Header graphic for print

In Search of Perfect Client Service

Why lawyers don't seem to get it

Goodbye for now, Mr. Carr, but not forever.

Posted in General, Uncategorized

It is now public information that our colleague Jeff Carr has been named Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Univar, Inc.  Univar is the “leading chemical distributor in the United States, providing more chemical products and related services than any other company in the marketplace.”   We view Jeff’s departure from ValoremNext with mixed emotions.  Univar is a great opportunity for Jeff to continue his efforts to reshape law departments to be business-like and business-focused, eliminating boundaries between the law department and the business.  We believe in these efforts—ValoremNext is a manifestation of them, a tool to help law departments pursue these goals. We hope to have some role in Jeff’s efforts, but, if not, we will be watching his “mad scientist” efforts with equal measures of pride and interest, and sadness that he is no longer our colleague.

We learned a great deal from Jeff, first as a service-provider to him while he was General Counsel of FMC Technologies, and then as his colleague.  The rigor of his approach, his view that the law department (and law firms too) need to run like a business, including clarity of “principles, rules and tools.”  We learned about “Stretch, Step, Leap,” a way to view change, and “Plan, Perform, Perfect,” an approach that is essential to an organization that seeks continuous improvement. We learned the incredible value of prevention and his secrets to building a prevention culture. And I learned more about what law departments think and why than I had learned in the prior 30+ years of work.

Jeff was my friend before he became my colleague, and this opportunity does not change our friendship.  If anything, the proximity of Downers Grove, where Univar is headquartered, to my suburb may allow us to enjoy more time together so we can, with appropriate lubrication, work on solving the problems that plague not only the profession, but world at large.  I won’t miss Jeff’s continual push to be more than I am, to be better at what I do and to see the joy in the life we are privileged to lead.  I won’t miss those things because, when you are friends, those things never change.

Here’s hoping Jeff’s path brings him back again.

For those interested, here is a link to Univar’s announcement.

Discovery by boilerplate. Can we end it?

Posted in Commentary, General

I have long hated boilerplate objections, which frequently are made to “kick the can” down the road. That is, if you object to a request are “unduly burdensome” or “overbroad,” you can avoid answering for now and have more time to figure out what the answer is. Or maybe your opponent will forget about the request and you will never have to answer.  The flip side is use of boilerplate requests and interrogatories. I remember litigating a lease dispute case in California and wondering why I had to answer form interrogatories about an occurrence that never took place.  With that a background, I enjoyed reading Steven Gensler’s new post, Is It The End Of Boilerplate In Discovery?  I commend it to you.

Valorem is in Wikipedia! How cool is that?

Posted in General

Sorry, but I just found out that Valorem is mentioned in the Wikipedia entry on Alternative Fee Arrangements. So I have to take a minute to celebrate this “achievement.”

Various firms and corporations are credited with leading the way in AFAs. Leading the charge are corporate clients such as Du Pont, Cisco, and FMC [Technologies]. Corporate clients are looking for a combination of cost savings, cost certainty, and alignment of law-firm interests with corporate interests in avoiding an excess of hours worked—and billed. Law firms such as K&L Gates and Valorem are taking the lead in proposing AFAs.

I feel like my life is now complete.  Well, wait, does Guinness have an AFA category in its Book of World Records?

Are you an innovator? Call for InnovAction Award entries

Posted in General

Have you developed a cool new product for the legal market?  An app?  An efficiency process? If you’ve done something that makes law practice management better, you should consider submitting an entry for this year’s InnovAction Awards.  Here is the link to read about the InnovAction awards and download the entry form.  The firm deadline is June 16, so don’t delay!

BigLaw: Another step in a relentless, vicious circle

Posted in Client Service, Commentary, Hourly Rates and Alternatives

When lost in the desert or a thick forest terrains devoid of landmarks people tend to walk in circles. Blindfolded people show the same tendency; lacking external reference points, they curve around in loops as tight as 66 feet (20 meters) in diameter, all the while believing they are walking in straight lines.

Livescience.com

This natural tendency appears to apply to law firms as well. Yesterday, Above The Law reported that yet another large law firm has raised the associate hours requirement as a result of salary increases awarded in 2016. So what does this mean?

Law firms do not have the ability to “just create more work,” so the extant work now has to support that many more hours.  Won’t clients just love that.  Now they will have to go on high alert to review invoices with that much more diligence (their favorite thing to do).  Then what happens?  Clients object to portions of the bill and resentment builds while firm realization decreases.  This has been going on, and firms, apparently, are not taking the hint.

Will this vicious circle ever end?

 

Dream big. Why not?

Posted in Commentary, General

As a young boy, I vividly remember following Bobby Kennedy’s Presidential campaign. Like his brother Jack, Bobby was greatly admired in my Irish-American household. His death was met with great sadness. I sat riveted during Teddy’s eulogy, and my mind was seized when he said this:

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him:

Some men see things as they are and say why.
I dream things that never were and say why not.

 

That quote was seared into my soul. I later learned those words were first used by George Bernard Shaw, in Act I of Back to Methuselah, where he wrote:You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”

The source of the words is not as important as the concept behind the words—being someone who dared to dream big, new things and asks why those dreams could not be realized.

I have never become the person to dream great big dreams like Bobby Kennedy did, but in my own little world, I have tried to dream about changes in law practice and ask why not. Dream to provide clients the knowledge of how much it will cost to handle their legal problem. Dream to improve quality through efficiency and disaggregation. Dream to help clients make informed decisions on acceptable risk/cost trade-offs. Dream to build a law firm that utilizes standard business practices instead of believing the laws of physics and economics don’t apply because lawyers are special. Dreaming to prevent legal problems from ever arising.

There are a few, a quixotic few, who have joined me in dreaming and attempting to turn the dream into reality. I quickly learned that dreaming together is much more powerful than dreaming alone.

Hierarchical structures make it difficult to dream together. Some dreams are silly. Some are unworkable. Some are misguided. You need people to help you learn which dreams are worth pursuing and which should not. Hierarchies make it difficult to “open up” and dream about things that never were. When you compete for power, there is a risk a competitor may use your dream to show you incapable or unfocused. When you lead people, some are concerned that dreaming will be seen by followers as a sign of weakness.

Maybe I am wrong, but why else are law departments structurally the same today as years gone by? Is the optimal structure? Are there no ways to improve it? Why have so few companies created deeply ingrained prevention cultures. Note I said companies, not law departments, although law departments are the logical origin of such cultural evolution.  I lack the in-house experience to answer these questions. Maybe Jeff Carr or Ken Grady or others can share their views.

The same questions can be asked of law firms. They all are essentially the same as when I started practicing law a lifetime ago. Sure, there is the occassional notable exception, but the search for exceptions is difficult.  I think no one honestly believes the structure of law firms is the best possible one.  But here we remain.

With so little change in our industry, I can only conclude we have failed to dream big dreams. Perhaps the challenge to dream big will fall to today’s young lawyers and law students.  Perhaps there are young partners who will act boldly when given an opportunity.  Perhaps there is a visionary leader about to emerge.  We can always hope.

I hope everyone in the legal profession will take a quiet few minutes sometime, and dream big dreams for the profession.  Then ask, why not.

Email etiquette: think about it from your client’s perspective.

Posted in Client Communications, Client Service, Commentary

I just spent a couple of minutes looking for the telephone number of someone who sent me an email.  No big deal, except that if it is your client’s time spent looking for your number, it is a big deal.  If you do something that wastes your client’s time, it suggests you have no idea how wasted second and minutes can quickly add up.  Don’t be the cause of the addition.  So here are a couple of quick tips:

  1. Include your phone number on every email.
  2. Think about your use of email real estate. If the case is Smith v. ABC, Inc. and you’re corresponding with an inhouse lawyer at ABC, he or she will know the case involves the company.  Think this doesn’t make a difference? Look at a client’s email in-box on a mobile device.  If you have to open an email to find out whether it is important, you’ve just wasted time.  Time that adds up.
  3. After the name of the matter, let the reader know if it is time sensitive. In other words, is your matter so important they have to look right then instead of focusing on other matters?  Or can your matter wait?
  4. Are you asking the reader to do something? Specify that in the re line of the email.  For example: Smith: URGENT: Signature needed.
  5. Learn the importance of BLUF—Bottom Line Up Front. Give your client the choice to read the detail or ignore it. Sometimes, a client just doesn’t care at that moment and you should not force them to read through the detail to get to the result.

Good email etiquette is easy.  It just requires you to put yourself in your client’s shoes for a minute.

An example of where elite businesses go, but law firms fear to tread

Posted in Commentary, General

The title is simple enough: success = experimentation.  Here is Peter Diamandis’ thesis:

Today’s most successful companies, the ones that are “crushing it,” started as a series of crazy ideas, followed by experiments to test just how viable those ideas might be.

Experimentation is a crucial mechanism for driving breakthroughs in any organization.

If you want to create a successful, hyper-growth company, you’ve got to focus on empowering your teams to rapidly experiment.

The key is building a culture of experimentation.

The only constant is change, and the rate of change is increasing.

Ultimately, standing still equals death, and the only way to succeed is to be constantly experimenting and innovating (think of it as Darwinian evolution in hyperspeed).

Hyper-growth and experimentation are very closely linked.

Jeff Bezos likes to say, “Our success at Amazon is a function of how many experiments we do per year, per month, per week, per day…”

Is there a law firm, anywhere, that has built such a culture?  Doubtful.  But there should be.

Econ 101: If you increase expenses more than you increase revenue, profits will be lower

Posted in Commentary, Leadership and Management

You just can’t make this stuff up.  A recent ABA Journal article, Some law firm leaders question associate pay hikes amid tepid year, caught my eye. The Peer Monitor report stated:

Firms were squeezed by a perfect storm of slumping demand and rising headcount.

The ABA Journal article reports:

The economic forces have led some law firm leaders to question widespread associate salary hikes that raised starting pay to $180,000, according to Gretta Rusanow, head of advisory services at Citi Private Bank.

But here’s the money quote:

The associate pay hike is creating pressure for law firms that raised salaries for competitive, rather than performance, reasons, Rusanow writes in the Am Law Daily. “In our conversations with firm leaders,” she wrote “many express bafflement as to why so many firms adopted the increases when their productivity and profitability results couldn’t support them.

Firms may not have control over demand (arguable), but they have control over headcount and compensation.  It is pretty fundamental (perhaps day 1 of Econ 101) that if you raise expenses–like headcount and compensation–without a like increase in revenue, profits will decrease.  Were law firm leaders assuming growth in demand despite all the data that suggested?

I fully expect the reaction to this loss of profit will be to further increase rates to try to drive revenue.  (Now picture law firm managing partners with their heads buried in the sand over the caption “Addressing those pesky realization issues.”)

Links to my Art of Value podcast with Kirk Bowman

Posted in Pricing, Trends and Innovations, Uncategorized, Value Tips

Lamb--Art of ValueKirk Bowman has become one of the leading voices on value billing. Kirk produces the “Art of Value” podcast. He has interviewed an range of people who have offered so many great ideas on value, pricing and billing, including Ed Kless, Michele Golden, Peter Carayannis, the great Ron Baker, John Chisholm, and so many others whose names I did not recognize but who taught me so much. So I was honored to be invited to participate in a podcast, which you can find here. Thanks Kirk!  And if you are interested in value and value billing, you owe it yourself to listen to Kirk’s podcasts.