Law firms are a reflection of the people within them

So much has been written about the profession as if it were something other than the people that comprise it.

Ipso facto every firm is no more or, no less, than a reflection of the people that work within it. A brand, even a well known one, does’t happen by accident.

When it comes to decision-making it is not some monolithic organisation – even a Top 10 law firm – but real people deciding upon the issues.

“Shall we invest in that project?”

“Shall we rebrand?”

“Shall we hire this person.”

And so on. These are all people decisions.

However the major issue affecting how firms (the people) face the market is fear. Fear of the unknown. And, unfortunately, for the profession, their very training is the one thing that is holding them back – Paralysis by Analysis.

Napoleon Hill dedicated a complete chapter to fear in his book Think and Grow Rich. He described the paradigm as The Six Ghosts of Fear:

  1. Indifference;
  2. Indecision;
  3. Doubt;
  4. Worry;
  5. Overcaution; and
  6. Procrastination.

His object, as set out in the book, was to show that as human beings the one thing we have absolute control over is our thoughts. He descried it as “man’s divine nature” (see p.287). But more than that – and again obvious as it may seem – the one thing that enables all of us to control our destiny.

However the thoughts, of even the most astute, will coalesce around their past actions; but there is now a lacuna. Nowhere have they been able to work through a sustained period of recession let alone the threat of ABS. If they could simply turn to a given set of historical facts and follow those then the path would be altogether less uncertain. That is why fear is so powerful. It causes a chain reaction – “I wish I knew what to do” – turns into a lack of self-confidence and overcaution. Or at best people talk endlessly about what they need to do but never do it.

To keep fear at bay, I have always advocated the power of positive thinking, but not mystical chanting. No of a type that is backed with action. Some might describe it as arrogance but I have never seen it that way. For me it was all about positive enlightenment, and forged in working at the sharp end of growing recruitment and legal practices.

My thoughts were focused on the end – whether the type of clients I wanted to act for or the level of income that I needed to generate. I believed in what I was doing, and I cared: my clients deserved the very best service that I could provide.

In my humble opinion, even allowing for the radical changes in the profession, clients will always come back to you and recommend you to their friends if they believe that they have received value and have been treated in a way that makes them feel special.

Of course, like life itself, fear is never very far away and sometimes it only takes a bad experience to shake your belief that you are doing the right thing or headed in the right direction. Planning is one thing, but execution something different. But all of us must start believing in what we are doing, making a difference on a daily basis and not accepting the status quo.

That said, to banish fear is to not only expecting too much it is also unhealthy. It is likely to lead to a self-absorbed and complacent approach. The need right now is to stay just enough on the right side of fear to propel us forward into the (semi) unknown but not to dominate the situation so that we are paralysed to act.

Remember though that every action begins first with a thought and if you are always asking yourself “Will this work” the chances are that you will talk yourself out of things. To move forward you have to accept that you will make mistakes, and from those mistakes will arise the negative feedback you need to change direction.

If you are genuinely stuck then look for inspiration from other areas of commerce. You are not the only people or profession to witness massive change and come out the other side for the better.

Just remember that those Uber brands that are likely to develop as the market opens up will not be approaching the task of delivering WOW or cheaper client experiences in a way that is fastened to 100+ years of history. They are unlikely to be able to say: “Established since [the year dot]” but that does not mean they will not be fresh and inspired. You in turn and the people in charge of your firm must start to act on your thoughts and not let fear hold you back. Start opening up and allowing others to join the debate. You don’t have all the answers but by acting in a determined and near-sighted way you will start to see opportunities that may have escaped you up to now.