I am being asked all the time how Littles is going ‘post-COVID’, so I thought I’d share some thoughts here in the hope that others may find it interesting or useful. For the record, Littles is going great, which has nothing to do with whether we are ‘pre’ or ‘post’ COVID, and everything to do with our team getting behind Littles’ CEO, Tenny Kim, and the future-proofing strategy he has championed.
At the centre of this strategy is our commitment to agile work practices. Obviously, agile methodology is an IT concept, which goes to a very important point – in 2021, law firms must be tech firms. So what does agile look like in a law firm? Well, let me provide extracts from an email I wrote to the Littles team in 2019. At minimum, it requires the removal of top down management structures and replacing it with leadership based on collaboration and free exchange of ideas; the focus on outcomes rather than hours worked; building and embracing new, platform agnostic IT products that allow our lawyers to focus on supporting existing clients and attracting prospective clients; and encouraging people to work where they work best (and no, grudgingly ‘allowing’ people to work two days a week at home doesn’t cut it).
This is what Littles was doing in 2020, and this is why COVID changed nothing for Littles, other than to confirm that we were on the right track. We experienced zero interruption in business continuity because our people could already work effectively from home. Because we already had objective metrics that could measure performance. Because we could deliver our clients the same phenomenal results in a range of different settings. Because we were already building our own IT products (FYI: at Littles, our IT people spend most of the time creative innovative new IT platforms, not asking people if they have ‘tried turning their computer off and then on again). What it did do,was leave the emperor with no clothes – the ‘emperor’ in this situation being large parts of the legal profession that resisted going agile. When Littles put the bones of our current strategy in place in 2016, I was spruiking it with evangelistic fervour, not just within Littles but to any lawyer I met. Let me tell you – the strange looks, polite nods, responses of “hmm, very interesting” formed the bulk of the replies. This is because when it comes to command and control management, endless hours in the office, and 20th century work processes, the legal profession is one of the worst culprits.
If you’re a lawyer, chances are that every time you check LinkedIn, a picture of someone being admitted to the profession pops up. I often wonder if the people in those pictures – and they’re beautiful pictures, with excited young lawyers and their families – really and truly understand what being a lawyer in 2021, or 2031 will be like. Legal procedurals like ‘Law and Order’ and ‘Boston Legal’ have a lot to answer for in this respect, convincing a whole generation of lawyers that they would spend their life in court shouting ‘Objection, Your Honour’! But it’s more than that. Anyone who thinks that lawyering is spending long hours in a nice office, with the aspiration of moving ever closer to a corner suite with a view of the river, a secretary tapping out your letters near your door, is going to be disappointed. Even those who think they get the realpolitik of it all, and have steeled themselves to work 20 hours a day for the foreseeable future are in for a rude shock. The Fair Work Ombudsman has put a stop to that, and with it a whole business model. You know, where ‘top tier firms’ (whatever they are) convinced talented young people to apply to compete to spend years of their lives in some kind of Hunger Games cosplay for a handful of associate, senior associate and partnership positions, falling off as they became burnt out, realised there were more important things in life, that the narrative they were being sold was bullshit, or all of the above.
That’s not to say that there’s not fantastic opportunities to be had in the law. At Littles, we employ lawyers who are leaders, who inspire confidence in members of their communities that Littles can and will look after them at a time when they need it most, who bring new ideas and perspectives, and mentor and build confidence in their peers. Offices and secretaries play almost no role in this. Don’t get me wrong – they demand rewards and we reward them. How do we do this? With a seat at the table, and share in the profit that they generate. They won’t settle for anything less, nor should they.
The legal profession has changed forever. Embracing agile is the minimum cost of entry to a sustainable business, regardless of whether you’re a grad or a partner.