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Post #715 – Tuesday,
September 2, 2014
The Critical Step in
Firm Leadership Selection
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:
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.
in any leadership succession process you need to pay particular attention to defining the criteria for selecting your next firm leader based on future
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.
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
Post #714 – Tuesday, August
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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.
other words, you need to always think through . . .
my entire article as posted on LinkedIn
Post #710 – Thursday, July
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
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
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,
The Vaporization of A Leader’s Legacy
the specifics, as a new firm
leader you know that some
change is likely going to be needed to make your firm better.
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.
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!” – http://www.patrickmckenna.com/pdfs/Wimps.pdf 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: www.first100daysmasterclass.com 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,
More On The Future of The
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
"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."
Post #707 – Sunday, June 15, 2014
Banking Industry Disruption
It’s bad enough when law firms are facing major disruption
throughout the profession but when one of their most lucrative client sectors
is also going through unprecedented upheavals it does not make future demand
for legal services look promising.
At a recent high-level New York conference on the future of
finance the news was grim for the world’s banking community. According to industry soothsayers there is a
steadily downward forecast for employment and profits in the banking sector. Ric Edelman, CEO of Edelman Financial, manager
of $13 billion investment fund, predicted that most advisors will be out of
business in five to 10 years.
the legal profession today, more legal apps are being made available to
consumers and small businesses. One
example is Shake, an app for creating legal contracts on the fly from your
phone. You answer a few simple
questions, the contract is compiled, you can review it and sign right on the
phone, then hand your phone to the other party to sign, or email it to them. Simple consumer level document automation in
your pocket, resulting in legally binding agreements.
Concurrently, innovative tech startups are popping up to
offer the same services as traditional banking for a fraction of the
price. Cellphones are becoming the
banks, wallets and credit cards of the world. One commentator explained how she paid a
consultant on the other side of the globe by simply writing a check,
photographing it on her cellphone and emailing it to the consultant’s email
address. The consultant then took the
image and with a simple app on her mobile was able to cash the check without
problem. Banking can be delivered by
cellphone instantaneously and accounts cleared in minutes, not days.
With traditional banking, slow clearance provides huge
profits as institutions earn profit as they hold your money. One commentator
explained, “in 2013, US banks made $32 billion on overdrafts, more than is
invested into breast or lung cancer.”
Meanwhile startups are attacking the credit card business
model. One interesting disruptor is
Dwolla who charges 25 cents per transaction and no fee to those who spend less
than $10 – compared to the 2.5% that companies charge merchants per transaction. In but a few months Dwolla has attracted
35,000 merchants and 500,000 consumers who can open an account by providing a
simple piece of identification like a driver’s licence.
Post #706 – Sunday,
June 1, 2014
The Hurdles To Initiating Change
Firms are navigating a tough financial climate,
suppressed growth rates, and declining demand. Whatever kind of economist-speak
you prefer, there’s no getting around the fact that now is a scary time to be a
firm leader. Whether you choose to call it the digital age, the knowledge
economy, or even “the New Normal,” it seems clear that we are in the throws of
an economic revolution as profound as that which gave birth to our modern
Wherever you look within the professions, you will
see two kinds of firms: laggards who have fallen behind the change curve, and
challengers who are in front of the curve or at least at the leading edge of
it. The laggards fail to see the future coming. They fall out of the driver’s
seat. They cede the role to somebody else and then fight to catch up.
There are reasons, if not excuses, for many firms
not to take action. From their early days in school, professionals were
rewarded for success and still are today, based on their ability to look
backward in history – to find precedent, to find the experience-based rule that
will control the adjudication of the situation at hand. The need for change is
not welcomed and the more dramatic the change required, the more acute the
resistance from nostalgic past-worshippers. In order to take decisive action,
most firms have some acute change hurdles to overcome – hurdles I have come to
label: denial, perfectionism, precedent, competence, and agility.
Read my entire article as posted on LinkedIn
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