Reviews of Accelerated Best Practice; With Malice Aforethought

Accelerated Best Practice

I started reading Fiona Westwood’s new book on the train to London in late December. I continued at intervals over the Christmas period and finally finished it on New Year’s Day!

At just over 200 pages this book should almost be regarded as mandatory reading for anyone involved in law firm management, and anyone who provides advice to law firms, be it management consultancy or financial. It is well written and combines structured analysis with highly perceptive personal views based both on Ms Westwood’s time as an equity partner and her subsequent consultancy work with a wide range of professional firms.

For those who read Ms Westwood’s previous book, Achieving Best Practice, her new book will serve as a very useful refresher in which she moves her ideas and thinking forward. “Westwood first-timers” are likely to find it something of a revelation – a fascinating and highly perceptive analysis of the problems of management in a professional firm.

Ms Westwood identifies the factors that make managing a professional firm different to most other management situations and what it is that makes professionals difficult to manage. She is clear that to achieve success, firms should start not with strategy but with management and leadership. At the heart of effective leadership is the need for firms to identify their core values and for those involved in management to develop the ability to inspire trust. She goes on to highlight the need for leaders and managers to adopt a style of persuading people rather than telling them, even when they have direct authority over them.

Her “model for success” is based on five elements:

  • sustaining effective management and leadership;
  • maximising use of resources;
  • building valuable client relationships;
  • choosing correct development options;
  • adapting a firm’s shape and structure over time.

Particular areas of interest are likely to include the identification of values; developing trust; the impact of behaviour; managing conflict; listening skills; the “power of the story”, the role of partner, and succession planning. There is also a very useful chapter summarising current management thinking.

Law firm management can be a lonely task and we all need new ideas and inspiration to enable us to undertake it better. This book is a good source of such ideas and offers clear thinking in a number of areas, in particular the “soft” skill areas that can be so difficult to grasp fully and so easy to neglect.

Andrew Otterburn

With Malice Aforethought A Study of the Crime and Punishment for Homicide

Any work by Blom-Cooper and Morris deserves serious consideration. Both have enviable experience of criminal law and policy-making at the highest level. 

Their book is about English law, but the issues raised and the normative ideas apply in the generality to other jurisdictions, not least our own, and it is worth study for that reason alone. The argument, however, that lies at the heart of the work is that the law of murder in England and Wales requires fundamental reform: in short, all the offences presently identified as murder, and all the various categories of homicide, should be brought together into a single offence of criminal homicide in a process of amalgamation or consolidation (p 2).

It follows as respects penalty that the mandatory life sentence for murder would disappear: the authors do not argue against severity in its proper context but for proportionality based upon an individualised approach to the circumstances of each criminal event (p 13).

The authors believe that among the thinking public there is support for an intelligent rather than a mechanistic approach to sentencing. There will always be, they assert, expressions of a more primitive, authoritarian approach but that is no reason to regard it as a proper foundation for public policy (ibid).

The theoretical justifications for the suggested changes to the substantive law are developed extensively in this work, with different but related themes explored in chapters. In short, it is said that criminally homicidal events are characterised by wide differences that justice demands should be treated individually (p 12). This is not a new argument but it is unlikely that such a detailed submission in its favour has been made. This is an important book.

Robert S Shiels

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