I wrote in part one of The truth behind lawyer jokes: The “business of law” is tough about the challenges facing the business of law. Namely, the people involved.
In this post, I want to turn to the solutions. Or some ideas for solutions as each firm and its challenges are different and unique to them, but not unique as a whole.
For every problem there are many solutions.
I know it sounds like I’m just bitching about a big ol’ pessimistic mess: the disconnect between lawyers, the practice of law, and the business of law. I’ll admit it, yes, this is partially true. But, you see, while some see the glass as half full, and others see it as half empty, I usually notice the leaks in the glass.
While there is not one common solution to the issues that plague the business of law, I do have a few suggestions:
Strong leadership. Leaders need to lead. But leaders need to know how to lead. Leaders might rise because of their natural leadership skills, but evolving from an intuitive leadership style to an intentional leadership style takes training. You can’t read a book or follow a blog to achieve leadership success. You need to dedicate your time and attention to this. Luckily, there are great leadership programs out there. Take one. Or two.
Harvard has one, Leadership in Law Firms. The leadership program I went through, developed and facilitated by Henry Givray, has expanded to include open sessions: Leadership Calling. Leadership cannot be taught in a weekend; it takes commitment and is a lifetime calling.
Within a law firm, there are many, many opportunities to lead. Everyone, in fact, is capable of being a leader to a certain extent, as we are a team. And within that team are many other teams, each providing space and opportunities for leaders to emerge.
Know thyself. The first module of my leadership training was about self-awareness. The ability to know myself, how I interact with others, what I bring to a team dynamic has been one of the most transformational aspects of my professional career.
Way back in my non-profit days, I did a Myers-Briggs assessment. I was identified to be an ENTJ. Extrovert? I was way to shy and insecure to be an extrovert. At that time I thought they got it wrong. But turns out, my natural trait is to be an extrovert. I just wasnt there yet.
I’m definitely an Intuitive-Thinker under I-Speak.
Management Pro™, the assessment I took under the now branded Leadership Calling, gave me great insights into my innate traits that impact my management style.
But lawyers, we know, are very skeptical. You can’t just roll something like this out to the firm. But you can start with your leadership and administrative teams.
Who are they and what makes them tick? Train your leaders on the different personality types, how they work independently, and how they work together. Even without assessing the entire firm, your leaders will start to be able to identify the different personalities, and how to motivate them. Assessmenst can then be rolled out to different departments, or teams, based on their specific cultures and the right timing.
Mix things up. I’ve worked in a few different firms over the course of my career. One thing I have found is that in any given law firm is that the majority of the lawyer-leaders haven’t worked anywhere else. It’s one of the reasons I did not remain at my prior firm post-merger. Too much centralized leadership (and thinking).
Diversity in law firm leadership (with the attorneys and the c-suite) should not be limited to race, creed, or color, gender or sex, or generations. Diversity in law firm leadership should balance between those who are “legacy” (when there have been law firm mergers or acquisitions), and those who have lateraled over from another firm. It should be a balance between regions and offices. It should be a balance of thoughts and ideas.
If this type of diversity is not possible in your firm, then bring in outside speakers or consultants, attend conferences such as the Marketing Partner Forum or Managing Partner Forum for new ideas, you can also join a peer-based round-table discussion group.
Each business of law discipline within the firm–marketing, finance, administration, technology, library–has a professional association with local and national events. Your business professionals should all be actively involved and bringing back new and different ideas to the leadership team, integrating what you can. But simply knowing how others do it might provide a guide to how “we” can do things better.
Know thy client. I love a good GC panel at a conference. Someone on the panel always says something that resonates and stays with me. The last GC panel at LMA was no disappointment. Here were a few of the takeaways that resonated with me:
- Clients are not happy with how their outside counsel provide legal services.
- Private practice lawyers are not adapting quickly enough to the corporate business models.
- How GCs purchase and retain counsel is no longer dependent on personal relationships; legal operations does not care that you went to law school together or came up in the same law firm.
Get out there and talk to your clients. Ask open ended questions. Visit their plants or factories or offices. Understand that they have BUSINESS problems and see how you can provide the legal solutions or, better yet, thought leadership (which gets a bad rap, but is valuable to your clients).
I promise you, your clients will WELCOME this. They are BEGGING for this. They are CONFUSED as to why you don’t do this. If you’re not sure where or how to start, yes, there’s a consultancy for that.
I could go on, and on, but every firm is unique in their combination of challenges. However, the challenges themselves are not unique.
Wrapping it all up in a pretty bow.
I can’t. We’re dealing with human emotions and personality traits. I have this compulsive need to collect all the facts before I make a decision. Great at work when someone raises an issue. Collect the facts. Figure out what went wrong. Make recommendations to fix that policy or procedure.
Doesn’t work so well when I am dealing with emotional situations, say with the Sports Dude or my kids.
Unless we are able to self-select ourselves to never have to interact with people unlike ourselves, we have to learn how to identify and connect with a diverse group others. But first we have to learn to identify in ourselves what makes us tick so we can identify in you what makes you tick. We need to be nimble and make adjustments as we go along our way.
None of this is easy, but once you go down this path of self-discovery, it becomes exciting to learn and know more about one’s self. And this is why leadership is a lifelong calling.