find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Insurance Lawyer (3-5 PAE)
Category: Insurance and Superannuation Law | Location: Brisbane CBD & Inner Suburbs Brisbane QLD
· Dynamic organisation ·
View details
Legal Counsel
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: North Sydney NSW 2060
· 18 month fixed term contract · 3-5 years PQE with TMT exposure
View details
Firms urged to go 'beyond being problem solvers'

Firms urged to go 'beyond being problem solvers'

puzzle piece

Lawyers should increasingly be looking to play a strategic role in their clients' companies, instead of just advising the legal teams, the outgoing head of DibbsBarker has said.

Alan McArthur, who recently announced he would be stepping down as managing partner after eight years at DibbsBarker, told Lawyers Weekly that firms need to expand their role beyond legal advice.

“The challenge I keep putting to partners and staff is that we don't want to go in [to clients] and just talk to the lawyers: we should be asked to talk to the head of strategy,” he said.

“We need to be able to offer a consulting set of services that mean we can deliver real value above and beyond just being the problem solvers.”

He suggested part of DibbsBarker’s success at growing its life sciences practice group – which now includes high-profile clients like Cochlear and ResMed – was offering strategic advice as well as legal assistance.

Yet many lawyers have been slow to recognise the broader role they could play for clients, Mr McArthur suggested.

“Unfortunately, that's always been a problem for lawyers – they tend to be focused on the problems, not on the opportunity,” he said.

“I think that's why a lot of the profession has struggled with some of the changes and the shake-up of the market.”

Over the course of his career, Mr McArthur has taken on a leading role at five different firms, including Sydney managing partner of Minter Ellison, CEO of Simpson Grierson, and managing partner of Finlaysons and MacPhillamy Cummins & Gibson.

Reflecting on his time at DibbsBarker, he pointed to the 2008 break-up of its federal structure – then known as Dibbs Abbott Stillman – as a key turning point for the firm.

“The federation itself had very few common clients; it called itself national but it didn't have an agreed strategy, and it didn't have a view on what it was investing in terms of differentiating itself or on delivering value to clients,” he said.

“It was about saying, ‘OK, we're either going to join up on strategy or you're going to go your own way – there's no half-way house. If this is just a platform for you to conduct your own practice, then there's no room for you'.”

From there, the DibbsBarker strategy has been about “becoming a dominant player in a couple of segments”, including key industry brands like life sciences, healthcare and property.

“We were a broad-based differentiated business with a broad base with a lot of offices but no real clarity around what we're going to be fantastic at,” he said. 

“We've now said we're going to redesign our business so that we can be the best we can be in the areas we chose to compete, which means we've got to have the best systems and processes and the best clients.”

He pointed to the development of a positive, team-based culture at DibbsBarker as one of his key achievements, emphasising the importance of reward systems that recognise team efforts.

As part of this culture, he has pushed for the development of future leaders within the firm, who have been provided with leadership and business training.

“We've chosen not to go out and recruit the narcissists that will bugger up our culture,” he said. “We've tended to take the view that we want to build up people that own the culture and are prepared to invest in it and believe in it.”

While Mr McArthur was unsure what the future held for him, he suggested he had enough experience “to know when it’s time to go”.

“I've been here eight years and that was a bit longer than expected – but it's because there's been plenty to do and interesting things to keep me entertained and happy,” he said.

“Now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and think about what's next.”

Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Firms urged to go 'beyond being problem solvers'
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
LCA president Fiona McLeod SC
Aug 17 2017
Where social fault lines meet the justice gap in Aus
After just returning from a tour of the Northern Territory, LCA president Fiona McLeod SC speaks wit...
Marriage equality flag
Aug 17 2017
ALHR backs High Court challenge to marriage equality postal vote
Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has voiced its support for a constitutional challenge to ...
Give advice
Aug 17 2017
A-G issues advice on judiciary’s public presence
Commonwealth Attorney-General George Brandis QC has offered his advice on the public presence of jud...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...