I was greatly interested by Chris Jones' article, "Learn to manage the legal business" (The Lawyer, 26 July), and his observations on the increasing need for law firms to embrace more modern and scientific management techniques to maintain profitability.
Our industry is exposed to the same forces for change as everything else, from automotive to retail. The factors – greater client and customer sophistication, globalisation, consolidation and the need to deliver increasing shareholder and partner value – are the same. Innovation and a commercially proactive approach are as important to the future welfare of legal firms as they are to leading sunrise industries such as IT.
Given this compelling need for radical change, it is perhaps surprising that the legal press views the changes with such scepticism. Re-branding, appointing non-lawyers to senior management positions, developing innovative pricing policies and new products, and investing in new training and coaching programmes are often treated as exotic exceptions, or superficial and misguided.
In fact, these changes are the meat and drink of any adaptive commercial organisation.
Why then does the legal press look upon them so querulously? Are law firms that different from other businesses?
Yes, in some ways they are. No public company chief executive I know has all his shareholders working in the business. Partnership has a lot to recommend it, but it is not the most effective or easy structure to manage and I suspect it is a reason firms have found change difficult to implement.
Our willingness to accept the need for change must therefore be viewed against the structural issues which may impede the progress of that change and there is a feeling the legal press does not sufficiently understand these issues.
It is right to regard innovations with a degree of scepticism, particularly if they appear to be designed only to grab headlines. And I accept that it is only recently law firms have been prepared to discuss internal issues with the press and that we may not always communicate our messages as clearly as we could.
Law firms are complex animals facing profound change and the things that many of us are doing, in reality, are no different to what our clients did some considerable time ago. They are not optional and yet are often treated as such by our specialist press. As good as the press is, it does sometimes seem to lag about two years behind reality.
For the good of the industry, as well as the legal press, journalists must become business correspondents first and foremost, rather than legal correspondents. We have our part to play in the process which is why we are happy to talk about the issues we face and the actions we are taking.
Law firms have made the cognitive leap towards becoming business advisers. It is time for journalists to follow.