Be As Savvy As An MBA With One Question A Day: How HBR Case Studies Can Help Law Firm Managers

As law firm professionals, you may or may not have heard of Harvard Business Review Case Studies. For MBA students and aspiring business professionals, however, solving HBR case studies is the key to success in business strategy.

HBR case studies draw from real-life examples of business dilemmas. Too soon to IPO? Challenge the boss or stand down? Are you losing all your good people? Can this brand be saved?

These questions and more are addressed in narratives written by real-world professionals. And, the attached teaching note includes the answer—at least, the action of the firm that experienced this debate at ground zero.

Case studies teach the fundamentals of business and aim to evoke out-of-the-box solutions to traditional business problems. Practice them over and over and pretty soon, you’ll surprise yourself with the ease at which you can tackle corporate obstacles.

So, imagine for a second that you are living a HBR case study. You are about to prepare a timeline for a case on PPT. Why PPT? Why not Prezi or Keynote or SlideRocket?

You are about to go to lunch when a client calls. He wants a discount on his billables for a case because he gave your firm a positive referral. What’s your firm policy for clients regarding referals? How much will a discount affect your firm’s bottom line? Will a discount today set a precedent for lower and lower fees in the future? What is the moral hazard for capitulating?

“By adopting the ‘Everything is a case study’ mindset and seeing the world through the Case Method third eye, you’ll learn to filter out the disinformation that life throws at you and uncover startling insights,” writes Robert Plant, associate professor of computer information systems at the University of Miami School of Business Administration, in the HBR Blog.

“You’ll also increase your effectiveness at questioning your company’s strategies, processes, procedures, and methods of data collection.”  For law firm managers, this means initiating the creative problem solving mindset necessary for advancing your firm.

Law firms—specifically old-school equity partners—can be stuck in their traditional ways. Sometimes it’s difficult to know where to begin with long-overdue changes. Purchase new technology? Hire younger lawyers? Retrain older lawyers?

Start with one HBR case study-style question a day. For example, when signing off on billable hours, ask yourself, what are the needs of this client? How did today’s casework directly contribute to those needs? By what methods are the associates assigned to the case fulfilling these needs, and can these methods be improved?

Read the timesheet descriptions line by line and look for one way to improve the process. Start with one case, one client, and one question.

“This will help you assist your company in finding innovative solutions. And it might be good for your career,” continues Mr. Plant.

“After all, CEOs hate canned, staid, boring, predictable answers to business problems (just as business professors hate canned, staid, boring, predictable responses to business cases). They crave creative, adaptive, innovative thinking.”

Law firm managers must be the best in the very specific business of law. Legal services may have idiosyncratic strategies and processes about them, but there are certain fundamental business principles that apply to every firm. That’s what case studies are all about.

Furthermore, case studies remind us to question and criticize in a productive fashion.

Finally, case studies remind us that success comes from paying attention to detail, challenging stale business practices, and continuing to practice the basics. Innovative thinking can grow from a simple 4-page academic exercise. And, you don’t need to get an MBA to give it a try.

-WB

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