Blue Ocean Global Technology interacts with Ben Lambert, global citizen and president of 360 Law Group and 360 Business Law America. He takes us through his journey from graduating at the height of the recession, to becoming a leader in the legal field, and shares his experiences and observations on the same.
Blue Ocean: You are the President of 360 Business Law America and previously founded your own firm. Tell us more about your leadership journey in the legal industry. What are your keys to success?
Ben: My journey hasn’t been an easy one. I finished my studies at the height of the last recession and struggled to find work. That put me on a “non-traditional” legal career path. Specifically, I didn’t begin my career in a traditional lawyer role. I worked in legal operations and outsourcing where I used my legal degree and interest in business, coupled with hands-on crash courses in operations and management from my Columbia MBA boss, to help law firms operate more efficiently. I also did some legal work in that role.
However, when I decided to try and move into a traditional law practice role, I faced huge obstacles because I didn’t fit the typical mold. Fortunately, I soon realized that I didn’t actually like the typical mold – the traditional law firm model is broken, most lawyers are unhappy, most clients aren’t that happy (especially with price), and most people can’t even afford a lawyer. So, I started looking at other opportunities and other organizations operating in a unique manner. I looked at other countries, other industries, etc. That led me to 360 Law Group (the parent of 360 Business Law America), where I was a consultant for two years before taking on my current role.
My biggest key to success was taking a different path, being open to new and unique ideas. It wasn’t always easy, but it’s been worth it.
Blue Ocean: By integrating business and legal expertise, you provide a leap up the value curve when serving both companies and individuals. What is 360 Business Law America’s unique approach to providing commercially minded and holistic legal solutions?
Ben: Too many lawyers have no concept of what it’s like to really run a business, especially businesses that aren’t professional services. As a result, it’s almost impossible for them to put themselves in their business-owner-client’s shoes. They see only the legal issues and risks and are unable to factor in the business side of it. To better explain this and how we are different, I’ll use a real-life example:
A Europe-based client came to me with an employment–related problem in the US. Specifically, in while expanding they hired some people from another company in the industry – let’s call them Company B. Company B took issue with the fact that several employees went to work for my client, so they sent cease and desist letters to their former employees and started making a fuss. My client wanted to do right by their new hires, so they sought outside legal counsel to learn about risks, options, obligations, and potential strategies. They were referred to an attorney with decades of experience in the field. This attorney’s approach was to give a lecture on employment law, then rally the troops for battle and prepare to storm the gates, not at all what the client wanted.
The client (via their UK General Counsel) already knew that there was a decent chance to win at litigation, but that’s not what they were after. They wanted expert advice on their options, the risks, and strategies associated with each, along with costs. This attorney simply could not give them that information and couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to immediately proceed to litigation.
My team at 360 and I came in, listened to everything the client had to say – including their desired different outcomes – and outlined for them all the ways forward; risks and strategies in each case, the likelihood of success, potential costs, etc. We understood that, for the client, it might make more business sense to pay some money now (even though they had a strong case) and avoid a lengthy, expensive fight. That’s not a legal decision, that’s a business decision, and our attorneys understand that. The lawyers at 360 Business Law are deal makers, not deal-breakers, or nearly every consequential journalist I know.
Blue Ocean: As a global citizen, you have lived and worked across business and legal communities in Argentina, England, India, Burma, Vietnam, France, and the United States. How did those experiences shape the person and professional you are today?
Ben: My international experiences have had a huge impact on me, both personally and professionally. Moving to another country is always a bit of a risk. It puts you outside of your comfort zone, even if you’re moving to a country with the same language or related cultures, because no two countries are alike. You have to adapt to different ways of doing things, both large and small. You have to find substitutes for items or brands you were used to. You have to learn the subtle differences in work culture, cultural expectations, and even word usages. We’ve all seen memes outlining the differences between British and American English, for example.
As a result, you learn that there are many different ways of doing things. You learn how to adapt, think on your feet and how to appreciate and manage differences between your culture and others. As both a person and a professional, these abilities have a big impact on your life. Personally, I now find it easy to make friends from all corners of the world, and they appreciate the fact that I know a little bit about their culture or am interested in learning. Clients appreciate it, but also appreciate that I can more easily translate the cultural differences that can arise while working on a project. For example, in negotiating a deal with parties who come from different cultures, I can serve as a bridge and (hopefully) diminish misunderstandings and offenses that come up.
Blue Ocean: In the age of evolving online engagement and remote work, how can we communicate more effectively in order to win new client relationships and strengthen existing ones?
Ben: Historically, one thing the legal profession has been bad at is communication with clients, specifically when it comes to clear, concise, and rapid responses. One complaint I’ve heard for years is that people don’t get responses from their lawyers fast enough. Days and even weeks go by before they get a response. Often, that long-awaited response is not concise or clear, which prompts more back and forth, leading to more frustration and delays.
Every industry, company, and person can learn from these complaints. In the era of remote working and communication, clear and concise communication is important. So is being quick to respond – not to every little thing, you do have to prioritize. But certainly, quick responses for the important stuff and not letting the little stuff sit idle for too long. When I’m swamped and my inbox is filling up, I take a few minutes to send out a quick note (which I simply copy and paste) stating that I acknowledge receipt, I’m swamped at the moment, and if they don’t hear from me within 48 hours can they please send a follow-up. People appreciate that.
It’s also important to take an interest in your clients’ personal lives. I often spend a few minutes chatting with clients about their weekend, how their kids are, etc. – none of which I bill for. They really appreciate it when I ask about their family members, by name, the next time we speak. Taking this approach results in clients feeling like me and my team are an extension of their in-house team.
Blue Ocean: Every obstacle is an opportunity waiting to reveal itself. What are some obstacles that you have faced in your life as an entrepreneur? How did you overcome them?
Ben: I finished my legal studies in 2011, which was not a good year for the legal profession. It took me nine months to find work. For those nine months, I slept on a friends’ sofa and considered myself lucky not to be homeless. Think about that for a moment, because that’s not what most people imagine for a law school graduate. I had a law degree, a master’s in law, I had passed the New York bar, and I was sleeping on a friend‘s sofa in a 450–square–foot studio because I couldn’t find a job and certainly couldn’t afford rent. However, I kept moving forward and never gave up because I didn’t want to go back to the conservative area of the U.S. I was from. So, I broadened my horizons and looked for opportunities outside the legal profession.
When I did manage to find a job, it wasn’t as a practicing attorney, though it was within the legal profession. Getting on that career path set me up for a lot of rejection down the road. But with each rejection, I reminded myself of what I was trying to accomplish, that I had valuable skills and experience that the right people would appreciate.
In other words, I overcame obstacles by not giving up and by being flexible. If an obstacle arises in my life, I step back, look at my original plan, and see if there’s anything I can change that will get me around the obstacle and to my end goal. Just because there’s a mountain in front of you, doesn’t mean you have to climb it. You can go through it, under it, or around it. Currently, I can say that I’ve accomplished some of the bigger goals I wanted to accomplish by this time in my life, but I can tell you the path I took was absolutely nothing like what I imagined or planned. As my uncle used to say, sometimes you have to go left to go right.
Blue Ocean: What do you value most about the culture of 360 Business Law America?
Ben: We are a very open, creative, and agile firm – not only in the Americas division, but globally. Those attributes allow us to quickly respond to client requests, or the demands of the times. For example, I have personally been contacted by clients who have needs in a state, country, or even practice where we did not have a lawyer. The typical firm would either say “We can’t help you, sorry.” or “Contact this other firm, they may be able to help.” At 360 Business Law America, we say, “We don’t currently have someone that can do that. However, if you can give us a few days we will get you someone who can.” We then go out, scour our networks, recruit, and vet someone to do that piece of work in line with how we practice law. Clients love the transparency and our willingness to go the extra mile.
The same applies to the wider happenings of the world. When the COVID crisis began, our UK team learned of a need arising from the fact that physical meetings were no longer able to take place. We very quickly got together and within just a handful of weeks created V-Sign, a virtual attorney witnessing technology to address those needs. That technology allowed numerous small firms and legal professionals to keep operating, and, has even led to wider adoption and regulatory changes within the UK. Tell me how many other law firms could do that?
Blue Ocean: What advice do you have for young lawyers, entrepreneurs, and future CEOs? What would you tell a younger version of yourself?
Ben: Don’t give up on yourself or your goals, but be open-minded. Be flexible and take a few risks. Changing a goal is not the same as giving up. Taking a different path to that goal, or taking a path that allows you to accomplish 90% of your goal, is not defeat. Seeking unique solutions and taking smart, thought-out risks can sometimes help you reach your goals faster or be happier than you otherwise would have been. Also, don’t define success based solely on your job, or anyone else’s metric.
Blue Ocean: Please share any favorite quote or mantra that you live by. Why do you identify with it?
Ben: “Forget reason. Obey your passion.” I came across it years ago. Originally in Spanish, I believe it was part of a marketing campaign for something. However, it really stuck with me. As a millennial growing up in the US, I was taught by society-at-large that if I did certain things, followed certain paths, that I would be rewarded. I did all of those things, at least to the best of my abilities and resources, and then wound up sleeping on a friend‘s sofa because I couldn’t find work.
I learned that you can do everything you’re “supposed” to do and end up in a hard place. So, why not focus on what makes you happy and go after that? I’m not talking about finding a job you love doing, because that’s rare. For me, I focused on my desire to see the world and set about doing that. A friend/mentor (and one of my former professors) recently told me that she always thought my goal was cool, but couldn’t see how I would ever achieve it. In other words, it was kind of unreasonable. As I’ve said, it wasn’t always easy, but I focused on taking unique opportunities that would fulfill my passion of seeing the world. A few years later, I’m now living in my 7th country and have visited around 40 more, and I still manage to pay the bills.
Blue Ocean: What is the key to your happiness and positivity?
Ben: Whenever I get a little blue, I stop for a moment and think about a few things:
1) How amazed 16-year-old Ben – who never in his wildest dreams imagined he would travel the world, be openly gay and marry a kind, compassionate (and hot) man from Vietnam – would be to learn about all the amazing experiences I’ve had; and
2) How many times friends and family have told me they think I’m courageous and I inspire them, which is so humbling. I still don’t know how to respond..
These things remind me of how fortunate I am.
Blue Ocean: When you are not working to create an intersection of business and law, what hobbies and interests do you pursue?
Ben: Travel and food. I love, love, love traveling, which for me is more holistic than just seeing the big sites. I like to learn about the culture and history of a place. I like to go to the markets, meet locals and eat local food (such as street food, yum!), try the local beer, wine, liquor, etc. In fact, a lot of my travel revolves around food. It’s a great way to connect and also to learn. In addition, I love reading and cinema, especially books or films/series that are travel, food, culture or history-related.