Cut the crap. Clarity is king

Vicky Brackett, managing partner at Thomas Eggar, on why simplicity and clarity are key… 

Vicky Brackett trained with Freshfields and joined Thomas Eggar in 2004. After helping build the commercial disputes team, she became head of department in 2010. In 2012 she was elected as managing partner.

We caught up with Vicky to discuss how a clear and concise vision is essential, why measuring profit-per-equity-partner (PEP) can hinder progress, and how to recognise and reward rainmakers.


Sounding the same

How do you stand out in a market where all law firms look, feel and sound the same? It’s a question Vicky Brackett has considered carefully. She’s a firm believer that a clever strap line, a smart office space, or an interesting approach to IT isn’t enough.

“The reason clients come back to Thomas Eggar is because they enjoy the experience of working with us. They expect a good product, skilled individuals and suitable offices,” says Vicky. “But they value the whole experience. And that has to come back to values and culture.”

How do you stand out in a market where all law firms look, feel and sound the same?

Vicky believes that looking after your people and integrating a set of values and a culture across your whole team is the only way to make the customer experience consistent. Get that consistency right, she says, and you will beat the competition.

Back it up

Equally important is the way you bed in these shared values across your firm. “We’ve used client feedback,” says Vicky. “We asked clients to define our personality and found a consistent message.”

This client-certified approach has been key to bringing the lawyers along on the journey. Independent evidence could then be shared with partners, fee-earners and staff to demonstrate the strengths of Thomas Eggar. This led to a high level of buy-in and set the groundwork for building shared values.

“We used this research to create a few things. First was a training programme. If you have a set of values and a culture, it allows you to tailor an effective learning and development programme.

“Secondly, we built a suitable performance and reward structure. That way, the right behaviour and culture starts to creep in to the remuneration story. And we’ve tried to do it through openness, transparency and clarity of expectation.”

This, Vicky believes, leads to better results all round. Internally, people are engaged. Externally, the client experience is consistent. Clients will buy-in and expand with you. They’ll recommend you, leading to growth and further reinvestment.

Traditional measures of success can hinder progressive firms

Digging in the wrong place

Of course, all this takes place in a profession whose wider culture is often stacked against such an approach. Traditional measures of success can hinder progressive firms, as Vicky explains: “The legal press report our firm’s performance on KPIs that aren’t relevant to this sort of strategy. So I get asked to name my profit per equity partner (PEP). Now, I can change the PEP by spending nothing on IT, or nothing on people or training. I can reward only my biggest fee-earners so they keep billing more. But then what happens? I haemorrhage staff and clients.”

Instead, she believes in trying to increase PEP in a different way – in a way that might not produce immediate results: by choosing to invest in training programmes and concentrating on building a strong culture and shared values.

Keeping it simple

A good performance and reward programme must be clear and simple. “One of the biggest criticisms firms receive is when people come away from a personal review and still don’t know what they need to do to get a bonus,” says Vicky. “That’s demotivating. So clarity and simplicity are essential. It has to be achievable.”

Lack of clarity, says Vicky, is one of the biggest problems for firms: “If you’ve got a junior lawyer who is unclear about their objectives and is no longer motivated by them, then that’s a problem. You have to make it clear, simple and absolutely aligned to the two or three things that you’re asking the individuals to achieve in the business.”

Vicky’s ambition is for all Thomas Eggar staff to be able to articulate their two key objectives for the year: one linked to personal development and the other to overall business strategy.

Know your best XI

This approach enables the top table to identify people best suited for certain roles. And this is particularly relevant to business development – an area Vicky says is often neglected because so many professionals find it challenging.

It’s a confidence thing,” she says. “Lawyers were never trained to sell. We’re technical problem solvers. Sales. New business. BD. Whatever you call it, it’s disliked because partners find it hard to accept that we have to do it.”

Sales. New business. BD…it’s disliked because partners find it hard to accept that we have to do it

She believes the first challenge is to recognise the people in your firm with relevant skills. Secondly, there needs to be cultural sensitivity and a willingness by the firm to be flexible.

“You find a strength and you play to it. You have to reduce the chargeable hours’ target for that individual. If they win work for the business, get ‘em out there! The challenge is that you have to change your approach to how you reward them.”

So in summary

Building and integrating a clear set of shared values that supports and develops people while also fitting business strategy isn’t easy, particularly when law firms continue to struggle to differentiate in a homogenised market. Yet it is a task that has been undertaken by Vicky and her team with enthusiasm and rigour, and will set the firm in good stead far beyond short-term traditional measures such as PEP.