The Word of Gold: Leonard Cohen and Tesco have much to teach us about later life and lawyers

I have just been listening to Leonard Cohen’s wonderful new album Popular Problems. It is all the more remarkable having been conceived by a man who celebrated his 80th birthday this year, and is in the form of his life.

Leonard Cohen is a uniquely gifted artist, but his late flowering of energy and creativity is far from unique. According to research from trend-forecasting specialists Future Laboratory, a surge of entrepreneurial spirit has struck Britons aged 60 and over. At the moment, there are 1.7 million business leaders of pensionable age. By the end of the decade, these “Boomerpreneurs”, as Future Laboratory calls them, will top 2 million. A life consisting of Saga cruises, golf, bridge and Antiques Roadshow is emphatically not for them.

One in five working people over 50 is now self-employed, the Office of National Statistics tells us. They are good at it; 70% of their startups are still going after five years, compared to 28% for their younger counterparts. Wisdom, experience and patience count for a lot, it seems. There are positive and negative reasons for this trend. On the plus side, this generation does not see itself as old. Many are active, energetic, have most of their teeth, all their faculties and no intention of fading away quietly. But the recession has also played a big part, particularly by creating unemployment and slashing the value of pensions, forcing many people to rethink their futures. For them work is not a source of fulfilment, but a daily necessity.

These figures raise an interesting question: is the way the profession markets itself to this demographic in need of overhaul? Traditionally, the focus has been almost exclusively on wills, estate planning and powers of attorney. The tone tends to be unremittingly solemn. Take, for example, the current radio campaign that seems to sense whenever I am in the car, featuring funereal piano music, a man with the demeanour of an undertaker recently informed that he’s next, and a message, distilled to its essence, “See us quick Grandpa, before you snuff it.”

I do not mean to be unkind or disrespectful. Private client services for older people are tremendously important, and the profession fulfils a vital role. But two points seem clear. First, the message is not getting through: around 70% of the population does not have a will. Secondly, while the over-60s acknowledge the possibility of death, they are much more interested in life, and have an increasing need for all manner of business and private client services – corporate, property, employment, tax, financial services – most of which are not being targeted scientifically by the profession.

In general, law firms are quite unsophisticated when it comes to profiling and segmenting their clients. Tesco is in disarray at the moment, but in its pomp was years ahead of the competition, pioneering loyalty cards which gave it priceless data on who its customers were and what they wanted. Ask most law firms to run data on the age, marital status, occupation, or income of their clients and you will be met with blank looks, or misguided protests that such questions are intrusive. Hence, year in, year out, opportunities for intelligent marketing and extracting the maximum value from relationships go begging.

“Tesco law” is a term of abuse in many places. But Tesco can teach us a lot. When law firms reap the benefits of the same rigorous approach to “know your client”, it will indeed be (sorry, Leonard) a Hallelujah! moment.

The Author
Stephen Gold was the founder and senior partner of Golds Solicitors, which grew from a sole practice to UK leader in its sectors. He is now a consultant, non-exec and adviser to firms nationwide. e:; twitter: @thewordofgold 
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