Newsflash: Indecent Proposal On Wall Tweet

Posted on August 24th, 2011 by Chrissie Lightfoot

First published in the Law Society Gazette 24th August 2011

As lay-offs continue to sweep through Wall Street I got to thinking about our legal world and the movie Indecent Proposal. There’s a thought provoking and inspiring line spoken by Demi Moore at the very start of the film. She is reflecting on her (film) husband’s view that ‘A life without risk is like no life at all’.

I agree. To truly experience living, and not merely existing throughout our careers, business and life, the progressive evolutionary dynamics of our present decade (and beyond for that matter) is compelling us to get out of our comfort zones, to dare to be different and ultimately, to re-invent ourselves.

In a climate of fear, low morale and the unknown – something we’re all (arguably) dealing with right now – I reckon we need to adapt, innovate and feel inspired by both the finger biting challenges and extraordinary opportunities staring us in the face.

But to do this we will need to take some risks.

Why? Because disruptive forces are sweeping through the entire globe; in particular, the technology world, finance world, political world, business world and legal world (law law land) right now. I also believe and agree with Robin Sharma (a leadership expert and author) that success is driven via evolution versus revolution: ‘Small daily innovations stack up into stunning results over the passage of time’ (Robin Sharma).

I tweeted this recently which attracted the following response from Professor Richard Susskind: ‘Good quotation. I call this “incremental revolution” or “incremental transformation”,’ (@richardsusskind 11th Aug 2011).

We need to get a grip. We actually need to take complete control of our personal destinies, make the bold choices necessary and ultimately embrace the topsy-turvy changes occurring in our crazy world. Bottom line… we need to continually innovate (more so now than ever) because the world is always innovating. We need to re-invent ourselves and thereby make the transformation required to make a lasting success of our careers, businesses and lives now and in the years to come.

IMHO Susskind’s view sits nicely with that of Whatify’s when reporting on a news source which suggests that there are only three kinds of innovation remaining (Whatify newsletter, 17 Aug 2011); a welcome revelation no doubt for those of us with bad memories or those of us who don’t have time to explore the other five.

The three kinds of innovation are as follows:

1) Incremental Innovation:
that is, doing what we have to, to keep existing products up to date. Apparently, many consumer goods companies tend to spend more than half of their innovation budgets on incremental innovations simply because they lack the ability to systematically scan the market for the most attractive opportunities and develop winning ideas to capitalize on them.

Question: does the average law firm and its leaders even scan the market for opportunities and encourage their lawyers to develop ideas, never mind have an innovation budget? Answer: moot.

2) Platform Innovation: this is about coming up with a completely new product. Coke Zero is a good example where the focus here is to grow the innovator’s market share by giving customers a reason to switch from a competitor brand. Now, this is an interesting type of innovation, particularly in the present UK legal market place where we’re seeing strong consumer brands, for example, Tesco, the Co-Operative and AA (to name a few) and new brands such as QualitySolicitors and face2face solicitors enter the legal playing field.

It’ll be interesting to see whether their propositions are compelling enough to entice customers away from their existing legal advisers and how much existing and latent market share these brands mop up.

3) Breakthrough Innovation: this is where we come up with a ‘market-changing innovation’, for example, the iPad. The test seems to be ‘…delivering new benefits to customers and creating a new market that the innovator can dominate for some time.’ Online legal document services (including legal advice) such as Epoq, Rocket Lawyer, Law Pivot and Legal Zoom spring to mind here.

I am not at all surprised that such groundbreaking innovations can attract staggering amounts of venture capital from the likes of Google Ventures (as in the case of Rocket Lawyer). Only last year Mark Zuckerburg (founder of Facebook) said that over the next 5 years or so social networking will make it possible to ‘pick any industry and rethink it’.

Question: could this mean the legal industry? Answer: it’s happening now.

There is an excellent blog post by Jordan Furlong (Canadian legal commentator and award winning blogger) who looks at these market changing innovators. Jordan suggests that from now on, lawyers’ and law firms’ profitability hinges completely on what we choose to do and how we choose to do it. I would add that the real game change at play here with regard to profitably will be WHY lawyers’ and law firms’ choose to do what and how they do it.

WHY sits at the very core of an entrepreneurial law firm’s purpose and the very soul of an entrepreneur lawyer’s raison d’etre.

Accordingly, I suspect that the new game change players will be even more discerning and passionate in their focus and drive for delivering extraordinary customer service. They know that focusing on THEM, i.e. the customer – first, last, always – by investing in their people – first, last, always – that the bottom line (profit) will naturally take care of itself.

I would argue that in law law land we’re witnessing survival of the fittest as the strong firms grow stronger and the weak firms weaker largely due to the ‘fittest’ firms adapting to the disruptive forces and competitor ‘disruptors’ by continually innovating. Leading law firms and their innovative leaders are resetting their strategies by taking bold moves.

The key areas ripe for innovating which I believe we should consider that will be fundamental to future firm success and individual success is as follows:

Our law firm business model and umbrella strategy

I read a fascinating, brilliant and entertaining blog post recently by Professor Stephen Mayson entitled “Breaking News: Humpty Dumpty Falls Off Wall” in which Stephen suggests that the traditional law firm model is well and truly scrambled. I reckon it’s fried.

Sadly, it’s taken a global economic nose-dive off a cliff, smart liberalisation in the form of legal reforms (Legal Services Act 2007 and alternative business structures) and switched on entrepreneurial global venture competitors to prompt traditional law firms and their lawyers to start writing new messages on Humpty’s wall.

As Stephen shares with the reader his expertise on the subject it is apparent there can be a sunny-side up for those firms and individuals who are prepared to re-invent their model and strategies; which in essence, IMHO, is what the strong firms and individuals have done and will continue to do.

Our technology

This is a massive topic in and of itself so I think I will leave this for a future blog post. Suffice to say I reckon Professor Richard Susskind can smile after twenty years of preaching as he begins to witness that his beliefs, research, teachings and drive for a technologically savvy and online legal world is actually coming to fruition.

Hey-ho, we’re getting there in the end, even if some of us are frothing around in the wake whilst others are surfing ahead.

Our marketing and sales strategy

Most firms still allocate prime responsibility for winning new customers and keeping existing clients to the partners and allocate ‘marketing the firm’ as the prime responsibility of the marketing, brand, communications or business development person and/or department; an individual pumping out ‘marketing and PR messages’ about the firm behind the corporate veil. It’s neither engaging nor interesting to the recipient.

Potential and existing buyers of legal advice want to engage with individual lawyers so the lawyer being visible, available and engaging to the seeker is of paramount importance.

It’s time to turn the traditional top down triangle marketing mantra upside down to capitalise on each and every lawyer’s social capital and human capital; two of four essential pillars in a law firm’s make-up which Stephen Mayson highlighted five years ago in his book Law Firm Strategy.

Let’s encourage and support everyone in marketing the firm by re-inventing and marketing themselves. Devise a niche, create your ‘Brand, Me‘ and have EVERYONE embrace new innovative tools such as social media and social networking in order to attract and keep more customers through efficient and effective relationship marketing.

Our core purpose

It appears that at the very core of the successful firm and individual lies passion, energy and enthusiasm for their clients. Integrated Legal Holdings (ILH) and Slater & Gordon (Slaters), the only two law firms in the world that have listed on a stock exchange (to date) are testament that taking a gamble, focusing on innovation and delivering extraordinary client service and care actually pays large corporate dividends.

Andrew Grech, managing director of Slaters, an Australian law firm that became the first law firm in the world to be listed on the Stock Exchange in May 2007 reveals his secret to success when interviewed by author Simon Tupman in Legal Eagles.Legal Eagles profiles sixteen innovative and visionary lawyers from around the globe who are changing people’s lives and making a difference in the world; they offer candid insights into their careers and share the secrets of their success. Their stories dispel many myths about the legal profession and prove that lawyers can, and do, make the world a better place.

Andrew said ‘Good lawyers care; they give a damn… to be successful, you have to be passionate about the work you are doing for your clients.’

For the financial year ending 30 June 2011, Slaters announced net profits of $27.9 million (up 40.9%).

ILH has recorded a 51 per cent increase in profit after tax for the 2011 financial year. Graeme Fowler, managing director, told Lawyers Weekly that the ‘results were realised through a combination of getting the basics right… and continued business improvement.’

As the Legal Services Act 2007 swings into full action in England in the ensuing months I believe the ambitious and innovative firms in the UK can look to these successful Australian firms for inspiration which have proven that raising external finance via a stock exchange listing (taking a bold move) and adapting their strategies to be totally client-centric does indeed come up trumps.

Even Baker & McKenzie’s – the world’s largest law firm by turnover, where average profit per equity partner rose by 7 per cent, to $1.2m – chairman Eduardo Leite says: ‘The most important metric is client recognition and that’s what we’re focusing on. Higher profits and revenue should be the consequence of better client service.’

The Lawyer recently reported (15th August 2011) that the number of firms where partners earn more than £1m has sky-rocketed. What’s interesting and encouraging is the diversity of firms; there are magic circle firms, silver circle stalwarts, niche boutiques and all manner of firms in between.

Berwin Leighton Paisner (BLP) and SJ Berwin were the standout performers among the City firms in 2010-11. Both posted ­drastic increases in profitability. At BLP, average profit per equity partner (PEP) was up 57 per cent from £455,000 to £712,000. According to Neville Eisenberg, managing partner, the 2010-11 impressive result was down to investing during the downturn and that the majority of the firm’s increased revenue was due to improving its standing with existing clients so they give the firm more work across a more diverse range of sectors.

Question: what was the end result? Answer: no less than a big fat turbo boost to the bottom line.

If we are to question how and why BLP has been so successful in scooping up a plethora of awards over the past 11 years, including most recently, The Lawyer magazine’s ‘Law Firm of the Year 2010’, we only need to take on board Neville Eisenberg’s professional opinion that ‘Law firms are not innovative enough’ (and thereby ensuring that BLP differentiates itself from competitors by being innovative) and his personal view that ‘There is a need to keep inspired and to continually challenge yourself.’ (Legal Eagles, 2010).

The innovative moves shown by the likes of Slaters, ILH, BLP, Baker & McKenzie, Epoq, Rocket Lawyer etc (amongst others) reminds me of a telling opinion and quote by Robin Sharma: ‘Smart leaders show up on time. The best leaders show up early.’

The same rings true for innovators.

?In The Naked Lawyer eBook I ask the reader to question where they would rate themselves from one to 10 on the PEE Poor Work Ethic Continuum (PEE = Passion, Energy & Enthusiasm) in relation to the PEE they have for their role, job, career, clients, people and in other respects. Where do you think you and/or your firm would sit right now?

Our mindset

I reckon some of us could do with a paradigm shift lobotomy. We need to rid ourselves of the fear of failure, our aversion to risk-taking and to change. Ideally we could do with cultivating an environment which loves idea generation. Serial innovators like Google give employees time to explore ideas, even when some of those ideas turn into massive failures, writes Tim Harford in Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure.

Why shouldn’t law firms take on board the same innovative strategy? One thing’s for sure, there’s a reason Google Ventures has backed Rocket Lawyer. Traditional law firms had better be prepared to compete with new entrants who do love to encourage, support and reward their employees in idea generation. As Robert F. Kennedy once said, ‘we need men who can dream of things that never were.” Are you that man?

Chris Marston, CEO Exemplar Law, another visionary legal eagle lawyer named in Legal Eagles feels that ‘our industry is plagued by too little push for change’.

He defies the norm and he and his Boston based law firm continually innovate to the extent that he is proud to say that ‘some lawyers seem to think offering a service guarantee is risky. In our history we have not had a single customer take us up on this’.

Personally, I came to the conclusion a few years ago that I needed to adapt, innovate and feel inspired by the wonderful opportunities in our present and future. I confess, it was largely because I did not (and do not) wish to end up Fat, Forty & Fired or Overworked and Underlaid – any combination of these for that matter; leading themes in two excellent books that I have enjoyed reading recently by author Nigel Marsh.

I re-invented myself and transformed a whole bunch of stuff in my career, business and life to ensure that I would be in control of my own destiny (arguably, mutiny) and never be tempted to accept an Indecent Proposal of the kind we find in the movie’s core theme. Those of you who have watched the movie know exactly what I mean.

With Demi Moore’s touching line ‘a life without risk is like no life at all’ in Indecent Proposal, “Breaking News: Humpty Dumpty Falls Off Wall” blog post by Stephen Mayson and Richard Susskind’s ‘incremental transformation’ tweet rattling around in my legal beagle mind I find myself inspired to aspire to become a legal eagle (as documented by author Simon Tupman in his book Legal Eagles) who is prepared to take some more risks to ensure that I live a truly fulfilling life.

Can you say the same?

If you find yourself in a place like Mick Jagger where you just ‘can’t get no satisfaction’ then may I respectfully suggest the following? Re-invent and transform yourself… dare to adapt, innovate, feel inspired and ‘don’t wait for the light to appear at the end of the tunnel…go down there and light the bloody thing yourself!’ (Cameron de Bough – Australian Paralympian).

Warmest… and with best intentions as always…

Chrissie Lightfoot
The Entrepreneur Lawyer
(of the naked kind)
Author of The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How To Market, Brand & Sell YOU!

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