Welcome to the latest interview in our Women in Law – Female Founders series by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support. This time Dana speaks with South Africa-based Janet Taylor-Hall, founder and CEO of Cognia Law.
In this interview, Janet shares her experiences of addressing key business issues as a female founder in the legal sector, and what it’s been like to build a business and then scale it.
Hi Janet, let’s start with your business story – how did it all begin?
After nearly 20 years of building solutions and businesses for others as a management consultant and senior legal executive, in 2013 I decided to take a leap of faith and set up my own business.
Once I started, I immediately realised that I had finally found a role that every day gave me a feeling of waking up in the morning with something important to do. I felt I was finally building something that was greater than the sum of its parts.
From the outset, we strived to be great in our areas of expertise by bringing cost-effective, process-optimised and technology-enabled solutions to solve our clients’ most pressing legal challenges as well as working with those who are great in adjacent areas. Not only is this effective for us, but it means that our clients benefit from the compounding effect of working with leading organisations across different disciplines.
How would you describe your company’s growth in just three key figures?
- 7: in the last 6 years, we have managed to expand our reach to 7 locations
- 100%: we doubled the number of staff in the last 12 months
- 100%: we are on track to double our revenues in the current year
What are your thoughts on the state of the legal industry?
The time is now! After years of slow-paced change, we are finally seeing an acceleration in how legal services are delivered and by whom. This is driving the thinking and evolution of new delivery models and new businesses. This is being driven by several factors:
- The greater ecosystem that our sector is part of has fundamentally changed,
- Our sector in maturing,
- Times are tough for our clients and will continue to be so – the more for less challenge is simply no longer sustainable,
- The stimulation and, for some, the spectre, of the Big Four.
All of this is leading to an acceleration of the design and adoption of new legal service delivery models that combines the old and the new.
How are you addressing some of the challenges facing the legal industry?
By working with clients to understand their problems and bringing together new models that leverage the economics of collaboration to solve a problem.
What would you say is the biggest risk for the UK legal sector, given the current climate?
We continue to fail to listen and continue working in silos. By this I mean providers of legal services, and the tools that enable them, fail to listen to our clients and our clients fail to open the door to listen to a broader audience.
If we only spend time with those we have traditionally engaged, we are at risk of not opening our minds to the art of the possible, which is what you get from having everyone at the table.
The legal sector is no longer just about lawyers or law firms, but rather a complex ecosystem of providers, expertise and tools. Our clients need help understanding their options, designing, implementing and operating new models that enable them to access, manage and leverage the legal workforce of the future.
By ‘workforce of the future’ I do not mean just the in-house legal team, I mean the whole workforce that a GC can leverage if we effectively connect for them what can be done in combination in-house, by a law firm, by a law company, all effectively enabled by the tools and expertise of other specialists, technology providers and data companies.
These new models enable a GC to ensure that the in-house legal function is not an island, but rather connected to the business, as well as industry change that drives legal change. New models also help to tackle the challenges of change, diversity and mental health.
Please describe your role and responsibilities in the business.
I lead our efforts in designing and building solutions that serve our team, clients and the communities we work in.
What has been the most challenging and the most rewarding aspect of your job?
I love what I do, and my passion for it provides the energy to sustain me through moments when the relentless nature of being a founder and leader of change can feel overwhelming, or when you realise what you are trying to push through is before its time and you need just to be patient and tackle it another way!
By far the most rewarding aspects come from moments when you can see people thrive and feel accepted for who they are in what you have built.
I also get a real kick out of building collaborative relationships with like-minded partners and seeing it work. Collaboration is hard and often fails, but when it works there is nothing quite like it!
Finally, getting great feedback, like when a client complements you for really making a difference for them, and not being one of those service providers who come to them with solutions that are shoe-horned into a problem.
Coffee or tea? Mountain or beach/city or country, and your favourite way to relax?
Used to be coffee, but nowadays herbal tea, and I prefer mountains. Although I love the energising buzz of the city, I seek out the country to recharge.
[And to relax] a balance between running, hiking and spending an evening with close friends, a yoga class and getting lost in a really good book for a day.
Janet Taylor-Hall, is a mother, wife, friend, founder and CEO. She has spent her career building solutions initially as an EY management consultant followed by spending 10 years at Clifford Chance, two years with an LPO and now as a legal services company founder and CEO.
Dana Denis-Smith, is an entrepreneur, ex-lawyer and journalist. She founded Obelisk Support to keep City lawyers, especially mothers, working flexibly, around their family or other personal commitments and to provide clients with an affordable and quality legal support solution onshore.
In 2014, she founded a unique history project – first100years – charting the journey of women in law through a video social history, @first100years.