Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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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.

Post #776 – Saturday June 17, 2017

I’ve Been Busy Writing

My sincere apologies to friends in my tardiness with updating my Blog.  By way of an excuse and as an apologetic offering, here are links to some articles and materials that I hope you find useful and interesting – a summary of my most recent writings:


Law Firm Strategic Planning And Deployment:
A Report On The State of the Art
[Forbes Report]

World-class motivational expert and author of Natural Born Winners, Robin Sieger, once said, “planning is as natural to the process of success as its absence is to the process of failure.”  That said he forgot to add that planning doesn’t mean a heck of a lot if nobody bothers to oversee or implement those meticulously formulated aspirations.  Such is the world of law firms and their strategic planning efforts as exposed in a survey legal consultant Patrick McKenna and I conducted for presentation at the recent Ark Group/Bloomberg Chief Strategy Officer’s Summit in New York City.  We canvassed and received detailed feedback from 68 firm leaders, mostly from AmLaw ranked firms, on their approach to strategic planning and their 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.  We found that . . .

Becoming Fearless: Facing Uncertainty in the Legal Market with Confidence and Insight
[Thomson Reuters White Paper]

Today’s legal market is rife with situations that could be seen as fear-inducing. This is not to say that leaders in today’s legal market are paralyzed by concerns. No, indeed those leading today’s legal businesses are savvy, educated, and bold in many respects. But the comfort of the status quo can sometimes make exploration of the unknown appear undesirable, or even intimidating.  Today’s legal leaders know about pushing fear aside – in their jobs every day they identify and mitigate risk, weigh options, and handle a myriad of issues, big and small, that hinge on their ability to put aside fear of change, fear of the legal market, and fear of meeting their clients’ needs – and simply do their jobs with confidence and insight. 

When Two Must Work as One: The Challenges in Sharing Leadership
[Legal Executive Institute column]

From my work with leaders of major law firms over the years, one of the inherent problems of having two professionals sharing any senior leadership role starts with role clarity. Indeed, the need for developing role clarity is not easy when most firms do not even have a formal written job description for their Chair or Managing Partner positions. The job of leading a law firm may certainly be demanding enough for two professionals; but the test is selecting the right two people to share the role. From my vantage point I have witnessed multiple examples of attempts to split the firm leadership job that led to clashing egos and crippling power struggles, especially if one of these two partners conceals any ambition for holding the position alone.

Becoming A Visionary Law Firm: Developing Board Foresight
[LegalBusinessWorld article]
Nearly every law firm of any significant size will have a Board of Directors or Executive Committee comprised of partners elected by their peers, for some predefined term.  Some Boards are primarily concerned with providing oversight on the activities and actions of their management team (managing partner, management committee and administrative professionals) and some are actually charged with developing the firm’s formal strategic plan or direction such that the management team can then focus primarily on implementation.  In either scenario, your elected Board is a valuable resource . . . if used properly. 

Preconditions To Setting-Up Your Own Advisory Board
You don't always have to go it alone or rely only on the intuition of your colleagues. A good number of professional firms have formed an advisory board to counsel the firm leader and/or the firm’s elected board on various aspects of their business – everything from operations to personnel to planning for growth.

How Having An Advisory Board Can Add Value
If you are like many Firm Leaders you probably belong to one or more peer organizations where you can network with fellow professionals. But, what I’ve learned is that you may not feel comfortable sharing your most sensitive or pressing management challenges, or discussing competitive opportunities among those same peers.  Having your own advisory board can supplement those peer networks and relationships.



Measuring and Managing Performance for Law Firms
Lawyers are no strangers to performance metrics: from billable hours to PEP statistics and hours billed. However, firm-wide performance metrics are hard to tackle – not only are the numerous aspects often intangible and difficult to measure, but they can differ between firms, practice areas, and individual roles.  Ark Groups new book - Measuring and Managing Performance for Law Firms offers an in-depth overview of the metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) that firms can employ to effectively measure and manage their workforce and firm-wide performance.

Managing Your Legal Organization: Global Insights
[Published in India]

A compendium of thought pieces by global management experts and conversations with leading Indian Senior Law Firm Partners.

Rise of the Legal COO
For law firms considering restructuring their business to meet the demands of a highly competitive market, hiring an experienced chief operations officer (COO) is sure to be a consideration.  However, the reassignment of duties and shift in perspective this appointment will require may prove challenging for some firms. Finding the perfect match for a firm’s unique culture and requirements is a difficult yet essential task.  With input from a number of current law firm COOs and executive directors, alongside some of the most respected and sought-after consultants working in the legal space, Rise of the Legal COO examines the scope and variety of the legal COO role and how the challenges and demands of the position have altered as law firms have evolved over the last two decades.

Recruiting and Retaining Lawyers:
Innovative Strategies to Attract, Develop and Retain Legal Talent

The competition for talent that leading experts started to describe in the 1990s has now become a reality in the legal profession. Like most industries across the globe, the legal industry is facing a shortage of exceptional people. Although in some jurisdictions there are more lawyers than the market can absorb, the reality is that the number of lawyers with the right skills is limited and that organizations are fighting to attract and retain the best professionals in a legal market that has become globalized and where mobility is now the norm. The ability of law firms to adopt innovative and tailored recruitment and retention strategies for their size, culture and market has become a strategic priority and one of the biggest determinants for a firm’s competitive success.  This practical handbook, coordinated on behalf of the International Bar Association, explores the opportunities and challenges for adopting effective recruitment, development and retention strategies.

The Changing of the Guard: Selecting Your Next Firm Leader - 2nd Edition
[My Newest Book]

Fully revised and updated in 2017, with exclusive NEW content and even more contributions from current firm leaders, the second edition of The Changing of the Guard: Selecting Your Next Firm Leader is packed with useful exhibits, thought-provoking questionnaires, and advice direct from new, current, and past firm leaders, this is a straightforward, step-by-step guide to leadership succession planning, which will help firms establish what they want their future to look like – and find the best person to lead them there.

Post #775 – Thursday, June 15, 2017

Technology is Constantly Accelerating

Every year, it’s getting faster and faster, developing and expanding exponentially.  And when it does this, it also impacts the pace of change.  For example: 

• Here is What Is Happening Online in Only 60 Seconds:

149,513 emails are sent

3,300,000 posts are added to Facebook

3,800,000 searches are conducted on Google

65,972 photos are uploaded to Instagram

448,800 tweets are posted on Twitter

1,440 posts are added to WordPress

29,000,000 messages are sent via WhatsApp

500 Hours of video are uploaded to YouTube

 . . . All in the time it took you to read this!

The world has fallen in love with social media and now automatically turns to online platforms to research and buy products and services.  Meanwhile, across the globe, the United Kingdom has the fastest mobile internet speeds, averaging about 26 megabits per second (Mbps). The data — which was pulled from Akamai’s State of Internet report — shows that Germany (24.1 Mbps) and Finland (21.6 Mbps) round out the top three spots.  The United States failed to make the top 25 and secured the 28th spot at 10.7 Mbps.  OUCH!

• And Here is The Next Trillion Dollar Industry

Virtual Reality is going to create an opportunity like we’ve only seen twice before. First there was the Internet. This was a trillion-dollar opportunity. It’s still ongoing, but the Internet is the present — not the future. The app store was the second trillion-dollar opportunity. The entire ecosystem of smartphones and tablets and the cloud and applications moved computing into our hands. And now the third trillion-dollar opportunity has finally arrived: virtual reality.

This year, 2017, for virtual reality is like 1994 for the Internet. The first commercial AI headsets will be launched. The chips are being developed. The storage is getting prepared. The entire infrastructure for the third trillion-dollar opportunity has been created in the past 20 years. Many of the companies creating the technology and hardware are private. Which ones will be the winners?

Post #774 – Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Spring-Summer Issue of International Review Magazine is Now Available

Two of the articles contained here are the result of a collaboration with my good friend and colleague, David Parnell whose regular Forbes column is avidly read by leaders throughout the legal community.  The Burning Issues Facing Firm Leaders in 2017 and Leaders Get the Behavior You Tolerate are the product of extensive surveys we have conducted during the past six months and should provide you with intersting data and substantive counsel.

With Becoming The Firm of Choice, I am pleased to feature an excerpt from a new book (by the same title), authored by old friends Robert Lees and August Aquila.  I commend both this article and their new book as insightful and very worthwhile reading. 

From coping with the stress involved in looking like you know what you are doing to the enormous time demands imposed by partner requests, The Five Challenging Paradoxes of Firm Leadership identifies the top tensions that every leader has to contend with at some point in their leadership role.

Get Your Clients To Do Your Talking offers some practical advice for how you can meaningfully differentiate who you are and what you have to offer clients.

Our final selection, When A Firm Leader Hangs Up The Crown, represents an except from the newly revised and expanded second edition of my The Changing of The Guard: Selecting Your New Firm Leader, destined to be published in April 2017.

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

Post #773 – Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Challenges Inherent in Assessing Firm Leader Performance

In a recent article I was reading, the former chair of Hinshaw Culbertson wrote about How To Evaluate Law Firm Leaders.  While I concur with the overall theory of his message that law firm leader should receive feedback, from my experience it is critically important to recognize that there are some real-world hurdles to implementation.

To Read the rest of my article in Legal Executive Institute - Click here  

ALSO, in an article I wrote some years back (2010) Evaluating Your Performance As A Managing Partner, I wrote “There is an old adage in managing a client’s expectations that states, whether we like it or not, we are going to be measured.  If we take a very passive approach the measuring stick against which we will be measured will be exclusively a creation of our client.  Alternatively, we can help create and shape the measurement criteria.”  My message was that as the firm leader you should take the initiative and I provided a quick-and-easy sample of 29 evaluative factors that any firm leader could use to elicit feedback from their colleagues. 

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