Square Mile

Law firm management is a perilous area. My own journey began by joiningthe then

management committee of my firm on a part-time basis.I underwent all the usual

preparation given to law firm managers, namelyschool, university and college, passing

exams and advising clients forseveral years. But for business management all that is

virtually useless.My interest in this area coincided with a holiday so I decided

that,rather than opt for Jack Higgins, I would examine the business section atManchester

Airport bookshop.It was a pivotal decision. I purchased Mark McCormack's What They

Don'tTeach You at Harvard Business School and Tom Peters' In Search ofExcellence.They

knocked Jack Higgins into a cocked hat, opening my eyes to theconcept of management as

a skill in itself.I have been fortunate since then to listen to presentations from some

ofthe world's leading management gurus and my bookshelves groan withmanagement texts.The

law has become a big business, with firms turning over substantialamounts of money and

creating employment. But law firms are fragilebusinesses.Despite the scale of turnover

in employment within the profession, many ofmy peers exhibit attitudes ranging from

indifference to downright hostilitywhen considering the application of modern management

thinking to thebusiness of law.Even at well-managed law firms, with strong growth and

profits records,management thinking tends to lag behind that found in major

corporates.Why is this? The reason is simple. There has been significant profit inthe

business of the law. But market forces are undermining that inherentprofit at a dramatic

rate.Competitive tendering, contingency fees and a host of other developmentsare sending

the same message from the market to the legal profession:clients feel they have been

paying too much and won't go on paying at thesame rate. They want better services for

lower fees.Our plc clients have faced up to these issues and their response has beento

turn management into a science. In doing so, they have been able tosuccessfully and

profitably grow their business.Some management theories can be a little wacky, some

downright wrong, butkey messages emerge. For example, genuinely listening to customers

andstaff, and embracing constant change management.Naturally, I am committed to seeing

my own firm thrive and succeed in thistough market, but I also wish to see the

profession do the same. I fear,however, that unless as a profession we embrace modern

management thinking,many firms will fail to compete in the coming years and will cease

to beviable businesses.