Evolution not revolution: the 7 things all future partners should consider

Jessica Kemp is tax partner at Travers Smith. Originally from Stockton-on-Tees, Jessica went on to graduate with a degree in Law from Merton College, Oxford, before completing a masters at Harvard University. She qualified at Clifford Chance but only after returning from six months in Malawi, helping people convicted of capital crimes.

Jessica became partner at Travers Smith in July 2015. We caught up with her to discuss her plan following the transition…

Harness the goodwill

Since becoming partner I’ve been almost overwhelmed by the amount of goodwill and support I’ve received, from clients, from people at the firm, other lawyers and contacts. Everyone I’ve come across has been delighted for me.

So, as a starting point, I’d say you have to harness all that goodwill. You need to use it in a way that allows people to change their perception of you. They start to see a shift from the great senior associate who was doing the work to the partner responsible for managing and bringing in the work.

My first few years will be about evolution rather than revolution. Travers Smith has a stellar private equity team of heavy-weight lawyers (we recently won Private Equity team of the year at the Legal Business Awards), who collaborate closely with our tax department. My plan is to consolidate and build on my and Travers Smith’s existing relationships with clients to make sure they see me in the right “trusted adviser” space.

My first few years will be about evolution rather than revolution

Three tips for the aspiring professional…

The most important thing is to listen. As a senior associate you get to the point where you’re actively participating and “stepping up” exactly as you should. You’ll have so much advice thrown at you and it’s crucial to listen.

This is particularly important if there’s criticism. You have to learn not to take it personally and respond to it positively. You need to acknowledge that you want to improve, that you accept the feedback and then take the necessary action. Secondly you need to play to your strengths. Recognise what you are best at and push those areas.

And finally you have to keep your perspective. It’s easy to get tunnel vision and lose sight of what else is going on in the firm. I took time to recognise what my goal was and then thought about the things I needed to do to reach it. This meant a focus on the personal things – my work, my presentation; not thinking about the end goal but the process involved to get there. Too often people become so focused on the end product that they lose sight of that process.

Build your personal brand

You’ve got to get out there and present yourself as an expert; as someone with relevant experience and who knows the market.

You’ve got to get out there and present yourself as an expert; as someone with relevant experience and who knows the market

One of my major goals was to develop a piece of networking or marketing that was my own. I did my research and identified an organisation called International Association of Young Lawyers (AIJA).  When I put together a proposal for joining AIJA the partners were positive and supported me to join and make of it what I could.

As a result I’ve had several articles published through various journals and I’ve spoken at numerous conferences. Just recently I’ve also been appointed vice president of the tax commission at AIJA (the first woman to hold any executive role in that commission) – all of which has been great for my brand and network. I think it’s critical that this sort of activity is driven by junior professionals as they progress and build their own brands.

Ambitious junior lawyers should also remember the future potential of their relationships. My old head of tax used to remind me that my contemporaries – junior clients – will become the decision makers and the future buyers of our services. These are relationships you foster and nurture over the years. It’s so crucial for aspiring partners to get those relationships in early!

Ambitious junior lawyers should also remember the future potential of their relationships…These are relationships you foster and nurture over the years

Remember: sales is not a dirty word.

Bad sales’ are dirty words. By this I mean a mass-marketed, cookie-cutter approach. A lot of my clients have had advisors approach them with a ready-made product; something that a clever person sitting in a darkened room has come up with and attempts to sell without regard to that clients’ particular needs. This is not the Travers Smith way.

‘Good sales’, though, are two of the best words you can come up with. But ‘good sales’ is hard. It   requires talking to clients to find out about the needs of their business, and about what makes them tick. Then you have think carefully about how you can meet those needs. You flip it on its head – you give them what they want to buy, not what you want to sell.

Make your hard-earned lessons count

My time in Malawi was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my career. It’s hard to explain the feeling when an innocent man escapes a capital punishment because of your actions. It’s an extraordinary and uplifting thing. But it’s also heart-breaking because they don’t all get to walk away.

It makes you incredibly tough and resilient. And you have to be able to bring those skills back with you. You have to be able to say, whilst no-one’s life is at stake, that you still have that strength, that toughness and that commitment to get the job done and to deliver for your clients.

Once you’ve stood your ground against a bunch of death-row guards with guns, then little else intimidates you. A room full of lawyers holds no fear! The toughness and the ability to stand my ground is the biggest skill I took from my time in Malawi. It was hard won and I try to make it count in my current role every day.