Taylor Wessing’s Eyles: We need creativity as lawyers turn into business consultants

 Taylor Wessing’s UK managing partner Tim Eyles wants lawyers to be more creative. Sounds like a lightbulb has gone off.

Taylor Wessing’s UK managing partner Tim Eyles is one of those lawyers who enjoys peering into a crystal ball occasionally. 

Under his leadership his firm has just launched an initiative called “lightbulb” which replaces the think tank meetings it previously used. The aim is to get staff at all levels to submit their ideas, with iPads stationed across different “tea zones” so staff can give management their two pence while waiting for the tea to boil.

“At least one of these ideas a year will be implemented,” confirmed a spokesperson for the firm.

“We’re all capable of being creative, it’s just a question of application,”  says Eyles, being careful not to accuse the market of being pedestrian. “There is a need for more creative lawyers as more products come on the market, and that need is likely to grow.”

It makes sense, but there is also a sense that we’ve heard it all before. Is the firm doing anything truly radical? Or indeed can a law firm, as oppose to big corporates, be truly innovative? Google, for example, is known for letting staff spend 20 per cent of their time experimenting with new ideas. What’s Taylor Wessing up to?

“You couldn’t do that with the billable hour,” admits one Taylor Wessing partner on Google’s initiative, who also stresses that this “creative” focus ”isn’t all guff”, ”but we’re looking at ways to encourage staff – not just lawyers – generate new product ideas”.

Sources inside the firm are keen to put out the same message (perhaps no coincidence – staff are reportedly handed press packs outlining what they can and can’t say), keen not to veer off track even when the subject is as uncontroversial as the right-side of the brain. 

Currently Eyles is also entertaining the idea of his firm moving to an all-equity model, a concept only partly linked to changes in the so-called ‘disguised salary’ of LLP members heralded by HMRC’s tax changes (20 January 2014).

Further into the future he also has thoughts about the changing role of the lawyer and, specifically, how in years to come they’re likely to look much more like business rather than purely legal advisers.

Where would an all-equity Taylor Wessing fit in on this futurist spectrum? Is the move simply a Revenue-driven get out or would it make the firm better suited to the idea of the business consultancy of the future?

“The new legislation is just one trigger,” he starts, pointing out that the firm is only in the exploratory stage of working out the changes. “As the markets are so competitive everyone needs to be facing outwards, so [the benefit] of moving to an all-equity model would be to increase that sense of ownership, which in turn would aid a more outward looking focus.”

Fair points, but Eyles, a popular managing partner, is also the tact master of Taylor Wessing. There are benefits to all-equity, he says, adding that fixed-share – the firm’s UK partnership currently operates a 50/50 split, with average profit per equity partner at £544,000 in 2012/13 – is hunky-dory too.

“Fixed-share has historically been a good developmental stage in career progression,” he says. “So going all-equity is just one option in a wide spectrum of choice.”

When it comes to what the lawyer of the future will look like, Eyles talks passionately about what he terms “right-brained thinkers” – the right-brain representing a person’s more imaginative side – and how that thinking is important now more than ever in the legal market.

In practice that means he believes many lawyers will become business advisers with a bent on law as technology and outsourcing sucks some of the “humdrum bits” out of the market.

“Within the next few years we will become more like business consultants with a specialism in law,” he muses. “So, under the umbrella of business adviser, we want people who are creative and use the right-side of their brains. You need to spot how to extend opportunities in order to be competitive.” 

As chairman of art charity Jerwood Charitable Foundation, would Eyles have fancied himself in something more artistic? 

“If the law was ruled out I’d have been an aspirant quasi David Bowie,” he answers. “But a tragic lack of musical talent and looks would have meant a comically short career.”