Change: the great balancing act

Catrin Griffiths

Any discussion of innovation in private practice must confront two challenges: nurturing culture and managing risk. This week we showcase two of the roundtables we have run related to The Lawyer Awards; in both, culture and risk dominate the discussion. 

The first, sponsored by Travelers, saw animated debate among our seven shortlisted contenders for Law Firm of the Year: Clyde & Co, DWF, Macfarlanes, Mishcon de Reya, Pinsent Masons, RPC and Slater & Gordon (page 8). For all the senior representatives of those firms, dealing with the future entails excitement tempered with judicious anxiety. To adopt Rumsfeldian terminology, culture in law firms is the known known. Merging involves the known unknown. But there’s risk attached to the known unknown too, and – and here’s a pleasing circularity – how well you deal with that risk depends on your culture. 

And the unknown unknown? For that, lawyers have to second-guess what might happen to clients in a world where  capital flow is uncertain and technology can destroy whole industries overnight.

The balance between culture and risk is different for each firm, according to the segment in which they operate and their organisational history. In Mishcon de Reya, Macfarlanes and RPC you have three firms born of the mid-market that each take a committed approach to client satisfaction and talent management; the very areas where mid-size firms are supposed to be vulnerable. DWF and Slater & Gordon have exercised iron control over the risks associated with their many mergers and are redefining the  partnership culture through a corporate prism. Clydes and Pinsents are tackling the challenges of a global market, which brings its own challenges in terms of reporting lines.

While all the law firm finalists display considerable appetite for change, those organisations up for ABS of the year were even more vocal. This discussion, sponsored by Thomson Reuters, was notable for its sense of impatience at the tempo of change. The contenders – Ascent Performance Group, Just Costs Solicitors, Knights Solicitors, Richmond Chambers and Schillings – are reinventing at a pace that puts many in the UK 200 to shame. For these businesses, risk and innovation is part of the game. It doesn’t keep them awake at night; it’s what gets them up in the morning.

The Lawyer Awards take place on Wednesday 25 June. Check this week for news of the winners.