I’m going to blog my thoughts while reading the 2017 Altman Weil Law Firms in Transition (PDF) (Report). Here are their highlights from the survey (Highlights). I might end up writing a separate article at the end, with these just being my raw notes and first thoughts. We’ll see how this goes.

I can’t even begin to express how riled up I am just from reading the ABA Journal’s article, Law firm leaders report lawyer oversupply and ‘chronically underperforming lawyers’ (ABA Journal) and the executive summary from the Report. Here’s a quick warning, the PDF is locked and encrypted (which is frustrating the hell out of me right now. I’m going to have to retype everything I want to quote. Although people are sending me solutions to this … so fingers crossed).

From the ABA Journal:

  • The continuing erosion of demand for legal services continues to be a threat to traditional law firms, according to a survey of law firm leaders in which 61 percent said overcapacity is diluting profitability.
  • Fifty-two percent of law firm leaders say equity partners are not sufficiently busy. Sixty-two percent said nonequity partners are not busy enough, and 25 percent said associates don’t have enough work.

heads-in-sandAnd from the Report (See, AW, I typed out what I wanted to quote, and gave you attribution. I’m TRYING to help you here):

  • “Law firms are slowly changing—more slowly than we think is wise, but changing nonetheless. Clearly not all change efforts are resulting in overnight success. Some efforts require long-term investments that can be a tough sell with partners. Other initiatives may work quickly, but are one-time fixes that can’t be replicated for year-on-year gains. We see firms making only cursory investments where they should be aiming for broader, deeper transformation. And still many partners resist change in all its forms.”

And from the Highlights:

  • The problem of partner resistance: 65% of law firm leaders say their partners resist most change efforts, and 56% say most partners are unaware of what they might do differently.  This reluctance to change is an intractable problem in many law firms.

But there’s good news.

What those of us in the C-Suite have been pounding our leaders about for YEARS is working:

  • “… pricing, staffing, and efficiency tactics specifically undertaken to improve law firm performance—are actually producing results.” (Report)

And a bit of a road map to get started:

  • “Lawyers are very good at interpreting data that’s set before them, but they also need to ask: What don’t we know that might matter?” said Altman Weil principal and survey co-author Tom Clay. “Adequately educating partners about current market realities is a critical first step in achieving necessary strategic change.” (Highlights)

Above the Law and their recent guest poster in Marketing and the Law (enjoy the comments on the Facebook feed) need to take a deeper look at what legal business executives have been doing (or trying to do) for years. In one sense they get it right, many lawyers do struggle with this “fundamental part of the business.” I would just argue that they are most likely part of those 52% or 62% of under-performing equity and non-equity partners. And that the solutions (LEADERSHIP) are there.

Off to read the Bloomberg Law article now. Then I have to do a Costco run. More later today as I really dig into the Report itself.

Next up at LMA Conference: Jonathan Michael Bowman, Esq., President and CEO, Clear Picture Leadership©.

Leaders = change agents.

But, really, what other kind of leadership is there?

To lead, you have to be willing to change, to improve it, to make it better. There are no status quo leaders.

It only takes one person to invoke change.

Qualities of Leaders

  • Leaders see things that others do not see.
  • Leaders have to have a vision.
  • Leaders see the extraordinary in ordinary.

Legal marketers are change agents in our firms. We need to go back and be bold.

Big Vision: Make sure that your vision is big enough to be inspirational. Big enough to be noticed.

You might not have all that you need, but you an use the tools you have to invoke that change.

You need the confidence to invoke that change.

Leaders don’t complain about the situation. They go to the problem and fix it. You have to freeze that negative thinking.

You have to create momentum – or recognize it – then grab hold of that momentum and use it to move forward towards the change we want to achieve.

The last two weeks of August are painful for a legal marketer. Either the attorneys in the firm are on vacation, or the clients are on vacation. Either way, no one seems to have marketing or business development on their minds. During those dog-days, I usually clean out my office and my e-mail, and go on vacation (Orlando this year. Harry Potter World was much enjoyed by all). I constantly have to remind myself during these warm days that come the fall, I’ll get crazy busy again as the mad-dash for year-end comes into focus. For me, it literally began at 7:30 a.m. this morning with an e-mail from a partner about an RFI; a potential new matter we can hopefully go after; two upcoming conferences; get that new blog ready for launch; an update to a piece of legislation that we need to blog about; a brochure to finish; and I just got asked to speak for a local bar association’s monthly program. Phew. Good thing I brought my lunch with me. Let’s face it. Summer’s over people. It’s time to get back to work. Pull out a legal pad and start making those lists.

  • What did you say you were going to do in January that you haven’t done yet?
  • What projects did you start, get side-tracked, and now need to get back on-line?
  • What clients have you not spoken to in the past few months?
  • How can you maximize upcoming travel between now and year-end to meet your clients?
  • What industry conferences are coming up that you haven’t registered to attend?
  • What conference did you attend this year that has the potential to expand your network? Get more involved. Sign up to be a sponsor for 2012.

Most importantly, ask yourself this question:

If I keep doing what I’ve been doing, am I going to be satisfied with the resultst?

I think most of us (yup, me too) will answer no. Now is the time to change course, adjust those sails, and any other metaphor I can throw in to mix it up. Just mix it up. And with that, it’s time to get back to work.

My old boss Steve Barrett shared this story with me many, many years ago. It was meant to illustrate how lawyers really don’t like change. Considering the 8:45 a.m. phone call I got this morning, all I can say is, ten years later, the story still has merit:

The Banana Story

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted. Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth. Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey. After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana. Why not? Because as far as they know that’s the way it’s always been done around here.

So, dear event organizers, if you choose to change how you’ve always handled your event sponsors, please let us know in advance. Attorneys really don’t like change.

Hat tip to Patrick Lamb for his post discussing Richard Susskind‘s The Stages of Change:

Stage 1:  “What you’re saying is worthless nonsense.”

Stage 2:  “What you’re saying is an interesting but perverted point of view.”

Stage 3:  “What you’re saying is true but quite unimportant.”

Stage 4:  “I have always said so.”

For those of us (current or former) in-house  legal marketers, we can all recount stories on the evolution of change (or buy-in) that takes place within our firms.

Stage 1:  An idea is presented at a partner/practice group meeting, eyes peeking up from smart phones, feigning interest in the PowerPoint slides/handouts, waiting to bolt out of the room once “Do you have any questions?” is uttered.

Stage 2:  One-on-one with a partner you begin to notice that shoulders do not bristle when said idea is mentioned in casual conversation around the water cooler, or across the desk when discussing business development opportunities.

Stage 3:  Acknowledgment that competitive law firm is doing said idea, but lack of confidence that it will work HERE.

Stage 4:  Attorney walks into office excitedly announcing: “I have this GREAT idea!!!”

For me, I’ve come to find it takes 18-months, give or take, to get from Stage 1 to Stage 4.

Legal marketers just need to have patience, and the fortitude to know, that what appears to be lack of support for an idea does not necessarily mean the out right dismissal of that same idea.

“Leadership is the art of setting direction for others and getting them to move in that direction with competence and commitment.” — Elliott Jacques and Stephen Clement

Speaking truth to power: Now is the time for managers to lead and leaders to emerge in law firms of all sizes. Power is spread among individuals in a partnership. In law firms, that power is restricted to attorneys, who were trained to practice law and more often focus on getting results. Strong leadership keeps law firms aligned among highly independent and skeptical thinkers.

Stephen Mayson in Law Firm Strategy wrote, “Those who have difficulty with the concept of organizational capital are usually regarding their own individual performance and contacts as key to the firm’s productivity and competitive success.” The challenge for the managing partner is to keep high-achieving individuals invested and “firm-first.”

Aligning the ecosystem
If a law firm is an ecosystem, as described by Willie Pietersen in Reinventing Strategy, it can only function if its interdependent parts are aligned and work in unison. The supporting elements are measures and rewards, structure and process, culture and people. Alignment empowers people to initiate actions. In a productive climate, the staff feels the flexibility to innovate, a sense of responsibility, clarity of mission and values, and commitment to a common purpose. But alignment, according to Jay W. Lorsch and Thomas J. Tierney in their book Aligning the Stars, cannot exist without effective leadership.

Organizational structures provide stability and continuity and also define relationships between people. Regardless of the model, law firms require dual expertise: professional know-how, the ability to produce legal services; and managerial know-how, the production and distribution of those services. There is a challenge for the administrative manager, or other functioning department heads who are non-attorneys, to establish and assert their power with the attorneys in the firm.

As law firms grew in size, management became aligned with practice groups and committee structures. The managing partner typically appoints practice group chairs and the members of the operations committee. Administrative leadership, at the officer, director or manager level in law firms is accountable for managing the work of others, maintaining a staff, and providing leadership.

Measures and Rewards
As the adage goes, “What gets measured gets done. What gets rewarded gets done repeatedly.” Appropriate measures are both a gauge of progress and a signal that the firm places importance on a particular strategy. Pietersen says you must make “deliberate shifts in your measurement and reward system to reflect the crucial priorities of your new strategy.” The reward of promotion brings added responsibility for managing partners, who usually move into such roles after proving themselves at their client work.

The promotion process itself reflects competencies at both the operational and partnership level: management must recognize capabilities as well as attitudes and values. One emerging strategy is to adjust the compensation model to reward improvement in competency and attitude at both partnership and operational level.

People will only be motivated when their jobs provide opportunities for achievement, recognition, responsibility, growth and advancement. Administrative managers need to know their people well enough to assess what motivates them and to provide the opportunities to attain those motivators. Managing partners need to know the partners and practice area leaders, who need to know their teams well enough to provide similar opportunities for business development at the partner level, and matter responsibility at the associate level. The successful work environment meets these needs and simultaneously accomplishes the work in progress.
In diagnosing problems in the firm environment, both managing partner and executive director have to pay attention to the underlying factors that negatively impact motivation: Is the underlying factor a matter of perception, incentive, or expectation? Is the situation brought about by employee aptitude, the need for training or resources? Analysis requires that all managers are attuned to this level of inquiry before steps are taken to resolve problems in the environment.

Read the entire article at NJEsq online.

Change is in the air. Change is all about us. And change is hard. But hang in there. Don’t close your eyes to the light at the end of the tunnel.

This is the year that TV changes from analog to digital. Is your TV ready? Did you know that the U.S. government has spent $1.34 billion preparing those without cable or satellite for the change? Yet, according to the National Association of Broadcasters, there is only 92% awareness of the change. With 72 million TVs operating on rabbit ears, that’s a lot of people who will be without their Oprah on February 17th.

Law firm websites, blogs and Google searches have changed the way we search for and find lawyers. While some companies are adapting well to the change, others are withering on the vine.

The same holds true for print media. With circulation down and stock prices tanking, how will print media survive? Some innovative editors, such as BusinessWeek.com’s editor-in-chief and “Digital Journalism Advocate” John A. Byrne, are embracing the change.

The Legal Marketing Association is also in the middle of change in regards to their listserv technology. In December, the Association rolled out LMA-Connect, which will soon replace the listserv.

Since its inception, the listserv provided an e-mail ready tool for the membership to ask questions and receive replies from their peers. There were no opportunities to customize the delivery of messages, and the archive/search capabilities were poor, to say the least.

With his permission, below are Per Casey’s, chair of the LMA Technology Committee, comments on the transition:

By way of some background, the decision of the LMA to move away from the listserv to LMA Connect was not made in haste. From what I’ve experienced and heard, it’s been a topic for discussion for years as many members voiced frustrations with the ‘serv’. It was only last year that we found something (eGroups) that seemed like it could meet our needs. eGroups is from HigherLogic a company that makes software for associations like ours and they’ve taken into consideration many of the needs and challenges we face.

In the end, the main reason for the decision to change systems was efficiency. Numbering over 3000, the LMA membership can’t effectively communicate using one straight listserv. We simply have too many different interests and the potential for too many discussions to cram it all into one thread. The listserv was (or is) great for its directness, everything coming through one pipe, but consider that there are 800 people subscribed to the listserv and, typically, only one to three conversations happening at any one time. That seems anemic to me.

With LMA Connect there are several topic-oriented groups and each could have several different threads, all of which can be easily pulled out and reviewed independently without having to read through a long string of emails, footers, disclaimers, HTML and other distractions.

I know it’s going to be a bumpy migration. We have anticipated that. But in a few months, if not sooner, I think that most of us will look back on the listserv with nostalgia for a bygone application that didn’t hold a candle to the new system. If not, we can always subscribe to Larry [Bodines]‘s listserv and have the best of both

Upgrading technology and adapting to change is never easy, but that is not a reason to avoid doing it. Change is different and change is hard. But hang in there. The light at the end of the tunnel might just be the sun.

Seth Godin’s recent post Breakage is a great commentary on people’s tolerance for steadily increasing rates year after year.

For the last couple of years ACC members have been at the point Seth was when he’d “get the bill, sigh about the fee, consider the hassle of switching, pay the bill and move on.” In-House Counsel are increasingly annoyed with poor resource management, never-ending rate increases, and the beaming pride law firms take in increasing PPP. To make matters worse now rumors of rate padding are surfacing. Passive consumers of legal services are being called to action and the legal landscape is rapidly changing.

Throughout 2008, ACC has been planning a revolution and there will be casualties. The opening battle is set for Sept. 26th. How much time is left to fortify relationships with clients before they are blown apart? By year’s end, who will be rushing to clean up the rubble?

When it comes to billing, the legal profession is broken. The current billable hour structure rewards inefficiencies. So which law firm will be the next to step up, take the risk, and begin to aggressively redefine billing for the profession? If it’s a top AmLaw firm the process of this change will be accelerated because everyone wants to keep up the Jones Days, O’Melvenys, Gibsons, Sidleys, and Lathams of the world.

Perhaps instead of debating “holiday cards” – electronic vs. traditional or “gifts” – charitable donation vs. logo item, law firms should start thinking about giving something that’s on their client’s wish list like reduced rates, value based fees, or alternative fee arrangements. I guarantee these are the types of presents clients will appreciate now and in the future.

Happy Friday! As I was wrapping up for the day, I came across this insightful post by Chris Walker. I have never heard of Chris before and grammar aside, I appreciate his post on change. Here are some of the highlights:

• The world has changed. Things go faster, communication is more easy. Technological advantage is only a week in advance of the copy cat. Satellites watch us, the stock market pre-empts our decisions. Good practice is becoming more the norm, and we are struggling to keep up at a human level.

• However, if you read a book about life in the 14th century, you’ll see the same observation. There is always an observation that the world is changing and humanity is struggling. What people don’t realise is, that this struggle to keep up is of vital importance in nature’s plan.

• We evolve. You might not know it, you might not care about it, but everything is changing, and therefore everything evolves. People worry about water, atmosphere and resources, and they become part of an important balance between consumption and conservation. Human resistance is as much a part of nature’s evolution as
technology is. It’s an underlying principle that sits beneath our emotional opinion. All the world evolves, specie die, things become extinct, business go bad, new ones start. And here’s the key, those business, and the people within them that evolve, sustain profit. And those employees that evolve sustain employment. And those individuals that evolve stay healthy, and those relationships that evolve, stay together. Evolution is the key to sustainability. The ability to grow, in the right direction, is a powerful asset for anyone in all walks of life.

• It is a different world. Technology has replaced some mundane tasks, people need to evolve because what used to be the mechanics of work is now automated. People are employed to create more, think better, work less and do more. It’s a world where time spent at work is no measure of the profit, value or contribution a person makes. It’s a world where nasty, compliant, worried, clock watching managers have no real place. And it’s a world where employees who prefer emotional self gratification are not going to be able to create inspired work at the level of international competition.
Brains are being superseded by genius, hearts and inspiration.

• When people can’t inspire themselves, they need a new job or some serious coaching in order to free the organisation to grow.

Change is inevitable and our motivations are only the beginning of that shift. Change viewed as progress or evolution reminds us that we are people of possibility. Once we allow ourselves permission to be inspired and to dream we eventually learn to dream big. We are not our jobs, cars, homes, designer fashions, or other labels of status. As human beings we are immeasurable and when inspired can do almost anything. In a Web 2.0 world it’s no longer
“change or die” but rather “be inspired to evolve.”

If we agree with Chris that dreams are the inspiration that fuels us, then day dreaming is vital to our success. As you work with your attorneys, staff, and coworkers, do you inquire about their dreams? What do you do to spark inspiration for others? What inspires you?

This last week I found inspiration watching the world come together and compete in the Olympics. Whenever so many people around the world unite around a single moment in time, I can’t help but be inspired.