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I have just been listening to Leonard Cohen's wonderful new album "Popular Problems". A remarkable piece of work in any circumstances, it is all the more so having been conceived by a man who celebrated his 80th birthday this year, and is in the form of his life.
Leonard Cohen is a uniquely gifted artist, but his late flowering of energy and creativity is far from unique. It can be seen everywhere. For example, according to research from trend-forecasting specialists Future Laboratory, a surge of entrepreneurial spirit has struck Britons aged 60 and over. At the moment, there are 1.7m business leaders of pensionable age. By the end of the decade, these "Boomerpreneurs", as Future Laboratory calls them, will top 2m. A life consisting of Saga cruises, golf, bridge and Antiques Roadshow is emphatically not for them.
According to the Office of National Statistics, one in five working people over 50 is now self-employed. They are good at it; 70% of their start-ups are still going after five years, compared to 28% for their younger counterparts. Wisdom, experience, and patience count for a lot it seems.
There are a number of reasons for this trend, both positive and negative. On the plus side, this generation does not see itself as old. Many of its members are active, energetic, have most of their teeth, all their faculties and no intention of fading away quietly. But the recession has also played a big part, particularly in the way it has created unemployment and slashed the value of pensions, forcing many people to rethink their futures. For them work is not a source of fulfilment, but a daily necessity.
These figures raise an interesting question: is the way the profession markets itself to this demographic in need of an overhaul? Traditionally, the focus has been almost exclusively on wills, estate planning and powers of attorney. The tone tends to be unremittingly solemn.
Take, for example, the current radio campaign that seems to sense whenever I am in the car, featuring funereal piano music, a man with the demeanour of an undertaker recently informed that he's next, and whose message, distilled to its essence is, "See us quick Grandpa, before you snuff it."
I do not mean to be unkind or disrespectful. Private client services for older people are tremendously important, and the profession fulfils a vital role. But two points seem clear. First, the message is not getting through; around 70% of the population does not have a will. Secondly, while the over-sixties acknowledge the possibility of death, they are much more interested in life, and have an increasing need for all manner of business and private client services – corporate, property, employment, tax, financial services – most of which are not being targeted scientifically by the profession.
In general, law firms are quite unsophisticated when it comes to profiling and segmenting their clients. Tesco is in disarray at the moment, but in its prime was years ahead of the competition, pioneering loyalty cards which gave it priceless data on who its customers were and what they wanted. Ask most law firms to run data on the age, marital status, occupation, or income of its clients and you will be met with blank looks, or misguided protests that such questions are intrusive. Hence, year in, year out, opportunities for intelligent marketing and extracting the maximum value from relationships go begging.
"Tesco Law" is a term of abuse in many places. But they can teach us a lot. When law firms reap the benefits of the same rigorous approach to "know your client" it will indeed be (sorry, Leonard) a Hallelujah! moment.
First published on Journal Online
Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds, a multi-award-winning law firm which grew from a sole practice to become a UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and trusted adviser to leading firms nationwide and internationally. e: firstname.lastname@example.org; t: 07968 484232; w: www.stephengold.co.uk; twitter: @thewordofgold
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