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Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations


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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!”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, 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."



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.

In 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 times.

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



Post #705 – Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Join Me Next Week In New York

Come join practice leaders from Clark Hill, Ogletree Deakins, O’Melveny & Myers, Proskauer Rose, Robins Kaplan, Wilson Elser and others at my Ark workshop entitled: Firing On All Cylinders.

This is an intensive full-day workshop for Practice Group Leaders – June 4th at the AMA Executive Conference Center (1601 Broadway).  Registration and agenda specifics can be found on the Ark website.

It promises to be a highly productive day.





Post #704 – Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What is Your Firm’s Business Model?

This is a comment from Jeff Carr.  Jeff is Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of FMC Technologies Inc.  I think his thoughts here are worth reflecting on:

“Let me take a minute of your time to describe the market from my perspective (that of the true customer).  The true gist is:

• “Big Law” or “Old Law” (aka a traditional law firm) is not in the business of solving legal problems – it is in the business of billing hours to solve legal problems.

• “New Law” (e.g., LPO’s, Axiom, Huron, etc.) is in the business of billing lower cost hours to solve legal problems.

• “Enlightened Law” (e.g., Riverview, Valorem, etc) is in the business of solving legal problems effectively and efficiently.

• “Next Law” is the business of preventing legal problems from ever arising.

In-house counsel teams are uniquely situated to understand and deliver on the prevention focus – precisely because that’s what a high performance legal team does.  The problem is that most in-house teams are just as risk-averse as outside counsel and generally overwhelmed with reactive work. As such, I think very few are actually focused on my vision of Next Law.  The most interesting thing about Next Law is that it co-exists with Big, Old and New Law – as providers for reactive services when legal problems do arise – but the focus of Next Law is on prevention and proactive law and therefore cost reduction by limiting the incidents giving rise to the need for the high cost remedial and reactive legal services.  We’ll never eliminate fires and as such will always need firefighters – but we can drastically reduce fire incidents and therefore leverage the costs over fewer incidents.  The truly interesting thing is that I believe that large segments of the legal market are going un-served today precisely because the cost of delivery of legal services is prohibitively high.  Many small and mid-size companies “go naked” and then when they are embroiled in a legal issue, they have no recourse but to react – and that means even higher costs.

If you wonder whether I have any basis for these views, let me draw your attention to our track record from the time of our spin-off from FMC Corp in 2001 until now: 2001 — $1.8B sales, $14.8 total legal spend; 2013 — $7.5B sales, $9.8M total legal spend — and 7% average bonus to legal service providers.

Unless you change how you provide legal services, you can’t get metrics like those below in a world where law firm rates go up 10% a year, my internal costs go up 5%-8% annually, the company has tripled in size, the regulatory burden has grown significantly – while at the same time paying your law firms more than they bill you!

Via la (R)evolution! I use that phrase because the legal industry fights change and innovation at every turn – That said, whether Revolution, Evolution or Foreverlution, I believe the tipping point has been reached – it’s just that many of the players don’t see, or don’t want to see the comet coming.”

What do you think?



Rant #703 – Tuesday May 13, 2014

Inquiring Leaders Want To Know

As the story goes, it was a warm spring day in Princeton, New Jersey.  One Albert Einstein, who was then working at the Center For Advanced Studies, was found hands clasped behind his back, pacing back and forth, mumbling to himself incoherently.  A bystander, curious to discover what it was that Dr. Einstein was so obsessed with, moved discreetly to within hearing range.  Lost in thought, Einstein continued to repeat, “If I only had the right question . . . If I only had the right question . . . ”  To this great thinker, the journey to understanding began not with solutions, but with questions.

Today, our preoccupation with finding answers must not obscure the importance of asking the right questions.  In fact, average answers to good questions, more often than not, yield better insights than astounding answers to lousy questions.

Here are ten questions to clear out the cobwebs, jump-start your creative thinking, tickle the brain, and hopefully, get you energized to take action.

Read my entire article as posted on LinkedIn



Rant #702 – Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Best Practices Aren’t Always Best

I was taken back the other day by an article wherein the author, a law firm consultant, was promoting the concept of best practices.  His proposition was that “the attaining of best practice can lead to a competitive advantage in which true excellence becomes a winning competitive formula.”  It all sounded so compelling.  He then suggested that professional service firms should engage (obviously with this particular consultant) in a 'best practice make-over' to concentrate on getting your firm to an improved operational state.  Doing a bit of research, I discovered that this idea probably had its origins in a book entitled, “How to renovate your business: the information best practice makeover that really works.”  So get ready for it.  Here comes the newest consulting trend, best practice makeovers!

These days you hear a lot about the quest for best practices in all areas.  I have a biased view in that I think “best practices” is one of today’s most overused terms.  Anyone discussing what needs to be done to improve some given situation will often use the term, as though to justify the safety in taking action.  So, what is it about the term, ‘best practices’ that makes it sound so persuasive, and yet why don’t they always seem to work as well as some are suggesting?

I’ve had a few questions come to mind over the years that I believe are worth considering . . .

Read my entire article as posted on LinkedIn.



Post #701 – Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Spring 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.  The articles in this issue include The Seeds of Competitive Disruption which identifies 20 different US-based competitors that are growing and that your partners should be aware of.  Part of the job of every firm leader is to neutralize complacency and so I’m hoping that this article might be worth you passing around.

In our First 100 Days program (see: first100daysmasterclass.com) we introduce new firm leaders to the monumental task of taking the reins of leading their firms.  Firm Leadership Is Not For Wimps! is an attempt to identify eight of the more challenging truths to being an effective firm leader, and I’m grateful to those who have provided valuable input into this piece (you know who you are – and thank you).

Finally, Six Factors That Can impede Effective Firm Leader-COO Relationships had it’s origins in a Webinar that I was privileged to conduct with John Michalik, retired executive director of the international Association of Legal Administrators; while A Novel Approach To Compensation grew out of an innovative ThinkTank event that I participated in earlier this year, and Are You Getting The Minutes From Practice Group Meetings? is a prescriptive article for every firm leader who has an interest in knowing what their practice groups are really doing.

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 complimentary PDF copy of the magazine. 



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