From next month, I will be writing a monthly column for Managing Partner magazine in which I shall examine the how law firms can position themselves to create a future that is both profitable and sustainable – the concept of ‘future-proofing’. To achieve this will mean being prepared to take decisive actions today (which some may regard as being unnecessary or overkill) to ensure that firms are able to cope with that which is appearing on the distant horizon, as well as whatever is just around the corner.
This will almost certainly mean finding ways to evoke a change in culture and attitudes. The objective must be to develop a collective mindset that both recognises and values the need for a business model that is flexible, adaptive and dynamic.
This is because, in addition to running the business today, there must be a focus on addressing competitive factors which are not yet apparent. This is in order to shape a scenario-based action plan to minimise any threats and maximise any opportunities which may emerge. Such thinking needs, of course, to be contextualised – to the firm’s market position, its competitive context, the aspirations of its partners, its culture and its organisational complexity.
The starting point for such an exercise is to work with the relatively small group of key stakeholders in order to develop a deep understanding of individual attitudes, aspirations and beliefs. Such personal attributes could be an impediment to, or perhaps a catalyst for, change. Developing this understanding at an individual level informs both the overall strategic discussion and the way in which any detailed change plan is approached. For most firms, getting fit for the future will mean challenging and displacing many deep-seated beliefs and behaviours.
Whilst there will undoubtedly be a high level of intellectual buy-in to the need to create a sustainable business, achieving the emotional commitment necessary to effect change presents a challenge of a different order of magnitude. This is especially the case when the changes required are anticipatory rather than forced by market pressures. Yet, it should be self-evident that is only by being at the leading edge of market development (rather than a laggard being dragged into the future) that competitive advantage can be gained.
The core conundrum which law firm leaders must be able to resolve, if they wish to create a firm that is able to move quickly and proactively on future opportunities and challenges, is to deliver this individual, emotional commitment from each of the firm’s key stakeholders and opinion formers at a point in time that the need for change may not be pressing or even apparent.