​The Lawyer Management: Baker & McKenzie

Laurie Robertson

Laurie Robertson is global director of business development (BD), marketing and communications at Baker & McKenzie. He joined in 2010 from Clifford Chance, where he was global head of BD and marketing. Before this he spent more than 20 years in advertising, working at J Walter Thompson.

How has your role changed since joining the firm?

My role has broadened considerably with the backing of the executive committee. We have created a team in BD to improve the way we handle strategic pricing issues and project management, we’ve greatly expanded BD’s involvement in our key client programme and soliciting client feedback, and we’ve created a global proposals team to help increase the percentage of pitches we win. We’ve also this year integrated the communications and PR team into BD and marketing.

What was the most pressing issue you faced last year?

My most pressing issue is always driving our strategy to build key client relationships by providing a tailored service. We generate higher growth from this group of clients than others.

What are the challenges involved in working for a global firm?

The issues faced in a global firm at a high level are no different from those in a local firm: client development; differentiation; reputation, winning work; teamwork and so on. But the complexity and difficulty in achieving consistency and best practice when you are working across 46 countries is greater. 

It’s also more challenging to maintain a strong team spirit and ensure effective communications when members of the team are spread far and wide. It’s almost impossible, for example, to organise a single team call that involves people on the West Coast of the US, in London and in Sydney. 

But the complexity also makes working here interesting and fulfilling. In my previous career in the advertising business I also worked on global clients, so I’ve been doing this for a long time.

How often are you expected to travel?

Most of my travel is around the five big partner meetings we have each year. Each takes around 10 days of my time, but I get a lot of work done.

What impact are changes in the UK legal market having on your firm and your role?

I can’t say the Legal Services Act has affected us directly, but the expansion of firms into markets outside their home jurisdictions – markets where we’ve been for a number of years – is increasing competition for cross-border work. That puts more onus on the BD team to prove its value and I’m happy to say we’ve had a good year, growing the top and bottom lines.

which you have improved the efficiency of the firm?

We’ve spent a lot of time creating best practice tools and templates, and centralising information. This does away with a lot of potential
inefficiencies. We don’t want people having to phone around offices to just get some deal information for a pitch, and we don’t want a small office to feel they have to start from scratch when they are producing a local campaign or setting up a relationship review with a client. 

In addition, the work we’re doing around more efficient legal project management is making a crucial contribution to our ability to maintain profitability in the face of the intense pressure the profession is seeing on pricing.

How important is branding in the legal profession?

Vital. It’s knowing what you want to stand for and then delivering
that brand experience. But it’s harder to produce a consistent, distinctive experience in a large professional services firm than in, say, McDonald’s.

What have been the key ways in Who would you most like to get stuck in a lift with?

An Otis engineer. And if that’s not possible, the cast of A League of Their Own would probably help the time pass quickly.

Firm facts

1,400 partners

4,100 lawyers

6,000 staff

74 offices in 46 countries

 

Financials

Turnover: $2.42bn (£1.54bn)

Net profit: $862m

Profit per partner: $1.2m

A learning experience

“When I was much younger I totally missed a deadline for an ad placement for one of my clients when I was working at J Walter Thompson,” recalls Robertson. “My boss stepped in and told the client it was his (my boss’s) fault and promised that he would work to make good the mistake. 

“Right there and then I learned to pay more attention to deadlines, but I also learned to be graceful and to take the heat for your team member
rather than pointing the finger at people.”

IT systems

CRM: In-house systems and Interaction

PMS: Elite

DMS: OpenText DM5