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News & Views from Firm Beliefs

We will be posting articles on a regular basis - so check back regularily for updates.

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One step forward - and another one back...

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 24th of April, 2012

I nearly stood up and shouted 'I told you so' I was that pleased to see the line up at yesterday's Legal Futures Conference (if you only go to one legal services sector conference a year, this is the one). Hopefully my fellow attendees and new best friends won’t realise how close I was as the day got underway to standing up and shouting ‘I told you so!’ to all those in the legal profession who have been saying for years ‘it will never happen’.  

What, you may ask, did they think would never happen? 

Well dear Reader, take a breath and imagine... Non-lawyers providing legal services to consumers,  or customers, or purchasers.  Yes, folks, no longer will qualified solicitors charge clients by the  hour, for ‘perusal’, 1/L in, 10/R etc.  No longer will a lawyer be able to blame a difficult client if the bill is queried.   And hopefully no longer will the word 'sell' and 'services' be a dirty word in some parts of the profession.  At least, not without some competition from others who won't show the same disregard for the needs of those  purchasing their services.

Take yourself back to 1989 = when I was a lowly articled clerk and my Principal asked me what I was in the building to do, I answered ‘sell our services to people who need them’.  Huge intake of (his) breath followed and he boomed ‘young lady we do not sell…  we are good enough to provide our professional knowledge to those who are in need of it in return for some recompense’.   Huge intake of breath by me  for all those years afterwards as I thought ‘lordy, what have I done entering this world of never giving a price that is fixed; never providing a service which can be productised; never being encouraged to get excited about thinking and asking what the clients really need’.

Thankfully for those in the room yesterday there were very few of the naysayers attending – most there were either non-legal professionals or, if they were, they were the ‘savvies’ as we at Firm Beliefs call them.  (We stopped categorising lawyers years ago along the lines of magic circle, national, high street etc and started to use ‘savvy’ and ‘non-savvy’. Or even 'going places and investor ready' or 'wouldn't want to invest in the firm myself, bless them'. And a few other descriptors that a professional consultant ought not really to reveal… Our clients naturally are all savvy.)

I recalled the scene some years ago now when I attended the Law Management Section conference at which ‘the men from the RAC/Co-op/large non law firm corporate’ stood up and said ‘We are coming and we will take your business – we are more in touch with our customers’ needs than you are; we will employ  your professional staff; and we will take your clients’.  The ex-solicitor in me shivered slightly at the time. I remain very fond of those in my old profession and I felt major concern for them.  But the management consultant in me, the business person, the entrepreneurial spirit was completely aghast at the majority of the audience who said ‘it will never happen and if they try it they won’t even get it off the ground’.  Even then, the words ‘heads in sand’ sprang to mind. 

I do not know if the Law Management Section of the Law Society still attracts the same proportion of non-savvies – certainly others used to tell me that the same old names seemed to attend, same consultants seemed to speak the same old warnings, the same words and questions seem to emanate from the same old attitudes. One would hope not by now.

So yesterday, to attend Neil’s Legal Futures event, see the ‘ABSers’ as they are known by some; to see the traditional  law firms that had made the changes to move forward in full gung ho energetic flow; to hear the insightful questions and chat going on during the day made me realise even more than before that yes life as we had been told would never happen is indeed happening.  Exciting times.  Great opportunities.  There are legally trained folk out there who can actually be good business people and who can meet head on those who are from other sectors in this new market place – a market place which is bigger than before.  Because those  who think that law firms retain their traditional market, and that ABSers are entering that marketplace, are wrong – we are  now in a whole new market place.  A place for all to shop and all to serve. And the non-savvies must compete in that marketplace.

So a step forward.  And then… a step back.  Yes, the Bar… (by which I mean Barristers, not the venue at the end of the conference where further chat and jollity took place…)

During February 2011 I heard Peter Lodder, Chairman of the Bar, speak at a conference.  Although he very much took the trade unionist approach overall – stating his aim to protect his union members from changes afoot (again, slightly concerned at that was I) – he did in fact outline the opportunities, albeit difficult ones involving change, for his members.  The Bar could seize opportunities and  harness change.  So imagine my sadness yesterday when, impassioned advocate for justice and the rule of law ‘which must come first before consumers’, Baroness Deech, Chair of the Bar Standards Board, described a profession (the Bar) in a manner which simply doesn’t ring true any more with those who use the services (sorry – skills and professionalism) of the Bar.  There are of course those who will defend the duty to the law and advocacy best practice to their dying day – but most want to make a buck or two and have interesting cases. The fact that, through her illustrations of what she felt ‘the ordinary man’ would require in terms of legal advice etc (how to leave their holiday home in Marbella, sorry Benidorm, in their Will), she demonstrated a woeful lack of understanding of ‘the ordinary man’ and what services he might need which simply detracted from an admiration of her gusto in the face of attack from the Ministry of Justice (‘We must avoid control of the legal profession through the Ministry of Justice).  I admired her passion to protect a world gone by – but had to keep reminding myself that she is the Regulator of the Bar not even the Union Rep!

So, all in all, a very good conference.  Others have written far better summaries of the day, the ABSers, the speakers, the strategies, than I can and I suggest you read this one in particular:

 View from Row 3 #lfconf

 In the meantime,  I shall focus on the steps forward, not the ones back.

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'Stakeholders - If you don't really look at them, you won't survive'

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 2nd of March, 2015

So said one of the clients on our webinar last week.

This stakeholder focused webinar is probably the one which, so far, revealed the biggest 'shock to the system' in most of our clients' organisations. At least as far as those who took part are concerned. And our own experiences with clients who were not able to make the webinar this time reflect that as well.

The question for discussion was 'how have our primary stakeholders changed?'.  We interpreted that to mean not just how their identities and categories have changed, but also how the stakeholders' strategies and organisations themselves have changed. And most importantly, how has their ability to make us successful/shut us down changed?

Clients revealed the shock that they had received when they actually sat down, before the Webinar, to consider the question. And we revealed some of the issues discovered when conducting work with clients.

The three main areas of 'shock' were:


1.  the power of the suppliers - particularly in those parts of our clients' sectors where suppliers held the key to successful identification and delivery of key services.  Their power has, across the board, increased compared to, say, 5 years ago.  This picture is even more stark when considering international activities undertaken by our clients.  Suppliers' skills, knowledge and influence are changing rapidly, just as ours are. We can either take advantage of that in different ways OR we can become subject to their own fortunes, good and bad.


2. the impact of one type of client, customer, donor or beneficiary to stop further expansion. For example, the number of lawyers losing work from one client because they have begun to act for another client. Not in terms of traditional 'conflict' but in terms of 'you act for them, they have a bad reputation for x, y, z activities, we cannot allow ourselves to be advised by the same lawyers as them'.  As far as charities are concerned, some donors are no longer donating funds, in favour instead of becoming equity investors in social enterprises who have similar impact goals.  (This latter example is not unfamiliar to us, having undertaken a 3 way project between ex-donor, now equity investor, social enterprise and charity).


3. the impact of society's perception.  The biggest change in impact, it was generally felt, coming from stakeholders has come from 'society generally'.  One law firm described the 'scathing reproach' felt by some of their clients and staff for taking part in a recent Magna Carta event in London - which they were told felt more like 'let's sell our services abroad and forget about human rights and access to justice if it makes our international trade more difficult'.  Possibly an unfair  comment and who is to say who 'society' is but it certainly made the firm think clearly about how their firm is perceived by all elements of society.   The charity who is losing donations because of how much they pay their Senior Management Team said something similar - 'we don't know who society is but it feels like we are on the receiving end of a backlash against us by wide sections of the UK'.


There were many other examples of stakeholder shifts - too many for this blog.  All I would say is - have a look at your own main stakeholders and consider those who are not currently your primary ones - could they become so; and of those who are - how have their patterns of influence and authority changed.  And more significantly how might they change in the future.


Worth a thought?  Our Webinar participants certainly thought so.

What keeps our clients awake?

Category: News about you,Strategic development
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 04th of February, 2015

Crying kids,  barking dogs,  noisy traffic.  Yes, all these were mentioned of course at our first Client Webinar of 2015.  But the focus was very much about the strategic considerations that our client CEOs and Senior Management Team participants are still thinking about at 2 o'clock in the morning.

The Client Webinars that we hold give those who have responsibilities for the future of our client organisations the chance to get together and talk about issues that they probably have little opportunity to discuss with members of their own organisations.  It Is Lonely At The Top is a phrase we hear frequently.

So - what were the biggest talking points when they got together:

1.  Am I physically up to this job any more?  Long hours,  the excitement and stress - both postiive and negative...

2. How can I deal with the growing complexities of being in business or serving our beneficiaries?

3. Am I interested in this job any more?

4. When should I stand back and let others take the reins?

5. Does the world still need my organisation and what it does?  (Readers of the blog will remember a number of discussions that we have had around this.)

6. How big should we grow before we risk losing the essence of what we have been and still want to be?

7.  Which are the best markets for the long run even if they are short-term risky?

8.When is it the time to call time on what we do?

There were more but these were the main ones.  An interesting mix of self-focus and bigger picture. There is no doubt that CEOs and Senior Managers have much on their minds that, as they indicated, they often cannot discuss within their own organisations.

We are happy that our Webinars provide that external peer discussion.  It requires trust and the correct combination of folk.  We often repeat them for those who could not make the first one, or who wish to follow up in a structured webinar.  Many though go on to have conversations informally having made contact via our Webinars.

11 more to go this year. It is our pleasure to provide those with the responsibiity for their organisations the opportunity to share their worries, dreams and thoughts.  For indeed It Is Lonely At The Top. 

Client Webinars 2015

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 06th of January, 2015

Clients took part in our webinars last year. In a very positive and often amusing way! 

There is something about bringing the CEO of a charity into conversation with the marketing director of a traditional law firm with the finance director of a social enterprise and with the major shareholder of legal services ABS.

That something is indefinable at times but, to quote one of those who took part, 'where and when else do you get the chance to talk with others who have done, are doing or are about to do something that you either have come across yourself or, better still, never would even have thought of doing?'

Often led by clients, rather than us, the discussions are broad ranging and make a difference to the way their organisations are run and,  more importantly, how clients feel about wanting to be involved in the running.

Our new webinar topics, and dates, are available on the Resources page of our website now.  As always, we try to adjust the time to suit as many as possible. However, plan for a 3-4.30pm session unless stated otherwise.



It all goes wonderfully weird when our clients get-together.

Category: News about you
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 20th of June, 2014

When our clients get together, that which we expect to happen never does!  Whether that is because our expectations are off-beam or whether we just happen to have quirkily different clients from the norm, I am not sure. I suspect it is the latter and I am sure they won’t mind me making that observation!

For all our existing clients, we run a series of (free) webinars.  This year they are concentrating on the benefits and risks of increasingly important ways of crossing sectors/organisations to merge, joint venture or collaborate informally. 

So far we have covered:

  • the cross-sector working environment, 
  • latest techniques for conducting feasibility studies into collaboration/merger activities, 
  • the changing implications of ‘our walk-away position’,
  • and most recently we looked at the type of measures that organisations will focus on post-merger but which really need to be embedded into the project right from the start of the early ‘shall we have go together’ discussions.   

We have run a number of them twice already and will continue to repeat them as clients wish.

The conversations and discussions have been sparky, informative, thoughtful, operational and strategic.  As you would expect.  So some serious and sensible outcomes.

What has struck me though are the less ‘focused’ outcomes.  These reflect the collaborative and thoughtful nature of our clients.  And their very ‘human’ nature.  All too often, the CEOs and senior management teams of organisations have to maintain a ‘specific face or front’.  During our webinars, they get a chance to show frailties, concerns, their ‘I am not so sure’ face. 

And this makes them human,  the others on the webinar empathise and recognise their own situations.  So it leads to relationship building.

If I were to choose the most valuable outcomes, on a human level, from these webinars I would mention:

  1. Two CEOs had been at school together!  They had lost touch. Suddenly these very wise sensible individuals went back to their ‘long itchy socks and shorts’ days and the conversation flowed.  The rest of us listened as the realisation that they had once known each other and had a shared early history dawned on them.  It set the webinar off on a very informal, friendly and in parts amusing path. 
  2. One Senior Manager was discussing the fact that a much valued team member simply couldn’t cope with the changing nature of the organisation despite bringing very specific and needed skills set to the organisation.  A CEO from another organisation, with a culture which sounded more suited to the struggling team member, offered to meet the team member.  Within 2 months, the team member is now valued, and happier, in the CEO’s organisation.  A smooth transition and everybody happier.
  3. 3 firms have become involved in a joint venture in South America.  One CEO had family contacts there who could support ‘on the ground’,  one charity was seeking to develop one of its services in the region, and a law firm could provide some low price legal support via one of its member organisations in the relevant country.  We foresee a trip to South America soon by all concerned!  Collaborative working at its best.
  4. One Senior Management Team member broke her leg.  She could not easily travel on public transport into London and their offices in Manchester.  A relative of one CEO made the journey regularly into London from the same home village and another organisation had a team member who travelled every day to Manchester.  So – travel sorted!
  5. And perhaps the most bizarre of all (but most useful for me) was the ‘chicken advice’ at the beginning of one webinar.  One of my hens was unwell and spent a few days in the dog crate in my office…  Hearing the sound of a certain amount of chicken clucking, I  had to reveal all and move the laptop towards said chicken so that all could see her…  Suddenly a few ‘chicken fanciers’ revealed themselves from amongst the CEOs and Senior Management folk in on the webinar and advice was given and experiences shared.  Weird!  Bizarre!  Brilliant.

So there you have it.  This is what happens when Firm Beliefs clients get together on ‘sensible’ seminars.  Super clients.  Good learning and development and mutual support.  Unexpected outcomes.  It is what collaboration is all about.

About Carers Trust Business Mentoring programme

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 24th of March, 2014

Mentors for the ADVANCE Network Development Programme



Carers Trust is looking for volunteers to join their small team of high calibre mentors to lead individual or groups of independent charitable organisations through a development programme over the next 1-2 years. 

Here are the details: 

We are developing a highly skilled team to mentor Network Partners who form the Carers Trust network across the UK, to support them in growing the services they offer to carers and the people they care for.  Our aim is to ensure that Network Partners are in the best possible position to survive and grow in challenging local and fiscal environments.

These are the prerequisite qualities for this crucial role:-

  • a track record of achieving service growth through dynamic, senior leadership,
  • an ability to inspire confidence in the people who work with them,
  • an ability to spearhead service development through strategic thinking and to deliver coherent business plans – to enable people identify not only the what but the how that fits their local situations. 

Mentors already represent the private, public and not for profit sectors. 


Carers Trust is now the largest charitable organisation within the UK that is specifically concerned with addressing the needs of carers.  Together with a network of 161 individual charities, we provide support, information, advice and services for people caring for a family member or friend.

Across the UK, together we make a difference to carers lives by

  • reaching carers of all ages and with a range of caring responsibilities
  • helping carers gain access to local services or delivering them ourselves,
  • making carers views heard by opinion formers and professionals.

Together we help carers connect with everyone and everything that can make a difference to their lives.

By working closely with Network Partners, we aim to ensure that one million carers benefit from the provision of comprehensive high quality services by 2018.  We seek to achieve this by working with Network Partners to implement a strategy for growth and excellence, ensuring that there are no geographical gaps in service provision and that all services are delivered to the same high quality standards across the UK.

To encourage and support Network Partners to actively seek new opportunities and develop services, we are setting up a volunteer business mentor programme to support local leaders and their teams to:

ü  Focus on building sustainable organisations, which generate surplus for charitable use;

ü  Support the delivery of seamless integrated services across the UK that focus on the best outcomes for carers and those they care for;

ü  Align national and local strategies to support the push for growth in services and therefore improved outcomes for carers; and

ü  Encourage and support the development of partnership working between Network Partners.

We see the role of the volunteer mentor as a means of bringing different perspectives and ideas to the way that we approach and think about leadership and management of organisations and how they deliver and develop services for the benefit of carers.


Mentor Role and Responsibilities

This is a role that requires mentors to support organisations and people to help drive change at two levels:

  1.  At a local level with Network Partners, to support the review and development of their strategies to ‘survive and thrive’ within an environment challenged by austerity measures. 

Discussions will be undertaken on a confidential basis with either an individual partner or a group of partners who are looking to work in partnership in their local area.  The output of these discussions could be (revised) robust business and action plans, and / or a range of working arrangements which take account of the challenges and opportunities present within each local scenario; and  

  1. At a national level, be part of an overall mentor team with Carers Trust’s UK network support team to help us to identify and prioritise where to focus development resource according to need.

We are looking for senior leaders, experienced professional leaders and managers (and organisations) who can commit time across a 12 month period.  You and the organisation will get the best out of the experience if you are able to volunteer and commit to around 8-10 days across a 12 month period to support this programme in its first year.

Ideally, we would look to match you with Network Partners within a geographical area of your choice (i.e. near home and / or work) across the UK, however, this will depend on the take up from our Network Partners and therefore, a degree of flexibility and ability to travel is also desirable.  Carers Trust will cover all travel costs involved with this volunteering opportunity.

Should you be unable to provide this amount of time but still wish to support the programme, we are also interested to hear from people who can share their specialist business skills in workshops, working alongside mentors who have been assigned to a partner organisation or organisations. 

Skills and experience

 A track record/employment history that demonstrates:

  • Proven leadership, management and / or consulting experience in supporting organisations and teams to develop and grow and have an impact in the sector that they serve;
  • Ability to share skills and knowledge, relevant to a diverse situations and personal styles;
  • Experience of working in a service environment with a strong customer service and quality ethos. This could be in the public, voluntary or private sectors;
  • Strong relationship management skills to be able to inspire, support and challenge the people you are working with;
  • Development and delivery of robust and realistic business plans;
  • Ability to identify and assess evidence to inform and support the development and delivery of business plans;
  • Experience of “troubleshooting” and managing key issues as and when they arise; and
  • Time – mentors recruited on a voluntary basis need to have the time to support Network Partners to develop lasting mentor / mentee relationships to create and deliver on their development goals.

Personal attributes

  • Able to make a difference through others by inspiring people to realise their potential and to feel empowered to drive the changes required in their particular context;
  • Empathetic and self-aware, providing friendly, unbiased support and guidance;
  • Act as a ‘critical friend’ by providing honest and constructive feedback;
  • Bring an outside perspective and expertise relevant to the situation that you are working in by sharing your own experiences of both failures and successes and facilitate decision making by suggesting alternative ideas;
  • Listen, confidentially, to the issues that are worrying people and be a sounding board for ideas; and
  • Be self-aware, open to ideas and able to acknowledge when there is a need to seek advice and information from others.


For further information, please contact Rosemary Hawkins, Head of Programmes & QA at Carers Trust on and / or send your cv along with a covering letter setting out why you are interested in becoming a mentor with Carers Trust.