Law isn’t enough

Once again, it’s open season on training contracts for a fresh batch of hopeful graduates and dogged paralegals. Meanwhile, as of June this year, qualified solicitors saw 3,312 competitors join the field over the last twelve months, swelling their ranks to 132,864 according to SRA figures. How are you supposed to stand out?

Law is easily one of the most competitive professions out there. From the get go, it’s you against everyone else. Competing for grades, university places, LPC placement, training contracts, paralegal jobs, training contracts again, newly qualified positions, associate promotion and partnership. And that’s just the struggle you face in your own firm. You’re of course competing against the other firms and their lawyers in the market place, for business. 

Firms need more from their employees these days. Even if some haven’t fully realised it yet. Top university marks or surpassed target hours are increasingly becoming minimum requirements. Technical proficiency in an individual is expected as a given. Smart leaders are seeing that this alone won’t cut it in today’s modern legal field. Excellent business aptitude needs to balance out legal skills in terms of what the field demands. 

This means you need to be more. You need to be more than a lawyer. You need to be a business man or woman, too.

Yes, this sounds like a lot to be asked for. And you’re rightly thinking you’ve already done a hell of a lot to get where you are. You’ve worked your backside off through whatever avenue it’s taken to get you where you are. The studying. The fees and debt. The long hours. Or maybe you’re reading this and have all that to come. 

And here I am telling you that won’t be enough? With brutal honesty, I say no. It won’t be. If you want to elevate yourself in this industry or even get your foot in the door in the future, you need to be prepared to face the fact that law isn’t enough anymore. That it is no longer a privileged profession with its practitioners immune to the demands of world progress. 

So with that said, I ask you the following questions: 

Can you handle a firm’s social media account?  

Can you offer advice on industry software package options?  

Can you lead change in the form of a business improvement project?  

Can you truly manage those around you as more than just billing machines?  

Can you market yourself and the firm like a true professional?

At first glance you may furrow your brow. Social media, IT, management, marketing? There are whole departments built for those things. True. There are. But to be devoid of knowledge, understanding and ability in these areas will see you fall behind. Let’s look at each area and see why.

Social Media

There’s no escaping this. And if you’re reading this article, perhaps you’re ahead of many others. But almost all of us could do with better use of social media practices, beyond the basics. Many simply sign up to an account on LinkedIn or Twitter and leave it to gather virtual dust, but they’ve at least ticked the box.

What you should look into
Search engine optimisation (SEO). Content strategy and creation. Writing for social media. These are the things you should be reading up on and seeing how you can apply even the basic principles of them to help you and your team achieve the growth or visibility targets you may have been set. 
Questions to ask yourself
How can you make your tweets as visible and as engaging as possible? What does your audience want to know? Can you contribute to your field of peers? Show you’re exceptional in what you do? Create content that makes people sit up? Can you make yourself stand out? 
Why you should
Profile raising- for both you and your firm. Increased credibility. Personal brand development. Reputation as a subject expert and a person of value in the field. Use in marketing strategy to increase client base. Develop new revenue streams with current clients through better visibility of services. The list goes on. 

Industry software

This is the stuff you use everyday to conduct your cases and manage your business. The software behind the scenes and upfront on your screen. Most people don’t give it a second thought, seeing it only as the platforms on which they must make their targets.

What you should look at
Extranets. Portals options for your firm and clients to work together with. Case management options- Thomson Reuters, Peppermint, Lexis Nexis… Client Relationship Management tools- InterAction, Sales Logix, Sage CRM… Find out the options available to you on your current systems and speak to your IT department about what can be done.
Questions to ask yourself
Is what we’re using now good enough to meet your needs and the needs of your client? What’s out there in the market? What are your competitors using? What are your clients using? Can we take something and adapt it? Can we work with providers to make something even better? Can we use our current systems in more innovative ways? What products or packages can you and your IT department create that could bring value to your clients and their needs? 
Why you should
Technological advancements in the legal field don’t look close to slowing down. Clients use of technology certainly won’t. Firms need to be able to match what clients demand. Being knowledgeable about this area of business puts you in a strong position. It sets you apart as an expert or at least someone to consult should a technological tendering process come into being. And combining your legal expertise and client understanding together with technological know how increases your chances of coming up with valuable offerings for both current and prospective clients. What managing partner wouldn’t look at you with joy if you managed that? 

Leading change

This is a big one. Change essentially means improvement. No one looks to change for the worse. In order to keep surviving and thriving amidst the market forces, change is inevitable. Whether it’s a mini project in a team or a firm wide improvement initiative, knowing how lead the charge from the front is a crucial skill.

What you should look at
Change management practices and theory. John Kotter’s works e.g. Leading Change or Our Iceberg is Melting. Project management. Lean Six Sigma training and qualifications. Kaizen. Culture change theory. The difference between change management and change leadership. Handling resistance to change in an organization. Stories and examples of change from other companies.
Questions to ask yourself
How could my firm change for the better? What could be improved with the resources we have available? How can I inspire others to change for the better? What do I need to know to manage a project? Can I gain a qualification at the same time? What lessons can I take from the rest of the business world to change the business and drive innovation?
Why you should
Change in a business is unavoidable. Law firms are no different. Leading change, inspiring others, that’s a guaranteed way to shine and prove your value to your employers. Delivering results of cost savings or increased profits, even more so. Beyond that, you help create a better place in which you come to work everyday.

Managing people

In the traditional law firm structure, management positions can often come from time served and promotion through technical ability. Neither of these things automatically translate to a good ability to manage anyone else. Sometimes it appears as if candidates have been selected at random or fallen into it by default, ability be damned. Good management so often falls second to legal work and target reaching. It behoves you not to fall into this category. 

What you should look at
Look into what courses you can take. Internally or externally. Go to Waterstones and browse the business section. There’re a wealth of books on this subject. Some will be useless, some will be fantastically thought provoking and influential. If you’re a cheapskate or you’re young and working off your overdraft- visit your library (they do still exist, often with a coffee shop inside). Cultivate even a modicum of self awareness and watch how you’re behaving and handling people and situations. Steadily apply what you learn to your working life and the intricacies of your firm.
Questions to ask yourself
The current management system works, but is it necessarily the best way it can work? Can I do more than tell people what to do? Can I be someone approachable enough so that problems are brought to light for solving rather than festering and bringing the team/firm down? Could I help retain staff through my own leadership style? What can I do to get the best out of the people who work for me, besides threats and expressions of displeasure? How can you best use the individuals in your team?
Why you should
Treating those beneath you as mere battery hens for billable hours will not serve the you or the firm well in the long term. The whip will only get you so far. Staff will look elsewhere if they’re unhappy. It may take time but they will likely move. Likewise, being indifferent and isolating yourself from those under you will inspire its own negative effects. 
Standing out as the person who brings a team up to best performance through their own efforts will be lauded. Establishing a team fraught with low morale, high staff turnover and poor productivity will bring the spotlight down on you eventually. And that’s not the kind of heat you need in your career. 

Marketing
One of the most important abilities to have in a market that is overrun with competition for business from other firms and competition for personal progress from other lawyers. The package you present to people and the outside world, how you sell yourself, can be the crucial difference in a world full of options. 

What you should look at
Speak to the people in your marketing department, if you have one. These guys are professionals too. Often with years of experience in client relationship management, business tendering or PR. Listen to them. What you think is a good idea or best practice might not be. They will have their own methods and procedures to follow sure as you do for your cases. 
Remember that expertise in one field does not qualify you in another. Bear this in mind and check your ego at the door. Learn everything you can from these people. Let them help you raise your game so you can come out an even better lawyer.
If you don’t have a dedicated department, exploit your network and connections. Have conversations with professionals who can point you in the right direction. Take advantage of things like blogs and articles from industry experts on the matter.
Join local business networks and use them correctly. Don’t just go for the free food and drink. Don’t just talk to people from your own company. This may seem scary but it’s something you can build up to gradually. Take a networking course if you can find one. People aren’t as scary as you may believe. Nor are people as boring as you may judge! Go and talk. Learn how you can cross sell expertly to clients to promote firm growth for others. It’s not all about you and people will appreciate that if you display that attitude.
Questions to ask yourself
Do I know how to market myself and my firm in the best way possible? Who do I know who could help me do this? What is/will be my personal brand? How do I build and maintain this? What blogs can I check out about this? What networks are in my area that I can join? How do I cross sell to clients and connections? 
Why you should
Increased selling opportunities. Client number growth. Work diversification. Better self branding for future career opportunities. Value in the eyes of employers as you bring in more work and become a name in the firm and industry. 

End the stereotype 
I’ve just covered, in very broad strokes, what it takes to be a more competitive legal practitioner today. Of course you can’t change everything you are and what you do overnight. That’s why I posed a lot of questions- for future reflection. And gave some examples of activity to undertake- for you to try out. Little and often, incremental changes to how you conduct your professional life will add up, believe me. Don’t switch off as soon as you sit down at your desk. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming a stereotypical ‘lawyer’ and close yourself off to anything other than the cases in front of you and the clock in the corner. Create a new stereotype. Create a new definition for the profession. Take your career higher.

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