With a highly entrepreneurial client base and a track record for innovation, Taylor Vinters are regarded by many as a key driver of change within the legal sector. We met with Managing Partner, Ed Turner, to learn about this culture of innovation, the role that he plays as leader, the benefits of looking outside the sector for inspiration and why sometimes it’s better to let others leap first.
How close does a Managing Partner now need to be to technology?
The need for deep technical knowledge is limited. The thing that I’ve always tried to stay close to is the use cases, which in itself is quite a big task. In my organisation, there are people that understand technology much better than I do and I don’t feel the need to try and emulate that expertise. I will listen to what they have to say while keeping my focus on what we’re trying to achieve as an organisation and how might technology assist us in that journey.
How comfortable with technology do you believe the typical partner is?
The typical partner is reasonably uncomfortable with technology, principally because they are busy, under pressure and focused almost entirely on the needs of their clients. They have a broad understanding of the technology out there, but most of them don’t get an opportunity to stand back and think about its future implications.
How do you keep your finger on the pulse with technology?
We work almost exclusively with innovators and entrepreneurs so by sheer osmosis we have a steady flow of ideas for how technology is likely to affect our business.
One of the things we’ve always tried to do is emulate our clients and not our sector. Our view is that part of our value can come from the empathy and belonging that comes from being in a tribe, and for us that tribe is innovators and entrepreneurs. We turn over just under 20 million so it doesn’t afford us the luxury of being able to direct future technology, but what we can do is learn from our clients and adopt the ideas that appear most relevant.
“One of the things we’ve always tried to do is emulate our clients and not our sector. Our view is that part of our value can come from the empathy and belonging that comes from being in a tribe, and for us that tribe is innovators and entrepreneurs.”
This ecosystem has also given us the opportunity to invest in a couple of legal tech early-stage businesses. The main implication of which has been that it’s brought us into the conversation about legal technology. It’s given us a place at the table.
Interestingly, that experience has also led us to take the conscious decision not to invest in the cutting edge of technology, but to sit back in the peloton and watch how it all develops so that we can respond quickly when something truly relevant emerge.
How important is it for a modern law firm to have a culture of innovation?
Having a culture of innovation is a positive thing but you need to be clear on why you’re doing it, and that begins with the organisational strategy. This is crucially important not only in terms of decision making but also in terms of implementation.
As a leader of a law firm you’re looking at an incredibly diverse set of options in the market so if you’ve got clarity of what you’re trying to achieve then immediately you have a clear framework against which to make those decisions. You can then look at the role technology will play in the execution of that strategy.
“Having a culture of innovation is a positive thing but you need to be clear on why you’re doing it, and that begins with the organisational strategy.”
You also have to be very aware of the disruption that innovation may cause. The change process very rarely comes about overnight, and there tends to be a sense of going backwards before you can move forward. You therefore need to get all the key people on board so that they are willing to make the necessary personal investment.
What have been the key lessons you’ve learned in driving through successful organisational change?
In overcoming resistance to the implementation of new technologies, we can often draw on our clients, even inviting them in to talk about their experiences.
Otherwise, I think there’s no magic formula for the implementation of new working practices and the introduction of new technology. There’s lots of good, well-trodden project management discipline that’s as relevant now as it was 20 or 30 years ago. It’s about explaining what the individual benefits are and working through a well thought out project plan without exposing yourself to too much risk. Don’t start large and don’t waste your time banging your head against a brick wall with the people who are never going to adopt. Start with those who are going to be naturally enthusiastic about change, get them to do some of the early pathfinding and as you get some results you can begin to build a strong business case for the undecided; your second wave of adopters.
“You, therefore, have to work quite hard to reframe that so that learning in the implementation of projects is not seen as a failure but success.”
One of the things that underpins successful innovation is an ability to fail, learn and move on quickly. That is quite difficult in a law firm environment, principally because the psychology of lawyers is achievement-driven so failure is perceived as a very negative thing. You, therefore, have to work quite hard to reframe that so that learning in the implementation of projects is not seen as a failure but success – “So that didn’t work but you learnt this as a result… Well done!”. You have to ensure that those individuals that are willing to take a personal risk are held up as heroes rather than being vilified for failure.
And what you often see in a competitive, achievement-driven environment like this is that when something starts to work for one person, then immediately everyone else wants it!
Where would you advise other firms to begin with their transformation?
The most transformative change we’ve made didn’t use any fancy new software, but rather involved external experts helping us make more effective use of our existing technology. The focus of this particular project concerned the way we on-boarded our clients. We shifted from each lawyer being responsible for agreeing the terms by which they’d work for a client, towards a more tightly controlled and centralised process.
The driver behind this was the great inconsistency we saw when reviewing how each lawyer approached on-boarding. All sorts of steps were being skipped, which was not only a breach of our regulatory requirements but also really bad client service. Perhaps the greatest issue of all, however, was the huge variance in pricing.
“We started the process thinking about efficiency saving, but actually all of the early wins came in transformational client care, regulatory compliance, greater pricing control and an ability to drive returns.”
So we began by reviewing the systems and took centralised control. You couldn’t open a file without going through the new process, and we managed all the options, including the price, which had profound implications on our profitability.
We started the process thinking about efficiency saving, but actually all of the early wins came in transformational client care, regulatory compliance, greater pricing control and an ability to drive returns. It’s important to stress, however, that control was only ceded to us by the partners because we had a really detailed conversation beforehand in which we explained “We’re doing this for these reason and these are the benefits from a regulatory point of view, from a client point of view, and, most importantly, from your point of view…”
So, client on-boarding is definitely a great place to start and will repay you year after year, although I would say not to do it without help because it’s a complex job and there are people out there who will ensure you take the greatest possible value from the process. After all, technology investment doesn’t need to always be in the actual software, but rather in good quality advice and guidance.
“Technology investment doesn’t need to always be in the actual software, but rather in good quality advice and guidance.”