I was reading online Douglas Mill’s blog in “The Firm” magazine entitled “Built to Last” and noticed that towards the end of his words of wisdom he mentions Mitchells Roberton which just happens to be my favourite firm.
“Built to Last-Successful Habits of Visionary Companies” by Jim Collins and Jerry Poras is a management book which makes for interesting reading, particularly in the current climate of uncertainty in the legal profession with many firms ceasing to trade, widespread redundancies and an epidemic of takeovers and mergers.
In September 1985, I joined Mitchells Roberton as a newly qualified rookie. Fresh from completing my traineeship with an Oban firm, this was my first job as a solicitor holding a full practicing certificate. On my inaugural day I arrived with much trepidation at the office, which at that time was located in West George Street. I was made very welcome and for the few years I was with Mitchells Roberton I was happy, I loved the work I was doing, I enjoyed the client contact , I learned a great deal from those with much more experience and made lasting friendships. I left in 1988 to broaden my set of skills but in 2011, some 23 years later, I was mightily pleased to return to Mitchells Roberton , the firm with whom I properly started my career and the firm with whom I hope to end my working life.
What charmed me on making my comeback, was that despite the passage of time, the changes in personnel, some different partners and the bold embracement of very modern IT systems, the firm was just the same.
Now obviously I know the history of the firm, that its origins date way back to the 1740s and the present firm is the result of different amalgamations over centuries, basic organic development. Yet I have never really thought closely about exactly why this particular firm has stood the tests of time.
Jim Collins one of the authors of “Built to Last” however believes that in a world of constant change, certain fundamentals are more important than ever. He states “In this era of dramatic change, we’re hit from all sides with lopsided perspectives that urge us to hold nothing sacred, to re-engineer and dynamite everything, to fight chaos with chaos, to battle a crazy world with total unfettered craziness. Everybody knows that the transformations facing us-social, political, technological, economic-render obsolete the lessons of the past.” Jim Collins submits that “everybody” is wrong.
Collins and Poras refer to six timeless fundamentals which enable prosperity of a business in the long term and looking at these ideals I think that each of these are engineered by Mitchells Roberton. The first is to make the firm the ultimate product. Mitchells Roberton is a law firm which has thrived after the tenure of certain leading partners has past and it has survived through multivarious life cycles. Whilst there is no evidence of exactly what went on in the firm centuries ago , Mitchells Roberton is still here and is a firm confident in its knowledge of what it stands for.
Secondly being guided by a core ideology is essential. Core values and a sense of purpose, beyond just making money, are important. A deeply held core ideology brings a strong sense of identity and a rope of continuity holding the firm together in times of change. Thirdly add into the mix a culture, bred to reflect an ideology of quality, service and fairness passed down generation to generation and you have the recipe for durability.
Another sacred tenet noted by Collins and Poras, and steadfastly in place in Mitchells Roberton is “home grow” your partners. Insiders preserve the core values, understanding them at a gut level that outsiders usually cannot. This provides stability. Of course a fixed core ideology needs to be counterbalanced with a relentless drive for progress. These two components must coexist. Whilst a core ideology provides continuity, stability and cohesion, the drive for progress promotes change, improvement, innovation and renewal.
The final cornerstone is called “the genius of the and”. As Collins and Poras put it “A truly visionary company embraces both ends of the continuum: continuity and change, conservatism and progressiveness, stability and revolution, predictability and chaos, heritage and renewal, fundamentals and craziness. And, and, and”.
I know that Mitchells Roberton is clear about its core values and guiding purpose, about what it should not change, but is sensitive to the need to stimulate progress in everything but the ideology. So how did this modus operandi came about as it seems to have followed a natural birth and evolution. I think it’s backbone comes from having an honest approach. Maybe the advice of Polonius to Laertes has been followed :
“This above all-to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou can st not then be false to any man.”