Mar 18 '13
This is the law’s fastest interview: one where the interviewee puts up an answer between zero and 140 characters. Today’s latest interviewee is William Axtell, partner at London law firm Charles Russell.
Brian John Spencer: What are you up to right now?
William Axtell: It’s Saturday morning. Biblical rain is hammering on the windows. I’m listening to podcasts and catching up on admin on my Mac.
BJS: So what made you want to practice law?
WA: I read history at University and very nearly became a teacher. At that stage, law was a compromise between the academic and the commercial.
BJS: Lawyers are the oil that keeps commerce moving; however the engines of commerce have slowed considerably… thoughts on the post-2008 world?
WA: It’s tough. But tough times lead to innovation and opportunity. ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger’
BJS: What do you make of the “new normal” of practice?
WA: That there is no one size fits all. Clients have many different legal needs. There are lots of different ways to meet these needs.
BD: Don’t mean to pry, but what’s keeping the team up at night if anything?
WA: We have several M&A deals on at the moment. As we get to completion we start burning the midnight oil…
BJS: Have you introduced any new processes and practices?
WA: I am passionate about presenting information to clients in a better, more concise and visual way. Lawyers are way behind other professions
BJS: Thought much about business development?
WA: All the time! In essence, it is about building long-term relationships. For me it is all about being a ‘trusted advisor’
BJS: Marketing and branding?
WA: It is always a challenge to put forward a compelling USP in a crowded market place, but we must. Clients need to understand clearly why us?
BJS: Commentators are saying that law firms have two options: either go multinational or boutique. Is this something that Charles Russell is listening to?
WA: I think there are more than two options. There are many different spaces for law firms to occupy.
BJS: Managing Partners in Australia recently said that the days of the full service independents were “numbered”. Do you agree?
WA: No, provided they continue to innovate in technology, pricing and service delivery.
WA: Liberalisation is stimulating change. The traditional High Street firm will be hit hard. Larger law firms need to adapt.
BJS: Does technology have a role to play in Charles Russell?
WA: Yes, mobilisation of technology is a big thing. We need to be available for clients wherever, whenever.
BJS: Social media?
WA: @DavidAllenGreen inspired me to take up Twitter several years ago. Great for understanding clients, getting topical info and having fun.
BJS: Does social media have a place and role to play in modern law practice?
WA: Absolutely, whilst there are a few pitfalls, all lawyers should be actively engaged online.
BJS: Why can lawyers be so unresponsive to technology?
WA: Lawyers are a traditional profession often resistant to innovation. The generation that grew up with technology have a different view
BJS: Should law school teach commercial acumen like marketing and business development?
WA: I think the grounding should be in law first and foremost. Be excellent lawyers. Marketing and business development can come during training contract.
BJS: Short and medium term goals?
WA: Help others, build relationships, be generous. The rest takes care of itself.
BJS: Any words of advice for the guys and girls starting out in their career?
WA: Read ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ by @richardsusskind. Embrace technology. Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground!