Thinking five years ahead

Kennedys is becoming known as an innovator. So how does it achieve that? Rosie LeGros, Director of Business Development, talks to Neasa MacErlean.

Kennedys, the international law firm, has carried out three mergers in the last two years, opened 16 offices in 12 new countries and added 73 partners — but many marketers will be most impressed by an activity not on that list. “I’ve never experienced a door-opener like it,” says Rosie LeGros. “It’s changing the brand and the reputation of the firm. The brand has moved from being seen as traditional to being recognised as an innovator.”

What she is talking about here is a marketing-led initiative regarding the core of its insurance litigation defence service, KLAiM. A specialist in insurance, Kennedys used to offer this service by selling the individual products within it to clients. But, appreciating the advances of AI, Kennedys “branded the products into one cohesive offering and gave the lawyers the tools [videos and other marketing aids] to sell the new approach.” The online, automated system assists in effective early settlement (thus reducing legal fees) and takes cases that need to be continued through a low-cost pathway. “What we essentially did is develop an approach to market which focused on selling a different philosophy and way of working, rather than trying to sell tech.”

Continuing the story, LeGros says: “It resulted in us getting less income in some areas but we embedded ourselves as trusted advisers and positioned ourselves for the complex work – when clients really need us. We’ve put the client first and looked at how we can help them achieve their goals of reducing legal spend, being more efficient and delivering better outcomes.” This summer the firm launches the fourth generation of the service. “It’s a different way to go to market,” says LeGros, who adds that major businesses outside the Kennedys client list have approached the firm to use this service. “Tech and AI will be an enormous opportunity and a disruption to the legal sector,” she adds. “That’s why we’ve been embracing them.”

But, as well as making innovation part of the brand, LeGros and her 30-strong team are working hard with their R&D team to make it part of the culture. An ‘Ideas Lab’ was launched by the R&D team last summer, with partners agreeing to take the top three ideas submitted to the lab from the firm’s 1,900 personnel and to take them to prototype. “We don’t care if some fail, in fact we expect some ideas to,” says LeGros. “Some of them will succeed though and the important thing is that we are constantly thinking of new ideas and trying to do things differently.”

Making the firm truly innovative requires softer processes with its 265 partners and the staff, as well as the launch of new procedures and templates. The BD/Marketing group spends a lot of time encouraging and informally coaching its in-house clientele — and some of this is in the form of tough love. Talking of the global client account programme, LeGros says: “We focus on making sure that all feedback goes back to the client team. And we interview the clients personally.” An 81 per cent win rate on ‘pursuits’ (the Kennedys name for pitches) has been helped, says LeGros, by a more realistic but insightful understanding of client desires and needs and a robust bid/no bid process. “We have a lot more grown-up conversations with our colleagues about the type of work we go for. We’ve matured the pursuits function.”

And LeGros’s team — from its bases in the UK, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia and the US — has also worked to educate fee-earners about what it is exactly that BD/Marketing does for a living. “I spend a lot of time ensuring my department is able to utilise their professional skillset and not be bogged down with admin like creating PowerPoints, creating team sheets, booking dinners and travel tickets, etc,” says LeGros. “I have a big focus on migrating that to our excellent document production unit and secretaries.”

In a firm growing as fast as Kennedys, it is probably all the more important that BD/Marketing makes clear its boundaries to new offices and recruits. The merger with the US firm Carrol McNulty & Kull in June 2017 brought in about 100 lawyers. Global growth in turnover for Kennedys is expected to rise over 30 per cent in 2018/19 (year ending 30 April), to take it to about £200m. It is operating from 51 offices, of which 16 are in associate firms.

Making sure that the BD&M team is not bogged down with churning documents and admin for partners leaves them free to work on trickier issues like how to get the best out of social media. LeGros is sure of the benefits of much social media — and gives an astonishing example of a LinkedIn post from a new partner about joining Kennedys which received 36,000 views (72 times more than the number of direct contacts the partner had). “However good your corporate website, you always get more engagement with the personal approach – people want to engage with people more than a corporate account,” says LeGros. New developments in this area include the relaunching of the Kennedys website in May 2018 and the probable launch of a firm account with Instagram sometime this year. “That would give an insight into the Kennedys world,” says LeGros. “It would be useful for recruitment but also for the brand, giving clients an insight into what it’s like to be a part of this incredible global network – Kennedys.”

The BD&M team concentrates on four main functions — Clients and markets; Pursuits; Marketing & communications; and Client Development Systems. Running this as a global operation is made easier by the firm being so focused on insurance. On top of that, LeGros makes sure that her team work in the front-line alongside fee-earners. “It’s important for the BD team to get close to clients,” she says. “I ensure I am visible to clients and I interview them.” She also positions herself and her team close to the leaders of the firm. “There will be more BD people in the boardroom and involved in strategic decisions about the direction of the firm,” she predicts for the professional services sector overall.

She also aims to work shoulder to shoulder with the IT suppliers. Making the Client Relationship Management system work in real-time (giving a dynamic scoring, for instance, on the level of client interaction) is one example of how the BD team and the rest of the firm are given live, accurate feedback on what clients want. They are the only UK law firm to do this with InterAction. There are other areas she wants to make progress on. “Tech suppliers have a wealth of data which we could mine to predict client behaviour in a more automated way,” she suggests. “Tech providers need to step up and start trending and analysing this incredible data set.”

LeGros is someone who is pushing to ensure that technology is used to its full potential. And it is no surprise to hear her say: “BD teams need to be acting as agents for change in organisations. We need to be thinking five years ahead.”