Video interview with Rob Booth, The Crown Estate General Counsel and Company Secretary

In this video interview Lisa Hart Shepherd, Acritas CEO speaks with Rob Booth, The Crown Estate General Counsel and Company Secretary to discuss innovation, alternative legal providers, individual and team stellar performance.

 

Connect with Lisa Hart Shepherd and Rob Booth on LinkedIn

Visit The Crown Estate’s website

Q1. [00:19] Have you seen your strategic priorities change in the last year and if so how?

Rob- ‘Well I think the interesting thing for us is that they haven't really and in some senses that's probably because of the strategic element of what we do is pointed at quite a long-term time horizon we talk about sustainable growth, sustainable competitive advantage as a team. What we have had to do though is react to lots of little bits and pieces coming in from the sides, so being nimble in delivering it, it’s become more and more important as time goes on.’

Q2. [00:48] What does this mean for the legal function as a whole, thinking both internally and in relation to your external providers?

Rob - ‘Yes, so that nimbleness, that agility definitely sits to both sides. I mean interestingly we actually measure our panels performance using exactly the same value equation that I use for my own team, so there's an immediacy of the way that those two things relate to each other so very much a seamless reaction to dealing with those bumps in the road, shifts in direction but with that overall strategic oversight that we need to have at the same time.’

Q3. [01:22] You have been cited many times in our research from partners in law firms as exhibiting best practice when it comes to managing the Crown Estate panel, so tell us about your guiding principles…

Rob - ‘Well, I think if there's one thing that I would look to it's the concept and we've been trying to build this over a period of time that if you can find clarity and twin it with transparency actually you can create confidence in the way that your panel operates so really looking into what you can download and how you can feedback, doing it as expensively as possible and doing it in repeatable terms through a structure has actually been really valuable to us. But I also think that people who you work with and who you partner with value being confident not arrogant, it's not about ego but knowing that they're doing the right thing in alignment with their client or customer. I think it can make a difference to how they perceive the contribution that they make as part of that.’

Lisa – ‘That's certainly something we've seen is consistent across those collaborative partnerships is that feeling of trust openness, respect, it sounds like that's the same kind of approach.’

Rob – ‘Yes, and you could generalize and say that lots of people choose to run their panels as a slightly abusive relationship, I just don’t think it gets the best out of people and it doesn't take that much to think ahead and to be structured, to think about how you talk about strategy, how you talk about strategic risk, how you work with your partners to create something in the longer term and I think it's a lot of effort but it throws out huge amounts of value to the relationship.’

Q4. [02:55] Tell us what you look for in terms of the qualities of the individuals and teams that you work with on the outside and inside? What does exceptional look like to you?

Rob- ‘So this is an interesting one for me and we because of the nature of us as an organization use a vast range of different specialist apps I mean we fundamentally a property organization but we do some constitutional or corporate things that well either any company would do or no other company in the whole of the universe does, so we're really looking for diversity of thought. I'm a massive fan of diverse thinkers people who bring whatever you want to call it sort of thought dynamics or heuristics, different ways of thinking about your problems and actually I value that above anything, when that comes together, how teams work there's a job to work those diverse thought processes together to create something that's super additive but there is also a sense of then looking at how our value equation works, looking at alignment and if you're summarizing it a combination of diversity of thought and elegance of delivery with that real knowledge embedded those are the stars they are the people who really shift competitive advantage for us in the way that they advise us.’

Q5. [04:08] What can firms do in terms of providing the right support pillars for their people to perform to these high standards and where do you see firms sometimes getting it wrong?

Rob – ‘So this is tricky one and in some senses at the granular level, firm by firm it can be quite difficult to draw generalizations about that but if you look at it from the top I always think that firms that really get it right appreciate that there are a whole series of arbitrages between them and their clients. This is not a binary by sale it's a relationship where both sides have all sorts of untapped value that they can bring to that relationship in order to make it flourish, the people who do it really well get that, they map their arbitrages, they think about how the relationship ought to work they think about knowledge transfer rather than just binary transactional you have money and that have capacity and expertise and I think that should really focus on that I think it's a great thing for them to do. I think the other defining piece though is you can really tell the firms that have purpose and the firms that don’t, a firm that either deep down or overtly has a purpose will make all of its marginal decisions I think in the right way to deliver client value in the way that works and that makes a massive difference I think firms that don't invest in getting into purpose understanding how their hierarchy of culture behaviors all the little levers you can pull within an organization to be coherent or authentic. The firm's that get that right they do brilliantly and lots of firms don't quite get their own investing in that at the moment.

Lisa- ‘We certainly hear in our research that the reward systems can get in the way of that.

Rob – ‘Yes, I mean interestingly we've just been running a process with our panel firms in try to identify all of the different factors the different things that firms can do to effective like maximize client value delivery and where reward and recognition is a big part of that, not you don't pay your people enough or you pay them too much but what you draw out as being the attributes that need to be recognized and need to be rewarded it's a slightly different way of looking at things I think, but yeah there are lots of micro things that firms could do but I think at that top level you need that guiding principle that means that you're going to put a critical mass of activity into a way of doing things, that's powerful.’

Q6. [06:21] Do you use any of the new alternative providers and generally what’s your take on their model and their approach to legal service delivery?

Rob – ‘So we do. Predominantly use of it is a flexibility use so we use an organization called Flex who provide paralegal services and we’ve used those paralegal services across different functions within my team both in the administrative side and on the legal side and I think that model is wonderful it's a proto-lawyer so you're not just hiring somebody in for capacity you have an opportunity to develop and then influence them at the very beginning of their career in that investment back in I'm a massive fan of. We do also use Lawyers On Demand we have a good relationship with Obelisk, they're all providing something that law firms haven't traditionally sought to do which is flexibility and capacity in that way, outside of that we have a lot of healthy early-stage conversations I would probably say there are some good disruptive elements out there we've got some pilot technology stuff running and that's all super exciting actually, I think that's quite compelling. We talk internally about death of compromise so this sense that the alternate providers, the innovation that that drives in the law firms mean that as a client we don't have to compromise anymore we can get a bespoke value based solution for any of our problems if we look broadly across the industry and I think that's great for us and on the buyer side fantastic.’

Q7. [07:43] Are these new providers delivering better value, purely on a cost basis?

Rob – ‘So I think you have to be careful in how you buy but we describe ourselves as being a value-based buyer rather than absolute cost based buyer so undoubtedly the flexible providers are cheaper than seconding somebody in at cost that's just an immediate arbitrary cost, which is how people value themselves, it’s how firms value they're people so that does work but the quality flipside of that the alignment seamlessness within which they can work into your team the fact that we won't have done all of that capital investment that we do in the teams that we work with on a day to day partnering basis means that it's not a super-clean exchange but sometimes needs must and they are very good at getting you a person who's good enough at the right price at the right time which is valuable for any GC's toolkit I think, but they're not all of a like quality different people bring different things.’

Q8. [08:42] How important is innovation from your panel firms and can you share any of the exciting innovative practices you’ve adopted here?

Rob – ‘So I think it is important, I think it's overhyped and in some senses we talk about our firms always needing to be at the front end of progression so we want to see them in that front phalanx of organizations who are really thinking about how they deliver things, the sort of firework of innovation I've had a single idea and it's going to change the way things work, one that doesn't happen that often in the legal industry but two, we build long-term relationships so one innovative moment is not enough and therefore we do really push our firms to think innovatively about how they work with us and we've asked them to do that in the same hierarchy that we would use which is people first process second technology third. Process and technology are a means to an end and we do use them we have some good tech stuff going on with some of our providers some good things to explore about how things work platform based activity as well but the people who get the combination of those three things all working together are the people who I think push a service innovation that again from a GC’s perspective is exciting. People are thinking about how they deliver services in a different way and are using a blend of the tools that are available to them to do that. I have to say the one thing that really does make a difference is how they structure their teams. What probably doesn't feel that innovation now but probably did a few years ago, the idea of having your centralized almost COO of your team, how do you deal with your SME’s (small to medium enterprises), your technology, your project management, your risk assessment the weave of that together to create something that delivers greater than the sum of its parts is an innovation that we are getting better at but still haven't quite landed and from a client perspective is by far the most powerful thing. A technical widget can be helpful, they can, I'm a big believer in tech but it's the holistic bringing together of the innovative thinking that I think makes the big difference.’

Q9. [10:39] Looking ahead what do you think will be the major changes in the next few years or will it be business as usual?

Rob – ‘So I'm feeling quite excited about it actually and really for one reason which is having now been a GC for a little while I'm just getting the sense that we're moving from a world where people were doing what laws do well, the identification of problems into a so what do we do about that and I see a much healthier conversation between providers and buyers, partnerships being talked about  collaboration being quite a zeitgeist word, people are using it to mean collaboration rather than just a couple of firms are instructed at the same time that sense of how we use diversity of thought to develop the way that we're able to perform that excites me to. So actually I'm hopeful 2019 becomes the year of the solution after 2010 through to 2018 years of the problem and I think that's neat I think people are ready to have that conversation now so I am feeling excited about that because I know it will throw off all manner of new things that we'll be able to do in our ecosystem which is great.’

Q10. [11:49] What do you think a successful model might look like five years from now?

Rob – ‘Crystal ball, so we've attacked it from a slightly different angle in that we don't have a crystal ball so we don't know what the art of the possible might be in five years time but we have sought to identify a series of factors, things that we think are important that if firms get all of those things right but a critical mass of investment and time and intellect into developing them then the performance that comes from that will be exponentially higher than where we are now and some of that is pretty human stuff it's about how people are developed, it's about ensuring that privilege and bias plays no part in recruitment and watching as that flows up through the seniority of a firm it's about seamless working with SMEs having a purpose, such an enabler for performance the SNP500 will tell you that 17% of our performance comes from having a purpose, 17% is loads so those sorts of factors coming together I think create a new blend of activity in legal services that will predominate by that point in time, how long it takes us to get there maybe five years is about right but classically you underestimate the change of two and you overestimate five so we'll see where we get to but that I think is the big theme for that period of time law firms really thinking about their toolkit and really developing, blending technology in, optimizing their process, corporatizing what they do to some extent I think that'll be a real shift actually in performance at that timeline.’

 

 

Key takeaways

  • Align your panel strategies with your own and where you can measure panel performance in the same way you would internally, to create a seamless environment.
  • Firms that can support their people to understand the importance of the relationship and that enable knowledge transfer, are the firms that stand out.
  • Focus on a service innovation offering that is not just technology driven but is also people and process centric.
  • Alternative service providers are not just being used for flexibility and filling capacity, but are providing solutions to compromises legal departments once had to make
  • The legal market is becoming solutions focused rather than problem focused, using collaboration, partnerships and diversity of thought to develop the future.

 

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