Sunday, 17 February 2013

Neil Denny

Neil Denny would like to see more "Artisan Lawyers". Last time I caught up with this consultant collaborative lawyer we talked in depth about “conversational riffs” and how being mindful of these, and consciously able to “change your tune”, can help you step out of repeating negative patterns in your interaction with the people closest to you. When we met up this week, he had another new idea to intrigue me with: how the legal profession (and particularly its clients) could benefit from lawyers embracing 'Artisan values', delighting in complexity and embracing both challenge and change, as opportunities to show off their skill. Lawyers delighting and embracing change?? What’s this?? Kysen’s clients by definition tend to be those who are very comfortable pushing the envelope and doing new things (otherwise they wouldn’t be engaging with such new-fangled and radical ideas as professional PR) but I’m well aware they are untypical of the profession. I was keen to know more...

Over coffee in Covent Garden, I asked him what this meant. “The idea of the Artisan is the polar opposite of the inadequate workman who blames his tools: the Artisan is the highly skilled craftsman who does the work, not for the wage so much as for the sake of the work itself, finding joy in being excellent. It's typified by the character Geppetto in the story of Pinocchio, who takes a dud piece of wood, skillfully creating a wooden figure so life-like that ultimately it turns into a real boy.

"Take a look at which describes the essential difference in the Artisan mindset: a switch from simply “doing a shift” to “making a shift”. I believe this is a perfect way to develop business, because it focusses you on the type of business that you really want to do. Don’t we all want to do more of the work that satisfies or excites us, for clients we really want to work with? And isn't this how we do our best work too? So the opportunity is to build a business - and a reputation for excellence, enthusiasm and enjoyable working relationships, all at the same time? Surely it’s a win:win all round.”

At a time when the profession is being attacked for its reluctance to do away with antiquated structures fixated on the billable hour, this could be an exciting, pleasurable alternative.

And it strikes a chord with my own experience I have to say: having built Kysen up over the last 12 years, today I feel incredibly lucky to be able to take on only the work we really love doing and for the people we really enjoy working with. Neil and I talk about getting to that point in life where work doesn’t feel like work so much anymore because the intellectual stimulus, the working relationships, and everything else about it is just so enjoyable. I share with him a favourite saying – an Irish blessing that hangs in my kitchen at home: 

"May you work like you don’t need the money, 
love like you’ve never been hurt,
and dance like nobody’s watching."

“I do think this could help lawyers adapt to the very daunting level of change they are having to face,” Neil tells me. "At the end of the day people don’t resist change, but rather the loss they fear will result from change. Give them the skills and encourage a mindset that enables them to gain from the change - so in this case an opportunity to enjoy their work more - then you’ve really got a chance to move everyone forward.” 

Now that is an ambition worth having.


A rather depressing attitude to mental health issues displayed this week, when a judge poo-pooed a career criminal’s defence that the reason for his latest crime was “depression”. “Everyone’s depressed” the judge said, “it’s the weather.”

Part of me recognises where this particular Lordship was coming from, the recent cold spell having been undoubtedly challenging to the spirits. But his comments were highly ironic, dismissing any consideration of potential mental health issues so summarily in the same week the Mental Health Bill received its last reading in the House ofLords before going to the Queen for Royal Assent and becoming an Act.

This little story shows once again it's not just the law that needs to change  - there's a big challenge ahead in changing social attitudes to mental health.

We all enjoyed our Kysen Company Day this week, time for reflection and team discussion that forms a key part of our Professional Development Programme. This week we focussed on the promises we made to ourselves at the start of the year – “Kysen Resolutions” – and took time to think how these should feed into the different aspects of our work and relationships with clients and journalists.

Last year our theme for the year was “Long Term Relationships” and we had a very happy experience getting closer to client and journalist friends, also reconnecting with some old friends we hadn’t worked with for a while who came back into the fold. This year we are asking ourselves how we can take these relationships to the next level: in answer, the team came up with a new theme for 2013: “Sharing”.  We spent time on Tuesday thinking about what this might mean in practical terms: encouraging clients to have “Kysen Days" at our office, working alongside us for a day to see how we work; inviting more journalist friends to come in and give lunchtime talks on do’s and don’ts in our dealings with them; running joint brainstorms to share ideas and creative thinking; etc.

Do you have suggestions about how we could “share” more in our work with you? We'd love to hear your thoughts...

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