How Lawyers Are Using Disruptive Thinking to Deliver for Clients

By Counsel Amanda Onions, Hogan Lovells

My step father was a blue collar worker who brought me up in 70's Britain against a backdrop of strikes and dreams of 'The Good Life'.

"Be a lawyer," he said to me when I was knee high. "You'll never be out of work and you'll always make a more than decent living". He wasn't far wrong. It was a pretty good choice. But the law these days doesn't necessarily offer the longevity and security of tenure it once did. Back in the day, provided you were clever, or connected, or better still, both, you would most likely do quite well in the City. But clever and connected just don't cut it anymore. 

Clients have long waxed lyrical about their lawyers telling them 'no' without finding a solution that resulted in a 'yes'. Delivering the law in a sound technical way is one thing. But clients need solutions to their problems, not reasons why they can't solve them.

So, enter the millennial adviser – an entrepreneurially sharp aggravator who turns the problem on its head to uncover the solution. This disruptor understands not only his or her client's business, but also the client's decision making process, reasoning and leadership style. Coupled with an understanding of the bigger picture, of the types of things that influence commerce more broadly and a good grasp on what steers modern day society, the millennial adviser needs to deliver on some pretty high expectations.

Graduates too have higher expectations of their work life. Here at Hogan Lovells there is a strong recognition that new entrants to the legal profession expect a lot from their careers – and not all of it financial. Since 2008, many people, not just those in the legal profession, now demand that their work is sufficiently balanced such that when the next Black Swan swoops in, what is left after all remnants of normality have been looted, is the kind of personal satisfaction and feeling of worth necessary to endure the stress points.

As a law firm, we have talked a lot with our clients. We not only talked - but we listened too. We also listened to our junior lawyers and we listened to our global workforce. Our lawyers didn't want us paying lip service to a clichéd CSR policy. They wanted to know that they could actually turn their skills to supporting businesses with impact, enabling them to grow to scale and facilitating the establishment of long term commercial relationships with business leaders whose businesses they had been able to influence right from the very beginning.

Hogan Lovells Business and Social Enterprise school (HL BaSE) was borne out of those discussions – its purpose twofold. HL BaSE brings business understanding to junior lawyers so that they are better equipped to understand their clients' critical decision making. Our clients acknowledge that this is important for all our lawyers not just their relationship partners. After all, it’s the junior lawyers at the front line, most likely to see round the next bend. HL BaSE also teaches the importance of impact.

Nicola Evans, our leading partner on the HL BaSE project summed this part up perfectly - it's all about taking responsibility for the world around us – our privileged position does not exempt us from that responsibility. And that is just as important for the lawyers as it is for the businesses that they advise and matters as much at the mainstream commercial end of the spectrum as it does at the philanthropic end. After all, doing good business is not about charity, it's about risk management, business integrity and, yes – profit.

Delivering and measuring impact has become a business strategy in its own right. From Unilever's 'Brands with a Purpose' to Kingfisher's Veronique Laury calling for a "society that is better for all" (The Guardian, 24 August 2015) the need for social responsibility and accountability is pervading mainstream business in many ways.

From the point of view of retaining talent, how we do business is as important to retaining employee allegiance as pay. Many young professionals will only work for businesses that share their values. As impact measurement methodology improves it is becoming clear that the price for delivering impact is not depleted returns - in fact the opposite can often be true. By delivering our business training at a junior level and acknowledging this impact evolution, HL BaSE is able to deliver its objectives – to take responsibility; acknowledge what drives our future leaders and to deliver a solutions based product to clients, whatever their focus.

HL BaSE is a two day programme where our junior lawyers get the opportunity to speak to social entrepreneurs and business leaders, tackle business modelling using interactive tools, and get hands on experience dealing with real time client issues. Participants, who include a number of client delegates, are inspired by what they see as a genuine demonstration of the importance that our business places on impact, whether as part of our own business model or where impact forms part of our clients' strategies. The clients that the HL BaSE delegates get to work with as part of the program don't separate impact from financial returns, understanding that if a business is to be sustainable and continue to deliver impact, 'profit' cannot be a dirty word.

HL BaSE is about culture change and shifting culture is a long and slow process. But by delivering the programme at profession entry level the firm hopes this approach to business fundamentals learning will embed itself in the DNA of our firm, making disruptive and innovative legal service part of 'business as usual'.