Mid-tier pulls back from full-service offering
Piper Alderman has decided to focus on key areas to stay relevant in the national mid-tier market, as opposed to aspiring to be a full-service firm.
Since stepping into the role of national managing partner some 18 months ago, Tony Britten-Jones has made a raft of changes within the firm, most notably rebranding itself from a full-service firm to a multi-service firm.
"The first thing that we changed was we stopped aspiring to be a full-service firm. We had a good look in the mirror and came to the conclusion that we probably weren't a full-service firm and that it was a big ask for us to try and achieve that," Mr Britten-Jones told Lawyers Weekly.
"Then we thought, that doesn't matter, we are very good in a number of areas and we're going to focus on those areas."
Mr Britten-Jones said with the current state of the legal market, the only way for mid-tier firms to stay relevant is by focusing on their own areas of strength, rather than trying to do everything.
"It’s hard for a mid-tier firm to be completely full-service, so it’s fairly important for the mid-tiers to narrow the focus," he said.
"You give yourself a far better chance of doing what you do at the cutting edge, and if firms in the mid-tier aren't at the cutting edge of what they do then they're going to come unstuck because we're being attacked from all over the place.
"The top-tier is coming down, and boutiques and other professional service organisations are trying to broaden their service offering and encroaching into some of our space."
The three main areas that Piper Alderman has discontinued offering services in are workers compensation and general insurance work, while also pulling back from retail funded litigation work.
"We were allowing our work in funded litigation to get to what I’d call a retail plaintiffs and litigation practice," he said.
"We thought let's just stick to being a plaintiffs practice but not at the retail level or at the institutional level either."
The core areas Piper Alderman will continue to focus on are intellectual property, health sciences, employment relations, real estate, infrastructure, corporate law and commercial litigation and dispute resolution.
"They are all areas where mid-tier firms can thrive because some of those work areas, such as employment relations, real estate and some aspects of IP, they can be just ancillary work areas in the top-tier firms whereas mid-tiers can really focus on them."
He said that not only helps them win work, but can also help them attract lateral hires.
"We've had over the past year or two quite a few lateral hires from people in those spaces who've come from other firms, and in a number of instances top-tier firms, who have said they like that we concentrate on these areas because at the top-tier firms those areas are being marginalised," he said.
While it was a difficult decision, Mr Britten-Jones said that the change has been well received.
"It’s not easy to say we're not going to do something anymore, and you do take an immediate hit financially when you cut an area off which also involves letting some people go and that can have a moral impact," he said.
"But if people understand why you're doing it there's a far better chance of it being accepted and our message has been well received both internally and externally."
Since Mr Britten-Jones's appointment as managing partner, the firm has also introduced an innovation council and a diversity council to stay at the forefront of both of those areas.
Another major focus has been graduate recruitment and retention, with the introduction of the Next Generation program.
"The Next Generation program is a recognition by us that we need to work harder at bringing our people through the ranks," he said.
"We have a strategy of attract, train and retain, and I think we'd fallen back a bit in that area in recent years, so we’ve thought of a number of ways that we can work to bring people through the practice and we start training people from the moment they get here."