Monthly Archives: March 2012

You Must Create Your Own Recipe

While you can always learn helpful things from others, we have found that the recipe for excellence in a particular organization is specific to its history, external environment, and aspirations, as well as the passions and capabilities of its people.

Yes!  Consultants who say the recipe for success is specific to every firm and not an off-the-shelf formula.

In Beyond Performance: How Great Organizations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage , Scott Keller and Colin Price argue that organizational health is the ultimate competitive advantage. “Organizational health” is an organization’s ability to align, execute, and renew itself faster than competitors can. It is about “adapting to the present and shaping the future.” Healthy organizations “create a capacity to learn and keep changing over time.”

Keller and Price say that the recipe for this kind of health is unique to every organization.

Thank goodness for management consultants who recognize that organizations are unique in their most critical aspects. This goes quadruple (and more) for law firms – and even more than that for mid-sized law firms.

It goes at two levels. First, there are so many types and kinds and models and sizes of law firms that the phrase “law firm” conveys very little information. Every evaluation of every law-practice-management prescription must begin with a strict scrutiny of whether it applies to your firm at all. And midsized firms in particular must be eternally vigilant not to swallow nostrums concocted for the big guys, or for the little guys, or just for the other guys.

Second, law firms – and I am talking about all of them, every single one – notwithstanding the foregoing. Law firms are so rooted in their particular people and cultures that all law firm management is always about “creating your own recipe”. There is no other way.

This is most especially true when you are “adapting to the present and shaping the future.”  If you force it, you are going to break it.

“The Streamlined Law Firms of the Future”

Jordan Furlong advises law firms to anticipate “the leaner and more streamlined law firms of the future,” which he says

will be built around systems, processes and technology, where most “associate” work will be done by freelance, project or foreign lawyers (or computers) and many partners will be pricing their work on a non-hourly basis. Key personnel skills will include management (of both processes and people), collaboration, and client communications.

He asks then how this should affect hiring. He says management, collaboration and client communications are key skills for lawyers. Yep. So: Hire team players. Don’t hire jerks. And: The best lawyers are good communicators.

Mid-sized law firms look unlikely to succeed “built around systems, processes and technology.” Aren’t large firms and mono-line firms more likely to win at that? Mid-sized firms must be problem-solvers, not processors.

The good news is that the kinds of organizations that solve problems are more likely to be more attractive and satisfying places to work than the ones that run systems and processes – if they keep their focus. And, if they don’t hire jerks.

The Lost Episodes

Part of the purpose of this is to learn how to do this (on the cheap).

When I set this blog up, somehow a series of earlier comments (“posts,” that the right word?) disappeared. I left them for only a minute over at LinkedIn while I was trying to learn how to use LinkedIn, Twitter and a WordPress blog all together. When I went back my posts were gone. And I had not kept copies. They are gone.

There is a lesson in this that I must learn. I keep having it taught to me – over and over. They say that anything posted on the Internet is out there forever. No. That is so unless you wish it were and then it is not. (Keep copies.)

Second, my frustration at losing those posts (as I remember them, they were brilliant) will be relieved only by referring to them hereafter as “the lost episodes.”

What Lawyers Are For

What are lawyers for? And not for? And law firms?

In his article, The Second Economy, Brian Arthur at McKinsey says digitization is set to replace people doing process work – on a vast scale. Already, vastly fewer people are needed to receive, record, assess, and convert information, then act on it (that is, apply knowledge or rules to processed information). Arthur’s example is supply chain management.

But much of lawyering in the 20th Century was that: applying knowledge to information.

So what are lawyers for, if not for analyzing facts and applying knowledge? Well, they are for encountering complexity; navigating uncertainty. The analysis and knowledge-application is the easy part and not any longer the value-adding part.

And that work (managing complexity, resolving uncertainty) takes ability, motivation, integrity, experience and judgment. What law firms are for is assembling and developing those resources:

  • identifying and assembling professionals with ability, motivation and integrity,
  • providing them with experience,
  • fostering judgment,
  • fostering effective teams,
  • communicating those resources to the marketplace.

The lawyers do the legal work, the firm prepares and enables the lawyers.

(For process work this may not be so. It may be that firms, not lawyers, do the work. This difference has important implications for firm management and structure, professional development and culture. A discussion for another day.)

Regional Law Firms

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