It’s What You CAN Do That Counts

Yesterday, Arthel “Doc” Watson died at 89. That he was one of the giants of Bluegrass and Country music is not really the point of this post. The point is that he was that, having been blind from the age of 2 following an infection.

His father gave him a mouth organ when he was a child, and then a home-made banjo (using the skin of the deceased family cat). Lastly, there was a guitar on which he developed a distinctive “flatpicking” style which was to be hugely influential to both folk and pop musicians.

So should the man be judged on the fact that he could not paint a landscape? Or on his musicianship?

Be aware of your weaknesses certainly, and take steps to limit them. That applies to firms as well as individuals. But be very aware of your strengths, develop them and use them. You will be much more effective.

Telegraph obituary here, Alex Massie here (including videos), and further video here (By the Banks of the Ohio).


Tesco Law: How it Works

I admit that this is the Co-op not Tesco, but it illustrates how our brave new legal world will work, as I have predicted.

I picked up a brochure for Co-operative employee benefits this morning. They are very keen on childcare vouchers, although their bike scheme appears to have disappeared. Nestled among the sheets advertising broadband and energy deals was one for Co-operative Legal Services. This covers will writing and probate/estate administration.

All of the brochure is aimed at employers, not employees, and covers ways of providing employee benefits. So the legal services are presented in that light, not least the discounted fees.

The result? The Co-op get the employer to make the introduction to the client, and to push the product (and wills are generally a good idea). Even if the employee has made a will, they may be interested in other services, where the discount will not be available.

And we wonder how the Co-op will keep 3,000 additional staff busy.

Mental Toughness – on a Munro

I was Munro bagging in Scotland over the weekend. Good sunny weather, but with snow on the tops.

On Beinn Dearg (pronounced Ben Jerrick) the snow was particularly noticeable, and two of the party decided to turn back before reaching the top. I decided to press on by myself to the summit, not least because I have been trained in winter hill walking. The view from the top was stunning, with the peaks of the other mountains around picked out in snow. I was quickly joined by another party. And I made it down safely.

This is not a “look at me, I’m hard” post, but this illustrates all four of the parameters of mental toughness.

The first is challenge. I was happy to challenge myself to get to the top though the snow, and to back myself to do so. There was an increased risk in doing so, because I went on alone, and because I broke an ankle last September. But it was a calculated risk.

The second is confidence. Because of previous training and experience, I was confident that I could cope with the snow conditions, and had enough physical stamina to get to the top and back. Additionally, I knew how to cope if things went wrong. Having completed the job, and proved that the confidence is justified, my mountain confidence has increased.

Thirdly, there is commitment. Having started up the mountain, I was prepared to do what was necessary to complete the task and get to the top. Of course, being stupidly committed to the task, such as trying to climb in a blizzard, would have been suicidal.

The fourth and last factor is control. Subject to the weather, what happened was up to me. Even my reaction to the weather was within my control, so I could monitor whether is was likely to rain or snow, and act accordingly.

On each of the parameters, I scored reasonably highly, although within the normal range. And it is as well to emphasise that a high score is not “good” as such. A low score denotes mental sensitivity, which is equally “good” in other circumstance.

Some people think about the view, but I draw business lessons. Worrying in its way……


Mental Toughness

I much enjoyed speaking about mental toughness to the Dudley and District Business Club last night. A good group of people, a good discussion, and good food as well.

The concept of mental toughness developed from observation of sportsmen and sports teams. The winner is not always the fittest or the most talented: there is a mental element as well. The idea of the mind influencing performance can clearly be related to business as well.

But mental toughness has a much wider application. For example, it is being measured in the education field to improve effectiveness. And a carer has to show huge mental toughness to keep going through what is often an unremitting (and sometimes thankless) activity.

The good news is that metal toughness is something that can be developed through training and coaching – but beware that is can also be lost by stress overload.

Don’t Underestimate Lawyers’ Resistance to Change

American based international law firm Seyfarth Shaw have been implementing Lean practices in an effort to increase efficiency and client value.

Chairman J Stephen Poor has noted that resistance to change from lawyers was a major factor to overcome. ABA Journal article here – it is well worth following the link to the original New York Times article. One interesting point is that clients were also resistant to change, many of them being lawyers themselves.

Resistance is always an issue in any change programme, unless there is some kind of crisis which clearly makes change necessary. Persistence and persuasion will be needed whatever the professional background of the people involved. Nobody wants to step outside their comfort zone without a good reason.

Are lawyers worse than anyone else? After all, some lawyers are quite radical and have created great change in the world.

There are reasons why this might be so. Firstly, the nature of the law in Common Law jurisdictions involves precedent, the way things have been done before. Secondly, presenting documents in the way that others expect to see them makes them effective – again, “this is the way things are done.” Thirdly, changes in the law are beyond an individual lawyer’s scope – another professional may be able to devise an innovative solution to a problem. Lastly, law firms tend to be long lived. I used to work for a firm, part of which was founded in 1790 (which looked good on a photocopier lease). One reason is the partnership model, which limited capital raising power (no limited liability or external shareholders) and made owners risk averse.

And lawyers are trained to argue their case, and will do so given half an opportunity. Winning the argument can become more important than being right.

So for any change programme in your firm, make sure that those at the top buy into it, and are prepared to put in the energy necessary to get it done.

Growth of Fixed Fees

There was an interesting report this week that Riverview Chambers are offering fixed fees in divorce cases for high net worth individuals.

What is particularly unusual is that this is at the top end of the market. Fixed fees would normally be more common lower down, where value for money and the need for certainty might be more important.

Riverview Law also offer fixed fees in divorce.

So the strategy of some chambers and firms of moving up market for higher fees may be under threat.

Gazette report here, Riverview Chambers here and Riverview Law’s divorce page is here.