The ‘Age’ of Un-certainty.

Blog by Julian Summerhayes. 1038 Words.

Look around you.

Do you know where the Good Ship ‘LEGAL’ is headed?

Right now, you need wise counsel to steer a course through this difficult and anxious period, but, in these unprecedented times, you cannot assume that experience is, necessarily, or even, the best gauge of success. Just because someone has lived through a previous recession, does not mean they are any better equipped to face down the issues than someone new(er) to the business, and, by implication, younger.

My first real job was as a 19 year old recruitment consultant. I worked with a gifted manager who had won most of the prizes going in the industry. I never felt inferior to him but I realised that there was a lot I didn’t know. However – there is always a ‘however’ with these stories – when the going got really tough it was me who:

  • Kept the business moving forward;
  • Generated sales;
  • Found a way to see the positive in the circumstances; and
  • Didn’t give up.

My ‘senior’ on the other hand, having previously folded his hand, took his cue from the market and decided enough was enough, even though, in hindsight, there was a way forward that would have meant the business surviving. Call me naive, but it wasn’t a case of looking to the past but rather focusing on the here and now, and working out, practically hour by hour, what we had to do to pull us out of the shit!

And right now, having experience on your side, may just be the thing that is holding you back from going all out to win work, growing the business and changing things for the better.

I have no wish to generalise and posit that age = a lack of willingness to change but we all know that the older we get the more likely it is that we will follow the past or, at best, remain content with the status quo. The thing is youth (so says a 44-year-old) knows NO BOUNDS and are much more likely willing to take a risk without fear of screwing up. And they are not hidebound by layer upon layer of protocol, procedure and the “That’s how we always do things around here” mentality.

Professional practice has created a Hydra of its own making. If it isn’t the market exerting inexorable pressure, the lack of growth and excessive regulation then it is the constant pressure to appoint partner after partner when in reality the business can ill afford it.

But cast you mind back 2 and-a-bit-years: you were quite willing to dispense with the support staff when the proverbial hit the fan but your biggest mistake was not looking carefully at your partner cohort and deciding to carry on with the redundancy exercise (which is really a euphemism for getting rid of the non-performing partners). Instead you stopped at that point, and that now leaves you with a headache.

And of course that lack of room for promotion means:

  1. That some of the best people are not getting promoted;
  2. You are causing tension in the ranks;
  3. A lack of motivation;
  4. A lack of willingness to try something new;
  5. Succession issues galore; and
  6. Uncertainty with your strategy.

I would love to say that there is any easy answer but, of course, like all things wrapped up with the profession, nothing is quite that straightforward. You can bang on all you like about the lack of performance but no partner, unless they have completely lost the plot, is going to gift you too much ammunition. Just because they are not billing as much as they should doesn’t mean that you risk the bank. Or for that manner their lack of leadership or proclivity to change. In reality, unless they drop a massive clanger you are stuck with them.

If you have not already fostered an air of openess about the state of nation, then now is the time I would suggest to start bringing all the minds of the firm to bear on the issue. I am not talking about meeting after meeting where you take soundings from some nascent focus group. What I picture is a situation where you make it clear that even those with 30+ years or more in the profession don’t have all the answers and you remain willing to act on and endorse all the very best ideas from wherever they are derived. And it is not a case, as it always seems to be, of waiting for someone to say something. You want everyone to contribute.

Get everyone to put on a new pair of glasses. Not the rose coloured variety but the type where there are no limitations to creativity, innovation and desire to see change. Perhaps it is too early for a complete spring clean but in conducting a process whereby the practice is opened up for scrutiny, you have to be prepared to face some fairly uncomfortable home truths. They type where you might have to put up your hand and admit that the decisions you made were wrong.

Un-certainty from whatever quarter abets the missed opportunity. It may be conjecture but I suspect that the difficulty lies in the fact that you do not have a clear vision for the firm. Result = you find that you are rolling around like a flat boat on the High Seas.

If that is your difficulty then the most effective strategy I know is this:

Pick a direction and execute like hell around it.

I am not being flippant.

I am deadly serious.

Once you have a sense that you are on to something – a new practice area, a new client or a nascent opportunity – then hold on to that feeling and do everything, and I mean everything, to make it happen. Don’t pontificate. Stop asking people for business case after business case and just go with your hunch.

In these un-certain times inject some youth a.k.a. dynamism into the mix and you are unlikely to be surprised with how quickly things change.

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