Enthusiasm, commitment and energy pulsate from every page of this book. The title “To Innovate or Not to Innovate?” is, (as the Shakespearean allusion indicates) a huge question for every single law firm, from the largest global, to the smallest local.
This book gives the unequivocal answer that to innovate is to succeed. Darryl Cooke delivers, as stated in the sub-title, a realistic and practical “… Blueprint for the Law Firm of the Future.” As he says, “This is not a book just about innovation but a book about growth.” (Page 9).
It is essential reading for all lawyers now. Expectations of clients are becoming increasingly sophisticated, including expecting that law firms to match, or even be ahead of, the current speed of change and innovation that is permeating all organisations and communications. Many lawyers have traditionally been brought up on the maxim “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” (Chapter 1). Darryl Cooke observes that in today’s competitive business world this maxim “… kills vision, passion, innovation and the excitement of being different.” (Page 12). This is rejecting long held beliefs and principles, upon which law firms have been built successfully for generations, which is based on the working maxim of: if it works, do more of the same. The author has a wonderfully constructive way of seeing every challenge as an opportunity, for example “So, the opportunity to innovate is immense – society is changing and law firms have the opportunity to change and to be different.” (Page 126). Many lawyers and law firms will appreciate and have the uncomfortable feeling that they ought to be more innovative, but do not know where or how to start.
The key to successful innovation by law firms Cooke postulates, has two interdependent and mutually strengthening strands. First, law firms and lawyers must change their mindset and second, firms must underpin this transformation with robust processes.
The new mindset needs to be open to and embrace innovation and change; inspired by “strong, dynamic and enthusiastic leadership”; strengthened through focused teamwork and permeated with good communication. As the author says “… innovation is a process” (page 9) and “Process is key.” (Page 153). Thus, this book is not full of unrealistic aspirations of what should, must or ought to happen in a law firm. Rather, it provides a step-by-step practical guide on to how to innovate.
The helpful Table of contents (page 5) gives a comprehensive framework for these steps. To my delight, a comprehensive detailed Index at the back, means that you can read the book through for inspiration and guidance, knowing that you can refer back easily to any ideas you read, but can’t quite remember on which page. The excellent Bibliography (page 175), comprises business, psychological, sales, motivational, teambuilding and visionary books. The Notes include a wide range of books and references including Hansard of 28 April 1909 and links to websites.
But how do you implement these steps? You need to start from where you are now and Darryl Cooke gives a comprehensive of list of questions on how to evaluate the firm’s current position (page 25 – 26), where we are now, where we want to be and how to get there. He emphasises the need for a learning culture and gives a further list of questions which need to be answered in order to develop that (page 135 – 136).
Inspiration and motivation is provided at the start of each chapter, with quotations from a range of people, from the Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace, (chapter 3 – building a competitive advantage – page 33) to Napoleon Bonaparte (chapter 2 – leadership is everything – page 21), so preparing the reader for intellectual combat, at the start of each chapter. These quotations give a taste of what is to come.
There are also full page quotes approximately every 10 pages, in the book, with white writing on a grey background, just to keep the reader going, by giving a helpful encapsulation of the previous and future pages, and key ideas in that particular chapter. If you want a quick reminder of what the book is about, then you could read the quotes regularly, as re-motivation and refresher.
Each chapter is short and manageable. Parts are written differently, with some in an exuberant, free-flowing style, while others are packed with quotations, examples, checklists and bibliography. The examples are wide-ranging and include “Who wants to be a millionaire?”, Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Gandhi, football, rugby, Netflix, Airbnb, Wholefoods, Disney, hotels, Nordstrom, Metro bank and a fitness trainer. This is a great idea, because it is easy to make statements but unless a variety of examples are used, readers with different interests may not relate to them.
Whatever the style, each inspires and energises; enables the absorption of the key principles; explains the methods and templates of achieving innovation; and finally, and most importantly gives ideas, strategies, tips and techniques to implement the theme of the chapter.
The tone throughout is one of passionate positivity. There is a pleasing emphasis on the positive in everything “… and the excitement and the benefits to everyone if they got it right.” (Page 65.) “Optimism is a force multiplier” (page 61). The author also gives tips on how to cope with and overcome negativity. There is the emphasis on making people feel special and although change is difficult, the author highlights how the opportunities generated by it are immense.
People are at the heart of the book: recognising that some might find change difficult but acknowledging that “When people feel special they perform beyond their wildest dreams” (page 78). “If you can instil throughout your business a culture of client service and great client experiences then you will not need to invest in advertising because clients will do it for you.” (Page 96). Darryl Cooke openly states the major benefits achieved when a lawyer changes from being a technical lawyer and develops through five steps to become a “personal adviser”, which are hugely motivational (page 105 – 107).
A special appeal of this book, reflecting the exceptional aspects of Darryl Cooke’s own firm “gunnercooke”, is “John’s story” which starts on page 31 and is the fine thread which runs through the book. John is a lawyer introducing innovation into his own firm. The story describes what he does, his challenges and his feelings. There are going to be no spoilers in this review, but John’s story is a creative way to describe the day-to-day realities that affect a leader and team builder who is starting on the innovation journey within a law firm.
Darryl Cooke leads by example “Great communicators use storytelling and anecdotes to convey powerful messages. Stories have the power to motivate and move people” (page 63). Hence John’s story is a demonstration of Darryl Cooke doing in practice what he says needs to be done in theory. The book is peppered with stories and anecdotes and one particularly appealing one is the story about a former British Lions head coach and how he harnessed “team power” and generated team trust (page 66).
The inspirational approach of the book is underpinned throughout by comprehensive, detailed and practical checklists from a range of sources, which illustrate the concept of each chapter. These include: the 10 principles of great communication (page 58 – 64); “… key tips for running creative meetings”. (Page 79 – 81); project leadership qualities (page 76 to 78); 10 golden rules to remember about customers (sic) (page 99); a comprehensive checklist for “reviewing client service” (page 109); and 3 pieces of advice on what clients value (page 115); and a helpful analysis of “… four types of clients” (page 119); rules of innovation (page 96 onwards); four perceptive questions on spending well on technology (page 147).
Darryl Cooke takes into account the characteristics of lawyers, in order to convey the message that implementing all the ideas and suggestions are possible. Having opened the Introduction to the whole book by stating “Lawyers are not known as creative people” (page 7), Darryl Cooke goes on to provide comfort and reassurance to Managing Partners demonstrating how such change is possible for lawyers. The book is realistic: “Lawyers are very cautious animals who aim to get things 100% right before making the leap” (page 165) he reassures lawyers again “It is okay to say ‘no’. It is often anathema to lawyers but you are also business person and it really is acceptable.” (Page 121). But he also alerts the innovator that: “Any insecure partner will hold the project back.” (page 135)
A key innovation must be pricing, or as the author puts it, “Pricing provides such an opportunity for innovation for the brave. Being brave is the key.” (Page 110). I, the reviewer, have been advising law firms for more than 30 years and almost from the time I started in 1985, it was regularly observed that the hourly rate was on its way out. However, it is still alive and kicking and it is still the basis for many fee estimates and quotations and it is still a powerful basis for pricing. This is despite clients wanting fixed fees, just as domestically families want a fixed price for decorators (page 110).
The section on pricing (page 110 – 126) is a must study, and a must re-read and annotate section. It is informative, enlightening and a wonderful self-help motivator, if courage during a negotiation deserts you, and fear of moving into the risk-taking or unknown areas overwhelm your entrepreneurial and innovative aspirations.
Darryl’s Cooke authority comes from his own varied experience of initially starting as a barrister; then working in-house; followed by successful experience in several private practice law firms while at the same time fulfilling his “entrepreneurial instincts” before he “… set up the game changing law firm, gunnercooke, with its unique model to challenge the leading law firms…” (Page 173). He also demonstrates what he writes in the book for example, in the book he creates “… A sense of urgency” on every page (and also a chapter in itself, Chapter 9 pages 165-167) otherwise known as a “burning platform”. (Pages 12 and 166).
This “GOOD PRACTICE GUIDE” is just under an A5 size of 183 pages and is easy to carry around and dip into as a reference book.
Keep it by your side – for inspiration, motivation and innovation.
Pippa Blakemore, Strategic Business Partner, The PEP Partnership LLP