Law Firm Management – One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
Quick Recap – Innovation Trends
Welcome to the second part of this series on Innovation Trends. In the first part, we introduced the background and discussed the first of the Top 10 words – Technology. The methodology is based on frequency of mentions in the Business of Law section of the FT innovative Lawyers Asia-Pacific report. It is time to turn our attention to the second most significant trend in innovation in law firms – Law Firm Management.
Law Firm Management : You Want The Trees or the Woods ?
The mention of the word Management, evokes thoughts related to various management functions such as Human Resources, Marketing, Knowledge Management, etc. However, one should not miss the wood for the trees. So, let’s turn our attention to the bigger picture (although we will come back to more operational aspects of law firm management in future posts).
Whereas a lot of innovative practices are breeding in some of the functional areas (that shall be covered separately in later posts), the macro trend of innovative law firm management practices is hard to miss. Key structural changes in the past decade such as Swiss Vereins, law firms going public, Alternative Business Structures (ABS) and the Legal Services Act in the UK have accelerated this trend, at least partially.
The success of many of these alternate structures is being debated and these are no panacea for all law firms. However, the increasing complexity of the internal and external ecosystems of law firms is a clear trend. This requires deft handling of management experts, either groomed from within or carefully absorbed from other knowledge industries.
Innovations in Law Firm Management
The innovation trends in law firm management are manifested in myriad ways. Let us take a look at the key themes underpinning most of these innovative initiatives:
Lawyers are individualists by training and by design. The modern law firm requires a team of diverse skills and cultures to work together in teams. This requires professional management teams and practices. The search for “law firm management” is still elusive and only 10-15 searches / day on Google for these terms illustrates the point. The innovative firms on the other hand are inducting management professionals in the capacity of COOs / CEOs and more importantly vesting management and decision making authority in such professionals.
Having said that, cookie cutter approaches to management don’t work in law firms. I have documented some lessons I learnt about managing change as CEO of a law firm for the last 5 years.
Diversity of Skills
We live in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) times. Uni-dimensional skills or mind-sets are just not adequate for sustainable success of any organization in such times. Induction and acceptance of diverse skills in law firms is a catalyst for innovation and disruptive practices. At the risk of over-simplification, different professionals are tuned differently. Consequently, a team of cross-skilled personnel will likely see many more perspectives and more creative solutions. Some of our most interesting innovations could not have been possible without access to skills such as Analytics, Digital Learning, animation etc.
However, it can be risky and costly to import skills from outside without first selling the change internally. In my experience, one needs to ignite the fire for learning new skills among the existing team members. The firms that enable digital self-directed learning will see the rise of the autodidacts and thrive in this VUCA world.
Individualism vs Institutionalization is a one-sided debate in most law firms. The innate individualism of lawyers often results in re-inventing the wheel, even for routine tasks. This is also manifested in mis-allocation of tasks to resources with inappropriate skills and / or costs. This is clearly a sub-optimal solution for clients and there is a crying need for change.
Innovative law firms are waking up to the needs of institutionalization of the modern law firm. One can start with standardizing and / or automating repetitive processes and codifying the cumulative knowledge base.
We will be reviewing operational and functional aspects of innovative law firm management practices in the respective posts. However, one cannot drive sustainable change across all functions without establishment of a strong law firm management layer. Law firms have traditionally considered themselves self-sufficient and trashed the need for professional law firm management.
One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Treasure
All the best for your own treasure hunt !
Coming Up Next
The next post will focus on Structures, in continuation of the series on Innovation Trends in Law Firms. Read more about the series in the introductory post.