Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post # 620 – Monday, August 20, 2012

Social Media is Now Among Top Areas of Risk               

It is interesting how seemingly harmless social networking activities don’t hint at the dangers many are discovering with social media.

Exhibit One:  I noted that with the advent of more law firms appointing or hiring internal pricing professionals to work with their practice groups and lawyers, someone decided that maybe it would make sense to launch a Linkedin group exclusively dedicated to allowing these professionals to network and discuss common issues.  The initial thought was immediately greeted with responses from many warning about the possible anti-trust implications involved with sharing information or being perceived to be potentially discussing subjects that were entirely, shall we say: “inappropriate.”

Exhibit Two:  I’ve just completed an assignment with an AmLaw 100 firm assisting the elected Board with the selection of their next managing partner.  As part of the process we had hundreds of partners providing anonymous feedback to me (as the objective third party) on one or all of the four candidates.  Part way into the process it dawned on a couple of the board members that special precautions should be taken to prevent any commentary from leaking and then potentially going viral.  The “viral” aspect of social media – a comment’s ability to go worldwide in a very short amount of time – is what can make social media a conduit for unintended embarrassment and risk.

Exhibit Three:  A new survey of US executives, including many at multinational companies, found social media is one of the top five risks that organizations now face. The Deloitte's report: Aftershock: Adjusting to the New World of Risk Management claims that 27% of survey respondents predict that social media is among their most important risk sources over the next three years.  The global economic environment (41%), government spending (32%) and regulatory changes (30%), respectively, were the top three expected risks identified by executives in the survey – and the only ones named by a higher percentage of respondents than social media.  “Social media wasn’t even on the radar a few years ago – now it’s ranked among the top five sources of risk,” Henry Ristuccia, Governance, Regulatory & Risk leader at Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, said in a news release.  “The rise of social media is just another contributor to the volatile global risk environment that companies are being forced to navigate.”? ?

Recognizing the risk may be the first step toward managing it.  That said, does your firm have any plan for how it would respond to a crisis that goes “viral” through some social media network?

Post #619 – Monday, August 13, 2012

What Does A Practice Group Leader Actually Do?

Now this could be seen as a pretty strange question for one to ask . . . if it weren’t for the fact that so few law firms seem to have effectively answered this question.

Twice a year I have the privilege of conducting a one-day master class for new practice group leaders, usually held at the University of Chicago and hosted by the Ark Group.  Over the years I have now conducted about a dozen of these sessions and in all cases the participants comprise firms of over 100 attorneys in size including the likes of Jones Day, Kirkland & Ellis, Morgan Lewis, Sidley Austin, Weil Gotshal, Winston & Strawn and so forth.  Amongst a number of opening questions I pose to the entire group at the beginning of the day, is to inquire how many of them have a formal, written job description.  At my last master class this past June, out of a group of 26 participants, ONLY three hands went up – which is pretty typical of the responses I obtain.  What I didn’t ask, of those who had responded in the affirmative, is to tell us specifically what their job description entails.  I’ve since learned that that would have made for the perfect follow on inquiry.

To read the complete article - download the PDF.

The above represents my latest column for   Slaw identifies itself as “a cooperative weblog on all things legal.”  Slaw has been publishing for five years and gets 30,000 unique visitors and about 100,000 visits every month.  For the past two consecutive years it has been the winner of three different awards as the best legal blog.  I’m honored to have been asked to become a regular columnist and invite you to comment on my latest meandering.

Post #618 – Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hope For The Best – Prepare For The Worst

There is an old saying, "Hope for the Best and Prepare for the Worst."  Given recent financial reports, we might think we are already at or close to the worst.  But is hoping for the best enough?  On balance, I'd suggest that hope alone is not about to add a single dollar to your bottom line.  The essence of good leadership is to assess the harsh 'reality' of the situation and then take action.

Meanwhile, the Hildebrandt Institute’s Peer Monitor Economic Index reported that demand growth was slightly negative and rate growth was also weak for the second quarter.  These results, combined with a stagnating economy, leads Peer Monitor to predict a challenging economic environment for the remainder of 2012.  And I thought all of the various news reports indicated that the economy was picking up.

Every time I look at the news, every time I see a report on the job market or the housing situation, I see speculation that tries to suggest . . . “It’s another clear sign that the bottom may be close.”  Clear?  Not likely.  Economists show optimist that the housing sector may be showing signs of life one week and then the next, a new report emerges to dampen the enthusiasm.  Job growth?  First the number of new claims for jobless benefits decreases and then another major company announces more job reductions.  What should we believe?

Look at any number widely quoted in news reports today.  The greater the precision, the greater the lie.  Why?  Because economists really don’t know anything for certain.  The best they can do is observe, guess, and hedge their bets with a ‘maybe’ or a ‘possibly.’  The more precisely they claim to know something for sure . . . the greater the distance between what they can actually know and what they claim.  Numbers are to an economist what make-up is to an aging starlet – put on enough of it and maybe the folks won’t see the truth.

Behind every number is a wrinkle.  Small numbers hide small ones.  Big numbers hide bigger ones.  A big number, such as the unemployment rate, has a whole army of other numbers behind it.  There are the statistical adjustments, seasonal adjustments and enough arbitrary definitions to make a corpse look good.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that 8.2% of the workforce is unemployed.  Simple enough.  But what does it mean?  What’s the ‘workforce?’  And what does it mean to be “unemployed?’  Think of all those people who work for cash . . . are they unemployed?  How about the guy who couldn’t find a job, so he went back to school?  Is he unemployed?  What about the housewife who would like to find a job; sort of . . . but isn’t actively looking for one?  Are these people part of the workforce?

It’s obvious that you can change the assumptions a bit and change the reported unemployment rate a lot.  When statistician John Williams looks at the data, for example, he comes up with a real unemployment rate of 23% — almost as high as the jobless rate in Spain.  And here is another statistic to chill the blood in your veins . . . 77% of American businesses are NOT considering hiring anyone in the near future!

And yet, the BLS tells us that US unemployment is 8.2%.  Not ˜around 8%.’  Not ‘less than one in ten.’  But 8.2% - exactly.  And yet, there are so many slippery assumptions lurking in the shadows of this number that it is completely unreliable and practically meaningless.  Or worse.  It pretends to tell you something, but once you have taken it in you know less than you did before, because what you think you know is largely a fraud. 

Post #617 – Wednesday, August 1, 2012     

Lawyer Office Sizes Mimicking Dilbert

Wood paneling and large offices are going by the wayside at some law firms.  The idea is to cut office expenses and encourage cooperation, the Wall Street Journal reported last week.  Firms embracing this 21st century design are “shrinking private offices, swapping out walls for glass, and installing high-tech meeting rooms in dead space once occupied by law libraries and filing cabinets.”

Lawyer offices have decreased in size by 20 percent to 25 percent, according to Matthew Barlow, executive vice president at the brokerage firm Studley Inc.  Some firms, he said, are placing junior lawyers in interior space once used by administrative staffers.  Typical office sizes are 225 square feet for partners, the story says, and 150 square feet for associates.  In New York, however, many firms put two associates in an office. 

The story reports that this idea was first embraced by U.K law firms. Talk about a 360 degree turn of events.  I remember fondly my first assignment working with a London-based law firm in the early 90s.  At that time it was not unusual to see the traditional barrister’s desk in every office where the partner sat on one side and an associate (or two) sat on the other side.  All in a fairly small office by North American standards.

Fast-forward twenty years and we now see Allen & Overy opting for a “generic office size,” all with soundproof glass walls.  Others have implemented open-plan offices where lawyers sit at workstations separated by glass partitions.  And among the U.S. law firms is Paul Hastings, which is planning to make the changes when its leases come up for renewal.  The firm is also considering allowing some lawyers to work permanently from home.  Wow, what a radical concept!  The next thing you hear will be firms adopting a hoteling concept like the accounting profession has been doing for decades.

Post #616 – Sunday, July 15, 2012
Steps In Selecting Your Next Firm Leader

Earlier this week, I organized and conducted the first (to my knowledge) webinar on the topic of how to select your next firm leader.  Joining me were Brian Burke, retired Chair Emeritus at Faegre Baker & Daniels and Harry Trueheart, Chairman Emeritus at Nixon Peabody and Chair and CEO of TerraLex.

Leadership succession deals with very real psychological factors that can lead to difficult choices where there are often perceived winners and losers.  Many board and executive committee members may not know where to start and what some of the best practices are.  One of the first subjects we spent some time on explaining to our audience of over 40 firm participants, was the steps involved in the process.

Your specific selection process may differ depending upon the size of your firm; the specifics of your shareholders/partners agreement – whether your final choice is by election of all shareholders or selection by your Board / Executive Committee.  Best practices would suggest that there are 5 distinct phases and each phase has a number of important and sequential steps:


• Choosing A Nominating Committee
Usually made up of shareholders – who should have clearly declared that they have no interest in being the next firm leader

• Develop Your Timeline
This process most often takes 4 to 6 months.

• Interrogating Reality  [lot of firms overlook]
Nominating Committee or entire Board needs to carefully reflect upon – “the current situation that we’re facing.” 


• Identify Specific Skill Requirements
Which flows directly from you interrogating reality.

• Survey Shareholders on Leadership Competencies Desired
We should always find a means to have shareholders involved.

• Develop [OR Refine] The Job Description

• Develop Formal Written Application Form / Process
It is not unusual for the application to have 8 to 12 lengthy questions.

• Identify Selection Criteria


• Invite Shareholders to Nominate Candidates

• Host Candidate’s Town Hall Meet and Greet

• Invite Confidential Input
Allow shareholders to express their support/concern for any and all candidates

• Design and Structure A Formal Interviewing of Candidates
Each candidate goes through a rigorous one-hour interview

• Analyze Candidates Personality and Strengths  (optional)


• Report on Results of Interviews and Confidential Commentary

• Conduct The Vote


• Create a Transition / Integration Plan

If your firm is facing the challenge of selecting a new firm leader in the next little while and you have any questions about the process, I’d welcome speaking with you about the intricacies involved in effectively executing these steps.

Post #615 – Sunday, July 15, 2012
The New Subclass?

“We Are The 99 per cent,” went the refrain echoing around Wall Street and Bay Street at the height of the Occupy movement in late 2011.  But the same cries could soon be coming from within the glass towers that line the streets at the world’s financial centres if big law firms face the backlash some analysts are predicting from marginalized lawyers chasing an increasingly elusive seat at the equity partnership table.

“Somebody needs to start Occupy Big Law,” says Steven J. Harper, a retired partner formerly with U.S.-based international giant Kirkland & Ellis LLP.  According to Harper, the increasing ranks of non-equity partners chasing the mirage of full partnership, or recovering from de-equitization, risks creating a “permanent subclass” in law firms.  Even within equity partnerships, he says the widening gulf between the lowest- and highest paid members is a recipe for disaster.

The New Subclass? is the cover story in the July-August issue of Canadian Lawyer magaizne, written by Michael McKiernan.  I was delighted to be interviewed by Michael for the story and to be featured throughout his excellent article.

To read the entire article – download the PDF

Post #614 - Sunday, July 1, 2012
A Field Guide for Mobile Lawyers

You can (and do) work anywhere—seat 32F, the B train, hotel bars, little league bleachers and wherever your feet (and your luggage) may land.  With just a smartphone and a change of underwear, you’re off in a trice to tend to business in parts unknown.  You are an “attorney at large.”  How do you do it?  Through the maze of airport security, elusive Wi-Fi, overheated hotel rooms and telescoping time zones?  “There be dragons” out there at the edges of your world!  But you?  You do battle.  You carry on.  And, frankly, from here it looks like you’re doing a pretty good job.  But today we’re giving you something that will help you do it even better:

Have a look at and download your copy of this cool 54-page E-guide for Mobile Lawyers.  I had fun making a small contribution,

Rant #613 - Sunday, July 1, 2012
Things Successful Leaders Do Differently

The following, written by Paula Davis-Laack a lawyer turned psychology practitioner, caught my attention:

• They put relationships first.  Successful leaders make time for their clients and colleagues.  I’m reminded of a quote by Robert Martin that illustrates this point: “Taking an interest in what others are thinking and doing is often a much more powerful form of encouragement than praise.”

• They know that meaning matters.  They talk about the importance of incorporating meaning into your life, your work, and your business ventures.

• They use humor.  Early studies of humor and health showed that humor strengthened the immune system, reduced pain, and reduced stress levels. What’s interesting is that the more stressful the situation, the more successful leaders tap into the funny side of life.

• They lead and live with their strengths.  Research by the Gallup Organization shows that the most effective leaders invest in their strengths, surround themselves with the right people to maximize their team, and understand their followers’ needs.

• They manage pessimistic thinking.  Successful leaders reign in their pessimistic thinking in three ways. First, they focus their time and energy on where they have control. They know when to move on if certain strategies aren’t working or if they don’t have control in a specific area. Second, they know that “this too shall pass.” Successful leaders “embrace the suck” and understand that while the ride might be bumpy at times, it won’t last forever. Finally, great leaders are good at compartmentalizing. They don’t let an adversity in one area of their life seep over into other areas of their life.

• They make their own luck.  Successful leaders pursue goals with passion, don’t back down from challenges, don’t allow a failure to define who they are as a person, and simply put, don’t quit.

• They manage their energy.  Successful leaders become adept at moving between energy expenditure (stress) and energy renewal (recovery).  In order to get the energy renewal required to live and work in an ideal performance state, successful leaders know when to refill their tank.  Burnout is a potential reality for people in high-stress professions, and successful leaders keep burnout at bay by knowing how and when to take a break.

Post #612 - Sunday, July 1, 2012
Everything Flows

Here's an enthralling 3:30 minute video that features one of my son's musical scores.  "Like stars and nebulae drifting through space, pearly hand soap flows through clear soap. The motion is impossible to detect at normal speed, but time-lapse photography reveals growing, curling and mixing."  David engineers sound for one of the top international video game manufacturers (ThQ) and also composes musical scores for videos.

Post #611 – Thursday, June 14, 2012
Thought-Provoking Management Metrics - Part Two

A few months back (Post #604) I wrote about how, at a recent gathering of the profession, one discussion centered around metrics – financial and performance-oriented measures.  While we are all familiar with the usual billable hour, collections, matter profitability, and so forth, this discussion provoked me to think about some of the more unfamiliar and unorthodox, but vital metrics that I believe law firm management should be looking at.

In the first part of my article, I presented two useful metrics: management time spent exploring new opportunities and the number of new revenue ideas, practice areas and/or services launched in the past year.  In this second part, we now have a look at defining distinctive attributes that clients value, time invested growing know-how, and effectiveness of meetings.

To read the complete article - download the PDF.

The above represents my latest column for   Slaw identifies itself as “a cooperative weblog on all things legal.”  Slaw has been publishing for five years and gets 30,000 unique visitors and about 100,000 visits every month.  For the past two consecutive years it has been the winner of three different awards as the best legal blog.  I’m honored to have been asked to become a regular columnist and invite you to comment on my latest meandering.

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