Law is in a per­fect storm

The legal pro­fes­sion is in the ear­ly mist of a fast-approach­ing per­fect storm. Some would argue we’re in its eye already. Times are chal­leng­ing for law firms. In-house legal teams have nev­er had so much bar­gain­ing strength, choice and oppor­tu­ni­ty. Swathes of recent arti­cles have doc­u­ment­ed the severe prob­lems around men­tal health, burnout, reten­tion, unhealthy cul­tures, diver­si­ty and inclu­sion and well-being. LawCare’s 2021 Impact Report doc­u­ment­ed the most com­mon issues they are pro­vid­ing sup­port around includ­ed stress, anx­i­ety, bul­ly­ing, depres­sion and wor­ries about career devel­op­ment. Last year, there was a rise of 24% in peo­ple con­tact­ing Law­Care to seek their support. 

But despite this, firms con­tin­ue to take record rev­enues and pay eye-water­ing salaries to attract and retain tal­ent. Busi­ness is good, but at what cost and for how long? When the storm has passed, what per­son­al and com­mer­cial dam­age will we see laid bare?

Law firms have been quick to advise on ESG require­ments, poli­cies and reg­u­la­tions. This is a won­der­ful oppor­tu­ni­ty, not just from a rev­enue per­spec­tive, but also for law firms to make their mark in pos­i­tive­ly influ­enc­ing busi­ness­es and using their posi­tion to change the world’ at large. How­ev­er, how well-equipped are they to meet robust and wor­thy cre­den­tials in this regard them­selves? How might they design, mea­sure and demon­strate these achieve­ments for their own organisations? 

Doing this in an impact­ful way would see them through the storm, emerg­ing stronger, with a hap­py, healthy and suc­cess­ful work­force and busi­ness – and well-posi­tioned to authen­ti­cal­ly influ­ence the wider cor­po­rate world for the greater good. How­ev­er, to do that, we must take a rad­i­cal and inno­v­a­tive approach, mov­ing away from tick­ing box­es and quick fix­es for the PR value.

What might we learn from skil­ful sailors nav­i­gat­ing an actu­al storm? What steps must we take to lead us unscathed, safe and still sail­ing on the right path?

  1. Be pre­pared – read weath­er warn­ings ear­ly, make deci­sions and for­mu­late a plan.

  2. Pre­pare the crew – ensure they have their safe­ty equip­ment, are ready, remain calm and are bound in pur­pose and relationship.

  3. Iden­ti­fy the north star, a con­stant focal point from which to mea­sure your posi­tion and direction.

  4. Have a well under­stood strate­gic plan with inter­me­di­ate goals and met­rics to help stay the course and deliv­er inter­im objectives.

  5. Keep look­ing up at the north star, be pre­pared for external/​internal events which may devi­ate your course.

  6. Oper­a­tional and oth­er pres­sures may impact your posi­tion – course cor­rect as necessary. 

  7. Make sure the crew are always aware, aligned and empow­ered to help exe­cute on the above.

So, if this is the gold stan­dard process, how have we in law approached risks and tur­bu­lence up until now? 

I’m a legal indus­try cham­pi­on and see some great things hap­pen­ing around cul­ture and well-being, pock­ets of real bril­liance and pur­pose. How­ev­er, we also see many firms choos­ing to ignore the issues and win­dow dress, tak­ing van­i­ty met­rics as a mea­sure of suc­cess. It’s not through a lack of want­i­ng to make fun­da­men­tal changes. It’s just that just that many firms haven’t had the best means, mea­sure­ments or motives to tru­ly address the under­ly­ing caus­es. Also, many cul­tur­al ini­tia­tives only deliv­er tem­po­rary and super­fi­cial relief, part­ly because they are sep­a­rat­ed the­mat­i­cal­ly (eg diver­si­ty, well­be­ing, reten­tion, sus­tain­abil­i­ty etc) with respon­si­bil­i­ty dealt out to dif­fer­ent depart­ments, with­out a joined up, holis­tic approach. 

None of these mat­ters can be dealt with in iso­la­tion. They are all cogs that need to be care­ful­ly craft­ed, assem­bled and oiled with con­tin­u­al and care­ful main­te­nance in the ser­vice of the over­all pur­pose and out­put. Once we under­stand this, then we can begin to view, assess and deliv­er on a more fun­da­men­tal lev­el that cre­ates the impact need­ed to cre­ate real and mean­ing­ful cul­tur­al change.

Again, I believe that law firms gen­uine­ly want to do the right things when it comes to chang­ing cul­ture, but per­haps don’t have the clear view, the right data or the ade­quate tools. They’re look­ing in the wrong direc­tion, through the wrong lens and for the wrong out­come. The approach has been to con­sid­er how they look from the out­side – to clients, to prospec­tive employ­ees, to each oth­er. Look­ing through these lens­es, denies the abil­i­ty to cre­ate gen­uine aware­ness, potent inten­tion­al­i­ty and ener­getic com­pas­sion – all so need­ed for cor­po­rate suc­cess in the new future’. Even being a B Corp is only one step on this jour­ney. It demon­strates a com­mit­ment to cer­tain stan­dards, but who’s robust­ly mea­sur­ing the real­i­ty and what hap­pens when, as we’ve seen, things don’t go to plan? We’ve now seen Mish­con with­draw­ing from the B Corp régime and allud­ing to a new set of stan­dards. That’s not the answer either.

When sit­u­a­tions urgent­ly need address­ing, it’s easy to play around the edges. There hasn’t been enough mean­ing­ful and con­sis­tent intro­spec­tion across many law firms to facil­i­tate (a) true self-aware­ness, (b) a gen­uine align­ment on pur­pose, oper­a­tional strat­e­gy and cul­ture and © a pos­i­tive con­tri­bu­tion to the world at large. It’s only by look­ing through this lens, lis­ten­ing in this way and gen­uine­ly car­ing about the insights that are forth­com­ing, that we can we suc­ceed in the truest sense.

So what are our com­po­nents to achieve mean­ing­ful and last­ing solutions?

  1. Pur­pose – re-define and re-engage with your pur­pose – for your busi­ness, your peo­ple and the world it impacts. (Align­ing your busi­ness behind a pur­pose with soci­etal impact has been proven to make com­pa­nies more prof­itable and valuable)

  2. Deep aware­ness – get a real under­stand­ing of your true real­i­ty in rela­tion to #1 from your core DNA made up of your lead­er­ship, work­force and clients. Focus on your truth and not the shop win­dow or what oth­ers might think of you.

  3. Inten­tion – com­mit to address­ing chal­lenges and gaps out­lined by #2 and chart your course vs your north star at #1.

  4. Align­ment – ensure your crew are ful­ly equipped, com­mit­ted and engaged; ensure your cogs (ini­tia­tives, objec­tives and strate­gies) are all lined up and suf­fi­cient­ly oiled. Iden­ti­fy, inspire and invest in your human cap­i­tal and potential.

  5. Com­pas­sion – let it infuse all of the above and all that you do – start­ing with your organ­i­sa­tion, your stake­hold­ers, your rela­tion­ships: accep­tance, no judge­ment and pos­i­tive intent. We’re all on a jour­ney, together.

  6. Inno­va­tion – accept dis­com­fort, embrace change, wel­come mis­takes, spot new paths. We need new ways to make real change hap­pen and cre­ate the world and impact we want to see.

There are prac­ti­cal ways in which firms can do this, achieve tan­gi­ble results and mea­sure and man­age out­comes holis­ti­cal­ly. We’ll write more about this more very shortly.

There’s still time and hope and we can use these crises as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to rad­i­cal­ly improve the cul­ture of the legal pro­fes­sion, the holis­tic health of our peo­ple and the longevi­ty and true val­ue of our busi­ness­es. It’s either that or see­ing, when the storm has passed and tide’s gone out, who’s cur­rent­ly wear­ing Emperor’s clothes.

At Lex­So­lu­tions, we are look­ing for the law firm cul­tur­al enthu­si­asts and/​or rebels (how­ev­er you choose to view the move­ment) who want to be part of this voy­age to cre­ate real cul­tur­al change in the legal indus­try. We believe we have the right crew and spir­it to cre­ate some­thing incred­i­ble if we are brave and com­mit­ted enough to ven­ture into new territory. 

Watch this space. Con­tact Manu@​lexsolutions.​com if you want to be part of it.

Fabian jones CPKCC Xb N Iow unsplash

Further reading