Kate McMahon thinks our new Lockdown work habits make us miss out on creativity and that lawyers need to take care to find other ways to bring it in.
Kate is one of the founding members of private prosecutions specialist firm Edmonds Marshall McMahon (EMM), which was set up in 2012 and has been phenomenally successful since then. The firm handles cases that the police and CPS don’t have the resources to pursue, (online fraud being the classic example), providing a private service alternative. We’ve all heard the stats on the meteoric rise of online fraud in Lockdown. Needless to say, Kate’s firm is having a bit of a moment.
EMM has long promoted remote working, most of its lawyers working from home one day a week. So it was in a good position compared to most to cope with the challenges of Lockdown. Still, she has a lot to say about its limitations. “We all know that remote working has been brilliant for efficiency and that generally speaking productivity levels have gone up as lawyers and staff don’t waste time travelling to the office or client meetings, and every Zoom is governed by an agenda which keeps everyone much more focussed. Of course this is good news, and no wonder many firms and chambers are rethinking their property requirements and how they expect lawyers and staff engage with the business once Lockdown is over. But there is often a spontaneous creative flow that happens when people are sitting across a table from one another in real life, throwing ideas around in an organic way, and this is missing in the new [mew] Zooms and Teams environment."
“Strict timelines and a focus on efficiency can be the enemies of creativity”, Kate continues. “Lawyers love procedure and often place more emphasis on this than on creative thought even in normal times. Lockdown has only made this worse. Of course procedure, process and consistency are all vital when it comes to implementing a legal strategy, but there is no point in following procedure if the initial idea you are attempting to put into practice is not right. We take great pains to find ways to put the creative back in to our work.”
“Another limitation of Zoom communication we’ve found is the way it tends to silence the more junior members of our team. We need to make sure they are included properly in discussions because they may have a perspective that no-one in the senior team has. But the nature of video conferencing makes it harder for people to interject in the flow of a conversation, so the less experienced won’t push themselves forward in the same way they would in a physical meeting room environment. In a small video conference, our senior team makes a conscious effort to watch for people who look like they’re about to say something, then clam up. They may open their mouth, but close it again before saying anything. And when you know someone well, you know they have something valuable to say, so you can invite them when you see that happen. It can be difficult to observe non-verbal signals on a screen.”
Kate describes a similar issue that happens in her work for clients. “With clients in particularly tricky situations, or who are going through a legal process that is very unfamiliar to them, the job for us as lawyers is not just about “doing law”. There’s a big handholding element too. And this is difficult to do in a digital environment. You need to be able to pick up how your client is feeling at any one time and spot where they look confused so you can make sure they are understanding what is happening to them and what your advice is, and give them the right support. As a legal advisor you have to be extra vigilant in a digital set-up to pick up the cues.”
But what Kate misses most of all she tells me, is face-to-face communication with colleagues. “As we’ve grown since we first began in 2012 we have been incredibly selective in our hiring, picking people we really want to work with professionally and personally. I miss seeing them in real life!”
Let’s hope a return to near-normal is just around the corner.
I just love The Family Law Company’s “Only Human” campaign that launched this week. It’s carefully crafted to run across multiple channels - video ads, client guides, website, social – and is such a powerful way to put across the culture this firm is most famous for: driven by empathy for clients much more than by fees. I’ve always said that the best forms of communication are about ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’. This campaign is such a good example. Do take a look.
Without doubt this is the year of the staycation. For some reason nearly everyone I know is planning a visit to Hayling Island, so right now I’m hearing the name on a daily basis, having not thought about it for decades since childhood holidays there myself. Seems we are all exploring long forgotten corners of our own country… and we’re loving it! I’ve long been a fan of being a tourist in your own back yard. It forces us to notice the wonderful things right under our noses. Silver linings of Lockdown, see….