Tag Archives: leadership

Famous Movie Quotes To Make You A Better Boss

When you’re having a rough day, it’s fun to imagine how you’d quit your job. In fact, you may even fantasize about using a famous movie quote on your boss after you storm out of the office during one such disgruntled occasion:

  • “If I’m not back in five minutes, just wait longer” –Jim Carrey as Ace Ventura in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)
  • “You’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?” –Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry in Dirty Harry (1971)
  • “Do you like apples? Well, how do you like them apples?” –Matt Damon as Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting (1997)
  • “Hasta la vista, baby.” –Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator in The Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991)

An alarming fact for managers is that despite high rates of unemployment, people are still quitting their jobs in droves. More than 2 million Americans are voluntarily leaving their jobs every month, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, which refers to them as “Quits.”

It seems there are a few things employees just won’t tolerate—with or without an economic recession. A recent study by Accenture (via Forbes) reports the following reasons people leave their job, and it may surprise you:

  • Dislike boss (31%)
  • Lack of empowerment (31%)
  • Internal politics (35%)
  • Lack of recognition (43%)

So what can law firm managers learn from this survey? First, leadership is not just commanding, sometimes it’s also camaraderie. Second, employees need to feel empowered. Third, leave gossiping and favoritism at the door. And finally, reward your employees for a job well done when deserved.

Here are four ways to retain your law firm professionals and the movie quotes that will help you remember them:

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” –Strother Martin as The Captain in Cool Hand Luke (1967)

One of the most cited reasons that employees leave their jobs is because they dislike their boss. In a profession like legal services, where positions are extremely hierarchical, it can be easy to fall into ranks. First years get all the dirty work, partners get all the recognition from clients. In order to keep your associates from quitting in a fit of rage (and maybe even starting their own competing firm) be a boss that listens.

Keep tabs on all your associates. Do they seem stressed? Overworked? Do they complain a lot? Make sure your subordinates feel comfortable voicing their concerns or asking questions.

If you feel out of touch, take one or two younger associates to lunch. Ask them about their work satisfaction. Really take note of their responses with two-way communication.

Make an open-door policy. If you need expert advice on handling difficult conversations with your employees, read C4CM’s guide here. If you don’t know how to write formal or informal policies on boss-subordinate communication, or want to know how to create an open-door policy, find guidance for managers here.

If your employees don’t like you as a boss, it likely means you’re failing as one.

“Nobody puts Baby in a corner.” –Patrick Swayze as Johnny Castle in Dirty Dancing (1987)

Another reason employees quit their job is a lack of feeling empowered. Employees will work harder and longer if you give them ownership over their work.

People don’t want to be micromanaged. Associates like coming up with case strategy—even if you don’t take it, make sure all ideas are welcome.

You can also empower employees by giving them trust. Allow flexible schedules. Alan Hall for Forbes comments, “In essence, corporate leadership can still achieve productivity and happily engaged employees by offering them more latitude in how employees accomplish company and personal goals.”

“For example, must every employee’s workday start at 8 and end at 5? Could a working parent start their workday later or accomplish a portion of their workday or workweek from home?”

Also, don’t assume that an associate isn’t working just because they’re not at their desk. Give associates a task, a deadline, and trust them to complete it. If you’re stopping by a subordinate’s office too often, you’re stopping them from doing their job efficiently and from achieving their full potential.

For more advice on how to transform your firm into a flexible workplace, take C4CM’s online course here.

“This isn’t personal, Kay. This is business.” –Al Pacino as Michael Corleone in The Godfather (1972)

Office politics (like regular politics!) are the worst. Nobody likes to tip-toe around an issue because a certain team member can’t be criticized. Nobody wants to join a team where certain people are favored over others. Office politics are disheartening and counterproductive. Lead by example. Don’t gossip in the workplace and do encourage people to voice their opinion, even if it’s dissenting.

Having a hard time tempering toxic talk? Learn about minimizing office politics and gossip with C4CM’s course here. Also, take the smart woman’s guide to office polics here.

“You don’t understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could’ve been somebody.” –Marlon Brando as Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront (1954)

Finally, employees quit because of a lack of recognition for their hard work. No, not every job well done needs a pat on the back or year-end bonus. But, it can be easy for managers to focus on mistakes rather than to reward achievements.

Law firms work as a team, from the receptionist who greets the client to the paralegal conducting docket research to the associate on doc-review. Some of these employees may not have been a part of the flashiest and most recognizable parts of the case—they may even have been absent from the courtroom or off the official record—but their commitment and work is real. It deserves recognition.

Write letters of thanks to your employees after a big project. A simple, handwritten letter goes a long way in recognizing somebody’s effort in a very personal way. Law firm managers and leaders, in general, hold a lot of responsibility. Wield it wisely, widely, and graciously.

Still uncertain about what your employees need? Become a better listener and better leader by attending C4CM’s audio course on improving employee engagement and enhancing your influence here.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much these days for an employee to reach his or her breaking point. Boosting morale may be a manager’s most important task of the day. Otherwise your best talent may be Gone With The Wind, mimicking Clark Gable as Rhett Butler when they say to you at their wit’s end: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

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Is The Law At Odds With Women In The Workplace? How Women Can Become Better Bosses

Some days it’s hard to be a woman and appreciate the law.

Let’s take a recent incident in Iowa, for example.

For an entire decade a man enjoyed the hard work of his female subordinate. Ten years the two worked side-by-side in a dental office without incident. But, following a midlife crisis, failure in his own marriage, or some other unprovoked change of heart, the boss suddenly finds his assistant too attractive to be around. He promptly fires her.

“Dr. Knight said I couldn’t work in the office, because he was becoming attracted to me, and not able to focus on his family, and his family life… I instantly broke down in tears. All I remember is just sitting there, and not able to get up, telling him that I love my job,” explains Melissa Nelson in an interview with “20/20” correspondent Paula Faris, reports ABC News.

A lawsuit was filed on the grounds of wrongful termination due to gender.

Dr. James Knight, the dentist in question, doesn’t agree with Nelson’s claims. Although he doesn’t deny the sexual advances through text message or other incidents, his attorney told ABC News: “… she was not terminated because of her gender, but to preserve the best interest of his marriage.”

Sadly, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Knight. The most sympathy they could utter was that Nelson’s one month’s severance pay was “ungenerous” but his actions, legal.

This outcome is less surprising when we consider the justices, David, Daryl, Brent, Bruce, Edward, Thomas, and Chief Justice Mark. More than their verdict, there’s another commonality among these lawmakers—they’re all men.

See, it’s hard to keep track of the whims of men these days.

For every dollar men earn, women still earn just 77 cents. Nonetheless, the majority of Congress is unconcerned.

The Senate was six votes shy of passing the Paycheck Fairness Act this year. Why? Republicans argued that discrimination based on gender is already illegal, and feel their hands are tied to do anything more. If those laws worked for women like Nelson, then that would be true.

What’s sad is that these unjust cases of discrimination or sexual harassment are not new.

Bloomberg Businessweek admitted that an unpaid intern that is not legally considered an employee, and thus cannot sue for sexual harassment in the workplace:

“This discrepancy’s not new: Unpaid interns aren’t covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and while local laws can protect them, New York’s state and city laws do not.” In many states, it seems the law does not favor female subordinate employees. But, life’s even harder on female bosses.

Only 4.6 percent of public companies have female CEOs.

“The United States, once a world leader in gender equality, now lags behind other similarly wealthy nations in women’s economic participation. In the two decades from 1990 to 2010, our country fell from having the sixth-highest rate of female labor-force participation among 22 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, countries to 17th on the list,” writes Michelle Patterson, Founder and President of The California Women’s Conference and President and CEO of Women Network.

An astounding 46 percent of Russia’s leadership roles are held by women, 24 percent in Europe, and 31 percent in Turkey. These numbers are significantly higher than North America’s mere 18 percent, according to Career Bright’s article on the marginalization of professional women.

On a list of 200 companies with a workforce of over 1,000 employees, a survey by Glassdoor found only 2 companies with female bosses ranked high on employee approval of CEOs. Forbes, who reported on the survey, asks pertinently: “Do We Hate Female Bosses?

Well, do we?

Some blame confidence. Men are just more confident in leadership roles.

If that’s true, it’s not at all surprising why—given all the legal cards stacked against a women: Don’t look too attractive, don’t look too ugly, don’t be “bossy” or “bitchy” yet still command your subordinates with authority…

How could any woman balance such a heavy double standard?

If there’s one thing a woman in the workplace can do to be taken seriously, it’s speak up—more often and more assertively. Like this blog post. Like today at work.

Are you too nice, too modest or way too quiet when it comes to saying and getting what you want in the workplace? Do you assume the blame when things go wrong? And what about when things go right? Do you credit other people, good luck or circumstances for your success?

You’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey found that half of women managers admitted to feelings of self-doubt about their performance and career, but only 31 percent of men reported the same.

Condescending colleagues, gender bias, and stereotypes can make it hard for women to take credit when it’s due, or steer the company ship with confidence. But a woman’s actions, assertiveness and communication skills—or lack thereof—could also be sabotaging her career.

So, take The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course Friday, July 11, 2014 from 11AM to 12:15pm EST: The Smart Woman’s Guide to Confident, Assertive Leadership.

While it will likely take more time to convince lawmakers that effort and work ethic, not the sexual desires and whims of men, should take priority in the workplace, it doesn’t take much for a woman to ask for promotions, initiate salary negotiations, speak up at meetings, manage subordinates productively and successful manager, and master guiltless self-promotion with gusto.

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President Ends U.S. Gov Shutdown: Congress (& Law Firm Managers) Learn Valuable Lesson On Time Value of Money

So, the Congressional standoff is finally over. Well, partially over.

President Obama signed a bill today to end the government shut down and raise the U.S. debt ceiling to avoid financial default, reports CNN. Federal workers are back in the office and—for the many national parks services employees—outside.

Although the U.S. avoided default, it wasn’t without cost.

The mere wait for decision-makers to negotiate and the fortnight of near foreclosure cost taxpayers plenty. And, for government workers, the shutdown meant a total shutout of salary payments, subsidies, etc.

The problem is, when debating how to spend money, the government spends money. Often making a decision—any decision—is better than delay.

A new study, for example, confirms this idea when it found that canceling government travel arrangements for budgetary reasons ironically leads to more spending, less efficiency. According to a new study conducted by Rockport Analytics for the U.S. Travel Association, “cancelling government participation in key events carries significant costs and undermines important functions of government.”

“Public agencies at all levels of U.S. government have made deep cuts to travel and meetings budgets in recent years,” said Jon Gray, vice president of research & insight, Rockport Analytics, LLC, who conducted the study.

“Our research found that these across-the-board cancellations offer short-term savings at a much greater long-term cost.”

For example, the 2013 cancellation of the Military Health System Conference, an annual training event for several thousand military medical personnel, cost the government more than $800,000. That’s $800,000 to not attend an event.

In the same vein, the decision made by NASA to withdraw its participation in the April 2013 National Space Symposium, the world’s most prominent international space exploration and policy event, carried planetary-sized monetary and non-monetary consequences.

“Some 30 nations are represented at our symposium,” explained Elliot Pulham, CEO of the National Space Foundation, a private organization that runs the annual conference.

“Important international partnerships are jeopardized, important international programs are placed at risk, and the U.S. government places serious strain on relationships with countries around the world when it does not attend.”

So while the U.S. stood still trying to balance the budget, its allies became unbalanced, unhinged, and highly concerned with how America runs business. This degraded perception of U.S. financial security has a cost.

This macro-level analysis applies to the micro-business environment, as well.

Take law firm meetings. Below are 5 reasons why you shouldn’t cancel your meetings with clients or subordinates… as demonstrated by the U.S. government shut down.

1. Cost

When your assistant organized a meeting to discuss a case matter, five law firm professionals cleared their schedules. They canceled phone calls with clients. They interrupted work flow to attend. Suddenly, you decide to postpone this groupthink. Now, all this time and—most importantly—billable hours have been wasted. It’s likely that this glut cost you more than if you simply carried through with the thirty-minute meeting.

Don’t forget the costs of postponing might outweigh the costs of a bad decision. Sometimes any decision is better than none at all.

2. Perception

When you postpone a meeting, you’re tacitly telling your employees that your time is worth more than theirs. If you cancel a meeting altogether, you’re telling employees directly that can’t manage your time. The perception of your leadership is as important as your real, tangible ability.

3. Productivity

If a decision must be made, postponing it won’t necessarily increase the information or resources available. At a certain point, reevaluating your options is like beating a dead horse. Present all the options, discuss them as a team, and then choose one with more pros than cons.

4. Long-term consequences

If you get into a pattern of canceling or postponing meetings, your employees may stop preparing for them. They may come to expect your bad habit of delaying. So, in the end, the one time you actually mean business, there may not be any business ready on the table to discuss.

5. Morale

Although most employees hate meetings, they are still a good way to boost the morale and cooperation among your team members. Meetings, over coffee or a brown-bag lunch, are scheduled to discuss a case or client. But, they also provide a forum for a general debate among colleagues.

So, even if you decide there’s nothing to discuss, don’t incur the costs of canceling. Go the distance, spend the money on travel, and sit in a boardroom. The long-term gain of increased camaraderie or communication among your employees will outweigh the costs of meeting sans agenda.

Scheduling meetings for the sake of meeting won’t increase employee productivity. But, indiscriminately canceling or postponing them once the decision is made might actually decrease it.

-WB

Discover how to overcome your fear and become a more confident speaker and effective manager in C4CM’s powerful audio conference, “Superior Speaking Skills: Becoming a Confident, Fearless Speaker.

During this information-packed session our expert faculty will give you crucial tips to help you in your next meeting to:

  1. improve your speaking style and keep yourself focused,
  2. engage your audience and speak with clarity and confidence, and appear calm, knowledgeable and professional—even if your palms are sweating!

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Steady Growth or Innovation? What Your Law Firm Can Learn From Microsoft’s Crossroads

Last week, Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer announced his retirement. And, some sources are saying this is a good opportunity to reboot the company’s disenchanted corporate culture.

Is Microsoft in such dire straits?

Consider 2010, the advent of Apple’s iPad announcement. Microsoft had already created a buzz in the tech community for its mockups of a tablet computer. Dreamed up by the inventor of the Xbox videogame, the tablet folded like a book and its users could sketch directly on the screen.

But, Microsoft waited. And, while the Apple iPad transformed into a worldwide phenomenon, for its turn, Microsoft scrapped the entire tablet computer idea.

According to Steve Ballmer, Microsoft needed to refocus its efforts on the Windows operating system for which the company first earned its reputation.

“So ingrained is Microsoft’s culture of protecting entrenched interests that swinging for the fences is sometimes punished, and so people stopped trying, say current and former employees and outsiders,” reports the Wall Street Journal.

“They say that an outsider CEO may be the best choice to welcome back technologists who think outside the box.”

In any venture, it’s important to decide on a vision. There are two extreme choices in business: (1) invest in innovation or (2) invest in the sure-thing.

For centuries, entrepreneurs have known there exists a trade-off between risk and reward. Too much risk in finding the next, new, cutting-edge technology and your company may be left in the red. However, too conservative and your company may be left in the dust.

It seems as though Microsoft isn’t sure where it should land on this thin, insensitive line of risk and reward. To those law firm managers surviving the recession, do you?

Of course, a tradeoff does not imply one without the other. For law firms, there is middle ground between innovative legal resources and services and traditional practices.

“Whether to manage a company for growth or for efficiency is a classic business conundrum, and the choice isn’t simple,” Shira Ovide reminds us in the Wall Street Journal.

Before you throw out nautical décor and ask I.M. Pei to design your new law offices, consider the following:

  1. Is there a large innovation gap between your firm and others in your same practice area?
  2. When was the last time you updated your legal technology?
  3. What is the average age of your associates?
  4. What is the spread of ages for employees at your law firm?
  5. What is the type of profile for associates you hope to attract in the future?
  6. What is your mission statement?
  7. How large do you want your firm to grow in the next 5 years? 10 years?

Often innovative companies attract bright young talent. However, if your youngest associate is in his late thirties, how well will a 20-something tweeting law grad assimilate in your firm?

On the other hand, if your firm is top-heavy, it’s likely your firm is lagging behind in the best latest technology and methods for managing your firm.

If you haven’t yet, it’s important to create a 5 to 10 year plan for:

  • Risk Management
  • Global operations
  • Incorporating technology
  • Growth targets
  • Leadership training
  • Social media/mobile devices

In the case of Microsoft, Mr. Ballmer may scoff making radical ideas come true, but he knows how to make the company green—with money, that is. Since becoming CEO in 2000, Microsoft has become one of the world’s most profitable companies by quadrupling its annual revenue, making about 75 cents in gross profit for every dollar in sales.

Google takes in half that amount.

So, yes, maybe Microsoft’s digital music player was too little, too late (do you even remember the Zune?). And, perhaps Apple’s brand is little a bit more “cool”. But, if slow and stead wins the race, Microsoft is right on track.

Does your law firm strategy match your corporate culture? Learn how to grow your business with C4CM’s audio course: Increasing Revenue Per Lawyer: Creating a Healthy Culture of Business Development.

This information-packed webinar will present best practices used by today’s most profitable firms for creating a vibrant culture of business development, including (but not limited to):

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

-WB

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Uh Oh! Judge Holds Himself In Contempt Of Court After Cell Phone Rings (& Lawyers Learn To Lead By Example)

Upholding the law means upholding justice.

According to ancient philosophers, like Plato, a just man is a man who gives the precise equivalent of what he has received. With extortionist billable hours, lawyers these days aren’t often the pillars of equivalency.

But, there still exist some legal professionals who can lead the rest of us by example.

For example, Shearman & Sterling
understand what it means to be a public servant. Although firm partners require each lawyer in its U.S. offices to spend at least 25 hours on pro bono work annually, the New York office goes above and beyond.

According to the New York Law Journal, Shearman & Sterling’s 340 New York-based attorneys have logged over 27,000 hours in pro bono practice from 2009 to 2011. It’s nice to know justice can prevail without a high premium for the wrongly convicted of murder, veterans fighting for benefits, or labor rights of pizza delivery workers.

But, it’s not just about what you do, it’s about what you don’t do.

Lawyers are always held to the highest standards in court. So, when a cellphone rang during a prosecutor’s closing argument in a domestic violence trial in Michigan, the judge held the culprit in contempt. The problem was, the culprit was the judge himself.

Chief Ionia District Judge Raymond Voet recently bought a new phone and, as it turns out, didn’t turn it off properly before court.

“I got very embarrassed, and I’m sure my face turned red,” Voet told MLive.com, according to Martha Nell for the ABA Journal.

“I thought it would never happen to me.”

The same judge posted signs posted outside his courtroom warning the public that individuals face a $25 fine if it goes off during a hearing. Luckily the judge is a stickler for justice for all, so Voet held himself contempt of court and paid the fine during the next recess.

As a law firm manager, you too can lead by example.

When it comes to discipline, law firm managers should take the reigns. No excuses for top management for the violation of human resource policies.

When it comes to productivity, leading by example pays in dividends.

In fact, “It Pays to Be Optimistic,” reports Jennifer Robison for the Gallup Business Journal.  Recent research shows that optimistic managers do a better job at driving productivity in the workplace whereas pessimistic managers pave the way for the worst by expecting it.

Leading by example through optimism doesn’t just help your bottom line, but it also helps the health of your human capital.

Attitudes—like productivity and habits—are contagious. Start conducting pro bono suits and your colleagues will follow. Be cheerful in the office and watch the contagion. Made a mistake in a meeting? That’s ok, forgive and forget yourself as readily as the follies of others.

See, it’s amazing how fairness in business policy or leadership comes down to a simple doctrine of treating others the way you’d like to be treated (or visa versa in the case of one judge!).

Some clichés and successful management practices are here to stay. In law especially, just leadership depends on them.

To learn more, attend a C4CM First Friday Event, “Team Management: 6 Key Leadership Elements that Pump-Up Efficiency and Productivity“, a live, interactive telephone course to help your law firm managers lead by example.

-WB

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Why The World’s Greatest Leaders Would Make Terrible Law Firm Managers (But That’s OK)

Few don’t recognize the name Martin Luther King Jr. Born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia, King was the inspiration and motivation of the American Civil Rights Movement. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, his “dream” earned him the Nobel Prize, as well as worldwide respect for fighting racial discrimination with non-violent measures.

Also known for his peaceful nature, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is another well-known name. Prominent figure in the Indian Independence movement, Mahatma Gandhi pioneered ‘Satyagraha’, which was an unarmed revolt against injustice.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi have a lot in common.

Both believed in peace measures of revolt and political expression.

Both were nominated for the Nobel Peace prize for their work.

Both were assassinated.

But, most importantly, both were world-class leaders.

What’s important about this for law firm managers? After all, neither King nor Gandhi had to run a 100-person law firm or business of any kind (although Gandhi did try to make it as a lawyer in India…).

King and Gandhi may have been great leaders, but great leadership does not imply great management. In fact, people often confuse the two terms.

Luckily, John Kotter—Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School and the Chief Innovation Officer at Kotter International, a firm that helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations—is here to explain the difference.

In an article for the HBR Blog, Kotter explains, “Management Is (Still) Not Leadership.”

Here are three common mistakes we make when confusing leadership with management:

“Mistake #1: People use the terms “management” and “leadership” interchangeably. This shows that they don’t see the crucial difference between the two and the vital functions that each role plays.

Mistake #2: People use the term “leadership” to refer to the people at the very top of hierarchies. They then call the people in the layers below them in the organization “management.” And then all the rest are workers, specialists, and individual contributors. This is also a mistake and very misleading.

Mistake #3: People often think of “leadership” in terms of personality characteristics, usually as something they call charisma. Since few people have great charisma, this leads logically to the conclusion that few people can provide leadership, which gets us into increasing trouble.”

So, what is management in a nutshell?

“Management is a set of well-known processes, like planning, budgeting, structuring jobs, staffing jobs, measuring performance and problem-solving, which help an organization to predictably do what it knows how to do well,” summarizes Kotter.

“Management helps you to produce products and services as you have promised, of consistent quality, on budget, day after day, week after week”

Management is about operational or organizational success. Management results are tangible, measurable.

So, what is leadership?

“Leadership is entirely different. It is associated with taking an organization into the future, finding opportunities that are coming at it faster and faster and successfully exploiting those opportunities,” writes Kotter.

“Leadership is about vision, about people buying in, about empowerment and, most of all, about producing useful change.”

Certainly people “bought in” to Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. And, not only did King produce useful change in legislation, he also produced useful change in American culture.

In the end, leadership may not be the same as management. And, if the world could only have one, we’d wish for great leaders. If a law firm could only have one, it ought to seek successful management.

But, dreamers that we are, it’s easy to see why law firms can only hope to have both in its professionals.

-WB

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Adding ‘Youth Boards’ To Boardrooms: Why Empowering Young People Boosts Law Firm Profits

American law is a system based on past precedent. Intuitively, this implies our law system inherently favors experience and historical wisdom over untried or untested claims of a more contemporary nature.

But, for law firm managers, this tradition doesn’t have to translate into rigid business practice.

In fact, in mustn’t. Here’s why.

Across the Atlantic, in Europe, entrepreneurs are asking politicians not to pass over its young population (see FT’s “We all need an infusion of youthful vigour”). Over a quarter of young people are unemployed, disenfranchised, demoralized, but they represent a newness of human capital that is an asset to this economically struggling continent.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., policies are emerging that benefit American youth—new patent laws, tax breaks for small-businesses (usually young start-ups), and changes in healthcare services.

However, how can longstanding, tradition-based institutions, such as law, do the same? When so much of law is based on experience, trust built over time, and rigid hierarchy, what do law firms gain from empowering youth?

First, young people know technology.

The basic function of law may be the same, but its form is changing over time. From online filings, to e-discovery, to text-recognition software and animated PowerPoint presentations, clients demand the best from their lawyers.

The best requires innovative technology.

Your legal consultants and accountants may create your damages models, but can you ensure there are no mistakes? Today, the blame game is rampant. And lawyers are on the chopping block.

Just ask legal representatives for Hewlett Packard. The company is searching for somebody to sue for the overvaluation of one of its acquisitions.

Due diligence at law firms requires constant oversight of errors, from as small as spelling, to as big as gaps in research, to as back- (and bank-)breaking as calculation and equation errors in Excel.

“Outdated structures and cultures must adapt—those that resist are condemned to decay,” reminds Luke Johnson—entrepreneur—in an article for the Financial Times (FT).

Technology is at the heart of this positive change. And, young people are the tools to exploit this for your firm.

Second, young people are enthusiastic, passionate.

When it comes to new technology, geriatric partners may be suspicious of social media, but the younger generation of attorneys are enthusiastic.

Don’t understand the hype for platforms like Twitter? Never read a blog in your life?

Well, your young attorneys have. And, they can help your firm attract new clients with these modern tools.

Furthermore, young people are less jaded about the profession. They’re eager to build strong resumes of experience, which requires seizing every opportunity, when given. Young legal professionals not deterred when the bad guy wins, or the bad judge or judgment prevails.

Instead, young people are passionate about the law and where the field is taking their nascent career. This is exactly why empowering young lawyers is important in law—it ensures your young attorneys keep up high billable hours and care about high quality work product, in the long-term.

Third, young people are less restrained, free, and flexible.

Remember that time-consuming administrative issue you keep putting off? Or your child’s soccer game missed so that you could attend a meeting with HR?

Here’s an opportunity to delegate some of your business tasks. Young people have more time and are generally more flexible.

“The old should mentor the young, and take a risk by promoting them early,” Johnson compels businesses in his FT article.

By nature, the low-in-rank take on more work. But, this work doesn’t have to be tedious in nature. In fact, it’s time to entrust some important business strategy and operations decisions to young associates.

Incorporating 20- and 30-somethings in firm policy and decisionmaking is vital, reminds Johnson in his FT article.

“For example, a retailing friend has formed a ‘youth board’ for his business. This comprises six of his brightest up-and-comers, who meet monthly to debate strategy and operations,” writes Johnson.

“Their role is to challenge the statutory directors and address the concerns and opportunities of customers under 40.”

Law firms should also consider constructing a youth board composed of up-and-comers.

Firm partners should be given one nomination each, and the reign of these young attorneys (or legal professionals) should last at least a year.

A representative for this youth board can then report directly to managing partners on a regular basis. This board should be official, transparent, and meaningful. It should be perceived as an honor.

Give your youth board concrete powers and abilities to impact firm policy and strategy—don’t make it an honorary position.

You will be surprised how a contemporary perspective on technology, operations, and office culture can increase efficiency and productivity. A youth board will better understand the ground-level needs of staff and young associates, including what incentivizes them to stay late and longer at your firm.

“This is a dynamic and diverse time—tired networks and prejudices are history,” Johnson clearly states.

First-year, second-year, third-year, junior, senior, partner… these titles may still exist in law practice at the present, but their de facto importance is a thing of the past.

Show respect for the ideas and enthusiasm of your young professionals by creating opportunities for them to excel. Consider a youth board.

If you do, you may find that the inexperience of young people brings an optimal balance of fresh ideas and flexibility to create high returns on whatever you’ve invested in them.

-WB

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The Blame Game: How Quitting Makes Your Firm A Winner

Placing blame is easy.

Somebody else wrote that brief, checked the facts, argued the motion, forgot the comma, forgot the appendices, forgot the filing.

And, these days, clients are eager to blame the lawyers when things go awry.

Take, for instance, the recent financial faux-pas at Hewlett-Packard Co. (H-P). This week the company claimed it had been duped into overpaying for one of its largest acquisitions.

H-P acquired a U.K. software maker for $11.1 billion. H-P claims this amounts to approximately $8.8 billion more than the company’s true value, according to the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Law Blog.

So who is to blame?

First, the accountants. Financial representatives at Autonomy—the software maker—are on the chopping block.

H-P wrote in a statement, “HP is extremely disappointed to find that some former members of Autonomy’s management team used accounting improprieties, misrepresentations and disclosure failures to inflate the underlying financial metrics of the company, prior to Autonomy’s acquisition by HP.”

Third-party accounting auditors, Deloitte UK and KPMG, are second in the blame game. After H-P hired these firms, many are wondering, why didn’t the companies uncover any irregularities?

Finally, the lawyers are being questioned. The WSJ asks, “Should they have unearthed the alleged problems at Autonomy during their due diligence on the deal?”

Although lawyers are not trained accountants, did these law firms do too little to advise H-P?

With the flip of coin, lawyers are suddenly being blamed for doing too much.

Today, the WSJ reports that lawyers are potentially responsible for obesity and risk-aversion in our youngest generations.

Why?

“Some child-development experts and parents say decades of dumbed-down playgrounds, fueled by fears of litigation, concerns about injury and worrywart helicopter parents, have led to cookie-cutter equipment that offers little thrill,” states a report in the Wall Street Journal (via Above The Law).

“The result, they say, is that children are less compelled to play outside, potentially stunting emotional and physical development and exacerbating a nationwide epidemic of childhood obesity.”

First, lawyers are inattentive. Now, they’re overly so.

“Some psychologists suggest that not exposing children to risk can result in increases in anxiety and other phobias. Children who never climb trees, for example, are more likely to develop a fear of heights, according to a study in Norway.”

Apparently, your child’s fear of heights comes from playing on overly safe schoolyards and overly litigious lawyers. You should sue.

Once again, placing blame is easy. At least, it’s easy when you lose your common sense.

Sometimes placing blame—in the world of torts—is necessary. But, on a micro-level, within the law office, accepting responsibility is better.

When individuals accept responsibility for their actions, a plan for reparation can be made more quickly and efficiently. If there’s a problem with a filing, memo, or client matter, it’s best to address the situation immediately and honestly.

With this in mind, for their part, law firms should remember to be lenient and reward open communication.

Forgiveness will not encourage mistake making—that’s just a fact of life. It will, on the other hand, keep your firm from being sidetracked by the blame game instead of strategies for recovery.

When disaster strikes—a merger or monkey bars gone wrong—stop worrying about who is to blame and start planning what to do now.

-WB

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Does Your Law Firm Make The Grade? How Stanford Professors Evaluate Management Practices

Are your law firm management practices adequate?

If you answered yes, at least three professors* from Stanford University think you’re kidding yourself.

At least, that’s what one survey conducted by Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun, and John Van Reenen from Stanford University concluded after an analysis of more than 8,000 companies in 20 countries. Of those surveyed, only 15 percent of U.S. companies and 5 percent foreign countries scored about a 4 on a five-point management practices scale.

Ergo, an overwhelming majority of firms didn’t make the grade.

The problem? 79 percent of organizations reported that they thought their management practices were above average, writes the authors from Stanford for the HBR Blog.

Basically, the average business is in denial about being above average.

Luckily, these same authors and academics believe a mere three focus areas are enough to improve your management technique. The eye-opening fundamentals are: 

  1. Setting targets
  2. Establishing incentives
  3. Monitoring performance

Generally, law firms are excellent at establishing incentives. Managing partners remunerate high billable hours with equivalently-sized bonuses. And, for the most part, associates and soon-to-be partners are aware of the rewards for long hours, trial wins, or attracting new clients.

However, law firms are generally week at setting targets outside those three areas. If it’s not billable hours, case success, or new business, law firms aren’t interested. In fact, targets like conducting more efficient project meetings, producing happier employees, or increasing the use of and associate proficiency in technological tools, are often underappreciated.

In reality, setting targets should be a priority within each department and division at a firm—HR targets, accounting targets, equity partner goals, partnership track associate goals, and staff goals, to name a few.

“Ideally, goals should be visible to everyone and should be translated into companywide, group, and individual targets that are tracked frequently,” write the authors from Stanford for the HBR Blog.

The last of the three fundamentals might be the most important.

Monitoring performance does not simply imply an end-of-the-year evaluation. Performance measures should be set, circulated, and evaluated on a regular and frequent basis.

Not only should employees be aware of firm-level and individual-level goals and the associated incentives, but employees should also know far off they are from achieving them personally or as a member of a team.

So, if you don’t know where to start with this process or who to call to inquire about your firm’s progress, you might have a management problem.

Replace your denial with due diligence. Send your managers to leadership seminars or attend management courses.

Consulting companies like the Center for Competitive Management offer audio, live interactive sessions specifically geared toward law firms on how to turn your paralegal staff into a firm profit center, origination credit and cross-selling legal services, flexible work arrangements and the law, and a lawyer’s guide to social media and more.

Before you reach the other four stages of grieving for your management practices, first denial of your deficiencies, then anger over your losses, bargaining with your creditors, depression among your attorneys, and finally acceptance of your failure, seek professional help.

After all, that’s what you’d tell your corporate clients about their need for savvy legal services.

-WB

*Nicholas A. Bloom is a professor of economics at Stanford University. Raffaella Sadun is an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. John Van Reenen is the director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Books On Business Strategy For The Busy Lawyer

Yesterday, lawyers were reminded that the law reviews serve to inspire business strategy. Today, the lesson is less metaphorical and more material.

So, if your firm’s managing partners are looking for inspiration on how to run a successful law firm, don’t forget to add the following publications to your mahogany-encased reading list:

For leadership, try Warren Buffett Invests Like a Girl by Motley Fool’s Lou Ann Lofton.

Disparity in levels of confidence is responsible for creating a gender bias in business.

Studies show that men are prone to adopt more powerful poses, which in turn increase their level of testosterone and lower their level of cortisol. Incidentally enough, this physical reaction to a simple difference in sitting position can actually separate men from women in terms of more effective leadership.

But, men and women can change their positions and behavior. Just like women should look to adopt more powerful poses—arms stretched out, for example—men should look to harness their feminine strengths.

This is where Lofton’s book comes into play.

“If you are a man, [the book is] a great tutorial on how to incorporate your feminine strengths. For women, it’s validating,” writes Whitney Johnson in the article, “If You Want to Lead, Read These 10 Books,” by the Harvard Business Review Blog.

“At a deeper level, she’s making the case that traditionally masculine—and feminine strengths matter. This book helps articulate that.”

Next, to open up your books, open up some chapters of Michael Porter’s Competitive Strategy. This is a business student’s Bible, and yet lawyers seem oblivious.

Business strategy is practically defined by Porer’s five forces, and—after 60 plus printings—the books is a powerful force that will move profits and stave of losses for your firm. Use as directed.

So now you’ve groomed the leaders who earn it and the financiers who spend it, what about those negotiators who save money for your firm?

Roger Fisher and William Ury’s book Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In was an international bestseller for good reason. Within the field of law, not only should attorneys be good negotiators for trial practice, they should also be good negotiators for business practice.

Whether it’s administrators negotiating for lower contract services fees (copiers, printers, etc.), managers negotiating for higher billable hours, or lawyers negotiating for better verdicts, your law firm must hone the art and skill of negotiation.

And, if you’re the type to trust free markets, then you should trust this testimonial from famed economist John Kenneth Galbraith:

“This is by far the best thing I’ve ever read about negotiation. It is equally relevant for the individual who would like to keep his friends, property, and income and the statesman who would like to keep the peace.”

Finally, if you haven’t already read it, stock your shelves with a copy of My Life in Courtby Louis Nizer. In the end, lawyers should love the field of law. Nizer’s book can reinforce the many reasons you endured years of schooling and associate hazing.

Initially suggested as a must-read by Roy Black to the ABA Journal, the book My Life In Court is about the famous cases of Louis Nizer’s. Louis Nizer’s memoirs will amaze, but so will the fact that the worked for his firm just 10 days before his death at the age of 92.

Roy Black, partner with Black, Srebnick, Kornspan & Stumpf in Miami, said of the legal autobiography:

“In college I read Louis Nizer’s legal memoir My Life in Court. I walked along with him into those old courtrooms and watched him perform, mesmerized by his brilliant and fluent advocacy. Long before I turned the last page, I desperately wanted to follow his path. His true stories make the Grisham and Turow legal thrillers pale and bloodless by comparison.”

Whether it’s a rainy day for your business or literally just a rainy day, curl up to these books for a better practice of law and business.

-WB

 

Books are not the only source of business advice. Try reading the training resources provided by The Center For Competitive Management. These short, comprehensive, and pertinent publications will keep your firm in the black instead of bleeding red.

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