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09 July 2018

Give clients what they want - and value: Inside Herbert Smith Freehills' knowledge and research team

Published on 09 July 2018
Providing “value” has long been the mantra of law firms and organisations looking to retain loyal clientele. Delivering on what clients really find valuable, however, has proven at times to be more of a challenge. Matthew Jones, Head of Knowledge and Research at Herbert Smith Freehills spoke to Insights about how the firm has transformed its approach to offering ‘value-adds’ for clients – shifting the focus from more traditional, generic offerings in favour of bespoke services specific to particular clients’ needs. 

“The concept of value-adds for clients – particularly in the Knowledge field – is often thought of in terms of offering things which have low direct cost to the firm, such as research, precedents, or access to library resources,” Matthew observed. “Herbert Smith Freehills asks the client what would be of most value to them, offering more targeted services which help our clients, their business and their commercial strategies – and ultimately, make them look good to their customers and stakeholders.”  

Essential to this approach is listening to the client via structured interviews and more informally, noting what clients ask for in terms of advice and experience. This has led to the firm advising clients on setting up their own knowledge management functions, precedent documents and knowledge sharing capabilities. 

“We have conducted on-site research training for client legal teams, provided access to our Knowledge SOURCE online legal training platform, and provided targeted insights on sector and industry developments with aggregated news and current awareness tools,” said Matthew. “We’re also looking at some interesting data analytics and AI resources which may help us predict trends over time.”

Collaborative intelligence has also played an important role in shaping how Herbert Smith Freehills works with clients.

“From an internal perspective, collaborative intelligence is about the firm’s Research and BD functions working closely together to harness the expertise of both to provide the best intelligence and insights into clients and sectors. 

“From an external perspective, it’s about the firm working closely with clients in a more coordinated way, as true business partners, to understand where the next opportunities may arise,” Matthew said. 

Clients have responded well. By shifting from simply offering generic or ‘low-cost’ services which can be of limited practical value to clients, Herbert Smith Freehills seeks a detailed understanding of what services would most benefit their clients in their commercial activities. 

“Quite often, we’re able to offer services and solutions to clients that they haven’t thought of themselves or which address other identified needs in their organisation, such as flexible working. This is a point of differentiation and demonstrates our commitment to helping our clients too,” Matthew observed.

“Many clients don’t have access to the regular legal training, upskilling and research tools available to legal firms. We find the best ways  of supporting them – for example, by providing research training, access to online training databases, undertaking complex research tasks, or including them in targeted sector, regulatory and legislative updates relevant to their business.

“Similarly, where clients have no legal team or function in-house, they rely on us even more to make sense of the complicated legislative and regulatory landscape for them. Knowledge sharing is not just about how lawyers, business development and Knowledge share information within the firm but also about how we share our knowledge with our clients, and vice versa.”

During his eight years in the role at Herbert Smith Freehills, Matthew has seen the firm’s Research group transform from a traditional, legally-focused law library based in Australia to a team of some 25 researchers across three continents who provide high-level legal and business research to support multiple clients and business development initiatives.

“This has been of great benefit to the firm, not only because we can offer a seamless around-the-clock research service globally, but we can also quickly identify tools, resources and intelligence that our colleagues in business development and legal teams may be unable to readily locate when they need them,” said Matthew. “Our team has spent much of the last few years building up both its technology platform and its business research skills to service our worldwide network. We have received a good deal of feedback – both internally and from clients – that they appreciate our services and could not do without them.”

Leading this level of firm-wide global transformation is immensely satisfying for Matthew.

“Helping the Research team transform, evolve and shine as high-level business and legal researchers plugged into the firm’s client and business strategies is the most satisfying part of my role,” said Matthew. “This has given people the opportunity to grow their professional skills and has created an increased sense of job satisfaction and relevance. It has also cemented the role of the Research team within the firm.”

“Previously, there was a tendency for some partners and staff to ask whether we even had a ‘library’ anymore or if we in fact needed one! Those days have happily gone and we are now well-positioned to provide the sophisticated research skills and intelligence required to help the firm and our clients keep ahead of competitors.”

Driven by a desire to constantly improve and innovate, Herbert Smith Freehills was recognised as the 2017 Law Firm of the Year (>500 employees) at the Australasian Law Awards.

However, Matthew remains diligent in investigating and testing the latest legal technology to improve the firm’s Knowledge and Research services.

“We’re able to test and assess a raft of new intelligence-gathering and AI tools which will really transform the law firm and professional services the world over within the next few years. Our familiarity with this kind of technology and our ability to see how it could benefit the firm and our clients means that the Knowledge team is at the forefront of collaborative and competitive intelligence. It’s always satisfying to be seen as a leader in the field rather than as a follower!”