Category Archives: The Changing Legal Market

A broader look at the changing legal services market

The Law Firm as a Learning Organisation

“The shift to a learning culture is an aspiration; in practice it will take a long time and success in any organisation may be patchy, or even go into reverse on occasion.”  pg 15 Learning and Development 2020: A Guide For The Next Decade

It seems quite apt that my blog post following on from the previous one should look at this issue of developing a learning culture.

The quote is taken from Martyn Sloman’s excellent, and free, report on learning and development.  Follow the link above.

What do law firms have to do to develop a learning culture?

What unique obstacles are there, if any, within law firms?

What examples are there in the market place that demonstrate this learning culture aspiration, and how do they respond to it?

My own view is that competence is often narrowly evaluated within organisations including law firms.  We might see an excellent lawyer as someone who has the most remarkable knowledge of a certain area of law, and the ability to exploit that.

At the same time, however, we might see other skills as being sorely lacking.  Communication, presentation or effectiveness might all be close to nil with these shortcomings either overlooked or covered up.

It can be very difficult to accept that although we might be exceptional in one area that we are verging on the incompetent in others.  As a provocation I put forward the suggestion that future legal service providers might need very little in the way of specific legal knowledge.  They will always be able to access that particular commodity.  The new excellence may well, instead, be measured by accessibility, flexibility and alternative funding structures.

To my mind, the learning culture aspiration opens up a curiosity and an appetite to learn new ways of dealing, serving, working and thinking.  If we can do something to turn on that curiosity then my hunch is that we would see much more fluidity and responsiveness in the emerging legal services market.

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The Joy in Domesday Thinking – Leading Change In Law Firms

I made the following comment on Julian Summerhayes ace blog but it got lost somewhere.  It draws upon my thoughts that I have been exercising here for whole freaking years now, thoughts which are now consolidated via Kotter’s Leading Change, my own change leadership work as an associate coach with the excellent Wilsher Group and a recent McKinsey article on wargaming.

In reponse to Why Lawyers Fear Change

Personally I think there is a need for some Domesday thinking.

Far too often I still hear “Oh, it won’t be all that different” or “We’ll get through it.”

This is likely to be well intentioned. Keep calm and carry on. Don’t panic. Don’t upset the ranks. Keep morale up.

But the results can be soporific.

By adopting a Domesday scenario I am not suggesting despair. Instead, I am advocating a form of make believe play, or Scenario Setting.

“What would we do if a competitor came in with a new form of legal service provision and attracted 30 – 40 – 50% of our client base? How would we respond in that situation?

The response is the critical bit.

What are our thoughts?

How would we implement plans?

Who would be responsible for what?

What resources would we need to access?

Who would we need to bring on board?

What would our practice look like, post-event?

How would we fit in to that?

How would it match our own personal goals and aspirations?

What, out of all of the things we have looked at today, might deliver benefits now?

Why shouldn’t we start implementing those aspects right away?

It is about walking up to the wall and meeting it, rather than hitting it 6, 12 or 24 months later.

Brilliant ideas can emerge out of well facilitated conversations and games such as these.

The question is, “Who wants to play?”

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Client Centered Practice? Try Social Media.

Social media enables us as lawyers to make it easier for clients to understand us and work with us.

I was at an excellent meeting last night with 9 other motivated and energetic collaborative lawyers.

Our purpose was to consider what client centered practice, within collaborative law and family law generally would look like.  This was a discussion that Woody Mosten, a leading collaborative practitioner began back in February.

Various aspects were discussed – better aligning the first interview process, broader consideration of the changing legal market place and ABS and the like.

I was advocating social media as a means of client centering.

I had suggested that we look to communications and adult learning theory.  Part of this suggests that we need to have “warmed up” the listener, let’s say our client, so that they are ready to hear the advice that we might have for them before we first meet with them.  We give them a context, or as De Bono might say, an array, in which they can easily place us and what we have to say to them.

How do we reach clients before we meet them?  Website, yes, Yellow Pages (increasingly few I would hope) but what about our blogs, our LinkedIn accounts, our personable and professional Twitter account?

When we use social media in this way, we throw out indicators as to what we are about, what and how we practice.  The result is that clients, to a modest degree, already have some idea of who they are working with.

An example.

The other day I was meeting with an excellent training company.  I wanted to know a bit about the chief exec who I was due to meet with, and so I went to my social media circles.

I was pointed towards a book that this man had written.  What was more, the first 60 pages or so were on Google books.

I read what this man had been able to get out there and was really excited. The connections between us were obvious.

As a result I was very relaxed about the meeting.  I was able to ask him questions about his book and about stories that he had written within it.

We were able to progress to a level of mutual interest and shared connections very quickly indeed, probably within two minutes.

There will be some who tut tut and want to stay behind the impermeable membrane of the conventional company website.  And that’s fine.

But to be truly client centered, give the client a chance to know who they are meeting and working with.

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Filed under An End To Silo Thinking, Law, Lawyers and Social Media, The Changing Legal Market

Website for Unemployed Lawyers?

when the recession hits lawyers... again.

Sign of the times?

Forgive the language but I could not resist sharing this.

As far as I can tell, this website just might be for real.  I hope it is not for you.

Click through on the image for the website proper found, not surprisingly at http://www.shitlawjobs.com.

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Winding Up Lawyers? A Sign of the Times?

Portsmouth Football Club face a winding up order today as requested by HMRC.

This high profile application has drawn my attention to the Companies Court Winding Up List .

As many readers will know, I am a family lawyer and so this is not my usual haunt.

As I read through the list I noticed that there were two solicitors firms named as also facing winding up orders. I had a hunch about a third named company on the list which felt like it was probably a law firm, googled it, and yes, there is a law firm by the same name.

That’s three law firms facing winding up orders in one day. Is that reflective of the times that many firms continue to face?

I hope this is not a typical day for the profession. There is no reason why it should be. After all today’s list contains a total of 4 football clubs; Portsmouth, Hinckley, Cardiff and Southend, and I know that is not typical.

All the same, the list makes for sobering reading. It is a litany of struggling organisations. Those organisations represent their owners dreams and aspirations. They employ hundreds of people between them. My thoughts go out to all who are about to be effected by the outcomes in the normally little heeded Court Room #56.

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Society doesn’t need law firms. What we need is…?

Apologies and thanks to Clay Shirky for providing the thought that kicks off this post.  Clay wrote here about the malaise affecting the newspaper market in the face of new emerging technology.

There is a vibrant discussion over at linkedin (possibly subscription required) instigated by James Dunning of GeoTrupes wondering whether law is facing a similar crisis.  I could not see however that that discussion had yet been linked to Clay’s debate.

Clay wrote in his very comprehensive post that “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.”

I feel that this is a wonderful provocation.  If we, within law, were to challenge ourselves with the question  “Society doesn’t need law firms. What we need is…?” then what answers or insights might we come up with?

I think that we, as lawyers, need to be having this debate.  I am frequently reminded of Susskind’s very pithy observation that “Google wasn’t invented by librarians”

If we are not prepared to engage in this debate, then there are plenty of other commentators and service providers who will. 

To close, consider this further excerpt from Clay Shirky’s argument, again transposing references to newspapers and journalism to law firms and law. 

“And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.”

Chilling, isn’t it?

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Filed under General Technology, Law, Lawyers and Social Media, The Changing Legal Market

Lazy Rehashed Press Releases From The Old World

I want you to help me.

Over the next few weeks there will be a splurge of self promoting lawyers heralding the hackneyed old refrain that January “Is a boom time” for new divorce enquiries. 

Cue tired old headlines like “Hapy New Year?” complete with ironic question mark.

I am looking forward to sharing some new initiatives in 2010 which actually give value and information rather than simply opening our PR funnel to receive this deluge of newly dissatisfied customers that many other firms will be so loudly proclaiming.

I thought it would be interesting, with your help, to collect every press release and news story proclaiming the New Year influx. 

Why? 

To reveal the cult of the New Year divorce press release, but also to consign ye olde way of selling divorce to the history books, and usher in the Web 2.0 way, or at least, one Web 2.0 way, of building relationships.

We can compare the similarities in the various articles and even the quotes provided.

So please do help.  If you see any “January sees increase in divorce misery” or the like either online or in your local press, send them through to me, by link, scanned article or hard copy so we can create our very own scrapbook and reminisce on the way divorce lawyers used to sell themselves.

Join me and send me through your links.

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Times are tough. Whatever you do, nobody innovate!

When I was writing a recent post about legal innovation I noticed that the target firm there had previously won Legal Technology Awards.  I was impressed with theor commitment, although as you can see form the earlier post I was not altogether impressed with the way they were communicating with the market.

When I followed through to the awards website I was startled to read that the award was not going ahead this year because of the downturn in the market.  Why would the downturn not drive firms to innovate?

On Twitter this evening I was startled to learn of a reasonably sized 4 office firm in the South of England apparently having gone into liquidation this evening.  Times are tough indeed and perils of the Assigned Risk Pool may yet drown many more small to medium sized firms.

Innovation does not need massive investment but it might just be the thing that distinguishes you from your competitors and brings that new client. What are you doing?  Whatever you do, don’t do nothing.

 

 

 

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Is Legal Tech Used To Add Value, Or Cut Cost?

Barnetts solicitors have released an iPhone app that enables you to ask a solicitor for a quote on a conveyancing deal and check how the transaction is going.

For the full story, read the Gazette, here.

There is something about this story that strikes me as odd.

Perhaps it is the futility of apps and widgets which do nothing that you couldn’t do before.  Get a quote from a conveyancer?  How about using that iPhone of yours, or any phone, to, you know, well, phone them?

The Gazette article suggests that other law firms could licence the software.  I don’t get that.  Does that mean that an enquiring client would have to download a similar app to their iPhone from each law firm that they were interested in getting a quote from?

Again, why wouldn’t you just call?

Or are Barnetts saying that they will process the enquiry, from the app, for all licensed conveyancers?  I can’t see me being able to sell it to my firm on the basis that our potential new client enquiries would go through another law firm.  So that can’t be it.

I think the ability to check, via app, on your file and progression is admirable but not if it is to exclude human contact between the client and adviser.  If we go to the app download page here you will see that your app enquiry links to

“…our tracking services, you will be asked to enter your case reference and a password. This will then display your cases key milestones. This information is live from our case management system and you will receive updates via SMS when key milestones are triggered.”

There is a comment also from Richard Barnett, the Senior Partner at Barnetts, which reads;

“‘In the past few years, conveyancers have been challenged to provide the best possible service at the most competitive price. To succeed with this goal, the use of the latest techniques and technologies has to be embraced.’

So, to revisit my opening question, I’m curious, do we innovate legal technology to add value to the client, or cut cost for the provider?

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C’mon! Let’s innovate!

Wikivorce the UK online divorce community

Wikivorce the UK online divorce community

There is a perception that the pioneers of what Richard Susskind calls “disruptive legal technologies” are on a mission to do just that – disrupt.

I was recently talking at an event which was attended by Ian Rispin, the pioneer and tech ability behind www.wikivorce.co.uk, perhaps the leading independent online divorce community, together with the equally resource rich divorceonline.

I had the impression that there was no agenda to disrupt here at all.  He had simply come up with an idea and gone ahead and implemented it.  He was very modest about his creation and showed an affectionate, almost fatherly concern for the community it hosted and served.

I also had the feeling that he was not concerned about just how great a threat he and his website is perceived as being by conventional legal practices.  There was no lawyer bashing agenda here.

Lawyers; Do not take comfort in this fact. There are plenty of other lawyer bashers out there who long to see the profession taken down a peg or several hundred.  What is more we are currently seeing only the first wave of these “disruptive legal technologies” or communities and to guess what the second wave might look like would be crystal ball gazing.

I am sure we will continue to see more and more innovation.

To close, and to encourage any lawyers out there wringing their hands, fretting about Tesco Law, Web 2.0 and whatever else keeps you up at night, take notice of that last sentence.

“We will continue to see more and more innovation.”

Now, here’s the good news!  There is no monopoly on innovation.  The only reason those pioneers are pioneers is because they did something, they started something, they had the germ of an idea which they then nursed and cared for and it grew strong.  Anyone, yes, even a lawyer, even you, can innovate.

What’s stopping us?

Stop fretting. Stop trying to denounce the changes that are already very well advanced and join in.  Conservative longings for the times gone by aren’t going to help us. It was just that conservatism and perhaps complacency (“Oh they could never replace solicitors”) that probably got us where we are today.

Nor will it help to simply polarise the market into us and them, demonising and denigrating the online providers and their services.  There is room for dialogue, scope for inspiration and collaboration.  Remember, they don’t have the monopoly on innovation.

So c’mon! Let’s innovate.

Now,who’s with me?

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