By Rob Aberdein for The Scotsman newspaper February 16th 2021
Rob Aberdein is Managing Partner of Simpson & Marwick, the renowned legal firm which is now also the public face of Moray Group, an exciting new professional services venture launched in 2020.
I’m an entrepreneur, through and through. I remember my early ventures at secondary school – like organising fake IDs for spotty 16-year-olds desperate to get into a pub or a club (remember those).
Other highlights included reselling posters to classmates who wanted a 4ft image of Pamela Anderson on their bedroom wall and procuring pizzas in bulk, then splitting them off to bite-sized portions to sell to hungry teenagers on a Saturday night.
These were some of my more successful ventures, but what did all they all have in common? They all solved problems for the customer.
The same holds true when attempting to build Scotland’s leading national private client law firm – if we can make the delivery of legal services “better” and address the perceived shortcomings of the legal profession (and so solve a problem), then arguably the world is our oyster.
Most people surveyed had used a lawyer. Indeed, for Scots over 55 the figure was 90%. Before we moved on to the serious business of analysing the good, the bad and the ugly of lawyers and law firms, we started with a lighter question – which fictional lawyer people would most like to represent them in a minor legal dispute?
Perry Mason and Atticus Finch were the favourites with the older generations, while Harvey Spector from Suits and Alicia Florrick from The Good Wife took it with the under 35s. Just 3% of Scots chose the hapless Lionel Hutz, attorney to Homer Simpson – proving we Scots have a sense of humour.
We then asked what positive and negative words participants would associate with lawyers. It was lovely to see adjectives such as “determined”, “professional”, “helpful”, “hard working”, “trustworthy” and “supportive” featured prominently.
On the other side of the fence, there were words that could not be printed in The Scotsman and some that I had to look up in the thesaurus – or in the worst cases, Urban Dictionary. Among the most cutting descriptors were “blood suckers”, “corrupt”, “crooks”, “greedy”, “incompetent” and my favourite, “sleakit”.
However, it was our next question that held most interest for me: “What if anything would you have liked that legal firm that acted for you to have done differently/better?”
This moved beyond preconceptions and stereotypes and engaged those who’d had cause to actually use a legal service.
Positively, around 50% of those interviewed simply answered “Nothing”, which was reassuring. I already knew that Scotland has some fantastic solicitors, doing great work and making a difference for clients from Thurso to Troon.
There was, however, a clear perception that we lawyers could do better. The top areas for improvement were “better communication”, “faster”, “less jargon” and “fee transparency”.
My favourite three responses from the feedback were “turn up!”, “tell the truth” and “the list is too long to put here”, while I was personally drawn to one person who said “more automated, less manual paperwork – a more digital experience, less dinosaur tactics”.
I don’t think that we have unearthed a magic formula to build a uniquely brilliant law firm. But I believe that by introducing some norms from other industries that begin to address the perceived shortcomings of the legal profession, we can begin to build something great.
In order to achieve that greatness, we also need to operate in a “challenge culture”, where every member of the team is encouraged to question the status quo and where we adopt our “tech first” mantra in everything from our approach to client communications to our physical infrastructure.
Combine this with my own dedication, drive and tenacity as a founder who is obsessed with creating the ideal solution for providing legal services to clients and sprinkle our roster of talented and experienced lawyers (and as importantly, non-lawyers) on top, and we may just be able to achieve something special.