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Diary of a Sharemark float: The role of behavioural science

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The management team has spent an exhaustive six-month period defining our target market, the ideal prospective client and the “value proposition” for the target market. At the beginning of the process we decided to explore the potential of growing our business through local franchises. This is something that has not been tried successfully by any law firm.

The challenge of doing so (including the absolute commitment to systems and processes) is evident. However, the ability to create a scalable business, where our profit margins will increase as our company revenue grows, whilst maintaining quality of legal services, was very appealing. But it has also become apparent that it is an essential pre-requisite to seeking admission to Sharemark as a pathway to accessing future capital.

Over the last few months we have been talking to a number of prospective pilot franchisees. We plan to establish three pilots, which will help us refine the prototype model already operated in Witney. However, our discussions have brought home to me that finding people with legal and business competence is only part of the story. We have to build a team of individuals whose patterns of behaviour ‘fits’ with the nature of franchising and with our own corporate culture.

The problem is that lawyers tend to fall into two polarised categories. As a general rule, law tends to attract risk-averse individuals. The training of lawyers (which is all about spotting, analysing and apportioning risk) reinforces the cautious attributes needed for success. Even in the large firms only a very small number of “rainmakers” are responsible for most new business.

The exceptions to the rule are the charismatic front men who have built up and now head successful commercial law firms: corporate lawyers who can win the trust of business owners and who can manage projects and relationships. Our dilemma is to work out which personality type we need to recruit.

We wonder whether the charismatic rainmaker would feel constrained by the systems and processes of a franchise. On the other hand, would the less charismatic solicitor be good enough at winning the confidence of the business owner? Our brand and marketing consultant has provoked (and gently teased) the management team with the line that our marketing must be so compelling that the franchisee simply becomes an “order taker” and needs little or no selling skills: a dumb terminal was even mentioned!

That might be an achievable aspiration for a consumer-focused High Street legal shop. But is it at all true of a law firm looking to win commercial legal work? This can be very varied and complex even for small transactions. Even with great products and systems the front man needs to be a skilled and experienced lawyer able to think quickly on his or her feet.

We all agree that we must seek guidance from a behavioural psychologist. The format decided upon is that all five of the management team will undertake an on-line behavioural assessment. The psychologist will then lead some group discussions, one of which will be for us all to agree the behavioural characteristics of an ideal franchisee.

James Hunt is a solicitor, serial entrepreneur and founder of Everyman Legal.

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