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Passion, People and Principles

Innovating by Standing Still

post # 130 — July 12, 2006 — a Strategy post

In a recent Financial times special study on innovation in law firms

, UK firm Slaughter and May (the UK’s most profitable law firm, I think) was commended for its innovative “best friends” strategy for serving its clients’ internatonal needs though partnering on a case-by-case basis with unaffiliated foreign firms – a policy it has ALWAYS had, for many decades now.

Unlike its major competitors which have merged, globalized, formed (and unformed) alliances, opened (and closed) offices, Slaughter and May have stuck to a policy of being a “premium unaligned firm”, working to be absolutely the best in their own domestic marketplace, and serving their international clients by teaming up with “best friends” firms in other jurisdictions on a case-by-case basis.

If you think about it, there’s something strange in being commended for an innovation which is defined as not changing – NOT making all the changes that your competitors made.

However, there’s a kind of logic to it, too. Slaughter & May has been incredibly successful, and is much respected. And not all of their competitors’ moves have panned out so well. In a recent article, I wrote about my concerns about geographic expansion strategies

In todays’ competitive landscape, it IS somewhat innovative to find a firm that achieved success by resisting the siren call of volume, geographic expansion and diversification and has clearly placed caliber of work -ie quality as it’s key strategic goal.

There’s something fascinating here. Maybe we worship change too much. Maybe there is something innovative about a firm that has stuck to its own philosophies and resisted the path that all its competitors have followed.

Anyone else got any thoughts on this?


Leo Bottary said:

Slaughter and May demonstrates the importance of two key dynamics – a passionate and unrelenting commitment to its brand and a scaleable business model. It’s no wonder that it’s such a successful and formidible competitor.

posted on July 12, 2006

Kent M. Blumberg said:

I’m in the middle of Pfeffer and Sutton’s “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense.” One key theme running through their book is the danger of jumping on each passing management fad, without taking time to digest the evidence supporting the new idea. And without being sure that the gains – if any – from the last “great idea” have been bedded down and made permanent.

On pages 42-43, they remind us of the tale of the quality movement at Ford. In the early eighties, Ford made quality “Job One” and profits rebounded. However, quality soon became yesterday’s “thing” and Ford pursued a new direction: innovation. It lost its focus on quality and was back in trouble by 2001. So it went back to quality, this time called “six-sigma.” They suggest the company might have been better off sticking with its original quality programs.

Sounds like Slaughter & May have this figured out. Congratulations to them.

posted on July 12, 2006