Keith Heddle, MD, provides Mackrell International Insight to Legal500 Magazine.

Interview with… Keith Heddle, managing director, Mackrell International

How has the pandemic and the flexi-working revolution affected the network model?

Definitely for the better. It’s brought us closer together and created more opportunities. For starters, we value our in-person meetings more than ever and we’ve added more spark and more sparkle to the programme, so that they are more engaging, optimise interactions and debate and bring in perspectives and inspiration from new sources – and we laugh a lot more!

We’re also now running a dual mode, with a multitude of virtual connection and value-added insight opportunities alongside our in-person meetings, which means supporting and engaging with so many more of our members across the world – it’s like an electric current, coursing around and bringing energy to areas we couldn’t previously reach.

How are networks adapting to fit into the post-covid world?

As far as MI is concerned, in a number of ways – by building a really strong but flexible ‘ecosystem,’ not just a network; that allows us more understanding and communication between members and greater ties, but an inherent flexibility to respond to different needs and whatever new set of challenges come our way.

Also by being strategic and intentional in our actions and ‘direction of travel’, so that we’re very clear about our values, our identity and how we retain and recruit new members.

And I think networks are more important than ever. With so much fragmentation in the world, having a trusted and tightly-connected network of legal advisors to provide structure and guide clients is crucial.

What are the key differentiators your network offers?

We use the word ‘family’ a lot – there’s a warmth, an acceptance, an inclusivity and a bond between members that is very special and definitely goes ‘above and beyond’. I hear it constantly from our members that we are organised, intentional and find a really good balance between making wonderful, long-lasting human connections and profitable business ones.

Sometimes also, being a little bit smaller allows us to respond and adapt quickly, launch new initiatives and react to member suggestions or market demands.

We work hard, but we look to make it fun and bring the smiles whenever we can.

Have client perceptions of networks shifted in recent years?

In many ways a client shouldn’t know or shouldn’t care that their law firm is part of a network – the service should be seamless, they should get the same level of care and attention and counsel whoever they are dealing with (and wherever that is); it’s simple reassurance that a client can turn to their lawyer, ask for help and have that help offered swiftly and attentively where they need it.

As budgets are squeezed, some clients and GCs who haven’t tested out the network model may come under increasing pressure to look for good or better value alternatives to their current legal provision – and that’s where, in some areas, networks could come into their own.

What are some of the key issues currently facing clients and how are networks positioned to deal with them?

Inflationary pressures, belt-tightening, increased regulatory demands, geopolitical tremors, the acceleration of AI, disinformation and the fragmentation of communication, supply chain disruption… it’s tough right now!

But tapping into a strongly connected network of firms potentially a client or GC could get better value for money, more bang for their buck (you’re often more likely to get more seniority on your team where you’re not paying ‘for the brand’ and the infrastructure) and more finely-attuned local advice; independent firms tend to be very plugged in to their home markets. Without the huge (and occasionally unwieldy) infrastructure of big, global firms, networks of mid-sized independent firms can often react quicker and may be ‘hungrier’.

We’ve certainly seen one example where a major international client tested out a matter on a small number of firms and that led to a wider roll out. And we consistently get excellent feedback from clients who do refer multi-jurisdictional work; recent examples included a 21-jurisdiction matter and one for more than 30.

What do networks offer that global firms do not?

See above – in essence it often comes down to speed of response, better value for money and better local understanding. We also go above and beyond for our members and clients – it’s never ‘just another job’.

What types of work are increasingly being won by networks over firms without such connections?

There’s no limit to this! We run both Practice Groups but also Sector Groups and in the latter, you see an absolute cross-section of practice areas involved.

Also, we get regular reports of MI firms winning business against other firms and closing competitive proposals due to their Mackrell International membership – even when the business

isn’t cross-border! The client perception (rightly, in my view), is that firms who are part of a vibrant network have broad perspectives, deeper experience and the ability to call on others if needed, so will bring more to the table and more to a relationship.

How are networks changing the way that they promote themselves?

Networks are clearly promoting the value they offer (in the broadest sense) by optimising social media and other channels and platforms open to them – but the truest way is through word of mouth (in essence, not promoting themselves, but letting clients, lawyers, law firms, associations and partners do it for them).

What types of firms should be considering joining a network?

For a network like Mackrell International, they need to have an international mindset and outlook, be dynamic and prepared to engage to get the most out of the network for their firm and clients, be highly responsive and keen to help, be curious, be culturally aware and sensitive – and all that goes hand-in-hand with offering high quality legal and business advice, being full service, medium-sized and independent and ready to play a full part in the ecosystem.

What is the future for the network model – which networks are best positioned to thrive in future?

Looking ahead, the future looks bright for the networks that stay restless, adaptable and eager to offer their members real value.

Networks need to be keen-eyed and eared, aware of global ripples and developments in the legal and commercial sectors; they need to be ready to adapt, to be curious, never to rest on laurels and to keep having the best interests of their member firms (and their clients) at heart.

They also need to have a dedicated and caring team at their heart (which I certainly do at MI HQ) and members that respond to that, to each other and to clients, which is certainly the essence of MI.

Mackrell International is notable in that Mackrell Solicitors is the sole UK member firm. What is the thinking behind that setup?

We have two firms in the UK. Mackrell Solicitors is our only firm for England & Wales (in London and Birmingham), but BTO sit proudly in Scotland with offices in both Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Would you ever consider adding any other English firms to the network?

Not just in England but everywhere around the world, our policy is one firm per jurisdiction – that allows the firm exclusivity but also allows us at MI HQ and members around the network really to get to know individual lawyers and the firm itself. Those strong personal relationships are the fabric on which the network is built and ultimately result in better support for one another and better client service.

Where a country is massive and/or state law differs, or where one firm is more ‘boutique’, we do occasionally have multiple firms in place, like in Canada or India.

The network has recently been bolstered by firms in Northern Illinois, Guatemala and Bulgaria. Tell us more about the thinking behind those new additions, and what their particular strengths are.

Don’t forget our newer firms in Brazil, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Kenya, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland!

And we are currently in discussion with the right type of firms in at least another half a dozen jurisdictions that will continue to strengthen our ecosystem and bolster the network.

They are all firms with the right fit and the right people and who meet our strategic objectives – we’re not interested in numerical targets or ‘pins on a map’!

Each firm that joins us has something unique about it and integrates neatly into the MI ‘family’ – they are able and willing to support other members both personally and professionally and be full service to be able to meet client needs.