BTI Consulting Group reports that corporate counsel have singled out Valorem Law Group as a “Mover & Shaker”–“firms disrupting the legal industry by make strategic and tactical moves others don’t.” We are honored to be singled out in this fashion. From our founding in 2008, we’ve led the move to the New Normal, been named as one of 22 firms “best at AFAs,” and regularly have been recognized by corporate counsel for our brand excellence and extraordinary client service. What sets this recognition apart, however, is its validation of our move earlier this year to create ElevateNext Law and align ourselves with Elevate Services. I wanted to spend a couple of paragraphs describing what prompted this major move by my Valorem partner, Nicole Auerbach, and me.
Many people have views on how to develop a vision of change, of disruption. Having just created ElevateNext Law (with the incomparable Nicole Auerbach) and created a vision with Elevate Services and Univar, I wanted to share my “recipe.” It is a combination of George Bernard Shaw and Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Says Shaw: Some see things as they are and ask why. I dream things that never were and say why not.
Says Picard: Make it so.
So, to capsulize: Dream. Execute.
After concluding that the billable hour model for pricing legal services needed to change, Nicole Nehama Auerbach helped form Valorem Law Group in 2008 to give clients an alternative. Valorem went from being one of the few firms created to provide alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) for commercial litigation, to being named one of the 22 Firms Best at Delivering AFAs by BTI Consulting in 2017 (along with such powerhouse firms as Kirkland & Ellis, Morgan Lewis and Seyfarth Shaw). Auerbach is a frequent speaker and writer on topics related to AFAs, innovation and the impact of the billable hour on women and minorities. In addition to her role as a thought leader on AFAs, Auerbach has had a notable year representing clients. In April, she obtained a $13.4 million verdict in federal court against the City of Chicago and six Chicago police officers for violating the civil rights of a client (Patrick v. City of Chicago, et al.). She is also the co-founder and current national board chair of the Coalition of Women’s Initiatives in Law.
And here’s what her Valorem colleagues thought of this honor:
We’re glad the rest of Chicago is learning what we’ve known for a while.
If you spend any time reading law firm websites, you soon come to one conclusion: all of them were written by the same person. We know this because all law firms say the same things–best schools, best lawyers, client-focused, great client serviced, alternative fees, focused, collaborative, efficient, blah, blah, blah. Some websites use more words to say the same thing, some use less. But all use lots of adjectives to modify conclusory statements. This isn’t marketing. It is the manifestation of fear–fear that if you say anything real, it will turn someone off. So, to offend no one, firms create websites that appeal to no one.
We live a world where noise drowns out signal, something I’ve written about previously. (Here, here and here.) If you don’t stand out, consider yourself one of the crowd watching the championship game–no one watching on TV will ever see you. If you want to stand out, you need to differentiate yourself.
In his post on Gorilla Marketing, Seth Godin describes it this way:
Today, because noise is everywhere, we’re all surrounded by a screaming horde, an open-outcry marketplace of ideas where the race to be heard appears to be the only race that matters. And so subtlety flies out the window, along with a desire to engage for the long haul. Just a troop of gorillas, all arguing over the last remaining banana.
Differntiation is an easy concept to understand, but it is very hard to actually do. Perhaps instead of adjectives and conclusory statement, a better approach might be to explain what you really stand for, and then to offer enough examples to prove it.
If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing. If you stand for something, believe in it enough to say so.
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.
Kirk 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.
Business moves fast. Really fast. Does your law firm keep up?
If you think you do, think again. Do you think in days when your clients are operating in hours? Weeks instead of days. It is a rare law firm designed to move as quickly as clients often need them to move.
What are you planning to do about it?
Most people spend their lives trying not to be the Greater Fool. We toss him the hot potato. We dive for his seat when the music stops. The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed.
This whole country was made by Greater Fools.
Sloan Sabbith, a character on HBO’s Newsroom series
Here’s to the Greater Fools among us. They make us better.
I have internal demons. To ease the burden of these demons, I imagine that everybody has their share. Even if not true, believing it to be makes it easier to accept that I have demons. But deep down, I know I must fight mine every day.
Every. Single. Day.
My number one demon is complacency. It is a trap for my ego, to believe that I am doing my best, that there is no room for improvement.
When I am candid with myself, I know I can do better than I have before. I know that I have let myself be held back, whether by laziness, fear of change, a desire to appreciate the distance I have traveled or to avoid the hard work that lies ahead. But when I give into complacency, I stop trying to be better.
Not everyone battles complacency. Those that do not are trying, every day, to get better. I know that if I give into complacency, they will pass me by or increase the distance by which they lead me. I hate that.
Each day is a choice. Do I let complacency win? Or can I be just a little bit better today than I was yesterday. Improvement is a choice. My choice.
Trial lawyers see a case as a story. They are constantly thinking about the story and why the jury should care about it.
Litigators see a case as a series of motions and briefs, depositions and documents.
The stuff litigators see as the point of a case is just a road to the end.