BigLaw schooled on the benefits of ‘healthy paranoia’

BigLaw schooled on the benefits of ‘healthy paranoia’

28 May 2018 By Melissa Coade

Futurist Michael McQueen has reminded a group of newly minted law firm partners that hunger and humility are two essential business attitudes for surviving the next big disruption waiting for them around the corner.

Michael McQueen (pictured) believes that in order to see what future challenges are in store for legal businesses, lawyers must look to both the horizon and the periphery.

“If you really want to understand disruption, don’t reach for the long-range lens or the telescope,” Mr McQueen said.

“Reach for the wide-angle lens because it is the unconventional competitors who will disrupt the game most.”


The warning about unconventional competitors included the emergence of NewLaw players, alternative legal service providers and professional advisory groups such as the Big Four accounting firms.

Mr McQueen also advised that traditional law firms become accustomed to business such as Lexoo, Lawyers on Demand and Axium Law, being the most disruptive forms of competition. He suggested that new industry players were more likely to be a threat to traditional business models because they were more likely to come up with totally new ways of delivering legal services.

“Don’t just look at the usual suspects when you’re looking at the competitive landscape, Mr McQueen said.

“Don’t just look at the other top tier firms or firms who are competing in your part of the market. The disruption is probably not even going to come from them. It is going to come from players who are not even on the radar right now,” he said.

Fostering this mindset, which Mr McQueen described as a kind of “healthy paranoia”, would condition businesses to operate with the kind of agility required to survive disruption.


“You have to constantly look over your shoulder, realise some competitors are coming, because that will keep you on your A-game or ward off complacency or arrogance,” Mr McQueen said.

“It’s the idea of operating every day like you’ve got a target painted on your back, because you do.

“The beauty of operating with healthy paranoia is that it tends to engender two of the most important characteristics of an agile culture: and that is hunger and humility,” he added.

Ashurst hosted the self-described business strategist and popular corporate speaker to facilitate a workshop for its newest batch of partners this month.

Mr McQueen’s session broadly considered the direction of the practice of law within the next 10–15 years.

He outlined five key macro-trends during the workshop and encouraged the firm’s new leaders to consider how developments such as automation, a majority-millennial workforce, and fast emerging non-conventional competition would impact current business.

“Incremental change in a business will not keep pace with the rate of change outside of it,” Mr McQueen said.

“There’s a beautiful quote I shared from a guy who used to be the head of business at the San Francisco University — Professor Oren Harari — the quote was: the electric light never came from the continuous improvement of candles.”

“If you just keep doing today what you did yesterday but a little bit better, that’s not going to cut it when what you are doing is no longer fit for purpose. Even if you do it a bit faster, a bit cheaper, it’s no longer appropriate or relevant,” he said.

Ashurst partner Jamie Ng, who is the firm’s global head finance, funds & restructuring and global co-head of innovation said that Mr McQueen was invited to the firm to help nurture a progressive culture.

“It's important to keep our finger on the pulse in terms of emerging trends and disruptors and their impact on the legal sector to ensure we maintain a competitive edge,” Mr Ng said.

“The capture, evaluation and deployment of new ideas across all aspects of our business model is critical in meeting the strategic imperatives of our clients and remaining at the forefront of change in the industry,” he said.

Mr McQueen’s new book, How to Prepare for What’s Next, was recently released across Australia.

BigLaw schooled on the benefits of ‘healthy paranoia’
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