Will the future of law belong to large or small firms? It’s a debate that is ongoing.
A lot of smaller firms may feel that they will struggle to compete against the larger resources large firms have, but there are also many advantages of being small.
In particular, they have the ability to act more quickly, particularly if the key people are aligned in the way they work. They can make decisions, trial things, learn and adapt. While they don’t have the money that the larger law firms do, these days that is not a barrier. With cloud computing, many of the same systems are just as available to smaller firms as large, at a very affordable cost. The key is to have the ambition to do better, for your clients and your own business.
It can be relatively easy to grow quickly from just a few good wins. Conversely, it might only take the loss of a couple of key clients or people to blow a hole in the business.
Ford Sumner – a firm that is winning
A good example of a small firm that is doing the right things is Wellington based law firm Ford Sumner, who have been supporters of LawHawk from before we even launched. While he’s not a technologist in any sense that I have observed, Jaesen Sumner is an optimist and is ambitious. Whether it’s with his law firm, or as Chairman of Old Boys University rugby club (back to back winners of the Jubilee Cup), he’s looking to the future, seeking better ways to do things, and wanting to compete and win. They have a great range of clients from Government agencies to some of Wellington’s most successful businesses, and always looking to add more.
Alongside Jaesen are Sarah Churstain (who became a partner last year) and Mark Ford (who established the firm with Jaesen and is now still heavily involved as counsel). They share the ambition to make Ford Sumner an even better firm, and are supported by the rest of the lawyers and team in the firm.
Ford Sumner see technology as an opportunity, not a threat. They know that not everything you try will work out (Google Ad Words was a fail for us this year around our awesome employment agreement offer), but also that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take and so it’s still worth trying until you find something that does work. They are using technology to improve the way they work, and to grow their firm by giving greater value to their clients.
As well as supporting their existing clients, they are also using it to win new clients like Nelson Airport. Offering to help Nelson Airport to do more of their own legal work using automation was a key factor in Nelson Airport selecting Ford Sumner as their lawyers last year. The airport is now able to do a lot of its basic legal work itself, but always in the knowledge that they are using a lawyer designed and approved system and that their lawyers can step in to help them at any stage. It hasn’t resulted in less legal work for Ford Sumner, just better work.
Everyone is winning, and their client is very happy as you can see from the recent case studies at the bottom of this post.
Better Never Stops
At LawHawk we believe that “Better Never Stops” and that is something that Ford Sumner are also demonstrating. As well as doing more automation, Ford Sumner:
- are also driving the growth of the Law Plus Group, a cooperative procurement group for New Zealand law firms, which generates substantial benefits for its members.
- have brought in Brian Steele to chair their advisory board and bring the external perspective that so many law firms are lacking;
- are undergoing an entire brand refresh, which will look awesome, with support from Meri Gracia;
- are building a new website and approach to marketing their distinctive capabilities; and
- are moving to larger premises to support their ambitious growth plans.
Ford Sumner is hiring!
Ford Sumner are also hiring, and looking for two outstanding intermediate 3+ years PQE Commercial and Dispute Resolution/Employment Lawyers. Applications close on 20 November 2018, so if you or someone you know wants to work in a firm that is clearly going places and a lot of fun to work with, check out the details here.
This is definitely not normal!
Many smaller firms do not appear to work in this way. I recently spoke to a partner in one small – but currently successful - firm who said that because a couple of his partners would want to retire in the next couple of years, there was no way they would be able to spend any money on new technology while they were still there. When they leave, they only get paid out their current account and so any increase in the long term value of the firm is of little relevance to them.
How to deal with that type of situation is a topic for another day, but it must be dealt with!
What should you do next?
- If you’re a young lawyer looking for a job with a Wellington law firm that has good clients and work, and plans to grow in ways that will create further opportunities for you, check out their vacancies.
- If you are a small law firm:
- check out the LawPlus Group, as you’re probably spending more than you need to for your key services.
- if you have partners that are acting as a handbrake until they retire, find a way to deal with it. Waiting for 2-3 years until they leave is not the way to protect your business.
- if you’d like to work like Ford Sumner, talk to us. It’s a $3.5bn/annum legal market – there’s room for lots of firms to grow!
- do nothing. This is only one example, and you’re still making tonnes of money on this basic work. Not much will change in 2019, so there’s no rush.*
- If you’re a client of a “do nothing” firm, are sick of having to “fork out for a solicitor every time you want a new agreement or contract”, and you want an agile firm that can support you in the way that Ford Sumner have supported Nelson Airport, give Jaesen, Sarah or Mark a call. With their online system, they can support you anywhere you are in New Zealand.
*Not what I recommend, but I know many of you will be thinking exactly this.