Getting to grips with business continuity
Modern legal practices require an augmentation of tradition with business skill acquisition, explains David Cliff
When working with individuals and companies on their personal and organisational development, my colleagues and I find a constant theme emerges: the lack of business continuity and succession planning.
Planning processes tend to be neglected as a whole and when this happens, companies get
into a cycle of 'business as usual' approaches, which can extend through deadlines to the point where ageing key protagonists
in an organisation continue to take it forward, without any long-term plan for retirement
or illness. This is the issue of 'exit plans' and the lack thereof in so many organisations. All too often I experience organisations that will die when their owners or key personnel retire or move on.
In the legal industry, this is rife. Although there are exceptions, the profession by and large runs its business around the
basis of time and experience, producing cumulative value
in key individuals who are
then notoriously difficult to replace. This issue is particularly problematic in smaller firms when the time has come for people to move on, re-specialise, seek a career change, retire,
or simply be ill.
For a significant number of small firms, this problem is a direct side effect of the nature
of the profession. With fee earning as its activity, little time
is available for planning and, indeed, the supervision and development of less experienced staff to add capacity and offer succession options. This is a challenge to all organisations
that choose a 'professional' managerial approach as opposed to a 'strategic' managerial one.
In the former, the professional manager is seen as a top fee-earning lawyer first, with some managerial responsibilities. In the case of the latter, the professional fee-earning
capacity of the individual is balanced with a need to acquire strategic management skills, undertake necessary planning, and importantly have time away from fee-earning work to look
at things that ultimately would ensure the success and long-term sustainability of the organisation.
This is a significant investment that requires professionals with management responsibility to move away from the simple notion of producing fees,
to activity that produces organisational wholeness and continuity as an integral part
of its processes. For many it is a difficult transition. It is not the way that the legal profession is traditionally trained and even though the Law Society and others offer professional guidance on the need for this,
the reality of a fee-earning profession based on professional prowess, technical knowledge, and adversarial capability is the culture to which most lawyers
I am sure they exist, but I have yet to meet a lawyer who has,
for example, acquired a master's in business administration
or something that reflects a
high-level commitment to management development over and above legal professional development. The trend is changing. Many larger firms already recognise that they must structure and organise in order
to compete and manage the expectations of large corporate clients who demand sustainable services that have clear elements of continuity within them. Smaller firms are, however, often reliant on key individuals, who can lack a plan B if plan A fails.
The ability of the profession
to develop strategic managers
in the times ahead is critical. Resisting the pressures to produce simply technical experts who can work well within their own specialism '“ and represent their companies in specific
cases and win '“ is only one part
of the success equation for
Most of all, for the smaller organisation, there is the very real human issue of people ready to retire, or to work fewer hours, then they currently do, but being unable so to do as a result of
a lack of long-term planning, thanks to a treadmill approach
to fee acquisition.
This isn't to throw out the old ways, it is simply to accept that modern legal practice requires an augmentation of tradition with a positive approach to business skill acquisition and the necessary planning to build sustainable businesses so that skills can be retained, enhanced, and passed on. That way the leading lights can move on to another phase of their lives or careers with the knowledge
that the ship will not sink as
they remove their hands from