Jul 29 '13
Back in January Elephant Creative MD, Helen Hammond, was asked to review a book called ‘Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Professional Services for the 21st Century’ for the PMForum Magazine. Her blog post title, about it, says is all… The best use of moral story telling since the Bible. Although Zero-140 has been on its summer holiday we decided to dust the sand off our smart phones and pick things up for one week only (back in September) for a very, very special interview. Brian John Spencer talks to author Mitch Kowalski about his innovative approach to reimagining the professional services…
Brian John Spencer: So Mitch, you got married recently, congrats! What’s happening apart from the post honeymoon feeling?
Mitch Kowalski: Thanks! I got married at Hemingway’s House in Key West on Canada Day! I’m gearing up to speak at a few conferences in Oz/Asia in the Fall.
BJS: Also, tell us about Hemingway. You visited his homestead and stood before his writer’s desk. We’re big fans of plain-Anglo Saxon legal writing – so any thoughts on what aspiring legal writers and bloggers (if there’s a difference between the two) can learn from Mr Hemingway?
MK: Write in simple, clear language; don’t do too much with a sentence; strive for “pithy.”
BJS: How’s the legal economy, Canada-way “eh”?
MK: You’re almost Canadian! The legal economy continues to be acceptably buoyant and by that I mean profits are relatively flat. But, no crisis – yet.
BJS: Speaking of Canada. Mark Carney, now Governor of the Bank of England – didn’t he do a good job saving the Canadian economy from the global meltdown of 2008 and after!?
MK: He was a good captain in the storm. Although in fairness, Canada was lucky as our financial sector laws are very conservative.
BJS: But tell us this: Canada’s economy could be seen as one that is more prudent, calculated and risk averse. His affect on the UK economy is expected to be marked. But how does the UK legal economy look as we go forward?
MK: Interesting, motivating and scary all rolled up into one. I love watching the developments!
BJS: Let’s not focus too much on the social side today, so well get it out of the way first. Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn: How important are they to you?
MK: FB is only for personal use. Twitter is most important to me – keeps me involved and informed. LI is mostly a calling card for me.
BJS: What about law firms and lawyers getting social – what the Mitch Kowalski prognosis and prescription?
MK: Getting social for me has two dimensions – branding and information gathering. All the info on legal innovation is on Twitter and nowhere else.
BJS: Quick comment on personal branding for lawyers?
MK: Without a personal brand, potential clients can’t differentiate you from others. And if you’re not personally on social media, then you don’t exist in a meaningful way to the next generation of clients.
BJS: Quick one on offline branding for law firms?
MK: I think the return on investment is shrinking. Aside from obligatory branded swag and targeted sponsorship opportunities, offline branding needs to be better thought-out by law firms.
BJS: We loved your feature on Gunnercooke and included it in our June Roundup (We actually did something similar with Helen’s favourite, New Leaf Legal of Boston; as well as one I like, GT Law Solicitors.) But what was it that did it so much for you?
MK: Many things – but the major stand out was the courage/good sense to start from a blank page and re-jig the entire model. Legacy kills.
BJS: “small and nimble” over BIGLAW seems to be your watchword. I’ve written sceptically about the consensus that says law firms need to go big or boutique, or go bust. Meanwhile Helen has spelt it out and cheered, long live the high street law firm.
What’s your take?
MK: Helen and I are on the same page. Flexible/nimble allows firms to gain competitive advantage – the Holy Grail. Competing solely on quality is death.
BJS: Good feature on Riverview Law here, can you tell us about their business model and what they’re doing for law practice?
MK: In 140 characters? The model is simple and sensible: provide clients with budget certainty; lower your internal costs to make more profit; provide clients with useful management info.
BJS: Riverview Law created a business alliance thanks to Twitter. Aberration or everyday reality? In other words: can law firms do business and make money on Twitter and other social media?
MK: Twitter won’t directly make a law firm any money. Twitter/Social Media gives personality to a firm that in turn attracts clients/biz partners.
BJS: Also, we just wrote a piece on research that found many people mistrust their lawyer. The prognosis seems to be the need to adopt new and more transparent practices: like alternative billing arrangements etc.
What’s your take?
MK: No one likes buying something if they don’t know the cost – not even lawyers. The inability to reliably price work breeds mistrust.
BJS: Quick take on the ABS sector and who’s your pick of the pack?
MK: I love ABS and hope it’s permitted in Canada soon – competition is always good. I still like Co-op and Riverview despite the disappointing early numbers.
BJS: Wrapping things up: now you’re married, have loads of stuff under the belt, what’s next?
MK: To the extent that my beautiful new wife allows me – consulting, teaching, speaking and writing a new book with Stephen Allen of PwC.
BJS: Oh this just came to me, we’re just about to do series on mixing the social and the professional on social media. In other words, thoughts on being a lawyer but letting your others passions and interests play into “the brand”.
MK: That’s a must! A social media feed that’s filled entirely with legal information is horrible. No personality = no readership.
BJS: Mitch, thanks for being with us and taking the time to respond to our questions. Any last few word of wise counsel for our readers?
MK: Good business practices apply to all law firms – sadly, many don’t know that yet.