Whether you're a sololawyer or a NewHuman lawyer in an international behemoth, to future-proof your career you will need to embrace the evolution and rise of SocialHuman Lawyer, says Chrissie Lightfoot.
The question you ought to be asking yourself with regard to future-proofing your livelihood, career and/or business, like the David’s (some of whom I will share with you in a moment) and the Goliath’s (one of which I will share in a moment), is: ‘should we be reinventing our entire marketing, sales, PR, and business development approach to embrace, involve, and engage all of our lawyers in SocialHuman activities?’ The answer is obvious. If it is not, perhaps the knowledge that the Law Society of England and Wales has already laid down social media guidance for solicitors and the New York bar is currently mulling over proposed “social media rules for lawyers" ought to give you a clue.
The real challenge therefore for ‘the firm’ and every lawyer, you, is to embrace the SocialHuman revolution for the benefit of the potential client and existing client; ultimately the business of law will benefit and (hopefully) you will too. In order to do this you must truly know yourself (for “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” – Aristotle), adapt, innovate, and defy your comfort zone. Take a risk. If needs be, you need to take the lead - and be the captain of your own mothership - rather than follow. To give you comfort, and a nudge, it is widely accepted that great leaders tend to understand the human side of business. It’s time for you to ‘get naked’.
The single most important career decision you’ll ever make is to niche and create your personal brand. I am living proof of this statement. You have ‘my story’ and HOW to do this in The Naked Lawyer, but permit me to share with you sterling examples of three SocialHuman lawyers who have followed this advice successfully, the David’s of the legal eco-system (and there are many more) who have already boldly gone in future-proofing their livelihoods by marketing themselves in readiness for the Robotic Age, where the Goliath’s feared to tread, until now: Gary Assim, Mike Willis and Sinead King.
Gary Assim – The Image Lawyer
Gary Assim is Head of Retail and Intellectual Property Group Leader at Shoosmiths LLP. His area of expertise is Intellectual Property - image and design rights in particular - and his niches include fashion, retail and the creative industries. His personal brand is ‘The Image Lawyer’ (no-brainer), devised back in 2012 once he’d worked on his EI, got creative, and worked out his niches.
As celebrity culture has grown in recent years so has the sophistication of public figures in protecting and exploiting their images and personal brands to yield significant financial returns. Gary spotted this niche and now advises across all areas of the protection, exploitation and enforcement of image rights from challenging the misuse of an individual's image and reputation, to preparing product endorsement agreements. Gary and his team’s experience includes advising a photo licensing agency on the acquisition of images of David Beckham at the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
Although the UK does not currently have any established law on image rights other parts of Europe certainly do and Guernsey pioneers in actual Image Rights Law. Albeit the law in this area is still developing in the UK and elsewhere, Gary works closely with colleagues abroad to ensure that his clients always have the necessary safeguards in place to be compliant wherever they operate. Gary Assim has managed to cut a real niche and name for himself as the ‘Go To’ lawyer for this kind of legal service.
Mike Willis – The Professional’s B(r)and-Aid
Mike is a professional risks lawyer who specialises in curing problems for professionals who are facing claims, internal disputes, insurance issues or regulatory issues. He is clearly pioneering in an area which is largely untapped here in the UK at present. Albeit there are lawyers and consultants ten-a-penny who niche and specialise in compliance and regulation, and technology companies such as RAVN with one of its four products – RAVN Govern - within its RAVN ACE platform that specialises in policing, compliance and risk analytics which is powered by their Applied Cognitive Engine bringing together different technologies from the fields of Information Retrieval, Cognitive Computing and AI in a coherent, enterprise ready solution, Mike niches in a human service for professionals at that painful point of ‘Uh-Oh’; that is, the point of no return when the **it has totally hit the fan regardless of how many human and machine systems are in place to mitigate that awful circumstance.
Understandably, his personal brand is ‘The Professional’s B(r)and-Aid’. You may recall a piece he wrote in the Global Legal Post recently about costs risks? In a Digital, AI and Robotic world, with cyber exposure a constant threat and problem, for example, increasing new account fraud and cyber-crime on the rise, a legal world where law firms are culling lawyerly insurance roles by the tens per firm and an insurance world where insurance companies are convinced they need to invest in tech startups to avoid extinction with the very real fear that insurers will disappear amid the tech revolution, I can confidently predict that there will remain many Uh-Oh moments ahead for professional service firms and employees. To err is human. Mike can help us when we have to make critical decisions confronting our business… decisions like:
• Should I sue on a bad debt – or am I vulnerable to disproportionate retaliation?
• How do I tell insurers of my peril in a way that transfers the risk without scaring them to an extent that endangers next year’s renewal, or at least inflates the insurance premium?
• Do Insurers in fact have to be told, and how should I treat with them once they have been told – especially if I’m uneasy about what they’re doing, or the terms of my cover?
• What action or measures can/must be taken meanwhile?
• How do I deal with an exposure that is not insured/able?
• What are the commercial priorities of the business and do these conflict with others?
• How do I manage our conflicts of interest?
• What and how do I tell our professional regulator?
• What and how do I tell Partners, investors, bank, staff or other stakeholders?
For as long as human nature, at its best, seeks to continually improve and explore, for example, to press on with technological development and enhancement in every respect, and at its worst extols the seven vices of mankind, particularly in our digital world full of fraudsters and hackers, the humans and machines involved in delivering legal services throughout the legal-ecosystem will certainly be needing the likes of Mike Willis and his company.
Sinead King – The Entrepreneur Advocate
Sinead is a barrister at 36 Bedford Row, London. Taking swift action and using her initiative with the opportunity handed down by Direct Access – where, in theory, SME’s can now get a barrister on their side and lower legal costs - Sinead used her imagination, applied herself creatively, took a risk, and immediately branded and positioned herself successfully as a barrister, business strategist and non-executive who works with entrepreneurial, pragmatic and bright business people within a range of organisations across a handful of niches and sectors. When I interviewed Sinead for this article I asked her what her real forte and USP (unique selling point) is. To which she replied: "Solicitors have used barristers for many years to give a swift assessment of a legal issue before matters hit the buffers, but the public has been far less aware of the role we can play - largely because as a profession we’ve been pretty slow to embrace marketing. But we’re purpose built to advise, and because we’re the ones fighting in court when things go wrong, we’re in a very good position to anticipate obstacles before they do.”
She continued:“My focus is to work out a solution that gets the client as cleanly, swiftly, and cost effectively out of whatever mess they’ve got themselves into before proceedings kick in. That said, I work with Starts Ups and SMEs, and their size makes them vulnerable to attack by much larger players, who don’t always fight fair: strategic use of a direct access barrister can really level up the playing field when your opponent can command much larger financial resources, and is prepared to deploy serious money in order to bully you into submission, just because they can.”
I must say, it’s rather refreshing to meet a barrister that actually wants to help a client negate costly proceedings rather than light a match under a box of tinder! I’ve met many solicitors and barristers who fuel litigious matters, for obvious reasons. However, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here that the smart barrister now, such as Sinead, will recognise that future-proofing one’s career lies in being totally client-centric and empathising with a client.
It was clear when I first met Sinead that she deals primarily with positive minded entrepreneurs: “I don’t frown on professional grudge holders or victims – I just don’t want to work with them. Some clients see their lawyer’s role as client appeasement, I don’t: it’s not my role to keep litigation going when it’s abundantly clear that my client doesn’t have an argument. I see my role as helping SMEs and Start Ups get on with business without being tied up in legal knots along the way.”
I reckon it’s commendable that a barrister desires to help clients before the damage-limitation stage; that is, Sinead has positioned herself to the marketplace as someone who is willing to help the client earlier so they don’t fall into the bear traps in the first place, even though she has a complete toolbox of skills to deal with the ‘Uh-Oh’ moment, just like Mike.
After spending a couple of hours in her company it was abundantly clear Sinead holds a glowing candle for helping either respondent or claimant entrepreneurs (serial / women / young), board members, executives and strategic decision-makers primarily in the technology, gaming, media and creative sectors; the kind of sectors that will grow in the future and no doubt supply a steady stream of enquiries in the months, years and decades to come.
You will not be surprised to learn that Sinead’s personal brand is ‘The Entrepreneur Advocate’. Sinead wrapped up our meeting with a touching comment which I shall share with you: “Whether it’s about saving the world, or just saving a bit of sanity for us all with solutions to first world business problems, a good innovation and a positive mindset is a source of joy for me”.
Dinosaurs welcome meteors
Up until very recently I would have been inclined to agree that “Large corporations welcome innovation and individualism in the same way the dinosaurs welcomed large meteors.” (Dilbert). But I am pleased to be proved wrong. I was pleasantly surprised by the open-mindedness of the delegates and management, and innovative nature of the work environment at last weekend's partner retreat at A&O in Amsterdam. The ‘futuristic’ layout of the conference room had a space-ship feel about it complemented with comfy sofas and ‘robot’ cushions; I’m confident the head of JLL legal sector services, Alexander Low, would have been rather impressed also with the work-room design. Even the question and answer session was innovative, by law firm standards, with the microphone being an orange ‘catch box’ (soft foam square object) that the presenter hurled at the delegate when (s)he raised a hand to ask their keen, curious and/or probing question.
After my thoroughly fun and enjoyable, albeit somewhat challenging, experience at A&O – for as in the majority of law firms the range of personalities stretched from doubting Thomas nayser to pioneer ready to martial a revolution - it is fair to say that traditional lawyering together with traditional technology and traditional methods of marketing and networking can (and will no doubt) blend and exist harmoniously with SocialHuman lawyering together with NewTech and NewHuman, as they evolve.
As an outcome of my speaking at the partners retreat event at A&O’s office in Amsterdam last weekend, the fact that the partners are now fully aware of the Naked Lawyer series, messages and insights and the possibility that all of their lawyers at A&O in Amsterdam may now read either the The Naked Lawyer and/or Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer can only be a positive.
The rate of acceptance in this Digital Age in embracing technology, AI, and robotics and the transition toward an AI and Robotic Age may vary incrementally across jurisdictions, nations, cultures and individuals, but one thing shall remain constant: the human spirit. The world and the legal eco-system will remain human and social from sololawyer David to international Goliath. Our human spirit will differentiate man from machine, in whatever guise. Although it takes courage to be creative, to dare to be different, to think and act differently, and to run to the other way when the herd is ambling along towards the edge of a cliff, and it’s much easier and safer to conform, remember this:
Little engages the human mind more than a mystery.
Little draws the human heart more than a call to be true.
Your spirit wakes up when it discovers a mystery that shows you a way to be true.
Your awakening will only be one choice away.
Make the choice to go that way.
Follow it through and embrace your Awakening.
Chrissie Lightfoot is author of Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw – How to be successful 2015 to 2045. (published Nov 2014 ), and its prequel bestseller The Naked Lawyer: RIP to XXX – How to Market, Brand and Sell You! (Nov 2010). You can pick up her latest book today by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call +44(0) 207 566 5792.