Working with Law Firms is great fun. Once they finally decide to implement a development programme a strange thing occurs. The strangeness comes not from the Firm itself but from individuals and the sheer number of lawyers who finally open up and admit that they never really wanted to be lawyers in the first place.
There’s a crucial point in the timing of these “confessions.” It’s usually after the initial consultation has completed and the first step of the programme begins when it finally sinks in with some that the business of law needs to be delivered in a new way and that “change is on the horizon”.
Now no one except a wet baby likes change. And the thought of “change” and all that it may bring seems to initiate an internal conversation.
The internal conversation may go something like this: “oh no, we’re going to have to change the way we do things around here. I can see that now and it looks as if I may have to work harder/smarter/more efficiently. I’m already billing as many hours as I can I can’t see how to squeeze more time out of this, already squeezed, life of mine. Heck, I never really wanted to be a lawyer in the first place. My dad/Mum/brother [add to the list and take your pick] made me do it. I always wanted to work outdoors/be a lifeguard/start my own business [again, add to the list and take your pick]. Well, if I’m going to have to change I may as well bite the bullet and start my own business/learn carpentry/ hairdressing/to be a chef [etc] now. This Firm are planning to merge/take over/be taken over and there will be upheaval anyway. I may as well go through all that for my own benefit. That’s it, I’ve had enough, I’m leaving. It’s now or never.”
Of course there will be variations on that theme, but you probably get the gist.
I’ve thought about what to do to help these people in their transformation and short of encouragement to do what they love (as you’ll never work a day in your life if you do) I always wanted to be able to make a more concrete suggestion or point to some great insight that can help.
Recently when reading a new book (Just out 27 April 2013) calledThe Inside Out Revolution by Michael Neil, I came across the following;
“Imagine a man comes to you for coaching. He’s about to turn 30 and he’s decided that it’s time to “grow up” and take over the family carpentry business. He wants you to share innovative marketing techniques, work with him on how to make better personnel decisions and coach him to incorporate technology to bring the business into at least the new millennium.”
"But even as you’re speaking together, something’s bothering you about the conversation. He’s saying all the right things and seems willing to do all the right things and yet something still feels out of alignment.
Following your intuition, you go back and review the client intake form he filled out when he first came to you and to your surprise you see that his name is Jesus and he’s from a small town in the Galilean region of Israel called Nazareth."
Here’s the question:
Do you really want to work with him on becoming more successful in his carpentry business?
What if every man, woman and child you meet has the seeds within them to become who they truly are?
What if that includes you? What if?......
Like most denizens of the legal profession, we were somehow both completely shocked and at the same time not at all shocked by the recent reporting on alleged bill-padding at the global law firm DLA Piper.
The firm insists that such wrongdoing doesn’t exist, at least not within its mahoganied walls: “While we will make no effort to defend the foolish emails generated by the lawyers involved in this matter, we will defend vigorously the firm’s track record of delivering high-quality legal services at a fair price.” Dismissals aside, the fact is that featherbedding—the nuanced art of throwing multiple and improperly resourced bodies at clients in the interest of maximizing revenue—is alive and well. It’s distasteful but not at all surprising. What leads top-end global law firms to engage in this type of behaviour? On the one hand, how could the lawyers involved so blatantly work in opposition to their own clients’ interests? But on the other hand, given the framework of incentives and structures within which they operate, how could they not? he litany of perverse incentives in the law firm business model is all too familiar at this point, but let’s briefly enumerate the problems and how they result in the “churn that bill, baby!” mentality. And then let’s talk about how we get out of this mess. First of all, law firms bill hourly for the most part, and that’s just indefensible in this day and age. Any economist, or really any businessperson, will stop you right there and point out that your incentive structure is inherently adversarial and zero-sum. Bad behaviour is going to result. Why on Earth is anyone still doing this? Look a little deeper, and the structural problems get worse. Law firms are run by partners who have worked for decades to reap the rewards at the top of the pyramid. Any client-friendly change or investment in efficiency during their brief tenure at the top is self-destructive. Younger lawyers may want change, but by the time they’re in a position to do anything about it, they’d be crazy to follow through. Beneath even the institutional structure (which is set up badly for clients) and the billing approach (which is even worse) is another level of perversion in the prevailing mindset of Big Law. Of all the outrageous statements in the DLA emails, the one most likely to be overlooked was the one made when a partner bemoaned the inefficient use of associates: “Perhaps if we paid more money, we’d have skilled associates.” This is a quintessential misdiagnosis of a problem, and I submit that the same mistake would have been made by a broad cross section of big firm leaders. The problem is not that the associates are unskilled. In fact, they’re among the best educated and hardest working professionals in the economy. The problem is that they tend to operate in a professional environment that has simply ignored all of the investment in technology, tool creation, and efficient workflow that have made the rest of the economy more productive. Partners with little management training deploy expensive associates in a haphazard manner against ill-defined tasks within an incentive structure that motivates waste and anti-client behaviour. Giving those associates another raise is definitely not the solution. The solution is, finally, to fix the game, rather than waiting for the players to behave differently. It doesn’t matter if law firm attorneys are paid more, or overseen more carefully by clients, or badgered by the press. To solve this problem, the focus has to be on how legal work gets done, not simply on who is doing it, no matter their ethics. The legal industry must rid itself of its vestigial attachment to hourly billing and pyramid incentives, and its aversion to technology investment. Law firms, which benefit from deep client relationships and access to great talent, should be completely rethinking their business models to mimic the best-of-breed companies that have evolved in almost every other professional services industry. This will require financial sacrifice on the part of many law firm leaders, so why would they do it? Simple. Because the alternative is worse. General Counsels, at least the enlightened ones, are fed up. Mark Chandler, the general counsel of Cisco, has called law firms “the last vestige of the medieval guild system to survive in the 21st century.” Clorox’s general counsel, Laura Stein, said “the law firm’s leverage-attrition model isn’t working, and corporate clients, and therefore shareholders, are paying for it.” The calls for change from general counsels must be answered if for no other reason than they, and they alone, control the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on corporate legal services annually. And because, for the very first time, that’s a muscle they are willing to flex. Indeed, if we’re going to see real change, then clients must allocate their business accordingly, as many are starting to do. How does that saying go? Fool me for 100 years, shame on you. But fool me for another 100 years . . . This article is by Mark Harris, the chief executive of Axiom, a 1,000-person new-model legal services firm.The Article first appeared in Forbes magazine Here
A Law Firm "Merger" Yesterday!
Let’s be honest about this, most people will want totry and avoid lawyers. They are in the samecategory as the police; you don’t want one until youneed one. Which is probably why a lot of their marketing comes to nothing. It’s very much a “distressed” purchase for most peopleunless of course you are in business. In that case, you will need lawyers at some stage.
Through my connection with Angels Den, I deal with a lot of new businesses and start-ups and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence and articles written about how lawyers ruin deals at the due diligence stage or even how they can stall innovation.
But while individual lawyers might be seen as obstacles, the legal profession and the legal industry in general still represent great opportunity. This sector, which historically has been ignored by entrepreneurs and investors, is starting to experience a start-up invasion.
In his book The End of Lawyers? Richard Susskind suggested disruptive technologies would be the key to massive change in the legal sector.
Here are six key facts
that make the legal industry ripe for disruption and innovation. 1. The UK Legal Services Market is worth £26 billion a year.
The Business to Business (B2B) section of that is worth 89% or £23 Billion. The largest 3% of firms, that’s under 900 firms, generate 55% or nearly £13 Billion of that.
That means that there are almost 29,000 “firms” chasing the remainder. And since 2006 there has only been a compound annual growth rate of 2%
You can get the full UK Legal Services Sector report here: http://tinyurl.com/cvnwkt4 2. Technology is Still in its Infancy.
New tools and platforms that have reached many other sectors are only now beginning to enter the legal marketplace. For example, data analytics – while massive in other commercial markets – is barely existent in the legal sector. Data is abundant in the legal profession – everything from a company’s entire email archive to the information that exists in all the filings and briefs that lawyers create. Lawyers work with and create data every day. Currently, the vast majority of this data sits idle, untapped and unused. What resides in this data is the potential for creating products that predict outcomes in cases, quantify and qualify lawyer performance, and create transparency within the legal process itself. For some examples, see LexMachina
) a company putting analytics to work in the IP realm. Also www.Trademarken.co.uk
and UK & Ireland companies House information for free at www.duedil.com
There is an abundance of technology available, but it’s the reluctance of the sector to use it. 3. There is a definite supply and talent problem.
Whilst roughly 15,000-20,000 students will graduate with a law degree every year (this may be declining in coming years), in England and Wales approximately 6,000 will go on to seek a training contract with a firm, in Scotland there will be approximately 600 doing the same. A law degree is only the starting point to becoming a lawyer. Graduates still need to gain a one-year Diploma place and then a traineeship.
Those lucky enough to gain employment with a law firm must rely on the firm to train them to actually be of any use in a commercial environment; a practice that yields anything but consistent and comprehensive training. Outside of firms, these new graduates will need to find alternate paths to becoming competent , and their choices are severely limited. This creates a unique over-supply, limited-talent phenomenon where the available lawyers are not adequately trained to actually be lawyers. Start-up opportunity here lies within edtech and scalable instruction. Is there a Khan Academy
model for new lawyers? 4. Access to lawyers is historically a problematic and costly effort.
UK individuals who actually need lawyers still tend to try and avoid lawyers because they don’t want to pay high fees, nor do they really know how to find a reputable and trustworthy lawyer. Many legal needs are going unmet due to this phenomenon. By lowering cost structures, lawyers would be able to serve this immense market. Through a combination of technology, tools, and processes, platforms are being built to do just that. But the market is in its infancy. Even though http://www.wigster.com/
and in the US http://www.legalzoom.com/
have a head start, they have only scratched the surface. 5. Lawyers used to be the gateways to protected information and knowledge.
They were the conduit through which clients accessed legal information and guidance. With the advent of technology, this information is now more accessible than ever before. The general public is able to locate relevant and helpful information without the assistance of lawyers (or at least without paying fees to lawyers). There are still many resources that lawyers do have control over, but these are diminishing greatly. PlainSite
are two recent plays in this space. 6. Finally, and most importantly, the world is getting more complex, not simpler.
Corporations are burdened with greater oversight and compliance obligations. Some companies even use the legal process (and all its costs and distractions) as a way to punish or hurt competitors (see patent trolls).
Consumers and the public are also more aware of their legal rights and obligations. In our “lawsuit happy” nation, neighbours and friends will sue each other in an effort to gain – rightfully or not. Creating alternate paths to litigation, or avoiding problems altogether, are huge opportunities. There are ways to bypass lawyers and the court system entirely. For example, a former executive at eBay has built Modria
as a platform for dispute resolution that involves no lawyers at all.
There are many other facts and reasons why the legal industry represents real and significant opportunity for start-ups. For a profession and industry that literally impacts every single person in dozens of ways, it would seem that the need and urge to innovate would be palpable. Start-ups need to stop looking at lawyers as a pain, and see them as an opportunity. If you cannot avoid them, disrupt them.
This article was in turn inspired by a great article at: http://tech.co/legal-industry-startup-invasion-2013-03
Mostly about the US legal market. This has been updated and changed to reflect the UK legal market
Great book to read: Mitch Kowalski ; Avoiding Extinction; Re-imagining Legal Services for the 21st Century
It’s interesting the different phases that “change” goes through.
When I was faced in the early 2000’s with a seriously large legal bill I didn’t really mind because it was a percentage of the overall deal. What really got to me was that the final bill ended up being just short of 100% higher than I had been led to believe.
That seriously annoyed me. But guess what? It was actually quite common for businesses to be on the receiving end of final legal bills higher than originally quoted.
Reasons given (or excuses) were, “The other side took longer”, “The deal was more complicated than first expected” “Due diligence threw up some unforseen isues"….etc etc”
When I eventually joined the legal profession it was out of interest and a desire to learn about the law. But I also thought that I could bring some experience as a customer to maybe change a few things.
That was interesting, let me tell you!
I remember suggesting a number to text on the bottom of Property “For Sale” Boards. (In 2005) "Won't work"
Opening a virtual office in London to deal with corporate enquiries. (In 2007) "Waste of time and money" Even though the total cost was less than £1,000 (One Thousand Pounds)
Starting a Twitter account (in 2008) "Why would anyone want to read that?"
Introducing value based pricing. "Can't be done"
Doing Free Wills to build up the client base (Obscenities were hurled at me for that one!) "It will be done over my dead body!"
Or simply trying to get outside assistance for a partner strategy day away from the office and so on…noting immensely radical, but things that needed to be done (or so I thought anyway)
The business of law has gone through an ugly time recently, certainly for the last 5 years…but I'm convinced it means good times ahead to those who take action and more importantly…are prepared to change.
The idea that we may potentially follow the ugliest 5 years we can recall with perhaps the best 10 or 15 years is a bit awe-inspiring for some. Or just plain idiotic to most.
Remember, good ideas about change rarely start out as feeling good.
They tend to go through a few phases: First, something like "You are out of your mind" is included, then slowly it turns to "That guy has a weird way of looking at things" and then it tips over to, "You know, I can kind of see your point ." followed by, "You know, I think you are on to something", "Yes, I am tending to agree with that new thesis" and slowly but surely arriving at, "Well, of course, isn't that obvious?"
Keep in mind that the only compelling differences in those perspectives are: a) how many people in the crowd begin to follow like a, well, crowd and b) how the media starts to change its tune in reporting.
Richard is typical of the law firm partners I talk to. “I can see that change is vital and I really want the firm to move forward, but following a partners meeting where we discussed and even agreed on certain changes, everything just carries on as before!”
Law Firms like Richards are not uncommon. But unless they do something and make some changes, they will go the way of Cobbetts, Wolstenholmes, Halliwells or Fox Hayes
There is no such thing as a bad law firm…only badly managed law firms.
Here is something else badly managed firms have in common;
Staff are treated like cogs in a machine rather than people.
Employees have no real sense of control.
Mostly, they are not big happy families as they would like you to think, but they are made up of silos where partners compete for power and credit and set their associates off against each other in subtle ways designed to undermine their rivals and make their own positions appear superior.
Don’t think that’s true?
Let me ask you a question. Do you have a company handbook? You would have been given it on the day you started and it would include all the administrative details that you need about internal phone numbers, staff holidays, pension plans and so on.
But what would you tell someone new about how things really work in the firm? One thing’s for sure is that it wouldn’t be anything in the handbook. In reality it would be about how to manipulate bureaucracy to get things done. Who has clout. What secretaries you can go to and what ones to avoid. Probably with advice on all the informal power struggles and advice on relationships to harness and ones to avoid. In short it will be how to make things happen by calculating a route through the emotions of the people who work there.
And that’s why things won’t change at the firm. Nothing will change until the individual emotions of the top people in the firm change.
This was first identified in a book published in 1982 called An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change
by Professors Richard Nelson and Sydney Winters.
You won’t have to read the book because their central conclusion was that “much of firm behaviour is best understood as a reflection of general habits or routines…coming from the firm’s past”
The crucial word there is “routines”. These routines or “ways that things have always been done” create a truce between the silos or warring individuals and allow them to carry on a day-to-day working existence that doesn’t kill the firm but allows it to plod on but the price is that it totally stifles innovation and change.
Another way to put it would be to say that underperforming firms are riddled with bad habits.
Now to the firm and the people working there it might not seem like there are any bad habits. In the same way that an alcoholic won’t admit to a drink habit being a problem. “I drink, I enjoy it…what’s the problem?”
The problems for alcoholics are well known by everyone except the alcoholic.
Once an alcoholic accepts that there is a problem, he is on the way to recovery.
How does AA help alcoholics? By turning bad habits into good habits. They don’t try to take away the urge to drink, they don’t try to change the person, that doesn’t work. They simply replace a bad habit with a good habit one day and one small step at a time. And they use a sponsor and support group system to do it.
All that badly performing firms need to do is replace their badly performing systems with systems that work more effectively. Preferably with a qualified sponsor a support system, one small step at a time.
There are lots out there, such as Shirlaws
, Solicitors Marketing Success
, Remarkable Law
to name but 3.
And a great book for you to read would be: "The Power of Habit"
by Charles Duhigg
Everywhere you look there seems to be a "Top 10" of something or other...so this post is really for myself as a reminder...but you're welcome to look and use if you feel like it. (They are not in any particular order of brilliance...but for me they are all brilliant)
1. Card Munch
– Turn business cards into contacts by taking a photo of them. This is a great free app for managing business card clutter. It automatically adds them to your LinkedIn social network.
- If you use the same or similar passwords and Login details for more than one website (I know you do!) Then you MUST use this website. Utterly brilliant for storing confidential details. And totally free.
- UK Companies House information on all UK Registered companies and directors. Warning, this site is very addictive.
– Waze is more than a maps app, it’s a fun, hands free, voice operated, community-based traffic & navigation app, 20 million strong. If you want up-to-date local travel news...this is the best one to use to avoid the jams.
5. Dragon Dictation
– Dragon dictate turns your voice into anything written, blogs, emails, social media entries, briefs, To Do lists, you name it. It gets better the more you use it. You can use the desktop or the app.
6. Google + and others
– From one site anyone I authorise can update my online diary. There are many other uses to numerous to mention here, but if you're not using this (and are using Outlook instead) then you should consider changing
– The popular social sharing app that helps you manage and schedule your tweets, Facebook and LinkedIn updates, all from one convenient place.
– The terrific Read It Later app. Save articles, blog posts, videos and web pages for later viewing on your phone, tablet or computer. Upload on one and it automatically syncs to all the others.
– Create stunning presentations — whether you are pitching an idea, teaching a lesson, telling a story, or igniting a movement Prezi is the best.
10. Smart Dockets
– Presently USA only - This app aims to remove calendaring errors, one of the leading causes of legal malpractice law suits, by providing lawyers and legal assistants with the ability to calculate dates and deadlines using court rules.
Great heading isn't it?
I'm guessing you've come here looking for some tricks, tips and insider secrets that will take you and your firm out of the doldrums and back to the land of milk and honey (known to most lawyers as as Pre 2008)
Well the good news is that there are some tips.
But like anything worth having, they are elusive.
I could suggest to you that the best way to find out exactly how the most successful firms motivate themselves is to go directly to a website with a big list...then simply follow the list. That would be too easy.
So I'll start with a story and a very short list.
About three years ago I was approached at a legal seminar by a partner of a medium sized firm. He had read this blawg after someone recommended it to him and he knew I would be at the seminar, so he had done his homework on me and decided that I might be in a position to help him and his firm. (I know that because he told me).
Anyway, we chatted for about half an hour over pre-dinner drinks and it became clear to me that not only could I help him, but I could instantly save him about £100k in "overheads" ( and that was before even letting one member of staff go). I didn't tell him this in so many words, but I did see a chance to formulate a great offer and a guarantee. After all, his traditional law firm were very nervous about letting anyone know their true financial position and wanted to be absolutely sure that any spending on "consultants" would be money well spent.
So the offer was this; I will do a free initial consultation on the firm. That takes a whole day and involves most of the staff. Following that, I will make my offer.
I will only start work with you IF I can save you at least £100k in year one. You will pay me a monthly fee. If I cannot save you AT LEAST £100k then I will return any money you have paid me plus interest at 8%.
He admitted that it was a good offer and he would speak to the partners when he got back.
That was three years ago.
I have spoken to the partner about four times in the last three years and he "...still wants to do something..."
Yeah, good luck with that. My last conversation with him in November 2012 was to say that my offer was withdrawn.
Obvious really. But I'll spell it out.
I used the guarantee because when it comes to the best way to get started, there is an easy format that states:
1. Identify something you want
2. Accept that there is something that you can actually do about it
3. It is within your means and
4. Taking action is within your level of acceptable loss (i.e the cost is minimal if the action doesn't work out)
Despite all that fitting in to place, they still have not taken action.
So, when it's put that way, there are only four logical explanations for why they are not:
2. They don't actually have the means at hand
3. The perceived cost is too high. Or
4. They are lying to themselves about what they want.
The fourth is rarely the case. Most people setting goals who say they want to get a new job, or meet someone or lose weight really do want to find new employment, find that person or get thinner. As for habit, in this case, that’s “simply” a matter of getting used to taking action.
So this means is if you aren’t taking action toward what you want, you either perceive taking action as either being too costly, or too risky. Or for a room full of law firm partners...both of these!
What’s the solution?
Reduce the cost and risk to acceptable levels, so that you could get under way.
That was done, but still no decision. The firm were too busy (or in this case they all convinced each other that they were all too busy) to make any real decisions on their future. This is commonly known as "...arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic..."
The simple fact is that they were too busy hoping that everything would return to normal and if they could just sit out the storm long enough they would be ok.
Real life is not like that and the sooner decisions are made the better.
And that's how successful businesses motivate themselves.
As I write this its Boxing Day. I'm bored. But I'm also open to ideas for articles and as I watch the football, an idea has sprung into my mind.
Now I remember when I was young, football was pretty much all about the final score.
Nowadays we have Sky and football punditry and at half time we get bombarded with statistics and replays. Why, because apparently it's what people want.
However, the thing about "what people want" is that most people don't know what they want. They do after you give it to them, but mostly they don't know.
The late Steve Jobs hit the nail on the head when he said something like, "you don't ask people what they want because they don't know". If said Henry Ford, I asked people what they wanted in 1909 they would have said faster and more comfortable horses!
Ok, so far so what.....here's the so what....sometimes you just have to present something to your clients to see if they like it.
Wow, what a groundbreaker!
But what does that have to do with football?
The changes in the way football has been presented on TV were not as a result of what people said they wanted, it's a result of trial and error, but mostly it's a result of competition.
Before Sky came along, football on TV was a bit rubbish. First of all it was in black and white! ( ok I made that up to see if you're paying attention!), no really, if you're over a certain age (ahem) TV football coverage was very amateur. For a start you only saw about four or five games out of the whole league. in Scotland you didn't really see English Division 1 as it was and when you did, all games were commented on by Brian Moore. In Scotland you had a choice of Arthur Montford, Archie Macpherson or of you were really unlucky, Bob Crampsey. There were about four or five angles, replays were a bit non-existent and no body bothered about statistics.
Statistics were all very American. American Football ( rugby with padding for boys who don't want to get hurt) was all about yards and percentages. We saw, but we didn't care.
Then they introduced it into the Premier League. We saw, but we still didn't care.
Then one day, about 3 or 4 years after they first introduced statistics, I remember a friend in the pub droning on about the number of corners and shots on target that Team A had over Team B the last time they met, so naturally, Team A were favourites to win.
All of a sudden, statistics meant something.
In fact, the whole betting industry is built around them.
Imagine if the betting industry started to put odds on law firm survival?
If it did, what are your law firm stats like?
How do you measure and manage referrals or website hits? If you do, how do they compare to last month...the month before...last year?
How many clients do you have? What is the average spend? What is the lifetime value of your clients? And so on.
The thing about proper statistics ( or as management consultants call them, KPIs or Key Performance Indicators) is that they tell a story. They tell the story of how well or how badly your firm is doing. And if you don't have any at all, or if your whole team don't know what they are, then your heading for relegation; but in this climate, that means oblivion.
Men are born pretty much alike
It's achieving something that puts distance between them.