“LAWYERS HAVE TO GRASP THE METHODS THAT HAVE GUIDED OTHER INDUSTRIES TO SUCCESS”
Mr Antoine Fontaine, a partner at one of Cambodia’s leading law firms, on learning from non-legal worlds—and why it matters.
BY ASHUTOSH RAVIKRISHNAN
For law firms that are just starting out, cashflow is everything. Despite this, Mr Antoine Fontaine of Cambodia-based Bun & Associates had no qualms about splashing several thousand Singapore dollars to attend the SAL-INSEAD Legal Leadership Programme a few years ago. He candidly tells SAL, “We were a young firm at that time, and the programme was quite a significant investment. I can say, without any hesitation, that this investment has repaid itself countless times over.”
“Not only did we gain insights into the very latest academic thinking, we also benefitted from ‘real life’ examples as described by our programme mates and lecturers.” Mr Fontaine shares this view with Mr Ing Sophealeak, a fellow partner who attended the programme as well.
Today, Mr Fontaine remains a proud partner of Bun & Associates, one of Cambodia’s leading full-service firms. Read on for his takes on success, leadership and the way forward for law firm leaders.
Tell us about your key takeaways from the programme.
Working as a class, and in smaller groups, we examined various approaches to business planning and strategy, including managing growth and change. If I had to select the topics I found particularly useful, I would say the discussions on leadership skills and motivating people in a competitive environment really stood out in my mind. The “Blue Ocean” initiatives were another important exercise, where we had the opportunity to go ‘way outside the box’!
In summary, the programme changed the way I do business. I learnt that it is no longer enough simply to be a good lawyer. Nowadays, one must combine first-rate legal skills with sound commercial judgement, and a well-defined, clearly articulated strategy.
Were these easy to apply in your practice?
The greatest benefit of the programme is that it is designed specifically for lawyers, in particular for lawyers who have, or are about to assume, senior leadership roles within their firms. The faculty was another example of the idiosyncratic approach that makes SILLP unique. Rather than lawyers lecturing to lawyers, the faculty was consciously formed entirely of non-legal academics. Every lecturer was an acknowledged expert in their particular field, and this added a further, challenging element to our discussions.
We were exposed to management tools and disciplines, which were new to many of us, and broadened our vision of leadership. Senior lawyers tend to work with a small team and the concept of leadership, and what constitutes a good leader, is often an afterthought, if at all. But in growing a law firm, it is essential that partners grasp the methodologies which have guided other industries to success.
What impact have these changes had on your practice (especially from a business standpoint).
To a certain extent, I was naïve in believing that we all, both clients and colleagues, generally share a common vision.
The SILLP programme expanded my horizons, and improved my approach to working with, and managing, teams. It helped me to become more accommodating, open to new ideas and different ways of thinking, and to appreciate the strength that diversity brings to any organisation.
From a client’s perspective, the programme encouraged me to invest time in their ‘Blue Ocean’, and strive to become not just their lawyer, but their ‘partner in development’.
Applications for the next run of the SAL-INSEAD Legal Leadership Programme are now open. Find out more here.
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