It seems like there was some sort of
psychic alignment in the UK legal blogging community last week.
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
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
This is change that's happening
It's not round the corner.
It's not things that might happen.
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
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
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
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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