Localising legal innovation
When launching services abroad, remember that cultural and social issues should play a huge part in a law firm's strategic planning, explains Matthew Kay
A business has lots to consider when launching in new jurisdictions. For instance, companies might need to consider a name change if their brand gets lost in translation. Coca-Cola was pronounced in China as ‘ke-kou-ke-la’, which, depending on the region, can mean ‘bite the wax tadpole’ or ‘female horse stuffed with wax’.
Practically, a name might have to change if there are trade mark issues – for example, Burger King is called Hungry Jack’s in Australia as Burger King was already registered as a trade mark by another brand. How a brand represents itself with colour can also be an issue. Cultures perceive colours differently. For example, Pepsi famously lost its market share in South East Asia after changing the colour of its vending machines to a lighter blue – a colour associated with mourning and death in the region.
There are many examples of companies getting it wrong on the global stage when it comes to pushing into a new country. But moving away from unfortunate branding and name mishaps, what do legal firms need to be aware of when expanding their innovations into new markets? Increasingly we are seeing more innovative new law models coming from the UK and revolutionising the global legal market. However, there are several important issues to consider as legal markets can differ so wildly across the globe.
At Vario, the contracting arm of Pinsent Masons, we have recently announced a launch into Australia. This is our first operational base outside the UK and our first step in a programme of targeted international expansion. While planning this launch, there were a number of strategic issues to take into account.
First, from a practical level, regulatory issues must be considered when launching an innovation in a new jurisdiction. Another important issue when localising legal innovations like a flexible contract hub is how lawyers work in the country in question and their social and cultural norms. For instance, contract lawyering is linked intrinsically to work/life balance. Our recent study showed that although variety of work is the biggest factor behind lawyers choosing to work flexibly (45 per cent), improving their work/life balance was also an important reason behind their decision (42 per cent).
In Australia and other countries, cultural perceptions around these issues can be very different and innovations like Vario must adapt when launching abroad. According to the OECD Better Life index, Australia sits behind the UK in terms of work/life balance, with 13.4 per cent of employees working long hours and 14.4 hours devoted to personal care and leisure – less than the OECD average of 15 hours. Australia’s legal profession, like many others around the world, is considered one of the most stressed. These cultural factors must be considered and we feel the appetite for a flexible legal working model is high.
Likewise, our model is based on perfect fit and part of this is using personality tests to ensure the right lawyer gets matched with the right client. In today’s legal market, soft skills are so important, and for a lawyer parachuted into a client on a 12-month assignment, it is vital that they fit in well and can perform from day one. For our Australia launch we are recalibrating our personality tests to fit in with the country’s culture and expectations.
It is also important to consider business culture and how the legal innovation will fit into the market. For instance, for contract lawyering, it is vital
to know how work is shared between work in-house and private practice and how these relationships work in practice. There is scope for more legal innovation in the market and the appetite for these new models is huge across many global legal markets. However, it is crucial for success that the proper due diligence is completed as markets vary vastly and cultural and social issues play a huge part in how legal work is done. It would be an oversight to just consider the business and regulatory issues.
Matthew Kay is director of Vario at Pinsent Masons