Are you walking into the Future backwards with your eyes shut?

“If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got.”

W L Bateman

I have been reading the One Minute Manager again. It was first published in 1982. The genre has spawned many books including the Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann, which I still find one of the most powerful books when looking at the implementation of social media.

The wisdom of the One Minute Manager is priceless. But, just like legal practice, very few managers, even if they have read the book, have changed their ways. Lawyers are no different.

As the quotation makes clear, if you are content with the current position – and that certainly appears the case right now – don’t be surprised if nothing changes:

  • Fee earner and partner performance;
  • Dissatisfaction levels in the profession;
  • The perception of clients;
  • Pay and conditions;
  • Customer satisfaction levels;
  • Unpaid bills;
  • A reluctance to embrace new modes of working;
  • No clear point of differentiation between firms;
  • The silo mentality;
  • Too much emphasis on billing and not enough on customer service;
  • Excellence, Kaisen or TQM being ignored;
  • A lack of attention to the small things;
  • Too much power being held by too few people;
  • A lack of meaningful innovation;
  • Legal Process Outsourcing not being considered properly.

My vision for the firm of the future is one where the clients are WOWed by the exemplary, mind boggling service. Every person is the most of anything. And the experience is positively life changing.

In those circumstances clients wouldn’t dream of moving firms or providers, even if the fees are (considerably) cheaper elsewhere.

Even if law is not something that most people think about unless they have a problem or transaction to complete, lawyers are considered as trusted advisors before any other advisor, and technology lies at the heart of the delivery process.

Of course, every person in business wants to make a profit and legal practice should be no different. But the client should understand in much greater detail what it is that they are paying for, and be able to chose the level of service that is applicable to their circumstances. There will be a need in some cases for a partner to have day to day involvement but will become much less common place. More work will be sub-contracted either internally or outwith the firm.

None of this is revelatory and could easily be achieved, if it is not already, in short order (3 years). But most firms are so backward facing when it comes to the future that they will not look to drive the future but will, instead, by omission, let it dictate the way in which they evolve. This is no different to walking headlong into the unknown blindfolded.

Partners are probably sick to death of being told they have to change and many will lament the fact that all this change is coming so quickly that one hardly has time to draw breath, let alone do the work. This is understandable to a degree but lawyers need to accept that change in any business is inevitable and in a sense they are making up for lost time. Had they embraced things sooner then they would by now be much further progressed.

If there is to be a change agenda then it has to start at the top, for no other reason than this is the place where things will happen. There is no point expecting a groundswell to evolve only to be stymied by equity partners dismissing the ideas or, worse still, saying that it is not in the firm’s interest, which actually means their interest!

Take one thing, one thing that you have the greatest influence over and apply the firm’s entire energies to making it happen.

Customer excellence is one area that can be drilled down to the basics and has huge potential to grow the practice and provide a point of differentiation. You only have to look at what it did for Zappos to realise the power of the customer experience. But don’t set yourself up for a fall. You have to deliver on your promises every single time. No excuses.

As Seth said in his post yesterday when talking about his poor experience with Apple:

“The cascade starts with the product. When your brand makes promises it can’t keep, your overworked staff bears the brunt.”

Ask yourself what is stopping you? It can’t be the market. That is crying out for change. It can’t be your staff. They want to feel part of something. Management? Possibly. Whatever it is, time is running out. You can’t afford to keep repeating yesterday’s practice. You have to envision what the next 5-10 years looks like and shape your firm to meet the expected challenges. Don’t be forced to compete in areas that are forced upon you. The middle ground is the weakest place to be right now. If you are going to remain there then your service and offering is going to have to rise above remarkable to survive.

Turn and face your demons. Face the fact that running a legal practice will never be the same again. And lead the charge – Now.