Tag Archives: reputation

Should You Go Long? Super Bowl Preparations & Superior Law Firm Performance

This season’s Super Bowl has already proved controversial.

The Super Bowl Committee is already warning fans that tailgating will not be tolerated at the New Jersey MetLife stadium in February. And, this will be the first Super Bowl in an outdoor stadium in cold weather in several decades.

Of course, snow is predicted.

But, as much as you prepare (or don’t prepare) for events like the Super Bowl, there are always unanticipated outcomes.

Take, for example, Super Bowl XLV held in Dallas, Texas. Jerry Jones, owner of the Dallas Cowboys, had almost four years to prepare, during which time he built a $1.2 billion stadium, complete with a closed roof.

Despite unexpected amounts of snow and sleet, transportation issues, and general chaos, the Packers and Steelers game went off without a hitch. Well, almost.

The Packers had fifteen players on the injured reserve list at game start and two more out by halftime. Nevertheless, with the leadership of Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, the Packers won.

Even more surprising than the events leading up to the Super Bowl is perhaps the events leading up to Aaron Rodgers’ position. Rodgers was attending Butte Community College when he had a lucky break—a Cal recruiter spotted him while recruiting one of Rodgers’ teammates. Rodgers was twenty-fourth in the 2005 draft, and sat for three years as Green Bay’s back up to Brett Favre.

By all numerical accounts, Rodgers should not have been a champion. But, as Rodgers modestly said on the David Letterman Show, “The things you can’t measure give people the most success.”

Law firm managers—like MVPs and sports stars—can’t always rely on rankings and outcomes. In fact, many times intuition about a person’s performance, potential, or aptitude is as important as checking the stats.

In hiring, promotions to leadership positions, or football draft picks, there are multiple factors and features that add up to success that are—literally—impossible to add up.

“The idea of measurement may seem obvious as a point of view, but in the innovation world there is a complication waiting to trip the unwary.  That complication is the need to focus on measuring features of the innovation ecosystem, rather than outputs of the innovation ecosystem,” explains Henry Doss, venture capitalist and contributor to Forbes.

“And the science of measuring features—things such as normative trust, win-win value systems, diversity of point of view, and so on—is not as fully developed as our ability to measure output.”

Basically, we trust numbers more than normative ideas, like reputation or reliability.

Why? When you think about it, who is more valuable to your law firm—the 4.0-GPA recent law school grad with book smarts or the mid-to-average law school grad who can think on his feet and hold his own in front of a judge?

In terms of motivation, would your employees become more productive with a monetary incentive or a simple “thank-you” note? Many studies believe that the latter proves more powerful.

Doss would ask law firm managers to answer the following three questions about the incentive system at your firm:

  1. To what extent does the incentive system create trust?
  2. To what extent does the incentive system create collaboration?
  3. To what extent does the incentive system create a “win-win” culture?

It’s time your law firm prioritizes and reinforces some its valuable, but non-measurable assets: a strong corporate culture or identity, loyalty of clients, or trust among its employees.

Although it is important to embrace non-measurable values like trust, reputation, or respect, Doss warns, “Never let the absence of measurement be an excuse to rely solely on judgment.”

So, seek to inspire, innovate, and incentivize normative values at your firm. But, in the long-term, also track your productivity, clients, IT systems, and revenue in numbers.

In American football, like law, the risks you take are both calculated… and not.

-WB

 

Teamwork on and off the football field is also about delegation. Give your law firm professionals C4CM’s guide “Effective Delegation: Strategies to Improve Performance and Productivity” to learn more. Available here.

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How To Manage Your Law Firm’s Reputation Like A Fine Wine

The Judgment of Paris sounds like a dramatic WWII movie.

But, the only battle in the Judgment of Paris was between bottles of wine. It was, of course, neck to neck.

On May 24, 1976, a British wine merchant Steven Spurrier organized a wine competition in Paris. French judges, in addition to carrying the weight of the world’s best wine producers on their shoulders, carried out two blind tasting comparisons.

After high-quality Chardonnays and then red wines (Bordeaux from France and Cabernet Sauvignon from California). To the surprise of all, a California wine rated best in each category.

Soon the names of American regions Napa and Sonoma, including their wines, were on the tip of everybody’s tongues. Prices for California wines skyrocked and bottles shot off the shelves.

One win can mean everything for your reputation.

Reputation can make or break the bank for law firms. Establishing your business as high-quality, hardworking, and consistent is difficult. New firms lack in legitimacy and experience while incumbent firms find it difficult to change their longstanding reputation.

“Reputations have a strong geographic component,” says Ed Wesemann for Edge International Review.

“A business that is a household name with a strong reputation may never have been heard of in any other.”

Vinyards, like American wines vs. French ones, are also handicapped by their location.

For example, in an old potato field off the highway in New Jersey, Lou Caracciolo planted his first grapes. He was ready to bring the Judgment of Paris to the east coast of New England. He even crafted his cellar in an authentic European style.

Unfortunately, Lou Caracciolo is not a first mover in the market. And, New Jersey has already seen vinyards dating back to prohibition. New Jersey style wine is fruity to a fault. Overly sweet, New Jersey wine is low-cost and low-brow.

Next door, Lou Caracciolo is trying to fight this reputation.

He wants to sell dry, French-tasting wines in an area off the map for those in the market for high-quality, refined, and expensive wine products.

This is an economic phenomenon called a collection action problem, explains NPR Planet Money. Sometimes your rivals make your reputation.

So how does Lou and law firms get out of this reputation glut?

Choose a new marketing scheme. Lou Caracciolo markets his wine as “outter coastal plain.” That is, after all, also south Jersey. Next, he officially certified this region as an officiall wine-cultivating area (“viticultural area”), according to U.S. rules and regulations.

Next, create a public voice.

For Lou Caracciolo, it is important that the public taste his wine to understand its depth and quality. He started a campaign to build reputation and prestige off sales pitches and in-person sales operations.

Law firms should consider writing an official Public Relations (PR) policy and hiring a PR rep. With law firm websites, media coverage of cases, and social media abreast, it’s important that the public view your law firm according to the principles and standards it espouses.

As a start-up law firm building its reputation, don’t be afraid to offer contingency fees for new clients. For particularly high-profile cases, a win may not lead to high rents, but it will likely yield a higher reputation to attract prospective clients.

For incumbent firms, manage your new reputation or reframe your old one through meticulous public profiling. Don’t let rumors of embezzlement, severe layoffs, office closings, or lawsuits against the firm spin out of control.

Manage the external communication, internal communication, and media statements that reach the ears of your clients and society at large. Meticulously plan your internal policies to increase productivity. And, refuse to permit rivals—their poor standards or reputation—to determine your future.

Of course, in a blind test, quality matters more than reputation. Nevertheless, since only justice (not potential clients) is blind: beware of sour grapes.

-WB


Listen to the full story of Lou Caracciolo and his wine on NPR’s podcast Planet Money.

Employee lawsuits are the worst kind of publicity for law firms. When tough conversations are poorly managed, problems fester, productivity plummets, and your risk for an employee lawsuit increases.

Introducing, Handling Difficult Conversations: Communication Strategies for the Workplace– your practical, hands-on guide to managing the most challenging employee and management conversations that may just save your reputation.

This information-packed, 108-page guide provides practical and realistic solutions for tackling the hardest elements of workplace interactions, including:

  • Job Performance
  • Disciplinary Action
  • Termination of Employment
  • Employee Complaints about the Workplace
  • Disabilities (Related to Job Accommodations)
  • Personal Presentation/Hygiene

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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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From a Guy Who Knows – Advice on How to Run A Law Firm

After 13 years of running Shepherd Law Firm, a Boston-based management-side employment law “boutique”—a group of lawyers specializing in a niche–Jay Shepherd is switching gears. Before he leaves, he wants it known that there’s a definite formula to running a small firm successfully.  (And some of these mandates might equally apply to larger-sized firms.)


Shepherd (pictured) isn’t leaving the law scene entirely.  He’s heading up a new group that advises law firms on the value of, and what to charge for, their services.  Now, what qualifies this man to give advice on running a law firm is the following: when he started as a solo practitioner, he had virtually no money to speak of (unless you count his savings of $13,000, which probably wouldn’t have gone very far had he failed to bring in some business early on).

But back to how it all started for him: Shepherd hadn’t brought along any clients.  Fortunately, however, a few did choose to follow him a couple of years after he left his previous firm.  And he hadn’t yet developed a reputation.

Fast forward 13 years. Clients have spent millions on his firm’s advice and advocacy. “Twenty different clients with revenues exceeding $1 Billion each hired us to help them,” he says in a recent Above The Law blog.  The reputation was built, especially when, in 2006, they gave up the idea of hourly billing.  (For more on this, hear his contribution to the Total Expert Radio Show.  Information below.)

Anyway, he wants everyone to know that the following ideas really helped get his firm off the ground.  (There are more.  For the full list of ideas—13; one for every year, he says—see the link, below.)

1.  Have a dashboard for cash and receivables.  Shepherd claims that this is one of the smartest things he ever did.  Every day, his assistant prepared a sheet of paper with such crucial financial information as how much cash was on hand and how much was expected to come in.  The sheet also listed what was owed in payables, and how they were doing  for the month, quarter and year.  “You should always have this at your fingertips,” he said.  Note:  his dashboard said nothing about the hours involved.

2.  Get a top assistant.  This falls under the must-have-as-soon-as-you-can-afford-one criteria.  Why is a qualified assistant so important? It frees you up, you might be thinking.  Right.  But, according to Shepherd, it also puts you on track.  “You will need an assistant who will…tell you what you need to do next.”

3.  Trust your people.  If you don’t, they’ll be able to smell it.  Trusting your staff creates a harder-working environment, especially when your people know you’ve got their backs.  And cut them some slack. This took some getting used to, since a few associates who joined the firm were accustomed to being micromanaged.

I like numbers 7 and 13, so I’m skipping ahead to those. You’ll have to read his blog for the rest.

7.  Only take clients you like.  By this, he doesn’t mean subscribe to the pulse-and-checkbook method of deciding.  Work for clients who appreciate you, and whom you enjoy working for.  And, finally,

13.  Don’t let your people go before closing your office. This way everybody can help you pack up and move.  “Otherwise, you’ll be counting on families and friends…”   To read more, go here:

http://abovethelaw.com/2011/06/small-firms-big-lawyers-reflections-on-thirteen-years/  

and here: http://www.totalattorneys.com/total-expert-radio/fixed-fee-pricing-for-complex-legal-matters/

-EM

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Women Pioneers Teach Us a Thing or Two

If you’re a woman lawyer or administrator—or even if you’re a male attuned to diversity—try for a moment to imagine what life in the law industry was like for a woman two or even three decades ago.  

Several Georgia pioneers, now in their late forties to late-sixties, don’t have to use their imagination, as they were there.  

At that time, the term “diversity” hadn’t even been coined yet.  Support for women now is light years away from what it was then, and back then, there was no one around to tell women how to juggle a family and a career in law.  Yes somehow, these women overcame all the obstacles to make it in what was then a man’s world.

They are all accomplished lawyers now and are understandably serving as role models to younger women.  Several are also real-life mentors to other up-and-coming female attorneys.

The youngest, Jill A. Pryor, has been voted one of Georgia’s top lawyers for 2011.  

And as great as it is that things are different for women lawyers today, a few of these pioneers see some of the same troublesome sets of issues…although the telltale signs are harder to discern.   

The Fulton County Daily Report gave voice to these women who ventured into unknown territory many years ago.  Pryor, 47, a partner at Bondurant Mixson & Elmore, said that one of the things that made it hard for the few women that were around then was that it went against the grain to develop a win/win mentality.  

“We lawyers are so competitive, particularly in a law firm environment, and it goes against human nature to help those whom you perceive to be in competition with you. You see women who are superstars, and then one day they just opt out,” she said. “It’s easy to say that they didn’t really want to practice law, but there are much more subtle and complex factors at work. You have to look beyond the easy answer.”  

Chilton Davis Varner, 68 and a partner at King & Spalding, learned how to be a trial lawyer from male mentors, but would like to see women stepping up to the plate to help fellow women.  She also advises against being too hard on yourself.  “You never stop making mistakes. You just become better at finding and correcting them before others do.”

Leah Ward Sears, a partner at Schiff Hardin and a former Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, tells women to, as she did, learn to find their own way. When push comes to shove, she says, turn to your own gender.  “It was always women,” she says, “who…had my back.”

Carol W. Hunstein, the highest-ranking judge in the state, says another judge, Judge Sara Doyle, heard her speak once, and that was enough to inspire her to run for the Georgia Board of Appeals. “”It really does encourage women and minorities when a woman or minority succeeds,” she says.

“Stick together. Take care of each other.  Become the good old girls network,” said Sara  S.Turnipseed, 63, a mother of three daughters and a partner at Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough.  She believes that it’s still all too easy to “ruin a woman’s reputation” in law. To remedy that, when she’s pointing something out to a younger woman who “needs to sharpen her skills”, she won’t announce it in front of others.  Instead, she’ll go into her office with the younger woman, close the door, and talk to her in private.  

One thing all these women agreed on is that women helping women on the way up has enormous trickle-down effects. As Pryor says : “…the more of us there are who are successful, the more everyone – [and] the profession — benefits.”  To read more, go to: http://bit.ly/hmBL60

-EM

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