Saturday, 5 November 2011

Gill Steel

Gill Steel talks a lot of sense about change. The professions are arguably facing more change today than ever before.  The legal profession has The Legal Services Act and Jackson Review to contend with; barristers involved in publicly funded work are additionally grappling with the withdrawal of legal aid; and the accountancy profession is facing unprecedented regulatory change in the audit market, most recently the OFT announcing a probe into the dominance of the Big Four.  Add to this the impact of globalisation, a more volatile economic climate than we have seen in decades, the revolution in communications thanks to the explosion in social media, and the general acceleration in the rate of business change, and it's no wonder than the average forward view of UK business has shrunk to about half its usual time-period.  


So how do we respond?  Well part of the answer is to do with adaptive strategies of course, ie reading the market ahead (prophesying skills a distinct advantage here), identifying your strengths weaknesses, opportunities and threats; developing new markets for existing services; new services for existing client markets; and various permutations in between  (diagrams, matrices and graphs supplied).  But in practice the biggest factor is often the human one: can you get your partners to see that change is happening, that change is needed - and how?


Gill runs a company called Lawskills that aims to equip law firms to cope with change.  In conversation over tea she talks about the need for a mindful approach.  "We all know the old adage - in fact a definition of madness: 'If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always got'.  The soundest business analysis and planning will amount to nothing if the people in the business don't see that a change in approach and behaviour is required, and are enabled to make that change.  This is often the biggest challenge of all in change management."


She encourages her clients to see change as something that needs to manifest in the small things - changes in individual choices (eg what work to take on and what to turn away) and daily behaviours. It can be less daunting presented this way she says, so in many cases partners are more likely to go with it. "Particularly (but not exclusively) in smaller firms, encouraging the individuals that make up the firm to make these 'small' changes is often a more effective way of achieving the bigger-scale change required at the broader firm level. It's like joining the dots."   


Gill also talks excitedly about the Training Review the root and branch overhaul of the legal education and training system, which this year was reinvigorated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards, having previously fallen into disrepair.  


"The big idea is to look at a range of entry points now into the profession, for example perhaps offering apprenticeships in law for school leavers, not just the graduate options.  I'm thinking about what skills they'd need to be useful in a business at this early stage."


So plenty to keep Gill busy!  Follow Gill on twitter. 


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A sobering reminder this week of the plus side of no-win-no-fee arrangements came in the form of Chris Jeffries' interview with the Today Programme, following  his libel win this Summer against the Sun, Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Record, Daily Express, Daily Star and the Scotsman for their coverage after his arrest on suspicion of Jo Yeates' murder last December. He was speaking just days after Vincent Tabak was convicted of the murder and sentenced to a minimum of 20 years.


Talking about his ordeal, he criticised the Government's plans to reform Conditional  Fee Agreements (CFAs) and said that without a no-win, no-fee arrangement he would never have been able to bring the media to account for defaming himIf ever there was a good example of a CFA providing access to justice where it really mattered, this is it.


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I flew to Oakland this summer, the day that riots broke out in the UK.  I remember being shame-faced with my American friends answering their questions about what on earth was going on back at home.  Now, Oakland has its own rioting, and its own Occupy movement.  Does that make me feel any better?  Of course the answer is no.  It's just an even sorrier state of affairs all round. Do we think the 1% are getting the message?   



One part of the Oakland riots story that particularly caught my eye concerned the distress of genuine campaigners that agitant elements had clashed with police and vandalised banks.  They said it played into the hands of detractors and gave them reason to criticise the movement.  The BBC news report described a note found taped to a shattered glass window, saying: 


"We are better than this... Sorry, the 99%" 


- a reminder that behind those just using the situation as an opportunity to cause trouble, there are people with integrity at the heart of this protest.  


Let's just hope they don't get forced out by the rabble elements.



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