Added2nd September 2013 by Riverview LawRiverview Law

Helsinki Heights: Susskind, That Skeleton and Ice Cream

Have you ever walked into a law firm reception and been offered ice cream? Neither had I until I went to Helsinki last week at the invitation of Jorma Vartia, Managing Director of the law firm Fondia. Walking into the Fondia office is an experience. Stepping out of the lift I thought I’d got off at the wrong floor. I thought I’d walked into someone’s front room. There is no reception. There is a coffee shop. There is a comfortable study with big, deep leather chairs and old fashioned rich wall paper which acts, almost accidentally, as a waiting area. There is a deliciously unavoidable ice cream freezer (I assume it’s replaced by a soup dispenser in winter!). But if walking into the office had, in its own low key and understated way, that wow factor, walking into the meeting rooms was, literally, mind boggling. Did I say meeting rooms? I mean playrooms with games, toys … oh and glass-topped meeting tables which allow you to see the pool table underneath. And a skeleton, who is apparently the longest serving employee (I forgot to ask his/her name). They even have a house band which is so good it could easily play gigs, and probably does. In some ways it all reminded me of BFC, the fictional US law firm created by Mitch Kowalski in his excellent book ‘Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining legal services for the 21st century’’. But Mitch, this is way beyond BFC and must feature in your next book (alongside Riverview Law of course!). I’d been invited to speak at the Fondia Legal conference organised to celebrate its ninth birthday. I’m so glad I accepted. Not only was the pre-conference Q&A with 80 ‘Fondians’ great fun – I admit I googled ‘Fondians’ before the event – the conference itself (and the party afterwards!) was excellent. The first speaker was Pekka Ala-Pietila, ex-President of Nokia . He provided an overview of the ICT 2015 strategy Finland has commenced to provide its five million population with a competitive advantage in both the regional and global markets. He spoke with calm authority and shared many lessons and goals we could learn from in the UK, particularly in the public sector – “Public services need to be customer driven and frictionless”. Richard Susskind followed with a 90 minute tour-de-force. I’ve heard Richard speak, excellently, before. However, there was clearly something in the Finnish air because he only stopped to take his first breath and first drink of water after 69 minutes. Yes, I timed it. Many of you will be familiar with his core themes having read his various books so I won’t repeat them here. However, some of his throw away lines were not only funny they were injected with serious messages that spread through attendees like a virus. After the laughter you could hear people thinking – is that me? For example: “Not many lawyers use Twitter. What are they doing, waiting for it to take off?”?“Lawyers think project management is buying bigger lever-arched folders and applying more yellow stickies to pages”?“Lawyers, being intelligent people, think they’re project managers after two days training, 15 years ago, but would look in horror if a project manager claimed they were a lawyer after two days training” In particular I was delighted to hear his views on where he thinks we are in the evolution of the legal market – “We’re clearly at a big moment, we’ve reached the point where General Counsel are increasingly saying that they’ve always said that law firms needed to change”. When people think it’s their idea … He went on to add that “the next ten years will be dominated by the more for less theme. Expect customers to work together as law firms fail to move quickly enough” Of course he could have added ”… or work with Legal Advisory Outsourcing businesses like Riverview Law”. Maybe in his next speech! So, what a 48 hours that was. I learnt a lot. In Fondia I found people similar to the team we have at Riverview – highly professional, focused on the customer, with a great sense of humour who know that they shouldn’t take themselves too seriously. And yes, for the record, I would have quite happily stayed in the Fondia snug for quite some time … I love ice cream and coffee!