Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post #763 – Thursday, August 25, 2016

Innovative Design For Your Law Office

Visiting one of my clients in Washington DC recently, I was struck by a number of the innovative features that were contained within their Reception area, which was a sharp contrast to some of the more sterile environments that many firms seem to create.  In a similar manner I came across and was thoroughly impressed by the work on Nick Kazakoff, co-founder of OneTwoSix Design and recently profiled by Western Living Magazine (August issue) as one of a handful of rising design stars –  “Industrial Designers To Watch.”

One standout piece is their Loop phone booth (shown here)—a modern glass-and-maple soundproof phone booth that provides privacy for confidential phone calls or for working on your laptop, in open-concept offices.  “It’s so creative and so practical,” says Judge Paolo Cravedi.

And, given the increasing costs of downtown commercial real estate and the decreasing sizes of both partners and associate's offices these days, this innovation may just work as an office for some of your professionals.

For more information, have a look at Nick’s website -

Post #762 – Friday, August 5, 2016

Skills Women Need To Be Successful Leaders

A session recently organized by Cadwalader explored the skills that women need to be successful leaders:

    Cultivate your own leadership style and find your own voice, deriving confidence through competence.  It's also important to avoid being too self-critical. 

    Welcome not only positive feedback, but honest and constructive appraisals. Entrepreneurialism is also important - for example, looking for opportunities and making the most of them.

    In general, women are good team managers, adept at conflict resolution and juggling various personalities and logistical demands. Women's capacity to encourage and motivate the marginalized allows them to bridge gaps more naturally and find common ground.

    When negotiating salary offers, let your negotiating counterpart know that you understand their position and that your own position is legitimate and justifiable. Showing effective negotiation skills enhances women's role in a firm.

    Firms need to show greater commitment to supporting their female talent through key career crossroads, and by encouraging men to take paternity leave.

    The global competitive environment places a premium on leaders who can encourage and guide their teams, and the growth of strong women's networks and sponsorship programs provide the support and opportunities crucial to advancement.

Women should feel empowered and ask for what they believe they deserve.  Confidence backed by a logical argument is a winning combination.

The panel discussion was moderated by Claire Cockerton, Chairwoman, Entiq, and Co-Founder of Innovate Finance, and included Eileen Herlihy, Executive Director and EMEA Head of Clearing Sales, J.P.Morgan; Cathryn Lyall, Chief Operating Officer, CurveGlobal, London Stock Exchange Group; Joanna Nader, Chief Investment Officer, JRJ Group; Meryam Omi, Head of Sustainability, Legal & General Investment Management; and Louisa Watt, Partner and Head of Cadwalader's Debt and Claims Trading Practice. 

Post #761 – Monday, August 1, 2016

Solving The ‘Commitment Drift’ Frustration

If there is one single frustration that I hear from firm and practice leaders on a continual basis it is trying to determine how to deal with the “commitment drift” of those partners who make promises but don’t always follow through. In other words, how do you ensure task completion on important projects when your partners agree to do something at the implementation stage, and you’re uncertain that you will see the necessary committed follow-through?

Whether it is in a practice group setting, around the table with the members of your Strategic Planning Committee, or wherever colleagues are meeting, this seems to be one of the most common challenges. That said, there are seven important steps you can take to ensure results (in most cases):

Read the remainder of my latest column on Legal Executive Institute

Post #759 – Monday, July 25, 2016

The Underproductive Lawyer: Addressing Performance Issues

One of the more difficult decisions that any firm leader or practice group leader will be faced with, is having to confront (and possibly remove) someone on your team who is no longer “pulling their weight.”  When faced with this challenge (and you definitely will be at some point in your leadership tenure) one must understand that the consequences of taking decisive action are rarely as dire as they may seem at first glance.  Nevertheless, there are numerous reasons why intelligent and capable leaders will go to great lengths to avoid taking any action.  In reality, not taking action is the same as announcing that you will continue accepting unacceptable performance.

There are various ineffective ways in which law firms try to signal underperformance - from pointing out the individual’s shortcomings in vague comments that we hope the person understands, to changing the manner in which they are compensated. Given that de-equitizing underperforming partners can be a blow to the ego of the affected attorney, and also erode the morale of others, how should this situation be approached?

This one-hour webinar will address some of the structural issues that firms need to improve upon or develop in order best to deal with performance issues going forward (i.e. setting expectations, defining roles, developing a performance management framework, and methods of assessment, etc).  

Join leaders of Arent Fox; Fried Frank; DLA Piper; Freshfields; McGuire Woods; Weil Gotshal; and others at my Wednesday Webinar on Lawyer Underperformance

Post #758 – Monday, July 11, 2016

MBA Workshop Series

I’m honored to be included on the Faculty of Leaders Excellence in the conduct of their new MBA Workshop Series.

You can participate in this online executive development program  - highly interactive sessions with MBA topics at MBA level by MBA faculty and guest star leadership experts.  These online workshops are designed for those seeking cross-functional management and leadership development. The online program covers the latest thoughts on leadership and management along with the classical ideals that form the foundations of current practices.

Each workshop consists of 1 hour of effective online lecturing and is presented LIVE in our online study rooms in order to provide you with inspirational ideas, penetrating insights, and practical advice from MBA faculty and leadership experts.  If requested by the professor, each workshop can be prolonged up to 30 minutes.

You will be exposed to key manage­ment and leadership topics that drive organ­i­za­tional growth. Our faculty will offer key concepts and tools in HR management, business communication, effective leadership, differentiation-driven decision making, competitive strategy, negotiation techniques and strategies, executive compensation, intercultural communication, corporate governance, and more.

More information can be obtained from - Leaders Excellence of Harvard Square

Post #757 – Monday, July 11, 2016

Involving Law Firm Leaders In Selecting Their Successors

I had a partner, on the executive committee of an AmLaw 200 law firm, pose the following question to me:

“Our managing partner has confirmed that he will be stepping down at the conclusion of his current term. He is now recommending to us on the executive committee that it would be expedient for him to select his successor. He informs us that that is a common and expected practice within the business community (e.g. Jack Welch at GE) and there are a number of large AmLaw firms (Jones Day, for example) where this is the accepted leadership succession practice. From your work with managing partners, what is your experience?”

My response?   Read this article

Post #756 – Monday, July 11, 2016

Developing and Retaining Legal Talent

I am delighted to be a contributing author to a new Book entitled: Recruiting and Retaining Lawyers : Innovative Strategies to Attract, Develop and Retain Legal Talent published by Global Law and Business.

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.

This practical handbook, coordinated by Rebecca Normand-Hochman on behalf of the International Bar Association (IBA), explores the opportunities and challenges for adopting effective recruitment, development and retention strategies. Featuring chapters by leading experts in the field, I am honored to have contributed a chapter on the subject of When Leaders Need To Confront Underperformers.”

You may expect this text to be released in September.
For more information -

You may also participate in a Webinar on Addressing Performance Issues in Law Firms scheduled for Wednesday, July 27th
For more information – Click here

Post #755 - Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Is The Slump In Legal Demand Here To Stay?

Last month in a survey of US law firms, the majority of partners reported that there were now too many lawyers, too little work, and that the slump is here to stay.

As if to endorse that view, the newest list of Fortune 500 companies was published this week (  America’s 500 largest companies by revenue, took in about a half-trillion dollars LESS revenue in 2015 than they did in 2014.  Profits were LESS by about $100 billion, even though the U.S. and global economies were bigger.  The Fortune 500’s profit margin has averaged 5.7% over the past 20 years, and many see no reason to expect higher margins – and if anything, maintaining margins may grow even more challenging.

Ironically, even though the 2016 Fortune 500 are smaller and less profitable, they are employing about a million more people.  A welcome sign of job growth?  It is a question not easily answered, as it is not known where those people are.  Companies report employment worldwide, so the net additions could be anywhere.  Meanwhile, the Fortune 500’s revenue per employee was $430,000, the lowest since 2011.

A useful reminder of how company fortunes wax and wane energy companies were the No. 1 contributor to the Fortune 500’s profits just four years ago, but now they’re in last place, after reporting combined losses of $44 billion.  By contrast, financial companies were near the bottom in 2009, but this year they are No. 1, and three of the four most profitable companies in the 500 are financial firms – J.P. Morgan Chase, Berkshire Hathaway, and Wells Fargo.  But even the demand for many of their services are under extreme threat – from the growth of FinTech to the shrinking equity market.

Statistics seem to indicate that we can add publicly traded companies to the endangered species list.  The number of publicly traded companies is shrinking down to about 5300 at present, from about 8800 in the late 1990s.  This drop isn’t a blip explained by a recent economic downturn.  It is an entrenched, structural trend that has seen the number of listed companies shrink at a fairly steady rate of about 1.6% per year.  A reason frequently mentioned for the decline in public companies is the rise in litigation risks and the cost and hassle of regulatory compliance.

This incredibly shrinking equity market has massive implications for entrepreneurs, as well as for investment bankers, accountants, and . . . lawyers.

Rant #754 – Wednesday, May 3, 2016

The 2016 Spring-Summer 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.

I trust that this latest issue of my International Review magazine will contribute to your personal productivity and leadership efforts.

We start with seven prescriptive ingredients for Bringing Your Strategy Process Back To Life given the challenges of a flat or declining demand for legal services.

I was delighted to have joined David Morley, Senior Partner, Allen & Overy LLP; David J. Parnell, ABA Author, Speaker, and Forbes and American Lawyer Media Columnist; and Maurice A. Watson, Chairman, Husch Blackwell LLP in conducting a Webinar a few months ago.  Strategies For Overcoming Obstacles To Change is a transcript of some of my comments in response to the questions posed.

The Disruption In Transitioning A New Law Firm Leader is intended to provide some guidance toward understanding how your firm can be disrupted during the transition from an outgoing leader to a new one; while Analyzing A Leadership Candidate’s Strengths is an excerpt from my latest work: The Changing Of The Guard: Selecting Your Next Firm Leader, and suggests how the selection of any leader can benefit from utilizing psychometric testing.

Our final selection, The Distorted View That Some May Offer, is a rather unusual article in that it was penned by a managing partner who took issue with how some consultants can be less than truthful in their representations to potential clients . . . firms like yours.  Knowing the author I thought the article worthy of reprinting.

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 HERE to download your complimentary PDF copy of the magazine.

Post #753 – Sunday, May 1, 2016

Don’t Forget Your Star Performers

There is an interesting phenomenon that I’ve noticed about where leaders tend to direct their one-on-one coaching efforts. 

Leaders often spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the bottom 20% of their professionals, those I have crassly come to label your ‘energy vampires.’  These are the members of your team who seem to exhibit a consistent propensity to demand continual attention.  These are also the colleagues who may never prove to be able or willing to meet firm standards or ever accomplish what you know they are capable of producing.

How do you detect an energy vampire?  Posing that question to a group of leaders we developed the following list.  An energy vampire is some professional who . . .
- blames others or uncontrollable circumstances for their unacceptable performance or behavior;
- rarely executes on those promises made to the group;
- is usually defensive and never accepts personal responsibility;
- is constantly disruptive, uncommunicative or disrespectful of colleagues;
- is combative and creates conflict and tension within the team;
- may ask for yours and others’ opinions but regularly rejects those views when given; and
- acts as though he or she were a victim.

Meanwhile, these same leaders will devote minimal coaching time or attention to their best performers – that 20% at the top end who are contributing the most to your group or your firm’s success.

Why does this pattern occur?

Your star performers appear, most often, to be self-sufficient so there is this sense that you should just leave them well enough alone and let them get things done.  However you are missing a couple of opportunities to contribute significant added-value to your team. 

One, while you may assume that your stars are self-sufficient, we all encounter frustrations and hurdles in our day to day work and efforts to complete important projects.  The degree to which you can inquire, acknowledge and remove some of those frustrations can make for a huge contribution.

Second, you may be failing to recognize that these diligent colleagues welcome your deliberate feedback and appreciate being recognized.  Time spent staying in contact with your stars and helping them serve as a role model to others can serve to amplify their performance and practices throughout your group.

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