The price of information; which is better, a lawyer or an ipad?

29 01 2010

With the drool-inducing i-pad being officially announced this week, the spotlight (on it’s way to Apple HQ, admittedly) stopped once again on the publishing industry, and questions were asked once again about what impact ebook readers will have on the publishing houses. Digital media and distribution has certainly changed the face of the music and film industry, and it seems there are strong opinions all round as to whether books, newspapaers and magazines will see prices plummet and margins erode.

Which delivers the best information; the ipad or your lawyer?

It got me musing about the value of information, and what people will pay for. In the world of newspapers, the news itself, in terms of factual reporting, is widely available (in a variety of different media formats) for free. However, people will still happily pay for good quality analysis, or more in depth reporting. To my mind, this is someone, somewhere, taking the baseline information and using their skill and experience to add value to it. The economist magazine is a great example of this. Well thought through, detailed analysis from a good variety of authors.

The parallel with the legal profession is strong. Not too long ago, the information used by lawyers was itself a closely guarded secret. Protective regulation was wrapped around the profession, providing a barrier to the general public (whether individuals or organisations)  getting their hands, or eyes, on it. Unless you’d got the qualifications and were members of the appropriate bar or law society, accessing the pure information that forms the backbone of the law was difficult and/or expensive. Then, along with deregulation, came the icy wind of the Internet, and made the a huge proportion of the law available easily and free (or at least cheaply).

So what then of the lawyer? Well the lawyer, to my mind, adds some value to the information by applying it to a particular set of circumstances. But that’s just table stakes these days. To really add value, the lawyer needs to understand the wider business or personal context that the client operates in. He or she needs to think creatively (sadly, still not a word often associated with lawyers) to create solutions to problems or innovative ways of achieving success. Finally, and there is another strong parallel with the economist magazine here, the lawyer needs to communicate the advice (ie the information plus the added value content) in a way that is clear, concise and easy to understand.

Conclusions; much like the printed word, I think there will be winners and losers. Those people and organisations that can take the widely available, free information, and add some real value, will continue to thrive. Those that can’t and try and sell a product or service that is  little more than what’s available for free, will go the way of audio cassette. And let’s be honest, no-one misses those, do they?





When individuality is not all its cracked up to be

8 01 2010

It’s great to be an individual, right? Creativity, expression, setting yourself apart? We celebrate these things in many areas of society, but in the business world, it’s not always so straightforward. Take law firms for example; individuality can help drive the creative streak of the business to break the mould. It’s pretty difficult to stand out as a law firm (take a look at a few websites to see what I mean!) and similarly (particularly in some larger firms) difficult to stand out as a lawyer. Individuality at firm or personal level can help you stand out and be distinctive, and when you think about the practice of law, there are many ways to do it. You can be super pragmatic, and just get things done, you be a technical master, whose contract drafting is a work of art, a master negotiator who gets clients a great deal, a tenacious litigator who fights to the death for clients; the list goes on. It’s very much horses for courses, but the point is, the law as a discipline and a career does offer opportunities for individuality, and many people and organisations don’t make full use of that.

What's up punk?

The flip side of the coin, the yang to the yin of individuality, is the need for consistency and a common approach. If a client engages with a particular law firm, while there will of course be variations between lawyers and work types, the firm will have a particular theme or ethos. If a lawyer is so individual that they regularly act outside these cultural norms, how can the client know what to expect from the firm? And therein lies the challenge for management. Lawyers are notoriously independent thinkers, and getting any sort of conformity to a particular practice or approach can be very difficult. This can be the case, no matter how compelling the reason for implementing a particular practice or following an approach. Consistency and conformity also have benefits; it may be standardisation reduces costs (translate into “higher margins” to make that seem more appealing), it maybe it gives more consistent quality, but if lawyers, and particularly partners, don’t play ball, dark clouds may gather.

Ok, so it maybe change management 101, but for the New Year, have a think about where you and your business (whether lawyers or not) fit on the continuum of individuality to conformity, and think about the pros and cons, it maybe there are some you hadn’t thought of.

Have a great 2010.