Monthly Archives: January 2012

Whatsoever Things Are True, Pure, Noble

I’ve come across a site called Attorneys at Work that delivers a Daily Dispatch –  posts on a variety of topics. It interests me as I’d like to create a Conscious Law Daily Dispatch. One of the posts deals with opening a new practice and creating a mailing address. You can find it here. What concerned me deeply is this:

There are various options for attorneys who are trying to keep costs low and don’t have smart offices in which to see clients.  “There are virtual offices located in large office buildings that will give the impression that you work in a big fancy building downtown near the large law firms in your community. They provide you a mailing address and fancy conference rooms where you can meet with clients.”

The author explains that she personally chose not to use this option “after all, part of my image is that I keep my overhead low and pass the savings on to my clients. I want to work with entrepreneurs and innovators who will appreciate that I will meet them in a co-working space where they’re comfortable. I don’t need a fancy office or a receptionist to prove to myself or my clients that I’m a good lawyer. The quality of my work will do that.”  

Her name is Ruth Carter, apparently she was a therapist before she became a lawyer which intrigues me. I’m not trying to challenge Ruth herself, what troubles me that there are enough lawyers out there pretending they work in fancy offices at fake addresses, to create a demand for websites and books and services helping them to do this. Where is the integrity in that? Creating a virtual address so people think you work in a fancy law office or think you work at an office every day when actually you work from home – is this really necessary?  Maybe I’m old fashioned but I believe law is a noble profession. I believe lawyers have a duty and responsibility to build a practice based on honesty and integrity – and if you can’t even tell clients the truth about where your office is, you’re off to a poor start.

As for the title of this post? I was thinking about this issue of law firms being based on integrity when my old school prayer popped into my head.  We used to recite this at the beginning of every term – it was an Anglican school.

“We pray, O Lord, that Thou wilt make this school as a field which the Lord hath blessed; that whatsoever things are true, pure, noble, and of good report may here forever flourish and abound.
Preserve in it an unblemished name, enlarge it with a wider usefulness…”

I’m not advocating that law firms start reciting prayers or bring the Lord into it (I’m not really a proponent of organised religion, I take an Integral view, but I digress…). What I do want to say is that having some sort of fundamental set of values underpinning a legal enterprise is a good idea. Striving for an unblemished name and asking that it may serve a wider usefulness, that’s the way forward.

I wish that included in the curriculum requirements for all attorneys were modules such as Servant Leadership, as developed by Robert Greenleaf.  Servant Leadership can be:

defined as a management philosophy which implies a comprehensive view of the quality of people, work and community spirit. It requires a spiritual understanding of identity, mission, vision and environment. A servant leader is someone who is servant first, who has responsibility to be in the world, and so he contributes to the well-being of people and community. A servant leader looks to the needs of the people and asks himself how he can help them to solve problems and promote personal development.

Maybe instead of just thinking about this, I should go to my old law school and start teaching this course myself? Mmm.

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Why it’s time for law firms to shift their thinking

There are many factors pointing to the increased need for lawyers and law firms to consciously start shifting from a rigid, hierarchical, right-brain, win/lose mindset to a more intuitive, inclusive, inter-connected world view.

Some of these include:

  1. introduction of new legislation regarding the structure and regulation of the way legal services are offered – such as the Legal Services Act in the UK and the Legal Practice Bill in South Africa
  2. the changing economic climate
  3. in South Africa, the pressures of BBBEE legislation coupled with fact that graduates are entering the workplace without the requisite skills
  4. a new generation that approaches work in a very different way to that of the Baby Boomer generation – Generation Y (born in the ‘80’s and also known as Millenials) are willing to trade high pay for fewer billable hours, flexible schedules and a better work/life balance. Generation Y is confident, ambitious and achievement-oriented. They have high expectations of their employers, seek out new challenges and are not afraid to question authority.
  5. The increased amount of legislation  – in our attempts to regulate society there are more and more laws every month affecting ordinary people. There is a proliferation of articles on the internet, yet dependable legal advice is still only available from lawyers and therefore financially out of most people’s reach. Lawyers are therefore in a powerful position – but as the saying goes “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There  is an increased need for a high standard of moral and ethical behaviour in the legal profession.

The world is changing.  Law firms are being forced to innovate – which is uncomfortable for a profession that is generally regarded as extremely traditional and rigid. Many law firms today resemble law firms of 100 years ago. But as one of the greatest consultants to law firms, Gerry Riskin of Edge International says, “clients have tasted some power in the lawyer/client relationship and they are not going to give it up”.

There are many ways that law firms can meet some of these challenges such as introducing new and more effective systems and processes to keep up with the pace of technological developments. Or by changing the way they bill clients or remunerate their employees. Some of the innovations demonstrated by European law firms are described and analysed in a major annual study by RSG, published in October 2011 as a supplement to the Financial Times (UK). I will touch on some of these in further posts.

Right now, the subjects that are holding my attention are the culture of law firms and the mindset or worldview of lawyers.  I want to explore these and related ideas in the form of interviews with lawyers and lawyers who run law firms; research into organisational dynamics and various theories of personal and organisational transformation; initiatives both in South Africa and globally towards an Integral Law, and exploration of what this means.