July 2005

Its one of those things you know when you see it.  Its one of those things that doesn’t really fit on a bio, that can’t be readily marketed.  But its one of those things that is so important that clients should really look to see whether lawyers working for them have that trait.

What are we talking about?  Passion.  Fire in the belly.  An insatiable desire to win, combined with an equal measure of intolerance of losing.  However characterized, why is this trait so important?  There are a number of reasons.  First, so long as your outside counsel views “winning” on the same terms you do, I think everyone would agree that the stronger the desire to achieve that objective, the more comfortable you feel with your choice. But the value of the trait is so much more.  Why are so many cases settled on the courthouse steps?  Because lawyers who deep down are afraid to try cases milk every last nickel of fees out of a case before finding some excuse to recommend settling. Lawyers with passion for winning and a beyond-measure disdain for losing hate settling on the courthouse steps more than anything else.  You can be sure that if your lawyer has these traits, you will settle on the court-house steps only because the other side has capitulated.

There is, in this scheme, a problem because there are lawyers who have tried “hundreds of cases” and go through the motions of being in court quite well.  But at 7:30 at night, they’re home having a cocktail and not continuing to work to be ready to excel every minute of the next day.

Just like a pack of wolves all know instinctively who the Alpha wolf is, lawyers seem to instinctively know who the real deal is and who the pretenders are.  The Alphas get the good deals and the pretenders are always a day late and a dollar short.  Finally, when a lawyer with these passions recommends you settle rather than try a case, you know the recommendation is real, coming only after the lawyer has persuaded himself or herself that even with their potent skills, the matter most likely will be lost.

How does an in-house lawyer find this “alpha” lawyer? Are there tell-tale signs that sophisticated consumers of legal services look for?  I don’t really know.  Use the comment feature to offer you ideas about finding the right counsel. 

Interesting discussion in Tom Kane’s Legal Marketing Blog about making it easy for clients to reach you.  I put my home and cell phone numbers on my business card and I make sure clients know that they should never hesitate to call me at home.  “I want that call” I tell them, because I do.  I don’t want them calling somebody else in a moment of crisis.  It’s second nature for me to share that informtion.

There are a lot a lawyers I know who absolutely refuse to share this kind of information.  I have only one thing to say to them- “THANKS!”

I have to admit that I first heard this phrase used to describe John Bolton, President Bush’s nominee to be US Ambassador to the United Nations.  I do not mean to engage in any political discussion regarding the wisdom of the President’s choice, or even to suggest that the term is an apt description of Mr. Bolton.  Its just a very visually descriptive term.

And very evocative.  Kissing the butts of those above you and kicking the butts of those over whom you have power.  Not a very flattering portrait of anyone for whom the phrase fits.

Along this line, a very interesting article in the electronic magazine Business 2.0 entitled “The CEO’s Secret Handbook.  Here’s a short excerpt:

“Watch out for those with situational value systems — people who turn the charm on and off depending on the status of the person with whom they’re interacting. Those people may be good actors, but they don’t become good leaders. There’s a consistency in leadership that’s greater than mere situational awareness. I was reminded of this recently while dining at a high-end restaurant with several other CEOs. One guy’s meal didn’t come out right, and he decided to take the waiter down a peg or two. The poor server didn’t prepare the food — he simply carried it from the kitchen! I looked across the table and thought, “What the hell is this guy trying to prove?” He was trying to show who was in charge, but really he was just being an ass.”

If the lawyer you are thinking of hiring isn’t a genuinely nice person–and I by that I mean fair and honest, not kumbaya namby-pamby nice–there ultimately will be a problem with that lawyer’s team.  It might not be visible until the time of maximum stress, when most fissures become evident.  But that is, of course, the very worst time from the client’s perspective.  You are better off hiring the kind of leader whose team will follow him or her to the gates of hell and back because then you will not have weak links that will jeopardize your matter.

That my perspective, FWIW.

Eight words that should be banned from the English language-at least when used in combination with one another.  I was thinking about this post from Michelle Golden’s Golden Practices blog, when it hit me. BAM!!! Well, not really a BAM, but more a gentle reminder that these words and the mentality they represent should be the bane of every lawyer, but certainly of every inhouse lawyer.  Why?

Good question.  Here’s the answer.  The world and everything about it is changing so much and so fast that ‘the way its been done before” is now frequently the wrong way, or at least an ineffective way.  But even if  TWIBDB is the right way, it ought to be done that way because fresh thinking yielded that conclusion-its a bad default position.

The problem is particularly acute among lawyers.  If ever there was a profession made up of people who are generally change resistant, it has to be the legal profession.  Stare decisis, precedent, chain cites and all that rubbish, don’t you know.  I wish I had an antidote.

Come to think of it, while I don’t have it, there is an antidote.  Inhouse counsel have it.  You use it when you make hiring decisions.  Stop hiring people who limit their thinking, who start off pleadings with “Comes Now Your Plaintiff” or other such gibberish (a personal pet peeve), who worry about being right all the time and are unwilling to float outrageous ideas.  If inhouse counsel did that, all sorts of creative minds would waken from career-long hibernation.

It is human nature to warm to pleasant surprises.  It is an axiom of legal practice that clients hate surprises, at least the “bad news” kind.  Smart lawyers do two things consistently:  they keep their client’s expectations realistic and they almost always over deliver.  In this vein, look at this post from Tom Kane in the Legal Marketing Blog.  My favorite part is this quote from Tom Peters.  “Formula for success: under promise and over deliver.”

There may be some who say “I don’t want my expectations ‘managed.'”  Don’t read “manage” to mean manipulated.  Instead, this is a variation on the “no bad news” theme noted above.  If you under promise and over deliver, the chances of negative surprises is drastically reduced.

I watched Discovery lift off yesterday.  The explosion into the sky no longer seemed routine.  I heard this morning that there are concerns about lost heat shield tiles.  Join me in praying for a successful flight and a safe return home.

 

Let me begin with apologies to Mr. Shakespeare for my post title.

Very interest post on c/net about how often the average worker is interrupted by phone calls, emails, IMs or other distractions.  Since it takes about 8 uninterrupted minutes for the average person to get their brain in a creative state, the significance of the interruptions is pretty apparent.  And Geoffrey Gussis at Inhouse Blog has a nice way of referring his inhouse readers to a blog that discusses the research: “Head over to take a look if you have time to spare after checking your email, voicemail (at home, at work and on your cellphone), glancing at your BlackBerry, answering IMs and reviewing the faxes that were sent to your email and also delivered on paper in your office.”

Here’s the lesson for outside counsel:  Do you consciously choose the least intrusive method of communicating with your clients given the significance of what you are communicating?  Phone calls are the most distracting and should be used only when you really need to interrupt your client.  Of course, the converse is never true-your client should call you whenever (client conversations are a gift).  Emails can be ignored until a client is ready to look at them.  Just remember, your interruptions had better be worth the cost.  And for clients, there is no cost to the interruption, which is always welcome.

Ed Poll, who writes LawBiz Blog, makes some interesting points about succession planning in his July 20 post, Keeping Clients After A Lawyer Retires.  Among the many valuable points Ed raises are:

– Have the rainmakers introduce younger partners to their client contacts
– Build teams around the top 20 clients, and to let the client know they have a team.
– Actively start cross-selling the top 20 clients. For more info see Larry Bodine’s webinar: Best Practices Of Cross Marketing and Selling New Services To Clients.

I would add to this list.  First, merely introducing younger partners to clients is not enough.  Younger partners need to be featured, given opportunities to excel for the client and then “bragged on” by the senior partner.  If the senior partner doesn’t show respect, trust and admiration for the younger partner, why should the client?  Second, I believe the client should be involved in the discussion.  Many of the rainmakers don’t want to suggest to the client that they won’t be there to service the client.  But the fact is that the clients themselves think about how deep a firm’s bench is, what would happen if the senior partner became unavailable, etc.  They view the issue as a business problem and I think it benefits the relationship to let clients know you are thinking about their needs beyond any specific case.  Finally, I think everyone in the firm needs to know who the “successor” is for any given client. Some choices might be difficult ones, but any issues regarding the choice are better addressed when the rainmaker is still around to resolve them.

Its clear how this approach benefits the law firm: the loss of a major client cuts deep, particularly for smaller firms.  But why is this important from the client’s perspective?  How much institutional knowledge has the client already paid for?  What would the cost be to replace that knowledge?  In some niche practices, there may not be a real alternative.  It is as much in the client’s interest as it is in the law firm’s interest to have a plan to cover anticipated departures as well as unanticipated ones.  McDonald’s lost two CEO’s to sudden death or illness in one year.  It happens, and there is no excuse to be caught short.

 

Gerry Riskin of Edge International writes the terrific blog Amazing Firms Amazing Practices.  It consistently provokes me to think, to reflect, to reexamine.  I like that.  So I’ve added Gerry’s blog to my blogroll of favorites.

Here’s an example of why I like Gerry’s blog so much. Gerry’s July 18 post attaches an article entitled “Ten Myths About Innovations In Professional Service Firms.”  It is written by one of Gerry’s partners and contains some great common sense thinking.  Gerry lets the article speak for itself, and so will I.

Interesting post on The Wired GC about how CEOs look at their GCs.  One part of the post reminded me of a truism for corporate litigators:  There are virtually no businesses that are engaged in the business of litigation.  The CEO valued the GC who could help the business look at problems creatively and resolve them without litigation.  But an often-overlooked challenge is helping the CEO (and for outside counsel, the GC) fully appreciate the distraction a lawsuit will cause for the business.  In other words, the best litigator for a corporation might be the person who advises against litigation.

The other important lesson from the post is the importance of taking the amount of time needed from these executives and not a second more.  We all tend to think the problem we are working on is “the critical one” when the CEO or the GC have many other problems of equal or even greater importance.  Those problems demand time.  Good service is being fully prepared when you call your client, knowing exactly what you need and getting to it directly.  It also means not calling the GC when you can call her assistant or another lawyer lower down the pecking order for the information.  Remember the maxim of the highest and best use of an individual’s time.