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Hannah Gannagé-Stewart

Deputy Editor, Solicitors Journal

Culture club: changing your organisation's mindset to unlock opportunities

Culture club: changing your organisation's mindset to unlock opportunities


Resourcefulness may not be a skill you've learned at law school but it could be what your firm now needs most, explains Nicola Jones

The most powerful thing a firm can do right now is to give its people permission to bring their innate talents to bear on the opportunities and challenges of their everyday working lives. In short; to allow them to be resourceful. 

Time and targets are central to the law firm’s existence. This is something else. This is about a different kind of contribution.

Our social, economic and political landscapes are changing radically. For those of us who grew up with the echoes of world wars resonating in our lives and the Cold War an everyday reality, the speed with which old certainties have fractured can be hard to countenance.

How do law firms react to such difficult times? Traditionally, we might have looked to our leaders to tell us what to do, but I think we have to recognise that there are no ready answers.

Responsiveness is an imperative; direction equally so. As I heard one speaker say recently, “If you are delivering on your strategy, you are probably behind the curve”.

It is tempting to say, “work harder, work smarter”. Being effective at work is vitally important and the ‘more for less’ agenda can be good for profits. Can it be the whole story now?

We all know the Kodak scenario; positively rejecting innovation to retain tried and tested methods only to discover too late that consumers have moved on.

There is plenty of data to suggest that legal consumers are looking for something different now. I look at changes in the legal sector through the lense of continuous learning.

I want to know what it is that I can help my clients to learn to do differently. The biggest firms have set up ‘innovation hubs’ as separate legal entities, so they can be radical without putting too much at risk.

These incubators are full of talented people with diverse abilities focused on a purpose and they have permission to pursue it without constraint. Digital technology is their servant. How can smaller firms begin to compete with such well- resourced operations? I suggest that a starting point is to engage people with the issues. Talk about what is happening in the market. 

I was speaking to a managing partner the other day who had got into trouble for taking a few colleagues to a conference on the future of the legal market. I think that’s a shame.

The business cannot thrive if people are in the dark about what’s going on. Disseminate books, articles, video links and invite conversations. Be compassionate. Disruption creates opportunity, but it is also difficult to cope with.

Human skills are at a premium in a digital age. We aim to walk with our clients, understanding their needs and opportunities, and we should walk with colleagues too. Listening, not to advise, but to hear what is really being said is something most lawyers struggle to do at work.

The capacity to listen to colleagues and clients can be transformational for the individual and the business. Recognise the talent you already have in the firm. Ideas for good ways to improve client service are most likely to come from those who care about what they do, and that has nothing to do with hierarchy.

Volition plays an enormous part here; people have to want to embrace change and you may find the open-minded are not at the top of the organisation. Let people be different by being more themselves.

The capacity to modify our behaviour is what makes us mature human beings. Quite often though, that means we turn our backs on aspects of ability which do not fit with the task at hand.

When people cross the threshold of the office they may well park, for example, their spontaneity, their imagination or their competiveness. Some of those behaviours might be just what the business needs. 

Your firm may not have the resources of a magic circle firm, you may not have the stomach or the support for full-scale cultural change, but you can make choices and create opportunities which are a little different from the norm.

We all need to be resourceful about navigating these times.

Nicola Jones is a barrister and Director of Athena Professional, a continuous learning consultancy serving the professional services sector