Carolyn Aldous: Our firm’s got a really proud history of innovation and in the UK, which is our head office, for six years we’ve been recognized as one of the leading firms in terms of innovation.
Intro: Welcome to Professionally Challenged. War stories from leaders driving change in law firms. Your hosts are Rob Patterson of Parkins Lane Consulting Group and Paul Evans of Toro Digital.
Paul Evans: Today we’re very lucky to be interviewing Carolyn Aldous who is the Managing Director and Global Co-head of Peerpoint, which is Allen & Overy’s global platform for self-directed consultant lawyers. Carolyn co-leads Peerpoint with Ben Williams. Peer Point works with Allen & Overy’s clients practice groups and advanced delivery businesses to meet their interim legal compliance and regulatory resourcing needs and provides a panel of consultants access to career enhancing assignments. Carolyn joined the Peerpoint team in 2014 and led the London client development team before moving to Sydney in 2017 to lead the business in Asia-Pacific. Prior to joining Peerpoint, Carolyn was the Asia-Pacific Client Relationship Manager, having spent time in both Singapore and Hong Kong. Carolyn holds a Master of Business Administration, a Master of Marketing, and a Bachelor of Commerce in Management from Monash University in Melbourne. Welcome to the show, and good morning, Carolyn.
Carolyn Aldous: Good morning, Paul. Good morning, Rob.
Rob Patterson: Hey, Carolyn. So first, we’re going to talk a little bit about viewpoint business models and all of that sort of thing. So, doing a Porter’s five forces a few years ago for a law client, one of the emerging entrants was this category called New Law, and it seemed to me that New Law was a title given to anything that was not a traditional law firm. So I was interested in getting a bit of a sense of what you, how you might define New Law.
Carolyn Aldous: Sure. Yeah. I think New Law is an interesting “catch all” for many new businesses that are coming out that have a legal compliance or regulatory focus. The industry, if you caught the recent Thomson Reuters report on the alternative legal services market values that market globally, now at about 10.7 billion USD. So I would argue it’s sort of new and evolved or arrived. And the growth within that market, it’s just under 13% compound for the last two years. So when you compare that with the gross rates seen in traditional law firms, it’s outstripping it really quickly and if we then think about Allen & Overy and what we’re saying here is that all those new businesses and some of those have been around actually for about 15 years are now getting to the point where they’re 4-5% = percent of our global revenue.
Rob Patterson: Wow, okay, so significant.
Carolyn Aldous: Significant. But, there’s a huge change element required to bring those in, whether it’s in a firm or, you say many people doing it independently.
Rob Patterson: Okay. Maybe you might just pick up on that. So one of the things I’ve seen a lot of law firms invest in new business units, but I very often fail or wither on the vine. What do Allen & Overy do differently to support their investments? Because they seem to have a pretty good strike rate.
Carolyn Aldous: Yeah. The firm’s got a really proud history of innovation and in the UK, which is our head office for the last six years we’ve been recognised as one of the leading firms in terms of innovation. The firm’s done lots of things to create a culture of innovation. We have an innovation board, we have forums where our employees can make suggestions both in terms of how it could be serving clients better from a legaltech, but the spirit of innovation has been ground up. So, someone comes up with an idea they quite often will write a business case for it, put it to management and then we’ll be given seed funding to take that forward. And to Peerpoint, that is exactly what happened. We acknowledged there was some factors in the market that were occurring, both for talented lawyers and what clients were needing and the challenge the firm was grappling with. And that, really, those things came together and in knowledge in there was a business opportunity there.
Rob Patterson: Brilliant. Okay. Well that’s a nice segue. So can you tell us a bit about Peerpoint’s business model?
Carolyn Aldous: I could take all day to do this, Rob, but sure I can. So Peerpoint is Allen & Overy’s flexible resource in business. We used to define ourselves as “flexible legal resourcing” and we’ve dropped that quite recently. Peerpoint, to the factors I just mentioned, came about because there was three things happening. The firm, Allen & Overy, wanted to have more variability in its own resourcing. We were, as you know, most law firms resource for a hundred percent busyness and then in that they carry the cost during the downside. So we were grappling with that issue. The firm was also grappling with our clients asking for lots of secondees as part of being on major financial institution panels we were asked for secondees and we didn’t have the capacity to meet those needs as part of our permanent employment force. We then were losing great talent.
Carolyn Aldous: People were leaving. On the average year we take somewhere between 80 and a hundred grads in London and only a very small proportion of those make it to partnership. And along the way they’ve had great training, they’ve worked with great clients and they are opting out or choosing to do something else, and we acknowledge that the traditional view that partnership was success was changing in our workforce. And last but not least, particularly in the UK, which is where Peerpoint was launched initially, was the issue that clients were struggling to get permanent head count in a tightening economic environment. Actually, in-house teams are really resource constrained and we’re looking to their major law firms to assist.
Rob Patterson: Cool. It all makes sense to me. One of the things that I’ve noticed about the way you go your marketing, it seems that Peerpoint’s positioning or targeting is very similar to Allen & Overy’s in terms of industries in client base.
Carolyn Aldous: Yes, absolutely. Peerpoint was developed as a client solution and it comes out of Allen & Overy. So all of the businesses that operate subject to regulatory environments and the requirements in local markets come out of the local partnership or out of the LLP. So that means that our commitment to the Allen & Overy brand, what it stands for in terms of being advanced in the way we deliver legal services, the quality hallmarks, all are central to help, the businesses we’ve created.
Rob Patterson: All right, so I get it so far. So there was three things going on that that led to the genesis or the innovation around Peerpoint, it’s positioning is beautifully aligned with what the businesses is doing. What about the lawyer-side of things? What’s in it for a lawyer?
Carolyn Aldous: Yeah, this is the best bit. For a lawyer and the lawyers I so often meet, so I meet a lot of lawyers in the average week and many are grappling with taking control of their career. Whether they’ve been or they are in private practice or in-house, the challenges of an increasing workload doing more with less is consistent. And for many, that drive to just keep doing more is leading to burnout. You know, our industry has a real issue in terms of mental health, in terms of substance abuse. So there’s a lot of issues in our profession that need dealing with, and very often the joy for me in this job, which is not really the answer to your question, but the joy is meeting a lawyer for the first time and they walk in, normally out of private practice in fairness, and they sit in front of me, and I can tell that the achievement was getting here to make this meeting today.
Carolyn Aldous: They’ve arrived, they’ve left their desk, they’ve got up. And you can see, as I explained in the recruitment team who works with me, explain what our proposition is and what we’re setting out to do – the energy lift. And for me them being able to think about stepping out of a traditional employment relationship because Peerpoint is a consultancy model, and taking control of when they work, how they work, and recognising that they have other things in their life. Yesterday I met someone and I said, what’s your “side hustle”? And to even be able to have it, that kind of conversation in a firm such about, such as ours is pretty unique, because you actually can bring your whole self to consulting, which I think is quite unique.
Paul Evans: Without the risk of starting a business and the admin headache of starting a business. I imagine it’s part of the attraction?
Carolyn Aldous: Yeah, absolutely. So consulting now through Peerpoint’s been going for five and a half years. So there’s definitely an evolution of the consulting market and if you think about it, lawyers are being late to this game.. IT professionals have been doing it for long time, it’s a well worn path, but there was a gap in the market for lawyers to do that, so, really providing the support. So we, via the Peerpoint platform, offer lawyers access to Allen & Overy’s know-how, to training. They’ve got a call back to base so it’s not going alone, but they are in charge of their career.
Rob Patterson: So let’s say in terms of their professional development then, does that mean, do they reach out to you inside of those things I’m looking into doing or do they get kind of like a menu of what Allen & Overy’s doing and they can tap into that. How do they go about that?
Carolyn Aldous: Yeah, so that journey starts actually at their first interview. So the first time they walk in to our offices, they meet with a recruiter, but also someone who is from our consultant development team; and the consultant development team essential to the Peerpoint proposition for a lawyer, they deliver a program of training both technical and soft skills, and when I say soft skills, that’s how to, you know, be successful at consulting. We’re doing things at the moment around project management and how to have those skills, and through some of the other Allen & Overy advanced delivery businesses skills such as how you would, a consulting mindset or how you consult and also legal technology. So that all comes out of there. We then also spend time really understanding what their career aspiration is. We want consulting to be career enhancing.
Carolyn Aldous: So it’s very easy to go and speak to a recruiter and if you’re a leveraged finance lawyer, that recruiter will just move you from one leverage finance, private practice or in-house team. And for some people that want to do deals all the time, that’s great. But if you’re wanting to develop skills such as team management or diversify, that’s often quite hard. But consulting, our aim is that we understand what you’re looking for, we can work with our clients to engineer an arrangement that allow for you to expand your skills. And frankly from a client side, taking someone who doesn’t have the perfect skillset for an consulting assignment isn’t as high risk as if you’re going to do that in the permanent perspective.
Rob Patterson: Cool. So it’s almost like you’re developing a sort of, more of like a team of consultants who are consultant lawyers who don’t necessarily finish that prior product practice mold. So yeah, it’s interesting. I hadn’t really envisaged it being like that.
Carolyn Aldous: Yeah. And to that point, I mean we set ourselves out and when we were sort of building our brand, we spent a lot of time looking outside of the legal industry. So we looked at where platforms were emerging and what were the characteristics of those. So it won’t surprise you. We looked at Airbnb, we looked at Uber and said, how are they creating something between the supply and the demand in the market? And that’s what Peerpoint’s set out to do. It doesn’t in the same way use a technology platform. Although we are at the point of building to underpin, I guess, our growth strategy.
Rob Patterson: That’d be interesting. You could have an app on your phone and find a lawyer.
Paul Evans: But is that one of the advantages in that it is instant as opposed to having to recruit? Recruitment’s obviously a slow process. So you have this pool of consultants.
Carolyn Aldous: We don’t hire the panel for a particular role. We hire for skillset, quality and where we see demand in the market. So yes, you’re right. There’s a group of lawyers who can be accessed quite quickly. And that can be, if you think about the client’s need, it can be cause they’ve got a one-off event they’re going to need assistance with.They may be have got a team absence or an unplanned absence and therefore need to bring someone in, or they go through a project or regulatory project making a change that they need to adapt and they just don’t have the skills or the capability or capacity to meet that need.
Rob Patterson: I imagine that the Allen & Overy partners are in a way part of your business development strategy, how do you go with cross referral because they might see that as actually cutting their own lunch?
Carolyn Aldous: Yeah. Can I be honest? When we had that conversation, it was a fist pump moment because for me that was the arrival, that our business was now at a point where we were a supporting and credible offering within A & O. And if you think about what the firm is trying to do more broadly is we’re known to be experts in several areas of law and where, you know, a great firm, but all of these businesses are there to support our high-“end technical offering. They’re not to replace it, but they are to enhance the offering. And we did some research, it’d be now five years ago, it’s actually the stepping of how I ended up in New Law and it was called “unbundling the market” and we’ve researched and I think we spoke over 250 GC’s globally about where their legal spend was going to go in the next five years.
Carolyn Aldous: And there was a real acknowledgement five years ago that the LPO market was something they were going to start sending document reviews and do that sort of thing and that they split — they could see the split of their legal spend needed to be driven by efficiency. But what was missing was that there was a lot of smaller providers in the market that they didn’t have a quality assurance about how they, there was a risk profile in going out. And as we know, when clients buying any form of service, having some sort of assurance about the relationship that who they going to call when it doesn’t go right, that they have trust and that there is a really strong understanding between the provider and the client, we could see that actually holding some of these businesses within Allen & Overy was where the power was going to be.
Rob Patterson: Okay, that makes more sense to me. So, you know, like, I imagine one of your competitors is like Lawyers On Demand. And so by providing that service, it’s targeted, you know, your space. It’s really, people can rely on that. GC’s can rely on it.
Carolyn Aldous: And Lawyers On Demand are a great business. It’s been one that’s been in the Australian market for nearly 15 years. And whether you look at Lawyers On Demand or Axiom in Asia and London, I would call them New Law. You know, they were that, the creator of new models.
Rob Patterson: Okay. So they’re groundbreakers.
Carolyn Aldous: And in fairness, it has been easier for Peerpoint operating markets where they had already operated because they had validated the model of consulting. So we, well, I’ve just said that I know it has developed a lot of these businesses ourselves. We equally collaborate with best in class and there’s times where that will mean working with Axiom, it will mean working with an LPO and that ultimately is about the best outcome for the client.
Rob Patterson: Just want sure to tell me, and it’s a little bit off on a tangent, but yeah, one of the things I’d noticed is that LPO’s whereas once upon a time law firms would keep them to themselves and put their own work through them. They seem to now be offering them direct to clients as well. So, Allen and Overy doing that?
Carolyn Aldous: But we have tended to have a panel of LPO’s that we work with and through our legal service center in Belfast, they actually sit as a quality assurance working with that LPO. So quite often the first review will be done in that environment. And then, our legal service center will act as an escalation point for resolving issues.
Rob Patterson: Okay. Sorry, I’ll led you off on a tangent. Can you say it and just, just getting a little bit controversial, can you see the day when Peerpoint and your fellow siblings in A&O will rival the law firm or was the law firm always be the central point?
Carolyn Aldous: Oh, we have many a good debate. The power for Peerpoint is being part of Allen & Overy. And it is both on the talent side, so for our consultants and for our clients. So let me just explain that a little bit more because when I say we have great debate, we really do. On the talent side, we attract lawyers who I suspect would not consult if it were not for the Allen & Overy brand. The safety of moving from an employment relationship to consulting is underpinned by our access to clients, the quality mandates we have, and also the backing in terms of support, technical and training our professional indemnity insurance. So our consultants are covered by that has a whole lot of things that make the proposition compelling for a group of lawyers. Client side, it’s exactly the same. It is the knowledge that every lawyer who is on our panel has been quality endorsed and is backed by Allen & Overy. And that at a recruitment level is, our recruitment process normally takes someone four to six weeks to get through. It involves meeting us, the Peerpoint management team around mindset and whether someone’s going to thrive in a consulting environment, we’re very clear about the pros and the cons of consulting and why it’s right at some points of your career and may not be at others. Each lawyer is then met by an Allen & Overy partner in the technical area that they specialise and go through the paces in terms of their technical ability.
Rob Patterson: Okay, so they’re the real deal.
Carolyn Aldous: Check. They’re the real deal. Sometimes suspect, some of them are coffees. But again, actually the lawyers were attracting a normally alumni, they’re known to our partners and staff from other firms, they’re clients. So it is this, sort of circle. And then to complete the recruitment process, we do several reference checks, we do employment screening. So there’s quite a process which means that when the client briefs us on a role, we only ever provide two surveys. It’s not a recruitment process. We’re not saying here’s everyone we’ve got, we’re saying this is the right lawyer for this task cause we know what you’re trying to achieve. We know your culture, and this is Alpha.
Rob Patterson: It’s a bit of an innovation in the recruitment space, isn’t it? As opposed to just smash those that square pegs into those round holes.
Carolyn Aldous: Yeah, and in fairness, I’d much rather say to the client, I’m not the right option for you. And I actually think I learned this from you, Rob, is we’re not the right option, but could I recommend someone who I value and I think does a good job in this space?
Rob Patterson: Which will enhance the relationship long term. Absolutely. Cool. Now something that interests me is sort of the evolution of in-house firms. Say, you’re a major client, the major people that you interface with. It seems like in-house this seems to be a bit of a revolution going on as well.
Carolyn Aldous: Absolutely. It’s really interesting when you spend time with the GC or the senior leader in an in-house team, the challenges are very similar to being in private practice, especially when managing a team and quite often in a pretty flat environment. So there, that’s sort of in the talent space providing opportunities for their team to grow, to expand their product range. For instance, if they’re in a financial institution or lead high profile mandates as can be pretty challenging. What we are seeing is in some markets are more advanced than others, this real push to ensure the providers they work with, providing more for less. You know, the pressure, the cost pressure is significant and the focus on doing that in a really high pressure environment, having time to think it through and have a direction for how you want your in-house team to look and feel on the service it’s providing is really challenging when you’ve got a whole lot of fires occurring around you. It’s fair to say that we have a lot of conversations with in-house leaders who have great vision, but to the New Law point, is it’s pretty challenging to bring in a piece of legal technology or, and a lot of the technology is early stage is to solve one issue. It’s not enterprise-wide. And as such, to go through the process of bringing in a local tech solution, maybe to do NDAs, which is something that takes a huge amount of time for an in-house team to do. And it’s whilst as risk, it’s reasonably low value in terms of, you don’t need a senior lawyer doing it first to find a solution that allows you to get where you need to be and implement it. Particularly if you are not in the head office is really difficult, so I regularly hear that some of the challenges are simplest document management in-house team. And so it’s a real, you know, I think a lot of in-house clients are struggling with how do we get the time and space, how do we get the investment to make some of these changes whilst continuing to offer the services their business needs.
Rob Patterson: You mentioned CLOC earlier on. I’m interested in CLOC Tell me about CLOC.
Carolyn Aldous: So CLOC is an organization that’s been developed out of the United States. CLOC stands for Chief Legal Operations Consortium and I didn’t know that about 12 months ago.
Rob Patterson: So, Paul and I only learnt about it five minutes ago!
Carolyn Aldous: So CLOC’s really interesting, it is in my words and probably not in how they maybe market themselves, the professionalism of the in-house legal team and recognition that there are many skills to be brought to bear, so whether that be at the, I guess the start of the CLOC is procurement and efficiency through to how you manage vendor relationships through to legal tech. And the first CLOC conference was held here in Australia or the first Australian conference was held here last September, so September 18, and they’ll be back later this year. And it’s a really interesting space because I think that evolution within the in-house team will really provide an avenue for some great discussions and more people who are wanting to change how law firm services are purchased. So I don’t think it’s something to be threatened by in terms of that change. I think there’s actually an opportunity to really collaborate.
Rob Patterson: Absolutely, and perhaps, yeah, as a firm or for firms to make sure that they are at the cutting edge or ahead of the curve rather than laying behind. I was talking with an in-house counsel, I was on a panel recently and then this council was saying that if she sees one more valuation he’s going to vomit. You know, because every time that they went out for the panel, everyone came back to the same crappy “value adds” the same. Whereas I think what you’re saying is that they’re getting more and more sophisticated and if you can collaborate with them and work with them, you ‘re probably straight ahead of other firms.
Carolyn Aldous: Absolutely. And we’ve recently also seen, and it was, I think in the AFR this week, the GC at Westpac has asked one of her private practice firms and a new law firm who specializes in AI to work together to provide advice on how AI can be used and the risks associated with it. So that’s actually really interesting and here is a client asking for New Law and traditional law to come together.
Rob Patterson: Cool, I like that. Great answer. Right now I just ticked over the next topic I’ve got in front of me and made me laugh cause we were talking about this this morning. In terms of leadership, you’re now Managing Director with a fairly reasonably-sized team underneath you. What’s the hardest thing about leading?
Carolyn Aldous: For me, and I think it’s different for everybody, the hardest thing is to be present in every conversation and to be present in whether I’m working with a junior team member and offering them guidance as I received from you in my career or whether it is spending time with a lawyer who is making some really big career choices and life changes and having an understanding and empathy for that. Or if it’s to sit down and do the reading and the thinking that needs to be done in terms of the direction of the business, finding time for all of those things and being present when doing those things, I think’s the hardest challenge.
Rob Patterson: Wow. I love that answer, but it really resonates with me because I know what you mean when you’re leading a team, you can be so busy. It is so hard sometimes just to put everything else out of your mind and just spend the time with the person in front of you. It’s really difficult or even just reading something you need to read or yeah, I think that’s something I’d like to do a lot more if I could do as well . It’s a really good point.
Carolyn Aldous: So it’s not to say it’s easy. Along the journey, also like what I need to do to be at my peak performance, and that is something I work at very hard and I think it’s important for leaders to acknowledge what they need, because when the tank’s empty, what we’ve just talked about is pretty much impossible. So for me that is trying to eat on the whole pretty well. I train and see s personal trainer couple of times a week and that is less about the physical and more about how I walk into this environment every day and my mindset and not drinking too much coffee. I am looking at Robert as I say that!
Rob Patterson: Its ten to eleven and I’m only on fourth!
Carolyn Aldous: Let’s talk about how you sleep tonight.
Rob Patterson: Yes. That could be interesting. So what do you do to keep on learning?
Carolyn Aldous: That’s a good one. Fortunate, I think there’s two ways to answer that. Allen & Overy has been incredible for my career and at every juncture where I’ve been thinking about what next? Something else is, the firm has come up with something else. So for me, there has been learning within my role and the point of when you’ve got that under control, it starting to get a little bit like, oh, this is a bit repetitious. I’ve been able to find the firms come to the party. And to anyone listening where they’re wondering what to do, I’m very good at articulating what I need, you know, so in being someone who is being managed, if you’re able to be clear about where you want to get to in your career and to, not in a bolshie way, but I will try to articulate that you give people the opportunity to help you to get there.
Paul Evans: Absolutely. Whether it’s within or without you give, yeah.
Carolyn Aldous: They know where you’re at. So that is something I’ve really worked out and my move to Asia-Pacific was because I walked into my boss’s office and I was freezing and it was dark, with my sassy finger, said I won’t be here in 12 months. It’s too cold. And now I’m in sunny Sydney, and so for me at that point, that was something I needed in terms of learning. I try to do a lot of reading. For instance, tomorrow I’m off to the TEDX conference because again, and I am sitting here today thinking, how am I going to make that physically happen? And again, the message is, when you feel like that, that’s when you need to go.
Rob Patterson: Yeah, absolutely. And you find the time.
Carolyn Aldous: You find the time, you do. Sorry. Yep.
Paul Evans: All right, well we’ve had so much of your time and thank you for being so generous. Just a few questions to finish up with. So if someone really knew you really well, what is the one thing they would know about you that others wouldn’t?
Carolyn Aldous: Wow, Paul. That’s probably the trickiest question I’ve been asked for a while.That whilst I’m an extrovert, and day to day, that is how I get my energy come the weekend. I like to be alone and I need to restore myself. So that probably isn’t something people would, when they work with me know, but I described myself recently as an exhausted extra bit extrovert, so yeah. Really, I’m using my personal time to restore myself and get my energy back.
Paul Evans: And can you nominate another legal industry leader that you hold in great respect that you think should be on our podcast?
Carolyn Aldous: I gave this quite a lot of thought. I have worked with some incredible mentors. Richard Punt, who, until recently, I reported to, has such vision for what professional services is and has been in many ways the architect of Peerpoint. So I think he’s great.
Paul Evans: If you could lead any company in the world other than Peerpoint, which company would that be?
Carolyn Aldous: I’m going to give you two answers. I look at Apple and in terms of their ability to create an experience and their ability to make that consistent is something that’s pretty incredible.
Paul Evans: I think it’s every marketer’s dream.
Carolyn Aldous: And they’re beautiful and all those sort of things. And I have been known recently to say what, how should we define the Peerpoint experience in the same way that’s consistent because if you’re going to scale out business and needs to have those characteristics, I’m yet to find the thing that I can launch my own business doing. But if I was, it would be very much to bring together, travel, probably my love of champagne. And to do that in a way again, that meets another market. So recently I have been traveling and I joined a group called Flash Pack and like Apple, the experience, every interaction had the same connectivity. So I would thrive to find a business that had high experiential factor.
Rob Patterson: Well there’s an opportunity, I think we should do a podcast where we just travel around the champagne-growing districts.
Paul Evans: Finally, if people want to connect with you, Carolyn, how would they go about doing that?
Carolyn Aldous: Sure. You can find me on LinkedIn, on the Peerpoint website. My details are all over that and that gives access to both my email and mobile number.
Paul Evans: Thanks so much for being on the show.
Carolyn Aldous: No worries, team. Thank you.
Outro: Thank you for listening to Professionally Challenged. Visit our website at www.professionallychallenged.com and please leave us a review on iTunes. Until next time. Bye for now.