Ahead By A Century
There's little doubt that the Tragically Hip's 'Ahead by a Century' was not written with the legal profession in mind. However, the mark of iconic music and musicians is that they often transcend their original meaning and purpose. So, "with illusions of someday casting a golden light...", we continue to build Aspire Legal. While we are certainly not ahead by a century yet, we are aiming to be the law firm of the 21st century – but what does that really mean?
While we embrace technology and are focused on being paperless and wireless, is that truly what it means to be the law firm of the 21st century? Is it that defined, that proscriptive? Surely not. Surely, we are have to move beyond the one size fits all model and recognize that globalization, diversification, and disintermediation have forever changed the needs of all clients from the individual low-income client to the multi-national corporation.
So, if client needs and demands are indefinite and subject to change, is the law firm of the 21st century not one that can respond with agility and innovation? If that's the case, then where do we begin, if not the bricks and mortar?
Over the past few months there has been a recurring theme in my discussions about Aspire Legal and what we seek to achieve. This theme has focused on the barriers to innovation in the legal profession, with the biggest barrier being our culture. While there are always exceptions to the rule, we have developed a culture that is risk adverse, protectionist, and autonomous. Our culture does not permit mistakes and, instead, demands perfection. While, certainly, this type of culture was purposeful in that it sought to protect the client and public interest, it is a culture that now stymies innovation and therefore cannot easily respond with agility to the changing needs of clients.
The answer then, is to begin with something more powerful and impactful than the bricks and mortar - begin with culture. In building Aspire Legal we have been absolutely purposeful in building our culture, taking deliberate steps and consistent actions to build a culture of client-centered efficiency, agility, and innovation. Practically speaking this looks like:
Me, as the team leader, seeking and being genuinely open to input and feedback from the clients and students,
Leveraging people's strengths while encouraging everyone to try/learn something new,
Openly admitting when you don't have the answer and working with others to find it,
Sharing information and knowledge and expecting everyone to do the same,
Having frequent discussions about risks - how to avoid what we can and mitigate what we can't,
Carving out dedicated time to discuss lessons learned, and refine our processes and workflows,
Establishing that continuous improvement, not perfection, is the expectation, and
Being able to laugh at yourself while encouraging others to do the same.
So, are we 'Ahead by A Century'? Not yet, but we're certainly building the culture that will get us there.