Can Barristers teach Finance a thing or two about business partnering?

How do barristers persuade a judge or jury in court to take the right decisions, based on the facts?

I recently asked this question of an experienced commercial barrister to see what Finance can learn from the legal world.

His answer? “Clarity, Conciseness and Confidence”.

Clarity. “Have a clear objective of what you actually want the jury or judge to decide. It’s surprising how often inexperienced advocates start speaking, and it’s not at all clear what they are trying to persuade the court to decide.”

What can we learn from this in Finance? Are you or your finance teams always crystal clear what action or decision you are trying to persuade a business leader or a management team to take?

Do you start with a very clear message or recommendation, supported with just 1 or 2 relevant pieces of factual evidence, like our barrister?

Or do you sometimes find your teams bombarding your business colleagues with financial data or analysis, hoping they will draw the right conclusions from reviewing all the numbers?

Conciseness. “Start by analysing all the facts to grasp the details. Then put all the details to one side and step back to distil the argument to the 3 most persuasive points.”

“If you can’t persuade someone with your 3 most powerful points, it’s unlikely that numbers 4 to 7 will carry the day!”

What’s the lesson for Finance? How often do your Finance teams keep playing with the numbers right up to the last minute?

Do they take the time to step-back and distil the conclusions down to the most powerful messages that really matter to your business colleagues?

Better still, do your teams take the time to think about the most effective way to communicate with your business colleagues, in order to persuade them to decide on a particular course of action?

Confidence. “How the messenger comes across in court is as important as the message”, continued our barrister.

“Of course, you are the master of the facts. But the jury or judge also need to see that you are going to help them to understand the key points that really matter to them.”

“If you come across as trustworthy, knowledgeable and credible, you are more than half way there.”

What does this mean to us in Finance?

The messenger, and how we convey our message, is as important as the message itself.

But how often do you think about how you or your teams come across to your business colleagues in a management team meeting?

Do they believe you understand their business? Do you bring something to the party beyond just the numbers?

Do they see you as their partner, or do they see you as the finance policeman?

All these things influence whether your business colleagues will sit up and listen to you, if they view you as a partner, or whether they might question your motives when you offer to help to improve their business performance?

So, Ask Yourself:

  1. How often do you or your teams stop playing with the numbers well ahead of time, put away the spreadsheet, and think about the message, the messenger, and the specific outcome you’re trying to achieve with your business colleagues?
  2. We include lessons from our barristers (and others) in our finance business partnering training programmes for clients. If you’d like to find out more about our training courses, please get in touch.



Adrian Willmott,
Managing Director
t: +44 (0) 207 608 5096

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