He wanted to do a number of things, he needed a shareholders agreement as a starter and a bit of advice on a lease and ultimately a share purchase agreement.
What you should know about John is that he is a seasoned business man. He’s involved in a lot of activity buying and selling into and out of a variety of businesses.
He’s used many lawyers in the past and he’s also not short of money…but as he said to me “I just don’t feel as if any of the lawyers I deal with really care about what I’m doing…and all they’re interested in is their bloody hourly rate”. He went on to say that he never involves lawyers until the very last minute because he’s “…fed up getting charged thousands…” for deals that never take place.
Now I also happen to know some of the lawyers that John has used and I heard from one of them that John can be a real pain to deal with, he’s difficult to get hold of and despite his wealth, he’s not the quickest at paying his bills!
The thing about this tale is that it’s not unusual.
There are lots of “Johns” out there who feel this way. I read that the main reason why people leave one law firm to join another is “perceived indifference” by the firm towards their customers.
Now the things about this short encounter with John is that it highlights the state of the legal industry nicely summed up in the attitude of just one customer.
Is a straw poll of one man enough to pour scorn on an entire industry? Well yes, actually, it is.
Richard Branson has built an entire mega-industry on the straw poll of one.
He reckons that if one person wants it, or feels a particular way about something, then others do too and if no one is delivering the solution, the he will create a company to do exactly that.
Now you might go on to reason that there are lots of people who are very happy thank you very much, with their lawyer. There are. But like the buyers of music albums and CD’s they are getting rarer every day.
But here’s the thing, if 68% of people would leave through perceived indifference then to me that means that almost 70% of the legal market is ripe, low hanging fruit ready to pick off buy either new businesses (ABS anyone?) or by law firms that “get it” and are ready to deliver what customers want.
Of the top 200 law firms in the UK only about a dozen or so “get it”.
But what’s happening to the scores of smaller firms made up of sole practitioner or small partnerships of lawyers?
Lawyers by definition are wise, knowledgeable of the law and are regarded as trustworthy professionals. However they suffer from poor business skills, bad man-management, they have a disproportionate aversion to risk, they have overly exaggerated revenue expectations and a business model that’s now about 15 years out of date.
Small and medium sized Law firms are decentralised partnerships that charge hourly rates, they retain no earnings from year to year, and hope that their intellectual assets will walk back through the same doors they exited the previous night. Essentially a recipe for disaster and not a model you would replicate today.
The new legal market will demand systematisation, collaboration, transparency, alignment, efficiency and cost-effectiveness within and among its providers.
Only a few law firms have already adapted these qualities, and no doubt some more will follow. Some law firms are so dominant and influential that they won’t have to change. The rest are in grave danger.
And it’s all because John is not happy.