Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post # 786 – Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Fearless Leader’s Advisory Board

It may be lonely at the top, but it doesn’t have to be.

A new white paper, The Fearless Leader’s Advisory Board — published by Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute and written by Patrick J. McKenna, an internationally recognized author, lecturer, strategist and seasoned advisor to the leaders of premier law firms — discusses the value for law firm leaders in establishing an Advisory Board.

More than just a sounding board or a chance to schmooze, a carefully selected and trusted Advisory Board can help a law firm leader avoid potential problems while solving existing ones, fine-tune strategies and stimulate some new and innovative ideas. However, as McKenna contends, there are many factors that have to be considered in selecting and running your Advisory Board for it to succeed as envisioned, including its size, its rules of operation, and the relationships of the Board members to the law firm leaders, the firm and each other.


A good number of other professional service firms, from accounting to consulting businesses, have found success by forming an external Advisory Board to counsel the firm’s leadership on various aspects of the business — everything from operations to planning for growth or enhancing client service.

Think about the last time you met with a group of business people and had an open discussion, sharing ideas and concerns. An Advisory Board is a formal version of this process. Unlike a one-time event, you might think of an Advisory Board as your own special leadership think tank. Participants can serve as your personal sounding board or a source of ideas and expertise as well as give you honest and candid advice. If properly constituted, your Advisory Board will be comprised of people with no axe to grind, and who want to listen and impart their wisdom.

Click on Cover to Download your Copy of This White Paper

Post #785 – Thursday, December 14, 2017

2017 Year End Review

I’m often asked about my consulting practice, what kinds of assignments I get called in on, for what sized firms; what I’m currently researching and writing about, and just generally how I spend my professional time.  As always, at this time of the year, I looked back over my various activities.  With some of these items (like clients served) activity is not a sufficient measure; results and the client’s satisfaction are really what counts (and to that end, you can find over 100 client testimonials and endorsements throughout this web site).  But for purposes of looking at where one’s time is invested, here is what my 2017 looked like:


• Geographic Locations:
78% U.S. Based
22% International (Europe)

• Nature of Assignments:
22% developing / implementing strategic plans
67% governance and leadership counsel
11% client relations and marketing advice

• Firm Size Range:
33% firms of over 500 attorneys
11% firms of 301 to 500 attorneys
34% firms of 100 to 300 attorneys
11% non-legal firms
11% corporate legal departments


• Participated in 5 Conference, Workshop, MasterClass and Webinar Events
- Co-facilitator – First 100 Days Masterclass
- Facilitator – Practice Group Leaders Workshops
(San Francisco in February / Chicago in August)
- Presenter – Chief Strategy Officer Summit (New York in May)
- Differentiation Webinar – Ark US Events (October)


• Advisory Board Member - True Balance Longevity Institute Inc.
True Balance is the Canadian leader in providing Regenerative and Anti-Aging Medicine, Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy and Medical Aesthetics from five clinics throughout Alberta and British Columbia.


• Authored One (1) New Book:
The Changing of The Guard: Selecting Your Next Firm Leader (Second Revised Edition)

• Contributed Chapter to Seven (7) New Books from international publishing houses in Europe, India and the United Kingdom:
- Effective Practice Group Leadership (Ark Publishing, 2017)
- Measuring and Managing Performance for Law Firms (Ark Publishing, 2017)
- Smarter Lateral Hiring for Law Firms (Ark Publishing, 2017)
- Managing Your Legal Organization: Global Insights  (Magic Lawyers Publishing, New Delhi, India, 2017)
- Rise of The Legal COO  (Ark Publishing, 2017)
- Recruiting And Retaining Legal Talent  (Global Law & Business, 2017)
- Managing Legal Change Initiatives  (Ark Publishing, 2017)

• Contributor to Two (2) White Papers [Thomson Reuters]
Becoming Fearless: Facing Uncertainty in The Legal Market With Confidence - Interview commentary
The Fearless Leader’s Advisory Board - author

• Authored or Contributed to 42 Articles in 11 different international Publications including:
Big Law Business
Global Legal Post
Legal Management Magazine
Legal Business World Magazine
Legal Executive Institute
Of Counsel – Legal Practice and Management Report
CBA Practice Link for Law Firm Leaders
Association of Legal Administrators Newsletter

• Two new issues (Spring & Fall) of my INTERNATIONAL REVIEW 24-page glossy magazine were produced and distributed to 1800 firm leaders.

• Wrote and posted 12 articles covering leadership and strategy issues on my LinkedIn site.



• Co-Founder and Member of
LIFT: Legal Institute for Forward Thinking

L.I.F.T. is an international Think-Tank and coalition of recognized thought-leaders that meets to brainstorm, debate and analyze top issues and future trends impacting the legal industry with an objective of “raising the awareness of market disruption.”

• Acknowledged by
Legal Business World Magazine

- Awarded a Cover Article for one of my written contributions
- Recognized by the readers as one of seven "International Thought Leaders"

To all of my valued clients, colleagues and friends, I want to say thank you for allowing me to spend time with you; for your confidence, your commitment and your fellowship. 
I wish you and your families the Very Best in 2018

Post #784 - Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Developing Your Growth Strategy: Seeking Clear Blue Water

The New issue of LEGAL BUSINESS WORLD is now available with great contributions from Thought Leaders and Legal Experts.

Articles include: 

The Client’s Way, Start adapting your firm today to the buyer’s market in legal services, Jordan Furlong

• Law and Engineering Should Share Curriculum, Daniel B. Rodriguez/Julio Ottino

• How Lawyers Benefit from Legal Project Management, Hans Schuurman

• Legal Data Analytics, Can Lawyers Be Data Analysts? Jodie Baker

• The Immediate Impact of Blockchain on the Legal Industry, Joseph Raczynski

• Establishing a Legal Function Beyond Home Jurisdiction, Kenneth Tung

• Process is Not a Four-Letter Word, Lucy Endel Bassli

• The Ethical Lawyer, Legal Ethics as B.D. opportunity, Karolina Dorenbos

• Move Over Legal Operations, Meet BIPIG, Jennifer Vandersmisse/Ed Medlin

• How to Qualify Effective Referral Sources, David Ackert

• Trans European Law Firm Association Country by Country Guide

• Design Thinking Will Change the Practice of Law, Alix Devendra/Cat Moo

AND MORE . . .

Download your copy in the Library or read it now

Post # 783 – Sunday, October 29, 2017

Should Law Firm Leaders Build A Personal Brand?

Exactly 10 years ago, in March 2007, at a time when most firms were doing very well economically, a survey was conducted of the profession to determine how certain firm leaders were perceived. A lot has happened since 2007. So, for the fourth in a series of Leader’s Pulse Surveys conducted by Patrick McKenna and David Parnell, they repeated that same survey in October, asking lawyers, specifically those in some form of leadership position (firm leaders, office heads, practice group leaders, elected board members), to reflect upon the various firm leaders that they have met, observed and/or read about across the country and respond to three specific questions.

Read the entire article here.

Post # 782 – Sunday, October 29, 2017

Publically Contested Horse-Races Don't Usually End Well!

When a firm leader's departure is predictable, firms need to take appropriate steps to ensure a controlled and effective succession process minimizing the inevitable 'disruption' likely to occur.

Having a contested election isn’t necessarily a negative, it only becomes problematic when it becomes public and political.  By way of example, I was struck only last week by the terms used in the legal press as yet another law firm was characterized as 'set for a contested election'; 'candidates emerge for contest'; and 'hats in the ring'.  In this case, the chair’s role at the Eversheds Sutherland firm was now in the news as 'Partners are set to go head-to-head' to succeed Paul Smith the firm’s current chairman. And the media are loving it!  'According to (anonymous) partners within the firm' three specific names have already been announced.  

And here is where it all begins to go off the rails!

Read the entire article here.

Post #781 – Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Fall-Winter Issue of my International Review Magazine is Now Available

Once again I am pleased to share the results of a collaboration with my good friend and colleague, David Parnell whose regular Forbes column is avidly read by leaders throughout the legal community.  Law Firm Strategic Planning: A Report on The State of The Art is the product of an extensive survey we conducted this summer.  We obtained firm leaders specific responses to 18 questions covering everything from who was involved in developing their current strategic plan and how long it took, to how satisfied they were and the one thing they would change with respect to their efforts in the future. 

Break Your Team Out Of It’s Rut & Spark Some New Strategic Ideas is a fairly lengthy but prescriptive guide for how one goes about engaging the members of your group or team in effectively brainstorming.  So clear out the cobwebs at your next meeting, jump-start your creative thinking, launch your partner’s minds moving in productive directions, pop some new ideas out of your intellectual toasters and get energized to take action!

Our final selection, Becoming A Visionary Law Firm: Developing Board Foresight was co-authored with Vincent Cino, an exceptional firm leader, Chairman of Jackson Lewis, a Global 100 firm.  It describes the process that his Board has embraced for getting everyone sensitized to the accelerating pace of change enveloping the profession and helping focus the Board’s attention on what specific areas to take action.

Click on the cover to download your complimentary PDF copy of this magazine

Post #780 – Monday, September 4, 2017

Two New Book Contributions

I’m pleased to have contributed Chapters to two new books that have just been released:


Successfully managing a change initiative is no simple feat, regardless of the size of the firm – distilling the process of change into a workforce takes careful planning and support. Change is stressful and difficult for people to process and accept, as we often cling to what we know. This is especially true of lawyers, who are notoriously averse to change.

Managing Legal Change Initiatives looks to illustrate the best methods of introducing and managing change in a sector that is known for being adverse to it. The book highlights the critical obstacles and pitfalls that law firms will face during transitional periods, and outlines some of the best methods of approaching organizational change; from building a change framework to follow, to encouraging a shift in partner behavior through the compensation strategy. This new book also explores why change is so difficult for individuals – with discussion of the neuroscience behind change, and the role of emotional intelligence in leaders to help garner a transformation.


As firms compete increasingly at practice group level, leaders are being asked to run their groups like business units; to develop and implement a strategic plan that supports the goals and competitiveness of the firm; and to coordinate and lead their partners to enhance the efficiency, performance, and profitability of their groups. Many firm leaders complain that some of their group heads are not producing the results they want to see. But how many practice group leaders receive the tools and support they need to succeed in this critical role? How many are selected for demonstrable leadership skills? And how often are they held accountable for how well – or otherwise – they perform in the role?

With contributions from a wide range of experts, Effective Practice Group Leadership explores these key questions and more. The book examines the demanding role of the practice group leader (PGL) in law firms today, the challenges of the role – from gaining buy-in for group initiatives to approaches to measuring and managing performance of the leader and the group – and demonstrates the enormous contribution PGLs can make to the profitability and performance of their law firms, when armed with the tools and the authority.

For More Infomation -

Post #779 - Friday, September 1, 2017

The Best Leaders Ask Really Good Questions

There can be no real glue holding any firm together and certainly no leadership, without some degree of intimacy - some human acknowledgement of one another; that we are all people, each one with a unique story, unique difficulties and unique aspirations.

It all starts with getting to know your people, their strengths, their shortcomings; their dreams, and their fears.  And to that end there is no substitute for face-to-face human interaction.  The very best way to get to know what other people in your firm want is to sit down and communicate with them about it - on their own turf. 

Explore with each member of your team:
* What do you want to be known for?
* What makes you soar – what is your superpower?  About what do you have a burning passion?
* What work do you find absorbing, involving, enthralling?
* What is your personal agenda?  What do you want to prove to your peers?
* What do you want most from being an active member of this firm?

Our professionals need to either find the work they love and get passionate about their profession or get out.  This is where too many “wanna-be professionals” succumb to the victimitis virus.  “How can I spend time developing a practice that will make me famous tomorrow, when I’m only rewarded for my billable production today?” they sniffle.  Some people spend more time planning their vacations then they do their professional careers.

The good news is that each of us thrives to the extent that we can achieve some form of distinction - an approach to specialized expertise or excellence in client service, or an innovative approach to client problem solving.  It taps into the deep craving we all have to make a difference.  The questions that we must help each of our professionals face and answer effectively is:
•  “How do you want to be positioned in the market and in the minds of your clients?
• “What is clearly unusual, uniquely distinctive and of great value to clients about the services you offer?”

If you feel that their answer, in about 25 words or less, is not convincing to a prospective client, they need your help and guidance in working through the future of their practice and career development.  You need to help them understand that the only true professional career security is in being more valuable to clients tomorrow than they were yesterday.

A painless way to do this might be to ask:
• “Tell me about one of your most challenging client matters and without any modesty tell me why that assignment was special for what you managed to accomplish.”

Taking that forward, have them write out the specific details concerning three of their major client accomplishments over the past eighteen to twenty-four months.  Have them consider how any one of those successes may signal the possibility that other clients could also be facing the same problems that they have already solved.  Have them consider how fundamentally different that might be for the kind of practice they could invest in developing in the coming months.

Now ask them: “Could all of this point to the beginnings of some new area of personal and professional distinction?”    

Post #778 – Friday, September 1, 2017

Another Leadership Nugget I Overheard

As a leader you are often surrounded by people who are content to stay where they are.  They do what is expected, but just enough.  They play it safe and never go beyond what’s expected; head down, simply following the ones in front.  They are the 80 percent who accomplish the 20 percent.  They go with the flow, but are soon “hooked” by their own disengagement.  They get entangled in the nets of complacency.  Today, it seems, for all too many people it’s 5 p.m. not only somewhere, but everywhere.

Then there are the outliers – the 20 percent who accomplish the 80 percent – who have the hustle and hunger that allows them to rise above the rest.  If only those qualities could be taught to the others!  CEOs will hire hunger and hustle over pedigree any day.

The talented few don’t have jobs, they have purpose; they radiate passion.  Especially people who are diverse in thought, experiences and backgrounds – they are incredibly agile around the new and different, and willingly become fish out of water who thrust themselves into unfamiliar environments.  Insatiably curious about what is around the next bend, they balance past experiences with first-time challenges.  They don’t shy from the rapids or the shoals, nor do they avoid the deep waters where few go.  They don’t just cope with change, they welcome and even instigate it.  They are the innovators and disruptors who aren’t caught up in the ordinary.

What about you?

Compliments of Gary Burnison, CEO – Korn Ferry

Rant #777 – Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Six Great Leadership Nuggets I've Overheard

• When hiring candidates, ask for their operating manual.

Tell candidates:  “Imagine you're a robot.  What does your manual say under 'ideal operating conditions.'”  Once they answer, follow-up with this question: “What does the 'warning label' say?”  You're likely to get insightful, unpredictable and even humorous answers but this is likely to be very subtle way of gauging an individual’s self-awareness and revealing their personality.

• Make speed your leadership obsession.

I have long believed that the two attributes most important to having the right professionals working along side you is having talent that has “highly attuned attention to detail” and an “fanatical sense of urgency.”  Many a firm leader and CEO has spoken about how speed is the ultimate competitive weapon in business.  All else being equal the fastest competitor in any given market will win.  As one CEO expressed it, “challenge the when!”  For my part, I continue to be absolutely amazed at just how often the best articulated plans and actions are discussed in meetings without any attention being directed to who is going to do what and by when.  It’s not that everything needs to be done NOW, but for items on your critical path, it’s always useful to challenge the due date. All it takes is asking the simplest question: “Why can't this be done sooner?” Asking it methodically, reliably and habitually can have a profound impact on the speed of your organization

• Practice saying “No” real often.

As you get into a leadership position you have more people reaching out to you, more invitations to meetings, more requests for you to make a decision, more emails to read and respond to and as one leader phrased it – death by a thousand paper cuts.  Saying no is not easy, especially as you want to be helpful and love to see yourself as a problem solver. But you have to draw the line somewhere.  To do this effectively, the most important thing is that you close the door to further communication.  Do it nicely in a way that truthfully explains the situation, but don’t leave things open-ended.  Try this: “Great to hear from you. Unfortunately, I’m under some extreme pressure to deliver against some very ambitious goals. My sincere thanks for understanding.”

• Expect to be attacked.

If you are at all effective as a leader you may expect that some people will react negatively to what you are declaring as your priorities and then begin a campaign of sabotage.  In some instances their resistance will be very overt - characterized by the obvious and verbalized messages that let you know clearly that someone is not supportive.  As frustrating as open resistance can be, the good news in these situations is that there are no surprises. You know exactly where someone is coming from.  In other cases it will be very subtle, which may look like a smile to their face but undermining behavior behind your back.  Being attacked comes with the job.  Just recognize that it is not about you as much as it is about people’s insecurities, people trying to measure up and just trying to merely hold on to what they have or where they are.

• Make sharing credit a part of your meeting agenda

Periodically, start off meetings with team members sharing all the good things that have happened since the last meeting.  Examples include specific acknowledgments of individuals, announcement of successes — even small ones — or expressing gratitude for the team in general.  This is a quick activity that can boost morale and make it easier for those who are unaccustomed to giving or receiving appreciation.

• Measure your people’s happiness as a performance indicator.

Job satisfaction is an important and useful leading indicator of productivity.  A lot more firms are starting to proactively keep tabs on how their people, both professionals and staff, are feeling about their work.  One tactic is to run an anonymous survey (using a tool like Glint) that asks people how willing they are to go above and beyond, whether they see themselves staying at the firm for more than a couple of years, and whether they'd recommend working at the firm to friends.  Benchmark the results you get every six months to make sure you're maintaining or getting better.

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