March 2017

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.

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.