Don’t avoid change, embrace it

UK-based law firm Lewis Silkin has restructured and rebranded itself in anticipation of the dramatic changes it foresees within the next decade. Chief Executive Ian Jeffery and three of the senior marketers talk to Neasa MacErlean.

“Some of the change of the next five to 10 years,” says Ian Jeffery, “could be distinctly greater than those we’ve seen over the last 10 to 15 years, especially because of AI.” Behind this sentence lies much of the strategy which saw the 62-partner practice unveil its new identity and structure in 2016. Deciding to “communicate a strong relevance to two particular types of clients” the Chancery Lane-headquartered business announced that it would from then onwards operate out of two main divisions – ‘Employment Immigration & Reward’ and ‘Creators Makers & Innovators’.

Wanting to explain this structure and strategy to existing and prospective clients, the practice developed a brand symbol which, according to David Lawrence, Marketing Manager, is “colourful, strong, dynamic and quite tangible”. This is the multi-coloured kaleidoscope image which now appears across all the firm’s communications and presentations of itself. Half of the spectrum of its colours (mainly red and black/grey) are used for the employment side; and the other half (mainly green and teal/blue) are linked to the creative division. Like a kaleidoscope itself, the whole firm can change as you look at it – reflecting the needs of each client and also adapting to market and technological evolution.

The restructuring and its symbolic explanation in the kaleidoscope are already making a major difference, says Siobhan Moriarty, Divisional Business Development Manager. The old silos of the past have been broken down, she says, leading to greater co-operation across the firm’s 350 personnel. “More and more people across the firm are developing content, and PR is now a core consideration for everything we do,” she adds.

The four-office organisation was already innovating but, through increased cross-firm collaboration, is projecting itself far better, according to its 12-person marketing and business development team. Ilka Clune, Divisional Head of Business Development, says Lewis Silkin is experiencing “a significant uptick in reach and influence”. Over 2016 there has been, for instance, an 80 per cent year-on-year surge in the volume of media coverage and a 58 per cent increase in the number of website page views.
But Ian Jeffery and the management board are thinking ahead in terms of 10 or 20 years. Right now parts of the market for commercial legal services are struggling to expand in the UK – a fact reflected in the small growth rate (1 per cent) which Lewis Silkin managed to achieve in its 2015/16 results (to bring its turnover to £49.9m). The firm is planning for higher revenue rises in future – to be achieved both by developing new services and winning more clients.

Recognising the challenges imposed by IT, globalisation, Brexit and growing client choice, Lewis Silkin is expanding into new kinds of services. These include fixed-fee and lower cost product lines (such as rockhopper, an employment support offering) as well as packages which go beyond the typical legal boundaries (such as DataCheckPoint, a data privacy audit offered jointly with accountant Grant Thornton) and those which bring a range of advice lines together (such as Eleven, which gives commercial and strategic help to digital media and other creative organisations). More innovative offerings will be launched, says Ian Jeffery. And he explains: “The challenge for us, in managing this, is to bring those services to market at the right rate – as clients become ready for them, not too soon.” At the moment, Lewis Silkin offers most of its services in the traditional way – advice on litigation and M&A, for example – but there will be a progressive shift towards the non-traditional.

Since the firm is researching and advising on developments in its core markets, its partners are well-placed to judge when the time is right to unveil new products. For instance, its Future of Work hub, a ‘community of thought leaders’, operates principally through its own site, events and Twitter. It was rated the 21st most influential brand in 2016 in terms of driving engagement, in rankings compiled by Onalytica.

A similar thoroughness is used in other areas and service lines. Each week an average of three news updates are sent out, two pieces of knowledge content are added to the website and one event takes place. “Knowledge-sharing is the main focus of our marketing,” says David Lawrence. “In a relationship with a new client, for instance, we want to start by providing value up-front.” Much of the client communication is delivered in a down-to-earth, and even amusing, way. One tradition that Lewis Silkin has not broken with is the annual Christmas card. This year it opened to show the kaleidoscope, described as being “Lewis Silkin’s new look”.

In its near century of existence, Lewis Silkin has been eager to embrace change, rather than to avoid it. Its eponymous founder started as a sole practitioner, going on to lead the firm into a wide range of specialisms. It then became the first law firm in England to go into print advertising after bans on such publicity by lawyers were lifted in 1986. Gradually developing a specialism in the advertising, media and marketing sector, the firm also learnt about marketing from its clients. And today, the high media profile of the practice owes much to the willingness of its senior lawyers to develop relationships with the press and to experiment with social media.

The marketing team is at the heart of the firm’s strategy, says Ian Jeffery, not least because “the strategy is very much market-led”. He continues: “The biggest contribution the marketing/BD team make is influencing strong execution of strategy.” A brands and intellectual property lawyer himself, he has advised a wide range of services organisations which, like professional firms, are relying on their own innovation skills as the path ahead. He explains why the marketing team’s role in execution is vital: “Business strategy often loses its potential at the execution stage. You can have a very good strategy but you fail to exercise it because it doesn’t get the drive, focus and execution it needs.” Aware of this danger, Lewis Silkin hopes to embark on its second hundred years with the same courage and flexibility which have characterised its evolution so far.