Lawyers – Just. Do. Something.

30 08 2011

It seems like there was some sort of psychic alignment in the UK legal blogging community last week.

James took a break from his corporate finance practice and went down to the firm's somewhat impressive atrium to think about what was happening in his market

As the news came rolling in on changes facing the UK market (Neil Rose’s site Legal Futures is often a good place to start), the Entrepreneur Lawyer   Chrissie Lightfoot wrote a great post about the disruption and fear facing the profession. Julian Summerhayes then followed up with a thought provoking piece on the need to avoid apathy in client relationships.

All the time my mind was whirring with two related themes – massive change, and the need to do something.

The first message that I really (really) want to get across is that change in the profession is happening NOW. I mean right now.

Many of the lawyers who are waiting for the full implementation of the Legal Services Act with a “let’s just wait and see” attitude are either deliberately burying their heads in the sand, or are sleepwalking through a time of significant change, leading to both opportunities and threats.

Just look at the recent headlines:

Take a step back and take a fresh look.

This is change that’s happening right now.

It’s not round the corner.

It’s not things that might happen.

It’s happening.

Now.

The other point that’s really important to grasp, is that the change is affecting the whole profession. It’s not just a B2C issue, there is fundamental change going on all through the profession. From the sole practitioner whose livelihood is threatened by consumers being offered quicker, cheaper and easier solutions from competitors that didn’t exist three years ago, to the multi-million pound law firm facing disaggregation of the large scale projects that used to be the foundation of the partner’s seven figure salary. The change is real and far-reaching.

Finally, please trust me when I say that there is much, much more going on which is not public at the moment.

Since I left practice as a lawyer, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in the profession in a number of different roles, including consultant and LPO provider. Some of the conversations I’ve had with law firms, in-house teams and other consultants have shown me that there is some really forward thinking going on in the background, leading to business models being re-engineered and investment being secured.

So why are so many firms not doing anything?

Well, putting aside the difficulty many law firms have with change generally (which I’ve written about before), and some of the negative behaviours driven by the hourly rate billing model,  I think there are a number of other reasons why it’s not top of mind for every law firm partner.

The first is that there are more pressing short term challenges. Cash flow being one of them. The last two to three years (depending on the make up of your practice) has been incredibly tough, and amidst the restructurings and insolvencies, there are plenty of firms that quietly weathered the initial storm but  are finding things getting harder and harder as the road out of recession continues to be a slow one. Whether it’s cash flow, refinancing or opportunities for consolidation, short term survival is often the top priority.

Another reason is that it’s just plain difficult. The market is moving at a tremendous rate now, with new competitors, new technology and regulatory change coming in waves. Just keeping on track of the environment is tough enough, let alone analysing it and working out how to respond. Many firms don’t have strategy experience in-house (and there was a great article this week on how forcing strategy work on non-strategic thinkers doesn’t often work out) and I suspect many just don’t know where to start.

But whatever the reason, now is the time to act. The speed of business these days is too fast to wait and see.

Much has been written about the change in the product development world and the speed to market imperative (“fail fast”) – how it’s no longer realistic to test extensively to get a product perfect before launching.

The parallel I’d draw here is that now is not the time to assess the market to nth degree, and then craft a perfect strategy over the coming months, before pulling together a detailed project plan and implementing through the annual budget cycle. All of these steps may well have merit, but given how fast the market is moving, it’s more than likely that by the time you’re done, you’ll be too late. The opportunities (of which I believe there are many) will have passed, or the threats manifested.

So to wrap up, now’s the time to act. Block out an afternoon and at least do some thinking, or if you’re not at the thinking stage, some sensing to find out what’s happening in your market segments. Then take the lead and turn thinking and dialogue into action.


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11 responses

30 08 2011
Julian Summerhayes (@Ju_Summerhayes)

Mark thanks for the kind mention.

I wonder if this change is filtering down to the grassroots of the profession and sinking in? I have my doubts. Lawyers fear change like no other sector I have been involved in or witnessed. But then closed shops want to remain just that. The wall has been breached and in a minute there will be a torrent of change that even the most adroit managing partner will be powerless to stop. I have repeatedly said that firms need to have a plan of action to develop their practice. Better still they need to start engaging with their clients and asking them what they really want. Social Media has a massive part to play in levelling down the playing the field but how many firms have gone beyond a Tweet stream that is filled with dull news. Right now if it were me I would be reaching out with a blog, expressing my concerns and looking for meaningful feedback on the service. There is also a need – a powerful need to invest in your people. They are the future. I have a passion to see things through a different lens, and really am inspired to work with the firms who want to hustle. No hustle: no business.

Your blog deserves to be read by every Managing Partner up and down the land, but I wonder how many will actually engage.

Regards
Julian

30 08 2011
chrissieroar

Hi Mark

Great post! Fab message. Major themes. Totally on the same wavelength. I reckon our background as lawyers and then to become consultants puts us on the same page as we can see things clearly wearing both hats…

I got quite a bit of stick over my Indecent Proposal piece on ‘dare to adapt, innovate and feel inspired’ over at the Law Society Gazette from commentators. I think I touched a nerve…

Fundamental change has been happening for the past 3 years with even more to come – mostly because of the economy albeit I believe the global crash merely accelerated the inevitable change within the profession and industry.

However, I fear it will be too late for the Doubting Thomases, Naysayers and ‘let’s just wait and see’ (sit on the fence) more risk-averse and likely not to do something types, as the new entrants and the ‘strong’ firms and lawyers whom I mention in the post will leap frog and surf ahead.

I like your strapline ‘Just. Do. Something’ – I share the same as a dominant theme which is danced by The Naked Lawyer; check out volume.1 (it’s free) :-) I reckon we had psychic alignment summer 2010 when I wrote the book! :-)

Looking forward to more of your posts Mark in the drive to assist those who are seeking.

Again, good stuff! :-)

Warmest

Chrissie Lightfoot
The Entrepreneur Lawyer
(of the naked kind)

30 08 2011
Nicola Proudlock

Yes, yes, oh yes! Sorry, I tend to get a bit carried away sometimes.

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