What’s your path out of Lockdown?

After the first lockdown I referenced a Churchill quote. In 1942, after the battle of El Alamein  – he said “This is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, but perhaps it is the end of the beginning”.

Well – have we finally reached “the beginning of the end”? Are we finally hauling ourselves out of the pandemic and getting back to “normal” – if anybody can remember what “normal” was or is?

Mr Johnson seems to think so. He’s set out the country’s path out of lockdown – but it begs the question – what’s your path out of lockdown?

If I was (still) the Managing Partner of a law firm I would be wondering about a few things.

The first, and most important would be – what are my clients’ paths out of lockdown? How have they been affected by the pandemic, and how will they need to change? That will to a greater or lesser extent determine your path.

For example, I was speaking with a client recently who has a large commercial conveyancing practice. They act for a number of Landlords with portfolios focused on retail and hospitality. They had seen a huge move towards warehousing as a replacement asset class, driven by the huge increase in online retail. So, their client’s path out of lockdown is to swap shops for warehouses. Consequently, their path our of lockdown is to support that move.

Inevitably, an opportunity for your clients is an opportunity for you.

Also, the constant theme I hear when speaking with clients is that “there is a lot of cash looking for a home”. I saw a report yesterday that the country has saved over £200 billion over the last year. Somebody who works out where that money’s going, will have a very busy path out of lockdown!

Once you work that out, I would be wondering how I tell clients that I’ve worked it out!

Or putting it another way – how do I market to clients as we all come out of lockdown? When I was a junior lawyer, I remember my Senior Partner telling me that my practice would not be determined by what I knew but rather who I knew and who I had lunch with. He wasn’t wrong (and I had the waistline to prove it!). But things have changed.

To be fair, they were changing before lockdown, but that change has accelerated. Time will tell, but I wonder if clients and contacts will want to go back to traditional face to face business development activities. They’re incredibly inefficient and time consuming – far more efficient to reach out remotely (!)? I might even lose a few kilos!

Next I would be asking how I‘ll change my business.

Speaking to our clients, there is a clear focus on how they will redesign their business as a result of the lessons learned. A few themes

  1. Paper files are dead (if they weren’t already). We all need to transition to case management systems that allow you to store everything electronically unless paper is absolutely essential. I’ve heard horror stories of loading files into car boots and bringing young children into the office to do filing so a law accountant can fee a file!
  2. Almost everybody I speak to has embraced remote working, and doubts whether their firm will ever return to having everybody in an office.
  3. People are looking hard at business resilience – and I don’t mean disaster recovery plans (although they’re looking at that too). Rather I mean structuring their business so it can withstand sharp drops in income. Their focus is on premises and staffing. Nobody wants long lease commitment or an expensive back office when income is so volatile. I see fewer “traditional” partnership arrangements where partners share profit, and more “consultancy” arrangements where people in business together “share” income (and by that, I mean pay the entity running the business side of things a fee).
Which perhaps brings me to more fundamental re-imaging of the law firm’s business model.

A while ago I heard somebody say that the legal profession needed a Tesla! It needs a new disruptive entrant into the market which isn’t a law firm, and is not “steeped” in the traditional way of running a law firm. Much like Tesla did for the motor industry, that new entrant would approach the legal market with an entirely different mind-set– the mind set (perhaps) of a technology company.

I know it’s been tried before, with mixed success. But timing is everything – and I can’t help wondering whether the huge acceleration of digital adoption brought on by the pandemic and it’s associated lockdowns, makes this the right time!

So, what’s your path out of lockdown?

David Calder