Teaching The Leopard To Change Its Stripes

Jennie Vickers began her legal career in London, working for one of the world’s most prestigious law firms. Focusing on commercial business work, she spent a number of years as an in-house lawyer really getting to understand business drivers. After moving to New Zealand, Jennie used her time in law firms and in-house experience to set up a law firm better suited to the digital age.

Lawyers are not generally known for their creativity. What makes you different, and why?
 I am a naturally creative thinker, right back to my childhood when dreaming up imaginative excuses to get me out of trouble for the things I had done!  Learning law had I think, a detrimental affect on this creativity and it has only re-emerged in force in the last 10 years when I discovered mind mapping, became Tony Buzan’s senior mind mapping instructor in New Zealand and learnt how brains work and how to use mine better.  At the same time I have become an even better lawyer and a better business person. Business people need lawyers who think like they do. 

What do you see as the main benefits to your approach to business advice?
I am driven by a business problem solving approach, rather than a legal analysis driven approach.  So often the problem we think we have in business is not the real problem we have. A lot of time and money can be wasted on legal expenses chasing the solution to the wrong thing.  Spending time with a business makes it possible to see where the real issues lie and therefore the right solutions.  Often this could prove to be something other than a legal issue needing a different sort of approach.

What is the most common legal issue that small business owners get into trouble with?
BNZ bank is running a new ad campaign on the proposition that money is not bad it is what we choose to do with it, so get better with money.  This would be the root of most business people’s problems, particularly in troubled economic times when even the money businesses have collected could get taken back.

Is ignorance a valid defence?
 Sadly, no. Legal issues are too often ignored as boring or too complex to understand.  Businesses then may fall into the trap of not valuing lawyers or managing them badly.  That is a bad option for everyone concerned. 

How can business owners avoid these problems?
 Time spent understanding the important legal issues, which could most impact their business is time well spent.  If their lawyers are not explaining the law in a way that works for them, they need to go and talk to someone else who can. 

Your website mentions alignment of brand, values and risk management. What exactly does that mean?
Customer Experience is going to be the hot business imperative in 2013. As businesses develop their brands and focus more on customer experience, they need to ensure that every element of the experience journey is considered.  This includes all of the legal interfaces they have with their customers.  As an example, there is little point advertising a brand commitment of always fixing customer problems if the legal contract says hard luck talk to the hand.  The value in a brand and the cost of finding new customers is so high, that taking on some risk (of the type that lawyers would recommend avoiding) will pay cost and brand capital dividends.

You are also a public speaker, what are the key topics you discuss?
My speaking focus in 2013 is on 3 particular presentations, “Different is the New Normal” , “Blawpers-How to avoid legal Bloopers” and “Customer Experience-changing the conversations with your lawyers” . The first is about the way we think and how to use the whole of your brains to get results and manage change; the second is legal compliance messages hidden in stories of employee legal blunders that cost millions; and the third is to help business people ensure their contracts align with their brand and customer experience pathways.

You created Zeopard Law in 2008. What is the significance of the name?
 I was looking for an analogy for whole brain thinking.  The combination of a leopard and a zebra represent innovation, taking existing things and creating something new and better, also represents teamwork and recognizing the value of different skills and different ways of thinking.  The Zeopard approach is never to take anything at face value, sometimes we need to be a little stripey and a little spotty.

How is business going?
I have 4 businesses under the Zeopard brand.  The GFC has challenged many businesses and working as a trusted advisor across all 4 has presented a few cash flow challenges.  However, Zeopard is all about building long term relationships and as my clients are growing again I am getting even busier!

What plans do you have for the future of the business?
 My major focus for next year is the “Zeopard Law and Business Club”.  I do not want to grow too big and impersonal and the best way to help more businesses and keep the costs affordable is to use the power of digital.  The aim of the club is to help businesses become more proactive to legal issues and less reactive.  Businesses could save tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs if they are in control of their legal stuff and not always being a victim.  Club members will have access to a monthly webinar around a topic relevant to business and also access to well designed, easy to use valuable business focused resources, to help them and their business avoid the many legal traps out there.

By Neil Donnelly