Why The French Can’t Attract Entrepreneurs & What Law Firms Should Know About Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy. Who knows more about that than the French?

Much like a woman’s rouge makeup, the French invented red tape.

Not one step in France is taken without first seeking approval from the appropriate committee, paying a few fees, and standing in a long line of très chic but also très surly Frenchmen.

Before even a new word can be formally admitted into the French language, the French language Academy (L’Academie Francaise) must convene and deliberate. Years after its innovation and cultural integration, hashtag has thus become le mot-dièse, although few French youths would recognize any other word than le hashtag (#truestory).

On a grander scale, the French are committed to their bureaucratic ways not just because the word comes from old French, but also because it is ingrained in their national vision.

“There is a difference between the French vision of liberté (as in their revolutionary égalité and fraternité) and our freedom,” explains A. A. Gill in his scathing op-ed in Vanity Fair.

“It’s the liberty to be, and the freedom to do. Freedom you are born with—it comes from the bottom up—but you are given your liberty. It is handed from the top down. So the French system, with its huge state—its committees, academies, and conventions of wise men—is prescriptive for your own good, to protect all the things it deems most important.”

Gill for Vanity Fair doesn’t see much of a solution in the way of changing French attitudes.

“Culture doesn’t arise out of nothing,” Gill writes.

“It is the symptom, the consequence, of all national life. The French political system—and the fatly satisfied ruling class—has stifled and penalized every sort of innovation. Employing anyone is an agony, unemploying them a trauma. The state taxes and flings out streamers of red tape, and a political orthodoxy has driven the wealth and opportunity creators abroad.”

The moral of this story? French entrepreneurs are not in France. They’re in London, New York, or Berlin. Again, the word entrepreneur may originate from France, but its future activities lay abroad. French government has lamented this fact but remains obstinately opposed to changing its business policies to attract start-ups. When it comes to great new talent, culture plays a large role in attracting it.

Culture. It’s crucial to nations and to companies.

It’s something that is created by an environment and people that motivates them to be productive and professionally satisfied. And there are detrimental effects when a culture turns negative.

Leadership. It’s a lifeline. France’s President Hollande knows better than anybody what happens when trust in your leader is lost (after news broke he was having a extra-marital affair, his approval ratings hit rock bottom). A bad reputation overshadows any other important domestic changes you might be trying to make.

Bureaucracy. It’s a double-edged sword. Of course productivity relies on a strict set of systems: hierarchy that inspires professional promotion, incentives, and proper training and oversight create an efficient workplace.

But, when that bureaucracy is what is holding you back, preventing innovation, and stalling growth, it’s time to reevaluate your systems.

Law firms have strong cultures, partnerships, tradition, and bureaucracies. Tradition and history is a source of pride for firms not unlike France’s proud society. Yet, there is something to be said for calling into question the old boy’s club, for giving opportunities to young associates, abandoning outdated internal policies, and adopting new ways of thinking about hiring employees or fees for clients.

As management partners, don’t destroy your firm’s panache. Look into ways your can modernize your business development today, #beforeitstoolate.

Want to find out how to gain that savoir-faire? Take The Center for Competitive Management’s audio course, “Increasing Revenue Per Lawyer: Creating a Healthy Culture of Business Development.

This webinar will present best practices used by today’s most profitable firms for creating a vibrant culture of business development, including:

  • Steps to build client loyalty, manage expectations and generate client referrals
  • Identifying and maximize cross-selling opportunities
  • How to match your marketing strategy to seniority level
  • Making business development a sustainable, ongoing part of your culture

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Legal Secretaries Of The Past & Present: Do Lawyers Need A New Support Staff System?

How did eighteen and a half minutes of tape vital for the Watergate investigation get erased? Just ask Nixon’s longtime and very loyal secretary Rosemary Woods. She demonstrated in court exactly how she “accidentally” erased evidence that could have changed American history in the early 1970s.

Think that’s bad? Secretary to Oliver “Ollie” North, a National Security Council aide, admitted in trial that she helped shred important documents during the Arthur Andersen-Enron debacle. Fawn Hall thus played a key role in exposing the arms-for-hostage deal that occurred during the Iran-Contra affair.

Single mom Erin Brockovich became famous for having Julia Roberts play her in a movie about her life—overshadowing, perhaps, her true claim to fame as being the legal secretary who exposed an industrial polluter.

Gone is the day when there was a traditional “legal secretary.” Just short of becoming another Brockovich, legal secretaries do not fit the one-size-fits-all model.

Legal powerhouses WilmerHale, Bingham McCutchen, and Arnold & Porter are among many established firms that are changing the way legal secretaries provide and channel administrative support to attorneys. Many top firms have completely revamped the work, the roles, and the ratios of legal secretaries by:

  • Redefining administrative positions,
  • Standardizing the work,
  • Enhancing teamwork, and
  • Applying creative new administrative models to expand coverage ratios.

Changing the way administrative assistants are assigned and utilized starts with a real-life assessment of what lawyers do and don’t need from their assistants.

But how can you analyze attorney needs and revamp its administrative approach for max savings (without sacrificing quality)?

First, analyze your needs. Ask your lawyers, from junior associates and senior partners, how they are using your support staff services, and what needs are not being met. Make sure to write down which of these needs are billable and which are not.

Then, ask your support staff how they think their services are being used. Do they think lawyers ask too much? Too little? Your support staff is best equipped with knowing what services they are able to provide, and what training or tools are needed to go further.

Next, determine what kind of model is needed for your firm. For example, your firm can match the skill set of secretaries to individual needs or it can assign single secretaries to particular types of work—transcription, case matter organization, answering the phones.

What hours of the day are busiest?

Do your legal secretaries prefer flexible or part-time schedules? Do their preferences conform to your lawyers’ needs? Is there middle ground?

Finally, write down your firm’s measures of productivity and achievement. Then, design a training program for your support staff that sets them up for success.

This year, make sure your legal secretaries are famous, not infamous.

For more concrete tips and tricks, attend the Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s webinar, “Legal Secretaries: Methods to Revamp, Regroup & Reassign Administrative Services for Max Profitability & Productivity” on Wednesday, October 22, 2014, from 2pm to 3:15pm EST.

Read more about “Some Real Secretaries Are As Famous As The Fictional Ones,” in Margo Harakas’s article for the Sun Sentinel here.

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Why Multitasking Associates Are Costing Your Firm Money & How To Stop It!

Did you stay up all night working? Were you busy answering emails on your phone while trying to tuck the kids in bed? If so, you may consider asking for a proofread on that brief you’re turning in this morning, or take a quick glance at the “sent mail” folder from last night.

It turns out that multitasking is as bad as, say, staying up all night or even smoking marijuana, on your cognitive ability. Research shows that multitasking both slows you down and lowers your IQ, reports Forbes.

According to a new study by Stanford social scientists, multitaskers—people who regularly switch between several streams of electronic information—do not pay attention, control their memory, or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.

“They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” said communication Professor Clifford Nass, one of the researchers whose findings are published in the Aug. 24 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, to the Stanford Report.

“Everything distracts them.”

Wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking: But I have a special gift—I’m good at multitasking!

Wrong. Students who regularly multitasked performed worse on tests of attention, organization of thoughts, and memory–despite thinking they would do otherwise.

In one experiment, the test subjects were shown images of letters and numbers at the same time and instructed what to focus on. So, for example, when they were told to pay attention to numbers, participants had to determine if the digits were even or odd. When told to concentrate on letters, participants had to say whether they were vowels or consonants.

Multitaskers performed worse at this task than people who prefer focusing on a single task. Even the so-called light multitaskers performed better than the heavy multitaskers.

“When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal,” said Wagner, an associate professor of psychology, to the Stanford Report.

“That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

Ok fine. Maybe it’s true that multitasking is bad for productivity. Even still, you’re thinking: But I don’t have a choice!

The practice of law does not require multitasking. Yes, there are multiple tasks to complete. But, you’re not obligated to think of, or work on them all at once.

Multitasking is a state of mind. Multitasking is watching your child’s theatre performance while thinking about work. Multitasking is listening in on a conference call while simultaneously proofreading a legal brief.

Multitasking is composing an email on your phone while you’re listening to an associate update you on a case matter.

If you do these things, you’re severely sacrificing quality for quantity. And the negative effects of multitasking on cognitive ability and IQ have been shown in studies to last long-term. 

So, to prevent huge losses in productivity, eliminate multitasking. That means changing the way you work and the way you think. When you have to finish up writing a motion, then turn off your phone and close your email for an hour while you do so.

When you are on a conference call, really ruminate on what is being said—take notes to keep focused.

It sounds elementary and it is! The problem is most people don’t do it.

If you’re a law firm manager, lead by example. Create electronic-free zones in the office. When somebody stops by your office, turn off your devices and turn on your attention to their question.

Consider “e-mail free” hours of the day. For example, from 6pm to 7pm (let’s face it, you’ll still be in the office) when there’s limited (or no) response to email.

If you don’t, your multitasking associates will cost you and your clients money in poor-quality work product and slower deliverables.

Take back productivity at your firm by turning off its multitasking mindset.

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Nobel Prize For Law? Not Yet, But Maybe One Day…

It’s unofficial “thank your neighborhood scientist” day.

Today, three researchers got the call that their discovery merited the most coveted award in science, the Nobel Prize.

Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura were honored for inventing the blue light emitting diode and will split the $1.2 million prize.

These scientists created what others had failed to do for 30 years: create the blue diode for LED lights. Not only do LED lights save on energy, they don’t contain mercury.

The Nobel committee said of this discovery, it “hold[s] great promise for increasing the quality of life for over 1.5 billion people around the world who lack access to electricity grids,” reports CNN.

“They triggered a fundamental transformation of lighting technology,” the committee commented.

“They succeeded where everyone else failed.”

Lawyers are not generally considered scientists, although they do produce—on occasion—scientific work published in academic journals.

But, winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics are not scientists either, in the strict sense of the word. They are recognized for their academic achieves, and the winner is not even selected from the same committee as the Peace Prize.

Furthermore, the major contribution of prize-winning economists is frequently in the field of public policy—not far from the domain of lawyers.

As such, many feel there should be a Nobel Prize for Law, one to recognize the field’s commitment to social transformation or humanistic scholarship.

“A Nobel Prize in Law might be given each year to that individual or group of individuals who have contributed most powerfully to the development of the rule of law,” writes Garrett Epps for The Nation.

“Some remarkable men and women might be candidates: lawyers like Li Heping; judges like Baltasar Garzón of Spain, who began the human rights prosecution of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet; Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, the chief justice of Pakistan, who has resisted President Pervez Musharraf’s attempts to subvert the legal system; legal scholars like Cherif Bassiouni, the Egyptian-born father of the International Criminal Court, a former Peace Prize nominee; and American feminist Catherine MacKinnon.”

For now, the most lawyers can hope for is local recognition for their efforts. Law firms should consider establishing their own rewards for associates who have succeeded in publishing in law journals or peer-reviewed publications.

Not only will your firm be pushing the current boundaries of the field of law, but it will also incentivize your lawyers to research hot-button topics and the most recent court opinions that might end up providing unique insights into your clients’ cases.

In addition, encouraging publishing among your law firm professionals will encourage cross-firm collaboration. This is especially important for large firms with many specialties who would benefit from cross-departmental communication.

Finally, receiving recognition—no matter the scale, global or local—reminds your attorneys of the greater good and why they joined law in the first place. When it comes to choosing a firm, younger associates are looking for a place “to belong” and for a community with purpose.

You’ll retain more lawyers when you foster a workplace committed not just to clients, but also to scholarship and intellectual life.

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Silver Spooners Or Boostrappers? Billionaires Teach Law Firms About The Most Incentivizing Compensation Models

Ebola on American soil, ISIS and Iraq troops not coming home, unemployment rates still not where they should be… there’s so much despair for Americans these days.

However, today we reason again to be proud of our nation. No money? Low-paying job? Victim of abuse or discrimination? Today is your day to become a billionaire.

The American dream is still alive and well—perhaps more so than in previous decades, reports Forbes.

A new study conducted by Forbes examines the wealthiest people in the U.S. and the lengths they had to go through to make their way to the top.

It turns out, when you look at the numbers over time, the data shows that in 1984, less than half of people on The Forbes 400 were self-made; whereas today, 69 percent of the 400 created their own fortunes.

In fact, many of today’s wealthiest people were born into poverty, or lower middle class, and had to overcome obstacles such as being left an orphan, forced to work low-paying jobs, or faced abuse or discrimination.

“Oprah Winfrey… grew up dirt poor, raised alternately by her single mom and her grandmother, and was sexually abused by several male relatives,” writes Agustino Fontevecchia for Forbes.

“And George Soros… survived the Nazi occupation of Budapest, fled Hungary under Communist rule and worked his way through the London School of Economics as a railway porter and a waiter.”

Howard Schultz, creator of Starbucks, is the son of a New York truck driver and was the first person in his family to go to college. With a personal net worth of $1.5 billion, Schultz only gets ranked 354th richest person in the U.S. Not bad for an ex-Xerox employee.

Jan Koum, entrepreneur, grew up outside Kiev in Ukraine and moved with his mother and grandmother California in 1992, where a social support program helped the family to get a small two-bedroom apartment. Koum worked as a cleaner at a grocery store and only became interested in programming at the age of 18. He enrolled at San Jose State University and simultaneously worked at Ernst & Young as a security tester. Today, you may have heard of his little mobile messaging application—WhatsApp—which was acquired by Facebook for $19 billion.

But if you’re in a law firm office, thinking, “I’m not an entrepreneur.” That may be true, but you can still act like one. What does it take to live the American Dream? Hard work.

The common thread among all these stories is the “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.” These success stories aren’t about luck or timing. They’re all stories of persistence and patience.

Lawyers are no strangers to being cash rich, time poor. It’s the price you pay for working hard. But even our bootstrap billionaires had help.

Before developing WhatsApp, Koum visited his friend Alex Fishman and the two talked for hours about Koum’s idea for an app over tea at Fishman’s kitchen counter.

Gayle King, now a co-anchor of CBS This Morning, is most famous for being Oprah’s right-hand (wo)man.

In a discussion at the Los Angeles World Affairs Council in 2006, Alvin Shuster, former foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, asked Soros, “How does one go from an immigrant to a financier? When did you realize that you knew how to make money?” (via Wikipedia).

Soros replied:

“Well, I had a variety of jobs and I ended up selling fancy goods on the sea side, souvenir shops, and I thought, that’s really not what I was cut out to do. So, I wrote to every managing director in every merchant bank in London, got just one or two replies, and eventually that’s how I got a job in a merchant bank.”

That job was an entry-level position in Singer & Friedlander, whose help and training was crucial in making the business magnate and investor who he is today.

When it comes to compensation models, it’s important to reward hard work and bootstrap attitudes. But hard work is often bolstered by teamwork, which does not temper or take away from any individual person’s contribution.

Teamwork should be encouraged. According to a recent New York Law Journal article, the ‘eat what you kill’ compensation model for law firms does not motivate partners to share intelligence or collaborate; it lowers firm efficiency and profitability.

This is why many law firms are transitioning their methods of allocating origination credit, transferring some to other members of the firm and not just senior partners.

Failure to handle this crucial compensation component correctly could kill your firm’s competitive advantage—and your own chance at becoming a billionaire.

The Center for Competitive Management (C4CM)’s audio course “Origination Credit and Partner Compensation: Incentivizing Collaboration for Increased Efficiency and Profitability” details the best management practices for when and how to track, allocate, transfer and transition origination credit for partner compensation in a manner that enhances firm collaboration.

With your order you also get C4CM’s top-selling best practice guide, Law Firm Origination and Cross-Selling Credit—a $249 value—absolutely free. Even if you struggle with the financial side of law, that’s the kind of math you can get behind.

The big difference between silver spooners and bootstrappers? For young entrepreneurs–or young lawyers–the monetary impact of hard work on your life is much higher. With the right incentives, your firm can incentivize all of its attorneys, not simply the senior partners, to attract clients and promote new business at the firm.

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Throw-back Thursday To 3500 B.C.: What Your Law Firm Should Know About The Wheel & MS Excel

How about a throw-back Thursday history lesson (and then some law). It’s about Iraq—but way before the country was valued for oil, it was valued for ideas.

Sumer is a civilization that existed slightly before that of Ancient Egypt and located in southern Mesopotamia (modern-day Iraq). By the late fourth millennium B.C., Sumer (or Ki-en-gir, ‘Land of the Sumerian tongue’) was divided into approximately a dozen city-states which were independent of one another and which used local canals and boundary stones to mark their borders, according to historians (read more about Sumer here).

There are at least four different translations (although they sometimes conflict) on the names of Sumerian rulers and their illustrious lengths of rule. It’s on one such document that an early Sumerian invention is described: the wheel, dating to circa 3500 BC.

You could perhaps claim that Iraq was forever—since as far as Sumer—destined to be a place highly influential in the creation of the car.

Besides the wheel, however, law firm professionals—people, in general—should be thankful for Sumer’s many crucial contributions to modern technology and language. For example, the civilization reminds us even today why there is no point, thousands of years later, in reinventing the wheel (although many people throughout history have tried).

Going back to the practice of law, think about how many new computer programs, tablet and mobile apps that organize case matter material, new-fangled software to organize all the details of your case.

Do we need it all?

When it comes to timesheets, timelines, case status updates, “to do” lists, and other casework assignments, Microsoft Excel has become a tried and true tool for lawyers and law firm managers.

And, its many features are available on the iPad, a favorite among attorneys.

So, last month, when Microsoft Excel rolled out a bunch of new features for Excel for iPad, you should have been paying attention. But, just in case you weren’t, here’s a run-down of Excel for iPad’s new design additions (thanks to AccountingWeb):

Pivot table functionality. In the first incarnation, pivot tables were literally trapped under glass, meaning you could only scroll the data around on the screen. Now, although the workbook must already contain a pivot table before opening it using the app, you have the capability to expand, collapse, filter, and even refresh pivot tables, as shown in Figure 1.The caveat on refreshing is that the source data must be within the same workbook as the pivot table.

Email documents as PDF. Previously, Excel spreadsheets could only be emailed in their native format, but you can now email spreadsheets in PDF form. Figure 2 walks you through the steps.External keyboard support. Using an external keyboard allows you to use the same navigation and data entry techniques that you do in the desktop-based versions of Excel..

Flick to select. You’ll quickly wish for this innovative feature in the desktop versions of Excel. Flick a cell’s selection handle in any direction to automatically select all data in that row or column for a contiguous area of the spreadsheet. It’s a huge advance in using Excel on a touch-enabled device.

Third-party fonts. You can now access third-party fonts installed on your iPad in the Excel app.

Picture tools. Excel for iPad now supports in-app picture editing.

Not yet convinced of Excel’s application to your law practice? Here‘s a detailed account of how lawyers can use Excel.

Not only that, attend The Center for Competitive Management’s audio course on “Excel Charts and Graphs Made Easy” on Friday, October 17, 2014, from 2pm to 3:30pm EST.

Remember the history of Sumer and Iraq and don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to (and don’t add unnecessary conflict in your professional life over it, either).

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Study Shows Lawyers Seen As Competent But Not Trustworthy: How Your Firm Can Get Out Of The Gutter!

Why do so many people hate lawyers?

No, this isn’t another set-up for a lawyer joke. As a legitimate question, Victoria Pynchon for Forbes explains:

“People hate lawyers because they represent the interests of people and corporations without really caring who they are, what they did, what harm they caused, or, how culpable they are.”

The practice of law, rather, legal representation, is a right of American citizens. As such, it seen as a public service. So when powerful men in power suits undermine the “little guy,” people get bitter.

Isn’t the law supposed to be helping the public, not hurting them?

“It’s OK to hate lawyers because the top of the profession—which wields true economic and political power—continues to run its operations as a old boy’s club, making it less diverse than the GOP.”

Well, that explains it then. Or does it?

“As I’ve written before,” continues Pynchon, “cronyism runs law firms. And because cronyism—you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours—duplicates itself in gender and color, the power in BigLaw is concentrated in the hands of a few white men… And that’s a problem for the rest of us.”

In the end, the bearish reputation of BigLaw dominates the news. So local stories of law firms doing good or pro-bono work for communities take the back burner.

It’s no wonder lawyers remain one of the most reviled professions.

Luckily, attorneys—like misery—have company.

In a recent review, published by the Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), lawyers are viewed as “competent but not trustworthy,” alongside CEOs, Accountants, Researchers, Scientists, and Engineers.

Of course, in this small continuum, attorneys are at the bottom of the scale (see the diagram here—literally at the bottom).

Apparently Americans are wary of a few experts-in-their-fields. The public distinguishes between professional respect and warmth. So, you can be wonderful at your job, but not necessarily a wonderful person (and the reverse, as is the case for child care workers, who are seen as mediocre in competency but high in warmth).

“Scientists have earned the respect of Americans but not necessarily their trust,” explains lead author Susan Fiske, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and professor of public affairs, according to PhysOrg.

However, there’s hope to improve.

“But this gap can be filled by showing concern for humanity and the environment. Rather than persuading, scientists may better serve citizens by discussing, teaching and sharing information to convey trustworthy intentions.”

The same applies to attorneys. Your social skills may be holding you back, but there are myriad ways to increase that coveted bedside manner.

Here are a few simple things to remember:

  • Don’t do all the talking—work on your listening skills. Clients want to feel heard.
  • Use phrases that convey compassion, like “yes, that must be really hard for you,” or “I understand this is difficult to hear, let me know if you need a minute.”
  • Communicate over the phone or in person—clients value being valued, which means stop dropping cavalier e-mails.
  • Provide solutions—don’t just point out the problems with a person’s case, provide solutions. There’s always a work-around, “Plan B”, or even long-shot to be tried—so try it!

In the end, clients want to see you’re as hopeful of a positive outcome as they are—and not just because of the billable hours.

Need to brush up on some leadership skills? Listen to C4CM’s audio course, “Attentive Listening: Essential Tips and Techniques to Effective Leadership and Overall Success.

Leadership applies not only to your own team, but the team you build with both colleagues and clients.

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