“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”
C. S. Lewis
The legal sector is full of decent eggs; firms which are technically competent, deliver good service, price their work the way they always have and are structured along historic lines. They are operating a cottage industry model and are woefully ill-equipped to deal with the fundamental and far reaching change which is sweeping the market.
There are two dimensions to the challenges which firms must address. The first is external, dealing with a new set of client expectations and fast-emerging competitive forces. The second faces internally and is concerned with operational efficiency, new ways of working, structure and governance.
This is analogous to the customer-competitor-company dynamic described by Kenichi Ohmae in his ground-breaking book, The Mind of the Strategist. It forms a useful frame for law firm leaders to better understand the forces at play. Looking at the client-competitor aspect, for example, a phrase that I coined many years ago is that “you don’t need to be perfect, just distinctly better than the competition at the things which are most important to the client”. Hidden in this simple collection of words are some real challenges – how many firms truly understand which aspects of their service really drive client loyalty and, crucially, how they measure up to their competitors in these areas?
The change from decent egg to soaring bird is incremental. The hatching of the egg is but the first, crucial step. In itself it will not guarantee success but without it, failure is certain.