Connecting North West business to relevant training, insight, conversation and each other

Building a law firm of the future

This article first featured in Issue 60 of Modern Law Magazine

The current landscape

If necessity is the mother of invention, then it stands to reason that success can, and does, breed complacency. It’s where many law firms have found themselves, decades beyond the dawn of the digital revolution with only a yawning realisation of its value. Revenue and growth remain strong, so why fix what isn’t broken? Except that within an increasingly dynamic marketplace, suddenly necessity rears its head and closely in its shadow comes its offspring – invention.

Where does Napthens sit?

I come from an industry wildly different to the Law. Over the last decade I’ve been leading global teams of software engineers in the Big Data and Data Science industries. These are industries at the forefront of new technology. Not just embracing change, but actively driving it – building new products and forging exciting new ways to think about and utilise data. So why do I find myself in an industry that’s arguably decades behind others, waking up to the realisation that maybe technology isn’t such a bad thing after all?

Because Napthens are onto something quite special. As a mid-size law firm, we’re in a sweet spot for innovation and change. We’re small enough to be dynamic and flexible, responding to changes in the market and implementing innovative processes quickly, whilst being large enough to give meaningful support to new projects and ideas.  This is a firm with excellent fundamentals – our law and the people who practice it are top notch. I envisage us as an F-22 fighter jet taxiing on the runway… and it isn’t going to take much before you hear us make that sonic boom!

So what changed for us?

The pandemic changed the world for all of us. From the obvious need to work more flexibly, to the slightly more nuanced need to retain talent by recognising employees changing priorities. For many firms it was a rude awakening, but for Napthens it just accelerated what we were already on to – the need to embrace change.

Change can be looked at through many lenses. One of fear of the unknown, of the complexity that it brings and the discomfort of something new. Equally it brings opportunity. Get change right and, as a firm, you can do very well. Get it very right, and you can lead the revolution of an entire industry

What are we doing about it?

Digital transformation is a well-trodden path in other industries. It’s one of the reasons Napthens has grown its supporting teams with the introduction of experienced people from those industries. The template for successful transformation is not a mystery. Define your vision, one backed by data not just the anecdotal “gut feel” that pervades so many board rooms, and set a strategy to deliver it.

For Napthens that starts with our CEO – Alex Hatchman. She has set a very clear vision for what Napthens will achieve over the coming years. It’s my job to ensure that everything that we do across our company is pulling in the same direction to achieve that vision. How do we do that? With those well-trodden transformation basics – a clear vision leads to a clear strategy, underpinned by great governance, buy-in from every level of the firm and to top it off, some rockstar transformation specialists to guide us every step of the way.

It’s crucial that we recognise that successful innovation and change takes both a top down and bottom up approach. From the top we set our direction of travel, but our true experts are our lawyers. They know what works well, what doesn’t and where improvements can be made. One of the most important facets of embedding successful change is providing a voice to those experts. That’s not just a workshop here and there to capture ideas, it’s a realistic means for those on the front line to see their ideas become a reality. If something isn’t working for our lawyers, they know that my team is there to help them change it.

Enough blue sky nonsense, what does that look like in reality? So far 2022 has been about shoring up the foundations. That means getting our infrastructure, our base operations, our bread and butter dialled in just right. We want our lawyers to come in to work knowing that they are well supported and able to spend their time doing what they do best. That means less time on the phone to our IT Helpdesk, and more time working with our clients.

Beyond that is where it starts to get really exciting. We are heavily invested in transforming how we engage with our customers. For Joe Public, an interaction with a law firm, often starts with punching in a number they found on a website. Usually it will involve a lot of back and forth, a lot of manual handling of documentation which can be stressful and is, quite frankly, archaic.

Let’s look at other industries for a moment. You can now open a bank account on your phone in less than 15 minutes. You can modify your car insurance in seconds, all whilst sat in a hot tub you bought yesterday through an app on your phone. So why should the law be any different?

Beyond our foundations, the future of Napthens is about making our legal services available to wider markets through modern, tech-enabled mediums. Not only does that strengthen our business and widen our reach, but it also gives us the means to continually improve what we do. Tech enablement doesn’t just mean better efficiency, increased margins and wider market reach, it generates something incredibly valuable – data.

The data we gather through our tech-enabled customer journeys is one of the most valuable resources for future proofing. It allows us to apply scientific method to our business decisions.

To test and learn, fail fast, improvise, adapt and overcome… it’s an incredibly exciting time for us, so, keep an ear out for those sonic booms!