Charlie Jacobs on the culture at Linklaters

This article was first published on the Linklaters Alumni Portal

"We're trying to encourage people to view themselves as co-owners of the business, which makes it much easier to strengthen the culture of being accountable to each other, leading by example and communicating our successes as widely as possible." - Charlie Jacobs - Senior Partner

Just over twelve months into his tenure, Linklaters' Senior Partner has reason to be pleased with what he has seen at the firm during 2017.

Confidence appears to be coursing through the global operation despite the uncertain political and economic climate in which Linklaters must operate; it seems that the clarion call issued by Charlie in 2016 for an unapologetically busy, energetic, in the flow atmosphere to be on display has been gratefully heeded by his colleagues. "It's been good to see," Charlie observes. "That outward projection of the confidence we should have in ourselves can take time to show itself, which is quite natural. In any new job, I reckon that you need about a year to be able to observe and work on a few things before the messages that you want to transmit have their effect."

With one of Charlie's ‘three C's' (confidence, culture and clients) therefore well in hand, Charlie has been able to turn his attention to the culture at Linklaters.

Following on the heels of the firm's roll-out of its refreshed strategic plan, led by Managing Partner Gideon Moore, the re-stating of Linklaters' cultural values may have surprised some outsiders who have always believed that these were axioms that have always been established and sustained by the examples of numerous accomplished lawyers across many years. However, the desire to codify the values and behaviours by which Linklaters has always worked and thrived has many driving forces behind it.

Critical to the cultural reappraisal has been the need to ensure that all at Linklaters are adopting the correct mind-set.

"Every one of us here needs to ensure that we focus firstly on the firm, secondly on our specific practice area and only then on our own position," Charlie begins. "If people focus largely on themselves, you develop an eat what you kill mentality, which, at a lockstep firm, almost guarantees you the worst of all worlds. At the same time, if we only measure a lawyer's contribution by their billable hours, they are much less likely to jump on a plane to help someone else at the firm to win a job and so we are now assessing people on the overall contribution that they make to the firm. If you're not executing a deal, are you at least winning work for others at Linklaters? You don't need a set of numbers to know whether someone is doing the business or not – for me, it's good to talk to people across the firm because you find out so much about them. We're trying to encourage people to view themselves as co-owners of the business, which makes it much easier to strengthen the culture of being accountable to each other, leading by example and communicating our successes as widely as possible. The days of getting feedback on performance once a year are long gone at Linklaters."

The five basic cultural tenets that have been re-emphasised would be entirely familiar to any Linklaters practitioner from years gone by.

Striving for excellence by delivering fantastic client service; respecting each other through supporting people and embracing diversity; embracing leadership by acting in an empowered, entrepreneurial and inspiring manner; acting with integrity – not merely doing things right but doing the right thing – and acting as one team, united, inclusive and collaborative, are unashamedly at the heart of the Linklaters culture, just as they always have been.

 "We're not re-inventing the wheel here; our values remain much the same as they have always been but in the past, we might have been guilty of stating them in lists that gathered dust somewhere on our intranet or even saying slightly different things when we're asked by new recruits why Linklaters should be the right destination for them," Charlie agrees.  "Our values are not and should never be nebulous concepts that can't be precisely articulated. We want to show that via a series of videos and communications, we can share personal stories that illustrate precisely the culture of which we are all so proud."

"People relate to stories; they find them useful," Charlie continues.

"These filmed stories from our own lawyers are a very good way of showing others what we are about. It helps us think about our audience as well – one of our people might talk about their pro bono work and why they feel it is important to give up two lunch-times a week to spend time at a local school. Another video might show why our clients use Linklaters and have done for many years; another might talk about the role of women within our firm. Tying them all together is the pride that we feel – that we always should feel – in working with integrity at a firm like ours, which has built its reputation over 180 years."

Ultimately, the overriding purpose of the cultural re-boot at Linklaters is to deliver legal certainty to clients in a changing world.

"Certainty doesn't necessarily mean telling clients that they can definitely do something in precisely the way they would like," Charlie explains. "It's sometimes a case of ‘you can do it but in a different way, which we know will get you where you want to be'. Look at the antitrust elements of the AB InBev/SAB Miller deal as an example – Team Linklaters navigated that one through by explaining that some give and take, some concessions were needed in order to get to the certain outcome that was the end goal of our clients. Are we always going to get it right 100% of the time? Probably not, but we'll always be having the right conversations with our client, who will always be aware that we are giving them as much certainty as can be offered in the era of Brexit and so many other global political hazards."

As Charlie points out, the more that Linklaters' cultural objectives are articulated and emphasised, the more ingrained they become with every stakeholder at the firm. 

"The re-emphasis of the firm's culture has become the latest quiet revolution in a period that has been full of a number of similarly incremental achievements. Clearly, Charlie Jacobs is finding leadership very much to his taste: "Being Senior Partner has exceeded all my expectations," he says. "In many ways, I think that it's the best job at Linklaters – the privilege of continuing access to clients while also carrying out an ambassadorial role that I find fascinating. The biggest kick I get is still the pride I feel at the many, varied and amazing things that people in this firm do. I'm probably working 30% harder than I ever have but I'm also enjoying professional life more than ever."