Flexibility – the skill of the 21st century

 In Gill's Blog

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I recently went to see the play Bartholomew Fair by Ben Jonson – a glorious 16th century romp – performed at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre. The actors had to play at least two different characters, sometimes three and one actor was called in that day to read the parts of an actor who had been taken ill. Some of the actors had to sing as well as act and all of them had to climb over parts of the tightly packed small auditorium often in extraordinary gear.

It struck me that to be able to be so flexible to play both a man and a woman; to play a pregnant and a non-pregnant woman; to perform a role without much warning requires huge confidence and skill. How do they do it? I expect it is a combination of natural talent but also tremendous practice at delivering the unexpected.

When I first started out in practice it was common for High Street firms to expect practitioners to turn their hand to many different areas of law – I did residential and commercial conveyancing as well as Wills, probate, trusts and tax. To a degree this called for flexibility. The law has become increasingly specialised and complex making it impossible to keep up to date with so many different areas of law. For many of us focusing on a non-contentious private client range of law areas is quite enough but perhaps this can be a straitjacket.

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And yet adaptability is required of us too. Lord Falconer said at a policy forum earlier this year that the law is changing in three key ways:

  • Clients and people affected by the law who need lawyers now look and expect a different sort of service from that which they’ve had before
  • The way lawyers organise themselves has got to be done in a different way both because of financial pressure on lawyers and because of what clients and people affected by the law want
  • The courts must be organised in a different way to deal with both the different expectations of client and those affected by the law and the different models – technology is going to have a huge impact on that

There is no doubt that we have all pretty much changed the way we communicate with friends and family over the past decade adapting to use social media. This has become part of business too and firms post on social media to get messages out to the public about the services they offer and what the people in their firms do.

Big business has tried to get into parts of the Wills and Probate market. SAGA made something of a mess of its Will writing arm and no longer operates in this field.

However, Farewill raised £7.5 million to “disrupt the death industry” and among its investors are the founders of Innocent smoothies, JamJar, SAATCHIiNVEST, dmg ventures, Kindred Capital, Tiny VC and Venture Founders alongside the founder of Zoopla. In just under two years it claims to be the largest will writer in the UK writing 1 in 30 Wills and by the end of this year it is forecast to be writing 1 in 10 Wills (I have no idea how to verify these claims). However, it is not yet profitable, and I understand it is spending £100,000 per month in Google ads. I even received an old- fashioned paper ad from them with my Country Life magazine today.

The company targets clients directly and uses on-line tools to prepare the document. Their growth is supported by Legal & General and Aviva along with 50 charity partners. So presumably they have managed to negotiate undertaking Wills for the users and stakeholders of these organisations.

What this tells us is that we must organise ourselves differently if we are to continue to receive enough work at a competitive price to remain profitable. We must adapt to using more technological tools wherever possible. We must be responsive to what clients want and how they expect us to deliver services to them.

This is both daunting and challenging. Dinosaurs didn’t adapt and look what happened to them. We are intelligent and inventive people.   I am sure we are flexible enough to re-think how we are financed, organised and marketed as well as adaptable enough to use technology as appropriate to make the delivery of our service exceed our clients’ expectations – at least if I was recruiting new staff this is what I would be looking for – flexible people who can offer me law tech skills and marketing skills; people who are creative and innovative, who can look at a process and show me a new way of delivering it better; oh and who happen to know the law too!!!

Call me if I can facilitate your discussions about the future – it is just around the corner by the way.

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