Duncan Cotterill

The Background

Law firm Duncan Cotterill is only too aware of the changes facing their industry. Established in 1857, Duncan Cotterill is a national firm with offices in Auckland, Wellington, Nelson and Christchurch and employs over 130 fully qualified lawyers, 40 of whom are partners.

Like many professional services firms, performance is generally measured by fees. But in an industry facing significant disruption, such as changes in client demands, increased employee expectations and rapid technology development, Duncan Cotterill have been proactively looking into other ways of nurturing performance and developing their leaders.

The Board recognised that it was important to engage and develop the leaders of the firm and brought Sheffield in to help. The Board’s Chair Struan McOmish said “We hadn’t ever done anything like this before, particularly at the Partner level as a group, so it was great to be able to undertake an initiative like this”.


What We Did to Help

Sheffield’s Senior Consultant Louise Green spoke with senior management about what they wanted to achieve. “We spoke about the type of key leadership behaviours that Duncan Cotterill wanted to exhibit”, said Louise. After these were agreed upon at a board level, it was decided that Sheffield would use DDI’s 360 Tool - Leadership Mirror with all 40 partners, across all four offices around the country.”

“360 is a development tool,” said Fleur Hellemans, Senior Consultant for Sheffield. “It enables an organisation to evaluate performance against competencies critical to success. An individual’s strengths, as well as their potential development opportunities, are easily identified through 360. A tailored development plan can then be constructed.”

All 40 partners undertook the process. Sheffield consultants then sat down with each Partner for an hour-long in-depth feedback session. The understanding was that partners would take the report and share it with the partnership Chair and CE  as part of their quarterly partner catch-ups.

On top of this Sheffield were able to develop “group reports” and a report for the Firm. That way Sheffield were able to look at various themes across different practice areas, offices and across the Firm as a whole. This was presented at Duncan Cotterill’s annual Partner conference.


What Happened as a Result

The findings from the exercise enabled Duncan Cotterill to get a stronger understanding of their firm and what their people thought. “We got feedback about our leadership and culture and were therefore able to identify what we do well and what things we needed to work on,” said CE, Pete Boyle. “Overall I think it’s great that it was embraced by everyone, as it’s helped us recognise that leadership comes from the top and it is important that these skills are assessed and developed continuously.”

So, where to from here? “It’s still a work in progress”, said CE Pete Boyle. “Partners continue to have conversations with the Chief Executive and the Chair in a 1-1 environment, but now they have a personal document and a platform to work from. This improves their ongoing professional development and allows them to talk more openly about key aspects of their role and their leadership style in a manner that they might not have previously been open to talking about.”