|The Problem of Pain|
Will partners accept sacrifices as the price of change? Law firms' futures depend on the answer.
by Jordan Furlong
Law firms have a problem: growth is at a standstill or shrinking, reducing lawyers' income and compromising partners' profits. Many firms believe they have a solution: slash costs and inject revenue. They fire secretaries, cut back on associates, de-equitize low-income partners, and acquire high-income partners, all to maintain or increase profit.
These are short-term fixes, unsustainable by definition: you can only fire people once, and there are only so many lateral hires. But there's a much bigger problem here, the one that will eventually bring these firms down from the inside.
The problem is this: partners are refusing to absorb any pain.
The changing legal market is inflicting damage on law firms unable or unwilling to adapt to a different environment -- that's what is hurting growth. But the owners of these firms are shielding themselves from the suffering, redirecting it to the vulnerable today or cutting short-term deals that could hamstring their successors tomorrow.
Owners who sacrifice others while making little or no sacrifice themselves send a clear message throughout the enterprise: "You are a means to our ends. You are temporary and expendable. We matter more than you." Maybe this befits some markets and industries. But it is unprofessional and unbecoming of lawyers to behave like this.
True leaders, conversely, will step up and deliver to their colleagues this message:
"We must share the pain if we want to have any hope of turning our firm around. We will have to change what we offer the market, how we deliver it, how we price it, and how we pay people to provide it. Doing this will cause great upheaval, damaging our profits in the short and maybe the medium term. But if we accept the pain of change today, we will reap the profits, the praise, and the performance tomorrow."
This is a hard message with a stark choice: "Stay with us, perhaps make less money for an indefinite period, share the pain today -- but earn the rewards tomorrow, build a great and resilient modern law firm, a legacy of professionalism and stewardship. Or leave -- go to another firm and continue to make others pay the price of change." Who will deliver this message? Who will act on it?
The most pressing problem with law firms right now is whether partners will make personal sacrifices to help their firms transition to the future -- or whether they'll drive their firms into the ground to get themselves a few extra miles down the road. This is the fundamental question facing law firms -- a question of leadership, professionalism and courage. How will you answer it?
|Executive Committee Size|
The size of the governing board is a frequent area of concern for law firms
A lot of law firms believe that before they can effectively engage in strategic planning, they must clean up all their internal problems. The thought is that they must establish a solid foundation in the present before they can even consider looking toward the future. Since many internal issues are virtually irresolvable, I suspect that, in reality, firms are seeking any excuse that allows them to stall off actually doing strategic planning.
The single most common issue recently is the size of the firm's governing board. As part of the terms of opening new offices through mergers, law firms frequently dedicate a seat on the board of directors or executive committee to a representative of the acquired group. This leads to the creation of some unwieldy governing committees, with as many as 60 or more members. However, reducing an executive committee's size is like trying to put toothpaste back into the tube, and it requires a lot of effort and horse-trading. Unfortunately, the firm often ends up with a committee that is less workable than the one it started with.
In dealing with the mob scene that some firms call "management," we are often asked for benchmarks of the best size for an executive committee. The difficulty is that there are firms with large committees -- 20 to 25 people -- that operate very effectively. Other firms have small committees of three or four people and can't seem to accomplish anything. On balance, however, the best size seems to be from five to seven people, and certainly not more than nine.
The big question is, how does a firm go from a large nonfunctional committee to a smaller one that operates effectively? I've seen two methods work. The first is to 'fess up to the problems of having an over-sized committee and create a management committee of three or five people, including the managing partner, who are elected by the executive committee from amongst their members. The day-to-day responsibilities of the executive committee, especially those that typically require prompt action, are delegated to the new management committee. The large executive committee continues to meet monthly by video or telephone conference call, primarily to review the work of the management committee and provide input. The primary role, then, of the executive committee becomes an information conduit between the partnership and the firm's management.
Another way that seems to work for larger multi-office firms is to redistrict the membership of the executive committee by region, so that the committee's size is reduced but the concept of local representation is maintained.
But don't get too carried away with governing committee size. At the end, it is an issue of convenience that doesn't have much effect on the firm's success.
Contact the author, Ed Wesemann
Business Development: Ditch the "Arm's Length" and Start Operating from the Inside
Working from the inside can be an effective business-development strategy
by Michael J. White
Clients often talk to me about the frustrations they experience with the many "promotional" and "brand-building" activities in which they're engaged, such as speeches, writing articles, working on their web bio, etc. These are lawyers who, objectively speaking, are spending a lot of time trying to win new clients. Their problem isn't that they're allocating insufficient non-billable time to business development activities; rather, their problem is that they're not engaging in enough of the right business development activity.
Many struggling business developers operate "from the outside" -- they run a very "arm's length" process when they engage in prospect outreach. Typically this involves a lot of "one-to-many" broadcast interactions, a lot of messaging emphasis placed solely on technical capabilities, and so on. Effective client developers are different. They operate "from the inside." They work through insiders -- information sources -- at prospect companies to learn information and context that are not publicly available through library research; they find the exception-based work that is susceptible to being a first engagement; their dialogue doesn't focus on categories of work and responsibility but rather reflects a knowledge of issues and matter specifics; they cause persons of influence (perhaps not decision makers) enlisted in their cause to provide sponsorship into others who can make law firm retention decisions. In short, they operate from the inside!
This checklist describes a process you can use to begin operating from the inside:
- Access -- contact who can help kick off the company reconn/homework process
- Find a coach -- someone inside the company who can educate you about all issues and priorities animating/affecting those who influence law firm selection decisions in areas where firm is good technical fit
- Org chart -- review organizational chart for executives, managers, and in-house counsel who oversee areas of business that generate litigation, transactions, financings
- Discover right opportunity based on needs, incumbency issues, personal openness of decision makers; your "coach" is your internal information source and can help you here
- Learn about decision implementation and all pain points important to decision makers that inform their perspective of outside law firms -- this information can be developed from your coach as well as from the decision makers/influences
- "Hooks" -- identify dialogue sustaining subject matter (e.g., risk mitigation strategies, training, benchmarking info, commercial introductions) to continue regular dialogue.
- Issue visibility -- gain specific knowledge of discrete engageable matters and other issues to which insights can be applied; provide applied insights
- Ask to be engaged based on i) matter or issue-specific engagement, not category-level engagement; ii) a holistic approach; iii) equity build through applied insights/value add
- Retention momentum -- fueled by i) specificity; ii) equity build; iii) history build; iv) holistic approach to problem diagnosis and solving; v) decision maker accountability
So, ditch "the arm's length" and start operating "from the inside!"
Contact the author, Michael J. White
Legal League Consulting, LLC
Dehli and Mumbai,
|At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners |
Gerry Riskin Aug 07
National Association of Bar Executives (NABE)
2013 Annual Meeting
San Francisco, CA
Jordan Furlong Sept 26
Intellectual Property Institute of Canada Annual Conference
Jordan Furlong Oct 04
Afternoon Keynote Address,
2013 Futures Conference
College of Law Practice Management
Jordan Furlong Oct 16
Association of Legal Administrators of Atlanta
Jordan Furlong Oct 24
Continuing Legal Education Association of Australasia Annual Meeting