Building a Legal Business for the Future

29 Nov 2016


To say we live in turbulent times is an understatement.

Market changing events, Black Swans, far from being exceptional seem to be happening quite frequently.

This year alone we have had Brexit, the victory of Donald Trump and a death sentence, a reprieve and a further death sentence for a big section of the personal injury market.

In addition we have had market liberalisation and the ever increasing pace of technology driven change to cope with.

So against this background how can anyone build a thriving and sustainable business?

This was the key question addressed by the 5 speakers at Legal Services 2017 on 17/11/16 in Manchester.

Speaking to an audience of legal business leaders and senior lawyers our speakers each looked at the challenge from a different angle.

There were 7 key themes which emerged from the morning and I thought it would be useful to pull them together.

Attend to the Basics

This was a key theme of Peter Hasson. Unless you have your business in good shape you are in no position to take advantage of opportunities which may arise and are at risk if things turn against you. Listening to the story of Sam Jones and Tuna Fish Media you could see the same principles being put into action.

Understand Technology 

An appreciation of what technology is good for and the added value that humans bring is key. Chris Yapp addressed this in detail. It is possible that around 47% of professional jobs may disappear but more than that are likely to be created. Looking at 4 previous historic waves of change there have always been more jobs afterwards than there were before. It was just that the jobs were different. The key thing to bear in mind about technology is that the short term impact is always less than you think but the longer term change is greater than you expect. Work on the basis that if a role can be replaced by technology it should be.

Build Relationships

Computers cannot build relationships. People value relationships. It is a good way to win work ad to do business. We need to develop our relationship skills. Chris Yapp and I both looked at the importance of this. Relationships are a key to business success now as much as they ever were and they insulate business from some of the effects of market swings.

Adopt a Free Range Mindset

In my presentation I made a plea to firms to encourage their lawyers to develop a wide rage of skills, particularly business and relationship skills and give them the freedom to use those skills for mutual benefit. Lawyers need to take responsibility for their own development and accumulate the “human” skills they will need to thrive in the future. Pyramid structures in law firms only work in high volume low margin environments where the employees do not aspire to progress to the top of the organisation. They are fine where people want jobs but not where they want careers.

Brexit is complicated

It was clear from the presentation of Dimitrios Doukas that there are so many moving parts (albeit some of them are very slow moving) that predicting the outcome is almost impossible.

What is clear is that there will be market impact.

What is not clear is the extent and whether it will be positive or negative or some mix of the two.

Opportunities don’t stay around forever

When you see opportunity you need to be ready to move.

That means that your business needs to be in shape and you have to know if it is an opportunity which is right for you. Does it fit with your strategy? That means you need to have one.

You need to have an idea of what you are, what you want, and how you want to get it.

Without those things it is impossible to know if an opportunity is right for you.

You don’t need a perfect strategy but you need something to help you set your course.

Try it. Don’t let a fear of failure stop you from trying in the first place.

Don’t let fear and doubt hold you back. Your only limitation is the fact that you think you cannot do it. Try it, fail small, learn and move on. It doesn’t matter if you try some small things which don’t work out. Don’t be afraid to experiment and prototype ideas and new approaches. Sam Jones told the story of the birth and growth of a small business in a crowded market. Last week they collected yet another award. This is a business built on hard work, good ideas, common sense and relationships, with a dash of technical wizardry thrown in.

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