Peter Aprile and Natalie Worsfold interview Dr. George Beaton, Beaton Research + Consulting Executive Chairman, preeminent NewLaw author and thought leader. Peter, Natalie and George discuss Remaking Law Firms: Why & How (authors: George Beaton & Imme Kaschner) and dive deep into Dr. Beaton’s law firm diagnostic tool, stealth innovation and skunkworks, how other professionals can help build NewLaw firms, etc.
Dr. George Beaton has guided clients through a wide variety of business and strategic decisions in his 25 years as an advisor and researcher working with law and other professional services firms. George’s practice is focused on corporate advisory, client-centric performance improvement, and trouble-shooting engagements.
George’s background in teaching business strategy in the Business and Law Schools of The University of Melbourne, where he is a Senior Fellow, combined with his advisory work give him deep knowledge of the challenges and opportunities facing law firm leaders and their firms.
George is widely regarded as a leading independent authority on professional services firms, and law firms in particular. He frequently shares his insights through social and print media, key note addresses, and the Beaton blog. In 2013, he published NewLaw New Rules: A Conversation on the Future of the Legal Services Industry. In 2016, he published Remaking Law Firms: Why and How.
Peter Aprile is a senior lawyer specializing in tax dispute resolution and litigation. His vision as Counter’s founder and his everyday role at the firm are one and the same: to be an agent of change, uncovering opportunities and developing strategies that achieve more than anyone expected. A creative thinker, Peter studies problems from all different angles to find what others have missed. He’s also convinced that he likes winning more than most people.
Different people describe Peter in different ways. At the CRA and the federal Department of Justice, the word relentless comes up quite a lot. Admittedly, so does the word a**hole – but it’s often said with a certain grudging respect, if not affection. Peter’s clients call him a saint. Well, some of them, anyway. His colleagues describe him as empowering and harddriving, but fair. Peter’s friends call him loyal. His wife describes him as a lot to deal with, but worth it. Peter encourages his young daughter and son to call him “The Big Homie,” though with limited success. His mother describes him with the single word mischievous – before going on to complain that he should call more.
Natalie is a tax lawyer who represents individual taxpayers and owner-managed businesses in disputes with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). She also successfully challenges CRA decisions denying taxpayer relief and helps facilitate applications under the Voluntary Disclosures Program.
But what you really need to know about Natalie is that she’s a tax litigator with heart. When she takes a case, it’s not out of technical interest – it’s because she cares. And if she believes the government has got something wrong, she won’t stop until it’s been put right. She’s fierce.
Natalie is the co-architect behind many of Counter’s process workflows, software and data analytics systems, as well as our comprehensive knowledgebase (loving named Hank). And when it comes to preparing cases, she’s Counter’s secret weapon – happiest when elbow-deep in evidence, meticulously building creative solutions to seemingly impossible problems. Because the fact is Natalie sees things that other people don’t.
Natalie’s family and friends describe her as loyal, selfless, understanding and fun. They also mention stubborn. To her Counter colleagues she’s a combination of stellar brainpower and contagious enthusiasm who elevates the game of everyone around her.
- Allen & Overy
- Deloitte's Innovation Fund
- Squire Patton Boggs
- DLA Piper
- Seyfarth Shaw
- Riverview Law
- Lawyers on Demand
- Berwin Leighton Paisner
Tech, Tools & More
Peter Aprile: [0:08] Hi, and welcome to Building NewLaw. It’s a podcast hosted by me, Peter Aprile, and my colleague, Natalie Worsfold.
[0:14] In each episode, we interview lawyers, legal technologists and other like‑minded people at the forefront of NewLaw. We hope that the podcast connects to NewLaw community and helps us all learn more about the approaches that are changing the way that we practice law. Enjoy the show.
Sponsor: [0:31] The Building NewLaw podcast is supported by Counter Tax Lawyers, a new type of tax controversy and litigation law firm. To learn more about Counter, go to countertax.ca.
Peter: [00:43] In this episode, we feature part two of our interview with Dr. George Beaton, the co‑author of “Remaking Law Firms: Why and How” and the principal of Beaton Research + Consulting. Here’s part two of our interview with George.
Peter: [01:02] There has to always be a readiness to change, a desire to, I guess, work differently or deliver services or see value differently.
Natalie Worsfold: [01:16] I noticed in your book, you have a wonderful tool to help firms review their sort of awareness of the market, or sort of initiatives they’re pursuing in their adaptability. Can you tell us a little bit about how and why you came up with that tool?
George Beaton: [01:28] Yes. About halfway into writing the book, we suddenly realized that, you know, it’s all very well to proselytize why you should change and to share with the reader the ways of changing, the how, but in the sense of where do I begin and how do I fit these changes was missing.
[01:47] We took a couple of months out to develop a diagnostic tool where firms could then assess most particularly their readiness for change. Again, we all know from our personal experience that changing the habits of a lifetime are very difficult.
[02:00] I’ll quote David Maister again. His last book was called “The Fat Smoker”, and why would an authority on professional services call a book The Fat Smoker? David was both fat and a chronic smoker.
George: [02:11] He had an epiphany. He lost 40 kilograms and gave up smoking. He used his personal reflection from being a converted‑fat smoker to being a lean non‑smoker to say, “Well, OK, what does it take to change?” The starting point for all change is know thyself. “Where am I at? What are the things that are motivating me to change, and what are the things that are holding me back?”
[02:41] If I can identify where I’m at and what my barriers are, and then I can work on removing the barriers, change will more naturally occur. More likely with success, early runs on the board, the motivation of succeeding, there’s nothing that succeeds like success, and so we realized we needed a tool which would help firms assess where they’re at and why they are there; ergo, what they should do in the early stages.
Peter: [03:06] It’s a great tool and a phenomenal idea. The sections that you have on the tool, just for people who haven’t read the book yet, you talk about awareness of how clients are changing, how work is won in a firm, how work is done in a firm, and how the firm is governed.
[03:20] We completed your self‑assessment tool.
George: [03:23] And?
Peter: [03:23] We can say it’s tough, and we failed one section. Natalie and I looked at each other and said...because we did not expect to fail any section, frankly.
Peter: [03:33] We expected to pass with flying colors. We were under the 24‑point total for section A, trends on how clients are buying legal services.
[03:43] Natalie and I looked at each other, and we tried to persuade ourselves that the reason why we failed is that our firm’s worldview and experience is a B2C law firm as opposed to a B2B law firm, and I wonder what you think of that and whether that has any relevance here.
George: [03:57] What a great observation. Very important distinction. As in all industries, the way B2C enterprises operate has some very important differences from B2B.
[04:10] If you’re a wholesaler of groceries, what makes a success is very different than if you’re a retailer. Also, those are B2B, they provide groceries into the retail stores that then sell them to the consumers.
[04:24] If you think about that difference, the B2B world is serving other corporate, and, therefore, you’re dealing with multiple decision makers, not the single consumer. Decisions often take a much longer time, and the degrees of uncertainty, the number of options the client has got to reach a solution, are far bigger and more complex. And so recognizing those differences takes a great deal of time and energy.
[04:50] You might also ask why we set the bar so high at 24 points? We deliberately did that...
Peter: [04:57] We did.
George: [04:57] We had to pick a number. There’s no right or wrong answers here, but, again, the literature on change management says, “Unless you are seriously committed and have understood the consequences of failure, the consequences of doing nothing, the consequences of sitting on the sidelines and watching, then you might never start, and at the first stumble, you might give up, it’s all too hard.”
[05:19] Like in any endeavor where you’re getting people to change their minds, the first thing is to get them on board at a high level of engagement. Lawyers being high‑achieving people, we said let’s set a high score so that people say, “Wow, I’ve got to pass.” That was the rationale for setting this bar high.
Natalie: [05:37] I know you were talking a little bit more about lawyers and their perhaps motivating factors for change, one of them, of course, being compensation. Can you describe to us a little bit more about the relationship you see between change and compensation models?
George: [05:49] In all firms more than just a few lawyers, comp, or pie‑splitting, as it’s called in different parts of the world, is a big determinant of behavior. If you have an eat‑what‑you‑kill compensation system, in other words, your profit share is in direct proportion to the work that you bring in and do yourself or your directly supervised team does. It breeds hugging and holding onto the work, irrespective of whether you’re the right lawyer to do the work.
“[06:15] Eat‑what‑you‑kill” is highly motivating; it’s not necessarily the best way to develop your lawyers, nor to serve your client. I think it’s the wrong way to do it.
[06:25] At the other end of the spectrum, if it’s all in one and it’s run like a socialist commune, the motivation of success, at least measured by money, deprives many people of their motivation. So you’ve got to find a happy medium between the two.
[06:38] The art form of pie‑splitting or compensation decision making, what you observe if you look at firms over time is that all firms are tinkering with their system, and there will be very few firms saying, “We’re happy with our system.”
[06:53] It looms very, very large in the minds of both those who have to make the decisions and the equity partners who are on the receiving end of those decisions. It’s a very large component in determining why people work, how they work, how they operate with their own lawyers, how they relate to their partners.
[07:12] Like all Pavlovian animals, we need to provide the reward system that will motivate the behavior for change, and that means the firm has to work on what behaviors are going to give rise to the kind of firm we want to be, the kind of change we want to make, and how we then keep partners informed, are fair and transparent in how the judgments are made, how the measurement system works, that people trust and believe in.
[07:36] All of those things reflect ultimately in the compensation system and how it reflects in the culture of the firm.
Peter: [07:44] Is the potential answer in tying compensation to the value metrics that we discussed earlier?
George: [07:49] Yes. The notion of the balanced scorecard evolved about 25 years ago. The whole idea of the balanced scorecard was to measure things about the customers or the clients, measure things about the people, their level of engagement and motivation, absenteeism, turnover.
[08:04] Lets you measure things about the processes of the firm, how quickly we do things, how efficiently we do things, and in the fourth quadrant was money, what’s our cash flow, what’s our profitability, what’s the return on the investment in the firm?
[08:17] If you have a few metrics in each of those quadrants, clients, people, processes, and money, then you will have a balanced scorecard. The challenge in traditional law firms is that we make assumptions about the clients. Crudest assumption is, “Well, they pay their bills on time. Therefore, they must be happy.” Therefore, we make the assumption. It’s very easy to prove that’s a wrong assumption.
[08:38] People. Do they fill their timesheets in? Again, it’s an easy‑to‑collect metric, but it’s not necessarily telling us how engaged they are. They could simply be gaming the system, padding the time sheets.
[08:49] Processes. That’s much harder. What do we look at? You know, do people use the style guide? How well do people use the knowledge management system?
[08:56] What are we rolling in the majority? The financial reports. It’s by default we fall back into what we were talking about earlier: profit. And it then deprives the other quadrants of their rightful role in the metrics that guide the overall organization in its overall purpose.
Peter: [09:12] Call me a skeptic, but when I hear all that, I think to myself, it would be very difficult to find many lawyers who are sufficiently enlightened to believe in or to be willing to accept the balanced scorecard compensation model. [laughs]
George: [09:25] Yeah.
Peter: [09:25] Do you think that that is the case?
George: [09:26] Oh, I’ve been at this nearly 30 years, Peter. I have some wonderful clients who made changes in this direction 20 years ago and who are still flourishing and continuously improving those changes that they made all those years ago.
[09:40] I have clients who began the journey then and who have stumbled and given up, “It’s just too hard,” and reverted back to good old basic metrics. It is a remarkably difficult challenge.
[09:51] The firms who’ve actually made it are very happy to share the success. Those who have truly succeeded are far fewer than those who have tried and stumbled, who in turn are far fewer than those who haven’t even begun.
Peter: [10:06] We’ve gone through the, “Why” of change, the “How” of change, and then we get to an interesting part in your book where you start seeing all the possibilities. You start seeing the legal landscape as full of opportunities, as you described it earlier. You don’t pay attention to the commentary about doom and gloom, and you see it as a whole new world in different changes that you can implement or innovations that can happen.
[10:24] In that context, you talk about stealth work and skunk works, which we kind of really liked, and it sparked a lot of discussion around here about where change should happen, how it could be sectioned off. Can you talk a little bit about those concepts?
George: [10:35] Yes. How do you effect change? And there’s two distinct ways that we discovered through our research ‑‑ skunk works and stealth.
[10:44] The stealth one is illustrated by Allen & Overy, where in an interview with David Morley, their Senior Partner said the leadership of the firm have earned the trust of the partners to the point where now, up to a certain monetary level, we don’t have to seek partnership approval. Over time, we’ve done more and more of that.
[11:04] We started with volunteers in parts of the practice to do a few things. As they succeeded, we then celebrated and announced it, and we grew bolder and bolder till the limit got up to 100,000. He said, “Now that we’ve been at it nearly 10 years, we’ve got it up to 10 million pounds we can risk without going to the partnership.” Now, that’s an awful lot of money in the partnership to commit to an experiment, basically. An innovation initiative.
[11:29] In the accountancy profession, Deloitte is now very well known for this. They have an innovation fund. Anybody in the firm ‑‑ a secretary ‑‑ can apply to the fund for $300 or $3000, puts out their business case, and goes for it.
[11:45] Over time, they’ve coalesced into teams, the teams put forth bigger projects, bigger licks of money, and there’s now an innovation counsel that actually monitors all this and awards the money, and then adjudicates the business cases and celebrates the success.
[12:00] That’s stealth. Start small, start at the bottom tiers, keep below the radar, and be willing to fail and fail fast, and once it succeeds, celebrate it and move on to the next and the next and the next.
[12:12] The skunk works approach is to go outside the firm, go and set up, you know, a temporary office, and put a team to work unencumbered by the daily duties in serving clients, unencumbered by the prevailing environment in the firm.
[12:27] The skunk works approach is to put people in an environment where they can experiment on a larger scale for a longer period of time without the...particularly the cultural inhibitions of the parent.
Peter: [12:41] When I hear you speak, it’s really difficult to imagine these great, smart partners at these big law firms without a longer‑term view really worried about pulling a few associates off the tools, as you say, to work on a project. It’s really surprising to me to hear that there’s even that resistance even for that, and there’s not a more of a long‑term approach.
George: [13:02] There are some encouraging precedents, Peter. Many firms now have what they call practice lawyers. These would be lawyers, for every 20 practitioners, there’s one practice lawyer who doesn’t actually do billable work.
[13:13] They support the practicing lawyers in helping them with precedent management, precedent development, precedent use, continued legal education, a whole range of ways. There are precedents for allocating top legal talent to non‑billable work. I’m not saying it’s not happening.
Natalie: [13:30] In your book, you were talking about business development and who was in charge of business development. I noticed in one of your charts about the differences between traditional firms and NewLaw firms, it seemed to suggest that you saw business development in sort of the sales aspect moving towards non‑lawyers. Can you tell us more about that shift?
George: [13:46] Business development and sales is a set of professional skills and attitudes just as much as legal practice is a set of professional skills and attitudes. The belief that a good lawyer is also a good salesperson is flawed. Some good lawyers are good salespeople, and in fact, there are many, many lawyers who don’t want to sell.
[14:09] The expectation that in your spare time, badly, you’ll go out and bring in the fees that are demanded of a full‑share equity part is a really flawed logic.
[14:18] We’ve looked around the world for firms who are innovatively solving this challenge. The first place you find them, of course, is in the NewLaw firms, who have completely, in a good old Marxist way, created a division of labor. Salespeople sell and lawyers practice, and it works.
[14:35] Some of those salespeople of course are lawyers in their background, but they are not lawyers practicing, they are lawyers who are now selling because they’re good salespeople. We found David Worley of PricewaterhouseCoopers is by far the best example I’ve been able to find of somebody who was a top salesperson.
[14:51] What he shared in that book about the revenue under his control as well as the team under...for which he’s responsible is really a remarkable story.
[15:00] There’s a practitioner ‑‑ he doesn’t practice law anymore ‑‑ John Grimley, who was Practice Development Manager and opened the London Practice Development Office of Patton Boggs, the firm that is now gone, having merged with Squire Sanders.
[15:13] There are enough examples to encourage us in NewLaw. In other professions, you go into the consulting engineering profession. One of the most successful now globalizing Australian consulting engineering firms is hiring people out of the IT service industry for business development. They see it as the most advanced business development culture that is still a professional service.
[15:34] It’s going extremely well. They hire people and make them business development by sector, so they have specialists in client sectors doing business development. Why not law firms? Look at what Axiom does, what Adventbalance does in Australia and Southeast Asia. The lawyers don’t do business development; professional salespeople do.
Peter: [15:51] It’s really interesting. I’ll tell you candidly, it’s the only thing in the book...I resisted this idea that a lawyer ‑‑ it almost sounds silly saying it ‑‑ a non‑lawyer could sell legal services. There was a part of me that still holds onto this idea that you need to have some experience in the law, you need to have some experience practicing, you need some expertise in order to be able to sell it.
George: [16:12] I hear that. I can only respond by saying when you look at these examples of success. If you read the detail of the interview, it’s why we made it so lengthy, because it’s such a novel idea.
[16:25] If you look at it in a hard economic sense, the market is no longer growing for legal services, for people of business model firms. It’s quite possibly contracting in parts of the market.
[16:35] Therefore, business development is more and more mission critical to the survival and prosperity of firms. “Wouldn’t you want to put your very best resource and talents into business development?” Yes. “Wouldn’t you want your very best legal resource serving the clients?” Yes. When you follow that logic through, to us, it makes the case.
Peter: [16:54] Sounds like a strong case. Do you see any big law firms doing this?
George: [16:58] We have two in Australia who are experimenting. They’ve got a few people, and both seriously encouraged. DLA Piper in the United States is experimenting.
Peter: [17:08] Going back to that chart that you have in chapter two of your book, you list a number of examples of service providers in different categories. I just want to go through them and if you can give us your quick one‑minute reaction and comment to what they’re doing different and how they are a model, maybe, for other NewLaw firms and service providers.
[17:25] You list under remade law firms, you have Seyfarth Shaw.
George: [17:27] A very big part of their practice is labor law. For example, they have reengineered the way they do routine labor law matters, reengineered since to make them faster, more certain outcomes.
[17:41] They have dashboards which are visible to the clients where the metrics on the matters are determined by the client return to work seven days, and compensation $3000. They have hard metrics that the lawyers and the client are working towards.
[17:57] They provide consulting services to their clients to reengineer the legal supply chain, to engineer problems out so they don’t reach legal, and when they do become legal, to make sure they’re done at the right level, either inside the client or outside in a cost‑effective sense.
Peter: [18:13] Under the NewLaw firm headings, you have somebody that we keep a close eye on, Riverview Law, who appears in actually multiple categories. What can you tell us about Riverview and what they’re doing differently?
George: [18:21] Riverview is deliberately built as an outsource philosophy. The founder, Karl Chapman, in his previous life did the same in recruitment agencies. He consolidated a number together and formed a super‑efficient recruitment service, and he’s doing exactly the same in law.
[18:42] He’s saying to the large corporate, “I can do particular work types for you far more efficiently in a standardized way than you can.” It’s consolidation and the application of technology, and they are now pioneers of artificial intelligence.
Peter: [18:55] The other one that you have listed under legal staffing providers that has our attention is Lawyers On Demand.
George: [19:01] Founded by two partners who said to their firm, Berwin Leighton Paisner, “We want to create a NewLaw firm.” They were set up really as a skunk works to be a variable cost model like Agile, like Peerpoint. Lawyers On Demand has grown and grown and grown as a variable‑cost law firm increasingly adopting technology as an enabler of lawyer efficiency.
Peter: [19:26] They’re supplying lawyers to other law firms, correct?
George: [19:29] Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Not just the parent.
Natalie: [19:32] What I’m interested in, there was a reference in your book to Clearspire, and I’d like to hear a little bit about your thoughts on why they ended up where they did.
George: [19:40] My knowledge of what Mark Cohen, who was the founder and largely the funder of Clearspire, as I understand it, was in two parts. There was a veteran law firm and a technology company, and the rate at which they were burning cash overtook them. Like many tech startups, they had to close their shop.
[19:55] It’s quite prominent because Clearspire was well publicized, but tech startups, whether they’re law tech, firm tech, or any biotech startups that fold are a dime a dozen, so we shouldn’t make too much of it at all. It’s a necessary part of the evolution of the industry, failure.
Natalie: [20:11] What I’m interested in, is it something you view as sort of the law firm side of it failed, or you’re saying it was just more the cash burn on the innovation of the technology side?
George: [20:19] The cash burn, as I understand it. The cash burn. They couldn’t get the backing to sustain it.
Peter: [20:23] Just to give you some insight, George, in reading your book, that is the one story that sends shivers up our spine. As a, quote, “NewLaw firm.” That story gave us the biggest pause.
[20:33] I would say I think that a lot of the other things that you’ve written and have developed in the book are things that helped us build on some concepts that we’ve been applying here and give us some new perspective, but that Clearspire story made us put on the brakes a little bit and say hold on, what are the lessons here for NewLaw?
[20:49] The idea of that cash burn and that threat that the innovation could have on the law firm is I think a good lesson there.
George: [20:56] Indeed. I recommend you looking outside of law tech into other tech startups to learn about success factors, reasons for failure, and mitigation of the risk. I would think that the biggest lessons will come from those industries which have been longer at it.
Peter: [21:13] We really appreciate the amount of time you’ve taken with us today and thank you so much for this. Is there anything that you think that we missed or anything that you want to comment on before we start to wrap up?
George: [21:23] No, it’s been a very enjoyable conversation. Thank you both. My mission and my co‑author Imme Kaschner’s mission in researching this book and gathering the 40 people from around the world who’ve contributed as interviewees is testament to the positive nature of the message.
[21:39] There are many, many opportunities, and the society ‑‑ the big law sector itself and its people, and above all else, its clients ‑‑ will be the beneficiaries from those who get the messages in the book.
Peter: [21:50] Again, we thought it was just a wonderful, wonderful book and a great addition, and a very helpful addition to law firms and legal service providers of all shapes and sizes. Thank you so much for that. Again, thank you for your willingness to do this.
Natalie: [22:02] That was another great episode with George. What was your favourite part?
Peter: [22:10] I don’t think I have a favourite part. I really liked the book, I really liked “Remaking Law Firms. Why and How.” I loved the opportunity to tease out some of the concepts in the book and have George answer direct questions. I find the book really valuable, and I find George smart, insightful, and a real pleasure to speak to.
[22:28] I love the idea of the diagnostic tool.
Natalie: [22:31] Yeah, I thing that tool really addressed what he was talking about in part one, where it was sort of the mindset and the diagnosing the readiness for change is essentially what it comes down to.
[22:38] When we were looking at barriers to moving towards a newer model or away from the traditional model, I thought it was interesting to hear him talk about how you can make the tool to identify what’s in your way, like what barriers does your firm face in order to make a change?
Peter: [22:52] What do you think the biggest barrier is?
Natalie: [22:53] It’s tough. Mindset absolutely. I can’t see anything as influential as just mindset and willingness to change. I thought what was really interesting is it sort of touched on something being very unknown. It’s difficult to make a change when you don’t know what you’re leaping towards.
[23:09] One of the things that I thought was so good about his book is the fact that it has this whole section on how to change and what your next step is. So it’s trying to sort of take some of the mystery out of how you move away from a traditional model, and impact that change.
Peter: [23:22] The whole situation reminds me of a Steve Jobs quote where he says, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards, so you’ve got to trust that the dots are going to connect in your future.”
[23:31] That’s certainly been the case for our firm, and I think that what George’s diagnostic tool does is it allows people to kind of see how the dots connect before starting to implement that change, but I agree with you.
[23:44] The biggest barrier, and even speaking to lawyers I know at various‑sized law firms, people who are partners as well as associates, it really is a mental thing and a difficulty or unwillingness to jump. In some cases, people that know that they need to make a leap aren’t, and others don’t understand how great a leap they need to make.
Natalie: [24:01] I thought that was really interesting, too, when we were talking about compensation, and when you go back to that sort of carrot and stick approach. It’s like the firm as a whole sort of sees this stick that’s coming, but it’s interesting to have the idea of using compensation as the carrot that will bring people on board with that change.
Peter: [24:15] When he talks about the idea that the two ends of that spectrum, that compensation spectrum, are, I think he classified it as a socialist environment on one side, and on the other side, the “Eat‑what‑you‑kill” model. It was interesting to hear him talk about the fact that other law firms are tinkering with that, some of them got them right, some of them tried, failed, and gave up.
[24:35] That’s certainly something that I want to focus on in other episodes of this podcast, talking to law firms that have made that change, figuring out how a compensation model can be affected in order to create change, because I think that really is that motivating factor. Getting that compensation structure right is really the key to driving people in the right direction.
Natalie: [24:54] It ties back into that balanced scorecard idea, like if you’re going to have a compensation model that addresses all of these issues, you’ve got to look at your metrics, and you’ve got to look at ways to measure, the more uncertain or the more fluffy edges of what’s going on as you develop into a more client‑centric approach.
[25:10] It was really funny to hear him refer to the balanced scorecard; I remember seeing that book on my dad’s shelf as a kid. I looked at it and I’m like wow, I can’t believe this has been around for so long, and right now it’s just trickling into law.
Peter: [25:20] One of the things that we’re seeing with NewLaw is how other influences are finally starting to take hold, or law’s starting to look at other influences in other industries for inspiration.
Natalie: [25:29] Looking at other industries for inspiration, it was interesting to hear George talk about how lawyers should be looking at the tech world and paying attention to how many tech companies start and fail, and not to look at it as a doom and gloom scenario and to just say, “Lesson’s learned,” and move on and do better.
Peter: [25:45] That’s part of the value of Beaton, it’s this idea that they do have experience in other industries and are now bringing that to law. If we can learn lessons from all those other industries, either in terms of what works as well as in terms of what doesn’t work, I think that that would make the transition that’s happening a lot easier.
[26:00] One of the things that he spoke about from other industries, and I guess what’s happening to some extent, a lesser extent, in law, I loved when he spoke about stealth projects and skunk works. I found that I’ve never really thought about it, frankly.
[26:12] Our firm is so small that I guess everything’s kind of a stealth project, but that idea of sectioning out projects and attacking innovation in that way I thought was certainly interesting and not something I really turned my mind to in the past.
Natalie: [26:26] It sounds like it’s not something we see that often here in Canada. Like he was giving a couple of examples, but I’d be very interested to hear of more.
Peter: [26:33] He mentioned that there were a few of his clients developing stealth projects but to a much lesser extent skunk works. I found it interesting when he talks about some of the internal resistance of law firms in creating these projects, either developing stealth projects or through skunk work methods.
[26:47] Any way that it needs to get done I think is positive, and as George rightly pointed out, when you come back to people with results, “Look at what we’ve done,” then I think it builds a business case for it, and will certainly change any resistance internally to that.
[26:59] The idea of putting together skunk work teams, is really interesting. Then it goes back to that conversation about how to best build those teams, is the next step. Is it best to use some talented lawyers that you have within the firm itself as well as some outside resources, be it computer engineers or whomever the project requires?
[27:15] The results that those teams generate would be pretty interesting to do, and it would be really, really insightful to test different combinations of teams and see who’s coming back with the best result.
Natalie: [27:23] That was a great interview, and Dr. Beaton was so generous with his time. We really enjoyed speaking with him. We’re going to continue to pore over “Remaking Law Firms.” It’s a fantastic book. I believe it’s on sale now through the American Bar Association. We strongly recommend you grab a copy or use your Kindle, go through and look at some of the wonderful insight that’s within that book.
Peter: [27:43] Although we went into the book, I still think that there was a lot there that we didn’t talk about. We didn’t even talk about business development too much or anything like that and some of the insights there, and that’s probably one of the more extensive interviews that Dr. Beaton conducts in the book.
[27:55] I’m going to keep going over “Remaking Law Firms”. I’m sure as our firm continues to evolve, different messages will speak to us, and there’s lots of lessons to be applied.
Natalie: [28:03] For this episode’s show notes and transcript, please visit our website at buildingnewlaw.ca. We’d love to hear from you, and if you have any feedback, feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or come and find us on Twitter @buildingnewlaw.
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