Excellence in Legal Practice – stop living in the past

Practising as a solicitor is steeped in history (what an understatement!): History of the people who shaped the law; People who broke the law; And those that have tried to bend it to their will. But the lens is inherently retrospective or certainly that is where we take our lead from, very often, when it comes to advising on a case or, of more relevance, running a legal practice.

Just think of it. When did you last attend a meeting to discuss strategy or management only to hear the names of your nearest and dearest competitors mentioned more than once or twice? Nothing wrong with that in one sense but if you are trying to compete with them, all you are doing, in reality, is ape them and no doubt they have taken their lead from another practice and so on. The wrong lens if ever there was one. Now taking your lead from a retailer now that would be remarkable!

This ‘mindset’ is self-limiting. But more than that it completely stifles innovation because the mindset is that *We* don’t want to be the ones to break the mould just in case we get it hopelessly wrong and it breaks the bank. Perhaps it is underpinned by an innate sense of risk avoidance that drives this but why should running a successful and well managed law firm be any more risky than any other business of a comparable size? Oh sure, you could come up with some cogent reasons but like any success, it only happens from trying enough stuff so that the odds of things working in your favour are measurably increased. You only have to think of the great artists, designers and indeed business people. Do you honestly think that they made it big on day one? Not a cat in hells chance!

And so to Excellence – my raison detre.

Excellence is a term of art – it means different things to different people – but for me it means pushing at the very limits of your professional practice, straining every sinew and fibre of your being and never, ever giving up even in the face of insuperable obstacles. It means looking at every part of your business and stress testing it. This is not to ignore the fundamentals – cash is right at the head of the queue right now – but it does mean shooting or exploding some sacred cows and making sure that your business model is fit for purpose; namely to serve your clients to the very best of your firm’s ability.

Excellence means cherishing every client relationship. Treating each client as the most precious thing you own and looking to do work that matters (and yes is fantastically profitable).

Excellence means coming to work every day and working at developing your skills as if your life depended on it. Getting better in every single department of your career. Not accepting that this is just the way we do things round here or some such lame excuse but looking at how the model that has been built upon can be broken to make sure it meets your survivability criteria that you have or will embed across the business in the face of the ever present and growing retail branding that wants to take a bigger and bigger slice of the legal market.

At the end of the day too much of legal practice is or has survived on past glory, reliable client relationships (usually built around one or two rainmakers) and a lot of what you have done has been taken for granted. Well no more. Stop living in the past, lamenting the loss of status and a rather self-indulgent, nostalgic view of how things were (and presumably should be now). In colloquial terms: “Get over it”. Move on and start challenging yourself  to jump the curve. Let’s face it if you don’t then those Uber brands will quietly and effciently start dismantling your business, first with a nice and easy, fixed fee model and then with something even more sophisticated.

If you don’t like Excellence and are not prepared to build your totem around that then make sure you stand for something. And not just the usual three word strap line; but something that everyone believes in to their core. If you must codify the firm’s values then fine but make sure you know them backwards, sidewards and upside down. Believe in them as if your life depended on them.