Ray Berg is the Managing Partner of Osborne Clarke, a firm with a focus on all facets of transformation, from technology and company structure to productisation and customer experience. Above all, Osborne Clarke are setting new standards for organisational culture. In just the last 6 months Ray has been listed as an Agent of Change by Management Today and a HERoe Advocate Executive by the Outstanding Heroes Awards, while Osborne Clarke as a firm have been awarded Best Corporate Culture 2019 by the Managing Partners Forum.
We met with Ray to learn about:
- The importance of learning from non legal markets
- Going beyond quotas and using inclusivity and diversity to drive real business change
- Why Osborne Clarke are a law business and not a law firm
- The need for breaking down silos and acting as one organisation
Watch the full interview here:
1) How important is it for a leader of a law firm to have a strong social radar?
I think that in leading any business, particularly a law firm, having a strong social radar is absolutely critical. This is true both in terms of attracting talent and engaging with our clients.
CSR is on the agenda for every single one of our clients, and likewise, our people want to know they’ve got opportunities to make an impact. These things matter. For me personally it’s something I feel very passionate about. It’s the right thing to do and there’s a moral imperative, but I think what we’ve seen is a coalescence and now the business imperative and the strategic imperative are also really easy to articulate.
2) Having a clear cultural identity is important but how do you manage and maintain this throughout the day to day business?
Maintaining our culture and values is something that we’ve put at the top of our priority list as otherwise it can quickly be eaten away at. There’s no substitute for face time so as part of our induction programme I sit down with everyone to reiterate what the firm’s about, what we stand for and what the values are. That has to be embedded in our remuneration and review system, and is reinforced through each layer of management
3) Do you think there’s been a tipping point reached where leaders are now realising that CSR has to come from an authentic place?
It’s not enough just to talk the talk. We actually have to lead by example and demonstrate that this is at the heart of who we are as an organization. I wouldn’t say that every firm has done this but if you want people to believe that you’re serious about inclusion, diversity and CSR then you’ve actually got to commit and be real about it. You’ve got to make time available for people and lead from the top.
We were very clear from the start that the executive board was responsible for driving this forward, supported by HR. It couldn’t be a tick box exercise. We were going to make real changes with a substantive impact and have qualitative measures beyond pure statistics to indicate whether people genuinely felt they were working in a more inclusive environment.
I think it’s absolutely critical that leaders of business assume responsibility for driving that change. The businesses that succeed are the ones that take it seriously and their people and their clients believe them.
4) What are your thoughts on quotas, do you think they’re a good or bad thing?
We have targets as opposed to quotas and the reason for having them is so that we have a degree of objectivity and can measure progress.
Quotas, in my opinion, go slightly against the heart of what we’re trying to achieve. Our inclusiveness strategy is about saying that every single person is different and that every single person should have the same opportunities to achieve and succeed, irrespective of their background, so it’s about driving high performance and making sure everyone has support, rather than simply ticking boxes. Targets aren’t what’s going to drive the change but you’ve got to have something to measure your progress by.
We know we’re still not representing certain groups as well as we should and therefore we’ve got to understand the problems behind that. As an example, when I took over we had 19 percent female partners we’re now up to 24-25 percent, which is a huge step but there is still a very long way to go.
Ultimately it’s not about numbers but about genuinely wanting a variety of voices because that having those voices actually brings something positive to the organisation, and allowing those people to be themselves means they perform better and everyone benefits.
5) How close to technology do you think leaders need to be? Do you think it’s enough that they simply surround themselves with great people and empower those people to do great things, or do you think they actually need to have their finger on there on the technology pulse?
I think perhaps a bit unfairly lawyers get labelled “Luddites”. I’d like to think we’ve been proactive in embracing technology, largely as it’s a sector we’ve been working in for years. You’ve got to embrace technology and really understand it. It’s not the solution to everything but it but it’s clearly changing the profession and unless you understand what the technology can do you’re always going to be struggling.
Every great leader should surround themselves with great people and of course our head of IT is going to be a much better person to talk to around technology, but I’ve got to understand enough about it so that I can combine it with my understanding of the business and our challenges, and then decide how best to use technology to best overcome those challenges.
To bring the two together you’ve got to live and breathe technology. We use it in every bit of our business so we can’t just say it’s down to the IT team. I think every lawyer has to assume that having an understanding of technology is just another skill set that they’re going to need.
6) From a practical perspective, how do you ensure that you’re constantly acquiring that information? Do you have different channels internally and externally that you use?
We’ve got a number of different sources of insight. Our clients are a great channel and our office in Silicon Valley and San Francisco are also conduits for seeing what’s coming down the line. We have a Head of Technology & Change to feed into our exec board on a monthly basis and keep us abreast of the changes. I also attend networking events and just generally try to immerse myself in what’s going on. You might go along and think a particular technology has no relevance to you but at least you can understand the way things are going.
It’s just part of the job, frankly. It’s about almost being as much of a sponge as possible and soaking up as much information from as many different sources and then using that to work out where you go next.
7) Arguably every market is now a technology market so do you think law firms would benefit maybe looking less inwardly at other law firms and more externally at other markets that are maybe more established from a technology perspective?
I absolutely agree with that. We’re in the process of developing our 2025 strategy and we went to an external consultancy to advise us on products, which is not the obvious place for a law firm to go but we wanted someone who would challenge and probe. After all, just because it’s always been done a particular way in a law firm, why can’t we learn from what’s being done in consumer-facing markets?
The black-letter law is almost a given now, but it’s what you can add around that, and I think looking outside the profession is going to give you an advantage because you’re going to come up with new ideas. In the past innovation for law firms has often just been keeping up with the Jones’ and doing what your nearest competitors were doing, but to truly challenge and disrupt you’ve got to look at what’s happened in every other market and law’s not immune from that.
8) Do you think the traditional partner structure is still fundamentally fit for purpose? Or to put it another way, do you think if an alien were to land on planet Earth and be given the mission of creating a law firm from scratch, do you think they would would end up with a an organisation that closely resembles the firms that we have today, or do you think that they would end up with something entirely different?
I guess you’ve got the examples at the moment because you’ve got alternative providers, you’ve got the big four coming into law, you’ve got co-op law, you’ve got the technology disruptors and you’ve got traditional law firms. If you were an alien and you looked at it you’ve think there’s probably room for all of them because there’s different needs, different clients and different bits of the market.
That said, if you weren’t hidebound by what gone before then I think it would look very different from how a traditional law firm is structured. I think this goes
back to my point that we’re a business that happens to provide legal services, so in that sense everyone in this law firm is a lawyer – some of them are qualified solicitors but others are still people working in the law industry. Whether they’re finance administrators, PA’s, receptionists, etc, they’re still working in a law business.
I think that’s the biggest single change you would make – you’d see it as a law business not a law firm. You’d focus more on the collective intelligence and coming together of different perspectives without clear lines of demarcation. We always talk about being one firm and when we get an instruction from a client it requires every single person in our business to be involved. We’ve got to work together much better and in a less siloed way, so I as an alien you would say “Why would you have all those different barriers as you’re all work together for the same end result?” which is fundamentally about delivering excellent client service.