What makes a good lawyer?

It’s September and the lawyers are back from holiday.  You can tell, the trains are busier, less friendly and humming with the tappy tap of smartphones.

Like most, I love my holidays, but the idea of booking one always fills me with horror.

It’s not the idea of the holiday I don’t like, but the knowledge that I’ll spend more time and effort searching for it than I did when I bought my last house or car.  I’ve known lawyers put more hard yards into the due diligence they undertake about holiday destination than they would ever consider doing for a client deal.  We’re all driven by a fear of finding out that someone else found a better holiday than us at a better price.

As buyers of holidays we can pretty much get hold of perfect information with a few clicks of the mouse.  Not just about geographic location, but potential accommodation, nearby restaurants and random stuff to do.  Last year I even pre-booked a ranger-led walk in the Highlands several weeks in advance (since you’re asking, it was rained off).

A lot of us make our buying decisions by subscribing to the wisdom of crowds theory, which in holiday land manifests itself through the data available through Trip Advisor.  On the whole and in particular where there is strength in depth of reviews, the Trip Advisor community knows what constitutes a ‘good’ holiday.

We choose our holidays based on readily accessible crowd-sourced management information (we used to call it ‘a recommendation from a friend’).  Big Holiday Data is filtered for us to use, analyse and base our decisions on.  It makes it easy for us to decide what is likely to be a ‘good holiday’ before we click-to-buy.

So we lawyers either know, or know how to find out, what constitutes a good holiday.  But once we’ve exchanged our swimwear for our grey suit and are back in the office deciding who to instruct, who to hire into our team or who we might recommend, do we know what makes a good lawyer?

If you ask a lawyer what makes a good lawyer, you’ll get a range of similar answers. “Excellent technical skills”, “someone who can be commercial”, “an ability to apply the law practically”, “deep client knowledge”, “sector specialist” and so on.

But none of those descriptions remotely answer the question of what makes a good lawyer.  They merely state the characteristics of what lawyers think makes a good lawyer.  They don’t actually describe what, for example, constitute “good technical skills” or how well someone must know a client before they are said to have “deep client knowledge”.  The descriptions are subjective by nature.

Lawyers in traditional law firms have generally had their performance measured by metrics like billable targets, billable hours, hourly rates, recovery rates, WIP and the golden goose that is PEP.  But none of these metrics actually measure lawyer performance, they merely measure lawyer activity, which is quite a different thing and all too often confused with being about quality.

Neither are in-house lawyers immune from the inability of the profession to “rate” its constituent parts.  The best in-house teams will tell you that they aspire to lead by and implement best practice.  And you will hear GCs tell you that they have a “first class” legal team, I’ve done it myself.  But how do they really know?  Concepts like “best in class” are laudable but all too often flawed by subjectivity.

We live in a world of Big Data and the legal sector can look embarrassingly out of date when you compare the legal sector with verticals such as marketing where ROMI (Return On Marketing Investment) is such a recognised concept that McKinsey specialise in it, or with sectors such as education and medicine, where qualitative league tables are readily available for prospective customers to review before making a buying decision.

Change is however on the horizon.  A few of Lawyers On Demand’s (LOD) more innovative clients are starting to use a two letter acronym in the conversations they’re having with us.  MI.  Management information.  These clients are asking LOD to curate MI specific to their teams and business.  For example, how our LODs are spending their time and what on.  And not solely as a reason to see how long a particular task took and query why.  But also because they are interested how their own “end users” of LOD’s service are using our LODs.

Clients want to know if, for example, there is a significant variance between the amount of lawyer time required by their marketing team, compared to the sales team.   They want to find out why a particular individual may require our LODs to spend 25 per cent more time in internal meetings than the average.  They want to see which end user clients are releasing a steady pipeline of planned work to our LODs and which are creating the daily fire fight by throwing ad hoc buckets of petrol onto the fire as and when they feel like it.  And also, yes, because they are interested if Lawyer A gets through more work than Lawyer B and to find out why.

One reason why our clients are interested in how our LODs spend their time is because it is likely in many cases to replicate how the core in-house team is being asked to spend its time too.  Inefficient instructions are likely to lead to inefficient lawyering.  Or to use a data analogy, c**p in, c**p out.

The use of MI and data is a step in the right direction away from subjective judgments.  But even then the focus of MI is often activity dressed up as performance.  For example, whilst a Sales Director might rate Lawyer A higher than Lawyer B, because Lawyer B gets more contracts concluded, a Finance Director might prefer Lawyer B’s approach to assessing contractual risk.   Perhaps better to have a slower pass-through of robust contracts, rather than a fast pass-through of flaky ones.

Even better to have a fast pass-through of robust ones, but how do you measure the robust bit?  What is a “good contract”?

Perhaps the legal profession can learn from academia where no paper worth its salt is published without being put through a rigorous tyre kicking by the authors’ peers or even, in a research context, his competitors in a field.  How about a similar system where the lawyers at Firm A spot check a small percentage of Firm B’s work to verify that it is indeed of Magic Circle quality?  And vice versa, of course.  Or perhaps more realistically, where an in-house team subjects it’s work to oversight by one of the firms on its panel or maybe by another in-house legal team.

I have a view on what makes a good lawyer and I bet you do too.  We may even think the same things make one.  But it doesn’t mean we’re right.  And even then, we may both agree that a well drafted liability clause makes a good contract, but we might not agree on what that clause looks like.  But if ten lawyers reviewed a contract and gave it an average mark of 7 out of 10, I think we’d feel pretty comfortable that this peer review proved that the contract was at least “good enough” which likely reflects well on the lawyer who negotiated it too.

Of course, we live in a real world.  Magic Circle firms won’t be swapping drafts to ask for a mark out of ten.  Nor will in-house teams.  Enlightened law firms and their clients might do occasionally.

But the answer to what constitutes a good lawyer or contract is in the data.   If legal service providers can invest in curating MI that helps their clients interpret the data that is created in the process of a contract negotiation, then that can only be a good thing for providers and clients alike.

Lawyers will often tell you that what keeps them awake at night are the unknown unknowns.  Well perhaps MI is one way of turning some of those unknowns into knowns.  It’s the colour by numbers approach to lawyering if you like.  Join the numbers and paint the picture.

Risk management without subjectivity, whatever next.

Terrace nostalgia

[I originally published this post on my original blog (http://legalbrat.blogspot.co.uk/) in 2012, which I eventually moved over here because the look-and-feel was, well, unreadable. Because I like it (I think it’s okay to nostalgically re-post a post about nostalgia) and today is Non League Day where the football terrace is still alive and well, I thought I’d indulge myself and re-post it.  If you’re going to a non-league game today, enjoy, its certainly bound to be more enjoyable than this.]

I normally blog about law.  For a change, I’m blogging about football.  And more specifically about my club.  Brighton and Hove Albion.  We’re by far the greatest team the world has ever seen etc.  Let’s see how it goes, bear with it…..

It was twenty and more years ago.  The walk down the Old Shoreham Road to the Goldstone Ground.  In short sleeves in the spring, huddled against the cold in the winter.  A scarf on whatever the climate.  Past that pub on the Sackville Road cross-roads (but never in it).   Skirting the West Stand with only one destination in mind.  The North Stand.  Turn right, push through the big iron turnstile with blue flaking paint.  Ticket to the turnstile operator behind the mesh grille.  The unmistakeable and satisfying clank of the turnstile as you pushed it.  And you were in.  Away from the worries of the world, whatever they might be, where for 90 or so minutes nothing else could get into your mind.

Through the turnstile.  The stench of the men’s toilets at the foot of the North Stand steps – nothing more than a brick shack with a huge metal trough attached to the wall.  Jog up the steps.  Turn right.  Pass the first entrance to the stand, turn left into the second entrance, the splendour of the pitch in front of you, down a few steps, duck under the barrier and now you were really in.  Into the pen towards the top of the North Stand, behind the goal, just to the left.  We’re the north stand, we’re the north stand, we’re the north stand Brighton boys.  Murmuring an hour before kick-off, volume building in that hour and rocking at 3 o’clock.

The smell of cigarette smoke.  Jostling on the terrace steps to get your place.  A tribal place.  Definitely an edge to the atmosphere, it never would go “off” but it sometimes felt like it just might.  A strange mix of the safe and friendly but ever so slightly edgy.  I was young, not one of the stand’s “top boys” (and I don’t mean that in a hooligan sense), I was there to observe and enjoy rather than as one of the master of ceremonies.  This was a place miles away from village boredom, from school monotony, from ‘A’ Level stress, from anywhere.

What a place this was.   The surge on the terrace when a goal went in that dragged you along like a rough sea.  You could end up yards away from where you had been standing.  And if you were unlucky, end up painfully pinned against one of the terrace bars while the hoards surged around you.  The added magic of a night match, the floodlights only adding to the atmospherics.  Maybe even a few seagulls circling above for posterity, their spiritual home as well as your own.

Enjoying that we were the North Stand.  Affectionately mocking the quiet West Stand (can you hear the West Stand sing), encouraging the altar-boy sounding family South Stand (South Stand South Stand give us a song), never quite sure what to make of the stalwarts who stood on the uncovered terrace that was the crumbling East Stand where grass could sometimes be seen between the cracks in the steps.  And loving it when one of our heroes applauded our efforts, we used to imagine that they’d like to be in there with us.

A clear pecking order even within the North Stand – I never stood right at the top, it would have been discourteous do so, that was where the leaders stood.  You would never start a song, which was the job of the mighty Krispies (he still exists apparently).  You would never contradict a view you heard that you disagreed with.  But despite that, you belonged.

Some great days and nights and memories.  Kurt Nogan scoring a late winner in front of the North at a night match, the first game I took my girlfriend  to sometime in the early nineties (she is now my wife which is somewhat amazing considering that I thought that was a good early date).  Losing four-nil to table-topping Sheffield Wednesday and managing to chant for most of the second half “We’re going to win the League”.  Almost beating Liverpool in a cup replay until Rush and MacMahon turned on the style.  Dean Wilkins (brother of Ray for non-Albion readers) scoring a last minute free kick against Ipswich to take us into the play-offs.  Beating Millwall in the play-off semis.  “Bravely” taunting Leeds fans one lovely sunny day only for the North Stand to scarper back down the Old Shoreham Road once the Leeds support took our invites literally and invaded the pitch, seemingly intent of invasion of our stand (I have never seen a stadium empty so quickly).  Thrashing Luton (then a top flight team) in the cup.  Heroes like Digweed, Keeley, Nelson, Bremner, Chapman, Curbishley, Byrne, Small and of course Crumplin.  And what seemed like every week celebrating Brighton-based celebrities who would be paraded on the pitch – Sir Des of Lynam, Chris Eubank and most surreally Detective Inspector Burnside (Burnside Burnside give us a wave), or at least the actor who played him.

90 enjoyable minutes, even if the football was not always so.  Because those minutes were so far removed from the mundanity of normal life – which for me at this time was school or being home during student holidays (something the more seasoned North Stand congregation would enjoy recognising with the intra-stand banter of “It’s back to school tomorrow”).

Twenty or so years ago.  And then the ground closed in 1997.  Sold, thanks to the actions of a few individuals who didn’t love the club (euphemism).  Homeless and so came the wilderness years.  The club lost thousands of fans as it camped first in Gillingham and then at the soulless and non-atmospheric Withdean.

Fast forward to 2011 since when we (the Albion) have one of the best stadiums in England.  The Amex (or the American Express Community Stadium to give it its full sponsored title).  Padded seats, video screens for replays, good views from everywhere, no surges after a goal, the toilets don’t stink, people can’t smoke, you can buy edible food, we have fan zone on the video screens before the game, Sky Sports in the bars – the edge to the terrace atmosphere has gone but there is still a great atmosphere, it’s just different.  It’s a safe environment where I’m happy to take my Dad and young children.

I wouldn’t swap the Amex for the old Goldstone.  That was then and this is now.  But occasionally, just occasionally, I miss the pungent atmosphere of a rocking terrace as a goal goes in, the gallows humour as  a result goes awry.   Rose-tinted spectacles?  Maybe.  But that’s what memories are made of.  Above my desk at home I have a wonderful framed photograph of the North Stand taken by that most brilliant photographer of football stadia, Stuart Clark.  His photos bring memories to life.  And a good long look at that photograph brings those memories very much alive for me.

If you got this far you must be a Brighton fan.  Or someone who is very tolerant of a lawyer’s musings on a subject he is not qualified to write about.  Thank you for reading.  And if you are going to any match today, whoever you support, enjoy, and remember what a beautiful game this is.

Lawyers: show your clients some love (well, empathy at least)

It’s 12 months since I stopped being a lawyer.  Well, I still cling to my practising certificate just in case it’s ever needed as a life jacket, so technically still am a lawyer.  I guess what I mean is it’s that long since I stopped lawyering.

And one thing I’ve belatedly developed over those 12 months is an empathy with the sales-teams that used to be some of my in-house clients.  However hard I tried to ensure that my old legal team supported our sales colleagues, I was motivated to help them for not entirely the right reasons.  I knew their work was critical to the business because it brought in revenue.  Quite frequently, I would prioritise legal resource based on deal value.  And this is why I was motivated to help them, to push the revenue indicator in the right direction.  I wasn’t always motivated to help out of a sense of empathy, that a colleague needed some help to push months of their own hard work over the line.

Quite frequently too, I regarded these sales contracts that crossed our desks as more akin to order forms, which the hapless sales person had only had to pick up the phone to their client to get approved.  I guess I sometimes even dismissed sales as akin to order taking, something that didn’t require too much thought.  Surely not much of substance can have happened before the legal team was engaged by the business to review the small print?

As a result my empathy with some (not all) of my sales colleagues was occasionally (they can determine how occasionally!) lacking.  I’ll admit that one of my biggest bug-bears was the sales rep who’d turn up in the legal department with a low revenue deal, claiming it needed to be prioritised because “this is just the start”.

I now realise that I was missing a lot of the sales picture.  Sales takes time.  It takes skill.  It takes emotional intelligence.  It takes listening, a lot of listening.  It means persuading clients to try something new, sometimes to start small and think about going bigger if they like it.  It can even require a little bit of luck.  It is far far more than order taking.

I’ve certainly not mastered (or even half mastered, in fact make that quarter or an eighth for that matter) the art in 12 months.  But I certainly understand a lot more about it now than I did a year ago.  And as a result I know that if I ever went back to lawyering (*shudders*), that I’d be a better lawyer because I’d have a better understanding of how much work has gone on in the background before the legal team get asked to look at a sales contract.

I’d be more emotionally engaged in the process of helping to conclude a sale.

I was talking to a seasoned sales professional a couple of weeks ago with many impressive deal miles under his belt.  He was expressing frustration with the legal process at his company and how it slowed his deals down.  I suggested he take his in-house lawyers to a couple of sales meetings, to give them a feel for the sales process.  To help with the empathy thing (it has to cut two ways of course).

Whether he does or not, I don’t know.  But I’d be willing to bet that it would improve the contract turn-around speeds he currently enjoys if he does.  Empathy can be one hell of a motivator.

Advise, don’t execute

[This post was originally published by The Lawyer in May 2014]

We regularly read that the legal profession is on the edge of revolution.  We are told that in one corner stand the revolutionists (Reinvent Law London is coming to a conference centre near you next month) and in the other corner is Big Law defending the status quo.

For those who missed it, George Beaton’s excellent blog post last Autumn set out both sides of the argument (belated kudos must go to Peter Kalis of K&L Gates for the most acerbic and amusing legal blog post comment of recent times, although it is admittedly a niche category).

Yet in these arguably self-interested debates about the future of our profession, there is one voice usually missing (sadly, this was generally true of the debate beneath George’s post too), which is that of the buyer of legal services.  The voice of the general counsel.

One might wonder why the GC’s voice is not heard more often, why GCs the world over are not wading into online debating arenas to cast quick judgment on whether New Law or Big Law is the future.  Can’t they make time in their diaries to discuss the future of the profession with keyboard warriors who haven’t practised as lawyers but still know better?  Don’t they care about the service they receive?  Don’t they care about the future of law?

Of course they do.  Not only do they care, it is they who will do most to influence what it looks like.  However much of a pent up frenzy we might hear at Reinvent Law next month (I’ll be there but, perhaps paradoxically as a wannabe influencer of change in the profession, wondering whether any passionate calls for an instant reboot before we are all doomed go too far), it will generally not be those at Reinvent Law and conferences like it who will do most to influence the change they profess they want to see.

Whilst proponents of change might doubt that GCs can influence things from outside of the reformist tent, what perhaps they need to realise is that it is the GCs who are actually sitting comfortably in the tent whilst the reformist protests carry on unnoticed outside.  The only way of finding out what GCs are really thinking is to sit inside the tent with them.

Which happily is what many of us who are want to bring a fresh perspective to service delivery spend most of our time doing.

And what are we hearing?

If there is a persistent theme it is a move towards what several GCs have defined to me as ‘an advisory and not execution strategy’.  To paraphrase, that means keeping the high level strategic advisory work in-house and outsourcing much of the day-to-day ‘doing’ of other work.  That ‘other work’ covers a wide range from complex, to routine, to repetitive.

Corporate boards demand their GCs to take on the role that the law firm client relationship partner once played and the opportunities for in-house lawyers to be (*cliché klaxon*) strategic advisers and not simply capable document turners (or ‘contract monkeys’ as one colleague once memorably referred to me and my in-house team) have never been greater.

Many in-house teams don’t want to be spending their time on what might broadly be referred to as ‘business as usual’ work, that’s not where they can make the most impact for their business.  And by the way, BAU doesn’t mean routine and commoditised work.  It generally means regular work-streams which have a complex twist requiring legal judgement somewhere along the way.

So where does this leave the role of external advisers?  If the high level advisory work that they once specialised in is now being done in-house, where do they now sit in the value chain?  Well, like any business in an industry in a state of flux, it’s time to pivot.  And pivoting might mean any number of things.

The Magic Circle, quite rightly, stopped pretending that they want to carry out business as usual work years ago and pivoted towards big ticket ‘bet the farm’ transactions or litigation.  The mid-tier (define that as you will) has perhaps found pivoting more difficult – they don’t play in high value M&A or IPO land and realise that seeking to be an ‘all things to all people’ full-service law firm is not a sustainable strategy.  Happily, we now see a few firms looking at doing things differently.

Neither is New Law immune from the need to pivot.  With a self-interest disclaimer safely inserted at the beginning of this sentence, at LOD we’ve been required to respond to clients who don’t always need a full-time secondee through our On Site model, and instead want an alternative to outsourcing BAU work where there might be peaks and troughs in demand.  Our On Call service is being used by many clients to outsource the ‘doing’ instead of doing it in-house or sending it to law firms.  LOD lawyers are doing the ‘execution’ whilst the in-house team concentrates on the ‘advisory’.

The real harbinger’s of change are not the noisy reformists or even necessarily the GCs on the speaker circuit, but instead what one GC I recently had a coffee* with (*it may have been a beer) referred to as ‘the silent majority’.  Those in-house lawyers quietly going about their day jobs with little fanfare and tweaking their strategies to meet the needs of their business.  It is these silent revolutionaries who will really influence the future shape of our legal profession.

And it’s an exciting place to be inside the tent, listening, as GCs rip up the rule book and start from scratch.

Fitba, bloody hell

That was the first, ‘football, bloody hell’ moment that I’ve experienced as an Albion fan for a few years.  The swinging pendulum of results just tick tocked into the right place just in time.  Then complete unbridled, joyful mayhem broke loose amongst the travelling Albion army in a way that took me back to the original North Stand, there were lots of lads and lasses all with smiling faces.

What a strange season.  Whilst 2012/13 certainly wasn’t a procession to the play-offs, it always felt fairly likely from Easter time onwards.  This season it feels like we’ve stumbled into the play-offs despite our play, rather than because of it.  But whilst its easy to think about the points that got away this season, there’s also a case to be made for the points we’ve won as a result of a late late show – in recent weeks late goals at Blackburn and Huddersfield as well as home to Yeovil have rescued what now look like critical points, when at the time it felt like too little too late.

And of course, today’s late late show the best of the lot.  The best perhaps since Deano beat the Flying Hippo (pick it up at 7.30 mins).

This time last year I felt confident we’d make the play-off final due to our run-in form.  We all know what happened and that left the club, teams and fans with a hangover that took until Christmas to shake off.  Today, I’m just amazed we find ourselves here.  We travelled to Nottingham more in hope than expectation, and for once it wasn’t the hope that killed us.  Whether this results in a reverse psychology meaning we go into the play-offs with nothing much to lose, who knows.

So, to quote Steven Gerard, ‘we go again’.  Derby up next who’ve had a solid end to the season and a 13 point gap tells its own story.  But the great thing about the play-offs, is that the previous 46 games mean nothing.  It’s a blank sheet, form is irrelevant and only 180 minutes stand between one team and Wembley.  It’s cliché central.  You need a little bit of luck to get there, and maybe today just showed that Lady Luck is spending her spring holidays on the south coast (not to take anything away from CMS’s precision point genius – never mind goal of the season, that was assist of the season).  We will see.

As a friend of mine texted me after the match, re-charge for the play-offs.  Let’s hope we do, fans and players alike.  I was delighted to see how psyched up the players seemed after the game when at times this season it has felt a little like 11 blokes who don’t know each other that well playing football.  Any doubts I had about the team spirit ceased to exist after I saw them at the final whistle.  They are up for it, no doubt about that.

The last word goes to a Reading fan I know.  His words below, which I received 5 minutes after the games today.  Now that is what I call a class act.  Thanks Mr Hop.

Oh yes, and thanks to Burnley too.  Football, bloody hell.

Art, brains and law

Have you heard the one about the artist, the neuroscientist and the lawyer?

No, nor had I until I attended my first Life With Law event last night where the programme (curated by a barrister believe it not) facilitated just that.

Life With Law is an LOD project, a series of talks which offer inspiration and ideas for living a good, happy and satisfying life whilst – wait for it – practising law.  Does that remind you of your training contract?  No, me neither.

I started my evening in discussion with a Legal IT Consultant as to whether the contract drafting process itself is creative.  The ability of the lawyer to speak to their client, grasp the idea percolating in a client’s brain and put it down clearly on paper.  We reached broad agreement that this was an example of creativity, of sorts, in action.  But I ended my evening putting forward this theory to one of our LOD lawyers who tore the argument apart, pointing out that the lawyer is merely documenting the client’s own creativity, rather than demonstrating any creative nous themselves. It’s up to you to decide who is correct.

Perhaps that lawyer’s view was reflected in an audience poll.  Whilst the majority of the audience felt themselves to be creative, only a minority believed the practice of law offers much room for creativity.  We’re just a bunch of frustrated muses trapped behind our keyboards.  Arguably most worryingly of all, only a few felt that their workplace was where they thought most creatively about work.

The main event was talks from Cathy Haynes, a curator, artist and writer, and Professor Vincent Walsh, Professor of Human Brain Research at UCL.

Perhaps surprisingly, we heard some common themes from the worlds of art and science (which reminds me that when I was at Uni, the Law faculty couldn’t decide which of these categories it sat in and Law was designated as a Social Science – perhaps that explains a lot).

Cathy advised us to: make it a habit to break our habits; create virtuous problems; set ourselves a weekly pleasurable conundrum; create empty head space; get bored to prompt some creativity; have the courage to be vulnerable; dare to get into the arena; not be afraid to fail; learn the rules then forget them; and do something different in our working week.

The Prof underlined the need to sleep a lot and often.  As he memorably put it:

Sleep is 36 per cent of our lives and we just hope it kind of goes alright [but] the smart things in the brain are done when we aren’t thinking.  Sleep helps creative problem solving.

There you have it – if you ever needed an excuse for being late for work, forget the tube strikes, this goes straight to the top of the list.

Life With Law attracts a broad church, there’s no agenda and the only rule is to come with an open mind.  You might not agree with everything you hear, but what you do hear will make you think and just possibly take you outside of your comfort zone (I certainly was when the discussion turned to finding out the weight of our soul…).

Follow @LifeWithLaw for details of the next outing and see #LifeWithLaw for tweets from the event.

Bumps in the road

I don’t go to every Albion game (braces self for allegations of being a ‘plastic’ with no right to venture an opinion) but I go to a fair amount.  And I think I’ve just witnessed the worst (or certainly one of the worst) performances that I’ve seen for 3 or 4 seasons (for the record, losing to Watford 2-0).

photo (11)

Yes I’m irritated, disappointed, annoyed even.  But I’m not going to throw my toys out of the pram.

That’s not because I’m leaning on the old ‘look how far we’ve come from Gillingham’ argument.  That’s a compelling argument and always a reason for perspective.  But to be fair, it’s not an argument the club rely on when things go a little awry.  The club talks openly about being ‘Premier League Ready’.  To be PLR, we can’t always fall back on the ‘look how far’ argument, because if we do, we won’t get to the Promised Land (whether or not it is the promised land is of course open for debate).

The reason I’m not going to throw my toys out of the pram, is because I think we’re merely hitting a bit of a bump in the road.  I don’t mean the bump came today at Watford, I think the bump is this season.

Think of everything we’re encountering during season 2013/14:

  • the post-play-off hangover took us many months to get rid of.

  • the Amex honeymoon is over and home game atmosphere is lacking a bit.

  • like it or not (I like it), the board wants to comply with Financial Fair Play.

  • like it or not (I don’t like it), we’re missing Gus.

  • a new, young, foreign manager needing to acclimatise in a variety of ways.

  • competition for places means we’ve had to off-load good squad players before they fall out of contract, even though we’ve not been able to replace them.

  • a mini-injury crisis.

  • heightened supporter expectations after we probably beat most realistic expectations last season.

This was always going to be a consolidate and move on season.  We’re not setting the league on fire, but we’re okay, hanging in around the play-off places despite a very lukewarm season.  In some ways it would be better if we weren’t close to play-off contention as it would help re-align possibly unrealistic expectations of what might be possible this season.

Today at Watford was a microcosm of our season – not quite good enough and lacking the fire in the belly of the Poyet years.

Yes, today was a lacklustre performance and it does annoy me that we didn’t seem to ‘want’ it.  But I’m not going to throw my toys out of the pram today.  We have to be more patient than that, but at the same time we need to be ambitious enough not to look back where we’ve come from.  It’s about looking forward, where Messrs Bloom and Barber want to get us to.  I have faith in Bloom’s vision and trust that we will get there, this season is just our biggest bump in the road for a few seasons.  There may be more bumps ahead.

As fans, we need to help the club navigate them, rather than carry out too many post-mortems as we hit those bumps between now and May.  I think this tweet from @NorthStandChat is a good reality check on where we are.

Our visit to Vicarage Road in February 2014 won’t ever be one that stays at the front of the memory banks, but we may well need to take a few more of these on the chin until as fans we genuinely believe we are Premier League Ready.

Only then should we toy throw when things don’t go our way.