When I first heard, chatting with David Gilroy over a drink, about the plans for the Source Conference by Symphony Legal it certainly sounded like a conference for lawyers with a difference. When I saw the programme advertised this was reaffirmed. I had to go. So I did.
Viv Williams of Symphony Legal, opening the conference, prophesised that the legal landscape is likely to change more in the next 4 years than it has in the past 40 years.
Much of the conference perhaps sought to help the delegates who were lucky enough to be there with that change. And such change didn’t, I am pleased to report, involve Artificial Intelligence or Blockchain. Again it was refreshing to be at a conference where hype around legal technology was absent. It was more about the actual human elements involved in running a law practice that are still paramount to succeeding in business today.
The conference was called Source because it was “your source of inspiration, of ideas and of innovation”. As Viv elaborated:-
The pace of change in the legal profession has gathered speed over the last few years with firms reviewing structures and numerous firms looking at stock market flotations. It is more important than ever that we learn new skills from outside the profession that help us to run our practices as a business and not just be better at ‘the law’.
The MC for the day and first speaker was certainly from outside the profession. Jeremy Nicholas is an award winning TV, radio broadcaster and voice of the FIFA video game. He offered FIFA video game style voice overs in the break for someone you knew and their favourite football club. My nephew, who plays the FIFA video game, was over the moon to receive from me the video of Jeremy announcing his goal scoring prowess.
Like me, Jeremy is also an Edinburgh Festival Fringe performer.
Jeremy gave us the 7 top structures for brilliant business presentations. It was interesting to think of some of these I had used (without realising the importance) in my own presentations. Also as the day went on I couldn’t help but clock the structures used by the other presenters and, in addition, the other elements highlighted by Jeremy as good to use when presenting: such as video, audience interaction, props, a poll and freebies. I think I manage to use all of those in my presentation on Lawyers and Social Media + Personal Branding for Law Students where Inksters Christmas Hats feature as props and freebies.
One of the 7 structures is incorporated within the tagline of this blog: The “past, present and future” practice of law. This is where you tell them how we used to do it, how we do it now and how we’re going to do it in the future.
I am, however, wondering how I can incorporate the James Bond structure into my next crofting law talk! This is where you start with something really exciting to grab your audience’s attention. It might not make sense to start with but you’ll explain what it means as you go along.
Jeremy certainly grabbed the attention of the delegates at Source and held it throughout his presentation. As he did again in the evening with after dinner stories of encounters with Brian Clough, Christopher Lee and an armed man claiming to be Jesus.
One important takeaway from Jeremy’s talk (there were many though) was that when presenting no one is interested in you (the presenter). You need to know your audience but your message is the most important thing.
Then we had an hour and a half session on whether our law firm staff are ready for change. Alicia Sutton, Doron Davidson and Charlie Swan from PCA Law gave a very interactive presentation.
First there was a discussion around change with reference to the Change Curve.
We were told that we naturally and instinctively look for danger. Lawyers in particular do this making change difficult.
We are often held back by limiting beliefs i.e. a belief you impose on yourself that limits your ability to do things.
We learned about the evolution of trust:-
Then the interaction involved a meeting between Doron and Charlie where Charlie was very resistant to change. The audience were asked for views on what could have been done better by both of them. Then they re-ran their meeting with the audience instructed to shout “stop” when something should have been done better. Discussion took place and they re-winded and re-played with the new narrative.
Although an hour and a half long the session held the audiences attention throughout and provided a great learning experience.
But it does take two to Tango. If one party remains staunchly negative can you turn them I pondered. At least with some of the techniques from PCA Law you will stand a fighting chance to do so.
After a “Wigwam break” (for a Tea and a Pee apparently!) we had a law firm spotlight where we heard three real life stories of law firms adapting to change.
Amongst other wise words, Richard Hill, of the GL (Gregg Latchams) Professional Services Group, told us to “Never underestimate the power of vision” and to “make sure we land the plane on our projects”.
Kristina Oliver discussed the growth of Keystone Law to over 300 solicitors in a short space of time. We learned that this was helped by innovative and cost effective marketing. I liked and could relate to their style from our own marketing initiatives at Inksters.
From Vidisha Joshi of Hodge Jones and Allen we heard that paperlight might work in a law firm but paperless probably won’t: “If you want to see real fear, tell a clinical negligence lawyer that you’re going paperless!” She also discussed not being afraid of taking risks for the future of the business and suggested that lawyers were not always the best people to make business decisions.
In a general discussion with the panellists about change in law firms we were told that in staying positive about change don’t be afraid of not being the most popular person in the business.
We were told that change for change sake won’t be bought into. If you are clear about your vision people will get on board. Those that don’t will leave and you will be better off without them.
We had a short sponsors spotlight without whom the conference, like many, would not have been possible.
After a nice lunch it was time to play a board game. Yes, that’s right… two hours to play a game in teams on each table competing against the other teams on the other tables to make the most profit in running your imaginary law firm (think Monopoly for law firms). I did say at the beginning of this post that this was going to be a legal conference with a difference.
This was the Ready4Business Simulation Game from theGrogroup. Paul Richmond, Kate Hennig and Simon Dawkins acted as adjudicators.
The team I was in (Bill, Soddit & Writeov) consisted of Paul Hajek of Clutton Cox, Shaun Jardine of Brethertons, Joanne Druce of F Barnes (who in the evening won the best Non-Lawyer of the Year Award), Sangeet Tatem of F Barnes and Dan Hodges of Conscious Solutions. We had great fun trying to work out the rules and balance the books! If Dan’s innovative initiatives to win extra work for us had been allowed we would have been clear winners!
Playing the board game demonstrated the impact on a fictional law firm’s bottom line of pricing decision especially discounting fees. It highlighted very effectively the importance of cashflow and how the impact of small decisions made at all levels within a law firm can make a huge difference to overall financial performance:-
The 5% fee discount, that half hour spent giving free advice, the overdue invoice left un-chased, and the constant failure to record and bill hours accurately – they all add up!
This is something that the managing partners around the table no doubt knew all too well. It is a game that should be played by all employees in a law firm to highlight this to them too.
After another Wigwam break it was the final speaker of the day. Again from outside the legal profession it was Graham Hall of The Insight Edge. He describes himself as a harbour pilot for brands. He has helped brands including Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Nike to identify consumer insights and build them into their brand strategy.
Graham took us through the 7 steps of “Insight”. He told us it was more fun to be different. I could relate to this. My law firm’s first strapline was Just that little bit different.
We were told that “a genuine insight changes the way you do things… they’re dangerous!”
You have to be empathetic. Something highlighted earlier in the day by the PCA Law team. To demonstrate this Graham moved outside the stage/PowerPoint and presented from the opposite side of the room from a step ladder!
This brought to mind the tip in the morning from Jeremy Nicholas about using props in your presentation.
Viv Williams wrapped up the day and gave a big thank you to Katie Blake for all her hard work organising things.
But things were not over.
We had a black tie evening involving pre-dinner drinks, magic tricks from Harrison Richards, dinner, the Symphony Legal Awards and after dinner stories from Jeremy Nicholas.
The conference then continued the following day (morning only) but unfortunately I had to travel back to Glasgow first thing in the morning for a meeting. Thus I missed a session on getting the best out of technology (don’t think AI or blockchain featured) and a session on aligning finance, business development and marketing.
I very much enjoyed the Source Conference. It was, as billed, different from the norm.
The norm would probably have speakers with PowerPoint presentations doing 45 to 60 minute sessions with some panel sessions and little audience participation.
There has been a move in recent years to have a lot of speakers at legal conferences all doing shorter (maybe just 10 minutes or so), punchier talks. I like that format too.
However, the Source Conference with longer (one session at 90 minutes and another at 120 minutes) more interactive sessions worked very well. But I think it was the nature of those sessions, including in particular the role playing meeting and the board game, that made it work and really stand out from the norm. It will be interesting to see what they do in 2019.
Image Credits: Moonraker © United Artists; Some images by Symphony Legal if not by me.