David Halliwell


Diploma in Strategy and Innovation


United Kingdom





By David Halliwell

Back to the future

They say you should never go back.  Certainly José Mourinho, twice the manager of philosophy Professor Mark Wrathall’s beloved Chelsea FC, would agree. Second time round, it just didn’t work out for him.

But would it for me?  30 years after I first arrived at Oxford train station suitcase in hand, to study French and German and later law, I was in exactly the same position.  It was just a short hop across the car park to Saïd Business School this time, in a building that didn’t even exist last time I was there.

What was I looking for?  Well, in the years since Oxford, I had qualified as a solicitor at a leading firm in the City of London and worked as an international disputes lawyer.  I’d changed track into management roles in law firms covering knowledge management, risk and compliance and learning and development.  And after joining my current law firm, Pinsent Masons, I had worked to nurture the firm’s reputation for innovative service delivery.

But although I had received a lot of professional development and executive education over the years, none had really prepared me for the challenges the legal industry is facing.

Law firms based on traditional partnership models are having to adapt, as corporate clients demand more for less.  The larger ones are now bringing legal services in-house, some setting up their own legal functions larger than many law firms.

Deregulation has allowed investors other than lawyers to own legal services providers, leading to new competing legal businesses, structured on different capital and resourcing models, which allow them to invest in technology and standardised processes, while benefiting from lower cost centres. At the same time, the Big 4 are launching a renewed assault.

And so it seemed to me that the challenges facing my firm now are precisely those covered by the programme: how should strategy adapt?  how should our business models flex?  how do we make change stick?  and how do we do all of that in a globally complex organisation?

So, did the first module deliver?  Resoundingly so, in spades.  And not just from the formal programme, which gave me (roughly) 300 ideas and opportunities to take forward.

Insights from a new trusted network of 60+ experienced executives from 30 odd countries, an introduction to the philosophy of authenticity from the Chelsea fan Mark Wrathall (how José could learn from that!), and a perspective at the Ashmolean museum into the universality through the ages of the development of trust and the recognition of value.

The core programme of models, case studies, lectures, group working was delivered in the Oxford style.  You’re not being spoon-fed information – you have to prepare, read the materials, think about it. You’re being asked to identify and defend a position – in that respect my training as a lawyer is helpful – some with a purer science background I chatted to were craving THE answer.  The answer?  There often isn’t one.  Just the one that you believe best fits.

So, as I contemplate going back into the exam schools on 18 April, with gown, mortar board, white bow tie and a carnation in my lapel, how do I feel?

Less like José Mourinho and more like Marty McFly.  He went back in time 30 years and things turned out pretty peachy for him in the end.  I’ll happily take him as my role model over the next 12 months.  Let’s see how it goes.

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