Feb 5 '13
Even though we’re living through the days of a tech revolution, it wouldn’t be silly to suggest that Charles Dickens would feel at home in many of today’s law firms. That’s to paraphrase what Mitch Kowalski had to say during a recent presentation on Reimagining Legal Services in the 21st Century.
For whatever reason it may be, lawyers and managing partners possess the shared mentality that so long as they get the case load sorted and work hard, the rest will sort itself out. But this isn’t the case.
Processes and process innovation is key.
Bringing in business and cultivating a healthy bottom line is what really matters in today’s uncertain market. Cash flow leads earnings and as we’ve seen, law firms are cutting the dead weight. So the message for many partners is: bring in business or face the boot.
Professor Rita McGrath writing in the Harvard Business Review hammered out the imperative that law firms must have a strategy and a business development plan. As she bluntly put it: “firms can’t simply muddle along anymore.”
Reading her blog we could literally see Rita McGrath in between the lines pulling her hair out as she lamented on her experience of talking strategy to law firms. Rita reiterated the sense of distaste that the lawyers held for non-legal related skills such as strategy, business development, marketing and other business processes.
This was a number of years ago, but her genuine drive for reform has been vindicated as the Dickensian business model has unravelled in recent years.
Rita explained that she had predicted that much of the lower-end but profitable work would be outsourced or automated. She had also said that clients would be ready to challenge the traditional conventions and go elsewhere for better deals.
Rita also used the example of the failure of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the law’s Lehman Brothers, as a graphic example of why avoiding business development is so dangerous.
It’s pretty much impossible to get a good read on the direction of the legal industry and the broader industry. But as we’ve heard before, law firms will not be returning to the halcyon days of the boom years.
The changes are structural, not cyclical. That means that law firms need to adopt new thinking and new processes. Lawyers can no longer be law-only technocrats. They need to be able to talk, do and bring in new business.