The Change Agenda

Legal practice is changing – changing faster than professional practice can absorb.

It is an inescapable fact that there are too many firms all providing a similar offering.

Staying true to the ethos of being a professional in a commoditised market is hugely problematical.

Firms have opted to segment their practices but have been so buffeted by the recession and despite the areas that most thought would provide growth – litigation, insolvency and employment – they have not properly sat down and tried to plot the future.

It is conjecture, but, I suspect, few have undertaken a P.E.S.T.E.L (Political, Economic, Societal, Technological, Environmental and Legal) analysis to see where they can exploit their existing services or where they might need to bolster their offering(s). Or indeed have they done the same exercise with their own clients to see where they might add value?

Should partners back sectors where fees are not discounted? Should they go for emerging sectors like Green Technology/Energy? Should they back a niche sector where the competition is much less? Or should they back a person who has their own following and has the potential to grow a team?

There are no certainties but, like most of us, their decision-making will be informed by what they did in the past. But the past is no guarantee to success going forward.

In my view partners need to start thinking much more carefully about their firm’s offering and their place within it. This goes to my point about working on the business and not in it. In other words moving out of the circle of being a technician and adopting a entrepreneurial perspective.

Sometimes plotting strategy is incredibly difficult but rather than looking at growing a sector, perhaps partners should look more carefully at (exploiting) the potential of their existing clients.

Which clients can they WOW?

Which clients are likely to give the strongest recommendations?

What types of client relationship could be further developed by offering additional service lines?

Who are your raving fans?

Which clients can you afford to drop, leaving you open to concentrate on developing more profitable relationships?

It is hugely important that partners spend enough time working out which clients they really want to act for. This is not  premised on how much they can bill but rather do they fit with the practice and the people within it. Stop trying to be all things to all people.

If you can work on the client relationship then chances are that that will give you the feedback that you need to work out where you should be  going with the practice. Sometimes the best strategy is just to execute like hell and see what emerges.

8 responses to “The Change Agenda”

  1. Neil says:

    Picked up “Leading Change” at the weekend by Kotter and I was stuck by his first observation, namely that organisations often lack any sense of urgency when change is required.

    Complacency, on the other hand, is rife.

    I was instantly reminded of Susskind’s comments in opening “The End of Lawyers”. He writes…

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leading-Change-John-P-Kotter/dp/0875847471/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/End-Lawyers-Rethinking-nature-services/dp/0199593612/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298282740&sr=1-1

    “…lawyers say that they accept a shake-up in the legal profession is long overdue and that my ideas about the transformation of the legal services apply across the board, except for one vital area of legal practice – their own.”

    I am not convinced that law firms hear the warnings or feel the need to change. I fear that too many are still managing (post) recession survival tactics to be able to lift their eyes up and see the next bend that is so very quickly approaching and adopt a suitable strategy accordingly.

    Keep up the great work on the blog, and keep on sounding that call to action!

  2. Neil says:

    Picked up “Leading Change” at the weekend by Kotter and I was stuck by his first observation, namely that organisations often lack any sense of urgency when change is required.

    Complacency, on the other hand, is rife.

    I was instantly reminded of Susskind’s comments in opening “The End of Lawyers”. He writes…

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Leading-Change-John-P-Kotter/dp/0875847471/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/End-Lawyers-Rethinking-nature-services/dp/0199593612/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298282740&sr=1-1

    “…lawyers say that they accept a shake-up in the legal profession is long overdue and that my ideas about the transformation of the legal services apply across the board, except for one vital area of legal practice – their own.”

    I am not convinced that law firms hear the warnings or feel the need to change. I fear that too many are still managing (post) recession survival tactics to be able to lift their eyes up and see the next bend that is so very quickly approaching and adopt a suitable strategy accordingly.

    Keep up the great work on the blog, and keep on sounding that call to action!

  3. Neil thanks for your comments. Like you I do not believe that law firms are doing enough to move their businesses on. I suspect a lot are waiting to see what happens with ABS’ etc. No one likes change but as Sir Harvey Jones said nearly 30 years ago if you are not changing (even in something like heavy industrial – ICI) then you are simply going backwards.
    Regards
    Julian

  4. Neil thanks for your comments. Like you I do not believe that law firms are doing enough to move their businesses on. I suspect a lot are waiting to see what happens with ABS’ etc. No one likes change but as Sir Harvey Jones said nearly 30 years ago if you are not changing (even in something like heavy industrial – ICI) then you are simply going backwards.
    Regards
    Julian

  5. Jon Busby says:

    If you ever chat away an hour or two with @colmmu he will tell you that the big industry of the future will be change management. But you have to be respected and trusted first to get that gig and thats the hard bit for wannabe change managers.

    I have been pondering on change and wonder if we have got this wrong. Is change the problem or ignorance of the possible the real problem? I say this because change is only ever possible when you have as much knowledge as possible do that you de-risk.

    Still pondering on that one.

  6. Jon Busby says:

    If you ever chat away an hour or two with @colmmu he will tell you that the big industry of the future will be change management. But you have to be respected and trusted first to get that gig and thats the hard bit for wannabe change managers.

    I have been pondering on change and wonder if we have got this wrong. Is change the problem or ignorance of the possible the real problem? I say this because change is only ever possible when you have as much knowledge as possible do that you de-risk.

    Still pondering on that one.

  7. Jon

    Without wishing to go too deeply into the subject, I think that change has to start with the individual and when you have a group of people who are so disparate in their interests, it is always going to be problematical to see massive or seismic movement.

    As I have said already, lawyers, in my experience (of being one and working in a number of commercial firms), tend to stick with the status quo because on one level it works. They make money and it is relatively predictable.

    The greatest threat up to now has been a competitor who has managed to persuade a cohort of clients that they offer a superior service at a reduced price. I don’t think right now bringing in external change managers will move the position on. Partners are just not ready to accept the wisdom no matter how profound. I don’t think it is a question of trust it is more a question of need. In my time I saw two different external providers brought on board but only for small assignments. The mantra “we know best” comes to mind. This time around though with the competition looking bigger and more sophisticated I suspect the easier thing to do is merge or get into bed with a franchise operation in the hope of leveraging a brand that has greater appeal. I don’t think it is ignorance but certainly a lot of partners are stubborn or resistant to change but then that is no different to a lot of the professions. I think sometimes you can have a great deal of knowledge but you have to be prepared to take a risk because the status quo is not an option. Not sure if this is the burning bridge scenario or not. May be it is the resistance again.

    Julian

  8. Jon

    Without wishing to go too deeply into the subject, I think that change has to start with the individual and when you have a group of people who are so disparate in their interests, it is always going to be problematical to see massive or seismic movement.

    As I have said already, lawyers, in my experience (of being one and working in a number of commercial firms), tend to stick with the status quo because on one level it works. They make money and it is relatively predictable.

    The greatest threat up to now has been a competitor who has managed to persuade a cohort of clients that they offer a superior service at a reduced price. I don’t think right now bringing in external change managers will move the position on. Partners are just not ready to accept the wisdom no matter how profound. I don’t think it is a question of trust it is more a question of need. In my time I saw two different external providers brought on board but only for small assignments. The mantra “we know best” comes to mind. This time around though with the competition looking bigger and more sophisticated I suspect the easier thing to do is merge or get into bed with a franchise operation in the hope of leveraging a brand that has greater appeal. I don’t think it is ignorance but certainly a lot of partners are stubborn or resistant to change but then that is no different to a lot of the professions. I think sometimes you can have a great deal of knowledge but you have to be prepared to take a risk because the status quo is not an option. Not sure if this is the burning bridge scenario or not. May be it is the resistance again.

    Julian

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