This interview was first published on 14 June 2021 on The Corporate Counsel.
Following on from the first Leave a Legacy interview, Global Leaders in Law talks with Keith Schilling, Chairman and Senior Partner at Schillings, about what outstanding leadership means to him.
Below, we discuss how to shape the purpose of an organisation, how to influence and inspire a team, the skills that the leaders of tomorrow will need, and the changes to the working world that the legal sector can expect to see over the next 5-10 years.
Global Leaders in Law: How did you shape, and how are you continuing to shape the purpose of Schillings?
Keith Schilling: We are on a mission to establish the true narrative. At its most basic level, we all have a right to privacy; it’s a universal human right enshrined in law. We fight passionately against breaches of privacy, reputational attacks and security threats. It really is what makes us tick. We rarely take the view that something can’t be done; the idea that if something isn’t right, we will do something about it has been a driving factor throughout our history.
Although we are without doubt litigators, in 2008 the firm moved to an Alternative Business Structure (ABS), enabling us to provide the non-legal skills we needed to complement our legal advice. We realized that the law alone is not always enough to solve some problems and added experts in intelligence gathering, cyber security and critical risk to our bench. This has enabled us to take on more of a consultancy role with our clients as we help them to manage their risk, as well as respond to crises.
Recently we announced our investment in the US-based tech start-up, Legendary, who have deep expertise in digital reputation and online crisis management – helping us to protect reputations in a digital age. They use technical online reputation management strategies and tactics to analyse, build and maintain a client’s online profile, draw on forensic investigations, and use social listening experience to know where and how clients are being engaged with and talked about.
This new formal relationship (we’ve worked with them previously) launches our fourth division: Digital Communications. This service builds and improves a client’s online profile and manage their digital assets by removing false, inaccurate and misleading information using legal remedies; create new positive content to show a fuller, more accurate picture such as of our clients’ philanthropic activities and business successes; and with technical online reputation management tools we help create a balanced and accurate representation of them online.
GLL: Who is your biggest inspiration from a leadership perspective and why?
Schilling: I have enormous respect for Baroness Hale, who has blazed an impressive trail of firsts throughout her legal career. She is known as the ‘Beyoncé’ of the legal world (so dubbed by Legal Cheek) for her role in empowering women and it’s no doubt as a result of leaders (indeed pioneers) like Baroness Hale, that women now make up 49% of lawyers in law firms.
GLL: How do you hope to inspire others?
Schilling: I hope my experience will show people that they don’t always need to take the traditional route into a traditional career. And I hope that my work will demonstrate that there is always something that can be done to right a wrong.
GLL: What advice would you offer to the next generation of leaders?
Schilling: Do something you believe in and don’t be afraid to do things differently. Find your purpose and work hard at it.
GLL: What changes do you expect to see in the working world over the next 5-10 years?
Schilling: I anticipate seeing a new hybrid style of agile working with office life taking much more of a secondary role. Digital communications will of course be at the forefront of this and I believe that organisations will need to find increasingly innovative ways to fight against the rising risk of fake news, misinformation and privacy risks.
GLL: What kind of leadership skills will the leaders of tomorrow need?
Schilling: Quite simply, empathy and compassion. What we do is about people, and I can’t see that changing any time soon.
GLL: What has been the most useful leadership lesson you’ve learned?
Schilling: Changing the structure of the business to become an ABS was a big one for me. It really hit home that I had to believe in what we were doing as a business in order to take everyone else on the journey with me.
In refocusing the firm, I was essentially saying that we are a consulting business with a long history of litigation. This was a big step, but one which has proved its worth from the outset both in terms client satisfaction and how we collaborate internally. The fact that we’ve just been recognized as one of the Top 30 Consultancies to work for by Best Companies says it all really. I’m very proud of that.
GLL: If you hadn’t become a lawyer, where would you be now?
Schilling: As a child, I’m told I wanted to become a vicar! But at school, it was suggested I become a chartered surveyor. This was after a particularly long day for the school careers officer, and he didn’t seem to mind my lack of O-levels! I suspect, like many others, I’m a frustrated author.
What does outstanding leadership look like to you?
We are asking members of the legal industry to nominate leaders who not only inspire them, but will leave a lasting impact on their organisation or the legal sector as a whole.
Nominate a member of the in-house community who showcases outstanding leadership, continuously strives to make a difference, and has created a legacy that inspires others through initiatives that have shifted things and made your company or community a better place.
Who are you going to nominate?