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This is the law’s fastest interview: one where the interviewee puts up an answer between zero and 140 characters.  Today’s latest interviewee is William Axtell, partner at London law firm Charles Russell.

Brian John Spencer: What are you up to right now?

William Axtell: It’s Saturday morning.   Biblical rain is hammering on the windows.   I’m listening to podcasts and catching up on admin on my Mac.

BJS: So what made you want to practice law?

WA: I read history at University and very nearly became a teacher.   At that stage, law was a compromise between the academic and the commercial.

BJS: Lawyers are the oil that keeps commerce moving; however the engines of commerce have slowed considerably… thoughts on the post-2008 world?

WA: It’s tough.  But tough times lead to innovation and opportunity.  ‘That which does not kill us makes us stronger

BJS: What do you make of the “new normal” of practice?

WA: That there is no one size fits all.   Clients have many different legal needs.   There are lots of different ways to meet these needs.

BD: Don’t mean to pry, but what’s keeping the team up at night if anything?

WA: We have several M&A deals on at the moment.   As we get to completion we start burning the midnight oil…

BJS: Have you introduced any new processes and practices?

WA: I am passionate about presenting information to clients in a better, more concise and visual way.   Lawyers are way behind other professions

BJS: Thought much about business development?

WA: All the time!    In essence, it is about building long-term relationships.   For me it is all about being a ‘trusted advisor’

BJS: Marketing and branding?

WA: It is always a challenge to put forward a compelling USP in a crowded market place, but we must.   Clients need to understand clearly why us?

BJS: Commentators are saying that law firms have two options: either go multinational or boutique.  Is this something that Charles Russell is listening to?

WA: I think there are more than two options.   There are many different spaces for law firms to occupy.

BJS: Managing Partners in Australia recently said that the days of the full service independents were “numbered”.   Do you agree?

WA: No, provided they continue to innovate in technology, pricing and service delivery.

BJS: The law now has an alphabet soup of new rules and service providers: ABS, LPO, SRA, LSA among others… thoughts on the emerging players?

WA: Liberalisation is stimulating change.   The traditional High Street firm will be hit hard.   Larger law firms need to adapt.

BJS: Does technology have a role to play in Charles Russell?

WA: Yes, mobilisation of technology is a big thing.   We need to be available for clients wherever, whenever.

BJS: Social media?

WA: @DavidAllenGreen inspired me to take up Twitter several years ago.   Great for understanding clients, getting topical info and having fun.

BJS: Does social media have a place and role to play in modern law practice?

WA: Absolutely, whilst there are a few pitfalls, all lawyers should be actively engaged online.

BJS: Why can lawyers be so unresponsive to technology?

WA: Lawyers are a traditional profession often resistant to innovation.   The generation that grew up with technology have a different view

BJS: Should law school teach commercial acumen like marketing and business development?

WA: I think the grounding should be in law first and foremost.   Be excellent lawyers.    Marketing and business development can come during training contract.

BJS: Short and medium term goals?

WA: Help others, build relationships, be generous.   The rest takes care of itself.

BJS: Any words of advice for the guys and girls starting out in their career?

WA: Read ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ by @richardsusskind.   Embrace technology.   Keep your head in the clouds and your feet on the ground!

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