Tag Archives: culture

Boost Your Legal Business By Not Acting Like A Lawyer (Oh yeah, And Go Vote)

Obviously the big topic of conversation today is the U.S. Presidential elections.

American associates across the nation are returning to their offices proudly wearing their “I Voted” stickers.

And why shouldn’t they be proud?

After all, voting is part of our nation’s democratic history. It represents the freedom our ancestors fought for. And voting is, consequently, our civic duty.

Lawyers should be especially sensitive to this latter point.

Attorneys serve as guardians of American civil liberties and rights. After voting for national independence from Great Britain, America’s Second Continental Congress wrote its Declaration of Independence, on which twenty-five, almost half, lawyers signed.

But while the Presidential elections are today’s hot-ticket item, some considerably smaller but equally contentious and highly significant judicial elections are also taking place.

Judges in Iowa, Florida, Michigan, and Alabama are each expecting controversial ascents to the bench today, according to the WSJ Law Blog. In fact, 33 states will watch the hands of justice, well, change hands.

Iowa’s biggest scandal is the fact that it ousted “three supreme court justices via retention election as payback for the justices in 2009 voting to strike down as unconstitutional an Iowa law banning same-sex marriage,” explains the WSJ Law Blog.

Then, in Florida, conservatives are following Iowa’s example and rallying to oust their own liberal judicial representatives.

Basically, now is the ideal time to pay attention to elections and brace your firm for the litigation fallout. State lawyers have already gotten involved in Florida. Who is next?

Which of your clients will benefit from this conservative trend in law and voting?

Putting political party preferences aside (although, not totally aside), for at least one attorney, this year’s voting cycle has been an excellent lesson in law firm business marketing.

Brian Tannebaum, Esquire, recently recounted his polling experience this November, 2012. He starts his story:

“I went to vote Saturday at 7:20 a.m. I left with my ‘I voted’ sticker at 12:39 p.m. When you stand in line for five hours, even a person like me has to pass the time by speaking to someone. After skimming through the morning paper and making a futile attempt to find something interesting on Twitter or Facebook, Jeff asked me a simple question: ‘What do you do?’”

For lawyers, this is often an unluckily question from the random stranger. The number of lawyer jokes testifies to the fact that law is one the least beloved industries. Luckily for Tannebaum, it turns out that Jeff upped the ante—as a mobile auto dealer.

But, more to the point, the two began talking in the polling line, as strangers do.

There was no pitch, there was no exchange of business promises, rather, jovial conversation emerged organically from this shared experience.

The moral of the story is simple. Tannebaum rants:

“We are constantly in everyone’s face trying to get business. Someone told us that appearing on every page someone accesses on the internet will get us more wonderful high-paying clients. While it’s important to be able to be found on the internet, this notion that we have to be in everyone’s face 24/7 is one of the (many) reasons people hate lawyers.”

It makes good business sense to be aggressive about catching clients. But, not when you forget common courtesy and polite civic behavior. Today reminds us all that we’re just equal citizens, looking for opportunity.

Tannebaum believes no amount of gadgets will give you that. His slogan for the office of law may as well be: honest conversation always wins.

He drives his point home, saying, “Oh, I almost forgot… We started talking about people we both know. He also told me his company has had a contract with a big local auto dealership for the last 20 years…. He’ll be at my house next week.”

So today, when you’re out in the cold waiting for your turn to contribute to history, shake a hand or start a conversation. Not as a lawyer, but as a layperson. You’ll be surprised what that’s worth.

-WB

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The Worst Types Of Corporate Culture In Law

Experts agree that it’s typically futile and unwise to try to change a firm’s corporate culture. Corporate culture is the product of time-tested professional relationships and decision-making.

It’s fair to say that, in the least, it would be difficult to undo years of conditioned and accepted professional behavior and patterns.

In addition, business strategy, more often than not, actually benefits from tapping into a company’s corporate culture.

Knowing what motivates or incentivizes your employees—driving employee behavior that benefits clients and increases productivity—is essential for success.

Unfortunately, some types of corporate culture have no upside. In these rare instances, it becomes necessary to re-train your employees and managers and reduce the negative aspects of the office culture.

Below are three of the worst types of corporate culture in law and a few ways to eradicate them from your firm.

Machiavellian (aka Back Stabbing)

When you come up with a breakthrough idea, do you keep it to yourself for fear of theft? Do you worry when your peers lunch with your supervisor, even though you consider yourself an excellent worker? Have you ever received praise to your face from another associate, only to hear second-hand that they’ve sabotaged your reputation or work-product to somebody else?

If the above scenarios are starting to sound familiar, it’s possible you work in a Machiavellian environment.

For managers, this corporate culture is detrimental to employee motivation. Not only is it disheartening for employees to watch their best ideas credited to another person, but when this happens, it de-incentivizes employees to be creative, quick, or hardworking.

To discourage this type of corporate culture, law firm managers should be diligent with performance reviews and status reports. They should always know what employees are working on, in addition to the progress of the project.

Managers should reward group efforts and collaboration. Machiavellian cultures emerge when the individual benefits from a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog bonus system.

Machiavellian systems are easy to identify. Do your hallways have high levels of gossip? Do employees seem friendly in the office, but refrain from socializing outside it? Do certain employees brownnose by constantly talking up the manager or bragging about their achievements?

These are signs that your firm has low levels of trust and teamwork. Strive to eradicate this culture by emphasizing the importance of and recompensing fellowship—there’s a time to lead and a time to follow. Mangers should recognize employees who know how to support their peers with sincerity and in silence.

Misogynist (aka Boys Club)

At the largest firms in America, an equity gender gap persists.

The National Law Journal‘s NLJ 250 survey ranks the largest firms in the United States by headcount. And, data collected from 221 firms show that women represent a mere 15.1 percent of equity partners, and among all partners—equity and nonequity—women still comprise just 18.8 percent.

Of those firms with a good grasp on gender neutrality, with more equal partnership distribution, a culture of inclusion was cited as key.

“Women felt accepted here,” Ice Miller partner Brenda Horn, who started at the firm in 1981, said to the NLJ. Ms. Horn reported that of the four women and three men who started in her class, three of the women and two of the men went on to make partner.

“We were always less conventional [than other firms in Indiana]. Your pedigree and who you played football with didn’t matter here.”

Unfortunately, data suggests that this gender equality and culture of inclusion does not necessarily exist in 81.2 percent of law firms in the U.S.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, law continues to be a Boys Club. But, it doesn’t have to be.

If a misogynist corporate culture is alienating female attorneys at your firm, try creating a mentorship program for women. Also, encourage after-hours activities that are not gender specific.

Finally, keep in mind that language and casual conversation can be the worst culprit in increasing gender discrimination and bias. So, lead by example when interacting with people around the office halls, even when you think nobody’s listening.

Mean (aka Firm Always Comes First)

Do you ever get the feeling your firm policy is spiteful? Do you get the impression meetings are held late on Fridays to deliberately thwart attempts at a personal life? Have you been told “no” when making simple or short vacation requests for key life events—the birth of child, religious holiday, or family emergency?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, it may be that your firm is just plain mean.

It’s unclear why some corporate cultures have embraced a malicious attitude. Perhaps, in the past, employees have abused a vacation policy. Or, previous attorneys have taken advantage of casual Friday and early exits to celebrate the weekend.

It’s possible that the people ahead of you have ruined the corporate culture for those who follow. However, in terms of law firm management (or law), unfair and poor precedent should never prevent positive changes in policy.

If employees are reporting cruel or callous behavior or statements on the part of supervisors at your firm, take complaints seriously.

If somebody—regardless of rank—is adding to the stress or negativity of the office, sign him or her up for leadership and other team-building training.

Bad attitudes are bad for your bottom line—and that’s the bottom line.

-WB

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Culture Shock & Shocking Lessons About The Value Of Employee-Driven Business Strategies

Culture within a law firm—or any company, for that matter—is created organically and gradually.

Although founding partners and CEOs can try to mold and move its business culture in a certain direction, ultimately, culture becomes the product of multiple employee personalities and professional decision-making over time.

The idea that business profits and successes are often intertwined with the type of culture a firm espouses can be a terrifying thought for powers-that-be. To improve business practice, do you look to change your firm culture? Or, do you change your future plans around the culture that’s already been established?

Recently, the Harvard Business Review Blog wrote a profile about the culture of one of America’s largest healthcare companies, Aetna. Apparently, in the early 2000s, Aetna was in a financial bind, bleeding $1 million each day to cumbersome processes, gigantic overhead costs, and some unwise business acquisitions.

“Many of the problems Aetna faced were attributed to its culture—especially its reverence for the company’s 150-year history,” wrote the authors for the HBR Blog.

“Once openly known among workers as ‘Mother Aetna,’ the culture encouraged employees to be steadfast to the point that they’d become risk-averse, tolerant of mediocrity, and suspicious of outsiders.”

See, steadfast and risk-averse are not necessarily bad for business. But, when Aetna looked to grow—to merge with a lower-cost healthcare provider, U.S. Healthcare, and all the processes that came with it—the conservatism of Aetna’s employees clashed with the more aggressive strategies of its new business partner.

And, slow and steadfast became synonymous with lazy and low-yielding. Losses made it ever more apparent that something—or somebody—had to give.

When John W. Rowe, MD, assumed Aetna’s fourth CEO position in five years in the late 2000, eyes rolled. But, unlike his predecessors, Rowe was able to turn around the business in three key ways:

  1. Rowe sought feedback from employees at all levels to provide input on business strategy and change.
  2. Rowe listened and applied these conversations to a financially-sound and realistic business plan.
  3. Rowe presented his plan for a turnaround to the company’s employees in a way that fit with the culture—as opposed to fighting it.

“This time, without ever describing their efforts as ‘cultural change,’ top management began with a few interventions. These interventions led to small but significant behavioral changes that, in turn, revitalized Aetna’s culture while preserving and championing its strengths,” explains the HBR Blog.

“For instance, the New Aetna was specifically designed to reinforce employees’ commitment to customers—reflected in the firm’s history of responding quickly to natural disasters. Rowe also made a point of reinforcing a longtime strength that had eroded—employees’ pride in the company. During one question-and-answer session, a longtime employee said, ‘Dr. Rowe, I really appreciate your taking the time to explain your new strategy. Can you tell me what it means for someone like me?’

Not an easy question. After a thoughtful pause, Rowe replied, ‘Well, I guess it is all about restoring the Aetna pride.’ He got a spontaneous standing ovation from the hundreds of attendees.”

Now, the article emphasizes the moral of the story is Stop Fighting Your Culture.

Too many companies try to change and revamp culture to fit business strategy, as opposed to the other way around. When culture is, in fact, frequently the best accelerator and energizer for CEOs, according to the HBR.

But, in addition to this important point, the story about Aetna’s turnaround also contains valuable lessons about leadership as demonstrated by Rowe.

First, employee feedback—especially at low ranks—affects firm policy in a positive way.

It can’t be said enough that total employee satisfaction leads to higher monetary returns.

Plus, leaders are often too far up on the professional hierarchy to see or understand the flaws in their plans on the ordinary, everyday level. Thus, associates, of every degree of experience, should be given a voice, representative, and seat at the business development table.

Second, Aetna perceived its conservative culture as a liability, not an asset. Law firms may struggle with the same mindset—that tradition is less valuable than new technology or change.

Not so. In fact, Rowe realized that Aetna’s longtime strength—commitment to customers, patients and physicians—was the missing link. Once he resurrected Aetna’s priority in people, the company took off and its culture rose with it.

In law, maintaining a personal and loyal relationship with your clients is key to success. Business incentives are not always tangible—at its base, law is a service industry job. Aetna remembered to give precedence to the needs of its customers, as law firms should, too.

Finally, Aetna knew it needed change. After all, constant innovation is vital for company growth. But, depending on your culture, this change may need to arrive over time. The pace by which a company innovates is unique.

Younger, more liberal law firms may be able to embrace change more quickly than older, more traditional ones.

When it comes to culture, there exists a vast spectrum of professional values. Like Aetna and Rowe, law firms should identify, embrace, and then reinforce its cultural values when creating business strategies for a more successful future.

-WB

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Culture In Law: How To Properly Pair Wine & Create A Client-Focused Firm

Copyright: The New Yorker
http://www.newyorker.com/humor

Law is just one more service industry business. Except, lawyers like to think—unlike food services, for example—specialized knowledge and expertize put them above the old adage, “the customer’s always right.”

Clients don’t know best, only their counsel does.

But what would happen if a law firms put client needs at the center of their business development decisions? It turns out, such a law firm would generate more business and more profits—not a bad business plan at all.

Clients who see their primary law firm as best in client service spend twice as much on these legal services, according to a BTI Survey of Client Service Performance and Client Needs.

And, due to increased morale, productivity, and word-of-mouth referrals, these client-focused firms also rake in 30 percent more in profits than their traditional counterparts, according to the same survey.

Law administrators might argue that their firm does—in fact—put clients first!

However, much more is at stake in order to create a true, client-focused culture than just the aim to please.

First, good service has little to do with the good practice of law.

Take, for example, our model restaurant, Chez Esquire. The waiter might bring you exactly what you ordered. What’s more, the meal may even exceed your expectations. Nevertheless, the high quality of the food does not play into the high quality of the service.

Think about what’s involved with superior service: attentiveness, predictability of needs, friendly attitude, and helpfulness.

A waiter must be attentive, filling water glasses or refilling coffee before anybody thinks to ask. In the same way, a lawyer must share information readily, not simply when its demanded.

Frequent updates on a client’s case or weekly case status reports make for exceptional customer service.

Predictability of needs can also help a firm stand out in a crowd.

Anticipating what kind of savings or IRA account, maybe even real-estate venture, that a wealthy client would want (before he knows he wants it) will increase client satisfaction. It will also increase the amount of business you transact (your firm has, for instance, a wealth management department to manage the task).

Next, don’t underestimate the value of a smile. Clients, like restaurant patrons, know when service is being delivered sincerely, and when somebody’s secretly spit in their food.

So, deliver news in person or over the phone with polite candor and consideration.

Finally, helpfulness does not correspond an attorney’s knowledge of the law. It’s an attorney’s ability to know options within the law, and to present a client with multiple scenarios.

Helpfulness also includes an attorney’s understanding of a client’s business. With this knowledge, an attorney should tailor decisions after the specific needs of a client’s company, whether that be in alternative billing practices or pre-trial negotiations.

Like a nicely paired wine, there are levels of affordability. A sommelier can certainly recommend the best, richest bottle in the lot to a man who can barely afford to taste it. But, by suggesting more than one, the wine expert has the power to transform an awkward, overpriced first date into a successful, lasting relationship.

To ensure that your service surpasses expectations, law firms should create a Client Service Improvement Team who guarantees:

  1. Information about clients and cases are shared internally to create customized services
  2. Clients have easy access to information about their own case
  3. Clients are contacted more frequently
  4. Lawyers are trained to be helpful firm ambassadors
  5. Clients are surveyed about how service could be improved
  6. Based on surveys, law firms put clients’ needs first in business practice

Integrate your clients’ voice into your firm business plan and the profits will speak for themselves, loud and clear.

-WB

Reference: Stock, Adam L. “Breaking down barriers: Becoming more client focused.” Allen Matkins. Novemebr 24, 2011. [LINK: http://www.slideshare.net/allenmatkins/breaking-down-barriers-creating-a-clientfocused-law-firm-culture]

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Is Checking Facebook At Work A Federal Crime? Where Your Firm Should Weigh In…


Image: chanpipat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If checking Facebook at work were a federal crime, the government may as well outlaw office gossip and coffee breaks.

These days, Congress and corporate America seems to be pigeonholing the Internet as a workplace tool—and nothing more. But, for gamers, social media-istas, and chronic procrastinators, this determination is like being stuck between a rock and a hard-drive.

Why can’t the Internet be both a business tool and a conduit for leisure?

Mostly because the government would love to regulate the suspicious and potential dangerous online activities of its population, the way it can’t personal pleasure or freedom.

Yesterday, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, in an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, decided the government had gone too far in interpreting an anti-hacking statute called the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA).

According to Judge Kozinski’s opinion, no, it is not a federal crime to check facebook at work—despite workplace policy. And, no, it is not a federal crime to gchat with friends, play online games, shop, or watch sports highlights in violation of employer policy.

 “While it’s unlikely that you’ll be prosecuted for watching Reason.TV on your work computer, you could be. Employers wanting to rid themselves of troublesome employees without following proper procedures could threaten to report them to the FBI unless they quit,” explained Judge Kozinski.

“Ubiquitous, seldom-prosecuted crimes invite arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

The WSJ Law Blog points out that this ruling puts the Ninth Circuit at odds with the Fifth, Seventh,, and 11th circuits, which adopted a broader view of the law’s coverage.

“Were we to adopt the government’s proposed interpretation, millions of unsuspecting individuals would find that they are engaging in criminal conduct,” stressed Judge Kozinski.

As such, Judge Kozinski asked the three dissenting courts to reconsider.

“These courts looked only at the culpable behavior of the defendants before them, and failed to consider the effect on millions of ordinary citizens caused by the statute’s unitary definition of ‘exceeds authorized access.’ They therefore failed to apply the long-standing principle that we must construe ambiguous criminal statutes narrowly so as to avoid ‘making criminal law in Congress’s stead,’” wrote Judge Kozinski in his opinion.

“We therefore respectfully decline to follow our sister circuits and urge them to reconsider instead.”

Just as courts ought to reconsider their rulings, law firms should reconsider their related workplace policies.

In light of the potentially huge consequences for violating workplace social media policies (at least for federal crimes in the Fifth, Seventh, and 11th circuits), what kind of message are you sending associates?

Is your firm culture so severe that it would like to see its employees prosecuted for procrastinating online?

A study by American Express showed 39 percent of younger workers won’t even consider working for a company that blocks Facebook, according to Kevin O’Keefe’s points for “Why law firms need to stop blocking the use of social media,” on his site Real Lawyers Have Blogs. Because Facebook is now the primary communication and networking tool for many young professionals, why block its use and alienate this group?

Whatever your choice in language and limitations in a workplace social media policy, law firms should remember—in the least—to create one.

In 2011, over 100 employers were accused of improper social media practices or policies, according to The Center For Competitive Management. If not to protect your employees from strict law enforcement, protect your firm.

If you’re unsure where to start, try research and a round-table discussion with a mix of junior and senior attorneys. Along with administrators, ask the group to create a social media policy that reflects their own opinions on the matter. Most likely, your employees will know best what types of social media uses actually constitute abuses.

A round-table discussion will also ensure your employees take the time to read workplace policy; after all, they helped write it.

Finally, if you’re still stuck, attend C4CM’s course on audio CD, Social Media at Work: Bulletproof Policies that Minimize Legal and Financial Risks.

-WB

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Internet Censorship: How SOPA and Protect IP Affects Law Firms

All great revolutions have a “freedom” song to encourage valor in dissidents, to celebrate liberty for all, and to express sentiments of solidarity in protest.

A myriad of poems and songs during the American Revolution memorialized the fight for freedom, such as “Liberty Song” and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee.” Even the Stamp Act was singled out by a catchy tune, “American Taxation,” by Peter St. John.

In contemporary times, we are reminded of the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

Musical patriotism is alive and well in America, but these days, the expression and protection of the bill of rights concern web-based conflict.

Today, you can sing along to yet one more reason for dissent, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). In keeping with tradition, the act has inspired its own freedom song, “Firewall,” by Leah Kauffman (via CNET).

And, the digital revolution is not lost on British songwriters, either. Dan Bull, a U.K. singer, released “SOPA Cabana,” which also openly opposes the Republican legislation currently under debate in the House (via CNET).

So, why does SOPA deserve these trial-and-tribulation tributes?

SOPA and its sister bill in the Senate, the Protect IP Act, target overseas “rogue websites” that host illegal copies of movies, videos, music, and photos. If passed, the law would require Internet service providers to deny customers access to any violating website, domain name, or IP address.

There are broader implications to the bill. Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing, for example, will be required to adjust their search results to exclude foreign websites in violation of the bill. Payment providers and ad services will also be impacted, being forced to refuse business to any website in violation of the bill’s terms.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in a letter to the editor of The New York Times, defended the bill, saying, “Rogue Web sites that steal America’s innovative and creative products attract more than 53 billion visits a year and threaten more than 19 million American jobs.”

It seems, however, that American jobs within affected U.S. industries—Internet service providers, search engines, ad services, to name a few—will be the first to lose, as U.S. companies will bear the burden and costs of compliance.

The Verge (via Above the Law) summarizes the bill’s major problem, “Because US copyright holders generally can’t drag a foreign web site into US courts to get them to stop stealing and distributing their work, SOPA allows them to go after the ISPs, ad networks, and payment processors that are in the United States. It is a law borne of the blind logic of revenge: the movie studios can’t punish the real pirates, so they are attacking the network instead.”

In the same vein, Rebecca MacKinnon wrote an on-point The New York Times op-ed against SOPA. She starts her article with:

“China operates the world’s most elaborate and opaque system of Internet censorship. But Congress, under pressure to take action against the theft of intellectual property, is considering misguided legislation that would strengthen China’s Great Firewall and even bring major features of it to America.”

In addition to the questionably unconstitutional nature of the bill described above, SOPA also seeks to infringe on some of the social and political liberties upon which America was founded:

“YouTube, Twitter and Facebook have played an important role in political movements from Tahrir Square to Zuccotti Park. At present, social networking services are protected by a ‘safe harbor’ provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, which grants Web sites immunity from prosecution as long as they act in good faith to take down infringing content as soon as rights-holders point it out to them. The House bill would destroy that immunity, putting the onus on YouTube to vet videos in advance or risk legal action. It would put Twitter in a similar position to that of its Chinese cousin, Weibo, which reportedly employs around 1,000 people to monitor and censor user content and keep the company in good standing with authorities.”

Recently some Biglaw firms were thrown into the fray.

Aside from those law firms who were directly implicated in the bill, firms should pay attention to the progression of SOPA for three main reasons:

1. Take a position

SOPA in the House, and Protect IP in the Senate, have widespread implications, and they will certainly affect the business of your best clients. So, find out quickly where they (and you) weigh in.

2. Act 

Law and politics are inherently mixed. If there were ever a time to act on this hotbed issue (by, say, biglaw pressure), now is the time. The Senate Judiciary committee has already approved the Protect IP bill and it’s waiting for a floor vote that has been scheduled for January 24. Furthermore, during a two-day debate in the House Judiciary committee in mid-December, SOPA supporters seemed to have a commanding majority on the committee. Congress returns in 2012 to vote on the bill.

3. Prepare

The number of online companies is growing rapidly. Whether or not your firm supports SOPA, if it passes in the House, lawyers will need to bring many of their clients with web-based corporations into compliance.

Ultimately, lawyers have long composed this country’s first patriots. Two-thirds of the fifty-five delegates who attended the American Constitutional Convention were lawyers.

And, it was a lawyer—Francis Scott Key—who wrote the lyrics to this country’s most symbolic and proudest tune, The Star Spangled Banner.

In 2012, your firm faces a difficult decision. What anthem—for or against the IP revolution—will you sing?

-WB

Read more about why law has an important place in politics in, “Peace, War, and Lawyers” in addition to other constitutional upsets here.

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Does Your Firm Need Change? Seeding a Good Culture Will Reap Bountiful Rewards

Before a law firm can start to think about changing anything major–such as how it markets its services–administrators and senior partners have got to have a good overall idea of the culture that exists in that firm.

For instance, are you, as “management”, absolutely sure of what junior associates think of senior associates and of partners?  Is there an open ambiance, or do grumbling and innuendos take the place of direct resolutionary confrontation?   Does the more recent hiree feel she or he can take grievances to a managing partner, without fear of reprisal?  Does the associate have a firm idea of which partner handles what area in the firm’s management?

In other words, if you wanted to make a few impactful changes—and which firm doesn’t?—would you have a firm enough foundation, a solid and healthy soil for the seeding of ideas, so that the changes will root and sprout forth with desired behavior?   “A Recipe for Cultural Change” tackles this concept.

It was  posted recently in Leadership for Lawyers, by Mark Beese.  LfC is an affiliate of the Law.com network. By way of qualification, Beese (pictured) was a Chief Marketing Officer for a 450-attorney firm with offices in the Rocky Mountain region.  He  now helps lawyers “become better business developers and leaders.”


“Perhaps the greatest challenge to today’s law firm leaders is how to change a firm’s culture,” Beese notes.   He extrapolates a strategy he likes:  Rutger von Post’s steps that leaders need to take “to effect positive change”.   Number one on the list is to get to know—really know—the local culture.

If there’s a problem, it’s not an isolated issue and it’s not any one person’s interpretation of the firm’s values and belief systems that is causing it. What’s behind the issue is EVERYONE’S interpretation.  Here’s what you need to find out: “In your firm, what are the underlying assumptions, beliefs, values and behaviors that drive (or prevent) desired behavior?”

Is there a lack of trust or connection between partners? Does one partner avoid “cross-marketing” because she or he doesn’t believe that their partners will hold up well?   The only way to find out is to ask.

Second on the list is to share your vision with the entire firm.  You, as a leader, have to stress the fact that certain sought-after goals would be achieved and would benefit everyone if only such-and-such a desired behavior were carried out.

Third on the list is to beta-test first.  If you’ve got an idea for change and you’re not 100% sure of its success ratio, quietly test it, and then build on that success.  “Lawyers are more sceptical than most,”  von Post notes.   Once you beta-test, “refine and build a series of successes before launching a big initiative.”  Then, let ‘er rip!

Fourth is to zero in on the movers and the shakers. Who are the key players, the people who network and who are respected?  There are several of them: the  “keepers of traditions”, authority figures and “pride builders”, or those who have a great deal of influence on their peers.  Meet with them one-on-one and win their support.

Finally, build informal networks, from the top down, as well as those more formal, organizational structures.   It’s just as important to help individuals meet their goals as it is to, say, redesign reporting mechanisms and communicating priorities.

Bottom line:  It’s possible, by “going organic”,  to align the firm’s culture with your goals.  If law firm leaders plant the seeds early, you’ll likely get a bumper crop of successful, motivated employees.   Check out this link for related course information: Change Management: Essentials Skills to Lead and Navigate through a Transition

-EM

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On Being Shrewdly Frugal In Your Human Resources Policies

The American Bar Association’s periodical “Law Practice” featured a piece entitled “Fine-Tuning Human Resources: Top Tips For Frugal Law Firms” by practicing lawyer Donna S.M. Neff, (with the assistance of Natalie Sanna), in response to the common administrative struggle of trying to “do less with more” in human resources. HR is the area of most firms’ “single biggest expense” factor.

It’ll come as no surprise that, in order for your firm to beef up your HR return, you’ve got to exercise savvy practicality in everything from hiring to firing, and all areas in between. 

A few helpful hire hints as outlined in the article include the following:

1. When seeking new personnel, draft up a suitable, comprehensive listing of what you expect.  Get ruthless.  Don’t skimp words.  It’s critical that you clearly express what the job position entails.  Use the job description to then develop your job postings and the interview questions, as well as the testing to be employed.

2.  Place two types of help-wanted ads.  Use a brief, concise advertisement to place in suitable internet venues, print journals and appropriate newsletters (such as those put out by your local bar association). Also prepare a lengthier one which will be mailed to your network via e-mail, and which will be posted on your firm’s site.

3.  When interviewing, don’t forget to ask questions that directly relate to your drafted job position.  Also create a few questions that accurately reflect your firm’s culture, and will help you and the candidate determine whether or not the job would be a good fit.

4.  For lawyer applicants, consider composing a series of challenging scenarios involving a client-lawyer relationship.  You’ll be posing a couple of unlikely examples of real-life situations that probably won’t, but ostensibly might, come up. Juding on how the potential associate (or lateral hire) responds, you will have gathered information on how they problem-solve and react in difficult circumstances.

5.  it’s a good idea to have a tag-team when interviewing prospects.  Have two people in on the interview process at all times: someone to ask the questions and someone to observe and take notes.  This is more difficult–and valuable–than it appears, as the person(s) carrying the conversational ball don’t always pick up on important cues and clues…and they often don’t completely hear what the person doing the talking is saying.

By pre-planning your employment strategy, you’re avoiding the costly mistakes of mis-hiring that lead to a revolving door policy.  Your aim is a happy, well-adjusted work staff…of lawyers and other personnel who are perfectly suited for your firm, and of a firm that’s perfectly satisfied with its people.  To read more on searching for qualified candidates, maintaining (“training and retraining great people”) and having the most difficult of conversations…an exit interview, read  Neff’s article in its entirely.

Of Related Interest – You might want to pick up the CD Recording of the CCM audio conference: 10 Critical Methods to Increase

Employee Engagement and Improve Job Satisfaction.

-EM

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Counteroffers – What Administrators Need to Know

There are many occasions these days in which lawyers will find themselves weighing their employment options and, as an administrator, you can only benefit from learning how associates might react to counteroffers.  Above the Law takes on the challenge of presenting a several-series piece on the topic of the tangible and not-so-tangible reasons that attorneys jump ship—even after their current firm has made a counteroffer.  (Law.com also has something to say on the matter. See the end of this blog for both sources.)


So, essentially, what you need to know is: when an attorney is wondering: “should I stay or should I go?”, what are the reasons and what, if anything, will change their mind?  

At a time when most firms are trimming the fat, as ATL puts it, attorneys are well aware that it still costs a firm more to hire (and “break in”) a new employee than it does to keep the status quo. This is especially true for firms operating on a reduced staff where perhaps an increased workload has been projected for the coming year.  

So while associates are putting in a record number of billable hours, they will be testing the waters…and even looking for and finding employment at other firms.  These attorneys will sometimes expect their current employer to reach out—and, in fact, their employers may be very willing to do so.

“For the first time since the recession began,” says ATL, “firms may actually be disappointed when one of their associates gets hired and they are most likely going to present these associates with tempting counteroffers.”  

If these associates speak to a career counselor, they are likely to be advised to look at the big picture in the following manner:  

  • Take stock of the situation and examine tangibles.  Reassess the current job scenario. What were the decisions that led to the decision to leave?  How likely is it that such a situation will change, now?  It helps to name the issues so that you can bring them up at either the exit interview or the counteroffer meeting. 
  • Some issues that often come up are: salary/bonuses; work load and quality of assignments; growth and partnership potential and your relationship with coworkers and partners.  
  • Look at the not-so-tangibles.  Are you feeling valued at work?  Do you think you have a good work/life balance?  Do you fit into the firm’s culture? 
  • These things can’t always be remedied by a counteroffer.  For instance, if you are an autonomous worker who enjoys making unique, individual contributions to a project, you might not mesh with a large firm where team work is the norm. On the other hand, if you prefer a firm that rewards group-centered performance and your employer hones in on high-achievers, it’s best to find a better fit. As ATL says, “You’d be kidding yourself if you think your firm is going to change its culture to retain you.”  

Bottom line: there are many reasons why associates decide their personality and/or preferences might not dovetail with their present position.  The most level-headed job-seekers will weigh all such considerations in totality, so as not to be “blinded by the dollar figure or… perks of a counteroffer.”   Read more at: http://bit.ly/dHJMM4 and see, also, a related item at Law.com: http://bit.ly/gAOGq9

-EM

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Forewarned – On How Firms Sell Their Diversity

Thankfully, the majority of folks you’ll deal with as a Law Firm Administrator have already made peace with the fact that diversity is here to stay. If they haven’t yet embraced the concept, there’re all kinds of reasons for them to do so.

Let’s review:  

1.  Through the advent of technology and high-speed travel, this is rapidly becoming a global world.  The more groups of people you know, the better you’ll be able to expand your social AND business horizons. (What is there to know?  Cultural differences should be examined and respected, no matter how subtle.) 

2.  “It matters for social justice,” says Above The Law’s “Insight Straight” blog, whose author also reminds us that…

3.  “Folks are tracking it,” and that…  

4.  It matters for your defense team, as you will want to have the members look “at least slightly like [your] jurors”.  

There have also been certain cases where employers (a.k.a. clients) have been known to want a member of a certain demographic group representing their case, as the employer perhaps seeks to add balance to the nuanced and not-so-nuanced issues.  For example, says the author “in my old product liability life, we may have wanted women to defend breast implant or hormone replacement therapy cases.  Or we may have looked for female expert witnesses…”

Now, what if you needed to pitch your firm’s diversity to a would-be client?  How would you sell it?  First of all, it’d be best to examine your culture, to see if your firm truly is a good representation of diversity and, if not, do all that you can to remedy that. For example, do you have women on your management committee, or executive committee or board?  Is it otherwise inclusive?    Do you and those who go out and represent your firm really believe that women and other “groups” are on a par with men? Because, try as you might, your real view of these demographic groups can not be disguised.  

The author, chief counsel of litigation at Aon, makes a spectacular case-in-point when he tells the story of how a female colleague and he were taken out to lunch by two white male representatives of a firm soliciting their business.  Afterwards, the woman mentioned being offended by the way the men expounded on how diverse the firm was, when it was obviously a case of “say one thing, and do another”. 

“Don’t just tell me about your women,” says this irate female colleague. “Bring one along!”  And, “It’s much easier for [them] to give up money than it is for them to give up power…Don’t tell me that you pay a few women a lot of money.”  Finally, says, the colleague,

“[t]hey asked me about my kids, but they never asked about yours!” 

As the author says, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

To read more, go here: http://abovethelaw.com/2011/03/inside-straight-pitching-diversity/

-EM

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