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Post #685 – Sunday,
November 3, 2013
Law Firm Strategies For The 21st Century
I am delighted to have been asked and contributed to a new
book, due to be released later this month, exploring the complexities of law firm strategy. Published in
association with the Law Firm Management Committee of the International Bar
Association (IBA), this practical title is the first in a Globe Law and Business series on the business of law dedicated to exploring strategic development in
Law firm partners have long resisted the
notion that they need a strategy. However,
markets change and the landscape has become increasingly competitive. Law firms that want to remain competitive need
to think about and engage in strategy development; those firms which have done
so are now undeniably in a better position than those which have not.
This book is organized around the market
and the resource side of law firm management, and offers new ways to think about
strategy and how to discuss it in the context of a partnership. Whether you are a managing partner of a
small, large or international law firm, this book offers points of views which
have never before been aggregated in a single volume. This volume addresses, in a most practical
manner, those questions that are of relevance to today’s law firm management
To download and read a sample chapter, have a look - here.
Post #684 – Thursday, October 24, 2013
Attributes That Distinguish CEOs From Other Leaders
For those who occupy elected law firm boards or executive
committees who need to effectively identify and prepare firm leadership
successors – knowing which skills and abilities matter most is essential. In my latest research, conducted at the
beginning of 2013, (“Inside The Corridors of Firm Leadership”) leaders from
over 100 law firms (all in excess of 100 lawyers in size) confidentially
reported to me that when it came to leadership succession, they really had no
particular process or desired attributes in mind for their next firm leader.
Russell Reynolds Associates (leading firm noted for helping boards make better
CEO succession decisions from 31 offices world-wide) released results from in-depth
analysis they conducted of their database of 4000 executive assessments,
specifically including 130 CEOs. They
examined test scores measuring a number of leadership competencies including
relationship skills, communications skills and decision-making approaches to
determine what CEOs have that other leaders don’t.
findings: Of the 60 common attributes used to assess leaders, CEOs differ from
others in nine (9) of them. In fact,
CEOs differ the most from other leaders in terms of their:
willingness to take calculated risks
bias toward action
ability to efficiently ‘read’ people
The total of these 9 key attributes fall into three categories:
1. Forward thinking (a category of one attribute) is simply the ability to plan for the
future while focusing on the present.
2. Intrepid is the ability to perform effectively in complex and difficult
environments – and includes such attributes as “Calculated risk taking” (being
comfortable with taking calculated but not careless risks); “Biased toward
thoughtful action” (focus on execution but not too impulsively); “Optimistic”
(actively pursuing new opportunities); and “Constructively tough minded”
(thick-skinned and perservering but not insensitive).
3. Team building is the ability to achieve success through others – and includes
being an “Effective reader of people” (understanding different perspectives but
not overanalyzing); “Measured emotion” (one who displays intensity but
maintains control); “Pragmatically inclusive” (involving others in decisions
but also is an independent decision maker); and “Willingness to trust”
(comfortable with a variety of people but not too trusting).
Analysis of the nine attributes reveals a number of interesting
CEO profile paradoxes, according to Russell Reynolds. CEOs are strategic yet tactical, tough yet
emotionally sensitive; decisive yet inclusive.
Much of this parallels research and a subsequent article that I authored
some years ago identifying five different leadership tensions (“The Tensions of Leadership") that all new firm leaders face.
This Russell Reynolds research strongly recommends
that boards incorporate these attributes into their success profile and assess future
leadership candidates across the nine important attributes.
Post #683 – Tuesday,
October 22, 2013
Technique For Making Meetings More Effective
Here is one technique I
encountered to help you make your meetings more effective. It involved creating shared visuals. The practice group had anointed one
individual to flip open their laptop and take notes . . . that then
appeared for all to see on a projected screen. Taking and projecting notes serves a couple of
First, it refocuses everyone
on what they can see before them - which could be a list of questions or
brainstormed ideas; a list of options to be considered and decisions to be
made; or whatever happens to be the key issue on your meeting agenda.
Second, you can use the documentation to drive
problem solving. Framing the discussion
with a simple outline, such as “Problem, Objectives, Facts, Questions, Action
Items, Next Steps,” can help move your group from issue to action steps.
Conclude your meeting by identifying specific
members, the particular project that they have each agreed to work on and
expected deliverables for the next meeting, to the document. Now, given your efforts, your group has a working
document that serves as your agenda for the next group meeting.
Post #682 - Saturday, October 12, 2013
Is Law Firm Pedigree A Thing Of The Past?
Here is an interesting HBR blog post written by Dina Wang
and Firoz Dattu
Have you ever heard the saying: “You never get fired for
buying IBM”? Every industry loves to
co-opt it; for example, in consulting, you’ll hear: “You never get fired for
hiring McKinsey.” In law, it’s often:
“You never get fired for hiring Cravath”.
But one general counsel we spoke with put a twist on the old saying, in
a way that reflects the turmoil and change that the legal industry is
undergoing. Here’s what he said: “I
would absolutely fire anyone on my team who hired Cravath.” While tongue in cheek, and surely subject to
exceptions, it reflects the reality that there is a growing body of legal work
that simply won’t be sent to the most pedigreed law firms, most typically
because GCsl are laser focused on value, namely quality and efficiency.
A recent survey of General Counsel at 88 major companies
conducted by AdvanceLaw (an organization founded by Firoz) - The results
suggest that GCs are increasingly willing to move high-stakes work away from
the most pedigreed law firms (think the Cravaths and Skaddens of the world)… if
the value equation is right. (Firms surveyed included companies like Lenovo,
Vanguard, Shell, Google, NIKE, Walgreens, Dell, eBay, RBC, Panasonic, Nestle,
Progressive, Starwood, Intel, and Deutsche Bank.) The results of the two
questions the survey asked are below.
That 74% of GCs preferred the less pedigreed firm under the
circumstances described in question 1 reaffirms that clients are becoming more
and more comfortable with using a wider range of firms. Moreover, in the U.S., the current cost
premium for an AmLaw 20 firm relative to, say, an AmLaw 150 or 200 firm is
typically far more than 30%. Factoring
in lower hourly rates as well as the greater efficiency most clients say the
other firms deliver, we are likely talking about an overall cost premium in the
What can also seem non-intuitive is that only 11% of GCs
surveyed felt that pedigreed firms, despite the price premium, actually were
more responsive (a key element of client service). However, this actually mirrors Firoz’s
experience at AdvanceLaw, where firms of varying sizes and pedigree are
successfully unseating AmLaw 20 and Magic Circle incumbents on high stakes work
(e.g., a recent M&A deal valued at $500 million; national trial counsel for
a significant multi-state class action).
These firms have been receiving impressive evaluations from GCs and
in-house counsel on responsiveness, expertise, quality and efficiency. One reason for this is that top talent is
increasingly dispersed, not residing solely at the most pedigreed of firms.
This AdvanceLaw survey suggests that clients are serious
about moving high-stakes work away from the most pedigreed (and expensive) law
firms. So, are white shoe firms feeling
the impact of this mindset change? When
we examined revenue per lawyer (a proxy for a law firm’s ability to command a
price premium) across a sample of firms, we found that growth was highest among
non-pedigreed firms. Our sample of 15
especially highly reputed firms (including the likes of Cravath, Skadden, and
Sullivan) experienced an average increase of only 2.9% in revenue per lawyer
over the 5-year period from 2007-12. In
comparison, a sample of 15 smaller, comparatively less known firms posted
average growth in revenue per lawyer of 12.7% in the same period.
Surprisingly, many (though not all) pedigreed firms are
choosing to not yet compete on value, arguing that this would diminish their
future ability to compete for the shrinking pool of high-stakes / high-margin
work. However, as the survey and
financial analysis reveal, this ends up opening the door for other law firms
(as well as non-traditional providers) to slip in and chip away at what we all
once assumed were unassailable relationships between the most pedigreed law
firms and their clients.
Make no mistake: the competition for market share in the
legal space is tough and getting tougher.
What do you think?
Post #681 – Saturday,
September 21, 2013
Fall 2013 Issue of
International Review Is Now Available
my newest issue of International Review – an issue that I hope
contains a balanced blend of thoughtful insight and practical contributions on
law firm strategy and leadership.
I believe that my colleague Ed Reeser
and I were amongst the very first to start cautioning firms about the overuse
of lateral hiring, efficiency - at producing commodity work, and excessive
compensation spreads. These articles have been intended to warn good
firms among the AmLaw 100, 200 and below of the dangers that may lie ahead if
they pursue some of these same strategies and we are gratified by the
supportive responses we’ve received from many firm leaders. In this issue we continue on that same theme
with two articles, Efficiency Is Not The Competitive Advantage and Are You Developing A Star Culture? Our piece on Star Cultures received a lot of
attention throughout July and August in Texas Lawyer, the ABA, The Legal
Intelligencer, Law Technology News, and American Lawyer – where it ranked among
the top five “most viewed stories” on multiple web sites.
our First 100 Days program (see: first100daysmasterclass.com) we introduce new firm
leaders to the same personality assessment taken by Fortune 500 CEOs and
designed to identify their 'Dark Side' - a personalized assessment of those
strengths you possess that, when under extreme pressure or stress, can turn
into vulnerabilities. I am delighted to include an article, Exploring The Dark Side: When Firm Leaders
Overuse Their Strenghts that emanates from research conducted over the past
Finally, Competitive Plagiarism warns us of what
can happen if we consciously or inadvertently replicate the strategies that
others may be pursuing; The Hurdles To
Initiating Change offers a view on what might be holding back some firms
from being more innovative; and Conducting
Client Interviews draws upon the wisdom of some insightful clients as to
their expectations when law firms come looking for feedback.
As always, I sincerely hope
that you find some practical ideas, tips and techniques here that you can put
to use immediately. Please send me your observations,
critiques, comments and suggestions with respect to any of these articles.
Click on the Cover to download your e-magazine copy.
Post #680 – Thursday,
September 5, 2013
Your 4 Leadership
One particular firm
leader I know makes it a regular habit to ask his fellow partners for feebdack
on how he is leading. He tells me that
it only involves his asking four questions:
1. What do you need more of from me?
2. What do you need less of from me?
3. What is it that I’m doing that you
would like me to stop doing . . . completely?
4. And what is it that I’m not doing at all, that you would like me to start doing?
It’s really that
simple! How sad it is that more leaders
don’t engage in this kind of feedback process.
Post #679 – Monday, August 19, 2013
Is This What Some In BigLaw Firms Have Evolved Into?
One of my colleagues had a talk with a former BigLaw
partner. He told of bully boy leadership, with a managing partner taking
$17 million a year in compensation (about 60 times the lowest paid partners at
$285k) and surrounding himself with people who get paid far more than they
contribute, but will do anything he asks to keep their rich sinecure.
Those who squeak, or even have the temerity to ask questions, are quickly
eliminated. Withdrawn / ejected partners wait interminably for the
capital return. (After several years this partner has only received about
20% of his capital back).
Meanwhile, verein members do not cooperate with one
another but instead are run as independent fiefdoms that actually compete
against each other. The stuff going on as reported makes Dewey look like
a much nicer place to work. Heaven only knows if the verein component is
being manipulated only to pull more admin money for 'leader'
But that's not all . . . people who are 'invited' to be partners are given a
signature page, but no copy of the actual partnership agreement. "Pending" partners, those who go
through a mandatory two to three year vetting or prove up, are required to put
up a deposit of capital during that period, which amount will then be credited
towards the capital obligation when and if they are made equity partner. (If
you don't put it up, you are told to leave). So equity from non-equity
people, but characterized not as equity and just a 'prepay deposit' towards
partnership capital. It would be interesting to know how that is treated
on the financials.
Is this merely the malicious ranting of some malcontent, former
BigLaw partner or the signs of a slow simmering problem moving towards full
Post #678 – Friday, August 9, 2013
Are You Daring To Fail?
“So what new initiatives did you tackle, during the past
twelve months, that didn’t exactly prove to be as fruitful as you might have
wished?” And if your answer is, “none.” Then what does that tell you? It may suggest
that it is better to dare to fail than to fail to dare!
Many firms profess
to be entrepreneurial and make some kind of claim to that effect on their
websites, but many struggle with the notion that in the pursuit of
entrepreneurial ventures there are no right answers; nothing is perfect, and
there are no guarantees.
Waiting for clear
confirmation that your decision to pursue some new idea is exactly right and
congratulating yourself for not making a mistake is almost a guarantee of
eventual failure. You will learn from
being decisive. By being decisive, you
allow yourself to get clear, immediate market feedback as a response to your
actions. And you are then in a far
better position to change course and also defeat any indecisive competitors who
are too mired in their analysis and desire to be perfect.
By way of an interesting example, Engineers Without Borders
Canada, a nonprofit that specializes
in international development, has for the past five years, published a “Failure
Report” (http://www.ewb.ca/reports) alongside its regular Annual
Report. According to a Foreword written by William H. Gates, Sr. retired
attorney (Preston Gates & Ellis) and the Co-Chair of the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation:
“Live and learn” is a familiar saying,
but its importance stems largely from what goes unmentioned: failure. In fact,
the primary use of this saying is to acknowledge that everyone makes mistakes
and encounters failure. The important thing is to learn and improve from these
learning and failing are both lifelong experiences. But whereas most
institutions and individuals strive to be continuous learners, they strive
equally hard to avoid failure and rarely acknowledge when it occurs. This
approach is wrong and problematic. The lessons learned from failure and
mistakes are often the most important, and they commonly have relevance and
value to others.
The most well-known
tale of establishing a dare-to-fail culture comes from Facebook COO Sheryl
Sandberg’s days as a vice president at Google. After she apologized to cofounder Larry Page
for making a multimillion-dollar mistake, Page famously told her, “I’m so glad
you made this mistake. . . . If we don’t have any of these mistakes, we’re just
not taking enough risk.”
Perhaps all of us would benefit from writing an annual
failure report. It could help us learn
from our mistakes and mobilize us to take more decisive initiatives.
Post #677 – Thursday, August
What Are Lawyers Reading
Last week, Ed Reeser and I
released our piece on ‘Star Cultures,’ the fifth in a series of articles that
we had written together. I believe we were
amongst the very first to start cautioning firms about the overuse of lateral
hiring, efficiency - at producing commodity work, and excessive compensation
spreads. These articles have been
intended to warn good firms among the AmLaw 100, 200 and below of the dangers
that may lie ahead if they pursue some of these same strategies and we are
gratified by the supportive responses we’ve received from many firm leaders.
We are extremely grateful
to have this particular article featured in AmericanLawyer.com,
ABAjournal.com, Law.com, and The Legal Intelligencer and to see it ranked among
the Top 5 "most viewed stories" on both AmLaw Daily and Law Technology News for
the past week.
While we don’t know what
that really means in terms of the number of attorneys that have read the
article, we do have some interesting numbers attributable to Ed posting these
pieces on JD Supra. And, according to a
current review, there were 650 downloads directly from JD Supra archives just in the
month of July 2013. Here are the download stats on the five articles that
Ed and I have co-authored:
Is Your Law Firm Creating a Star Culture? 
Sliced Too Thin-The Danger of Wide Partner Compensation Spreads 
Crazy Like A Fox - Why Non Equity Partners are More Valuable Than
Efficiency is Not The Competitive
The Limitations of Money as a Management Tool
inquiries may be driven by some attorneys’ personal interests or by professional
involvement of the firms in issues touched on by these articles. In any event, when we examine the totality of all of
the topics that people find of interest, what they are not reading about is associates,
mentoring, pro-bono, alternative fees, or what is in the client's best
interest. However, what they are reading about is swiss vereins,
partner capital, lateral hire pricing, withdrawal agreements, and
de-equitization. One might conclude that
the general interest does not appear to be focused on saving the world,
improving the profession, serving client needs, or helping others in the firm. Ouch!
Post #676 - Thursday, August
One Cost of Lateral Hiring
to court papers filed in New York, thirty-six (36) law firms are among those
facing legal action over the hire of partners from collapsed firm Dewey &
LeBoeuf – after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in
May of last year. A Texas-based litigation firm representing the defunct
firm’s liquidating trust, have requested authority to issue subpoenas to
36 law firms over so-called unfinished business claims against ex-Dewey
of these firms include Baker & Hostetler, Drinker Biddle, Goodwin Procter,
Holland & Knight, Mayer Brown, Orrick Herrington, Patton Boggs, Sutherland
Lawyers for the trust are seeking information concerning the
transfer of work which former Dewey partners took to their new
firms. “These former partners were working on active matters on behalf of
clients at the time the former partners left Dewey & LeBoeuf and
transitioned to the Firms,” read the application. ”For these reasons, the Trust
has a good faith basis for believing that the Firms are providing and have
provided legal services to these former DL clients on matters originated while
the Former Partners were at DL.”
This could prove expensive for the 36 firms involved!
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