Interview with Paul Turner (Senior lawyer with over 30 years legal experience including 11 years as a Partner with Clyde & Co, London).
To reinforce the continuing growth and development of Blue Pencil’s legal recruitment division, Blue Pencil has recently appointed Paul Turner, a globally recognised senior Arbitration lawyer and former Partner of Clyde & Co as a non-Executive Director of the firm.
Paul saw Blue Pencil as a good fit with his own interest in making sure that law firms hire the right type of individuals to deal with the challenging nature of the evolving legal market. In his first interview since becoming a non- Executive Director, Paul talks to Chris Lipscomb, Blue Pencil’s COO about the challenges of finding the right type of lawyers and what qualities the “right type of lawyers” should possess.
Paul: Now that I am involved with a legal recruitment firm, I am only too happy to share my views as to what qualities are most important. Aside from having held a variety of senior positions in law firms, I have also run my own law firm in the city of London which gave me an excellent grounding in seeing things from a business perspective.
Chris: What do you see as being one of the primary qualities that lawyers should have?
Paul: One of the skill sets that often gets overlooked is the importance of listening. Whilst I would accept that lawyers generally are bright individuals, clients would often complain to me that the lawyers they were speaking to, simply were not listening to their requirements. We can at times be too keen to put across our extensive knowledge of the laws but we may not always be so good at focussing on the particular points a client wants addressed. Nothing infuriates a client more than seeing a lengthy written legal advice that they have to plough through in order to find the response to the queries they raised. Clients understandably want solutions to real issues that they are having to deal with and they want this done in a business like way.
Chris: You mention “business like way”, how important is commercial acumen?
Paul: It is essential. I believe that a good lawyer needs to look at things through the client’s eyes and also think what he/she would be looking for if it was their own money they were spending. Clients are normally part of a business entity that needs to be profitable in order to survive just like a law firm. The lawyer who is commercially astute will recognise that if they can be seen to be providing useful/beneficial and cost effective advice that helps in some way to limit risk/harm or cost exposure, they are likely to be used again as they are actively helping maintain the viability of the business entity.
Chris: What else do you feel is important?
Paul: Hand in hand with being commercially astute is a recognition of the importance of responsiveness. Lawyers do have a reputation for working long hours but unfortunately a client’s concerns cannot always be addressed within the confines of normal working hours. When problems arise, clients quite rightly respect a timely acknowledgement of their queries and a timeframe by which the matter will be progressed or at least attended to. This dovetails neatly into another skill that is becoming more and more essential for senior lawyers in particular – the ability to estimate the length of time certain matters are likely to take. Quite apart from anything else, clients are demanding more and more fixed fee arrangements or fee caps, even for work which may last 1 or 2 years such as arbitrations.
As a lawyer you have to be able to try and balance your own commercial desire to win the work with doing it cost effectively. This is a tough ask, but the ability to make a sensible call when pricing up a piece of legal work/advice is increasingly critical. In my experience, many lawyers encounter nasty experiences on this front.
Chris: I know you have looked at many CVs from lawyers in your time, what’s your view on the amount of movement that might be seen as acceptable?
Paul: This is an interesting one as I do have a high regard for loyalty. I also accept that there are times where no one firm can develop someone as quickly as they want to be developed which leads to progression elsewhere. However, I always worry when I look at a CV where someone has moved around every two years or less without an obvious reason for having done so. Excessive movement sadly reminds me of the old adage that “the best predictor of future performance is past performance”. As with relationships, if someone has left everyone else within two years, why not you? The enormous investment that goes into recruiting and training lawyers is rarely recouped within a short two year stint so effectively you may be importing a potential loss.
Chris: Some firms seem to have taken on the practice of deep referencing especially where senior lawyers are concerned in order to find out more about them from where they have previously worked? What’s you view on this?
Paul: I would agree that there is merit in having as much information on someone before they join you. I am however also mindful that the legal profession like any other can be prone to gossip and therefore I think one has to be very careful in what we view as being factual as opposed to heresay. For example, the nature of the deals you have worked on in the past can be readily checked out but someone saying that an individual is arrogant based on a chance meeting in a seminar is unlikely to be a fair representation of the individual.
Chris: Unlike in some some other professions, the world seems to have no shortage of lawyers, surely this alone makes recruiting good lawyers an easier ask?
Paul: Absolutely not. The truth is that good lawyers are always in short supply especially those who can combine their legal skills with a commercial approach and who are able to engage with clients.
Chris: What impact do you feel artificial intelligence/technology will have on the legal profession in the future?
Paul: Change has always been with us and the legal profession has adjusted in line with technological advances like anywhere else. I suspect that repetitive, routine, transactional tasks will become ever more automated. I don’t necessarily see this as a threat as good legal brains will always be required.
Chris: Do you have any tips that you would give to a young lawyer starting his career?
Paul: I think it is always hard when you start out as a young lawyer. You need to be resilient and always be ready to learn new things. If you have the right mindset, you can have a truly rewarding career as a lawyer. I never regret for one moment having chosen a legal career for myself as I have met many amazing people and worked on some very interesting legal matters, all over the world.
Chris: I know that you are still as busy as ever but when you do have some downtime, what do you like doing to relax?
Paul: I try to devote as much time as I can to my family which I think is very important as life is still a delicate balancing act between work and home. I have family in the UK, Australia and the Middle East. I am an avid reader and enjoy keeping up to date with current affairs in Europe, the US, but particularly the Middle East. Swimming and walking are my physical recreational activities which I pursue in an increasingly unsuccessful effort to keep my weight down – always a challenge when you live in Dubai!
Paul Turner, non-executive Director of Blue Pencil
PAUL TURNER Paul has over 30 years of commercial legal experience as a partner in City of London legal firms, including 11 years as a partner with Clyde & Co and 15 years running his own firm. He has also been Head of Arbitration for several years at the Middle East's largest law firm based in the UAE. His experience has been largely in the field of international disputes before the LCIA, ICC, LMAA, LME, RSA, GAFTA, FOSFA, SAL, DIFC-LCIA, DIAC, Stockholm Chamber of Commerce as well as court cases in the English High Court, Court of Appeal and the House of Lords (now the Supreme Court). He has also handled ad hoc arbitrations in Geneva, Moscow, Doha, London and Dubai. His clients over the years have included the Governments of various Middle Eastern countries and Central Asia plus some of the world's largest commodity companies. Paul has also acted as an arbitrator in proceedings under the rules of the ICC, LCIA, LMAA, DIFC-LCIA, DIAC and in a number of ad hoc matters.