The Lawyer reported last week that the top 200 law firms have made or are about to make 2261 people redundant. This article looks at a scenario where such redundancies could bring about a quickening in the changes and challenges facing the established practices and in doing so worsen the threats to conventional law firms.
Change vs conservatism
There is a world of change waiting to be unleashed upon the legal services sector, whether through the Legal Services Act, consumer demands or technology.
Countering that is a conservatism that rails against change which can be discerned within the letter pages of the legal press as discussed in my earlier blog “The Profession That Ate Itself Alive”
Status quo hates innovation. Instead, it seeks efficiency. It sees self preservation, through the years ahead, in larger numbers, leaner systems, in being harder, faster, stronger but still, remarkably, in being utterly conventional.
Even now as we see reports of redundancy upon redundancy, we hear how the cuts are required for the good of the firm as a whole, to enable continuation for the retained majority. The firm must and will go on, albeit in leaner shape.
Now, it seems to me that these very redundancies may well result in a tipping point scenario.
Maverick lawyers and positive deviants
I am not the only lawyer who is excited about change. I am fortunate though that I work for a firm who embrace ideas about future possibilities.
There will be many though who are gagged and deterred from writing, exploring, thinking and innovating because it will be frowned upon.
Consider, as Susskind writes “The mavericks within law firms – energetic, often eccentric, frequently marginalised, invariably demanding, single-minded individuals who pursue ideas that regarded in the early days as peripheral, irrelevent and even wasteful…Gradually, their innovations come to be recognised as significant and even client-winning.” (“The End of Lawyers?” pg 280)
Or what about Godin’s “Positive deviants” – “Heretics who are doing things differently and making change” (“Tribes” pg 113)
What happens when there are redundant positions in a firm? What if an organisation takes the decision, after a fully reasoned consultation period, to release those harder to manage, less conventional types?
You know the ones.
The ones whose faces just don’t, you know, fit?
What if it was the case that the top 200 UK law firms alone have released over 2000 maverick lawyers and positive deviants out into an already volatile marketplace?
What if, heaven forbid, they came together and started communicating, grouping, planning..? Anything could happen.
Just imagine the contacts they would share within their former client industries.
Just imagine the buzz they could create by harnessing social and business networking methodologies.
Just imagine the passion they could bring to the legal market as they innovate, wildly, without leashes and no-blogging policies.
Just imagine how closely they would align themselves with existing and emerging models of communication, knowledge management and information accessibility; how congruent they would appear to clients and clients’ expectations of how they should be able to work with their professional advisers.
If these things were to happen, they could herald a quickening in the changes and threats to the status quo. These fledgling, disruptive practices would emerge, convinced that the old school models which stifled them for years and then discarded them, need to be challenged.
Suddenly the possibility of TescoLaw and new entrants into the marketplace are not the only threat.
Instead, established, conservative practices will now also need to watch out for the impassioned mavericks and positive deviants they themselves unleashed, and the models that they created once they came together and found a shared purpose.