Answered by Keith Willey, London Business School
In my previous career as a lawyer I spent 20 years in the City, but a year ago I was tempted to take part in a management buyout. The decision was a bit of a no-brainer because, even as a lawyer, I’d been trying to understand, from a business perspective, how best to get legal advice and how best to use the legal profession as an entrepreneur.
Over the last year I’ve turned that completely around. As a group, we employ about 4,000 people in 11 countries and turnover is about €800 million so we spend a lot of money on legal and it’s been quite an eye opener to me on this side of the fence as there’s a variety of quality you can get in the legal profession. I think the lawyer has a unique angle on what’s happening in the business. He can be genuinely independent and can give, especially if he has experience, another view. A lawyer can therefore be an invaluable tool in the development of the business if used properly.
Now that I’m buying legal services I want someone who’s got the technical know how and who can also give actual real advice. I don’t want stacks of paper that tell me what I can learn by reading the documents. I don’t want lawyers giving me a lease report that tells me what’s in the lease. I can read a lease. I’m looking for advice. I’m looking for, “If you were in my shoes, what would you do on this point? How would you negotiate that?” There are very few lawyers, actually, that can do that.
Keith Willey is executive director of the Foundation for Entrepreneurial Management at London Business School. Formerly chief executive of the Centre for Scientific Enterprise Entrepreneurship, his main areas of research include: venture capital, growth management, technology ventures and organisation development.