Thank you

This is a short post to say “Thank you” to all of you who have read and subscribed to this blog over the last 18 months. In order to try and align all my stuff under a single banner, I have moved my blog to where I plan to continue blogging, albeit with shorter posts. Today’s post looks at ‘Leverage and the 10-20-30-40 Rule‘  – feel free to pop over and have a read.



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Philippines to allow foreigners to build infrastructure projects


Business Mirror reported online yesterday that the Philippines was going to allow foreigners to build infrastructure projects worth at least $1 billion, as the country doubles its spending on roads, ports and bridges.

Given the country’s committed infrastructure investment target of P404 billion (US$9.2 billion) for this year, increasing to P824 billion – or 5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) – in 2016, there is little doubt that this provides a fantastic opportunity to Australian companies.

There is also little doubt that this situation should provide significant work opportunities for Australian-based law firm major projects and infrastructure teams. So what should these teams be doing now to try and capitalise on this opportunity?

First of all, the business development manager of your major projects team needs to team up with your library/knowledge team to ascertain exactly what projects are in the pipeline.  A good starting place would be the Philippines Department of Public Works and Highways website.

Once you have determined what projects are in the pipeline, you then need to try and ascertain the project delivery model that is being looked at. For example, is the government trying to use a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model (currently in vogue across the region)? Or, is a Build-Own-Operate-Transfer (BOOT, BOT or BOO) platform more likely?

Having determined the project and the likely delivery method, next you need to see if you have the relevant expertise in the firm. If you do, the question you need to ask is which side of the deal transaction this experience comes from – government or private contractor?

All of this information should help the firm decide if they are going to target this work and, assuming it is, who the firm is going to target (and keep in mind that some may try and target both sides).

So now we know the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ and also the fact that we want in. Next step action is to profile the expertise and experience of the individuals and firm – and to alert the relevant targets, where we feel comfortable that we can, that we want in on the deal.

Keep in mind that projects of this size can be massive and it is highly likely you are going to need to profile more than one expert.

Profiling actions here need to be in thought leadership and marketing. So if you want to be in on the deal, you will need to get your lawyers writing great blog posts, tweeting information, writing articles for publications (preferably in local publications), attending seminars and industry events and presenting at seminars and industry events.

You may also need to do a little thinking outside the box here – as it is highly likely that a lot of law firms will be trying to profile in the same space (most likely using newsletters that will not entail them having to leave their desk, let alone the state or country!). By way of example: one law firm that was targeting PPP work in South East Asia gave a presentation to the relevant country’s government on how PPPs could be structured locally. Another worked with the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBICI) on best practice funding arrangements that could be taken to governments, investors and project developers.

What is worth noting is that most, if not all, of this positioning work will not be billable – so a business development commitment from both the team involved (partners, lawyers, etc) and their overseers (practice group heads, managing partner, finance team, etc) will be crucial.

In the meantime, the Marketing team need to be working with Design to come up with lovely brochures and collateral that the lawyers can handout as and when appropriate.

Next, your team should be building relationships with key players and influencers at the targets. This means sending the ‘STATOY’ (Saw This And Thought Of You) emails whenever something interesting around the project is in the press. It means scheduling weekly, monthly telephone calls. Whatever it is that needs to be done in order to get the relationships in place and build on them, do it!

Finally, schedule meetings with your core project teams. Make sure these meetings occur more often the closer you get to the project kick-off time.

And always stay on top of what is going on – because you don’t want to invest all of this time and effort on this business development effort only for the RFT (Request for Tender) to sit in the contact partner’s email in-box while s/he is away on holiday and to miss the opportunity.

And for those of you who go for it, happy hunting!

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You cannot become a ‘Trusted Advisor’ without a ‘Circle of Trust’


Today I spent a very enjoyable 12 minutes watching Simon Sinek’s latest TED Talk – “Why good leaders make you feel safe.”

If you haven’t seen it yet, I strongly recommend that you do. You can find it here – and there is every chance this will follow in the footsteps of other Sinek TED Talks and become a monster online hit.

Watching this, however, really hit home a significant message to me that will likely resonate with anyone involved in law firm business development, which is this:

your lawyer cannot become a trusted advisor [to clients] without their own circle of trust existing

Note that I’m not trying to say that your lawyer cannot be a success at what they do without a circle of trust. Nor am I trying to imply that they won’t be popular at what they do. What I do contend is that they will never attain the Holy Grail status of ‘Trusted Advisor‘ if they do not have their own circle of trust in place beforehand.

So what are the core traits normally found in a ‘Circle of Trust?’

The following are five that I have identified:

  1. Be transparent: it seems almost too obvious, but you cannot start to build a circle of trust if you are keeping things from people. Indeed, you need to be a little more than merely transparent, you should consider actually volunteering information.
  2. Be consistent: short-termism is a badge of honour in law firms. Any firm that has a 12-month plan is looking at things long-term in this day and age! And yet, many law firms are inconsistent in their message.
  3. If you have made a mistake, admit to it: not sure I’ve heard someone say “sorry” for a mistake they have made at work recently; but without it you cannot start to build a circle of trust.
  4. Honour your word: not much needs to be said really. If you are a lawyer and say you are going to do something, then do it. If you don’t, how can you possibly expect others to believe you on other issues?
  5. Be honest: lastly, just be honest with everyone. If you are specifically asked about something, don’t lie to save yourself a potentially difficult situation – be straight with the person. Sure they may not like the message, but they will respect you in the long run for telling it the way it is.

None of the above should be rocket science. And yet, in today’s world of professional services providers a lot of these traits seem to be absent. And for those of you who doubt this is true I only ask that you ask yourself a simply question:

have I found out something about my law firm from reading about it in the industry press or by talking to someone at a competitor firm?

If your answer to that question is “yes”, then very clearly your law firm has failed to meet even the most basic of ‘circle of trust’ thresholds – and on the basis, partners and lawyers at your firm cannot hope to gain ‘Trusted Advisor’ status.

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Grow a profitable law practice with “zero sum business development days”


There is no doubt, in the current climate, that law firm business development and marketing activities are frustrating. This should not, however, deter you from the bigger picture – having a successful and profitable law practice.

Fortunately, law firm business development and marketing is not rocket science. Hard work – yes; rocket science – no. Equally fortuitously is the fact that law firm partners and business developers are able to bring to the task successful and proven growth strategies from other businesses and sectors to the legal market.

A case in point: recently I re-ignited a fitness program with my boot-camp instructor Adrian (who I previously wrote about here). Those involved in fitness like to practice what they call “zero sum” days. What this means is that the person will not go a single day without doing something that has an overall positive impact on their fitness.

Adapting and applying a zero sum days philosophy to your law firm business development projects is one sure-fire way to ensure you stay one step ahead of your competitors.

As is the case with a fitness zero sum days workout program, in order for your business development zero sum program to work, you need to:

  • workout your end goal strategy: before you set off on this journey, make sure you have an end goal in plan. This could be to grow profitable revenue by 10 – 20 percent over the next 12 months. It could also be that you want to increase your client base by 5 to 10 clients. Whatever your end goal business development strategy is, make sure you have one as there is nothing worse than doing business development activities ‘on the fly’.
  • play to your strengths: too often I see genuine business development efforts wasted by lawyers who do business development activities that they are clearly not comfortable doing. If you enjoy networking, then do this. If, however, networking is not your thing (and it really isn’t for some), either consider what your other options are or hire a coach to help you improve. Whatever you decide to do though, make sure you play to your strengths.
  • make it fun: I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t like to have fun. The interpretation of what constitutes fun may differ, but the element of fun is always there. The same approach should also apply to your business development activities. Let’s face it, business development is a dull drudge we all have to do, but the moment we introduce an element of fun it is no longer really a business development activity. Fun to you may be setting and exceeding targets. If that’s the case, do it. Alternatively, it may be playing golf. Again, if that’s the case do it. It really doesn’t matter that much what you do, provided you keep the plan and end goal in mind and the activity falls within the overall strategy.
  • do a little workout every day: as is the case with the zero sum fitness program from which the title of this blog has been adapted, your zero sum business development program needs to include some kind of workout every day. Some days your workout will be longer and more strenuous (say, a network meeting or half-day presentation) than others (a day you make three phone calls to clients and prospective clients).
  • bring it all together in a plan: finally, you need to bring all of this together in a plan. I like to advise people to use their Outlook calendar as their plan template. In this you can add all of your networking events, seminars, days you will publish articles or post blogs and on any “free” days left over you can include little mini-workouts, such as planning to have a coffee catch-up with someone or making a telephone call to see how a contact has been since you last spoke.

Having a business development plan in place that ensures you become the trusted advisor to your clients – in the mould advocated by David Maister and Andrew Sobel – takes hard work. It isn’t rocket science, but at the end of the day you need to implement a daily workout that is more proactive than all of your competitors if you want to stay ahead in this day and age.

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The sales funnel is dead, long live the value champions!


A rather interesting post was made to the Harvard Business Review website overnight (Australian time) highlighting why marketing personnel could no longer entirely rely on the sales funnel (“Marketing can no longer rely on the funnel“).

This article sums up well a view I have had for some time: law firms who are marketing along the traditional sales funnel line of (i) awareness, (ii) consideration, and (iii) purchase, are not only behind the 8-ball, but are in danger of going the same way as the dinosaurs unless they change their ways quickly.

As the HBR post points out, the buying process today is fundamentally different to what it was 20 or so years ago. In today’s age, not only do buyers go online to check pricing, with a click of a button they can source a word of mouth recommendation from someone they trust – be it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or some other social media outlet.

It has been a long-held view of mine that this not only applies to B2C transactions, but equally to B2B industries as well. And I would most certainly include law in that (which is probably in the P2P space these days, but I’ll leave that for another post). For those who doubt this, consider the growth of online comparison websites in the past few years (see “Full-blown legal comparison websites move closer – are you ready?” on the Legal Futures website).

So what are the alternatives?

Well, as the HBR post points out, one alternative that is growing in popularity is McKinsey‘s “Customer Decision Journey“. I have to say though that while I much prefer McKinsey’s Customer Decision Journey over the traditional sales funnel for the marketing of lawyers, to my mind they both make the process of marketing lawyers much more difficult that it needs to really be.

So here we go: if we accept the application of the Pareto principle as fact in law firms – and there seems to be little doubt this is the case – then, in all but in the very rarest of cases, the marketing of lawyers should be a fairly simple task:

“supply evidence that the lawyer is providing ongoing value to the client and its business.”

and in order to achieve this, your firm needs a ‘Value Champion’ .

In order to be your firm’s Value Champion, you need to be able to communicate the value proposition of your firm and its lawyers. Which means, at minimum, you need to be able to state:

  • the specific market your firm acts in
  • the specific offering your firm has
  • your firm’s overall expertise and the expertise of each of its lawyers
  • the manner in which you service your clients
  • how attentive to your clients’ needs your lawyers are
  • how reliable your lawyers are
  • how accessible your lawyers are

Additional skills the Value Champion is likely to need in today’s market would include a thorough understanding of how matters are costed (and by this I mean not just an understanding of what alternative fee arrangements are, but how did we get to the figure we are quoting you?!).

In short, your Value Champion needs to be able to get you past the “Why you?” threshold – i.e.: why should I hire you/your law firm? – and you need to be doing it while standing on the top of a burning building! 

And if they cannot do that, you’re probably best going back to the awareness – consideration – purchase approach.

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The increasing use of competitive tenders in Asia


When I first started working in Asia a little over 18 years ago, competitive tenders and tenders for panel appointments among Asian clients were rare. Sure, the big global corporates and financial institutions had panels in place which needed to be re-tendered for every three to four years – most notably, ANZ Bank, which had a separate Australia and New Zealand panel and rest of Asia – but, by and large, outside of major infrastructure or energy projects, competitive tendering and panel appointments were extremely rare.

However, as the forthcoming GC Excellence survey – to be published in June by the Global Legal Post and Terralex – will show, four out of five companies/in-house counsel now make use of some form of competitive bidding to distribute work to outside law firms.

Although I don’t know at this stage what the exact percentage of respondents to the GC Excellence survey were in-house General Counsel based in Asia, there is little doubt that the use of competitive tenders and formal legal panel appointments has become a growing trend in East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea) over the past 18 or so months.

Among the more notable to have moved to establishing formal legal panels in recent times include China Resources Group, China’s Ministry of Commerce and the Sinopharm Group. What’s more, with the re-evaluation of the vendor-supplier question that is clearly now taking place, it cannot be long before this trend extends outwards to other parts of South East Asia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Unfortunately, the level of sophistication around the processes that need to be put in place in order for law firms to give themselves half a chance at being successful at tendering is still relatively elementary in the region. To be fair, this is not to be unexpected. Law firm partners who have been used to being instructed on matters by their clients on an ad hoc basis are unlikely to take too kindly to being told they now need to tender for this same work – either as part of a panel or for the specific work itself (NB: keep in mind that some panel appointments are only an invitation to the show and work distributed after the establishment of a panel is also done by competitive tender).

Conversely, law firm partners who never thought they had a look in with a client will rightly get very excited about having been invited to tender.

If this all sounds familiar, then given the huge amount of time that is needed in order to get a tender across the line, the following are six basic questions you should be asking before deciding to proceed with a response:

  1. did we hear about this tender before it was issued?  – I have been involved in over 200 tenders in the past 5 or so years and I can say with utmost certainty that if you are only hearing about this tender when it lands on your desk, or when it is published on a website, you won’t win it and should forget about responding.
  2. do we know this client? – I have seen law firms respond to Requests for Proposals (RFPs) who haven’t even looked at the issuing company’s website. In some cases, they haven’t even spelt the name of the issuing company correctly. All the firm has looked at is the requested areas of expertise set out in the RFP and responded to those. The truth is, if you haven’t at least read the latest annual report of the issuing company, then don’t bother spending any time responding.
  3. do we have the expertise? – In an economic climate like the one we are in at the moment, ask a lawyer if they have done a particular matter and they will tell you they have. Unfortunately, that’s doesn’t make them experts in the area! And if I was paid a $1 for every tender I have read where the level of expertise outlined was nothing more than could be found on the firm’s website, I probably wouldn’t need to work again. The fact is, if you don’t know the area of expertise being sought, don’t waste your time responding. And, keep in mind that if you say you are an expert in an area and are not, then you are devaluing your credibility in an area where you really are an expert!
  4. do we have a team/depth of experience? – A common fault in tender responses is to detail the expertise and experience of the lead partner(s) only. Aside from highlighting a potential flight/replacement risk on the part of the client should your lead partner leave, it calls into question the need for the other members of the team in your submission. So, in the unlikely event that your lead partner is the only person in your firm who has the expertise and experience being sought, and no lawyer/associate/junior lawyer can be found who has some relevant experience, then you need to seriously question whether you should be responding to this tender at all. Otherwise, you need to ensure that you include the experience of your more junior lawyers in the response (a tip here: if your lead partner and junior lawyer acted on a matter together, you might want to make sure the junior lawyer includes assisting the partner in their CV). In any event, depth of experience is a critical component of any successful tender these days; so, within the parameters of the response, try to include this.
  5. can we price/cost this? – Although panel appointments tend to still be done on an hourly rate basis, you would not believe the number of times this discussion gets left till the last-minute. At which point there are lengthy discussions between the lead partner and the finance department over how big a discount can be given on the hourly rate. This should not be how this is done and if this sounds like the process you are likely to be going through, you need to question if you should be responding.
  6. who is leading the tender response? – In most cases, the business developer / tender person will lead your firm’s tender response. And in some cases, where all processes are followed correctly, this is fair. They have had the opportunity to get to know the client and what the client does. They know who the team is and what relevant experience they have, and honest discussions around pricing have taken place. But, this  ideal situation doesn’t always exist and if these processes have not been followed, then the responding partner should be prepared to spend a significant amount of time helping to put together the response document.

Not included in the above, but one which is a growing issue, is whether or not you are going to use some kind of design? More and more these days clients want response documents to be in the look and feel of their own marketing materials (note, however, that you are not allowed to make use of the client’s logo in your response unless you have been given specific permission to do so!) and don’t want word lawyered heavy-looking response documents.  At the moment, however, this is “a nice to have” rather than a deal breaker.

Overall though, always keep two things at the top of your mind when considering whether or not to respond to a tender:

  • responding to RFPs is extremely time-consuming,
  • by association with the above (in a business where more often than not “time is money”), responding to RFPs is extremely expensive. Here, it is really not uncommon to see upwards of $100,000 in direct and indirect costs being tracked against a significant panel tender response.

and on that basis, ask yourself: “do we really want to do this?”.

And given the growing trend of companies issuing competitive and panel tenders, it is highly likely you will be asking yourself these questions more and more over the coming months/years.

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5 tips on growing a practice in Asia


Like many, I was interested to read last week that PTT Exploration and Production (PTTEP) – the exploration and production affiliate of Thailand’s state-owned energy company PTT – had bought Hess’ Thai assets for $1bn. What spiked my interest in this deal was the fact that (so far as I could see) none of the principal deal advisers was located in the jurisdiction of either the purchaser or the deal asset*. [*according to the linked deal announcement, Hess Corporate was advised by Freshfield’s Singapore-based partner Gavin MacLaren and PTTEP was advised by Herbert Smith Freehills Seoul-based partner Lewis McDonald.]

What this deal goes to show is that in today’s world providers of legal services who had previously thought that deals where they didn’t have any physical presence were off-limits, can now position themselves for a role in a major transaction such as this. In other words, everything is possible and lawyers can build a practice in regions where they traditionally have not participated.

On the back of this I thought I would write a quick and brief post on how Australian lawyers might go about building and growing a practice in Asia.

1.  Research and understand the market

Before you decide to commit your time and limited resources to this project, take a little time out to research and understand the market as whole. Keep in mind that the market is evolving rapidly and whereas 10 years ago this market may have been dominated by foreign direct investment into Asia, today the market is equally made up of Asian companies, sovereign wealth funds and governments looking to invest overseas, such as in the Australian domestic market [one of the early examples of this in Australia was Wilmar International Limited’s US$1.47 billion acquisition of Sucrogen, but there have been many similar examples since].

2. Be targeted

Contrary to popular belief, Asia is not a single market and a one size approach to the whole region will, most likely, not work. As such, once you have done your initial research into the type of client you want to act for (telecommunications, financial services, manufacturer, for example) and the market (Southeast Asia, China, Indonesia, Philippines, Korea, for example)  you wish to act in, the next thing you need to do is become targeted in your approach. Keep in mind that as is the case elsewhere, these days commercial conflicts are seen as being as important to clients as legal conflicts – so there is little point in targeting a company and its major competitor.

3. Become a thought leader

The next step is to become a thought leader in your field in the region. In some cases, you may well be able to bring your existing knowledge to this new market. Public-private partnership expertise is an obvious example of how experience in another jurisdictions was conveyed into Asia – where lawyers with expertise in PPPs in the UK from the 1990s were able to advise Asian government clients on the mechanism again in the early 2000s (circa. 2007). However you decide to do this, a critical component is to ensure that you raise your profile in the region – both through traditional industry and newspaper publications and through the use of new social media outlets – such as blogging and using LinkedIn groups and Twitter.

4. Be present

If your firm doesn’t already have an office in Asia, then you don’t need to immediately rush out an open one just because you suddenly have a keen interest in the region (and, indeed, in many cases you wouldn’t be able to do this even if you wanted to). What this doesn’t mean, however, is that you sit in your office in Australia, write a few articles for publication in the Asian press, and then sit back and wait for your Asian client base to come streaming in (which might happen in the same way as I might win the lottery). What it does mean is that you will need to be present in some form on the ground in the jurisdiction you are targeting at some point. In the first instance this might be attending regional or country specific industry trade fairs. It could also involve travelling around meeting potential clients who have been referred to you from others (and a good tip here is to become a member of the relevant chamber of commerce back in Australia of the country you are interested in and try to get your initial introductions and referrals this way).

5. Bring it all together in a plan

Finally, all of the above actions should come together in some type of targeted business plan.

In addition to the usual SWOT plan, make sure you include as part of your plan:

  • a budget to get your strategy off the ground (and as a benchmark, you will spend twice as much as you have budgeted for to get this strategy off the ground),
  • a time period within in which to pursue the plan. In most cases you will not develop an Asian strategy overnight. That said, while I have known some lawyers who have been struggling to build an Asian practice for over a decade, most who spend a few hours a week work on this can typically build a successful practice in two to three years. In any event, have an end date in mind so that a time doesn’t come when you a throwing good effort after a lost cause.

One final piece of advice would be to make sure you enjoy what you are doing. Business development can be a hard slog in any environment and in one as competitive as Asia is these days it will sometimes feel like an uphill struggle, so make you better make sure it’s fun!

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