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Book reviews

15 July 13

Reviews of Growth is Dead: Now What? (MacEwen); Partnership Agreements for Law Firms (Wright)

by Rob Marrs, Tom Johnston

Growth is Dead: Now What?

Bruce MacEwen

PUBLISHER: ADAM SMITH, ESQ

ISBN: 9781481896047

PRICE: £12.95 (e-book £6.98)

How many of you have ever sat in a management session, possibly a lengthy strategic planning session, listening to an external consultant whizz through powerpoints and thought: “Please just tell me what I have to do to make my organisation successful”?

We all have. From a legal perspective the answer may be as simple as reading, and taking heed, of this book.

Growth is Dead: Now What? is a big title. One expects a weighty tome to land on the desk, knocking some files off the end as it does so.

Instead, a thin book arrives with the silhouette of Adam Smith on the front cover. Rarely has such a short book contained so much insight.

Bruce MacEwen, the man behind the successful Adam Smith Esq blog, has bundled a series of articles to form this little book. It is based on “Big Law” in America, but it resonates in Scotland. It may well become a must-read for partners everywhere.

MacEwen claims that the book is “an inquiry into the economics of law firms”, which it is but, in reality, it is rather a lot more. It looks at ways in which law firms can respond to the lingering aftershocks of the 2008 crisis, and how they can survive and thrive in the future.

The early chapters go into forensic detail on matters that many discuss but few analyse – pricing pressures (he laments “suicidal” discounting), excess capacity, career tracks, expectations, the “lawyers know best” approach, why innovation is a necessity; and he even contemplates failure.

The chapter entitled “Now What?” is relevant for all involved in the management of practices. He sets out a series of “mindset changes” he believes must happen, challenging lawyers to change how they act: to realise all of the competition out there, to treat the business like a business (his advice – hire the best HR, marketing, finance and business development professionals you can afford), and he explains why strategy matters (bluntly, if you can’t articulate it plainly on a website, it’s a mishmash).

His future models chapter is interesting from a Scottish perspective. Will new entrants to the market place be “category killers” (for example, we already know a huge percentage of employment law advice is now done by non-law firms. Will that be replicated elsewhere)? Or will law firms specialise in one area and dominate? Will more firms follow the boutique model? Unlike Susskind, who suggests the potential for more business for those outside the global elite, MacEwen worries about full-service firms and how they articulate to clients their compelling value proposition.

The chapter on clients is the most important chapter of the book. He is shocked by how many lawyers could not honestly say that their firm leaders were “extremely knowledgeable” about their top 20 clients’ businesses. He is bemused by how few firms track client satisfaction. He focuses on the legal profession’s culture of the importance of a new client being secured rather than nurturing an existing client – even though study after study shows that existing clients are more profitable.

His greatest fear for the legal industry is that short-term imperatives override sound judgment and prudence but, ultimately, he thinks the profession can do well by inventing its own future, by being creative, by trying things, by seeking continuous feedback, to learn from what fails and from what succeeds. We might not know what the future looks like but MacEwen believes it is for us to invent our own futures. If we don’t, someone else will do it for us.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Even with the caveat that this is focused on American “Big Law”, everyone in law firm management should read this book. It will take an hour. It might just change how you do business.

Rob Marrs, Education & Training, The Law Society of Scotland.

                                                             

Partnership Agreements for Law Firms

2nd edition

Nicholas Wright

PUBLISHER: ARK PUBLISHING

ISBN: 9781907787638

PRICE: £295 (including CD-ROM)

This is the second edition of this book. It was been produced to deal with the new (English) Solicitors’ Code of Conduct. The foreword makes reference to the newly permitted alternative business structures (ABSs). Despite the title it also, obviously enough, refers to the structures of solicitors’ businesses which trade as LLPs and limited companies.

As an aside, I would suggest that all Scottish solicitors in private practice would do well to study the English Code of Conduct. It is far wider ranging than our recently consolidated practice rules. It is a breach of these rules not to have carried out detailed risk assessments. Any firm which does not have regard to good business practice and financial stability can be open to scrutiny by the regulatory authorities. In these difficult times, it is surely right and proper in the interests of public protection that the financial stability of legal firms should come under some scrutiny. I am no fonder than the next lawyer of Law Society inspections; however, I would rather put up with a greater degree of supervision than have to write a large cheque to the Guarantee Fund.

But to our tale. Excluding the foreword and appendices this book comprises 74 pages. There are four “case studies”, brief cautionary tales. There is a style partnership agreement, which also comes in CD-ROM form. As this is in a pdf version, it adds little value. And the content itself? The advice given is perfectly sound, but there isn’t a lot of it. Ark’s pricing structure is always imaginative. Size isn’t everything, but I could not justify the money for this 80mm of book.

Tom Johnston, senior partner, Young & Partners LLP
 

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