Fee-share practice is first law firm to join collaboration institute

Waller: Clients want their lawyers to be business partners

A consultant-led international law firm, based in the City, has become the first to join the Institute for Collaborative Working (ICW).

Clare Waller, commercial and corporate partner at Spencer West, said collaboration was attractive to clients, who were looking for law firms to be business partners, rather than sorting out disputes after they had gone wrong.

Ms Waller, who joined Spencer West earlier this year, said she had previously worked in-house at a large aerospace, defence and cyber security company which was a member of the ICW and had seen how it helped in negotiations and delivering what customers wanted.

She said the art of collaboration “ran right through the supply chain” and working with other ICW members made it easier for her company to “have a good negotiation and deliver what the customers wanted to achieve because we were working as a team”.

Ms Waller went on: “If you can understand the pushes and pulls in a contract, it makes it easier to deliver a product or service.

“If everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, it reduces the chances of a dispute after the contract has been delivered and is gathering dust.”

The ICW is a not-for-profit organisation that was set up in 1990 by the government to establish collaborative working as a professional business discipline. It developed a British standard in collaboration, which has been followed by the ISO 44000 international suite of standards.

As well as becoming a member of the ICW, Spencer West has become its legal adviser.

“We were already working in a very collaborative manner, but this will underline that and give us something to offer clients,” Ms Waller said. “Industry is moving towards this way of working, particularly in the area of public procurement.”

Ms Waller said she did not think it was harder for consultant-based law firms to work collaboratively.

“The pandemic showed a lot of businesses how to work remotely. We have everything we need to communicate with each other and can go to the office when we want.

“An awful lot of work is done remotely, but we will go where the client requires.”

She said Spencer West would get training from the ICW, though it was yet to decide whether to go all the way to getting certified under the ISO 44000 regime.

The firm could put in place working processes that were the same as if it had been certified, without necessarily having to get the badge.

“I think, historically, lawyers have been seen as quite adversarial and collaboration does not sit well with that.

“Clients now are looking for law firms more as a business partner, than people who sort out a dispute after it has gone wrong.

“It is much more about being a trusted adviser to clients, supporting them in making sure businesses work as effectively as they can.”

She added that Spencer West joining the ICW may “act as a catalyst” for other law firms to join.

Antoine West, managing partner of Spencer West, added: “Like many others, I have worked for firms where lawyers work in silos, with poor information sharing and collaboration between disciplines and partners.

“That kind of approach makes for an unpleasant working environment and poor client service.”

Mr West said collaboration at the firm was “not simply about referring work to each other”, important though that was, but about “developing business opportunities together for our clients and lawyers, by leveraging our strengths across practice areas, sectors and geographies.”

David Hawkins, chief knowledge officer at the ICW, said Spencer West would “enhance the ICW community as not only is collaboration a fundamental part of their ethos, but also their lawyers have industry experience of the benefits for the whole supply chain that can arise from putting collaborative strategies and principles into practice”.

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