MinterEllison is a household name in law, but over the last few years this international legal firm has spread its wings to expand into non-legal consulting work.
Jonathan Jackson speaks with Chief Client Officer Lawrence Owen to discuss the importance of business development in the modern legal landscape and how MinterEllison is leading the way.
If there is one thing to be said about MinterEllison, it is that this is a company refusing to stand still. Two years ago, the firm reported annual sales increase of 6.5% to $456 million in what was then a flat market. The goal then was to grow revenue to $600 million by 2020 and become the number one law firm by revenue.
MinterEllison is well on track: the firm released its annual report for the 2016-17 financial year, revealing increased revenues – $476 million in FY17 up from $456 million in FY16 – a record year.
With CEO Tony Harrington departing 30 June, MinterEllison is predicting it will breach $500 million in revenue this financial year. The growth is due, in part, to the firm’s expansion beyond legal services which has formed a crucial part of MinterEllison’s Business Advisory – 2020 strategy. The transition began by dropping the word ‘lawyers’ from its moniker and was followed by the acquisition of specialist businesses and personnel across a range of industries including IT, remuneration practices and tax among several other verticals.
In 2016, MinterEllison added Board and Executive Remuneration (BER) consulting services to complement the firm’s legal services in Human Resources and Industrial Relations (HR&IR), M&A, Corporate and Tax to deliver efficient, fully integrated solutions for clients.
More recently, the firm acquired top tier boutique technology consulting firm ITNewcom, with a twenty-year track record in delivering outcomes through strategic sourcing initiatives, innovative technology strategy, complex transition management, specialised benchmarking, and high-value supplier management. MinterEllison’s move into corporate advisory is on trend as many law firms have upped the ante on their marketing capabilities and technology.
MinterEllison has defined itself by taking a more strategic and broader approach to professional services by introducing former IBM “What we have tried to do is build up the “muscle” and hire more experienced people for senior roles within our CMG Team” man Lawrence Owen to oversee the transformation of the firm’s Business Development function, now called Clients and Market Growth (CMG) “There was no doubt I was brought in to transform the CMG function.” Lawrence says.
“What we have tried to do is build up the “muscle” and hire more experienced people for senior roles within our CMG Team. We’ve also made the connection with the business, that together, we are jointly responsible for the CMG efforts of the firm.”
Lawrence was a Consulting Partner at PwC, spent time with IBM in Hong Kong and China and was looking for a new challenge He saw MinterEllison as a place where he could apply more of a ‘big four’ approach to business development; big enough to bring in interesting work, but small enough to directly see the effects.
He restructured the existing Business Development and Marketing team, aligning the resources with the business, whilst retaining a central core of marketing, proposals and accounts experts with the seniority to have a positive impact in their roles. With access to senior partners, Lawrence has also worked closely with the senior team to see this big four approach to CMG come to fruition.
“Many of the people we have brought into the business have a Big Four background, and have experience in government, or specific industry advisory expertise. So we have a broad base skills to cater to particular industry pitches,” says Lawrence of MinterEllison’s CMG expansion.
This transition has occurred because as Thomson Reuter’s 2018 State of the Legal Market states, ‘demand for legal services has stagnated, creating a struggle for firms to earn new business and stay profitable. To maintain profitability, firms typically take one of two avenues. They either take a traditional route, increasing rates and slashing expenses, or they break away from the traditional and invest more heavily in business development strategies’.
For Lawrence’s CMG team, this has meant implementing a key strategy that sees advisors spend time not only understanding the industries they are now consulting to, but also the businesses with whom they are working so that advice can become more commercially relevant.
“A key CMG strategy for us is to understand the needs of a business so we can better execute on those requirements,” Lawrence says. “If we are approaching a client that is acquiring a mining asset or property, we want to understand how that asset fits into the overarching business strategy.
Once we have that understanding, we can tailor our advice to be more relevant and suggest different ways of executing. It would be the same with M&A. We would look to understand the merger and what the client is trying to achieve, so we can build in the business outcomes.” There are three key phases to working with clients. The first, Lawrence says, is to understand exactly what the client is looking for.
Then it’s a case of matching that business need up with the skills and the capability of the firm. Finally, it is ensuring that MinterEllison communicates that alignment in the most compelling and concise way. Another part of MinterEllison’s repositioning is building up strong relationships with its existing client base, understanding the work they’ve done for them in the past, understanding their strategy and going to them proactively and asking about how to help them with an issue or suggesting a future deal.
For instance they may advise on new legislation that has just gone through the UK, or been in the US for a couple of years and is coming to Australia. “We can go to a client and say, ‘How about we start getting you ready for this change’.” Lawrence is quick to point out that MinterEllison’s CMG growth has been a team effort: the result of partners, lawyers and CMG staff working together to form a best practice business development function.
“Everybody is focused on understanding our clients, being responsive and communicating ,” Owen says. “Having dedicated partners in a client relationship role allows our people to get to know the business they are advising and also the people working in these businesses, and what’s important to them.”
“Clients appreciate the approach we take.” What also stands out is the proactive approach MinterEllison takes to its client management. Advisory isn’t just about reacting to situations when a client needs a solution; it is about being proactive in finding solutions to problems that may arise or suggesting ways to conduct better business. “We make sure we have a plan when we go to see our clients.
Too many relationships in the advisory industry are about fees, but we form on-going relationships by keeping in constant touch, having a plan, understanding how we can help and by creating a continuous communication environment where everybody benefits.”
Lawrence says clients are looking for consistency in advice, responsiveness in service, flexibility and innovation. “My job is to make those qualities shine through in the communication that partners are having with clients. We try to strip away some of the legalese inherent in many law firms communication and expose the “personality” of the firm and its partners.
This is how you build close relationships with people. “The market is moving away from the smartest lawyer getting the business and moving towards lawyers that understand a business and the people within it. The key to success in this is to listen to your clients, understand their industry and be driven by their needs. Essentially, doing the best thing for clients is the best thing you can do for you and your own business.” For law firms, in particular MinterEllison, BD is a lot more connected than it once was.
It is about building relationships, having something insightful and intelligent to say and bringing a wider range of skills, process automation and increasing artificial intelligence into the deal. “Increasingly our pitches are not about legal issues, but about how we help clients efficiently deliver against their business opportunities.”
The company differentiated itself from the many law firms that were crowding the industry and opened up other markets. Its opportunities are bigger and it is breaking the mould as a business with not just a law function, but also a full suite of professional advisory services. MinterEllison now has its eye on expanding further into different industries and increasing its non-legal services.
It is a major part of the 2020 strategy as it looks to weather industry pressures and increasing competition, whilst continuing to build on its record-breaking revenue growth.BFM