Thought Leadership: Becoming a leading voice on the issues that matter

Kate Gibbons, partner responsible for Global Knowledge, and Lynette Williams, Global Head of Client and Market Development, discuss the importance of thought leadership in building client relationships and developing your career.

Why is thought leadership important to a law firm?

Kate Gibbons (KG): For us, it means shaping thinking and being at the cutting edge of the issues that matter to our clients, our wider stakeholders and sometimes even the public at large. It can be anything from engaging with political leaders at the World Economic Forum, to influencing market opinion on a specific area of law or policy. Publications play a role, but it isn’t just about the written word. Thought leadership encompasses all opinion-forming interactions, including seminars, round tables and the resources we offer on our website. It’s about networking, through whichever medium, to share essential insights.

Lynette Williams (LW): Often it is the combination of our insights from around the world that makes us a thought leader. All law firms use knowledge to help their clients. But we stand out as a global organization because we can assemble the best thinking from lawyers who practice in local markets at the forefront of international issues. That’s a real differentiator for us.

KG: We do take a very global approach to thought leadership. For every topic, we ask ourselves, “What’s the international angle?” We make it a priority to come together and collaborate across borders; to be true thought leaders we need to listen to diverse voices in each of our offices. We also collaborate with think tanks, consultancies and academic bodies around the world.

How can thought leadership build client relationships?

LW: On a fundamental level, it demonstrates an understanding of the global agenda, and the challenges and opportunities affecting our clients. It also enables us to anticipate their needs. Clients value initiatives that help them understand the impact of change, as and when it happens. We focus on giving them the information they need, as soon as they need it. For example, immediately after the UK voted for Brexit, we held conference calls with client groups, giving them real-time insight into time-critical considerations in an interactive format. The feedback was extraordinarily positive. The idea was simple, but it was incredibly helpful for our clients.

KG: Interaction is key. We’re not just informing clients of our expertise, we’re leading and facilitating discussions. Thought leadership helps us identify opportunities for our clients and ways that we can pursue them together.

Should junior lawyers get involved in thought leadership?

KG: Absolutely. First, because it’s fun, interesting and intellectually stimulating. And second, because it doesn’t just move the needle on your knowledge, it can move the needle on your career. We encourage everybody to get involved as early as possible and develop a flexible, substantive framework that includes some core strategic topics – Fintech, Trade and Financial Regulation, to name a few.

In some key areas, such as Fintech, junior lawyers are naturally closer to the topic – and the technologies; thus, many initiatives are led by them rather than our more senior attorneys. For example, one of our New York associates published a treatise in the Harvard Business Law Review on crowdfunding and the potential social welfare impact of the US JOBS Act. He has also contributed to Columbia Law School’s blog on US financial industry reforms aimed at expanding capital-raising options for early-stage companies.

LW: Sharing knowledge helps you build deeper client relationships; the importance of this cannot be over-emphasized. It also raises your profile within the firm and helps you build that vital internal network. Getting involved in thought leadership gives you the opportunity to connect, collaborate and develop a broad and international perspective. There are lots of interesting projects that you can get involved in and, if you are passionate, you can become a genuine expert.

For more information about thought leadership at Clifford Chance, please visit