It’s the 2016 predictions mashup special

‘Write a legal market 2016 predictions blog post’ they said.  ‘It’ll be interesting’ they cajoled.  ‘It’ll be hard work demonstrating genuine thought leadership’ I pondered.  ‘I’ll be found out.  And anyway, it’ll be easier to copy, I mean summarise, the predictions already out there on the Interweb from the great and the good.’

So I scoured far and wide (disclaimer: it may have been a single Google search) for the best (and worst) predictions of what the 2016 legal market will look like.

Where better to start than the LexisNexis Business of Law Blog which publishes a mere 41 (count ‘em) predictions for 2016.  And what have we here?

Well, a bit of new law (per-lease, can we find a new term for this next year?) breathlessness about what a “dynamic, fast changing environment” the legal sector is as we’re told that “the pace and complexity of the disruption in the legal marketplace is increasing”.  Okay, some truth in that, but it does sound oh so 2010.  Can’t we do better?

A dose of realism then.  “Big firm leaders” will continue to mismanage, by “undervaluing collegiality and cohesiveness”.  Realism?  Or scepticism?  The Big Law market will, whether we like it or not, continue to thrive.

For those more interested in the Chinese new year than the turning of the calendar year, we also read that 2016 will be the year of the client (insert animal of choice here).  “The day of the client is finally coming” (surely this statement is missing multiple exclamation marks!!!) and these “21st century clients will drive a revolution in the delivery of legal services”.  Despite the slight hyperbole, these commentators have a point.  Surely there’s never been a better time to be a buyer of legal services?

Well that’s the theory anyway.  Briefly leaving our friends from Lexis a second, Professor Stephen Mayson tells us wearily on his own blog that good client service is certainly not alive and well.  In fact it’s just about dead in the water.  Is it fair to summarise the state of an industry based on a single anecdote?  Perhaps not, but this is the blogosphere people, so anything goes!  And anyway, those of us who know Stephen will know that his anecdote will be backed-up by roomfuls of research so doubt at your peril.

2016 the year of the client?  We’ll have to see.

Back in LexisNexis land (that should be a *thing* with rides and swimming pools and hotels and stuff) we hear the negative (but no doubt sadly true) prediction that “law firms will not see significant increases in the number of women partners or women managing partners”.  Perhaps the word “see” should be replaced with the word “facilitate” – discuss.  Controversial one that, not for discussion around the Christmas dinner table for fear of upsetting the relatives.

Then we move into legal tech.  That’s to be added to the list of phrases we want to ban.  I fear what I’m about to read here.  Swathes of associate cuts as AI takes over the world.  I have visions of the scene from Alien when Kane’s stomach erupts, as AI bots explode from the bodies of hard working attorneys (I’ve used the ‘a’ word there for my large US readership) the world over.  Or maybe the mulled wine I had at (not for) lunch is having an impact.  Expectantly, I await the predictable self-interested tech predictions…

…but I’m disappointed.  Even over at the Disrupt Legal blog which has its own 7 legal tech predictions for 2016 we’re told “Robots will not take lawyers’ jobs” and “the billable hour will not go away”.  Yawn.  Even Ron Friedmann, who’s not adverse to a bit of legal tech love, warns that AI “will make a big media splash but have limited actual impact…the hype cycle will be brought down to earth”.  Surely gremlins in the machine here.

It does get better though as we’re told (*self-interested klaxon*) that “On-demand services will improve and expand”.  Consistent too with the American Lawyer’s prediction that “freelancers will squeeze out associates.  Firms will get hip about the freelance economy”.  Finishing with a statement that could even be SPONSORED BY LOD (it’s not, promise) “Why shell out all that money for benefits and office space when they can hire experienced alums of top firms on an hourly or per assignment basis?’  Amen to that.

The craziest assertion made over on Disrupt Legal is not even tech related.  It’s the prediction that “Biglaw will embrace work-life balance”.  That’s a joke worthy of any Christmas cracker.  And lest you think I’m being unfair to law firms, let’s not forget that client behaviour (deadlines, deals and – sorry, can’t think of a third ‘d’) drives (oh, there it is) supplier behaviour.  Yes, another one not to discuss after a glass or two, it’ll all get too explosive.

But the work-life balance issue raises its non-ugly head again on American Lawyer which predicts “firms will hold parent visiting days” (Big Law offices are no place for children, leave them at home!), “firms will make a big show about work/life balance” with talk of hiring “nutritionists, pilates instructors, gurus and healers”.  Healers?  What is going on state-side?!  And perhaps more realistically, we’re told that “non-partner tracks will explode…for part-timers, flex-timers, off-rampers, on-rampers, aspiring parents, new parents” and even “tired parents”.  I give this last prediction a big fat Facebook *Like*.

The more I read the more it seems that Big Law is getting better at getting the soft stuff right with a prediction that by the end of 2016 “the majority of the top 100 law firms will have introduced CV blind recruitment policies for new trainee solicitors”.  Good news for everyone.  Except Oxbridge and Ivy League graduates I guess, please form an orderly queue to provide tea and sympathy.

We’d best finish off our visit around LexisNexis land (it’s great here!) where three themes emerge.  The “Law Firm as a Service” will become commonplace.  Firms will focus on ensuring that “knowledge…one of their most strategically important assets” is exploited properly and there may even be early adopters pursuing the “information-as-a-legal-service model”.

I see the sense in that.  But with tech benefits comes tech risk.  And surely one of the most sobering predictions (from our own good friend, Jordan Furlong) is that in 2016 “we’ll finally have our first high-profile law firm cybersecurity catastrophe”.  Indeed, cyber risks will “continue to expand in both force” (insert your own Star Wars gag here) “and origin”.  Perhaps for this reason, we’re told that “client security audits will top 200 pages” (happy reading everyone!).

The final one to throw into the melting point is that we’ll see Tripadvisor for Lawyers with “significant advances in third party lawyer rating services”.  I’d personally like to see a Trip/Lawyeradvisor mash-up, where you can choose a restaurant based on the quality of the lawyers you’re likely to meet there.  A kind of Tinder for hungry lawyers.  Or something.  And yes, that idea is copyrighted, or whatever the term is.

My favourite prediction of them all, again over on the LN channel.  Sit down folks, it’s a stonker.

The Apple Watch will continue (sic) to gain traction as attorneys learn new and varied ways to integrate them into their practices.

Futurolgistic?  Or just plain cobblers?  You decide dear reader.

I leave the last words to Janet Stanton from Adam Smith Esq.  Janet makes the unexciting but surely accurate prediction:

2016 will look very much like 2015.

What no hyperbole?  What no exaggerated doom and gloom?  Boring?  Maybe.  Realistic?  I think so.  And after all, if the incremental change we are seeing across our profession continues at its current rate – and, who knows, maybe even a smidgen quicker – then we’re in for a good, perhaps even great (if not over-dramatic) year.

See you on the other side!

 

 

Can’t applaud that

By the age of forty-something, one should know better than to get annoyed about the outcome of a football match.  After all, we all know, it’s just football.  Right?

Right.  Well, kind of.

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Except when:

  • you go 2-0 up against the run of play away from home and end up hanging on for a draw;
  • it feels like 3 precious promotion points have been reduced – again – to a single solitary notch on the board;
  • your young and talented centre half has had a rush of blood to the head;
  • your immediate promotion rivals have convincing home wins;
  • you feel your team invited the draw by camping out in their own half after going ahead; and
  • your train home is delayed so you end up writing this blog post sitting on the floor at St Pancras station (I live north of London, not by the sea, despite the blue and white allegiance).

Except when except when except when all these things conspire to create an illogical sense of annoyance.

Time, then, for a reality check.  Not even the most blinkered of BHAFC fans could have possibly hoped that the Albion would be undefeated up to 15 December with only one more match to play before Christmas.   Nor that we’d be guaranteed in the top four on 1 January 2016.  Nor that we’d (quietly) be looking like genuine promotion contenders.  It’s really come to something when we regard 3 points won at Burnley, Derby and QPR as between 3 and 6 points lost.  Especially when we’ve rediscovered the art of winning at home.  What do they say?  Win at home, draw away, and promotion takes care of itself.

But football fans are greedy, we always want more, we can always see what’s wrong.  Against QPR the criticisms are easy to find.  Calde, bless the man, looked out of his depth; we put too much pressure on Stockdale in the first half with unhelpful backpasses; our goals were a bit soft from a QPR perspective rather than the result of clinical finishing; Dunk’s recklessness; our defensive distribution was poor and so on…

…but most of all we did set up camp in our own half for 30 minutes or so after scoring our second.  I almost expected QPR to charge us rent for the way we set up shop.  Why did we do this? Maybe the Albion Roar guys called it right:

I’m not going to criticise Chris too much for this,  the man is working wonders, but I’m interested to know why we didn’t seek to kill the game off at 2-0 with another goal or at least implement a kill game strategy.  Instead we seemed to put up the “please shoot” neon signs and the outcome was inevitable.

And so the annoyance does creep in.

There, dear reader, is the problem with football.  Even in this season of all seasons we mere football fan mortals, lose our perspective.  This is not the usual perspective about where we’ve come from since the dark days, this is perspective that even title contenders have off days, throw away points and don’t win every game.  Which is why I refer you back to the “reality check” paragraph above.  If you’re still feeling annoyed, read it and read it again.  Then once more for luck.  And if that doesn’t work, then read this over on NSC.

Next up the Boro roll into town.  A must win six pointer?  Not really, no.  A big game, yes, but the season doesn’t ride on it by any means.  And nor does this QPR result.  Let’s get that perspective back and remember that we’d have grabbed with both hands the chance to be top four (minimum) on 1 January and we could yet be top one.

Last thing, if you don’t mind.  The title of this blog post.  Not my sentiments.  Not at all.  But they were the words of one Albion fan as the rest of us applauded the boys in yellow when the final whistle went.  A throw away comment in the heat of the moment, I’m sure.  But let’s have that reality check again.    You can and should applaud a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road and most of us did just that before running to get our much delayed trains.  Yes, we’ve got our war stories about the ones that got away.  But don’t forget, the other 23 teams in this division will all have their own war stories too about what could’ve been, what should’ve been, and 21 of them are below us at the time of writing.  I know whose war stories I’d rather have.

And war stories or not, the Championship table tells a pretty compelling story, even on this most, erm, annoying of evenings.

Seeking: M/F with a GSOH, stubborn streak, must love spreadsheets

Like a lot of GCs and purveyors of legal services, I’ve had arguably more than my fair share of attending in-house corporate counsel forums, conferences, roundtables and even grandly named summits.  It’s easy to get battle-weary of these when one hears the regular call to arms to ‘be more commercial’, ‘get closer to the business’ and the favourite moniker, ‘get a seat at the table’ (the one closest to the lunch buffet is my favourite, not sure if that’s what they mean though).

Which is why it was refreshing last week at The Lawyer’s ‘In-House Counsel as Business Partner’ event to hear the views of one CEO and one CAO (Chief Administrative Officer if you were wondering, which I don’t think is a case of job title inflation for the Head of Stationery) of what they want from GCs.

Step forward Nicola Shaw, CEO of HS1, and Tom Kilroy, CAO/Chief of Staff at Misys.

The advice from both was succinct, as perhaps you’d expect from people operating at the C-Suite.

The traits Nicola looks for in her GCs are: commerciality; stubbornness; a willingness to challenge; someone who’ll help raise the company profile; a pro-active tendency; can transition quickly across varied issues; who wants to help run the business; and, most controversially, a GC who’d be “fun” to work with.  Who knew…

Tom is the rare UK example of a GC turned CEO now turned CAO.  He’s passionate about the need for lawyers to get financially literate.  Tom was once kind enough to visit my old shop at the FT and talk to our team about that.

He’s got a new slide deck now though.

First up, a slide of Jesus (I considered a link to a picture, decided it superfluous), highlighting that 8 per cent of his disciples betrayed him.  The point of the slide?  The figure is meaningless without context.  How many disciples did he have?  Rhetorical question.  Context is everything with numbers (as with law, I guess).

Then a video of President Kennedy’s famous “we choose to go to the moon” speech.  Tucked in there, towards the end, is a lot of boring stuff about how much it was going to cost.  Even great visionaries care about numbers.

Tom reminded us that this month’s numbers or last month’s are useless without context.  Look at the same month last year, compare with the same month five years ago.  What picture is being painted?  What are the trends?  Just don’t ask your Financial Controller to dig out last century’s balance sheets, or you’ll be hated apparently.

And he rounded off with a picture of everyone’s (well, everyone except Andy Murray) favourite tennis player, Roger Federer.  With the reminder that even Rodge needs to practise 2 hours a day just to stand still.  Meaning you don’t understand those numbers unless you spend court time reading them.  And reading some more.

Tom’s view is that since business talks the language of numbers, GCs, indeed all in-house lawyers, need to be conversant in it too.  No excuses.  He admitted numbers can be boring, but essentially the message is, get bored but get literate.  Tough but sage advice.

My earlier conference flippancy was of course tongue in cheek, the many experienced GCs at IHCBP15 were, as the in-house community usually is, generous in sharing best practice and genuine in their wish to ensure their teams are doing the best job possible.  But this blog post is not about lawyers telling other lawyers how to be a good lawyer.  It’s about what the business wants, what the C-Suite demands.  We heard it from the horse’s mouth.

Which is someone stubborn with a GSOH who loves spending time with an Excel spreadsheet.  Like many lawyers, I must have missed that particular class at law school.

Getting vertigo

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged Brighton. Why is that? Not much to moan about I guess.  Scratch that.  Loads, LOADS to shout about.

Especially today. Played badly scored late winner, that’s promotion form isn’t it?

I love an away day to Elland Road. In the main part, that’s for the company (a triumvate of Brighton (me), Leeds (BMF) and Bradford (Bman) fans). And because we always get something. As it’s BMF’s home game we sit with the Leeds fans. Not an easy place to be when the ball hits the goal and it’s not Shearer or Cole. But I also love Elland Rpad because it’s “proper”. Proper football club. Revie and Bremner statues. An atmosphere with a bit of frission. Walking there through the Elland Road terraces. Club legends Eddie Gray and Norman Hunter out and about in the stands.

imageBack to the lack of blogging. Ah yes, lack of stuff to moan about. After all, for a club that’s been to the brink and back, we’ve not really had much to moan about for a few seasons now. Except last season of course. But this season…

We know it’s not time to get carried away. Possibly the toughest league in the world to get out of. We’re not playing with the swagger of league leaders. We’re possibly a tiny bit light on firepower. We’re drawing games we should win. We uncharacteristically looked shaky at the back at Leeds. But. We. Are. Top. Of. The. League. Say we are top of the league.

Before today, I’ve been joking after the last 3 draws that this is our bad spell of the season and we’re still top. Maybe that’s not so funny because it’s true. Missed penalty against Wolves, 94th minute equaliser against at Bolton, missed a hatful at home to Cardiff, won arguably despite ourselves at Leeds. And we’re still top.

Let’s just analyse today a little bit. Dunk had a poor first half. Entire defence looked rickety on set pieces. Rosenior didn’t look on the pace. March’s distribution was loose. Greer lucky Leeds didn’t score from a terrible clearance (more of a pass to the oppo). Stockdale almost victim to a comedy clearance. Baldock anonymous. Only Stephens and Bruno looked really on it plus some new signing called Bobby someone.

But we won. And how. There are dinks over the keeper and there are dinks over the keeper. There are badge kisses and there are badge kisses. There are legends and there are legends. And we are top.

We all know what the big question is and we’re too scared to think about it properly. Can we sustain it?

I’m less focused on the 4 point gap to second than I am the 8 point gap to seventh. Rationally, I don’t think we are top two. But nor did Bournemouth fans last season. And we’ve got that all important thing in any top team, a strong spine. Stockdale, Dunk et al, Stephens and Hemed. Quite fancy those four (well, we’re Brighton so we can say that and yes, small in fact tiny minority of Leeds fans, your “we can see you holding hands” gag was as hilarious as it was original).

Can we sustain it? Dunno. But the bad spell has to end soon, the quick fire passing attacking and swarming men in the box approach we saw in the first few games will return. I’m not ready to predict if we’ll be top two. My personal hope is we are top four by Christmas which will stand us in much better stead than we could ever have hoped for and I’d like Uncle Tony to buy us one more striker for Christmas please. But I do predict we’ll batter someone. Soon. They have been warned. The “bad” spell will end and let’s see what happens then.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy the view. Getting a bit of vertigo being this high up for so long but I think I can get used to it.

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#billablehour

I’ve never blogged about anything remotely political, economic, charitable or campaign-driven before. I’m making a rare and brief exception here (don’t worry, normal service will be resumed in the next blog post).  And for the first time ever I’m going ‘pay per view’ for this post.  It will cost you £5 to read – click here and pay up first (if you haven’t, I’ll know, I’ve got those cookie wotsits installed and stuff like that and your screen will explode in 60 seconds).

This week, via Twitter, I saw these four things.

First, the tragic picture which distressed the world and made many of us sit up and take proper notice not only of the refugee crisis but also the scandalous apparent lack of co-ordinated governmental approach to help those poor, desperate human beings fleeing desperation beyond description.

Second, the FT, a newspaper which does not publish firm calls to action unless it believes in them, published a leader which I believe had no small part in prompting our Prime Minister into what looks like a change of heart and government policy.

Third, that wise friend of many lawyers, Paul Gilbert, made his own small but powerful contribution to the debate.  Another call to action.

And finally, Sean Jones QC he…..well, he did what most of us didn’t do whilst going about our oh so busy lives.  He bloody well did something.  He did something simple.  He did something clever.  He did something which will make a little bit of a difference.  He did this.

I don’t really know Sean, I’ve met him once briefly, but he doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who wants loads of back slapping and ‘well dones’.   He wants action.  He wants us to do something.  So if you’re a lawyer and even if you’re not, please donate again (coz you did at the top of the page, right, otherwise your screen will have exploded?) to the #billablehour campaign  by clicking here.  It won’t undo the desperate tragedy of Aylan Kurdi’s death.  But it might just go a small way towards helping make lives better.

Tomorrow’s law firm: has anyone asked its clients?

The quality of a blog post can often be measured by the quality and quantity of the comments appearing beneath it.  Recent articles in The Lawyer examining the most desirable structure for tomorrow’s law firm do not disappoint.  Nor would one expect them to, given their authors, Bruce MacEwan of Adam Smith Esq and Mark Brandon of Overture.

It’s fair to say that Bruce and Mark aren’t exactly on the same page.  Bruce walks us through a four-pronged argument in favour of the demise of the traditional partnership whilst Mark disagrees, highlighting the weaknesses in corporate structures and reminding the reader that the Magic Circle hasn’t exactly fared badly over the last 25 years.

I won’t attempt to summarise the well-argued points that both Bruce and Mark make in more detail but I would like to highlight an important omission from the debate.  Which is the voice of the client.  What does the client want from ‘tomorrow’s law firm’?

As someone working in so-called ‘new law’, you’d be forgiven for assuming that I’d join Bruce’s side of the debate and be quick to dance on the grave of the traditional law firm structure.  One of my own most-read (but least popular!) posts dates back to 2011 when I still wore a GC hat and decided to have a pop at law firm PEP so I’m not beyond a poke at the law firm model myself.  But, I’m not going to do that.  In fact, I’m not going to take sides in this debate becauses as Jeremy Hopkins of Obelisk rightly notes in the comments:

“The whole structure thing is a red herring”.

I spent 13 years working in-house and what mattered to me when working with legal service providers (I deliberately avoid using the term law firms) can be summarised as output and value.

When undertaking complex M&A or litigation, did I care about the partnership structure of the Big Law firm I instructed?  No.  When I needed additional bandwidth for business-as-usual work, did I care about the corporate structure of the ‘new law’ service providers I turned to?  Of course not.   And I bet very few GCs give the whole structure issue very much thought at all.

What matters more than structures is business models.  What matters is legal service providers deciding what it is they do well and how best to deliver that in the simplest way possible for their clients.

Look at most of the ‘new law’ providers like the LODs, Obelisks and Radiants – we know what we are good at, we know where we want to be fishing and our business models facilitate that.  Look at the Magic Circle or law firms which are grown up enough to recognise they have sector strengths – equally they know what they are good at too and their partnership structure is no obstruction to them achieving that.

Bruce’s article is merely the hors d’ouvre to a wider debate at the The Lawyer’s Business Summit which I hope takes more time to explore the client’s perspective on this.  Mark certainly asks the right questions in his post:

“Why would clients be better off if law firms acted like corporates?  Would the client get better service, lower cost, better product?  There isn’t a shred of evidence nor any reason to think that law firms would deliver better service or products if they were constituted as corporates instead of partnerships.”

Mark may be right, but equally where is the evidence to demonstrate that traditional partnerships are the most effective vehicle for service delivery?

Both Bruce and Mark conclude with a quick look at the usual reference points for corporate success – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google et al.  Bruce suggests part of their success is down to their corporate (non-partnership) structure.  Mark disagrees.  The red herring has reared its rotting neck again.  The Amazon et als do not succeed because of their structure.  They succeed because they not only know what their customers want, but more pertinently they continually invest in knowing what their customers don’t even know they want until they have it.  This is called product development or R&D in most sectors.

When I was a GC looking at professional life through a client lens, the best external advisors helped make my job easier.  They did this by knowing what I needed, in the very best cases before I did.  As someone helping to run a client-focused business, this is always front of my mind.  Business models and product development facilitate effective client service far more than corporate structures ever will.

Spare a seasonal thought for the lawyers

You can spot a lawyer a mile off at Christmas.

They’re usually the ones not enjoying themselves (well, I guess you could say that the rest of the year too).  At the time of year when the rest of the office winds down, with the exception of the execs driving towards the year-end chequered flag at break neck speed, the lawyers wind up (and get wound up).

While the Communications and Marketing teams tune in Spotify to their Christmas playlists, the only music the lawyers get to listen to is the hold muzak on the numerous conference calls they’ll be dialling into during the December run-in.

As the sales teams stumble between client lunches to the sounds of laughter, the lawyers only get to enjoy black humour engendered by the knowledge that what should be the most fun month of the year isn’t meant for them.

While the IT team worry about how long the free bar will hold for at the office party, the lawyers worry about how much work they are not doing by being there and how tired they will be the next day as the latest round of drafting summons them from their slumber.

And as the office gets deserted increasingly early, the lawyers get left alone in darkened, desolate conference rooms feel increasingly lonely negotiating clauses that no-one else but them will read.

Whilst we all shudder the first time we hear Slade’s Noddy announce that ‘IT’s CHRIIIIISTMAS!’, the lawyers almost break-down, knowing what the month is going to bring for them.

One thought keeps the lawyers going during these dark December nights.  The thought that next year, it won’t be like this, they’ll have changed the way they work, gained more control, learned to dictate the timetable, resourced things differently, forced clients to help themselves more, and just generally taken a big picture January review of the changes they will make so that next year is easier.  It will be better next year, they say.

Maybe they even believe it.

Except usually, that thought gets lost the moment the monster deal is inked or the revenue targets have been hit or (most usually) the non-lawyers decide they want to stop for Christmas after all and stop answering their emails.

The lawyers breathe, crank up their Amazon shopping basket (Prime account, obv), shoot to Waitrose for the organic three bird roast, grab the Hunters for the mandatory Boxing Day walk, chuck a load of money at the Boden sale (you can never have too many chequered garments in your casual wardrobe), fall asleep on the sofa as Jools plays out New Years Eve and before they know it, they’re back at it, the horrors of the December run-in forgotten once more for another 11 months.

Remember folks, a lawyer is for life, not just for Christmas.  Be nice to yours this December.  And remind them this year, just to hold that thought they had about making things better for next.