What lawyers can learn from retail banking and management consultants

We have now reached the third and final part of this series of blogs on what lawyers can learn from other industries. So far, we have looked at retail, accountancy, investment banking and manufacturing, focusing on client care, financial literacy, and willingness to accept risk and eliminating waste.

I am going to round off the topic by concentrating on two final industries. First, another part of the banking sector – this time retail banking – and how it has adopted IT into its business model. And then, to bring us back to where this thought process began for me (read the first blog if you’re not sure), I am going to look at management consultants and dealing effectively with change. I thought this last topic might be of use at this juncture, on the chance that something in these blogs may have spurred you into action!

Retail banking: adopting IT

I am sure there are plenty of industries one could point to in order to illustrate how IT has changed and reshaped what they do. Perhaps my selection of retail banking is not the most obvious (although I will defend my point shortly). What is perhaps less controversial, however, is the suggestion that lawyers and law firms have a tendency to be slightly behind the curve when it comes to IT adoption and literacy – not all, certainly, but I would venture it is a decent proportion.

Let me develop out the retail banking point first. Consider how you interact with your bank in today’s world. You get cash from an ATM (and not necessarily one offered by your bank), you can pay in notes, cheques and coins through a machine in branch, you can check your balance, transfer money, pay bills and even apply for loans online – the list is endless. What is absent from this is any real form of human interaction.

Now, zoom back a number of years and less and less of these would be true – you can probably stop at the point where you could only withdraw money if you went into the bank to see the cashier and there was parchment and quills flying around.

If we look behind the security screens and go into the back-office of the bank itself, the same story is evident. Where your friendly (or not so friendly) bank manager used to keep a written ledger of your account, this – and everything else – is now automated. Whether it is checking eligibility for a loan (either through credit scoring or otherwise) or the standard day-to-day banking activity, there is now minimal need for human involvement. In fact, it has reached such an extent that some banks will use the opportunity to speak to a person as a sales differentiator!

While I am not suggesting that the legal world could go as far as that, there is a significant amount of technological advancement that could easily be made. Whether it is the more traditional side of case management or CRM solutions, or more advanced practice management software or, indeed, some of the latest technologies around drafting and proofing, the potential is endless.

There will be some that say there is an obvious distinction to be drawn between this type of banking and the law – that the vast majority of the banking functions that have been driven to tech are fairly binary in nature, whereas the law requires human knowledge, skills and experience to interpret. While that will no doubt remain true for some time, I would strongly suggest it cannot last forever (and that the end is already on the horizon). A lot of the decisions we take can be broken down into a process and, from there, data driven – with AI developing all the time, how long is it before we see IT solutions to aid with our risk interpretation?

Management consultants: dealing with change

To bring the story back to where we started, I am back to looking at management consultants. In truth, it fits in nicely with the story but the industry here could be anyone that assists you with how you manage the change process. The important thing is doing it well.

Change is an inevitable part of business. It was only in the 1960s that people really started to get to grips with (and write about) the different personality types that can either drive change or hold it back. It was another 20 years or so before it started to take shape, and then only the 1990s before change management services really became an industry.

So what difference did these developments make? It is perhaps clearer now than it ever was that to lead and manage change successfully, you have to take people with you – whether these are your staff or your customers, having them buy-in to the process and the desired end state is vital to your success. And this is where management consultants inevitably get called in, to leverage their expertise in an effort to guide others through the most effective path.

While it is true that the work of a lawyer will, often, be a part of some kind of change (new supplier, new customer, new technology, etc.), I am not suggesting that we have to be the ones to lead or manage that change. What it is interesting to learn from the way in which the management consulting industry has developed out change management is the psychological angle.

This is similar to concepts that I have spoken about in previous blogs. The success of the change management industry stems from its understanding of the human psyche and knowing that different people react to change and challenge in different ways. There is no one size fits all approach to managing a workforce through change. In turn, there is also no single method for dealing with all of the interactions that you will have each day with colleagues, clients and counterparts. Each of these people – whether on your side or the other side – will need handling in different ways, and it is your job to work them out and adapt your approach accordingly.

On reflection

Although I have divided this series into three parts, I suspect this is a topic that could run and run. When I first started looking into it, I used our internal social media tool (Yammer) to crowd-source some additional ideas from my colleagues and I was genuinely amazed by the number of suggestions. Some I found easier to speak to from experience than others, but all were absolutely valid.

The inescapable truth is that the legal industry – and each of us as individual lawyers – can learn from any number of different businesses and activities and use that to develop our offering. We can have a tendency to look at other similar lawyers and practices and imitate them, but might it not be better if you looked outside of the law entirely, pick the best out of everything you see and then try to adopt it as your own?

Filed Under: Practice of Law

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