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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Thought leadership begins at home

Thought leadership begins at home


Brexit will bring opportunities for some firms and put a strain on others; leaders must respond by reacting quickly and planning ahead, writes Steve Billot

Brexit will bring opportunities for some firms and put a strain on others; leaders
must respond by reacting quickly and planning ahead, writes Steve Billot

We have all been consuming the
news on Brexit in
the last few weeks and, I am sure, trying to assess what it means for us and for the firms we work in and for.

Whatever else, it is clear that change is on the way for many parts of UK plc, and with that will come opportunities for some but threats for others.
For many firms this will lead
to mixed blessings. Some parts of the firm will be busier and needing to get close to clients to ensure that they are kept
fully updated on developments. Clients will be looking for clear advice on proposed changes
so that they can make business decisions, and their professional advisers will be key for them.

This will bring real opportunities for firms who
are listening to their clients.
The huge wave of regulatory change that may be needed
will no doubt be aimed at helping business - but we all know that with change comes risk. If your clients see you as being creative and proactive, then they will reward that
with a closer relationship as they trust you to help them
in these uncertain times.

Potential downturn

Other departments may find reducing volumes of work
and might need to take some uncomfortable decisions, which may result in some roles being lost. I always advocate that
firms record the volumes and, whenever possible, the value
of new matters they take on every month. This data will
be significant in deciding on how to act - do not wait for the cash to run out before making difficult decisions.

This will lead to a real strain in many firms and the potential for conflict between departments and partners. We have seen
this in previous downturns where firms hold on to under-performing teams in the hope that there will quickly be a 'return to normal'. This can unfortunately see highly performing teams being
asked to work hard while
others are under-utilised.

As reducing headcount in
any professional services firm
is expensive and the costs of recruitment and training are
so high, there is always the inclination to hold on and put off those difficult decisions. However, a perceived failure
of the firm to act can lead to staff becoming disillusioned
as work volumes drop and the best ones leave.

The worst scenario is the 'death by a thousand cuts'
as wave after wave of 'restructuring' takes place.
If done badly, this will lead to poor morale among the rest of the staff who wait for the next wave, and further departures will continue to erode morale.

Firm goals

The key issue is to understand, agree on, and implement the firm's goals. If the aim is to carry on regardless, hoping for the quick recovery the Brexiteers anticipate, then you will need
to explain how any short-term under-performance is to be handled. Will you restrict drawings, have a cash call, or borrow more as needed? This will prove to be the right thing to do if there is a quick recovery, but where is the line in the sand before you will react? Set a date or else the line will always move. If you cross the line, have a plan and implement it quickly and consistently.

If you believe the anticipated short-term adverse effect will place a material burden on you, then you need to be planning and getting ready to react now.

For many management teams the next 18 to 24 months will be very different. How they handle this period will tell on the longer term. Some will have the skills and experiences to cope, but others will not and will need the help of trusted advisers. We are seeing a move by some to bring in 'non exec' advisers who can help to formulate strategic thinking and, as necessary, implement the tactical actions that may be needed.

There has never been a
more important time for
firms to have a clear vision,
set out by management and communicated to fellow partners, staff, and clients. Thought leadership begins
at home and if you have that clarity inside your firm then you can stand out from others.

Steve Billot is strategic consultant at Symphony Legal @symphony_legal