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News & Views from Firm Beliefs

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One step forward - and another one back...

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 24th of April, 2012

I nearly stood up and shouted 'I told you so' I was that pleased to see the line up at yesterday's Legal Futures Conference (if you only go to one legal services sector conference a year, this is the one). Hopefully my fellow attendees and new best friends won’t realise how close I was as the day got underway to standing up and shouting ‘I told you so!’ to all those in the legal profession who have been saying for years ‘it will never happen’.  

What, you may ask, did they think would never happen? 

Well dear Reader, take a breath and imagine... Non-lawyers providing legal services to consumers,  or customers, or purchasers.  Yes, folks, no longer will qualified solicitors charge clients by the  hour, for ‘perusal’, 1/L in, 10/R etc.  No longer will a lawyer be able to blame a difficult client if the bill is queried.   And hopefully no longer will the word 'sell' and 'services' be a dirty word in some parts of the profession.  At least, not without some competition from others who won't show the same disregard for the needs of those  purchasing their services.

Take yourself back to 1989 = when I was a lowly articled clerk and my Principal asked me what I was in the building to do, I answered ‘sell our services to people who need them’.  Huge intake of (his) breath followed and he boomed ‘young lady we do not sell…  we are good enough to provide our professional knowledge to those who are in need of it in return for some recompense’.   Huge intake of breath by me  for all those years afterwards as I thought ‘lordy, what have I done entering this world of never giving a price that is fixed; never providing a service which can be productised; never being encouraged to get excited about thinking and asking what the clients really need’.

Thankfully for those in the room yesterday there were very few of the naysayers attending – most there were either non-legal professionals or, if they were, they were the ‘savvies’ as we at Firm Beliefs call them.  (We stopped categorising lawyers years ago along the lines of magic circle, national, high street etc and started to use ‘savvy’ and ‘non-savvy’. Or even 'going places and investor ready' or 'wouldn't want to invest in the firm myself, bless them'. And a few other descriptors that a professional consultant ought not really to reveal… Our clients naturally are all savvy.)

I recalled the scene some years ago now when I attended the Law Management Section conference at which ‘the men from the RAC/Co-op/large non law firm corporate’ stood up and said ‘We are coming and we will take your business – we are more in touch with our customers’ needs than you are; we will employ  your professional staff; and we will take your clients’.  The ex-solicitor in me shivered slightly at the time. I remain very fond of those in my old profession and I felt major concern for them.  But the management consultant in me, the business person, the entrepreneurial spirit was completely aghast at the majority of the audience who said ‘it will never happen and if they try it they won’t even get it off the ground’.  Even then, the words ‘heads in sand’ sprang to mind. 

I do not know if the Law Management Section of the Law Society still attracts the same proportion of non-savvies – certainly others used to tell me that the same old names seemed to attend, same consultants seemed to speak the same old warnings, the same words and questions seem to emanate from the same old attitudes. One would hope not by now.

So yesterday, to attend Neil’s Legal Futures event, see the ‘ABSers’ as they are known by some; to see the traditional  law firms that had made the changes to move forward in full gung ho energetic flow; to hear the insightful questions and chat going on during the day made me realise even more than before that yes life as we had been told would never happen is indeed happening.  Exciting times.  Great opportunities.  There are legally trained folk out there who can actually be good business people and who can meet head on those who are from other sectors in this new market place – a market place which is bigger than before.  Because those  who think that law firms retain their traditional market, and that ABSers are entering that marketplace, are wrong – we are  now in a whole new market place.  A place for all to shop and all to serve. And the non-savvies must compete in that marketplace.

So a step forward.  And then… a step back.  Yes, the Bar… (by which I mean Barristers, not the venue at the end of the conference where further chat and jollity took place…)

During February 2011 I heard Peter Lodder, Chairman of the Bar, speak at a conference.  Although he very much took the trade unionist approach overall – stating his aim to protect his union members from changes afoot (again, slightly concerned at that was I) – he did in fact outline the opportunities, albeit difficult ones involving change, for his members.  The Bar could seize opportunities and  harness change.  So imagine my sadness yesterday when, impassioned advocate for justice and the rule of law ‘which must come first before consumers’, Baroness Deech, Chair of the Bar Standards Board, described a profession (the Bar) in a manner which simply doesn’t ring true any more with those who use the services (sorry – skills and professionalism) of the Bar.  There are of course those who will defend the duty to the law and advocacy best practice to their dying day – but most want to make a buck or two and have interesting cases. The fact that, through her illustrations of what she felt ‘the ordinary man’ would require in terms of legal advice etc (how to leave their holiday home in Marbella, sorry Benidorm, in their Will), she demonstrated a woeful lack of understanding of ‘the ordinary man’ and what services he might need which simply detracted from an admiration of her gusto in the face of attack from the Ministry of Justice (‘We must avoid control of the legal profession through the Ministry of Justice).  I admired her passion to protect a world gone by – but had to keep reminding myself that she is the Regulator of the Bar not even the Union Rep!

So, all in all, a very good conference.  Others have written far better summaries of the day, the ABSers, the speakers, the strategies, than I can and I suggest you read this one in particular:

 View from Row 3 #lfconf

 In the meantime,  I shall focus on the steps forward, not the ones back.

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Driveshaft to Valutopia - with pit stops at utopia, Pessitopia and Creatopia

Category: Firm Elite
Author: John Kennedy
Posted: 21st of September, 2015

The latest Firm Elite dinner and discussion took us all on a journey not measurable in mere miles but in terms of Human Valu£. 

If you were challenged to drive from London to Mongolia how would you build your team and develop your plan? How would you value the possible contributions of each crew member?

a) Would you build the most experienced team you possibly could? Packed with technical experts, car mechanics, navigators and even someone with a Haynes Manual?

b) Would you put together a team of optimistic, creative, enthusiastic and energised people who, because of their sheer inexperience and naiveté would overcome all obstacles?

c) Make it into a proper challenge by finding one of the least reliable cars ever produced by one of the great British Brands of the British Motor Industry? One never to be confused with the “Mars Rover”?

d) All of the above?

e) None of the above?

f) Or would you rationalise that this is all really just a “Nissan Micra-cosm” of our own challenges in life as Human beings on Spaceship Earth…………?

g) Did Moore’s Law really apply to the technology of British Leyland?

Pathfinder-in-Chief, Dominic Falcao,  introduced us all to his a world of High Mileages, Innovation, Gods, Monsters and indeed Zen and the art of drive shaft maintenance…….

Does the Human Rally have a future led by those with experience or those with the passion and will to dream the future and then build it?

Aided and abetted by our very own resident “Devil’s Advocate with a dog collar” Dominic challenged, questioned, amazed and inspired us all – over a truly excellent supper from Super Star Sally.

Can you “retrofit” experience? Can we substitute creativity and optimism for years of knowledge and experience?  Will advances in technology make the Human Rally more successful or a redundant race and species in a fast disappearing habitat? Do humans have value in the future? Can we add value?

Dominic mentioned a host of projects that are no longer fiction in the world of science -  The Methuselah Project and  2045 being quite astonishing examples which touch on many of the core beliefs that underpin how we philosophize about the changing world we live in.

All Firm Elite gatherings are challenging to one’s existing mindset. This discussion entranced, stimulated and inspired everyone present. Dominic Falcao is a remarkable guy with a range of incredible insights and ideas. Ask him to come along on your next drive, in your self driving car, with your virtual family. Augmented reality and consciousness may well be coming soon to a brain near you - but challenging and thoughtful discussions are already capable of enhancing and augmenting our thoughts, ideas and consciousness – all that is necessary is a brilliant discussion and an inspirational catalyst and pathfinder like Dominic to fire all our neural circuits……….  

Many thanks to Dominic, Sally, Sarah, Sara, Graham, Kehrela, Debbie, Dwayne, Bertrand.

Further Reading and suggestions….

Puss in ReBoots (Do farm kittens dream of electric mice?) seeking virtual publisher  J F Kennedy


Youngest farmers son inherits the farmyard Cat. Cat has no experience in business but is creative, sneaky, optimistic and with immense drive to please his master. Utilizing a completely new form of business model he transforms the fortunes of disillusioned Young Farmer/Small Holder “this Bloody Digging thing is not the experience I wanted” and masterminds a Brave Mew Pawtopia enabling select Humans and Felines to live off the Trans-Fat of the GM Land - not merely to the end of their days but forevermore with an enhanced “Beyond 9 Lives Transferred Consciousness Package 5.0” (including broadband, multimedia and special download AI system.

HS2 –My Part in its Downfall (…….”Digger Dixon”)

A system of ditches, tunnels, furrows and chunnels – which previously lay undiscovered in the Buckinghamshire region - undermine the HS2 project completely. Structural Engineers carbon date the system to September 2015. Controversy surrounds the discovery – some theorising that it is entirely the work of a single shovel and possibly the work of a lone Dedicated Digger………..

CEEEC (“Curiosity Enhanced, Enabled and Empowered the Cat”) 

Even more interesting stuff…….Ray Kurzweil, Philip K Dick, The Methuselah Project, 2045, “Post Capitalism” - Paul Mason “Jennifer Government” –Max Barry

A sense of place and social capital - the garden cities of forking paths

Author: John Kennedy
Posted: 19th of June, 2015

Our first Pathfinder for the 2015/2016 season was the sensational Graham Henderson. Graham is the CEO of the Rimbaud and Verlaine Foundation, and the founder of a new European Poetry House Network, Kindred Spirits.  He was joined by John Kennedy, Sara Dixon, Christopher Jackson, Sarah Frost, Sally Osman, Dominic Falcao, Andrew Hillier, Bertrand Olivier and Sally who runs kitchen@tower.   Each of our guests had experienced much change in their working lives - from setting up a consultancy  as a university student to driving across Mongolia to working to support  young entrepreneurs;  from comms at the BBC to the Royal Family; from projects at a bank to author; from the Foreign office to law to charity CEO; from Oz to England.  The list could go on. And indeed the chat did that evening.

Graham had recently returned from Bucharest to delight and challenge us all by leading us into a new physical and cerebral landscape - the very city around us.


Graham took the Firm Elite dinner guests on an astonishing multi-dimensional journey from the ancient past of Greek City States to the modern “city for the soul”.  Our paths certainly “forked” into many realms which will require more thought from all of us over the coming months – the ideal result of any FE gathering. 

The most memorable journeys are rarely about just the basic aspects of time and space-  Graham transported us all to cityscapes both outside and inside ourselves.


Can we build the social capital of our society through our exploration of the city as our living space, our thinking space, our collective urban mindscape?


Using the landscape of the city to engage our communities, companies and cultures is a fascinating challenge. What is the purpose of art in the city?

Ancient Athens, the greatest city of art, the home of Socrates and the self questioning citizen. The modern city as the home of a cosmopolitan urban population seeking to become engaged, enchanted and enraptured…………

Do we all have the opportunity to engage, contribute and become part of the organism that can be our social city?


Can we interact with art in our urban space or can our urban space become the very “art” and “soul” of our society (apologies for the dropped H)

Is the city a function of economic growth and merely our soulless tool or can the city become so much more than an economic hub?


The Garden City movement from over 100 years ago and the great cities of the ancient world understood that the “Human in the Community” was an integral part of the city.


The city has provided us with great literature, poetry, film and music as well as economic wealth– so many positives! Yet the alienation, brutalist landscape and isolation has also brought problems new to human society.


We have the philosophical thought, the creative genius and the necessary tools to create utopian urban environments from the dystopian complexity that seems to emerge when the city feeds itself alone.


Our own well being, our homes, our society, our psychology, our creativity and indeed our collective memory can be enhanced and advanced by the shared learning and experience of a truly artistic city…………..the Twickenhams of a Pope, the Oxfords of a Manley Hopkins, the New York Cities of a Springsteen (could not resist that)


Art can be the fascia that binds us together, pulls us away from our screens (Winston Smith beware!) encourages us out into the urban space that can become the connective tissue and vital organs that can give structure and breathe life back into us all as individuals, as families and as social groups…………..energising us, enthusing us and engaging us to live a life of true urbanity - inspiring us to be political, critical, logical and constructive in our desire to discuss, disagree and collaborate – to challenge our leaders, encourage debate and live a vigorous urban life not a vicarious one.


Thank you Graham. You inspired, educated and challenged us all –  the perfect FE Pathfinder!


'Stakeholders - If you don't really look at them, you won't survive'

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 2nd of March, 2015

So said one of the clients on our webinar last week.

This stakeholder focused webinar is probably the one which, so far, revealed the biggest 'shock to the system' in most of our clients' organisations. At least as far as those who took part are concerned. And our own experiences with clients who were not able to make the webinar this time reflect that as well.

The question for discussion was 'how have our primary stakeholders changed?'.  We interpreted that to mean not just how their identities and categories have changed, but also how the stakeholders' strategies and organisations themselves have changed. And most importantly, how has their ability to make us successful/shut us down changed?

Clients revealed the shock that they had received when they actually sat down, before the Webinar, to consider the question. And we revealed some of the issues discovered when conducting work with clients.

The three main areas of 'shock' were:


1.  the power of the suppliers - particularly in those parts of our clients' sectors where suppliers held the key to successful identification and delivery of key services.  Their power has, across the board, increased compared to, say, 5 years ago.  This picture is even more stark when considering international activities undertaken by our clients.  Suppliers' skills, knowledge and influence are changing rapidly, just as ours are. We can either take advantage of that in different ways OR we can become subject to their own fortunes, good and bad.


2. the impact of one type of client, customer, donor or beneficiary to stop further expansion. For example, the number of lawyers losing work from one client because they have begun to act for another client. Not in terms of traditional 'conflict' but in terms of 'you act for them, they have a bad reputation for x, y, z activities, we cannot allow ourselves to be advised by the same lawyers as them'.  As far as charities are concerned, some donors are no longer donating funds, in favour instead of becoming equity investors in social enterprises who have similar impact goals.  (This latter example is not unfamiliar to us, having undertaken a 3 way project between ex-donor, now equity investor, social enterprise and charity).


3. the impact of society's perception.  The biggest change in impact, it was generally felt, coming from stakeholders has come from 'society generally'.  One law firm described the 'scathing reproach' felt by some of their clients and staff for taking part in a recent Magna Carta event in London - which they were told felt more like 'let's sell our services abroad and forget about human rights and access to justice if it makes our international trade more difficult'.  Possibly an unfair  comment and who is to say who 'society' is but it certainly made the firm think clearly about how their firm is perceived by all elements of society.   The charity who is losing donations because of how much they pay their Senior Management Team said something similar - 'we don't know who society is but it feels like we are on the receiving end of a backlash against us by wide sections of the UK'.


There were many other examples of stakeholder shifts - too many for this blog.  All I would say is - have a look at your own main stakeholders and consider those who are not currently your primary ones - could they become so; and of those who are - how have their patterns of influence and authority changed.  And more significantly how might they change in the future.


Worth a thought?  Our Webinar participants certainly thought so.

What keeps our clients awake?

Category: News about you,Strategic development
Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 04th of February, 2015

Crying kids,  barking dogs,  noisy traffic.  Yes, all these were mentioned of course at our first Client Webinar of 2015.  But the focus was very much about the strategic considerations that our client CEOs and Senior Management Team participants are still thinking about at 2 o'clock in the morning.

The Client Webinars that we hold give those who have responsibilities for the future of our client organisations the chance to get together and talk about issues that they probably have little opportunity to discuss with members of their own organisations.  It Is Lonely At The Top is a phrase we hear frequently.

So - what were the biggest talking points when they got together:

1.  Am I physically up to this job any more?  Long hours,  the excitement and stress - both postiive and negative...

2. How can I deal with the growing complexities of being in business or serving our beneficiaries?

3. Am I interested in this job any more?

4. When should I stand back and let others take the reins?

5. Does the world still need my organisation and what it does?  (Readers of the blog will remember a number of discussions that we have had around this.)

6. How big should we grow before we risk losing the essence of what we have been and still want to be?

7.  Which are the best markets for the long run even if they are short-term risky?

8.When is it the time to call time on what we do?

There were more but these were the main ones.  An interesting mix of self-focus and bigger picture. There is no doubt that CEOs and Senior Managers have much on their minds that, as they indicated, they often cannot discuss within their own organisations.

We are happy that our Webinars provide that external peer discussion.  It requires trust and the correct combination of folk.  We often repeat them for those who could not make the first one, or who wish to follow up in a structured webinar.  Many though go on to have conversations informally having made contact via our Webinars.

11 more to go this year. It is our pleasure to provide those with the responsibiity for their organisations the opportunity to share their worries, dreams and thoughts.  For indeed It Is Lonely At The Top. 

Client Webinars 2015

Author: Sara Dixon
Posted: 06th of January, 2015

Clients took part in our webinars last year. In a very positive and often amusing way! 

There is something about bringing the CEO of a charity into conversation with the marketing director of a traditional law firm with the finance director of a social enterprise and with the major shareholder of legal services ABS.

That something is indefinable at times but, to quote one of those who took part, 'where and when else do you get the chance to talk with others who have done, are doing or are about to do something that you either have come across yourself or, better still, never would even have thought of doing?'

Often led by clients, rather than us, the discussions are broad ranging and make a difference to the way their organisations are run and,  more importantly, how clients feel about wanting to be involved in the running.

Our new webinar topics, and dates, are available on the Resources page of our website now.  As always, we try to adjust the time to suit as many as possible. However, plan for a 3-4.30pm session unless stated otherwise.