“We often speak of the violence of the river, but never of the violence of the banks that confine it.”
Unlike the current UK Government (see the utter car crash of an interview with Chloe Smith) – I am happy to admit that I have changed my mind!
For years I have always thought that “open plan” was corporate speak for “crating the workers”. In fact, even Robert Propst, father of the ‘cubicle’ later reflected on his legacy as a “monolithic insanity”. In fairness to Propst, his original concept of the “Action Office” that would give people more space to spread out over, increasing productivity in place of closed off offices with stacked in-trays.
As with so many visionaries, Propst had failed to foresee the opportunity his system offered to corporates to dramatically reduce and depersonalise working space.
The second problem, historically, with “open plan” is that it does not promote intended challenge to traditional hierarchy as those with the power to choose, have chosen the office as a corporate status symbol.
Well, I was wrong. Yes, the corporate penchant for “packing ‘em in and paying ‘em cheap” remains abhorant……….but the basic principle of Propst remains sound. Mitchell Kowalski’s “Avoiding Extinction” makes a compelling case for open, flexible working spaces to promote energy, interaction, co-creation, good governance, team working, knowledge share, etc.
A quick survey on Twitter and LinkedIn suggested that most people felt the benefits outweighed any downsides. However, as you may expect, I think there are some golden rules:
- It has to be for all, no hierarchy;
- Rooms for group calls or smaller team sessions should be available;
- No cubicles;
- Seating flexible so that teams form and sit together for particular legal projects;
- IT to support mobile and cloud based team working;
- No desk phones;
- Decent coffee machines (compensation);
- Light and open spaces; and
- Encouraging working from home for head down type work.
Walls are like the banks of the river, they violently constrain creativity.
To be sung to the Pulp, classic, DISCO 2000
I said things will have improved in the year 2012.
Won’t it be strange when fees aren’t by the hour.
Be there at 2 o’clock by the ABS down the road.
- Lawyers become narrower in scope (but deeper in domain specialism) the more qualified they are; and
- Firms have a short term view to buy specialism rather than adaptable intellect.
* Marshall McLuhan, was known for coining the expressions “the medium is the message” and “the global village” and predicted the World Wide Web almost thirty years before it was invented. [WIKI-LINK].
“Guruitis is a scourge of our time, listen people there is no THE answer, there are a number of possible answers. There is no THE book but a number of books worth reading”.
Stephen Allen, @LexFuturus May 2012
Let me tell you about a book worth reading, in fact I would go as far to say that if you only had time to read one book on the future of the legal services market, then this is the book you should read.
Avoiding Extinction: Reimaging Legal Services for the 21st Century, by Mitchell Kowalski (@mekowalski) is a fictional narrative detailing the visionary law firm of Bowen, Fong and Chandri (“BFC”) and their client Kowtor Industries.
BFC, headed by the mercurial Sylvester Bowen, set out the case of a reimagined legal service provider to their future client, a new recruit and a member of their board of directors.
So, why do I say this is a must read book?
Firstly, with amazing brevity – less than 200 pages, Kowalski provides the reader with a vivid depiction of what is possible when the starting point is giving the client what they want, rather than trying to fit what you already do to the clients want. I can do little better than to quote BFC’s mantra:
“BFC performs legal services that differ from those of our rivals, or, similar legal services, but in a very different way.”
Secondly, it tackles the “biggies” in terms of: project management; value pricing; technology; knowledge management; recruitment; reward; work space; team work; alternative sourcing; management; and leveraging your assets. All in this one book, less than 200 pages.
Thirdly, it references the theorists, but through believable examples, including: Boake & Kathuria; Martin; Mayson; Susskind; Parsons; Posner; and Sharp. This book is your “Oh, but where to start?”
Fourthly, because some of it will make you feel uncomfortable by challenging your status quo. I, personally, have never warmed to the open plan principle but find myself unable to resist the argument (if universally adopted by all).
Finally, because I have worked on a proposition that would have delivered to Kowtor’s RFP and that has demonstrated, in reality, many of the lessons set out in Kowlaski’s book.
However, both of us have come to a similar answer, quite independently of each other and without knowing, at the time, of each other’s existence.
This puts me in mind of Alfred Russel Wallace and Charles Darwin who, quite separately, came up with the theory of evolution. Darwin published the Origin of the Species (dedicating it to Wallace) and Wallace was just happy having his own theory endorsed by recognised great thinker.
Mitchell Kowlaski is Darwin to my Wallace, I am happy to know my theories are shared by someone who is clearly such a great thinker.
Both of us, like Darwin and Wallace, are interested in understating how to avoid extinction, if you are too then read this book.
Post script. A number of people have advised thhe the ABA site is not apply to supply and that Amazon is unable to supply until December.
I am reliably informed that Ben McNally Books in Toronto will send copies to the UK – email the owner at email@example.com and ask him for a copy.
So, the three largest legal regulators in the UK have decided to launch a Legal Education and Training Review (“LETR”), to consider the education and training requirements of the post Legal Service Act “regulated” and “unregulated” worlds.
I like that fact that they are looking at training but I am less keen on their looking at education. Of course, they need to set the entry requirements for those wishing to take a training course with them – I get that.
I also understand why the regulatory bodies need to set the “qualifying” criteria for someone wishing to start a training course.
But that’s it. Law degrees, whilst a useful course for lawyers are not there for the sole purpose of producing lawyers (we’ve got too many now!).
No, studying law is an excellent discipline for young aspiring minds – even if they have no wish to be a practicing lawyer. The skills we develop through the study of law can be applied to a number of careers which do not necessarily require us to know “legal fact”. Not dissimilar to studying psychology.
In fact, one of the great skills learnt on a law course is learning to think in a structured way. I fear that if the professional bodies get their hands on the law degree, then young aspiring minds may be “overstructured” thinking as a practitioner rather than as a scholar.
This is not new, the study of law was the very origin of scholastic pursuits. Doctorates being issued by “Gloassators” (forebears of the university) were law degrees and the first ever University, in the beautiful city of Bologna, was a law school.
Studying the law meant learning to assess facts, understand the machinations of society and judgment. It was seen as a foundation degree for many other fields of study.
Even Dr Faustus studied law. Ok, not a great example.
Separate the academic and the vocational and maybe those that go on to be practitioners may learn more than the practice of law alone can teach them.
Perhaps then, the professions can stop living in the recent past and get back to the future…