Edge International Communiqué
Insights and Analysis from Edge International, the Leading Global Consultancy to the Legal Profession

December, 2012   
Legal Project Management: Developing Associate Talent in the New Normal


You can't get peak performance without good coaching.   


By Pamela Woldow 




We sometimes encounter surprises as we lead workshops that teach lawyers how to drive more efficiency, cost effectiveness, and better communication and collaboration into their legal work. One axiom we regard as essential in reducing write-downs, repetition of tasks and duplication of effort is "Keep all stakeholders in the loop all of the time." In other words, things go better, smoother and faster if everyone knows what they are supposed to do, where they stand, and how their roles relate to others'. In particular, we have seen that legal project management (LPM) can facilitate the development of associates.


So, imagine our chagrin in a recent workshop when we asked a group of partners the best way to communicate expectations to younger lawyers about how long their tasks should take and to provide effective feedback and guidance on their performance. "Oh, we don't," said one self-assured partner. "That's not the best way to develop good lawyers. If you want to teach them self-reliance and ability to work independently, you can't coddle them."


"Yeah," said another partner. "Around here we call it 'Social Darwinism' or 'case hardening.' We just throw 'em in the deep end, and after four years we come back to see who is still afloat. The strongest survive." "So," I asked, "you don't give them guidelines about how long a particular task should take?" "Nope." "Do you tell them when you're writing off their hours?" "Nope." "Do you tell them why some of their time is being written off?" "Nope. It's up to them to figure it out."


I defy anyone to name any sport or intellectual discipline demanding peak performance where coaching is withheld, standards are not communicated, feedback is denied, and up-and-coming performers must go it alone. Requiring inexperienced lawyers to fly blind not only invites inefficiency, it fails to teach them about client needs and priorities and how best to tailor work to meet expectations.


"What's your associate rate of attrition?" I asked. "About sixty percent after four years," he replied. "Isn't that an expensive waste of money, time and talent at today's compensation levels?" I asked. "We've always done it that way," one partner said. "It's how we groom great lawyers."


In most mid-size to larger firms, associates are not profitable assets of the firm until after their fourth year. Any other business that tolerated a 60% failure rate in any part of its operations would be a candidate either for a shareholder rebellion or bankruptcy. No wonder clients complain that law firms don't manage their costs.  

As firms search for ways to sustain profitability in the New Normal, addressing their failure rate in developing new talent seems a great starting point. In upward evaluations of the lawyers who supervise them, associates' most common complaint is "I don't know where I stand."  


Firms committed to better LPM don't experience this complaint. What they see is better performance, better efficiency, more satisfied clients and greater profitability. When it comes to "Social Darwinism," old Darwin must be spinning in his grave.


Contact the author, Pamela Woldow 


The 3 Secrets of Highly Effective Speakers


How to use your "state of mind" to turn your next presentation into a powerful experience for you and your audience.

By John Plank


Giving a presentation to colleagues or potential clients is a valuable opportunity to distinguish yourself among your peers and enhance your reputation in the profession. Many lawyers take advantage of these opportunities, prepare good materials, and practise their delivery beforehand.


Despite their preparations and previous successes, however, many otherwise good speakers are perplexed when some aspect of their presentation goes awry. "The fault," to quote Shakespeare, "is not in our stars, but in ourselves" - specifically, our subconscious selves.


Many of the techniques that produce consistently successful presentations function at a subconscious level. By discovering these "secrets" and raising our awareness of them, we can use them consciously to vastly improve our performances. Here are three little-known "state-of-mind" techniques that can have a powerfully positive effect on your presentations.


1. Be "Fully Present"


Make it a golden rule that you will never start to speak until you and your audience are "present" and fully connected. You achieve this by relaxing before you start speaking. Take a few moments at the start of your presentation to get settled ... breathe ... exchange a few pleasant looks with three or four individuals in different parts of the room... and then let silence fall.


This may seem to take a long time but in reality, it only takes three or four seconds. You will create a sense of shared relaxation and anticipation, and then your presentation will effortlessly take flight!


2. Be the Host, Not a Visitor


I am often struck by the tentative vocal tone and body language of some presenters when they are introduced. They seem like a visitor, nervously greeting a group of strangers who might be dangerous! The audience senses this tension, and somehow the power of the speaker is diminished.  


In reality, your role is similar to that of a host. Thinking of yourself as a gracious host can be engaging and enjoyable, allowing you to use your natural, conversational tone of voice and your social skills. You will immediately convey more warmth and more authority, and you will be much more relaxed.


3. Don't Have All The Answers


The secret to engaging lawyers and other independent thinkers is to engage their passion for learning. While they might resist your message, few will resist the temptation to form their own opinions and solve the interesting challenges inherent in your presentation.  


Your mind set should be one of intense interest in your listeners. Describe problems, but offer many possible solutions to stimulate their creativity. Pose rhetorical questions to trigger their "response impulse." Be your own provocateur, citing objections to and possible fallacies in your recommendations. Most of all, pay very close attention to your listeners, at every moment, to sustain the energy of shared discovery.



Using these three state-of-mind techniques will make your presentations even more enjoyable for your listeners and for yourself.


 Contact the author, John Plank    

Preserving Your Leadership Capital


Law firm leaders need to think about alternative leadership in situations where they want to preserve their own leadership capital.    

By David Cruickshank

Now that the U.S. election is over, we'll read a lot about "political capital" and how it should be saved or spent. Law firm leaders also think about when to preserve capital and how to use alternative leadership to accomplish that. In recent months, I have had the opportunity to be the outside facilitator at three very different meetings or retreats. Each leader of these organizations had a different purpose for using outside leadership, but they all were preserving their own capital for another day.


The Law Firm Leaders' Retreat. This firm had a sound strategy, but the Managing Partner was frustrated about the inability of many practice group leaders to implement strategic goals. I facilitated their leadership development retreat, and the Managing Partner attended as a resource person more than a central retreat figure. I helped to shape a leadership project for each of the 18 attendees. Each project had to be tied to strategy and "move the needle" on the business unit's objectives over the year ahead. In this case, the Managing Partner got what he wanted - a focus on implementation. But he preserved the capital needed to push implementation later. In a similar leadership project, the chief city attorney of a large U.S. city law department preserved capital by introducing our facilitation, blessing the outcomes, and leaving the event after 15 minutes!


The Non-profit Legal Services Organization. Their Board was being asked to approve a strategic plan after a day of debate. The Executive Director expected minority opposition. The Chair of the Board wanted to support the majority direction. In facilitating, I drew out the opposing views early, then ran a series of "straw votes" on smaller questions. When it came time to approve the overall plan, the weight of the majority was clear. The Executive Director was able to remain neutral and address implementation issues. The Board Chair had few procedural duties during the day, and was able to contribute substantively.


The Law School Strategy Retreat. Every U.S. law school accredited by the A.B.A. is expected to have a strategic plan. Since there is now a declining applicant pool and a public debate over the cost/benefit of law school, strategy is no longer just window dressing. In this case, the school had an interim dean and strategy was being lead by a committee. In addition to facilitating the initial retreat, the outsider was expected to address some of the external threats to law schools. In this case, the committee wanted to deliver a "reality check" to an often-insular faculty, but preserve the credibility they would need to balance the draft strategy statement that they had promised after the retreat. Since "balance" involved many different law faculty priorities such as scholarship, curriculum offerings, bar passing rates and hiring success, the committee was able to participate in the process, but avoid being the "bad news" messenger.


As leaders plan a key meeting or retreat in their organization, they need to consider whether some of their capital is at risk. They should contemplate alternative leadership, whether from outside the firm or an internal deputy, in order to lead with full capital on a controversial issue or the challenging implementation of strategy.



 Contact the author, David Cruickshank

Archived Edge International Communiqués 
In This Issue
Pamela Woldow talks about developing the talent of your firm's associates
John Plank reveals the 3 secrets of highly effective speakers
David Cruickshank explains how you can preserve your "leadership capital"
  Gerry Riskin

Gerry Riskin 





Ed Wesemann

Jordan Furlong 


Pam Woldow
Doug Richardson 

John Plank 

 John Plank








New York,

Ft. Lauderdale, 

Mike White

St. Paul, 

Of Counsel 

Legal League Consulting, LLC  
Dehli and Mumbai,
At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners    






David Cruickshank  

Dec 06-07

Leadership Development in Mid-Sized and Regional Firms and Creating Dynamic Client CLE Programs
Annual Professional Development Institute
NALP and ALI-ABA Washington DC    


Pamela Woldow  

December 07
Webinar: The Demands and Rewards of Collaboration in the Legal Profession  




Jordan Furlong
Jan. 21
Keynote Presentation
Technology on the Legal Frontier: The Future of Legal Practice in Canada
Queen's University Faculty of Law, Kingston, Ontario


Jordan Furlong Feb. 06
Keynote Address
National Association of Bar Executives (NABE) Mid-Year Meeting
Dallas, Texas


Edge Blogs

Jordan Furlong's  



Ed Wesemann's: Creating Dominance


Pam Woldow's At The Intersection


Gerry Riskin's Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Nick Jarrett-Kerr's NJK

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