Huxley and the legal world

Brave new world.   I think we must have all heard that phrase used dozens of times over the last few years to describe what’s happening in the legal profession. To describe the ‘new normal’.

But it’s interesting: because what is happening in the legal profession does not in any way resemble the brave new world of the novel. If anything, Huxley’s image of a status driven, rigid society where everyone knows their place, (a world full of alphas, betas and gammas – sound familiar?), a world that hates un-orthodoxy is more reflective of what the profession used to be.

The year, our research reveals lawyers being, not just innovative, but un-orthodox. And this un-orthodoxy, rather than threatening society, is what businesses needs. The best ideas, in the research are those that have been turned on their heads.

We have been publishing the FT Innovative Lawyers report for six years in Europe. And that period takes in three years of boom and three years of bust. It’s a good “before and after” lens in which to look at the profession.

In the first three reports, the references we took from clients were complimentary and the lawyers’ work was excellent. But the interviews we did with both the lawyers and the clients pre the crisis lack the emotion, empathy and commitment of the last three years.

More than ever, when we interview partners, they say to us that this has been a career defining moment, the most challenging, the most complex work. The work they do is worthwhile. This is why, they say, we became lawyers in the first place. They are becoming ideas generators. And they tell us (without a hint of pleasure) the ideas are theirs and definitely not the bankers.

The client referees are also more heartfelt than pre-2008. Their references are more emotional. Take the client referee at Uniq plc for Slaughter and May (and I am just using this as an example). Uniq were faced with a £400million pensions deficit. As a company with only a £10 million turnover, the problem was catastrophic.

One of the questions we always ask clients is ‘Where did your lawyers add the real value?’  Uniq’s answer was simple. “They saved the company. We all think here that we would have gone bust without them.”

All the short-listed entries in the FT Awards have similar client or third party reviews. Lawyers who have been behind these innovations have every reason to feel proud.