“SHOW me something new.” That’s what one of my friends who runs an advertising agency was told when he pitched for business recently.

It got me thinking about the model that law firms follow today. Is it poles apart from the one we had when I entered the profession 40 years ago? Improved - undoubtedly. Radically different, with very few exceptions - no.

The model we are used to is one that was broadly designed for baby boomers to deliver to other baby boomers. Yet, in 2019, for the first time, millennials outnumber baby boomers. Their tastes and expectations are very different.

That’s not to say that the tried (or is it tired?) and tested model should be thrown out. But there is perhaps room to supplement it with something different.

In the car industry, we will see Volkswagen release their Mk8 Golf later this year - a no doubt highly finessed evolution of a car introduced in 1974. They will also launch a new, completely different but similarly sized all electric car, predicted to be called the ID Neo. It will be built on a radically different platform with a much more space-efficient architecture. It will differ more from anything that has worn a VW badge since the Beastie Boys. Predictions are that sales of the Golf will shrink in the medium term while those of the ID will grow.

So why is it that the legal profession has been so slow to embrace change? Regulatory constraints are perceived to make it difficult to depart from the norm. And one needs to invest in more than a brass plate to set up in practice today.

But the biggest reason is that when law firms plan growth in their businesses, they so often end up imitating their competitors. They don’t look at what their clients are doing or, God forbid, examine what is happening in other sectors. It’s an infinite loop.

The advertising sector that my friend inhabits is fertile beyond our imagination when it comes to new initiatives. The car industry is simultaneously having to address environmental and demand challenges of an existential scale. So perhaps looking at both of these for inspiration is not a bad starting point. With that in mind, here are some linked ideas unashamedly stolen from elsewhere.

1. Apple is the world’s top retailer in sales per square foot. Everyone seems to love the formula of the Apple Store and in particular their Genius Bar. Could it be applied in the legal sector? Buzzbar is an agile advertising agency based in Shoreditch (where else?). It operates a walk-in media and marketing shop. You book online or just turn up and sit side by side its specialists. As a client one can see the attractions. It’s transparent with the mystique stripped away. There is a direct creative relationship. And you pay as you go. Is there any reason why we could not use a similar approach in the legal sector?

2. Seconding lawyers into client companies is nothing new in the legal sector. However, advertising agencies have taken this a stage further, moving to a ‘new model’ approach where they put whole teams into the client’s office, sitting alongside their marketing teams on projects. Effectively the team becomes part of the client’s business. That creates efficiencies - immediate discussion and approvals. There’s also room for spontaneous creativity, with client and professional teams batting ideas back and forth. Again that should transfer easily to the legal world. And while we are at it, why should the client not be able to pick lawyers from different firms into this team?

3. A couple of weeks ago, Ford and Volkswagen, arch rivals in the automotive sector, announced a strategic alliance with plans for platform, tech and engine sharing for the next generation of vans and mid-sized pick-ups - the components that are necessary but unseen. Note, there is no cross-ownership: the two companies remain independent. Assuming that client confidentiality issues can be properly managed, is there any reason why law firms could not share back office functions such as knowledge management and training?

The Walkman first appeared 40 years ago. Believe it or not, Sony still manufactures it in China. But most of us have moved on.

Perhaps the legal profession has to do so also.

Philip Rodney is the former chairman of Burness Paull and founder of Rimalower Consulting.