DLA PHOTO

DLA Piper boosts trainee salaries to £77k, as pay rises continue

DLA Piper has upped the salaries of its trainees and newly qualified (NQ) solicitors, as City law firms continue to chuck extra cash at their rookie ranks.

The global titan has confirmed that first years will now receive a salary of £45,000, up 2% from £44,000, while those in year two of their TCs will earn £50,000, again a rise of £1,000 or 2%. There’s extra cash for DLA’s NQs, too. The firm’s new associates will now receive £77,000, an extra £2,000 or 3%, putting them on the same remuneration levels as their peers at Baker McKenzie and Norton Rose Fulbright.

The firm, which offers around 70 training contracts each year, has also bumped pay across its offices outside London. First year trainees in the English regions and Scotland now earn £28,000, while those a year ahead will now receive a salary of £31,000 — an extra £1,000 across the board. Regional and Scottish NQ pay now sits at £44,000, up from a previous figure of £42,000.

News of the uplifts come just weeks after it emerged that DLA Piper had ditched a policy which ensured its London and regional trainees were paid the same while completing secondments overseas. Speaking at the time, a spokesperson for the firm said the “adjustment to the secondment policy for our UK regional offices” was part of a “new international graduate programme”.

A host of City firms have confirmed salary rises in recent weeks. A full breakdown of what they pay (and much, much more) can be found on the 2018 edition of our Firms Most List.

AR PHOTO

6 insights on being an agile advisor

If you or your firm are engaged in advisory services, staying relevant to clients by being adaptable and agile should be the key focus for high performing advisors.

1. Stop wasting time on coffee meetings during the sales process

It’s tempting to talk to anyone who’s interested in your services, but focusing on ‘quality rather than quantity’ can prevent days of wasted time each month. Russell Cummings, business advisor from Shifft Consulting recommends:

  • Pre-qualifying leads with a 20-minute call to understand their barriers.
  • Discover if they’re the type of client you want to work with and if you can provide the value they are seeking.
  • Following up successful calls with an email covering your background, evidence of capability and setting up a one-hour meeting (only if required) to gain verbal agreement.
  • Discussing price, value, deliverables and time commitments at the meeting to avoid writing ‘cold’ proposals.
  • Only at this point send a document or email confirming the next steps to doing business together.

2. Build capacity for success

There are many ways you can build capacity for greater leverage, from simply arming yourself with the right tools, to engaging a virtual or executive assistant. Whilst a virtual or executive assistant is a great idea, most don’t understand the economics – if you cannot generate at least twice your executive assistant’s cost in additional fees, then you can’t justify one.

If having an executive assistant is right for you, make sure they do value-added tasks, not just secretarial work – researching prospects and clients, running your contact program, writing blog articles and social posts, creating presentations and client onboarding will all work towards creation of additional revenue.

At a more fundamental level, build yourself a high-performance toolkit for client meetings. Consider what you need in a toolkit if you’re out on the road; tablet, pens for flipcharts, adapters for presentations, printed templates and so on. If you’re running most of your meetings internally, ensure the meeting rooms help you facilitate – use walls that also act as a whiteboard or an interactive screen to capture notes.

Can you log client actions and strategies throughout the meeting in your software? An agile advisor leaves workshops with very little work to do or responses to write. Do you use meeting software such as Zoom with clients?

What other software would be in your high-performance toolkit to allow you to work seamlessly from anywhere in the world to solve any issue? Embrace online coaching to create greater leverage.

3. Facilitate rather than consult

It’s rare to get through a client meeting without straying from the agenda to discuss a ‘hot’ issue. A great facilitator has the confidence to tackle these left-field issues ‘head-on’ by drawing on structured tools and techniques. What’s the key to be a great facilitator in a one-on-one meeting or group workshop?

  • Preparation and planning: Ensure you invest time to prepare well regardless of whether in a larger workshop or one-on-one meeting, interview key stakeholders prior if applicable, note timings on workshop materials and review historic client notes.
  • Orientation: focus on client outcomes in the time available, it’s not about you.
  • Framing: set a clear purpose at the outset, outline the agenda, make sure pre-reading is done, set expectations of roles in the meeting.
  • Structure: ensure your message gets through with the EAS (Expose, Activity, Summary) technique. You could also use ‘Now, Where, How’ to structure your workshops.
  • Delivery: adapt to the time allocated and use a mix of mediums (whiteboard, flip chart, PowerPoint presentation, group work) to keep energy levels high.
  • Interaction: gather regular feedback and ask open-ended questions throughout the workshops, 70 percent of the time spent should be attendees doing the talking or in exercises.
  • Summary and next steps: create a good outline of key points, be clear on the next steps and who does what. Keep the momentum going by booking the next meeting and setting expectations about topics to be covered.

4. Focus your model on achieving profitable growth

Keep your business advisory model focused on services leading to profitable growth, your model should be simple enough for clients to clearly understand the value you can deliver through your service offerings. Too often advisors over-complicate their models, attracting the wrong target market or slowing down sales cycles.

Once you have a clear model you can build your capability and capacity to deliver these offerings flawlessly. Having the capability to facilitate using a broad range of problem solving and strategy tools will save you time in preparation and ensure you can solve any client problem efficiently.

5. Put yourself in the right mindset for success

Probably the most important of all the tips to be a more agile advisor is to be self-aware about the capabilities you need for success, ensuring you’re continually staying ahead of the game in the understanding that best practice is about continuous improvement.

6. 80 percent online, 20 percent face-to-face

Client issues don’t appear conveniently and predictably ‘every second Tuesday of the month at 1pm until 3pm’ when you have a client review meeting. These issues can be random, often occurring a few times a week and then nothing for a month or two. Agile advisors need the ability to be just-in-time for clients, allowing them the flexibility to access the support, training and insights required to address their issues 24/7 in this fast-paced world.

Evolving your client contact cadence by embracing online coaching is key. High performers manage the expectations of clients so that 80 percent of contact is online via Zoom or other web-based meetings, coaching posts, viewing tools and completing online courses and only 20 percent face-to-face for re-setting of plans and work-shopping matters.

Inevitably there’ll be objections from some not wanting to move from the traditional face-to-face only model but point out that it’s going to be more expensive and ‘banking up’ issues and hoping to fix them in a 2-hour quarterly catch up is not feasible. Plant the seed of fixing issues between meetings, keeping up momentum and using face-to-face as an opportunity to reset plans.

Birketts PHOTO

Intestacy and DNA testing of children on the death of a father

The decision of the High Court following the death of Colin Wilson Birtles (who died leaving two daughters and without a will) highlights the importance of having a will.

In this case, the first daughter obtained a Grant of Representation so that they could administer the estate of their father. The second daughter applied to the court for an order to have the Grant set aside and sought a declaration that the first daughter was not Mr Birtles’ biological daughter (the first daughter would therefore not be entitled to administer the estate or receive anything from Mr Birtles’ estate under the rules of intestacy).

The first daughter argued that her mother and Mr Birtles were married at the date she was born and that Mr Birtles was named on her birth certificate; therefore “there was a common law presumption that [Mr Birtles] was the [daughter’s] father, rebuttable on the balance of probabilities.”

The court decided in the circumstances of the case that the first daughter should be compelled to give a saliva sample for the purposes of a DNA test. If the first daughter refused, the court said that it would draw adverse inferences against her.

In this case both of the daughters were adults, but what if there was doubt as to paternity (and therefore right to inherit on the death of a father) and one or more of the children had been a minor? As second families become more commonplace there is a likelihood of this happening more often. A minor child cannot consent to a DNA test and it can be imagined that a child’s mother may not wish to consent especially if there is a chance that the paternity of the child is in doubt.

If the person with parental responsibility of a minor child refuses to consent to their child having a DNA test then an order of the court may be sought allowing a sample to be taken “if the court considers that it would be in [the child’s] best interests”.

In the case of Mr Birtles, the court considered submissions on the human rights implications of ordering the test, particularly the right to respect for family and private life. The judge balanced this against the “public interest in the accurate resolution of inheritance disputes” and considered that ordering a DNA test would be proportionate in the circumstances.

The judge also considered the emotional toil that a negative DNA result might have but held that upset had already been caused by the dispute and the DNA testing would not compound this unnecessarily.

It cannot be known what Mr Birtles would have wanted in the case that one of his daughters had turned out not to be his biological child. It is very possible that he would have wanted both daughters to be treated equally; he had never challenged either daughter’s paternity.

All of the upset and costs involved in the sad case of Mr Birtles and his daughters (and many other similar cases which do not end up in the court) can be avoided where a carefully prepared will is in place. Don’t leave it to chance; when emotions are high following a death; cracks can appear in even the most seemingly amicable family relationships.

The content of this article is for general information only. For further advice, please contact Ruth Pyatt or another member of Birketts’ Private Client Advisory Team.

LF PHOTO

Is outside ownership of law firms picking up steam?

One of the least interesting ways to end a conversation about legal innovation is also one of the most frequent. It goes something like this: “That change would require amendments to professional regulations.” Often, the regulation being discussed is the ban on nonlawyer ownership of law firms.

It’s a good way to end a conversation because, as Yale Law School professor John Morley puts it, it is “astonishing how little happens” on the issue of nonlawyer ownership in the United States.

But things are happening that are finally worth talking about. The State Bar of California voted in July to form a task force to study, among other things, allowing outside investors in law firms. Meanwhile, litigation finance giant Burford Capital Ltd. recently began discussing with law firms a financial structure that the company says would allow investors to own portions of today’s firms, with no regulatory changes required.

Commenting on the California task force, legal marketing executive Heather Morse asked if the news meant that a “game changer” for the law was “finally here.” The answer to that question is a resounding no. The task force won’t finish its work until 2020, so nothing has arrived yet. But the fact that a state bar association is studying the issue has, at least, generated a real discussion about an often taboo topic for the first time since 2016.

Legal innovators hope California’s task force comes to a much different conclusion than the efforts in 2016 of the American Bar Association’s Commission on the Future of Legal Services. That commission followed shortly on the heels of the ABA House of Delegates issuing a stamp of approval for professional Rule 5.4—the official ban on outside investors in law firms. A March resolution that year adopted “model regulatory objectives for the provision of legal services,” and noted that “nothing in this resolution abrogates in any manner existing ABA policy prohibiting nonlawyer ownership of law firms.”

Some of the harshest critics of the commission’s work exploring the concept were bar associations themselves. State bar leaders from Illinois, Missouri, New York, New Jersey and Texas wrote to oppose the idea of nonlawyer ownership.

“There is no need for non-attorneys to acquire ownership interests in firms, or any evidence that firms are in danger of losing access to complementary professional services if an ownership interest is not made available,” wrote Miles Winder III, then-president of the New Jersey State Bar Association. “The NJSBA urges the commission to not rehash settled concepts.”

William Henderson, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law who wrote a study that spurred California’s task force, says the issue is anything but settled. The rise of technology has put law firms on an uneven plane with new companies that are looking to enter the legal services market. Without the ability to co-invest in law firms, he says, people with the types of skills needed for today’s market—such as technologists, data analysts and others—will not be attracted to law firms.

“What we have is consumer protection for those who can afford legal services, but the ethics rules really limit the ones who can enter the market,” Henderson says.

Those ethics rules won’t be amended without a fight. Jordan Furlong, a consultant on the legal business based in Canada, points out that no bar association has voluntarily vanquished the prohibition on outside owners in law firms. In both Australia and the U.K., direct government intervention was the basis for allowing so-called “alternative business structures.”

Still, recent reforms to California’s bar association may work in reformists’ favour. Last year, the State Bar of California split into two parts: one contains the voluntary trade association activities, while another focuses on regulation and discipline.

That separation, along with a rule that put six nonlawyers on the bar’s 13-member board, limits what legal consultant Mark Cohen says is an incentive for bar associations to bow to pressure from their members to protect lawyers’ revenue streams.

As evidence of this incentive, Cohen points to a doomed pilot program, ABA Law Connect, that used Rocket Lawyer’s technology to provide consumers access to lawyers for as little as $4.95. The pilot was scrapped in early 2016 after bar leaders from Illinois, Pennsylvania and elsewhere wrote a letter decrying the program for what they perceived as a “blue-plate-special mentality.”

“The ABA Law Connect program is not in the best interest of the public, the legal profession or small businesses that operate in our states,” the bar leaders wrote.

Cohen disagrees.

“This is not really about protecting the public. How can they say that when roughly 85 percent of Americans who need legal services can’t afford them at the present rates?” he says. “I think this is just lawyer protectionism.”

Cohen and others believe that nonlawyer ownership in law firms would allow them to harness increasingly important technologies and professional skills to provide new and less-expensive types of legal services.

One example of that is the U.K.’s Gateley plc, one of the few law firms to list its shares publicly following bar regulation reform. The firm increased last year its number of employees by 8.8 percent, to 757 people, many of whom the firm’s chairman, Nigel Payne, says were drawn to the firm by the opportunity to own equity. More than 55 percent of the employees participate in a stock-option program, Gateley said in its most recent annual report in July.

“Being able to offer something different as an employer has helped us not only retain staff since the IPO, but also attract a wide pool of new talent,” Gateley wrote.

For those who are not inclined to wait out a decision from the California bar—or who operate elsewhere in the United States—there may be a near-term way to offer something different to employees.

Burford Capital, the litigation financier that wrote in support of the ABA’s 2016 commission on nonlawyer ownership, says it can finance new ventures that would provide corporate-like equity in today’s law firms. Burford hasn’t publicly shared all the specifics of the plan, but its co-founder, Jonathan Molot, who is also a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, says it would involve spinning off the nonlegal functions of a law firm into a separate company. That company would receive investment from Burford or others. The firm’s partners would also be investors, allowing them to own a piece of what they helped build long after they stop billing hours.

“I think liberalising the ethics rules is a good idea,” Molot says. “But, that being said, because you’re not looking to move the entire profit center of a law firm into a permanent structure, only a slice of it, I think that can all be done now without any change.”

Change or not, it is a good time for talk.

TP PHOTO

5 principles that set apart top-performing advisory firms

Advisory firms represent $5 trillion in assets under management, and the independent model continues to win considerable market share. According to Schwab Advisor Services’ 2018 RIA Benchmarking Study, for firms with over $250 million in assets, total assets under management (AUM) grew 16.2% at the median year over year, revenue growth increased from 3.6% in 2016 to 11.9% in 2017 and, for the first time, average assets per client crossed the $2 million mark. In addition, the median firm recorded a five-year AUM compound annual growth rate of 10.9% — an enviable growth rate for any business.

As remarkable as that growth is, some firms are growing at an even greater rate — the top 20% of firms have a five-year AUM CAGR of 16%, meaning they have more than doubled in size in a five-year period.

The outperformance of these firms is driven by their innovative mindset and ability to effectively prioritize their business needs. As these firms seek new ways to operate their businesses, they focus on five guiding principles.

While all firms demonstrate growth, some firms achieve superior results.

1. Effective planning and execution are a leading indicator of success

Outperforming firms engage in strategic planning and as they grow, they are more likely to have a written strategic plan — 69% of firms with $1 billion or more in AUM have a written strategic plan compared with 51% of firms with $250 to $500 million in AUM. In addition, outperforming firms focus on and execute their strategic plans. More than simply keeping a list of annual objectives, these firms’ leaders articulate a vision for what they want to look like in the future, which allows them to:

• Set direction and gain alignment across the firm.
• Drive action on issues that matter.
• Choose among initiatives that compete for firm resources.

2. Value is defined through your clients’ eyes

Outperforming firms understand that the client’s perception about his or her interaction with a firm determines whether that experience is valuable. That’s why outperforming firms are very clear about who their ideal clients are. They identify what those clients really want and design an experience to meet or exceed those needs. This allows advisers more time to establish trust and build sustaining relationships, which can also lead to referrals.

Firms with a documented ideal client persona and a client value proposition earn significantly more than those without those strategies.

In addition, many firms differentiate by offering value-added services for their ideal clients. According to Schwab’s Spring 2017 Independent Advisor Outlook Study, 41% of firms see services beyond investment advice and wealth management – such as charitable, tax and health care planning – as key differentiators.

3. Operational excellence creates greater capacity for clients

Efficient advisory firms serve more clients representing greater AUM, yet they spend less time per relationship. These firms leverage technology, workflows and training to create consistent ways of working across the business to achieve operational excellence. According to Schwab’s 2018 RIA Benchmarking Study, 83% of these firms integrate one or more data sources or systems with their CRM, and 60% of firms use standardized workflows within their CRM.

Operational excellence also involves a strong culture of compliance, which is critical to protecting client trust. Ninety percent of firms emphasize employee training related to cybersecurity initiatives, and many have programs that increase client awareness and education about cybersecurity.

4. Your reputation is your brand

In 2017, growth in assets from new clients for fastest-growing firms totalled 9.1% – two times more than all other firms.

Fastest-Growing Firms’ Key Metrics

Fastest-growing firms All other firms Multiple
5-year net organic growth CAGR 15.4% 3.9% 3.9x
Net organic growth in 2017 $67 million $25 million 2.7x
Number of new clients in 2017 36 19 1.9x
Assets from new clients in 2017 $48 million $24 million 2x
Growth in assets from new clients in 2017 9.1% 4.2% 2.2x

For top growers, existing client referrals and marketing contributed equally to new client asset growth, which indicates a more robust growth strategy that incorporates a broad set of tactics.

These firms extend their brand by word of mouth and other tactics, including networking, community involvement, social media, email, webinars and speaking engagements. They consistently tell their stories through multiple channels and effectively communicate their value propositions in their target markets.

5. People are your most important asset

Virtually nothing of any importance can be accomplished without incredible talent. With 73% of firms planning to hire in the next 12 months, advisers face tough competition. Firms must protect their greatest assets by creating a cycle of opportunity. Top-performing firms effectively incentivize quality talent with attractive compensation packages including salary and benefits. These firms also develop their talent and reward them with long-term opportunities. Often, they create a clear path to equity ownership, encouraging a broader set of individuals to adopt an owner’s mentality and influence firm growth.

Advice PHOTO

What makes an outstanding advice firm?

Another year, another sterling display of excellence at the Money Marketing Awards.

Having been invited to take part in the judging process for the prestigious Financial Adviser of the Year award, I’ve spent a number of hours pondering the question, what are the traits of an outstanding advisory firm?

Here are four areas the more successful firms that entered the award commonly excelled in.

Their customers are at the heart of all they do

Customer-centric culture isn’t just a buzzword for these firms, it is firmly embedded throughout their processes, systems and operations. Particularly clear is the commitment to the principles of treating customers fairly, which many have firmly embedded within their culture and consistently demonstrate that its integration goes beyond their advice and controls by recruiting staff whose behaviours and ethos are culturally aligned.

Overall, proposition development is beginning to embrace the shift in working trends and customer’s information needs. Firms are investing in apps and online portals are becoming more prevalent as customers are increasingly expecting online, 24/7 access to their financial lives.

Firms who put their customers at the heart of all their activities have a clearly defined target market, which is regularly revisited to ensure the business activities are continually aligned to their identified needs and objectives. This customer research also shapes their propositions, with new services introduced to meet specified needs, and others discounted (e.g. automated advice) where there is clear rationale, supported by customer feedback, that it is not appropriate for their target market.

Staff development is a business priority

The most successful advisory firms we’ve seen during this process are those who invest in all members of staff, not just advisers, with clearly defined career paths that play to the strengths and objectives of the individual. They don’t perform ‘badge collecting’ and not all advisers hold level six qualifications if this isn’t aligned to the needs of their customers. That said, all of the firms recognise the importance of ensuring staff maintain their knowledge and skills through continuing CPD and have developed innovative solutions to ensure it is completed and adds value to them – not CPD for CPD’s sake.

Recruitment of the next generation of advisers is often a common theme for many of these firms, with many long-listed firms operating graduate recruitment schemes or offering apprenticeships. Not only does this provide firms with an additional pool of talented and enthusiastic resource, it also helps the wider industry by raising the profile of the profession as an attractive career for the next generation.

Associated with staff development, another stand-out area was either relocation to new offices or investment designed to develop the existing ones. Designing the working environment to be more inviting, effective and efficient increases staff engagement and helps deliver appropriate customer outcomes. From the submission, it was clear that many firms underestimated the value that such an investment delivers for both colleagues and customers alike.

They go beyond ‘advice’ to help educate their customers and for the benefit of wider society

Many of the successful submissions I’ve reviewed have a stream of activity dedicated to supporting their customers’ financial lives and general awareness, beyond the scope of their advice services. In an increasingly digital world this often includes blogs, social media and videos to deliver educational content designed to help customers better understand and manage their broader financial lives. Many are also involved in delivering seminars within the local community to improve financial knowledge and improve the visibility and understanding of the value of financial advice.

As in many other businesses, charitable giving and fundraising activities form part of firms’ CSR programmes, but one key difference within the advisory industry is the volume of firms actively working to for the benefit of the wider industry or protect against potential consumer harm, whether that’s engaging with regulators or politicians on key issues or engaging in pro-bono or voluntary support within the industry itself (for example, Operation Chive).

They are aligned to the FCA’s outcomes focus

As we’ve seen the regulator move from a rules-based approach to one that is focussed on abiding by the right principles and delivering the right outcomes, the most successful firms are those that have fully adopted this approach and reject the notion of paying lip-service to regulatory outcomes.

Submissions for this year’s awards have highlighted firms’ regular programmes of due diligence on their proposition and the panels and providers they use, with processes in place to critically assess the robustness of systems and controls. As well as creating discrete teams of in-house experts to undertake such reviews, many firms bring in external third parties to provide an independent and objective view to challenge their approach and to get insight into best industry practice observed elsewhere.

All of these measures help ensure the firm’s activities are consistently aligned to FCA expectations and that the right outcomes are being delivered.

A concept the regulator has been promoting recently, particularly in its communications, is around the fair treatment of vulnerable customers. Specifically embedding such a process that provides freedom within a framework, where staff are provided with the knowledge and autonomy to make appropriate adaptations to accommodate the customer’s individual circumstances, while still upholding the spirit of the regulations. Firms that have successfully implemented this approach are reaping the benefits of greater customer satisfaction, positive outcomes and improved staff relations and this came through in a number of the submissions.

Obviously, these aren’t the only factors that make an advisory firm successful but hopefully by analysing the traits common to those who appear on industry award shortlists, other industry participants can gain some insight into best practice and a new perspective on delivering the right outcomes and meeting regulatory expectations.