“Stagnant” – what a horrible sounding word. But why is it that so many law firms feel stagnant? They are just not invigorating or refreshing places to work. New ideas don’t get off the ground. People who enjoy innovation and finding new ways to do things will not, in general, find law firms a great place to work.
If you try “how about this approach?” It’s always a case of, “no, this is the way we do things” – and that’s the end of the conversation. And there’s the hierarchy as well that has a stifling affect on innovation and involvement by all at law firms -so if you are a more junior member of staff, you may as well not bother opening your mouth.
And that doesn’t end when you make Partner – I spoke to an extremely innovative and competent Partner who said that because he had only been Partner for a few short years, he may as well forget about making any impact on changes that needed to happen.
When you look at how many law firms are structured and organised, and how they deliver and charge for their services, there have been very few fundamental changes over the decades other than the introduction of IT and (not in all cases) a modern office complex.
I had the fortune (and occasionally misfortune) to work on farms as a young lad and to work with farmers as a solicitor, and I was struck by how much a very traditional sector of our industry had made drastic changes to the way they operate, particularly with diversifying what they do, and how they deliver their products. As a 17 year-old I worked for a local farmer named Guy Watson on a small farm for £3.50 an hour alongside a few ex-convicts picking organic vegetables. A few short years later, this small farming business had become a multi-million pound national vege-box franchise called “Riverford Farm“. If you don’t believe me, listen to the Archers.
Farmers have been innovative for decades because they needed to move on to survive. If they had stuck it out in the 1980’s with solely relying on their dairy herd for profit, their business would be bankrupt long ago, or they would have sold up their land and moved to the suburbs – an unthinkable prospect for farmers.
Perhaps because we have not had the same financial pressures, law firms have not been forced to be innovative. Law firms may have lost staff in harder times and equity partners had their income slashed during recessions, but in the majority of cases law firms have not had their very existence threatened, and they have been confident of better times around the corner.
For now, “innovative” is unlikely to be a word you would use to describe a law firm. Which means that if you are working in an innovative law firm, you will have great potential to innovate your way to a truly fantastic business plan which should ensure your business remains competitive for the new age of disruptive, successful law firm businesses that lies ahead of us.