Parminder Latimer fell into the pensions sector by chance and immediately fell in love with it. Since then she has built up expertise in a notoriously technical area, along with a formidable contacts book. She trained with Pitmans where, initially working with the only pensions lawyer at the firm, helped build up the practice over 13 years. She joined Freeths in May 2014 to construct a pensions practice from a standing start. Here she talks to the BDLN about how she’s going about it.
The Freeths opportunity was exciting. I had to start again, having done so 13 years before, but this time with a new and bigger firm – one that was really forward thinking, with a strategy and a vision for the 21st century. That’s an almost unique opportunity among traditional law firms! It’s such a great challenge to set up a pensions practice – an area that is so technical – but I was confident I could build on my previous successes at Pitmans.
What was really refreshing was that the management board is quite open. They said “we don’t know what to expect here” and so were reluctant to set me targets to fail. That was good – it took out the stress in terms of hitting a target and freed me up to begin setting up the practice the way I wanted to.
My advice to someone setting up a practice area from scratch would be to have open and robust conversations with internal stakeholders about what success looks like and avoid setting arbitrary targets.
Have open and robust conversations with internal stakeholders about what success looks like
I wanted to achieve a dedicated, experienced pensions practice for Freeths, which we could then build on by developing a team. That was my vision. The plan was to offer new expertise to existing clients and – because competing pensions practices are so well known – to put Freeths on the map in terms of these new capabilities.
My strategy was to build a forward-thinking and modern team famous for its technical expertise, with lots of relevant experience. This helps us sell ourselves. And I think we’re doing that. We’re doing that by getting out and about.
That said, getting the message and vision across internally is critical. So one of the first things I did was tour all the Freeths offices and introduce myself. The aim was to go along to partner and office meetings and tell them a bit about me, talk about what a pensions lawyer does and encourage them to act as my ambassadors – sort of a ‘Parminder Latimer Roadshow!’
I wanted to give people a background so they could talk meaningfully with existing and potential clients about the new service. The intent was to empower them to introduce pensions into their client discussions and eradicate the fear of the unknown. And it’s been fantastic to see my colleagues in other practice areas thinking of me, introducing me to their existing clients and supporting me.
Often lawyers are too precious and keep their arms around their clients and targets
One thing I like is when partners are not precious about their clients. There’s a real openness here and we’re comfortable introducing clients to other practice areas when necessary. Many firms aren’t great at internal cross-selling. Often lawyers are too precious and keep their arms around their clients and targets. That’s not the theme here – Freeths is a collaborative firm – which has really helped to build my practice.
Build on your track record externally
Planning the external focus was vital too. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the pensions sector for nearly 25 years, so I’ve built up a large contacts book and we’ve invested lots of time getting out and about to talk to these existing contacts.
Quite a lot of pensions work comes from referrals so it’s key to stay in touch with your contacts to maintain and build your network. Fortunately, clients have been willing to give us a go because they’ve worked with me in the past and are keen to test the new Freeths proposition.
For me it’s always been important that our clients think we’ve done a good job. It keeps them coming back! Furthermore I’ve been able to introduce them to my new firm. That demonstrates the power of a deep specialism and a large, engaged personal network.
Make a difference to your client
If you want to keep your client coming back to you, you need to make a difference. At Freeths our ethos is all about thinking differently and in a more business analytical way about a client’s needs – a bit of ‘Freethinking’.
So it’s less about ‘here’s the legal problem and here’s the legal solution’ and more about focusing on the whole business and analysing and assessing the client needs. But the client must always be part of that conversation – we talk to them and put it into context for them. Too often lawyers produce a legal report on what they think the problem is and then do not deal with the problem.
The freethinking model permeates our entire approach. And this ability to consider the bigger picture for our clients does end up generating fees for us. But fees are not the major driving force. It’s about getting to the solution and making a difference to our clients.
Talk to your connections and explain the beauty of your new proposition
I’ll continue to use this ethos as I build my team and my practice. It’s become culturally engrained and we believe it works. And our clients agree. So why change it?
Be realistic about your targets for your first year. Have open and honest conversations with your stakeholders about what success looks like. Work out your strategy and what you want to be famous for. Then promote and socialise this message internally across your entire firm. Give your colleagues the skills and confidence to introduce your products and services into their client conversations. Behold the power of your network. Talk to your connections and explain the beauty of your new proposition. Make a difference to your client; give them no excuse to leave and every reason to shout about you from the rooftops. Go forth and build your practice…
Parminder was talking to @mikesharkey