Bonfire of the Bureaucracies’ project to reduce the amount of form-filling and unnecessary processes that have built up over the years as well as additional projects to enhance our HR, case management, practice management and CRM systems. We definitely like to get our money’s worth out of our IT department.
Law firms are having to change from passive BD to something that is a lot more proactive – what changes have you made in the way you win and keep clients?
This is an interesting question. To start with we have been running an extensive and very successful Key Account programme for a number of years which has contributed greatly to our growth and profitability. We train our people precisely how to look after clients as well as seek out new ways to help them and engage with them. This has, and still is, giving great results.
We are still winning new clients of course but we have a range of approaches to this including promoting our sectors and relationships with third parties.
Do you think every lawyer should have to do BD?
A perennial question Mike. Look, everybody has a part to play in securing business. It could be the lawyer that does an outstanding job and gets a referral from it or perhaps somebody who is as comfortable in a networking situation as they are in a boardroom. I believe that you should work to people’s strengths and not spend your time trying to make them good at something they inherently find difficult. Having said that each practice has their own business plan and each team member is expected to contribute; the business won’t win itself you know.
I always like to end with a round of quickfire questions so here they are.
Describe Eversheds in 10 words or less.
Relationship-driven; different in a good way; challengers of the norm (did him a favour and hyphenated the first two; Mr Generous).
Are you an ambitious firm?
We’re far too self-effacing for that Mike – we just want to be different and do it our way (yeah, sure like he loses a lot of golf balls too).
Reasons to: -
- Work at Eversheds: strong culture, meritocracy and the sky is your limit.
- Use Eversheds: easy; we’re obsessed with customer service and being aligned to their businesses.
- Competitors should beware: we’d rather they just ignored us really…. Until it’s too late!
During a time when many firms are talking about attacking the market and growing their businesses but not doing much about it Eversheds, under the urbane Mr Hughes, are making it happen and good luck them. Apparently fortune does favour the bold. Learn more about Eversheds here.
This book was written by Mitch Kowalski a Canadian lawyer, author, speaker and entrepreneur and is aimed at anybody who expects (hopes) to be successfully practising law in the second decade of the 21st century and beyond.
Read more about Mitch here.
Maria Fernandez is a GC for Kowtor Industries and is fed up of her external legal partners. Maria and her team begin to create an ITT for a new panel of lawyers and as they document their requirements a new form of law firm begins to emerge.
Their key decision making factors are:-
- Value for money and not billable hours
- Knowledge management not just IT that doesn’t work
- Environment and diversity taken seriously
- Effective as well as efficient
- A culture of continual professional development
- A fixed term; fixed fee model
- KPIs and SLAs that offer bonuses as well as penalties
She then encounters Sylvester Bowen of Bowen, Fong and Chandri (BFC) a new and very progressive law firm. Following an interview she watches of Bowen on YouTube and a visit to their offices with her boss Henry Kow, CEO of Kowtor Industries she feels she has discovered the promised land.
Blue-print for a Modern Law Firm
The book then moves onto Mark Reynolds a newbie lawyer at BFC as he lives thru his first day at the firm. He learns about the firm’s approach to green issues, Cloud and SaaS IT, liberal working practices, project management, budgeting, LPO and knowledge management. Following a series of meetings with key BCF staff and a breathtaking lunch with Bowen himself he begins to see how BFC are worlds apart from traditional law firms. He learns such things as:-
- BFC sells results not time
- Law firms that concentrate on billable hours perpetuate inefficiency and will become obsolete
- A virtual working environment including place of work, IT, Knowledge management and training is the most effective approach to take in the modern legal services world
- Use of smart sourcing including outsourcing and home workers to provide a flexible support for the permanent lawyers
- Rewards should be based on experience and performance including bonus’s and a share option scheme
- Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO) is a key part of the equation but only if it’s integrated and monitored
- Only hire experienced lawyers, let somebody else do the training for you
- The law is only just another business service
- The firm and it’s processes are more important than any one lawyer
- Lawyers should be free to do the law and not be burdened with unnecessary administration. The death of timesheeting.
- Billable hours encourage ineffectiveness.
- Continuous improvement is essential based upon a platform of e-learning
- Project management is key in a fixed fee environment
- The lawyers don’t own the clients the firm does – cross selling is about gaining revenue not losing control
The book ends with a management meeting dinner where Bowen announces he is resigning in favour of a non-lawyer CEO implying that business should be run by business people whilst lawyers practice the law. A fitting end to the book I feel.
The book certainly is worth a read but at £50 it comes at a hefty price (despite the author’s protestations that it should retail for less). I have been banging on about how law firms have got to get all “21st century” for ages but what Kowalski has done here is present his (and my) version of what that law firm should look like in a very easy to read format.
Maybe you could get the managing partner to shell out for a shared copy for the firm. Anyhow, if you fancy a glance at the future buy it here.
With all the changes in the legal landscape there are a lot of new entrants starting to appear, be they an offshoot of an existing law firm or with their origins in the swirling world of investment finance. With ABS’s now being granted status and lots of new legal suppliers kicking about why should I choose to blog about Riverview Law one of the brands offered by LawVest Ltd? The answer is Karl Chapman – the driving force behind it all.
I vaguely knew Karl in the 1990′s when we had some discussions about him buying my business. In the end it didn’t go through but even without my help (mmm!) he managed to grow a £400m recruitment firm in less than 7 years. If Mr Chapman has launched a legal service firm you can be pretty sure that a) it will be a disruptive force in the industry and b) it will be a success.
A little background
Here are a few of the salient facts about Riverview: -
- Riverview Law is a brand belonging to LawVest Limited which in turn is owned by Adviser Plus Business Solutions (Karl’s business); DLA Piper and a number of other individual investors.
- LawVest was launched in May 2011 with Karl’s usual “buy and build” approach to growing businesses.
- Riverview Law was launched in February 2012.
- New York office opened in May 2012 targeting US law firms and organisations who require representation in the UK.
- The key players are: Karl Chapman (CEO); Adam Shutkever (COO); Sir Nigel Knowles (non exec Chairman) and David Charters (NED).
- The firm was established because the deregulation in the marketplace will create opportunities that they feel requires a corporate vehicle rather than a partnership to capitalise upon them.
- Funded by the current owners they make it plain that further funding will be sought later if required: Karl and the rest of the management team are VERY good at this.
- Riverview Law is aimed at providing B2B legal services in a very corporate way: no hourly billing at all, only fixed prices for everything; annual contracts will be available; an online portal to improve customer access and service (think online banking here); loads of free resources and a membership model with plenty of opportunity to “get out if it’s not for you”. All in all pretty disruptive I’d say.
- Riverview will also offer the chance for larger companies to outsource all or part of their in-house legal departments through Legal Advisory Outsourcing as opposed to LPO.
- Offers the services of barristers and lawyers as part of its service portfolio.
So what does this mean?
Well you could easily brush Riverview Law aside as just another chancer legal services firm trying its arm in a post-ABS world and if Karl Chapman wasn’t involved I’d tend to agree. Of course the involvement of Adam Shutkever and Sir Nigel Knowles would also suggest that this venture isn’t just a “let’s give it a go and see how she floats” operation.
But what does this mean? Well, I’m not connected to Riverview in any way so I can’t say for sure but if I were a lawyer I would think about the following: -
- For starters I would suppose that they’re not slaves to the Tyranny of the Timesheet. More fixed price work means less on-the-clock fixation by senior management – I would imagine most lawyers who are expected to raise revenue and do BD would welcome this.
- I suspect that Riverview Law’s clients will belong to the firm and not be ring-fenced by a possessive partner. Cross-selling and client care could then be handled from a central BD function and would not rely upon the generosity of individual partners thus maximising client revenue returns.
- They are almost certainly going to view business development in a corporate way and not as a marketing-led round of seminars, mailshots and trips to the cricket. I reckon they’ll be a good deal more organised than that.
- Their approach is all pretty new stuff and can be considered quite disruptive. Now, if it works it will effectively create a new norm so that anybody who wants to compete will have to operate in the same way. If you are interested in how quickly markets can change you need only look at the travel industry, insurance markets or Karl’s heritage of recruitment. All transformed, all unrecognisable and all in only a handful of years.
- They are active on social media platforms and I would guess they have a powerful CRM system to drive their sales and marketing activities. Existence of their Myview Portal means they “get” technology unlike many traditional law firms.
- Finally, and this is a wild speculation on my part, whereas traditional law firms have evolved into the shape they currently hold with all their inefficiencies and idiosyncrasies. Riverview has been designed and built from scratch and whilst I’m sure it has its challenges I’m guessing it’s going to be a good deal more efficient that its traditional competitors.
What does Karl himself think?
Well recently he was asked how he thought the market was responding to the disruptive approach that Riverview represents. I think his response is really quite telling: -
“We don’t think we’re being disruptive. We’re just applying common sense business and management principles to the legal market, using a scalable model that is built from the customer up not the law firm partner down. It’s only disruptive if you look at what we’re doing from the perspective of the legal market … which has been protected by regulation and myth for far too long. What we’re doing is the norm in most competitive industries. Customers are responding well, I’ve not seen this traction so early in any of the businesses I’ve been involved in setting-up.”
The way I read this is he is just approaching the law like any other corporate service and intends to build a company to deliver it. Scary stuff eh?
What can you do?
I would suggest law firms who recognise the threat that Riverview, and firms like them, pose should consider the following actions: -
- Keep a very sharp eye on Riverview and other new entries: like it or not they are here to stay and some of them are being very innovative.
- Transform your BD capability to ensure that you can systematically win new clients as well as maximise returns from and protect established clients.
- Recognise the firm owns its clients not the partners and so accept that it can do what it likes with them.
- Launch aggressive programmes to investigate how new technologies (including social media), staffing options (including outsourcing) and more effective working practices could be used to achieve more revenue in less time and for less cost.
- Work on making some of your services into modern legal products with appropriate costing options.
The future belongs to those not bound to the past!
Despite what anybody tells you tenders are designed to lower costs. They may request all sorts of information from you; encourage you to be creative and innovative and bang on about quality and value but when they open up your response the first page they turn to is the one headed “Costs”.
Since there is always somebody in your peer group who is more desperate than you it means there is always somebody out there who is going to be cheaper than you. Tenders are creating a race to the bottom of the price barrel and that isn’t good for anybody including the client.
So what are your options? Here’s five of the best…….
1. Keep doing the same old, same old.
Einstein’s definition of madness was doing the same thing over and over in the same way and expecting a different outcome each time. This option is not recommended by your local business development specialist.
2. Become a Cost Plus Operator
Instead of plucking hourly rates out of the air why not work out what it actually costs to provide a service including direct (what is the true cost of a partner, say) and indirect costs (overheads and so on). Once you have added your margin to this you can be sure that this is a reasonable price and hopefully will be somewhere in the ball-park.
One side-effect of this approach is that it throws a spotlight on the way in which you deliver your offering. By innovating, using new technology and standardisation you may be able to lower the delivery costs and so lower your bid prices and therefore increase your chances of winning the deal.
Of course this is setting you on a path of providing a commodity based service. Some firms will make a lot of money by doing this. I personally wouldn’t choose to work in that part of the field myself though because it’s not much fun and it also happens to be highly vulnerable to the effects of market fluctuations.
3. Go Niche
People recognise that when they base their decisions on cost they will not actually get the best possible service available. It’s a trade-off they’re willing to make. But some will also recognise that certain types of work do demand extra skills or a more studied approach where the price of under-performance is high perhaps.
When you submit your proposal you point out the value of your offering, admit it is not the cheapest but single out when a more expensive flavour (yours) is the right one. Price it up based on decent rates and position yourself as an escalation supplier: in other words work only comes to you when it needs to and you charge differently to the rest of their suppliers.
If your offering genuinely is much better than the competition and there is a real need to use it under certain circumstances then you could be onto a winner here. Note you could do much less business then the other suppliers but make the same amount of profit!
4. Change the game
Always submit a tender response in the format, style and content that the client requested but include a second option which is disruptive. So they ask for hourly rates which you provide but you also offer to take a risk and do all the work for a fixed price with no if’s, but’s or maybe’s. Game changer; makes them begin to think of things other than comparing one suppliers prices against another’s.
Risky and needs innovation but can work handsomely – worth some thought I’d say.
5. Just not bother
Seriously. If you’re not going to change your business to use a cost-plus model; take risks or have a real niche then my advice is don’t bother responding to tenders. If you take this option there is one thing you have to do: build yourself an active sales environment which systematically generates lots of new leads; has a process to grade the leads and then convert the good ones into clients where you have an outstanding client care programme in place to maximise ongoing revenues.
Qualified volume coupled with effective processes, tools, techniques and control mechanisms when combined properly will provide more of the target clients who base their buying decisions on more than just cost.
Tendering is here to stay and if anything will become even more prevalent and cost-sensitive. The “do nothing” option really isn’t an option so whatever you do do it soon and do it well.
New entrants to the legal services market; a weakening economy; business savvy clients; a rise in internal legal departments; alternative fee arrangements; commoditisation – the list of challenges facing the legal world seems to be swelling by the day with some being more of a threat than others.
However, is there an even greater challenge lurking in the shadows that has been embedded in law firms for decades? I think there just might be……
Whilst there is no silver bullet available that will cure all ills there is one thing for certain: any firm with an effective sales function capable of generating a strong thread of new leads and of taking good care of established clients eases most of the challenges you’re likely to face.
So there it is; your knight in shining armour: sales or the ability to identify, engage, convert and cultivate clients in a systematic and organised way to maximise revenues and minimise loss to the competition, as we like to call it at Flair Towers.
And that, in my humble opinion, is the greatest challenge facing law firms today: most of the people entrusted with building and maintaining secure revenue streams are at best reluctant sales people and at worst are actively hostile towards the concept. What other business would have a sales force who would prefer to be doing something else?
It’s understandable I suppose. At some point in their lives each of them made the decision to become a lawyer: a corporate BSD; a champion of the under-classes or just somebody who was bought off by copious amounts of cheap lager at one of those university open nights. Who knows why but there is one for thing for damn sure: they never dreamed of being a hot-shot sales person.
So what can be done? Well its quite a difficult nut to crack and well beyond the scope of this humble blog post but I would suggest three clear lines of thought: -
- Acknowledge not everybody is capable of being a heavy-weight sales person. Work to people’s strengths and compensate for their weaknesses rather than force them to “get out there and network, damn it”.
- Be more structured. Build a system for sales with recognisable stages, established tools and techniques and a decent CRM system to house it all.
- Put somebody in charge of sales who is a sales person not just a marketer. Marketing definitely has a place in the business development orchestra but as a service to the sales function not as the driving force.
Build a systematic, organised and very controlled growth engine and put somebody in charge of it who has proven sales experience is one approach to overcoming the oldest and perhaps the biggest challenge faced by law firms today. What do you think?
Oh, and one more thing – isn’t it about time you downloaded the free sample chapter of my e-book? Look over there for more details ====>