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What MSBs Should Look for When Engaging a Legal Partner


Laura Harper

Partner – Intellectual Property

Shoosmiths LLP

· Strategy,Leader Interviews

“Lawyers need to be accessible – not just in terms of being on the end of the phone, email or messaging service, but in the way they communicate complex legal points in simple and clear terms.”

The day to day work of my team concerns advising businesses on how to achieve their objectives by protecting and leveraging the intellectual property (IP) which they own and use.

Innovation and intellectual property are central to the growth and development of mid size businesses (MSBs) and are seen as high priorities for CEOs.

MSBs are generally clear on the direction they want to grow as a business, and they know how to deliver their products and services effectively. MSBs have the ability to really leverage their IP to achieve their commercial objectives. We work collaboratively with management teams to develop and execute a company’s strategy for this. This close relationship benefits both us as an advisor and the business as a client.

MSBs may have legal advisors in-house or directors with a good knowledge of the law. Investing in these key relationships allows us to advise, not in a vacuum but within a strategic framework which we develop with the client and in the context of a good understanding of the business.

When MSBs are sure of their strategy, they are better placed to use professional services. They become sophisticated users of professional services and clear on what they want to achieve.

What we have learnt to do is make sure our services are delivered in an accessible way to support client goals.

What should MSBs look for when engaging a legal partner?

The quality of advice which a business will receive from a leading law firm is accepted. However, other key elements which are not always a given can be broken down into three elements:

  1. The lawyers should have a good knowledge of your business sector and the challenges within it. The reputation of the lawyers in the field you work in (and their reputation for delivering commercially accessible advice) is the first thing to look for;

  2. You should understand how the law firm will work with your business. Ask how the team will engage with you. Sometimes a partner will carry out your work but then will soon push it down to the most junior lawyers. That might be great for cost in the short term, but in reality, you will probably benefit from a partner-led approach where you are supported by the wider team. Even if most of the day-to-day work is conducted by junior members of the team, this approach means that you have a joined-up service and that the work is going to be managed properly; and

  3. The lawyers should have enthusiasm for your business and an appetite to help you reach and achieve your business goals. Your legal partner needs to have an empathy for what you are doing, and you should be able to gauge this from your initial meeting with the lawyer.

Once they’ve engaged a legal partner, how should MSBs expect them to work?

Firstly, lawyers need to be accessible – not just in terms of being on the end of the phone, email or messaging service, but in the way they communicate complex legal points in simple and clear terms.

Lawyers should also have great sector knowledge so they are not learning from you “on the job”. Checking that the team share the same resolution-driven approach to matters helps avoid protracted correspondence on particular issues.

What are Shoosmiths doing to help MSBs develop IP and business strategy?

We work with MSBs in various ways. We generally start by conducting ‘smart’ IP audits for companies whose business strategy is defined by the IP they produce, use, market or sell. We have a human-centred design approach; we put the client at the heart of the process, identify the problem we want to solve – whether it’s growth, investment, product development or market positioning - before sitting down with the stakeholders in the business and immersing ourselves in the challenge with the client in the context of the business IP. We then run through potential resolutions to the issue, and this is followed by the implementation stage where we work with the client to put the optimum resolution into effect. The beauty of this process is that we work with the client at each step to determine required results.

MSBs are the perfect size of business

MSBs are large enough to be significant players in the economy and small enough for us to work directly with the board and become a valuable member of the team. We have invested of ourselves and in specialist products for these businesses, and our empathy for the companies has been key to successfully supporting MSBs.

We have a ‘can-do’ approach and a willingness to get involved with businesses as much or as little as required so that we can understand the organisations we are working with and offer advice beyond a purely legal perspective. A resolution-driven approach is absolutely how legal services should be delivered.

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