Tag Archives: Risk aversion

12 Angry Men

What a fabulous movie!  The idea that one can stand up and be counted and persuade eleven.  A great concept.

It got me thinking about, well, the thinking behind law firm structure.  First of all there is a status quo, a way of doing things, an approach to how a law firm should be structured that’s taken for granted.  Sure there are variations on a theme, but that’s all they are – variations.

There is so little choice for lawyers and in any event their training prepares them to follow the narrow routes to practice.  It’s like joining a cult when you leave law school (or maybe when you go to law school).  Without too much difficulty we sleepwalk to tomorrow and don’t stand up for change.

Well – inspired by Henry Fonda’s performance in Twelve Angry Men – it’s time to stand up.  Law is broken, there’s little to choose from variations on a theme.  So let’s start anew and in the words of Abraham Lincoln on the 1 December 1862:

It is not “can any of us imagine better?” but, “can we all do better?” The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.

Stand up and save our profession – it only takes one.

If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got!

 einstein“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”  Albert Einstein

A tough topic for a blog about lawyers.  What’s the connection?

Let me explain.  Let me start with some clues:

  • Halliwells
  • Cobbetts
  • Hill Dickinson
  • Manches

I could go on, but I suspect you are starting to get my drift.  I am thinking about large law firms that have sadly ceased to exist.  They’ve failed to manage cashflow or over-traded or made bad decisions.

There will no doubt be books written and research undertaken around how and why these large professional firms have failed.  No doubt common themes will be sought to rationalize the events and to aid learning.  All very interesting and highly important, but I’m not interested in that.

I am interested in the significant unifying factor that relates to them all.  They all contained bright, capable and successful lawyers.  Be clear – I am talking about legal skills – the ability to solve commercial legal problems.

It’s a shame that excellent practitioners of the law find themselves contained (and I imagine constrained) in flawed structures.

I know lawyers are risk averse.  They advise clients to manage, mitigate or transfer risk and so are not innately attracted to taking risks themselves.  I imagine clever psychologists will tell us that after a shock retreating to the familiar is a well understood reaction.

Well I don’t buy it.  I don’t understand (I won’t understand).  I don’t think bright, articulate capable people are like lemmings.  So why do lawyers from failed law firms seek the shelter of similar firms and structures as a reaction to the challenges they have had to face?

Is it fear of the unknown or perhaps a simple lack of imagination?  Is it that no compelling alternatives exist?

We are constantly bombarded with news of the “perfect storm” facing practitioners and of the arrival of new entrants to the ABS market. So either these new entrants are “not doing it” for lots of the lawyers or the lawyers are lemmings.

A question or two to provoke some reactions.  What does a good business model for a law firm look like?  Might it be built on principles of fairness, control, merit?  Do we need to revisit the “partnership model” and update it for a post-ABS world and if we do what does it look like?

Strength is the outcome of need; security sets a premium on feebleness”H.G. Wells