Since taking over the role of managing partner one of the greatest surprises (and pleasures) has been the amount of engagement I have had outside of the legal profession with other sectors.
Talking with organisations outside of the law helps us learn and see where we can apply successful initiatives within our firm. One particular sector which has provided me the most inspiration is the tech sector. It might seem incongruous, but working practices from global giants like Apple or Google and even smaller tech start-ups can just as easily be applied to law firms.
These industries work in an environment which is fast-paced and ever changing. This is where we can take learnings and adapt to our industry and practices. Taking a more entrepreneurial approach can help a business move forward with less of the traditional barriers that come with a more outdated approach.
These businesses have common elements, a mission, a vision, objectives and a clear need to engage staff and run profitably. The difference is that as an industry tech is relatively new in comparison to the law and therefore has been able start from scratch in terms of its processes.
It might be hackneyed to talk about the importance of thinking outside the box, but the sentiment behind this well-used business cliché is not without merit. I actively seek out those who are doing things differently regardless of whether they’re in the legal profession or another sector and have been repaid with valuable insights through open and honest conversations.
The tech environment is fast-paced and resilience is essential. I am convinced that this is the environment that law firms will soon find themselves inhabiting. Indeed, some are already there. Being agile and able to adapt quickly is not always easy to do but pushing the boundaries and also learning is a key factor.
One of the biggest philosophies of the tech industry is ‘fail fast’. This is something which I believe is important for a business to embrace. Due to the nature of change and innovation things may not always work first time but as a business leader I expect my team to identify when different initiatives or solutions are not working and quickly adapt and change. In some cases this means that an initiative will get shelved but we will always take something from it.
Failure is not necessarily a bad thing if we learn and move on quickly. It can help us to achieve our goals faster if we see where we went wrong and make sure we do not do this again.
Another industry which has provided me with different insights about staff engagement is retail. I spoke with someone in a large retail operation working across over multiple locations. We talked through how they make sure that everyone has a voice. I have as a result nurtured a culture of openness and encourage everyone in my firm to make suggestions for improvement.
I think it would be short-sighted to believe that as senior manager of a law firm I have all the answers. If you do not have a culture of listening then you could easily lose sight of some easy wins. This covers all areas of the business from intake to process. This can then be used to inform change if needed.
Collaboration is now a key factor in innovation and a willingness to share experiences and ideas can be transformative, no business or industry can afford to operate in a silo. Reassuringly, there’s more of this happening within our profession too.
I’ve been struck by the levels of collegiality amongst managing partners to speak freely and share innovations. It’s not a closed shop. In fact, it was an invite from a fellow managing partner to view a new software application that had brought significant benefits to her business that has seen us follow suit.
Engaging with other business leaders is vital in my opinion to learn, share and drive positive change.
Vidisha Joshi is managing partner of London law firm Hodge Jones & Allen. She was highly commended in the practice management category at the Law Society Excellence Awards.