So, about 2020.
A hard one to sugar coat really.
It was Hemingway in one of his regular dark moments who said “The world breaks every one”. More optimistically, he coupled this with “afterwards many are strong at the broken places”. It is my hope that, as we exit almost everyone’s annus horribilis, many of us can leap into 2021 with the optimism of the second part of his observation.
However, polarisation of society is something that has predated the last 12 months and is something that we must urgently address. Whether it’s in politics, business, or society in general, the late Jonathan Sacks put it succinctly by concluding that “We find it harder to talk to those we disagree with… as a symptom of our growing inability to see things from the point of view of others”. (“Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times”, Hodder, 2020).
It’s natural that the warp speed of everyday life causes us to crave certainty and, as a society we began almost sleepwalking into following advocates of simple – invariably poorly formed but certain – solutions to complex problems.
Moving to my own profession, in recent years, there has been a focus on “disruptive” law firms offering lawyers the opportunity to escape the “broken” model of law in Magic Circle firms. There is much that is good in an offer that allows practitioners to have more control over their working life in this new breed of firms; and there is an equal amount (not least burnout and unacceptable discriminatory behaviour) where larger firms have justifiably and negatively been drawn into the spotlight. However, the commercial principle upon which the latter are based – namely the recruitment of the best lawyers to provide consistently excellent legal advice – is a principle to which we should all aspire and on which no one should compromise.
The segue from Sacks’ book is that such an aspiration cannot be achieved by simplistic engagement: including by writing off respected industry incumbents. Complex problems require complex solutions – this can be very uncomfortable and equally, very difficult.
Although the mark of a great adviser is that they can deliver advice in a succinct way, tailored for the commercial needs of the particular client, we believe great solutions depend on collaborating and having healthy debate with members of your team (and the wider community) with leadership setting the key parameters for this to take place.
Earlier this year, my wife, Joanna Farquharson and I had dinner in a local wine bar where the initial scripts for EastEnders were written. With a clearly enhanced sense of creativity (possibly the red wine helped too), we decided to set up a new law firm to test the above theorem.
Based on traditional principles of client service, we wanted to form a Collective to provide consistently excellent legal advice for clients on a par with the best advice that leading firms provide to theirs. We planned to do this by building a culture where nuance, interpersonal risk, and rejection of polarised views translate into focussed lawyers, excellent client service and, importantly, commercial success. This is what “make sense” to us.
London Law Collective launched on 3rd August and the signs so far are extremely good. Our lawyers to date are from the City firms Slaughter and May; Hogan Lovells; and Herbert Smith Freehills (x3); and the excellent media firms Russells and Simkins LLP.
We’re recruiting lawyers who know what’s important to them and are doing something about it; whether this is working on ‘tech for good’ initiatives, mentoring early stage companies or solving the climate crisis. We are hugely excited by the progress we’ve made in the last 4 months. Over the next week we’ll be profiling some of our lawyers and how individually and as a team, they contribute to our success.
We would love you to be part of our journey.