Showing posts from 2011

Big 4 a reason

In 2011, the Big 4 "accountancy" firms reported revenues of $29.2 billion (PWC), $28.8 billion (Deloitte), $22.9 billion (E&Y), $22.7 billion (KPMG). The world's largest law firm reported revenues of $2.1 billion (Baker & McKenzie).

OK, you got me. That law firm number dates from 2010. Perhaps 2011 was a barnstorming year and they added a zero after 12 Stakhanovite months of wild billing. But probably not. In fact, based on published numbers, you'd need to add the revenues of the world's top 15 law firms before you get one Big 4 firm.

The largest law firms are very respectable sized businesses, but the Big 4 are so massive they make the law firms look like boutiques. I'm not suggesting revenue is everything, but it's a perfectly reasonable measure of how much the rest of the world wants you around. 

The Big 4 don't just sell audit or accountancy advice, they sell all kinds of professional services. That statement also describes one of their weakn…

Footnotes to The Bizzle's "The only way is ethics"

In a wittily titled recent post "The only way is ethics?", The Bizzle raised a whole series of issues about what companies say about ethical behaviour. I agree with his post and the conclusion "either walk your talk, or stop going on about it" is unarguable. But it seems to me there are several different strands wound together under this topic of "corporate ethics". I'd like to try to separate those strands. 

The debate in the room at the Corporate Counsel Forum focused on the "compliance" side of ethical behaviour and on creating a culture in a company to meet the challenge of legislation like the UK's new Bribery Act. That was the subject of my own post "Ethics and the General Counsel". As he said in his post, The Bizzle didn't set out to discuss this topic (but he has promised to at a later date).

We might call the next strand "ethics as a fig-leaf for the profit motive". Companies often talk about how ethical th…

It's criminal on the 07:43 from Woking

This morning, just by coincidence, two people I follow on Twitter had very similar experiences while commuting on the train. Both saw a fellow passenger working on a laptop. We'll omit the names to protect the guilty, but the laptop-jockeys were lawyers, one of them at a famous magic circle firm. The details of their clients and the matters they were working on were clearly visible to their fellow passengers.

This sparked a light-hearted debate on Twitter about work life balance. Workaholic lawyers are using their train journeys to finish off those crucial PowerPoint presentations. The phrase "get a life" was used. But what went through my mind was "get a grip". There are serious issues involved.

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know I am an advocate for normalising legal services, demystifying communications between lawyers and clients and bringing the profession up to date. But there are some things that are too important to compromise. A fundamental par…

Ethics and the General Counsel

My guess is that almost none of the people reading this blog consider themselves rich. Some are probably well off. Some are students, who don't, at least yet, have a great deal of money. Even those of us who think they're financially stable would probably class ourselves as relatively "ordinary". But compared to almost everyone who lived before 1850 or thereabouts, we are all fabulously rich, in terms of what we can afford and what we own. We've just come to take that fact for granted.

I'm typing this blog on an Apple MacBook Pro in the South of France. I flew here with my family on EasyJet. Each of you is reading this on an amazing piece of electronic equipment, maybe an iPad, a Dell PC, a ThinkPad, an iPhone or something similar. You own a mobile phone, along with almost everyone in developed countries and increasing numbers in developing ones. You've got a fridge, a washing machine, central heating, probably a car. You've almost certainly travelled …

No timesheets! Making the transition from private practice to in-house

Imagine yourself sitting in the double height reception of a large office building in West London. You're there for an interview, having applied for the role of "Legal Counsel, Intellectual Property". So far, the selection process has involved meetings with HR and Legal. Today, you're due to see senior business staff. You don't know it yet, but the whole process will consist of 10 meetings, including one with an "industrial psychologist" (a story for another day). 
That was me, 15 years ago. My previous meetings with HR and Legal had gone well. I didn't really know what to expect from the business leaders I was about to meet. Despite a few years in private practice, I hadn't met many people from "Marketing" or "Operations" before and I only had a hazy idea of what their jobs might involve. I should have done more research, but I was feeling pretty cocky. After all, I had a blue chip CV, with a good degree from a famous univer…

BOGOF - pricing legal services

After a brief outing into the newsworthy world of injunctions, I'm going back to more workaday matters. Keeping control of departmental budgets and getting value for money from external lawyers.

This isn't a popular topic. I've seen plenty of negative comment about the recent article in the Economist on legal services ("A less gilded future" I have reservations about the article too, but not because of the line which offended many "Ultimately, lawyering is becoming more of a business than a profession. Some lawyers decry this. Others welcome it. Few deny it." My issue with the article is that it deals badly with the second of two topics. After a lengthy discussion of fragility of the law firm business model and the cost of legal services, the final few paragraphs turn to creating business awareness in young lawyers, a topic which might have made for an interesting article in its own right, but is treated glibly. It's not ofte…

Free speech, football & how companies think

Time for a quick mid-week post.

In the past few days, Twitter has been on fire in the UK with questions about privacy, footballers and court injunctions. The Tweeps I follow are mostly lawyers in the UK and the US. This group of people has a particular angle on the current debate. Wherever they stand on the individual case in hand, most are horrified by the damage that's being done to the rule of law. So am I.
Just to get it out of the way, on the narrow case, I'm in the camp that declines to name the person in question for so long as the court order is in force. At the same time, I have a great deal of sympathy with those who think the judges in England are a long way past what Parliament envisaged when it enacted a right to privacy. I'm extremely uneasy about sacrificing the privacy of thousands of people on Twitter by revealing their identities to the well paid lawyers for a wealthy adulterer.
But nobody with any sense is reading this blog for my views on free speech, b…

Law, Business, Sex and Cookery

Right. This one is going to be a little different, more of a polemic. 

Before we get to talking about sex and cookery, let's discuss elitism and intellectual snobbery. Many of those reading this post are lawyers, and, judging by a continuing theme on twitter and in blogs, there are a good number of lawyers who believe that the law is an Olympian construct of the intellect, a triumph of ideas, far above the grubby world of business. This notwithstanding that many of history's eminent lawyers, starting with Cicero, were men on the make. 

I'm a big believer in the rule of law. But everyone has somebody who looks down at them. I did my undergraduate degree in the physical sciences, trying (only partly successfully) to get to grips with courses like Quantum Mechanics. My tutor was a genius. I got a decent degree but, at the end of the 4th year, my tutor's career advice was "be a lawyer". You could roughly translate that comment as "You're something of an …

Toyota's production system - even the doctors are using it

Having tried more than once, I can attest that it's difficult to persuade smart professionals, like lawyers, that they have something to learn from the production systems that companies such as Toyota have developed for manufacturing cars. After all, what could possibly be the connection between making cars and giving legal advice? 

A few of the people reading this post will be old enough to remember when cars were routinely unreliable, before the Japanese car industry's greatest gift to the world's motorists - reliability as standard. Nowadays, we take it for granted that our cars, whoever makes them, will start every morning and run without breaking down. But that wasn't always the case. The car industry is one of the biggest in the world and it succeeded in making a major transformation in quality. It's worth stopping to ask if there's anything we can learn.

You can read plenty of articles on the topic of "legal process engineering", but this post …

Lessons from dog food - if you're not doing segmentation, you're not doing marketing

What does "marketing" mean? My guess is that you'd get a lot of different answers to that question. Marketing is something we think we understand from general knowledge and from being the target of so much of it in our daily lives. We hardly need to have it explained to us. How true is that?
Once, while working for a previous employer, I was asked to conclude a contract with Cranfield University, to enable 20 members of the Marketing department to attend a two week residential course on strategic marketing. Somehow, in return for my help, I managed to extract a promise that I could attend the course. I wouldn't pretend for a minute that a two week course taught me marketing, but it did teach me that marketing is a serious discipline which has become highly professionalized and that there is much more to it than we experience as consumers. 
A large proportion of the course I took at Cranfield was based on the work of Professor Malcolm McDonald. You can read about this…