Even turkeys know Christmas is coming

In The end of inevitability Jordan Furlong challenges the legal profession to think about its future. In a few short paragraphs he identifies the key issues that will shape how law is practised in the future. And it is not just that there are profound changes happening in the relationship between lawyers and their clients, but that it seems most lawyers are simply not aware of them.

It is a sobering post. For Furlong, it is that almost complete lack of awareness of the legal profession that is the real issue,

The one thing that concerns me most, as an observer of the extraordinary change in this marketplace, is that the majority of the profession has no idea what’s coming. Most of the lawyers with whom I’ve dealt over the past several years simply can’t envision a world where lawyers aren’t considered essential to the social and economic fabric. They might recognize that times are tougher and costs are rising and prices have topped out and clients are more demanding. They might be resentfully aware that providers outside the profession are entering the market with lower-price offerings, and they might grudgingly accept that technology allows things to be done faster and cheaper than they used to be. But they’re not putting it all together. They’re not following this road to its conclusion, because they can’t really see how the world could get along without us. The inevitably of lawyers is our fundamental precept, and it has become a mental block.

This is as true in the United Kingdom as it is in North America.

It is certainly difficult in the hurly-burly of practice to take time out to think about what we need to change to stay in the market; and the very fact that we are busy is itself a problem, because it allows us to think that things are, after all, OK: change is not something any of us are that eager to rush into. But choosing to ignore the problem won’t make it go away, and the clock is ticking. And just as Furlong ends his post, ” Lawyers should know better than anyone else what a ticking clock sounds like.”

How unlucky are we?

Somewhat off piste, but in his post The fickle finger of fate  earlier today, Matthew Taylor (RSA’s Chief Executive) concludes with the following, with which, I expect, most of us (reluctantly) will agree (taken froman argument developed by Dan Gilbert in Stumbling into Happiness ):

We systematically exaggerate both the control we have over our own life course, and our own talents in comparison with other people. So, we have an inbuilt tendency to believe that good things in our life are the consequence of our own talents and actions while bad things are the result of misfortune.

Lawyers are no different to anyone else.

Neglecting strategy

An excellent email in my in box this morning from Edge International, with their Law Firm Strategy Newsletter. The topic? The Strategy Executioner (or, to paraphrase the opening, 10 easy ways to ensure that your law firm’s strategy never sees the light of day). You will need to subscribe to the Newsletter and visit Edge International’s website for more (their RSS feed is not great) but good reading, and a very telling conclusion,

The sad truth, though, is that much strategy fails because of simple neglect rather than active sabotage.

Do they teach them anything at law school?

My current transaction has been brightened (is that the right word?) by this email exchange. The context is the tabling of documents at the completion board meeting, and how to record this in the minutes.

Me: documents are usually “produced to the meeting” not “reproduced to the meeting”.

Reply: the documents were produced at minute 4 and are merely produced a second time when being considered individually (hence “reproduced”).

You couldn’t make it up if you tried!

Yet more on the billable hour

More posts in the world of blawgs, particularly Never mind the billables by  Jordan Furlong in Law 21, following the article Killable hour in the latest Economist. Regular readers of this blog will know that selling time is one of my pet hates.

Furlong puts it very well in his post,

Your client doesn’t care how much profit you make for yourself; the client only cares that you delivered excellent value in a cost-effective (to the client) manner. How you bill your services is between you and your client; how much it costs you to deliver those services has to be your number-one business priority.

Selling time is the antithesis of selling value. Read Stefan Stern’s article Focus on value or pay the price in the FT (now some three months old). I liked his closing paragraph,

But for most businesses protecting margins in the next few months is going to prove extremely difficult. Cynics, Oscar Wilde once said, know “the price of everything but the value of nothing”. You know things are tough when the cynics don’t know the price either.

A great depression

Notwithstanding my injunction to cultivate a habit of optimism, the legal press continues to provide some element of corrective. It is some comfort, though not a lot, to know that lawyers across the piece are having the same problems, contemplating the same actions, and, quite possibly, making the same mistakes.

A sobering article in the FT last month, Redundancy and the threat of a great depression, caught my eye, and in particular the section on employees having to take on an increased workload. Now I have colleagues who think that this is no bad thing, but . . .

The potential for working harder, he [William Shanahan, medical director and lead addictions psychiatrist at Capio Nightingale Hospital] says, is exacerbated by technology: “BlackBerries and mobile phones mean that people are not managing their time well. They cannot relax even on a holiday, which can create problems with families.”

Managing time well is itself one more pressure on lawyers. It is one most of live with and, by and large, we learn how best to do it. It is, however, not just working harder, but also finding yourself with little or no work – and more time than usual. Having said that, writing this post is one way of dealing with the delay in replies from two of my clients on transactions where there is nothing more I can do until I hear from them further.

Cultivating the habit of optimism

Holiday (a week reminding myself why living in the South West is so much better than simply visiting it, although narrow lanes south of Padstow when the lifeboat is on a shout make for interesting driving) and transactions (yes, they are still happening – just) have left little to time to post; a late summer lull and a transaction gone away are prompts to return.

A phrase I read recently, and have been shameless in using since, is “the habit of optimism”. In the current position a lot of us find ourselves in, it is useful to remember things may not be bad as they seem, and even if they are, it doesn’t always do to say so (and it is not just about talking ourselves into recession: a concept that I do not subscribe to).

In my post Spending time wisely in early July, I picked up on some of the steps that we can take in our practices to see us through the slowdown, whether it be long or short, and in particular to those identified by Nick Jarrett-Kerr of Kerma Partners, in his article in Kerma Partners Quarterly 2/08.

Nick, when looking at ‘where partners should be spending their time during a market turndown’ sees motivating and developing people as a critical task. I could not agree more. For most lawyers, this is their first experience of a down turn in the legal services market. There are few days when the legal press doesn’t carry a story about lay offs and redundancies, and ‘on the floor’ it is obvious that there is less work around. Inevitably this may have a demoralising impact on people; even if they are not directly affected, they will know people who are. The old certainties are longer be there.

Optimism is important: one of the panel at a recent Exeter Business Leaders Forum, having first reminded us that the current economic turbulence was the fourth time down turn he had experienced, told us that one of the main lessons he had learned  is that, even in a down turn, when you get up in the morning, the sun is still shining, people are still going to work, things are still being built, goods are still being sold. Certainly times are harder, and life is more difficult, but this is what happens.

Optimism is not blind hope that everything will be all right; rather it is knowing not just that there is a way forward, but what it is and what it will take to get there. This is a message that needs to be got across to the people who work for us.