Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post #717 – Friday, October 3, 2014

Eight Undeniable Truths About Change

If your firm wants to initiate any kind of change, you need to recognize and deal with some basic and undeniable truths.  These are things that can’t be avoided or changed (ironic), but can be mitigated, leveraged and worked with – to enable change with more ease and less tears.

• Commitment to the past hinders change in the future.  Like a tree’s roots, our hold on the way we do things grows deeper over time.  The success or failure of changes in the past, your colleagues’ appetite for growth, and the culture of your firm all help determine how deep the roots go and how hard it will be to change.

• Effective communication demands quality and quantity.  Effective communication is critical during any change effort.  Honesty, organization, consistency and responsiveness all will help ensure that communications are supporting the change.  You can say that again . . . and again . . . and again . . . and again!

• Your actions always speak louder than your words.  What you do and say has far more influence over the success or failure of a change than anything else.  Your colleagues are constantly watching you (not just in scripted moments) for cues. 

• People support what they help create.  The movie “Field of Dreams” was close but not exactly right.  It is not, “If you build it, they will come,” but rather, “If they build it, they will come.”  No one ever gets excited about, enthusiastic for or willingly supports any direction, strategy or change . . . that they themselves have not had a part in formulating.  Your people inherently connect with something they help build.  Engaging your colleagues in the change effort, early on, will pay big dividends in the long run.

• Firms change only when the people within the firm change.  It truly does take a village.  All professional service firms are, in essence, groups of people.  If your firm is going to change, a critical mass of the partners within your firm need to go through an individual change process – first.

• Resistance is inevitable.  You probably heard it first back in your high school physics class, when Newton said it . . . “An object at rest tends to stay at rest.”  There are personal, structural and physiological reasons to resist change.  Firms that expect and deal with resistance proactively will experience the most effective changes.

• Connecting to the head and the heart builds commitment.  In spite of being highly analytical, your pcolleagues are not purely rational.  They need to have a rational recognition of the need to change, as well as a deeper emotional connection to believe in what the change is all about.  Winning the hearts of those who will experience the change will make all the difference.

• Sustaining change takes support and reinforcement.  As your firm changes, you are not in Kansas anymore.  Those that make change stick make sure they are hiring, training, developing, measuring, rewarding and communicating with people in ways consistent with the new model rather than the old practices.

Post #716 – Monday, September 15, 2014

The Fall 2014 Issue of International Review is Now Available

International Review is my 24-page glossy, printed magazine distributed to over 1600 law firm chairs and managing partners throughout North America.  Our Fall issue begins with a piece entitled, Perspectives On Firm Strategy which contains seven thought-provoking ideas on everything from becoming distinctive to quantifying and communicating real value to clients.

In our First 100 Days program (see back cover) we introduce new firm leaders to the monumental task of taking the reins of leading their firms.  When Firm Leaders Transition provides prescriptive counsel and specific steps to both the departing firm leader and their successor on what they need to do to facilitate an effective transition.

Once again, my good friend and colleague Ed Reeser joins me in The Question of Partner Compensation Guarantees cautioning how, while providing guarantees can be a legitimate transitioning tool for incoming laterals, these same guarantees can also present firms with some real problems when best intentions and future forecasts don’t materialize.

Finally, Create Your Stop Doing List is some straight-forward guidance on how to keep the urgent from crowding out the important, while Integrating Laterals provides pragmatic advice on how to best integrate the key talent that you have spent so much time, effort and expense attracting to your firm.

As always, I sincerely hope that you find 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 complimentary PDF copy of the magazine.

Post #715 – Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Critical Step in Firm Leadership Selection

The latest issue of American Lawyer magazine is out featuring an 8-page cover article (“Meet The New Boss”) that deals with the many complexities of leadership succession.  I was honored to be interviewed by the author, provide materials, as well as contribute substantively to the “How To Succeed At Succession’ side bar.  One point that needs to be emphasized even more than in this article is the following:

In any effective leadership selection process, before you can begin discussing the “who,” your executive committee/ board must agree on the strategic direction of your firm in light of trends and discontinuities that your firm may be facing in the future.  It follows that if the members of your executive committee cannot agree on strategic direction, they will have even greater difficulty agreeing on the requisite capabilities they require from their next firm leader.

Therefore in any leadership succession process you need to pay particular attention to defining the criteria for selecting your next firm leader based on future performance ?requirements.

To go beyond generalities, your executive committee / board has to identify the very specific effect it wants the next Firm Leader to have on the firm’s business and define the skills that it will take to accomplish that.  A law firm delivering solid but unremarkable profitability, for example, may want the next firm leader to refocus on high value practices or lean toward selecting a strong operator with a record for overseeing a cost efficient operation.  Even a firm that has delivered consistently high performance versus its peers must evaluate which candidate has the greatest likelihood to help the firm continue to outperform, but also find ways to innovate, drive value-distinctiveness and avoid the complacency that can come with success.

Your firm’s ability to predict your next leader’s success requires a frank view of each candidates’ readiness, including an understanding of their development needs based on the future direction of the firm, and the likelihood of their being able to close those gaps suitably and in a reasonable amount of time.  Specifically, a rigorous review of an individual’s competencies, including the observations of others who can validate their performance in current and past roles, can reveal whether candidates have the relevant experience.  However, it is not enough to look at just the attorney’s past accomplishments.  Your executive committee / board should also strive to gain an understanding of each candidates’ analytical capabilities, social intelligence and self-awareness — all skills that speak to their EQ and ability to succeed in more complex and demanding contexts.

Post #714 – Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Your Recipe For Becoming More Valuable

How do you go about making yourself more valuable today than you were yesterday?  In today’s world, you have to continually assess your skills and adapt them to match up to the evolving needs of your target markets.  You need to consider the following if you ever hope to keep pace:

Skills are more specialized

Rapid knowledge growth means it is increasingly difficult for professionals to keep on top of everything they need to know.  You need to specialize; knowledge micro-niches are the reality for most enduring careers.

Skills are degradable

The half-life of knowledge is decreasing at a furious rate.  Professionals and their firms are painfully discovering that many of their skill offerings are becoming commoditized at an ever-accelerating rate.

Skills can be transferred

The boomer retirement issue is real.  Of the 6,800 partners that occupy positions in large law firms today, nearly 20% are just a few years away from or have already surpassed the mandatory retirement age; and usually represent well over 50% of the revenue your firm generates.  Smart firms are spending serious money to ensure that the important knowledge of senior practitioners is being captured, codified, retained and archived.

Skills are increasingly portable

That's the thing we've learned with globalization.  With clients sensing that certain skills are readily available, they’ve learned about outsourcing their various requirements.  It doesn't really matter to them where the skills are, as long as they can procure them when needed.  Not exactly good news for you.

Skills are renewable

Fortunately, the expiry date on your skills can be extended.  If you can develop a mind-set and discipline toward constant improvement and invest some portion of your precious and finite time in developing new skills, you can adapt and evolve.

So, here is your personal and career building ACID-TEST: What is it that you know today, as we approach the final months of 2014 that you didn’t know one year ago? 

Or, put slightly differently: What is it that you can actually do for your clients today, that you couldn’t do at this time last year? 

If your answer is “not much”, then bless you, but you may quickly be on your way . . . to becoming obsolete!

Post #713 – Monday, August 4, 2014

The New Boardroom Concern: Cybersecurity Risk

Looking at the latest issue of Corporate Board Member, 500 directors and general counsel responded to a survey request and identified the trends in their 2014 Law In The Boardroom study.  The top trends involved ongoing concern over new issues such as IT/cyber risk, shareholder engagement, and social media.

According to the report, IT and cyber risks are among the most dangerous threats a company faces, and often the hardest to spot.  They also tend to be the most expensive, with the U.S. leading nine other nations in average total organizational cost per breach and, along with Australia, the largest average number of breached records.  Accordingly, corporate board audit committees are taking a greater interest in cybersecurity risks and the organization’s plans for addressing them.  More than 50% of directors ranked IT strategy and risk—behind only strategic planning—as the issue for which they need better information and processes to be as effective in their jobs as possible.  Forty-four percent of general counsel agreed.  This is also an area where directors and GCs questioned each other’s abilities: 38% of directors found GCs only somewhat effective at IT/cyber risk oversight; similarly, 37% of GCs said the same about the board’s effectiveness in this area.

While 45% of GCs and 43% of directors have confidence in their company’s response plan in the event a breach in security occurs, 34% of general counsel and 27% of directors are not convinced their company is secure and impervious to hackers.  Perhaps more troubling, though, is the fact that fully one-quarter of directors and GCs surveyed believe their company is well shielded against hackers, which brings into question how well cyber and IT risks are really understood.

Post #712 - Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Stimulating Innovation In Law Firms

It is ironic that almost every law firm, somewhere on their web site, will reference themselves as being an innovative, entrepreneurial firm. And yet, whether you are dealing with a business entrepreneur or a law firm partner, upon first hearing about a new idea or strategy, both will respond with the very same question. "Please tell me who else is doing this?"

The question is the same BUT the motivation for asking is very different. The partner needs to be reassured that some other law firm out there, that they may have a modicum of respect for, has done this and most importantly, experienced some success. For the business entrepreneur, the motivation in asking this question is completely different … they just want to know because if someone else has already done this, they likely aren't interested. It's already been done!

The time has come for law firms to create structures within the firm aimed precisely at innovation - groups whose job it is to solve difficult problems through creative business processes, a reinterpretation of the firm's position in the marketplace, new technologies or alternative staffing models.

Join Andrew Smulian (Chairman and CEO of Akerman LLP), Ken Grady (CEO of SeyfarthLean Consulting), John Paris (Chair of Williams Mullen Innovation Committee) and me for a one-hour Webinar – TOMORROW – Thursday July 31st hosted by Ark.

More details are available here:

Post #711 – Friday, July 25, 2014

Signal What You Value As A New Leader

One of the more profound things I’ve learned, that I try to pass along to new leaders, be they managing partners or practice heads, is to “act like you are on stage at all times, because you are!”  Everything you do and say will send messages, set tone, establish expectations, and communicate direction about what is of priority to you.  With that in mind, you need to carefully orchestrate what symbolic acts you may want to execute to create a lasting impression and convey what you stand for.

In other words, you need to always think through . . .

Read my entire article as posted on LinkedIn

Post #710 – Thursday, July 10, 2014

Create Your ‘Stop Doing’ List

Many new firm leaders severely underestimate the time that is going to be required of them to really do their job.  In fact, a recent Citibank/HBR 2014 Client Advisory, provided a commentary under the title: The Leadership Challenge. According to the report, “One development which gives us concern is that some of the newer breed of leaders continue to maintain busy, full time practices. In this scenario, their clients’ needs are likely to take priority, to the detriment of the management of the firm. If we could see any change, it would be that firms recognize that to be effective, the firm leader is best performed as a full time role.”

Indeed, the biggest issue I hear about is always the amount of time it takes to do the leadership stuff.  Many are not full-time managing partners so they struggle with trying to maintain some balance between the time needed to manage the firm and the time required to maintain some modest personal practice.

Here's a tip that I’ve been talking about for some time now: Create a Stop Doing List.

Take a look at your desk.  If you're like most hard-charging firm leaders, you've got a very lengthy and well-articulated to-do list.  We've all been told that leaders make things happen – and that's true.  But it's also true that great leaders distinguish themselves by their unyielding discipline to stop doing anything and everything that doesn't fit.  And that’s not easy.  We all get a personal sense of satisfaction every time we check something off of our to-do list.  Our only failing is that the things that we are checking off are the easy tasks, like perhaps responding to some email, and probably not the things that will advance our personal strategic goals as firm leader or significantly change the firm.  There is where the urgent crowds out the important!

So how can you go about re-focusing your To-Do list?

Read my entire article as posted on LinkedIn

Post #709 – Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Vaporization of A Leader’s Legacy

Whatever the specifics, as a new firm leader you know that some change is likely going to be needed to make your firm better. 

Of course, some things are more changeable than others.  One thing that all new leaders are taught is to explore and execute in those areas where you can achieve a quick, early, small win to build credibility.  One obvious way to do that is to target those things that can be changed most easily.  By contrast, some meaningful changes are far more difficult and slow to see results appear.  Consider, for instance, how difficult it might be to reshape your firm’s culture into a more collaborative environment.  In all likelihood it could take years and a significant investment of time.  Little wonder we tend to avoid taking on such a difficult challenge, preferring instead to embrace those things which can more easily be changed.

But herein is the paradox of any leader’s legacy.  When the next firm leader comes along after you, what will she try to change?  Chances are, like you, the next leader will look to change those things that can easily be changed.  And those will be precisely the things that you changed.  We and our successors change that which can be changed, each undoing the work of the one before him.  You feel a sense of accomplished at the moment of change, and so will the professional who comes along tomorrow and undoes all of your work.  Ironically, although you feel you have made a difference, if you look back in few years, you may see little evidence of your efforts.  So much for your legacy!

*                      *                      *                      *                      *

So, if you are someone who is about to take the reins at your firm or know some lawyer fitting that description, here’s an article that should peek your/their interest: “Firm Leadership Is NOT For Wimps!”  This article identifies eight truths that I know to be valid based on anecdotal evidence gleaned from countless discussions and interviews with firm leaders much wiser than I.

And, if you are (or know of a firm) facing a firm leadership transition or even having a new office managing partner taking charge of one of the larger offices, please have a look at:   The next program is scheduled for Thursday, AUGUST 14th at the University of Chicago and we are now accepting registrations.  Have a look at the day’s agenda, the faculty, the testimonials, the extensive course materials, the follow-up support and your total satisfaction guarantee.

Thus far, over 60 firm chairs and managing partners have already experienced and can attest to the benefits of this program.  In fact, we received these gracious comments from a couple of those attending our First 100 Days session:

"I was struck by the synthesis of the issues you presented.  It was amazingly clear and comprehensive, given the breadth of the topic and the short time available.  I was delighted to attend the event and I learned a lot from it."     

Hugh Verrier, Chairman - WHITE & CASE

"The First 100 Days Masterclass was concise and insightful.  I quickly learned the difference between being a practitioner and a Firm Leader.  I was thoroughly impressed with the scope of the topics discussed.  

One year later - I continually refer to that one day class as the best thing I did to prepare for my new role."    

Vincent A. Cino, Chairman - JACKSON LEWIS

Few experiences can be as overwhelming as taking on the firm leadership role for the first time.  We repeatedly hear about how everything changes in unexpected ways.  It is not about shifting from being an office head or member of the executive committee to the next rung on some leadership ladder, it’s a quantum leap into a new reality.  Brand new firm leaders need all the practical, impartial and time-tested advice they can get.

Post #708 – Tuesday, July 1, 2014

More On The Future of The Profession

There was an interesting article in the Guardian (UK) this past week concerning the future of law.  Oxford academics Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A Osborne have predicted computerization could make nearly half of jobs redundant within 10 to 20 years.  Office work and service roles were particularly at risk.   So where does that leave the professions?

"We'll see what I call decomposition, the breaking down of professional work into its component parts," says leading legal futurist Richard Susskind.  Susskind's forthcoming book Beyond the Professions, co-authored with his son Daniel Susskind, examines the transformations already underway across the sectors that once offered jobs for life.  He predicts a process not unlike the division of labor that wiped out skilled artisans and craftsmen in the past: the dissolution of expertise into a dozen or more streamlined processes.

"Some of these parts will still require expert trusted advisers acting in traditional ways," he says.  "But many other parts will be standardized or systematized or made available with online service."  In a previous book Tomorrow's Lawyers, he predicts the creation of eight new legal roles at the intersection of software and law.  Many of the job titles sound at home in IT companies: legal knowledge engineer, legal technologist, project manager, risk manager, process analyst.

"Many traditional lawyers will look at that and think: 'Yes, they might be jobs, but that's not what I went to law school for.  And that's not what my parents' generation did as lawyers.'"  That, says Susskind, is not his concern: whether we call these new positions lawyers or not, the legal sector will survive.

"What I often say is that the future of law is not Rumpole of the Bailey, and it's not John Grisham," explains Susskind.  "It's not a version of what we have today slightly tweaked. It will be people working in the legal sector but offering legal services and legal help in new ways."  It may be the end of the profession as immortalized in courtroom dramas, but as software eats the old jobs it will have to create new ones too.

Meanwhile, five years ago, entrepreneur Charley Moore founded online legal services provider Rocket Lawyer.  It now boasts 30 million users.  Subscribers pay a monthly fee for instant access to pre-prepared documents and tutorials, as well as online legal advice from experts at participating firms.  The work lawyers on the network do has already begun to resemble the streamlined, one-to-many roles Susskind predicted.

Moore is optimistic about the revolution computerization has unleashed in his sector. "I don't think of [software] as consuming the industry, as much as I think of it as supporting the industry.  So with software, certainly there are mundane, routine tasks that will become more efficient, but by making those tasks more efficient, lawyers will be able to move up in the food chain and serve millions more legal transactions than they currently can."

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