June 2006

David Maister is well-known for his articulation of the concept of “the trusted advisor” and his book by the same title is an absolute must-read for anyone who wishes to develop the closest possible relationship with his or her client.  This book had a profound effect on my approach to my own clients, as it no doubt influenced so many others.

Because the topic is so close to my heart, I read Arnie Herz’s post “lawyers as trusted advisors” with great interest.  Arnie writes the insightful legal sanity blog, and his post pulls together a number of important resources on the trusted advisor topic.  While not recent (written waaaaaay back in February), it is a contribution worth rereading.  One of the articles Arnie references contains a nice pyramid diagram of relationship development, starting with Level 1 “commodity work” and ending with Level 4 “trusted advisor.”  I wonder how many of us know that we are stuck at Level 3, categorized as “consultative, well thought out advice.”  How hard it must be to move up that one spot!  But the bottom line–that 46% of the surveyed executives had not forged this kind of close relationship with a legal advisor–makes it clear that a lot of lawyers have not crossed that critical threshold.  There not only is room for us to be better, but a demand for us to be better too.

What are the reasons so many fail to make that final jump to Level 4, trusted advisors? From the comments made in the article Arnie references, I am left wondering whether the pressure to bill hours is at least one of the culprits. The article talks about the frequency that invoicing issues get in the way of the relationship. Although not expressed, I get the impression that the executives who have that Level 4 relationship with their legal advisors spend more time (and most likely more time off the clock) with their lawyers. It is so very true that face time is great time, especially when it is invested time rather than billed time. I would love to hear what others think about the primary barriers to moving from Level 3 to Level 4.

Thanks to my friend Dan Hull whose post  brought Arnie’s piece to my attention. 

As I noted in a post a couple of days ago, I had taken a respite from blogging for a few weeks.  As I read posts that interested me, I saved them, thinking I would be able to go back and use them as fodder for future posts.  One unexpected but interesting byproduct of this practice is linking certain posts together even though the author wrote them many days or weeks apart.  Michelle Golden has two such posts that struck a chord with me.

Just two days ago, Michelle wrote “Fly On The Wall #3: ‘We Don’t Have The Right People.‘”  Michelle writes that “it’s funny but smaller firms tend to find themselves in a cycle of hiring multiple people with similar personality types–whatever it is the hiring persons are most drawn to. And seldom do people in CPA firms seem to hire or retain those who are more aggressive, assertive, confident, whatever… than they are. (I think this is not as prevalent in law or larger firms.)”

The same phenomenon occurs in law firms.  While lawyers (at least litigators) are paid professional advocates, they (and this is true for most lawyers) are resistant to change.  That’s actually an understatement.  Experimentation is not in their vocabulary.  Any change that does occur can only happen (i) if it is so incremental as to be inconsequential; and (ii) only after the idea has been analyzed to death.

But read this in conjunction with Michelle’s “Fear The ‘Known’ -Dissolve Complacency” post.  Michelle writes here that “complacency is something firm leaders despise in their businesses, but it’s something that needs much more than short-term plans to correct. Strategic plans, compensation systems, and an annual retreat are helpful tools, but they are not the foundation.”

Actually, complacency is something that firm leaders should  fear, but most don’t–because they are not the right people for that position.  Firm leaders in most firms come from the same type of people Michelle writes about in her We Don’t Have The Right People post. 

In his seminal work Good To Great, Jim Collins writes the importance of  having the right people on board the bus, but also about having the right people in the right seats on the bus.  It is unlikely a firm populated by partners adverse to change will produce a dissolve-complacency-style leader.  Whatever the reason proffered, the fear of change, of the unknown, usually will prevail.  Sometimes the stars align for meaningful change, but ”once in a month of Sundays” aptly describes the frequency.

This isn’t to say that every change is the answer.  Some experiments fail.  Some change-oriented leaders fail.  And some change-oriented people aren’t real leaders.  But there is certain truth in the apt saying ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’  It is certainty that a good firm will never become great simply by letting time pass.

This is off topic, but I couldn’t resist.  Ran across this quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it.”

Notwithstanding the proclaimed allegiance to the wishes of the founding fathers (and Jefferson qualifies, doesn’t he?), the war on terror is used to justify the abrogation of any freedom, the infringement of any right, the assertion of any power. 

America is the land of the free.  Nobody ever said freedom is easy.  But if you abandon freedoms just because you’re attacked, hasn’t the other guy already won?

The title is a lie.  There is no such thing as an “American jury.”  There are juries from Cook County, Illinois or Los Angeles, California.  From Dothan, Alabama to Union County, West Virginia.  From Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon.  From Seattle to New York.  And everywhere in between.  Okay, so we all know juries are different.  Big deal.

Its a damn big deal!  Those 12 people are very likely going to reflect the views of the community on issues like globalization.  In the globalization of business, there have been some clear winners and many clear losers among communities where cases are going to be tried.  When you hear talk about “judicial hellholes,” you need to remember that most state court judges are elected, and the creation of a “hellhole” is likely to involve the community (juries/voters) as well as judges.  Let’s just say that not many businesses of any kind would be anxious to try a case in a town where massive layoffs were announced because another manufacturing facility was moved to China.

This truth creates two significant challenges for trial lawyers.  One is to figure out how to inoculate a jury on this issue–that challenge can be discussed in a different forum.  The second challenge–relevant here–is how to discuss this issue with your client.  While they may be able to lower costs by moving production offshore (or by using illegal immigrant labor, to draw on another critical issue), they need to understand such moves will not help them win popularity contests.  They may want to settle, pay a premium to avoid the risk of a runaway jury.  Or they may want to find a lawyer who has found an answer to question number one.  The lawyer providing great service has to raise this issue and (and this isn’t easy)  volunteer to find the right person to handle that issue if he or she is not up to it. (When they talk about putting the client’s interests ahead of your firm’s, this is an example.) 

I had no more than blinked after finishing my post on Tom Friedman’s book when I ran across this post by Rob Millard, author of The Adventure of Strategy.  Rob highlighted the findings of Accenture in an article called Making The Trend Your Friend.   Among the key findings:

3. The Accelerating Pace of Globalization

The pace of globalization and its effects have increased dramatically because of ubiquitous information connectivity. When major business functions, from production to sales, can be performed almost anywhere, it presents companies with unprecedented opportunities for both cost optimization and brand extension.

5. An Increasingly Complex and Fragile Business Environment

As business solutions and services become more elegant and complex, they also become more fragile and susceptible to business failure and security risks. With ever-larger infrastructures with more components, more things can go wrong. High mobility and extended customer reach increase the possible points of attack for those seeking to breach both information and physical security.

9. A Growing Public Demand for More Corporate Transparency and Better Governance and Accountability

Calls for stricter accounting and reporting standards and more transparency are coming not just from regulators but from employees and shareholders as well. Shareholders are also now routinely pressing companies about their environmental records, hiring and firing practices, fair trade policies and charitable contributions. A number of online business practices have come under public scrutiny as well. Even companies less vulnerable to these possible actions will face an increasing need to conduct themselves in accordance with emerging national and global standards.

But number 1, in my view, is this finding:

6. Shorter Time Frames for Decision Making

The increasing pace and complexity of business today means managing almost moment to moment, with an eye on both cost optimization and the quality of business performance. But many managers find themselves either unable to access the data needed to inform their decisions fast enough through their legacy IT systems, or overwhelmed by the amount of data available to them.

Those who respond to these forces will succeed.  Those who don’t . . .

The world is flat-784503If you haven’t read The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman, run–don’t walk–to the nearest bookstore to get a copy.  Friedman is a multiple winner of the Pulitzer Prize for his work columnist for the New York Times,  and is immensely respected.  This book focuses on the globalization of our economy and the impact this force is having on virtually every business.  We’ve seen some of this in the legal profession–outsourcing document reviews, for example, but if this book doesn’t stimulate your imagination, nothing will.

The world is changing.  Rapidly.  And if  law firms doesn’t change with it, those law firms will soon be only memories.

Riskin  Gerry Riskin is brilliant.  He is a gifted thinker, but even more significantly, he has the uncanny ability to express important and bold thoughts with such clarity that even the most skeptical find themselves moving to precisely the conclusion Gerry has reached.  I have seen him accomplish this with large audiences.  I have seen him do this with small groups.  I have been fortunate enough to see him do this with an audience of one (me) over a wonderful dinner, aided by a terrific bottle of wine.  And those that have read this blog before know that I routinely tout posts that Gerry makes in his great blog, Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

So what’s new?  Gerry has published, in separate entries, “The Seven Immutable Laws Of Change Management.”  These are must read entries, and they are worthy of being incorporated into your thinking and acting.  Another exceptional contribution from my friend Gerry.  Here are the links:

Law 1, Law 2, Law 3, Law 4, Law 5, Law 6, Law 7

I hope you get as much from them as I did.

Good trial lawyers always “war game” their trials.  “If this happens, here’s what I’ll do.”  I use “visioning” as a tool to prepare for cross examination, trying to imagine every answer to every question so I can “see” what I will do in response, or decide I don’t want to incur the risk of going down the wrong road.  Good trial lawyers spend many hours preparing for each hour they spend in court.

The same is true for good appellate lawyers.  And while I don’t have occasion to see them practice their craft, I suspect the same is true of all good lawyers in whatever discipline they practice.  Study, research, think, plan, practice, rehearse, and then do it all over again.

Which leads me to two questions.  If these kinds of efforts are the ones that are necessary for success in our practice, why don’t we employ them in our efforts to develop and serve clients?  And why don’t we employ them in our efforts to lead and manage our firms?  Both of these areas are critical to the success of any enterprise, and yet time and again I hear about or witness lawyers who don’t prepare for these two critical functions with the same thoroughness that they demand of themselves before going to court.  Is it because they don’t really believe marketing and management are really that important.  Do they think they’re natural leaders, managers and rainmakers so that preparation isn’t necessary? 

Lest there be any doubt about what I believe, I am certain that every task one performs, whether it be conducting a trial, marketing to a prospect or managing a law firm, benefits immensely, perhaps immeasurably, from careful preparation, study, rehearsal and thought.  Those performing these tasks owe their colleagues that level of commitment.

But without the fanfare associated with Michael Jordan’s return to the Bulls on March 18, 1995.

But still, I’ve been away from this blog for a while.  For those interested, it was time for some introspection.  So while I haven’t been writing, I have been thinking and reading, and thinking some more.  I wonder where our profession is going.  I wonder where our country is going, and what part lawyers have played in its current bitterly partisan divide.  I’ve been wondering when winning elections and building majorities became more important than finding solutions.

I have found no answers, save for one.  As a profession, we are failing.  Failing our clients, but more importantly, failing ourselves.  And the real question for me is what am I going to do about it.  That answer remains to be determined.

As far as this blog goes, I hope it will continue to earn many of the compliments that people have offered to it during its year plus existence.