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Some recent posts: · Change, technology and people · Hidden innovation: the best kind? · Measuring performance and setting priorities · Breaking silos for client service: the internal view · Institutional memory — a diversity problem? · Reading for empathy
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Reading for empathy - I consider myself lucky to know people (online and offline) who read widely. I know that we might not see eye to eye on what we read, or on all sorts of other issues, but we do agree that there is something important about books and the ideas they contain. In Design Observer recently, Ken Gordon described… Continue reading Reading for empathy
Institutional memory — a diversity problem? - The BBC has discovered that knowledge management is important, at least in the form of improving institutional memory. In a report for Radio 4’s Analysis programme, Phil Tinline writes: Each time someone leaves their job, a chunk of the organisation’s memory leaves too. How, then, do you run complex systems, see through long-term projects, or avoid… Continue reading Institutional memory — a diversity problem?
Breaking silos for client service: the internal view - Unbundling legal services has become the norm. Less than a decade ago, virtually no firm would even have known what this might mean, but now even the Law Society has recognised in its recent report, The Future of Legal Services, that this is a real choice for firms and clients. An AdvanceLaw survey of GCs… Continue reading Breaking silos for client service: the internal view
Measuring performance and setting priorities - Today is a leap day, a quadrennial adjustment of the calendar on which tradition dictates that women may ask men to marry them. (Of course, this is just a convention — nothing in reality prevents either gender from popping the question.) In that spirit, I want to take a look at a convention in law firms… Continue reading Measuring performance and setting priorities
Hidden innovation: the best kind? - I suspect almost everyone is fascinated by Apple. For some, the company is a peculiar cult that holds its acolytes in thrall to blocks of glass and metal. For others, it is a benchmark against which all types of innovation can be measured (and usually found wanting). I am particularly interested in the things that are often… Continue reading Hidden innovation: the best kind?
Change, technology and people - A long time ago, I argued that social technologies make most difference when they start by meeting real needs that people have. I still think that is true, and I am beginning to wonder if the same is true for other types of technology too. A few things over the past week have brought some threads together for me.… Continue reading Change, technology and people
The upside of partnership - I have been known to suggest that law firms might benefit from a shift away from the partnership model. I am broadly sympathetic to Bruce MacEwen’s critique of this form of ownership in an environment of change. In particular, the collegiate nature of partnership can make it hard for law firm leaders to assert unambiguous authority, as… Continue reading The upside of partnership
Lawyers moving into business services: good or bad? - Practising lawyers sometimes find themselves moving into operational roles in other areas of their firms. This tends to occur most in areas of business services (especially knowledge management, but also business development, risk, HR and learning, or procurement) where legal skills are relevant or where no particular expertise is needed. (IT, finance and facilities tend not… Continue reading Lawyers moving into business services: good or bad?
Process won’t save you from mistakes - One of the benefits of Twitter for me is that I get great pointers for new things to read from the people I follow. One such came a couple of weeks ago from Simon Bostock. He drew my attention to “Bedford and the Normalization of Deviance” — an analysis by Ron Rapp of a recent National Transportation… Continue reading Process won’t save you from mistakes
The unknown future of technology - Last week saw the fortieth anniversary of the first commercial passenger-carrying Concorde flight, as highlighted in this tweet by Aviation Week: #AWarchives: the inaugural @British_Airways #Concorde pax service took place 40 years ago https://t.co/UPg4ZUE1y0 pic.twitter.com/d9hzMDU1zK — Aviation Week (@AviationWeek) January 21, 2016 Concorde was probably the most well-known product of Harold Wilson’s government’s high-profile science and technology… Continue reading The unknown future of technology
Social: location, listening, connection, reciprocation - As happens from time to time, there is a bit of a backlash against Twitter and other forms of social media at the moment. Jon Ronson is publicising the paperback edition of his book, so the headlines focus on his ‘disenchantment with social media’. Ed Sheeran has chosen to concentrate on some new experiences ahead of releasing… Continue reading Social: location, listening, connection, reciprocation
Why things stay the same - A common refrain amongst those interested in improving the way legal services are provided is that there is too much similarity in the market. Few law firms differentiate themselves fundamentally from the rest, and there are only a handful of different business models available to select from. The assumption that novel business models will improve… Continue reading Why things stay the same
Fighting the right battles - Perhaps a more appropriate title for this post might be “not fighting the wrong battles.” Over the past few weeks, I have come to a realisation that at various points in my career I have spent too long trying to achieve things that were actually impossible. They weren’t impossible because they couldn’t be done. They were… Continue reading Fighting the right battles
Thoughts on Randi Zuckerberg’s 10 trends… - Last week’s London Law Expo was drawn to a close by a rousing keynote address given by Randi Zuckerberg. I have never seen such a rousing speaker at a legal conference (even though she claimed to be jet-lagged). After giving us a vivid account of her history (New York, Harvard, Ogilvy & Mather, Facebook…), with a few digs… Continue reading Thoughts on Randi Zuckerberg’s 10 trends…
Three steps to the future - In the last two blog posts, I looked at the limits on improving productivity compared to growth, and suggested that real changes in yield come with improved working practices and products or services that do not depend on contemporaneous fee-earner input. Coincidentally, yesterday I saw a very good explanation of the issue (defined as ‘the problem of constant cost’) in… Continue reading Three steps to the future
Pulling the right financial levers - One of the links I provided in my last post was to a Financial Times report from six months ago, “Professional services at heart of UK productivity problem”, which suggests that depressed productivity is a particular problem for services sectors: Lawyers, accountants and management consultants lie at the heart of the UK’s productivity problem, explaining almost… Continue reading Pulling the right financial levers
It's a prickly question Measuring success - I have written before on the difficulty of measuring the return on investment in knowledge activities. Prompted by a couple of recent conversations, I have been pondering the issue a little more. What follows is a rumination on how successful knowledge activities might be identified within a law firm, especially over a period of time. In… Continue reading Measuring success
Experimentation for success: the people factor - In a few weeks, the London Law Expo will take place at Old Billingsgate (pictured below). It is an interesting event, especially the keynote speakers it attracts. This year, Randi Zuckerberg (founder & CEO of Zuckerberg Media, a boutique-marketing firm and production company) heads the bill. Last year, the main attraction was James Caan, the entrepreneur. (Disclosure:… Continue reading Experimentation for success: the people factor
Law libraries: The heart of legal practice - The library has historically had a central position in the life of the law. The popular view of legal practice links it strongly to dusty tomes. Law is bound to texts as closely as theology is. Until recent years, large law firms and barristers’ chambers would often present their library holdings as a mark of… Continue reading Law libraries: The heart of legal practice
The multiple dimensions of legal services - Over the last month, The Lawyer published a series of articles in which the natural structure of law firms was debated by Bruce MacEwen, Mark Brandon and Tim Bratton. Each of the articles, and most of the comments on them, is worthy of careful reading and reflection (registration is necessary to read the articles on The… Continue reading The multiple dimensions of legal services
Work in song - The modern workplace provides few opportunities for singing. (Although there is a growing tradition of choirs and bands within law firms — some competing with each other.) Older working environments often depended on song to regulate the pace of work. Many of these songs have found their way into the wider repertoire of folk and… Continue reading Work in song
Writing to stimulate - I spent the last two weeks with the family on holiday in Spain and then driving back through France, Switzerland, Germany and Belgium. I expected the weather to be hot, so I planned some reading for lazing around. One of the books I took was Tender is the Night, which has been associated with hot beaches since… Continue reading Writing to stimulate
Knowledge-sharing cars - I am ambivalent about the current efforts being expended by Google and others on autonomous vehicles. As a society we appear to have backed ourselves into a corner where the only way out is to shift a ton of metal alongside driver and passengers. Self-driving cars don’t do much to change this, and hand-wringing articles about… Continue reading Knowledge-sharing cars
Pollock's Toy Museum Hoverboards and jetpacks: the future will be something else - In less than 90 days, it will be 21 October 2015. That’s the date to which Marty McFly travels in Back to the Future Part II. His journey through time from the 1980s led him to a future filled with gadgets like hoverboards, flying cars, and self-tying shoe laces. Unless we experience three months of frantic development, I suspect we won’t… Continue reading Hoverboards and jetpacks: the future will be something else
No visible means of support Why your foundations matter - A couple of weeks ago, I challenged firms to think about what might be possible without resorting to technology. That post was based on an assumption about the nature of most law firms: The tools, systems and attitudes of technology have to be imported into traditional law firms, therefore they are available to everyone without preference. (The… Continue reading Why your foundations matter
Stop being an artist - Buried in a commentary on the success of Facebook, Bob Lefsetz writes a nugget of golden truth: You never double-down on a loser. That’s what the techies have over the musicians. When musicians do something with little traction they keep imploring us to pay attention. If no one pays attention to the work of the… Continue reading Stop being an artist
Where should you aim? - I have written a few times over the years about aim and focus. Targets continue to be an issue that bedevils traditional law firms. Lawyers are given targets for time recording. Partners are given targets for billing. Business services professionals are given targets for cost reduction (or, at least, budgeting). Worst of all, firms sometimes frame… Continue reading Where should you aim?
What if technology isn’t the answer? - Most of the current thinking about the future of law firms (and other legal activities) turns on the use of technology. Richard Susskind has been in the vanguard, and the accuracy of his predictions has drawn law firms and technology suppliers alike to the same conclusions — improvements in the practice of law and client service… Continue reading What if technology isn’t the answer?
Finding different influences - When I was doing my research degree, I was regularly distracted by the many other interesting books in the library. Amongst those, I kept coming back to Robert Merton’s On the Shoulders of Giants. As the publisher’s blurb puts it: Robert Merton traces the origin of Newton’s aphorism, “If I have seen farther, it is by… Continue reading Finding different influences
Knowledge and Risk: box-ticking considered harmful - I had been running the knowledge management function for a couple of years in my last firm, when the decision was taken to build a proper risk management team. Until then, the firm’s partners had managed risk themselves, with support from some key litigators and a team of staff to handle client and matter intake… Continue reading Knowledge and Risk: box-ticking considered harmful
If you think everything’s fine, it may be time to change - Over the past few years, change managers have relied heavily on the idea of the ‘burning platform’ to help them awaken organisations to the need for change. Perhaps the most famous example was the company-wide memo sent by the then CEO of Nokia, Stephen Elop. It is a logical approach. When things are going badly, there… Continue reading If you think everything’s fine, it may be time to change
Who should be responsible for happiness? - I spent last week in a remote Scottish location, which meant that I could catch up on some podcasts that had backed up on my phone. As I listened to a few in succession, some interesting juxtapositions were thrown up. One in particular got me thinking about the balance of power and responsibility between individuals and… Continue reading Who should be responsible for happiness?
Where to start with law firm knowledge development? - The history of knowledge management in law firms can be simply sketched: Lawyers and publishers started with standard documents and forms, then moved on to more discursive materials — often managed by librarians; The bigger firms employed dedicated knowledge professionals (PSLs) to create and maintain bespoke material, training and current awareness; PSLs became more common, so firms began coordinating… Continue reading Where to start with law firm knowledge development?
Why do you want to ‘do KM’? - My recommendation to anyone new to knowledge management is to start by reading and reflecting on David Gurteen’s presentation to KM Middle East in 2011, “Don’t do KM.” Despite David’s high profile, and the fact that this message has been repeated by him and many others over the past four years, I still see the same… Continue reading Why do you want to ‘do KM’?
Innovation: the importance of ‘why’ - My friend Mary Abraham has written a characteristically perceptive post about the lessons innovators should learn from the pyramid builders. It is both interesting and useful. Mary’s lessons can be summarised thus: Innovate by using a series of disciplined experiments that are thoughtfully designed and carefully executed. An experiment that is not examined for lessons learned… Continue reading Innovation: the importance of ‘why’
Writing with respect - Recently, I have been helping a firm improve some of its marketing collateral. They had a really great message for their clients and potential clients, but it was hard to see because there was an expected way of doing things. When we moved beyond that template, we could produce something that actually expressed the firm’s value (and values) more coherently.… Continue reading Writing with respect
Curving right Make it easier for clients by standing for something - Last week, the people of the United Kingdom made their quinquennial choice. The outcome was a majority Conservative government for the first time since 1997. For some people (probably fewer than in previous generations), politics are easy — they cleave to the same party loyally from election to election. Parties have nothing to gain from courting… Continue reading Make it easier for clients by standing for something
Being a client - Bruce MacEwen has been interviewing law firms in an attempt to find one that can advise his church on a real estate issue in New York City. His experience hasn’t been good, as his account of the process shows all too clearly. Any lawyer should find it painful to read, but I wonder if the firms involved will… Continue reading Being a client
Spending time and money - In my last post, I mentioned the stresses that a GC might be under and how that might manifest itself as a shortage of time. Something similar is at play when one considers financial constraints. Often those who have money to spend have very little or no capability to make more. Anyone who makes demands… Continue reading Spending time and money
The reality of client ‘loyalty’ - In my last post, I said I would come back to the question of client loyalty. It isn’t possible to state definitively what keeps clients with firms — each situation will be governed by a unique combination of events and actions. However, experience suggests that, amongst those elements, one or more of three key factors is… Continue reading The reality of client ‘loyalty’

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