Tag Archives: success

Are You David Or Goliath? Why Small Law Firms Will Dominate In The Future

Is the death of BigLaw on the horizon?

Society loves a good David and Goliath story, where the underdog transforms a perceived weakness into his advantage. We feel better knowing that size isn’t always the only thing to matter in life or in business.

BigLaw has long been the legal services industry’s Goliath. Small firms have struggled to keep pace and survive.

All the best talent graduating from law school are quickly scooped up by the biggest cities’ best names.

However, for a long time, clients have demanded more than just power and influence. They want innovative practices, diversity, and mostly they want discounted rates that large firms don’t offer. With an oversupply of capable lawyers, clients can finally afford to demand services tailored exactly to their needs, which is why we’re seeing more and more small firms face off and take down behemoth opponents.

In turn, doe-eyed associates are no longer looking for long hours typical of BigLaw firms. Young associates want an even work-life balance, flexibility, and a job that gives them a sense of purpose.

“What I observe every day as the CEO of Priori, a curated marketplace that connects business owners with vetted lawyers at transparent prices, is that mid-tier firms are shedding associates something serious,” writes Basha Rubin in her articleBig Law, Big Problems: The Bright Future For Small Firms,” for Forbes.

“These lawyers want flexibility and independence—to service the clients that inspire them, at prices and pricing models that don’t cause potential business to blanch, at a rhythm and schedule that is sustainable.”

Luckily for both clients and lawyers, technology has provided a means for flexible workplaces, at-home offices, and more efficient work practices.

As a result, individuals are starting to form their own firms, servicing clients that they admire, that they choose. “These lawyers are entrepreneurial, gung ho, and ready to compete,” continues Rubin.

“Technology is the catalyst for their coming dominance.”

BigLaw is tied to tradition, fixed costs, and fixed mindsets. It’s much harder to convince a dozen veteran partners to try something new than it is at a smaller firm. Training associates and coordinating tasks at BigLaw firms with thousands of employees is much more challenging.

BigLaw is slower to adopt new technology or ideas. On the other hand, small firms, although lacking in manpower or pure numbers, are proving surprisingly efficient.

“Previously disaggregated and fragmented, they can use technology to improve their efficiency with new tools that automate document production and assembly, workflow management research, and contract review. (PlainLegal, LawPal, Diligence Engine, Ebrevia, Ravel Law, Judicata) With this arsenal, they can maintain high-quality work at lower prices,” boldly purports Rubin in her article for Forbes.

And lower prices have become the number one selling point to attract clients.

Not all legal professionals are convinced, however, than small firms are in slingshot range of BigLaw. An post on 3 Geeks and a Law Blogreacted to Rubin’s article, stating:

“BigLaw may suffer on the edges (ala Patton Boggs), but clients still need their services. Small Law can’t or won’t step into the breach (except in certain circumstances). And LPO’s will continue to nibble at the edges, but are not apparently taking away large portions of legal work from large firms. So the Big Disruption seems unlikely any time soon.”

According to 3 Geeks, legal services remain too complex for small firms to completely take over. Who is best to settle complexity? An equally complex system of services offered by BigLaw.

Whatever your opinion on the rise of small firms or fall of BigLaw, one things all parties agree on? Legal technology is arming the best combatants.

Regardless of size, if you want to be successful, your firm must be competent in today’s cutting-edge technical skills.

Malcolm Gladwell thinks Goliath was the victim, the real underdog who never stood a chance with his oafish sword against the skillful David and his quick and deadly slingshot.

Because, in the end, you never want to be the one who brings a knife to a gunfight.

Think your firm already has the technical skills necessary to compete in this fast-paced, tech world? Take C4CM’s course: Suffolk/Flaherty Technology Audit: Is Your Firm Ready?

D. Casey Flaherty, corporate counsel at Kia Motors America, developed this technology audit and tested nine large firms. All nine firms failed! Of the associates approached the assignments in ways that would have required five to 15 times longer than necessary. At $200 to $400 per associate hour, from the client’s perspective this equals inefficiency and wasted billable time.

Taking his tech audit to the next level, Flaherty is now working with Professor Andrew M. Perlman at Suffolk University to formalize the outside counsel tech audit as a FREE tool for other inside counsel. What does this free audit mean for your firm?

Will your lawyers pass the tech test?

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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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Two Unique Law Firm Structures–Should You Adopt Their Strategy, Too?

A year ago, Forbes was certain that more law firms would go the way of Dewey & LeBoeuf.

“The demise of Dewey is blamed on the long-term financial commitments the firm made to lure rainmaking partners from other firms,” wrote Max Harris, chief executive of Axiom, a 900-person new-model legal services firm, for Forbes.

“However, the real problem is less the commitments themselves and more a firm structure that worships short-term interests and punishes long-term investments of any kind.”

Why? Because most law firms are structured in a way that allows partners to freely move firms (and take clients with them).

“The hyperactive market for mergers and lateral partner moves, akin to unrestricted free agency in sports, presents law firm managers with a seemingly intractable dilemma,” Harris lamented.

“Investment in the future, whether aimed at transcending industry pressures by acquiring game-changing talent or at innovating through increased use of technology and more streamlined delivery models, requires a deferment of near-term compensation, and thus it risks inciting an exodus by a firm’s top producers.”

However, not all law firms need to be crippled by their own organizational structure. In fact, law firms these days are not going down like Dewey. Instead, law firms are looking for new ways to market one of the oldest professional services.

Uniqueness is a great way to attract clients and retain employees. In a competitive market, it’s all about what sets your firm apart, rather than how your firm conforms to standards. In the past, clients wanted law firms that looked like a law firm (oak molding and boat paintings), moved like a law firm (billable hours and face time with the partners) and talked like a law firm (lots of legal jargon) to quell their fears about uncertain litigation.

Today, clients are looking for innovative billing practices, modern legal technology, and low-cost services. Associates are looking for adequate incentive to join and then stay in a firm.

How do you achieve uniqueness? Discover your firm’s value-add. Let’s take two examples.

According to Gabriel Cheong, owner of Infinity Law Group in Quincy, Mass. and Cambridge Divorce Group in Cambridge, Mass., over 90 percent of litigants in Family Court are unrepresented, pro se litigants. To fill this gap and differentiate his practice, Cheong is in the business of selling legal services, not attorneys.

See, Cheong’s firms provide unbundled legal services (or Limited Assistance Representation) that give individuals looking for help, but not representation, the legal advice they need at a low fee. Uniqueness in this case stems from meeting the client-side of the legal business.

How are clients being under-served? If you can’t answer this question for your legal niche already, just ask your current clients. Circulate a survey or mention it in the next meeting. Then, go back to the office and brainstorm new ways to meet this need.

Next up, Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner have chosen to solve a persistent associate-side problem: law school loans.

Does your law firm need to recruit and retain top new talent? Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner provide their attorneys with a law school loan payback scheme. Attorneys who work for the firm during law school as student associates qualify for the reimbursement program.

“I signed some checks for Harvard and Stanford in the past year that nearly made me choke,” joked Barbara McCurdy, managing partner, to the Washington Post. But “the benefit for us is that we attract really excellent talent.”

The program isn’t just for lawyers, either.

Lawyers don’t underestimate the value of a good assistant or paralegal. Often these support services make or break a case. That’s why it’s so important to retain talented staff.

At Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, tuition reimbursement for non-attorney staffers is available at 100 percent for straight-A employees. B-students are eligible for 80 percent reimbursement and a C-students eligible for 60 percent, according to the Washington Post.

Your firm will only excel to the extent your human capital is excellent.

Whether it’s on the client-side or associate-side of your legal business, look at how your firm can stand apart from the rest. Do you feel secure that your equity and managing partners are here to stay? If not, what is your retention strategy?

Forbes was wrong to think that the legal market can’t handle harsh competition. Law firms are not all going bust like Dewey & LeBoeuf. Nevertheless, survival still depends on successful management of your firm’s long-term assets and investments. That’s right, long-term….

So, take stock, and stand out like a sore thumb. In law, a little soreness from growing pains may be a good thing.

-WB

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The Importance Of Being First & Magellan’s Lesson To Law Firms

Ferdinand Magellan was the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. During his expedition from 1519–1522, Magellan sailed from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean via the Strait of Magellan, named in his honor.

Magellan was the first European to discover the Magellanic Penguin and Magellanic Woodpecker. He was the first to take note of Magellanic clouds (now known to be dwarf galaxies).

Later, astronomers honored the seaman’s other skyward discoveries by naming twin lunar craters Magelhaens and Magelhaens A.

The second European to circumnavigate the globe was Sir Francis Drake. Who, other than earning the pejorative name El Draque by the Spaniards, left no other lasting legacy than piracy.

See, sometimes being first means everything.

In the modern world, being first in business also leads to a lasting legacy. Scotch tape, Kleenex, Xerox, Slinky, the names of these brands are synonymous with their function. Read Forbes’ article “The Importance of Being First,” and you’ll find that this is no accident.

A company’s reputation—as often reflected through its brand name—is the key to attracting new clients and boosting your firm’s bottom line. So, to corner the market on your niche legal service, think about what your law firm can do to be first.

Be the first in a legal niche.

Although a recession increase unemployment, it also increases opportunities. Think about what niche technological or policy areas your law firm can reach.

For example, the new patent law provides an opportunity for law firms to become experts in their field.  Why should this client hire you? Because your firm knows the most about what changes in patent law means for corporate clients—from large engineering business to the small entrepreneur.

Be the first in a technical expertise.

Technology provides firm with a competitive edge. Electronic filing and the latest legal software make your firm most efficient at what it does. That translates into lower billable hours for the client.

It’s not enough to purchase the newest technology, make sure your employees know how to implement it their daily tasks. Prove to your clients why your firm is the most productive, and how technology translates into better strategies, more filtered information, and higher rates of courtroom wins.

Be the first in alternative fee arrangements.

Most firms advertise alternative fee arrangements, but few actually employee them. Customize your services and your service fees to clients.

Be the first to offer contingency fees on all types of cases for all types of clients. Differentiate your firm by being the first to use creative billing methods that benefit the client and boosts your visibility in the region.

When clients need flexibility in fees, aim to be the first name that comes to mind.

Be the first in employee services.

Internally, differentiate your firm to attract employees. Whether it’s flexible schedules, paternal/maternal leave policy, or faster partnership tracks, decide what sets apart your firm from the rest.

Then, make sure you communicate this competitive advantage to potential candidates. You’d be surprised at how seemingly small but undeniably unique benefits for employees will attract the market’s best candidates.

Magellan gets credit for being the first to circumnavigate the globe even though technically, technically he didn’t complete the journey. In a way, Magellan receives credit for being the first simply because of the exploration effort he initiated.

In the end, sometimes just the attempt to be first gives way to the position.

-WB

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U.S. Postal Service Halts Mail, But Why Letters Should Live On

For centuries, letters have delivered gratitude and good news. And, with the mere lick of a postage stamp, sincere, honest, and timely thanks can make anybody’s day.

Sadly, the U.S. Postal Service plans to stop delivering and collecting letters and other first-class mail on Saturdays starting August 5, 2013. This marks the end of an era, which started Saturday mail delivery in 1863, reports CNN.

The U.S. Postal Service reported a loss of $16 billion in 2012, but the new plan will save roughly $2 billion per year.   “It’s a responsible decision. It makes common sense,” said Patrick Donahoe, postmaster general and CEO of the postal service to CNN.

Sometimes it’s just about business.

But, just because mail delivery will suffer, doesn’t mean your expressions of gratitude to clients or employees have to. Once, the pony express wouldn’t give up, night or day, rain or shine. Now, it’s your law firm’s opportunity to ensure that posting letters doesn’t become an anachronism of the age.

Here are five letters your law firm should not forget to write:

1. Thank-you letters. Yes, the holiday party was de facto mandatory, but that doesn’t mean name partners shouldn’t write letters of thanks. Thank you notes should be specific to each person, hand-written and sincere.

2. Acceptance letters. Just because your assistant is in charge of drafting all associate offer letters, doesn’t mean your firm shouldn’t put in any effort in writing an acceptance letters for new hires. Don’t forget to focus on “you” as opposed to “we”. Instead of “we enjoyed meeting you,” or “we look forward to having you join our team,” try “you showed exceptional promise among an already impressive class of first-years,” or “you were poised and primed for work—characteristics to be admired.”

3. Rejection letters. Sometimes law firms must give bad news. Perhaps it’s human resources’ rejection of an employee application or maybe it’s the unfortunate lay-off of an esteemed attorney. Rejection letters are not fun to write, but they’re even worse to read. That’s why you should be as direct as possible. Don’t use flowery language. At the same time, don’t beat around the bush. Be courteous but honest in your reasons for rejection—your reader will be glad for it. Finally, as uncomfortable as it may be, it’s important to write rejection letters because worse than the words inside them is a lack of communication whatsoever.

4. Client engagement letters. It’s not corny to welcome a new client on board! In fact, personalized letters to clients—whether confirming their engagement with the firm or simply “checking in” on a monthly basis—are a way to maintain relationships with current clients. It may also help boost the positive word-of-mouth recommendations that are responsible for attracting new ones.

5. Letters of praise. Don’t write letters of complaint. Although it may be tempting when you feel cheated or insulted, for example, of all people, lawyers should know the consequences of putting things in writing. So, each time you’re inspired to write a letter of protest, write one of praise, instead. Choose an employee who has exhibited exceptional work product of late (or, if you must, just choose one at random!). Write him or her a brief note of appreciation for their positive attitude, attention to detail, or ability to work well in teams. Whatever the reason, writing a letter that will make a person’s day (and likely make them more productive) is far better than writing a letter that, well, won’t.

The U.S. Postal Service may be cutting back on mail, but your firm shouldn’t look to.

There’s a reason this government agency has accumulated so much debt. Despite the best efforts of Google, Yahoo, and AOL, there’s nothing like the postman saying, “you’ve got mail” in person.

Law firms manage a business, team of associates, and group of clients that can all benefit from a few key mailed letters. Personalization and postage lead to success.

-WB

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Ways To Ensure A Misunderstanding

Do you assign tasks to your associates and get them back quickly, and exactly as you expected? Do you hold meetings, look into the crowd, and see that everybody is alert and attentive?

Do you ever hand out long, complicated memos and reports to your team and realize that everybody is on the exact same page?

If your message is never lost in translation, then try these four easy steps to be misunderstood. It’s guaranteed that next time you give a presentation, you’ll be hearing crickets instead of handed questions.

1. Overuse the pronoun “we”

An internal memo might read, “We need to boost our bottom line by finding ways to operate more efficiently…” But, in this case, who is “we”? Is “we” every single individual who is reading the memo? Does “we” refer to a team? If so, who is assembling this efficiency-seeking team?

Managers are sometimes averse to using pronouns. They’re wary of using the pronoun “I” so as not to take sole credit for team successes. Managers are equally cautious about the pronoun “you,” to avoid the blame game for mistakes.

Nevertheless, when it comes to assignments or needs of the firm, the pronoun “we” makes allocating tasks difficult and the responsibility for work product ambiguous.

So, be specific. If you are speaking about personal goals, use the first person. “I will draft our 2013 business goals.” If you’re expecting a response, say “you should get back to me tomorrow about that action item.”

Pronouns—accompanied by clearly expressed deadlines—are the simplest way to get what you want (unless, of course, you want to be misunderstood).

2. Make too many analogies

When you have a complicated idea, it’s tempting to use an analogy or Brothers Grimm story to present it. But, just like the game chutes and latters, there’s no easy way to the top (wait, what?).

Anecdotes and analogies, more often than not, backfire. When you have an idea, don’t try to oversimplify it.

Instead, explain your idea as clearly and comprehensively as necessary. Organize your thoughts in advance. Practice and preparation are the keys to the castle (or something wise like that).

To be misunderstood, go ahead and liken your idea to that obscure news story you once read and watch as people’s eyes glaze over.

3. Forget your main point

Whether it’s a talk with a subordinate employee, memo to your entire department, or an important meeting with clients, stick to the issue at hand.

In presentations, write down on a notecard in a single sentence your main point. If you stray off topic, look down to your notecard. Remind yourself, what is this meeting really about again? What am I aiming to accomplish here?

There’s a reason you circulated that internal memo, organized that client meeting, or called staff to the boardroom. Meetings and memos should stick to a single subject.

In emails, get to the point straight away. Forget fancy language, start by writing “Dear John, I’m writing you to find out when you expect to finish Project X.”

The quickest way to confuse your peers or be misunderstood by a manager is to ramble aimlessly about multiple ideas (in no particular order).

4. Don’t answer the question asked of you

Finally, people ask questions and expect a response.

If you’re looking to be misunderstood and lead your colleagues astray, don’t answer their questions. In fact, answer a different question, just to throw them of track.

Responsible emailers, business writers, and presenters listen to a question, process it, and answer thoughtfully and succinctly. For everybody else, there’s long-windedness, hearing what you want to hear, and flippant dismal.

-WB

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5 Signs Your Firm Is Stuck In A Rut & How To Get Out Now!

On January 13, 1982, a Boeing 737 departed Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C., bound for Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Just after its takeoff, however, the airliner crashed into the 14th Street Bridge, killing all but five of its 74 passengers.

The following excerpt was taken from the cockpit recorder:

First Officer: Electrical.

Captain: Generators.

First Officer: Pitot heat.

Captain: On.

First Officer: Anti-ice.

Captain: Off.

First Officer: Air-conditioning pressurization.

Captain: Packs on flight.

First Officer: APU.

Captain: Running.

First Officer: Start levers.

Captain: Idle.

Normally, the above conversation wouldn’t be cause for alarm. In fact, the pre-flight checklist conversation appears to be comfortably routine.

But, that’s also problem.

Air Florida Flight 90 was taking off in freezing Northeast weather—a situation to which pilots based in sunny Florida would be unaccustomed. The First Officer in this case had flown only two takeoffs and landings in similar wintry conditions during his tenure at the company, according to Gersick and Hackman’s “Habitual Routines in Task-Performing Groups,” published in 1990.

So, upon hearing “anti-ice, off” neither the Captain nor the First Officer thought to change their pre-flight checklist routine. And, lack of anti-ice measures did, sadly, lead to the flight’s demise.

Gersick and Hackman’s study, which anecdotally references the Air Florida Flight incident, concludes that “social systems require at least some routinization of behavior to get work accomplished.”

But, sometimes it’s necessary to break out a habitual routine in order to properly innovate, adapt to changing situations, or weather the storm, so to speak.

If your law firm is currently stuck in a rut or routine, the consequences need not be so dire. The deadly plane crash in D.C. can serve as a warning to airline companies and law firms alike.

Here are five signs your firm may be dangerously stuck in a rut:

1. Low employee morale. If you’ve noticed employees taking extra long lunches, skipping out early, or making trivial complaints, it may because your firm suffers from low employee morale.

When productive, meaningful work transforms into a dull, daily grind, it’s time to makes some changes. Create new mentorship programs. Try “lunch roulette.”

Whatever you do, let go of the status quo. Employee morale is linked to higher productivity and performance, aspects of your business both clients and partners can’t live without.

2. Dip in company performance. The recession has hurt most law firms. But, if your firm is performing below expected levels this period, it could be a sign your firm is in a rut.

You need to infuse innovative ideas into your business strategy and operations. If you have a lack of ideas, recruit younger associates to participate. Create “youth boards” that can get your social media up and running and your legal strategy squared away.

Innovation is a radical change—something your firm will never achieve by simply spinning its wheels.

3. No new business.  Sure, business is good. But, if your new business comes from old clients, it may be that your business strategy is stagnant. Make sure your partners are seeking new clients and remaining active in their networking.

Throw a party for the neighborhood businesses. Hold team lunches or meetings at local restaurants and get to know the owners. The only thing routine about attracting new clients is the fact that managers must try out new measures to do so everyday.

4. Recruitment issues. If your law firm is stuck in a rut, it will have trouble attracting the best and brightest first-year associates.

Technologically innovative firms—or ones with creative office spaces, policies, and FLEX scheduling—will ultimately attract the most attention by graduates. The recession has given law firms a lot of recruiting power. But, this generation is looking for a lot more out of their jobs than before.

5. You know exactly what’s to come. You know how today is going to go. And tomorrow. And the next day. This monotony may be problematic for your firm.

Law firms often rely on creative solutions for sticky legal problems. Creativity and “thinking outside the box” are actually skills acquired through practice

If you’re accustomed to the “same old, same old,” then it will become increasingly difficult to adapt to surprises or disruptions of your routine.

The best legal minds are creative, innovative, and adaptive.

The best legal organizations are equally organic.

The first step to getting out of a rut is to recognize you’re in one.

-WB

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Overemphasizing Innovation & Underestimating Common Sense: Law Firm Management Dos & Don’ts

Academics keep throwing around the word “innovation.” Innovation is often used synonymously with “new technology”, “creativity”, and even “best business practice”.

In theory, innovation is meant to be radical change or ideas. In the real world, however, investing in innovative ideas is both costly and risky, and the returns uncertain.

So while firms are constant in search of the next big idea in business, occasionally the best way to create fresh ideas is to affirm tried-and-true old ones.

In an article titled, “Nine Rules for Stifling Innovation,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter laments, “For all the talk about innovation, I see many leaders in numerous organizations in every sector who actively stifle it.”

“They say they want more innovation. But at the same time, they seem to operate by a set of hidden principles designed to prevent innovations from surfacing or succeeding.”

For law firms, forget designing an environment around innovation. Kanter’s nine rules are easily applied to the legal industry’s biggest flaws in everyday management.

Remember a few of these “don’ts” so that you “do” retain employees, impress your clients, turn a profit, and successfully manage your firm in this year.

“1. Be suspicious of any new idea from below — because it’s new, and because it’s from below. After all, if the idea were any good, we at the top would have thought of it already.”

Sure there’s a law firm hierarchy, but that doesn’t mean the best case strategy can’t come from a hardworking first-year. In fact, with so many billable hours spent in the office trying to impress senior attorneys, junior associates may even have a leg up.

“2. Invoke history. If a new idea comes up for discussion, find a precedent in an earlier idea that didn’t work, remind everyone of that bad past experience. Those who have been around a long time know that we tried it before, so it won’t work this time either.”

Certainly senior attorneys and law firm partners have the most trial and transactional experience. But, sometimes the line between objectively-perceived experience and personal bias is fine.

In the courtroom, use past precedent to help you argue the merits of your case, but in management, don’t treat it like it’s the law.

“3. Keep people really busy. If people seem to have free time, load them with more work. In the name of excellence, encourage cut-throat competition. Get groups to critique and challenge each other’s proposals, preferably in public forums, and then declare winners and losers.”

Healthy competition—especially among first-years—can be beneficial. However, so is collaboration and training.

In law firms, having free time is usually a faux-pas. But, associate free time can be weel spent networking around the office, collaborating and learning from peers, and pertinent but not billable research.

Stop treating billable hours like a competition for who is the best. Sometimes high billable hours simply represent the person who manages their time the worst.

“4. Confine discussion of strategies and plans to a small circle of trusted advisors. Then announce big decisions in full-blown form. This ensures that no one will start anything new because they never know what new orders will be coming down from the top.”

Law firms should 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. For more information about how and why your firm should start a “youth board,” see this article.

“5. Act as though punishing failure motivates success. Practice public humiliation, making object lessons out of those who fail to meet expectations. Everyone will know that risk-taking is bad.”

Sometimes placing blame—like 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 (at least, that’s surely what Lance Armstrong’s lawyers are telling him).

With this in mind, 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.

“6. Above all, never forget that we got to the top because we already know everything there is to know about this business.”

If you didn’t laugh (and understand the sarcasm of) this last one, why don’t you start again from the top…

So, law firm mangers: Do make plans for installing innovative technology, implementing innovative strategy, or incentivizing innovative idea generation at your firm. But, for all the other days, don’t forget to use your common (and good business) sense.

-WB

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Set Goals Like It’s The End Of The World

The end of the world—in addition to the fiscal year—is fast approaching. And while some managers are struggling to balance the books and achieve their bucket list on time, others are feeling confident about their resolutions for the New Year.

With a new budget year and second change to set goals, non-apocalyptic managers can look forward to December 22nd as a second chance.

You know what happened to Ford when they pursued Lee Iacocca’s ambitious goal for the company of building a car “under 2,000 pounds and $2,000” by 1970? Ford’s affordable model car, the Pinto, ignited in flames every time it was rear-ended.

Remember when iconic, former New York Jets quarterback Ken O’Brien rapidly improved his interception percentage? He was financial incentivized by the team to achieve this goal. The result, yes, it was fewer interceptions, but it was because O’Brien just threw fewer passes (often to the detriment of team strategy).

The New York Times was one of the first to report this phenomenon of unforeseen consequences of goal-setting in strategy.

“Besides possibly leading to unethical behavior—a lawyer being told to bill a certain number of hours a week will be tempted to fudge the numbers—too much emphasis on goals can inhibit learning and undermine intrinsic motivation,” Professor Schweitzer, co-author of “Goals Gone Wild,” told the NYT.

Professor Schweitzer’s journal article, which appeared in the Academy of Management Perspectives in 2009, doesn’t discourage incentivizing employees or throwing out the strategy manual.

The Professor merely states, “Goal-setting is like powerful medication.”

“You need to make sure how appropriate it is and keep monitoring it to determine, ‘Is this goal too specific? Is this goal too stressful? Is it pushing many people beyond the normal bounds of what they should be doing?’ If so, then you need to rethink that goal.”

For example, Sears set a productivity goal for their auto-repair staff, motivating them to collect $147 for every hour of work. Sales goals are not uncommon—the result?  Employees resorted to overcharging customers on a companywide basis simply to satisfy Sears, explains Peter Bregman in his article “Consider Not Setting Goals in 2013,” for the Harvard Business Review Blog.

The problem with the majority of year-end, company-sweeping goals is that they’re typically motivated by fear or negativity.

You didn’t like your profit margin from 2012, so you raise expectations for 2013. You poorly incentivize employees to become more productive workers, or you point out inefficiency to managers and demand change.

There’s a reason why self-fulfilling prophecies come true. You fear the end of the world, so you hastily drive to that one town in France allegedly immune and excessive highway speed causes a wreck that ends your life.

If you start setting expectations and view progress from a purely negative perspective, you may find you’re unhappy with the consequences.

So this year, stop setting hard-to-reach goals and expectations for your firm. Try, instead, a go-with-the-flow fiscal attitude and set manageable, incremental strategies.

Instead of identifying weakness in your business practice, identify your most successful corporate structures. Then, find out how you can keep these structures going, or how you can improve upon them. 

Set small targets, not in sales or billable hours, but for increasing employee satisfaction or associate mentorship programs.

If you focus on the positive, achievable (and often intangible) targets for your firm, you’ll find that you also benefit fiscally. And, you’ll never be disappointed with the results at the end of next reporting year.

Don’t worry about all-encompassing, omnipresent firm objectives. Give the Mayan’s time to take their foot out of their mouth, let the yuletide roll, enjoy your office holiday party, and worry about assembling a small, enthusiastic brainstorming group to set targets sometime in 2013.

No resolutions set for your firm this year? It’s not the end of the world.

-WB

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How Can Law Firms Survive This Economy? Whatever You Do, Don’t Ask Your Clients

Dewey & LeBoeuf’s dissolution was a harsh reality for the law industry.

Just like Howrey before it, Dewey and other Biglaw firms facing lay-offs and financial difficulty have become the norm, not the exception.

Whether it’s due to technological innovation and an inability to adapt, or competition from online legal services, Biglaw is no longer immune to bankruptcy.

New partner compensation models, associate career trends, and other structural changes have stirred the industry.

“Investment in the future, whether aimed at transcending industry pressures by acquiring game-changing talent or at innovating through increased use of technology and more streamlined delivery models, requires a deferment of near-term compensation, and thus it risks inciting an exodus by a firm’s top producers,” writes Mark Harris in his Forbes article.

“As if we needed Dewey to remind us, what comes next might not be so pretty.”

It’s strange to think the pillars of law—the larger, more established firms—are crumbling under pressure. It inspires the question, “Why might firms be regarded as astutely managed at one point, yet subsequently lose their positions of industry leadership when faced with technological change?”

Christensen and Bower addressed this research question in their 1996 publication, “Customer power, strategic investment, and the failure of leading firms.” Except, the authors didn’t mean law firms.

The study investigated the disk drive industry between 1975 and 1990. Of the 130 firms that entered the hard disk drive market during this time, 100 failed. It seemed astonishing.

Especially among the incumbent industry leaders, with rock-sold market positioning, why did some of these tech firms fail while others thrived?

“A primary reason why such firms lose their positions of industry leadership when faced with certain types of technological change has little to do with technology itself—with its degree of newness or difficulty, relative to the skills and experience of the firm,” the study states, surprisingly.

“Rather, they fail because they listen too carefully to their customers—and customers place stringent limits on the strategies firms can and cannot pursue,” (198).

Apparently, market leaders were so faithfully attune to their current customers’ needs that they failed to anticipate market trends and future demand. In law, it’s easy to see where the same rules apply—curmudgeony clients complaining about hikes in legal fees, requesting old-school methods, and generally harking back on the good ole days…

Don’t listen to your clients.

Ok, Christensen and Bower weren’t quite saying that. But, for law firms to survive, sometimes it’s necessary to ignore routines, tradition, and the every whim of your clients. In the case of the disk drive market, incumbent industry leaders were so preoccupied satisfying their current customers that they didn’t recognize the importance of more recent market innovation, better product manufacturing, and demand associated with new technology.

Sometimes the customer is not always right (the savvy businessmen are).

Steve Jobs memorably said in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine, “You can’t just ask customers what they want and then try to give that to them. By the time you get it built, they’ll want something new.”

So, listen to the market and anticipate client needs. Usually this means adding to your legal technology, recruiting ambitious, bright young minds, and updating your business practices.

Of course, lawyers must still listen to the needs of their clients. But, to ensure your competitive position and ultimate survival, that doesn’t mean giving them absolutely everything they want, exactly when they want it.

 

-WB

Work Cited:

Christensen C. M., Bower J. L. 1996. “Customer power, strategic investment, and the failure of leading firms.” Strategic Management Journal 17(3): 197–218.

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