“Adaptability is the simple secret of survival.” – Jessica Hagedorn
The above quote from the writer and poet Jessica Hagedorn speaks to the incredible circumstances that most law firms have faced in the last year or so. In our practice we see clients responding to the environment in many ways, some are breathing deep and hoping for a return to “the good old days” and others are analyzing the environment in an effort to understand the change that is occurring as part of preparing to adapt. We have the following comments on adapting to change.
Adapting to change – At first blush the need to adapt is so obvious there would seem to be no need to discuss it. Then we see firm after firm, small to large, fail because of a reluctance, unwillingness or sheer inability to adapt.
In our experience there are 4 steps to adapting:
Step 1 -Acceptance
It has been long understood that all species operate in an environment of constant change. The same is true for business. There are two choices, adapt or die.
In slowly changing environments, like the legal market during most of its history; responding to change doesn’t need to be hurried. In an environment like the legal market of the last several years, where change is rapid and accelerating, the appropriate response must be developed with a sense of urgency.
So, if the constant nature of change is an absolute, why do so many firms fail to adapt. I suggest that it can only be one of two things, lack of understanding of the effect on their firm, or a lack of the knowledge/capability necessary to do anything about it.
Step 2 – Evaluating Impact
There are numerous ways in which change may impact a law firm;
- New competitors – this might include new law firms as well as a growing list of non-traditional service providers
- Changing methods of service delivery fueled in large part by innovations in technology and/or process
- Shrinking demand for certain types of services
- Increasing experience and expertise among clients, in particular General Counsel, who are utilizing their power of choice — resulting in pricing pressure, and in some cases the loss of an important client
Law firms must regularly engage in an evaluation process that attempts to understand the specific nature and ultimate impact of the changes their firms are facing.
Step 3 – Planning for Adaptation
This step includes discussing options for how a firm will respond to the primary changes it is facing. Often this is a difficult step because the plan will almost always include the reallocation of resources in a way that improves the odds of success. A third party participant in the process can be very helpful in maintaining a level of objectivity.
Step 4 – Execution of the Plan
As is so often the case, execution can be the point of failure. A firm can expend all the resources — time and money – and end up with a killer-strategy that addresses change and scopes new opportunities. But we’ve all seen great plans fall victim to the pressures of daily realities. The plan winds up collecting dust in a desk drawer.
Meanwhile, change continues its march.
Firms that beat the “desk-drawer” fate typically do three things well:
- Set up “short fuse” milestones for the implementation of the change plan,
- Include a process designed to build consensus, and
- Put the right people in charge of driving the plan.
It all begins with a full acceptance that our choices are to adapt or die.
Are you adapting?