Maple Leaf Reflections
You can hear it in my accent when I talk, I’m a Canadian in London – apologies to Sting
In the opening pages of James Clavell’s, Noble House, visitors to Hong Kong are hit by a pungent smell as they disembark their plane at old Kai Tak airport. They’re told, “That’s the smell of money.” When I recently disembarked at Heathrow’s T3, I don’t recall any particular smell. But by the end of a whirlwind week of talks and presentations, I was drinking in the soothing velvet taste of innovation as it continues to roll through the UK’s legal services market.
Riverview Law generously sponsored me for a week-long list of engagements with law students, lawyers and general counsel to discuss what is being done now, and what can be done to change the legal services industry into a modern business operation based on value-for-money, client service and exceptional process. My book, Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, was striking a chord among those in the UK who saw the full implementation of the Legal Services Act as the death knell for “business-as-usual” for all law firms except the Magic Circle firms – at least for now.
I have often called Canada “the land where legal innovation comes to die.” We’re a conservative bunch here, barely touched by the financial meltdown of 2008 and stubbornly clinging to the notion that what works in private business has absolutely no application to the running of a legal practice. So, I was pleasantly stunned to be surrounded by individuals who spoke of wild ideas like “management information”, “major investment in IT solutions”, “constantly improving our processes”, “culture of innovation,” “creating the right metrics”, “letting lawyers do what they do best”, “value-for-money” and “fun”. These were not terms thrown around to impress – they’re values deeply imbedded in a new wave of legal services providers who are discarding things lawyers dislike (time sheets for starters) and applying lessons learned from other successful businesses. And to think that the most innovative provisions of the Legal Services Act are only a year old….. Clearly there are direct correlations between well-funded legal businesses, happier lawyers and predictable, affordable pricing for clients.
The highlight of my trip was visiting Riverview’s operations in The Wirral – it was if I had walked into the offices of my fictionalized law firm, BFC – minus the rooftop deck. I was astounded by the fact that from the top down, a customer-centred culture permeated the team. It was palpable, refreshing and genuine – something I’ve not seen before in any law firm.
My short UK tour has reinforced my belief that the Canadian legal profession can be saved through similar innovations driven by an opening up of the legal marketplace. But for now I’ll have to be content to watch from the other side of the Atlantic – green with envy.