Does your law firm have an Entrepreneurial perspective?

I hope you will bear with me for the next few days whilst my blog at http://www.juliansummerhayes.com is migrated to a new website. It is some time since I posted here but am glad to see that it still retains that comfortable WordPress feel. [Thanks to Ian Brodie as well for the top tip on saving the content].

I wasn’t going to post but, having posted every day, save for Christmas and New Year, I didn’t want the resistance to get the better of me (see The War of Art by Steven Pressfield).

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Without question the idea of a law firm being entrepreneurial is a challenge to any partner. Not least the fact that they are hidebound by so much bureaucracy, officialdom, the weight of (historical) partner perspective and a focus on the commodity of law.

Moving forward it will be essential for firms to strip themselves bare of the shackles of yesteryear and start to envision a whole new business model. Indeed, every person in a position to make and bring about change will need to stop thinking like a legal technician and more like an entrepreneur.

Tom Watson the founder of IBM is reputed to have started out with a crystal clear vision of what IBM would look like as a mature business, how that business would function in that guise and looked at the current situation and matched what the business was doing on a daily basis to what it should be doing. This is mentioned in Michael Gerber’s book the E-Myth Revisited.

If firms adopted this approach then I believe it would force them to cut out the hyperbole that goes with verbose and meaningless value statements and instead look at what a firm of the future would resemble and if their (current) values measured up to that. And even more important is to envision the sort of clients that a firm of the future would act for and if they are equipped to deliver the service that said clients would demand.

Most firms will struggle at this for the simple reason that in trying to see the future they will take as their reference the past. As I have said before that is like trying to drive a car whilst looking in the rear view mirror. And there is also the perennial problem of trying to see who is leading the pack and then copy the best bits and mould the rest to the practice. Again that won’t work. The leaders are the leaders because they do something different from the rest and once you have caught up with them they will have moved on to the next phase. There is a touch of Kysen in this but again how many firms have a system in place which iterates at the stupendous rate that is needed to build a new-model law firm every few years?

One further point: Given how law firms have flocked to the middle ground it will be important to Think Big. Whatever your firm of the future resembles and how the service is delivered you have got to consider the number of providers in the market and it is unlikely that your ideas will be that novel. If that is right then it will come down to doing the basics extraordinarily better than the next firm. It won’t be enough to meet the regulatory or compliance hurdles. In any event clients will expect that as a given and those clients, particularly the ones that are relatively well-informed, will look for the double-WOW factor. They will want their cake and to eat it in abundance.

Partners need to start working on the business of law and to not constantly see their role as an essential part of the delivery of legal services. Yes a person’s expertise and Brand is important but the firm shouldn’t exist separate from the partners but as one indivisible whole. Not all clients require partner attention and as long as they receive Amazon style consistency, particularly around the commoditised end of the market, they are not going to be that discerning of using one person over another. In fact they may never meet a real person either because the service is delivered over the internet or it may be that a virtual law firm is the firm of choice.

Entrepreneurship, flair, innovation and passion are not something that most HR departments are briefed to look for. Instead they look for the safe option. The classically trained and super-bright lawyers. All the weirdos or those people who might have started their own business don’t normally get a look in. May be this is a step too far given that it may upset the law firm culture that firms have been so precious to build but unless your existing cohort have all the answers you may find that you unnatural lawyer is just what the business needs right now.

The Strategic objectives for the next 5 years should be priority number 1. Make sure you put your very best people to work on this. Give it an end date for implementation and make sure the message goes out loud and clear that if the market is left to dictate the pace and shape of change that the firm may disappear as slicker and bigger brands enter the market.

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