Another Legal Marketing Association annual conference has come and gone, and I can’t get the keynote speaker out of my head. Jeff Williford of the Disney Institute presented on Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence. For an indepth recap of Jeff’s presentation, read Lindsay Griffiths Disney’s Approach to Business Excellence – An LMA Recap.

Jeff Williford - Courtesy of Lindsay Griffiths
While Disney is an entertainment brand, and, well, law firms are not, there are still many things we as an industry can learn and apply whether to our internal operations, or externally towards our clients. Disney is the overall brand, such as the law firm, but has many different moving parts from theme parks, to television channels, radio stations, toys … such as law firms have numerous practice groups and service lines. Disney identified a market that they weren’t serving (boys), so they went shopping and bought Marvel Comics … law firms can identify untapped needs of their clients and use lateral recruitment to service those needs. Disney was founded by a mouse, and our firms were founded by …. Do you even know the story of your firm? I find myself so lucky that our firm is just 35 years old. I enjoy talking to our founding partner, Richards Barger on a regular basis. Most of our current partnership have spent their entire careers here. Tapping into our history allows us to move forward with purpose. I have said it many times, I do not look for inspiration from within our industry. I like to look externally and see how we can apply best practices from other industries to our own. Disney is a great example. Their Chain of Excellence follows along these lines:

  • Leadership Excellence
    • The right leaders take care of cast (employees).
  • Cast Excellence
    • Casts take care of guests (clients).
  • Guest Satisfaction
    • They don’t have customers. Customers show up to complain. Guests are invited.
    • Do you treat your clients like customers or guests?
  • Financial Results/Repeat Business
    • Your experience at Disney is what brings you back.
    • What type of experience do your clients receive?

There is no doubt that Disney is a creative company. But not all creative companies succeed. What makes Disney special is that the leaders continually inspire the cast, the cast inspires the guests, the guests have magical moments, and continue to return (despite “not being the cheapest ticket” around). But, can this not be true for all companies, including law firms? I think it’s pretty easy to agree that leaders have to inspire, or they are not leading. They are pushing and prodding at that point, but they are definitely not leading. As legal marketers, we can look around and identify the leaders in our firms. And we can identify those who lack those skills, to say the least. None of us joined our law firm, whether as attorneys, legal marketers, assistants, etc. with an idea of dreading every moment of every day. Lawyers join the profession with idealistic thoughts of making a difference. As a legal marketer, we look to bring creativity and inspiration to our work. However, ideals and creativity can at times become wilted.

Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it. – Walt Disney

I admit it. There are times when I allow my inner creativity to wilt under the pressure of getting the job done. However, in everything we do, we have the opportunity to not just walk through the motions, but to open up a box of Crayola Crayons and get to work … drawing outside the lines. We are only limited by what we choose to limit ourselves by. For me, that hindrance is time, sometimes it’s my time, but, in many cases, it’s not wanting to “waste” a partner’s time. Time limits my creativity. I want to do and move on. Do and move on. But that is not a benefit to my firm, or to myself, in the long run. Rather than just plan the event, or launch a new initiative for the sake of “keeping up with the Lathams,” I need to think it through. To brainstorm. All ideas on the table. Egos checked at the door. Ideas belong to the group, not the individual. After a brainstorming session I am motivated. I am excited. I can feel the adrenalin. The only thing that stops me, however, is me. I get it my own way. But what happens when you don’t get that inspiration at work? I just got off the phone with a former colleague of mine. One thing that popped out of my mouth is that we need to find our creativity, and it’s not necessarily within the walls of our firm. Sometimes we need to look externally at what we can do. I volunteer with the Legal Marketing Association and I write this blog. Both of these activities inspire me. At my old firm, I was inspired by the local office administrator and would regularly visit her office for industry chats. There is no doubt that I walked away from this year’s LMA conference was a heightened sense of excitement and creativity. A new passion. It’s now the Monday after the conference and all I could think of this morning was how quickly can I get into my office today and start knocking things off my “to do” list. I chose instead to take a step back and capture a bit of that Disney magic before it all dissipates. I will then see if I can spread some of that enthusiasm through my firm. And where our clients are concerned, too many of our firms are attorney focused. It is a difficult, difficult cultural shift that needs to take place to make our industry a client focused one. Can it be done? I’m sure it can be, but it will happen one law firm at a time. And, I am inspired to think that it can begin with mine. Jeff closed by speaking of Disney’s Sustainable Competitive Advantage:

  • Identify an unworked trend
  • Being leaders
  • Word of Mouth – Referrals
  • Opportunity for customers to invest (ownership for Disney, but perhaps “shared risk” for law firms through alternative fee agreements)
  • Increase standards
  • Take care of the people

Broken down this way, a cultural shift sounds doable. One legal marketer at a time. One attorney at a time. One practice at a time. One firm at a time.