Embrace Change

“Innovation is the specific tool of entrepreneurs, the means by which they exploit change as an opportunity for a different business or a different service.”

Peter Drucker, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Nearly all the seismic change I have witnessed in law firms (actually minor tremblings) has come about because of external circumstances.

Like a lot of businesses these circumstances were entirely predictable.

Any smart managing partner or management team (however that is comprised) will recognise that change, for those firms exposed to the retail market, has been in the offing for some considerable time.

Have they prepared?

Some, possibly, may have a ‘battle’ plan tucked away, others will be playing the ‘wait and see’ game.

For those firms (Big Law) who clients are GC or large companies their market will always remain super-competitive and change will be directed at service, fees and technology.

But who drives change? The client(s) or the firm?

How does your firm handle change?

Is it knee-jerk?

Is there a lack of urgency?

Is there sufficient clarity about the issues that need to be addressed?

Is there a lack of heightened awareness about the (sometimes grave) consequences if change does not occur?

Perhaps the reason why law firms find it so difficult to embrace change is because of the rigid business model. I worked for 5 law firms and each one was run along exactly the same lines. In one case, the Managing Partner seemed to go out of his way to copy another by dint of the systems, procedures and hiring in a slew of disaffected people from the rival firm.

For me, I have never rested on my laurels. I have always wanted to get better. At times that has unsettled people: “But Julian that’s how it’s always been”.

I am not suggesting that I was always right or that ‘they’ were always wrong but I was willing to challenge my own way of operating if I thought that would lead to a better service offering and fees. The problem was that I felt I was dragging the enormous wait of history with me which stopped things happening.

There is also the culture of No. How many times have you been to a meeting only to be confronted by the naysayer in the corner whose only contribution is to shoot everything down in flames? Of course, the corollary of that – the person who always agrees – is equally unhealthy.

Of course, none of what I am saying is new. There will be plenty of others who can rightly trade off the “Told you so” School, and wait to pick up the pieces.

If you would rather not allow the tail to wag the dog, why don’t you consider sticking the word “Change” at the top of every agenda for every meeting and ask everyone in the room to consider how things need to change to make the firm better? Too many meetings end up being status updates or the big issue become the not so big issue and any great idea becomes a ordinary one.

Change connotes something more than a new font for your letter head, or the terms of the email signature or whether you need one copy of this book or two.

To use an aircraft analogy start at 50,000 feet and work your way down to 100 feet. You can have as few or as many areas to consider as possible. Nothing should be sacred. Nothing.

Of course, I know that everything will be done to stop change. Ultimately, if your livelihood depends on things remaining as they are, you won’t want to see change. You will cling to the rock face until the bitter end.

Change goes to the heart of the ‘Why’ question, the question that firms simply can’t answer.

Why are you in business?

Who are you serving?

The clients or the partners?


Make change a value.

Be clear about where you see the firm in 3, 5, 10 and 20 years.

Don’t rest on your laurels.

Stop firefighting and go to work on the firm and not in it. Adopt an entrepreneurial mind-set.

Hire the best people that you can. And by best that doesn’t mean people who all went to the same university.

Create a structure that allows innovation and change to happen.

Don’t assume that you know everything and listen to others, especially those who seem committed to pushing an idea. Very often in law firms people give up far too soon. If you can find individuals who are willing, through force of personality, to pursue an issue that has the potential to exploit change then give them the support they need.

This is not about finding a niche or USP. This is about a revolution.

Consider those businesses that have changed our way of thinking. If all they did was try to be a (slightly) better version of their nearest competitor then the world would be a poorer place for it.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

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