What Does True Leadership Really Involve

Leadership. We hear the concept all of the time, but what does it really mean? When you get appointed or elected to that huge position, such as managing partner of the law firm, or CEO of a company or legal organization, what does that really entail? What is being a leader really all about?

Over my years of management and leadership of my law firm, and other organizations I have had the opportunity to help lead, I have come to the conclusion that if you want to be a leader instead of just the holder of a position or title, there are several key characteristics or functions:

Envision – The first job of a leader is to envision the future, and to cast that vision to others. Where there is no vision, the firm will perish. That may not have been the belief of most law firm owners of the past; but the fact is that times have changed, and are continually changing, and law firms need to be operated like business organizations. The competitive environment requires visionary leadership.

Engage – Not only must a leader cast and sell a vision for the future to members, but those who hear about that vision need to be engaged by the leader. This involved three main actions:

  1. Equip – Leaders need to make sure that others in the organization are equipped with the tools they need to succeed. For a law firm leader this means not only providing the tools and support that each person needs, but to work to create a culture that that supports each member in his or her efforts on behalf of the firm.
  2. Empower – Leaders need to equip, and then get out of the way. They do this by empowering those on the team or the firm. There is a mix of authority, discipline and maintenance of established values of quality that a leader needs to reinforce in order to move the firm more in the direction of a 21st century team, instead of just a group of autonomous individual practitioners. This mix is the sweet spot where firm members feel supported and empowered.
  3. Encourage – Once those in the firm feel equipped and empowered, true engagement in the firm’s vision will be realized when the leader provides encouragement. This may be a simple private word of thanks or congratulations, or public acknowledgment of success, but it is an integral part of successful engagement.

Evaluate – This is a most difficult, but absolutely necessary, function of effective leadership. Leaders evaluate plans, they evaluate strategies, and they evaluate members on the team. They may evaluate team leaders, or they may evaluate the individual members within the organization, depending on the size of the group. They evaluate to not only punish or reward, but for the purpose of understanding existing firm culture, and supporting appropriate change.

Ensure Existence – Too many people in leadership positions focus quite heavily on the present; managing problems and assuring that the firm has resources to meet current payroll. These are obviously important functions that must be taken care of, however if “the present” is all on the shoulders of the leader, the future is neglected. It is a key duty of the leader to learn how to appropriately delegate so that there is time to plan and execute the future. Therefore every leader must assure that the future is brighter for the firm when he or she leaves the position, than when the leader took the position on.

As I wrote the above, I realized that in some of the above areas I have excelled, and in some I have fallen woefully short over the years (with much learning at the College of Hard Knocks). One thing I did realize however, is that regardless of how I have done in all of these areas, they are considerations for every leader to consider. I wish you well in your endeavor to be an effective servant leader of those in your firm.

ABA Debates Model Regulatory Objectives for Provision of Legal Services

I was a proponent of a resolution in the ABA House of Delegates regarding establishment of regulatory objectives for courts to use in regulation of non-lawyer providers of legal service. As you may know, some legal service providers are not lawyers, and many of these services are provided over the internet. On a daily basis, these services are provided to the public without any regulation. Lawyers are regulated, and the public is protected. Non-lawyer providers are not regulated, and the public is not protected. The debate was between those in the House of Delegates who believed the ABA should lead the discussion in how to regulate these non-lawyers, and those who believed the ABA should instead enforce existing rules to keep non-lawyers from providing legal services at all.

Here are the comments I prepared for presentation in the ABA House of Delegates (that I did not get to present due to a motion to cut off debate and call for the question):

Fact – non-lawyers are providing legal services to members of the public. Those of you who came up with me through YLD in the 90’s remember two very controversial debates on germaneness. Defeated proponents of those resolutions came away feeling that just about anything and everything is germane, and we have multitudes of resolutions over the past 20 years, that most are proud of, to prove it. Based on my stated fact, I can only conclude that opponents have finally found something that’s not germane. Let the regulators deal with it themselves. It’s not the concern of the American Bar Association. We’re not going to help you come up with guidelines to help you should you decide to regulate legal services not being provided by lawyers. We will help regulators and legislators or “urge” them on every other issue under the sun, but not this one.

Collectively, leaders in our profession must be engaged in the conversation regarding changes occurring in legal services delivery. This resolution is a great step in doing so. It provides guidance, and perhaps also indicates that we are not being choked by sand. Some may fear a different slippery slope than I do. What I fear is a slope created by recent unfair and inaccurate, national publicity that possibly led viewers to wrongly conclude that we cannot, or will not, regulate ourselves. It is a slope of increased grade, when the press, viewing this present debate, and assuming we do not pass it, portrays us as turf protectors. The end of the slope may be the conclusion that we are no longer worthy to lead discussions on the future of legal services delivery.

When I speak about what lawyer leadership needs to look like in the future, whether leadership of firms, clients or society, I talk about three main areas of emphasis…greater lawyer resiliency, practice innovation and professional engagement. It is in this area of professional engagement that I have greatest concern. I believe that if we do not pass the resolution, the ability of the ABA to be professionally engaged in the issue of regulation of non-lawyer provision of legal services, which is obviously a reality whether or not we acknowledge it, is in jeopardy.

Lawyer leaders will best be able to lead this discussion, and influence others, if those we desire to lead trust us to do so. Trust after all is what leadership is all about. What looks like self-interest will not foster the kind of trust necessary for our profession to continue to lead the discussion. There are certainly good intentions on the part of those in our profession who desire to protect the public through ways of the past. Regardless, times are changing, and the public craves our leadership. It is the duty of lawyer leaders to transition our efforts away from yesterday’s assumptions, and to collectively take a greater role in what the present, and a future, with non-licensed legal service providers should look like – making sure that the public is protected, even when society, perhaps over our desires or recommendations, allows non-lawyers to provide legal services.

So I wonder: Are we ready to lead through this change that is already upon us?

Here is the text of the Resolution as approved:

RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association adopts the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives 1 for the Provision of Legal Services, dated February,    2016.

ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Service

A. Protection of the public

B. Advancement of the administration of justice and the rule of law

C. Meaningful access to justice and information about the law, legal issues, and the civil and criminal justice systems

D. Transparency regarding the nature and scope of legal services to be provided, the credentials of those who provide them, and the availability of regulatory protections

E. Delivery of affordable and accessible legal services

F. Efficient, competent, and ethical delivery of legal services

G. Protection of privileged and confidential information

H. Independence of professional judgment

I. Accessible civil remedies for negligence and breach of other duties owed, and 16 disciplinary sanctions for misconduct, and advancement of appropriate preventive or wellness programs.

J. Diversity and inclusion among legal services providers and freedom from discrimination for those receiving legal services and in the justice system

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the American Bar Association urges that each state’s highest court, and those of each territory and tribe, be guided by the ABA Model Regulatory Objectives for the Provision of Legal Services when they assess the court’s existing regulatory framework and any other regulations they may choose to develop concerning non-traditional legal service providers.

FURTHER RESOLVED, That nothing contained in this Resolution abrogates in any manner existing ABA policy prohibiting non lawyer ownership of law firms or the core values adopted by the House of Delegates.

“Lead Through Change” a Big Hit in Asheville, NC

Former Senators Tom Daschle and Bill Frist debate health care leadership issues

Former Senators Tom Daschle and Bill Frist debate health care leadership issues

John Maxwell receives the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership at Lead Through Change in Asheville, NC

John Maxwell receives the Mother Teresa Prize for Global Peace and Leadership at Lead Through Change in Asheville, NC

Last month several members of my law firm had the opportunity to attend a new leadership program, “Lead Through Change” held in my hometown of Asheville, North Carolina. The focus of the program was leadership during the present time of enormous change affecting the health care industry. As a law firm that has many medical profession clients, we felt that we needed to be on the cutting edge of what the medical field is facing today. The speakers included two former Senators (Tom Daschle and Bill Frist), leadership expert John Maxwell, leaders of the American Medical Association and the American Dental Association, and local Mission Hospitals CEO, Dr. Ron Paulus. The event was a production of the Luminary Leadership Network, led by Bill Murdock, founder of our local Eblen Charities. I was so impressed with the content, and learned so much, that I thought I would share some of what I learned about leadership in this one day event focused on the health care industry.

Senator Daschle had some really interesting thoughts about the issues facing the healthcare industry, and why we continue to have such difficulties. He said that there are four key factors to future leadership in that industry: 1) Resiliency, 2) Innovation, 3) Collaboration and 4) Engagement. As he explained what these four factors meant to health care leadership, I thought that perhaps they also applied to the legal industry, which is also experiencing massive change.

Mission Hospitals CEO Ron Paulus gave a phenomenal talk on the difficulties he has experienced in times of change and how his leadership has developed as he has struggled through challenging times. He suggested two book resources for folks who are entrusted with the leadership of an organization; 1) Organizational Culture and Leadership by Edgar Schein, and 2) The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander. I immediately bought both of them online, and am currently reading the first.

The final speaker of the day was leadership guru John C. Maxwell. His basic laws of leadership apply to every discipline and industry.   He focused on the attitude of a leader while being challenged with change and uncertainty in the organization being led.

I believe the intent is to repeat his event in the future. I definitely recommend that you visit this site for further information: http://leadthroughchange.com/

L2: Learn Lead – A New and Exciting Leadership Education Event

141010_maxwell_L2_0464I had the pleasure of attending the first L2 leadership event, held just outside of Atlanta Georgia, about three weeks ago. Based on what I experienced this will be the first of many annual events to come. At first it seemed like the event would simply be a shortened (only a half day) copycat of Leadercast (the event held in May of each year, which I usually attend); but I was wrong. There were only three speakers, much less “show” to the event, and much more content per speaker (in my opinion). The event is held in the same facility as houses the new John C. Maxwell Leadership Center. Each presentation was 45 minutes. John Maxwell went first, and finished the event as well.

Here is what I learned and highly commend for your consideration. Instead of giving you a complete synopsis of each speaker’s content, I thought I would simply let you know a few things I learned from each speaker (three or four points I will try and apply in my own life and leadership):

John Maxwell spoke (in both of his sessions) on the topic of “Good Leaders Ask Great Questions.” Since he just wrote a book with that title, I believe all of the attendees present understood that two 45 minutes segments really did not do the topic justice. Here are my takeaways:

  1. You only get answers to questions that you ask. Some folks don’t ask questions because they do not want to look bad, or dumb, to others. I have a tendency to not ask questions, especially when there is more than one other person in the room. In a conversation the person who wins (takes away the most, or learns the most) is the person who asks the most questions, and I am therefore cheating myself by not speaking up.
  2. When we ask questions, we have the ability to direct the conversation. Dr. Maxwell gave us many questions to ask when you are in a one on one learning lunch or meeting type of situation such as: What is the greatest lesson you ever learned? What have you learned recently? How has failure shaped your life? What have you read that I should read?
  3. As a leader I need to regularly ask myself three questions:
    1. Am I investing in myself? – This is a personal growth question I need to ask myself every day – what am I doing to make myself better, to grow as a leader, realizing that it is impossible to raise and lift up others if my own life is dormant.
    2. Am I genuinely interested in others? – This is a question where I examine my own motives.
    3. Am In investing in the right people? – This is a question where I ask about return on investment. Do those who I invest my time and energy in, themselves: influence others, have a potential to grow, desire to grow, have passion and character?

Linda Kaplan Thaler, a world renowned leader and innovator in the field of marketing (having created such well known marketing campaigns as the Aflac Duck and the Toys ‘R’ Us jingle), spoke on the topic of “GRIT: How Ordinary People Become Extraordinary”. GRIT stand for Guts, Resilience, Initiative and Tenacity. Here are my takeaways to keep on track in working to achieve success in my life:

  1. Solve small problems – people tend to freeze up when it appears obstacles are too large. When it seems so, I need to focus on small accomplishments and keep moving forward.
  2. Make my Bed – start every day by accomplishing something small. This will create a positive tone to build on during the day.
  3. Finish what I start – stay focused and accomplish. Avoid starting too many things and finishing nothing.
  4. Forget will power – put myself in situations where I am not tempted to mess up, waste time, or do something which is not beneficial to my life goals and objectives.

Tim Sanders, a maverick CEO of a tech start-up, who is the former Yahoo Chief Solutions Officer, spoke on the topic of “People Centric Tools for Success”. He has recently authored an excellent book titled “Today We are Rich” which I highly recommend. Here are my takeaways from his three imperatives to maintain balance and progress in life:

  1. Clear Mind – If my mind is filled with garbage, then my life is going to be negative. He stressed the importance of getting a good start to the day, which means not checking email while I lie in bed, and not inundating myself with negative media, but instead having a time of learning and reflection before I do anything else.
  2. Creative tendency – We need to leave time in life for creativity. The creative things I do in my free time will make me more creative at work.
  3. Compassionate Way – I need to be more loving to the people I lead, and work with. I simply cannot lead people if I do not care for them. The most compassionate thing I can do as a leader is to listen without power (or exerting power).


Tim Sanders presenting at L2: Learn Lead


John Maxwell speaking to small group at exclusive L2: Learn Lead breakfast


Linda Kaplan Thayer presenting at L2: Learn Lead

Essential Qualities of an Effective Leader Part 3: Passion

To start, I must acknowledge that I incorrectly stated in my June 2014 blog post that “Mission” was the first essential quality of an effective leader. Actually, I meant to say “Passion”, of which Mission is an integral part. As most of my friends know, I was recently in an accident in downtown Chicago. I fell while walking over the Columbus Drive Bridge (which remains in dire need of repair). I was hurt pretty bad, and had to spend about 6 hours in the emergency room of Northwestern Hospital. I now use my experience when I speak about Passion. Though I was in some pain (I had a left hand sprain, four stitches in my chin, a broken bone in my right hand and a broken bone in my ear canal), I could not help but be impressed with the passion that I observed in just about everyone who worked in that emergency room. I believe that the passion I observed in the health care staff was directly related to the passion exemplified by their leader, who was the doctor primarily in charge of my care.   What I observed in that doctor, and what I have observed from other leaders over many years, is that there are really four qualities of a leader with passion. If you display these to followers, they will believe what you believe, and your passion will, in fact, be infectious:

  1. Mission – Every organization needs a mission, however, the mission of a passionate leader is so much more than just organizational mission. Here you ask a personal question: Does the leader know, and display, that the leader knows what he or she is doing and why it is being done, or is the leader simply serving a term in an “in-charge” position?
  2. Model – A truly passionate leader is not only going to have beliefs, goals and a reason for being, but will also be an example for others to follow.
  3. Message – A true leader has a truth, a story and a purpose that can be shared with others, one they can cling to and follow. An effective leader is going to be able to influence followers through the story of his or her life, as well as those of others.
  4. Mandate – This is not the same as mission. We hear much in politics about whether or not a politician has been given a “mandate” from a constituency to proceed in some predetermined manner selected by the politician.   The mandate of an effective leader, however, is a calling to serve others, and to not be concerned about the leader’s own well-being and success, but instead that of followers.

Truly effective leaders always have passion. Leaders with passion have a personal mission, are a model to followers, have a message to share, and have a mandate to serve.


Essential Qualities of an Effective Leader Part 2: Trust

Trust is a critical quality of effective leadership.  I recently wrote a column for the LP Magazine Managing Column, titled: “Old Fashioned CRM: The Importance of Trust”.  The column discusses three critical factors in gaining, keeping and even rebuilding trust: 1. Living a consistent life, including both being truthful and keeping promises you make, 2. Being transparent in your relationships, and 3. Being generous.  These three factors are critical in relationships with those you work for, those who work for you, those who you work with, and those who hire you to work for them.  You can read my recent column at the following link:



Essential Qualities of an Effective Leader Part 1: Servanthood

I am often asked the question: What are the qualities of an effective leader?  I’ve heard many leaders speak to this question, most with different answers; usually different qualities and differing views on the importance of each.

I believe that there are three basic qualities that are found in the most effective leaders, whether they are leaders with position, or simply persons of influence without a title. I believe these qualities are important whether you are a leader in a law firm or a participant in any other endeavor in life. These three qualities are: 1) Mission, 2) Trust and 3) Servanthood. Over the next three blog posts, I will explain in details my thoughts regarding each of these policies, in reverse order. So first, let’s take a look at the concept of “Servanthood”.

Early on in my study of leadership I was exposed to a view of leadership known as “Servant Leadership”.  Through my study of this concept, I discovered that event though you have a title, and even if you do not, your effectiveness as a leader to those who you desire to follow is directly tied to your willingness to both serve and empower them.

Leadership speaker Ken Blanchard explains servant leadership as being composed of four personal attributes.  Here’s my summary of those four, applied to law firm and lawyer leadership:

Heart – This first attribute is about the motivation of the leader.  Is the leader more interested in serving others or serving himself or herself?  Is your desire to lead the firm, or other lawyers in the firm, related to a desire to control others or maintain personal autonomy in your practice?

If you desire to truly understand your motives ask yourself a few of these basic inquiries:

How do you feel when others offer you correction or constructive criticism?  Truly inside, how do you feel? A servant leader is not afraid of constructive criticism. If service is the goal, constructive criticism is always accepted as profitable to not only the leader, but the law firm.

How do you feel when others excel or gain success? When someone else who is a peer or subordinate is recognized?  Are your really happy for them on the inside?  The leader with a heart for service rejoices when those who are being led experience recognition and success.

So, the bottom line is to first examine your heart.

Head – The second attribute is about knowing what you are doing, and why you are doing it. Leaders of law firms need to understand the mission, vision and values of the organization. They must be able to describe them to not only those being led, but also those who might be led, such as prospective clients. You might ask yourself a few questions to see how you doing:

Do those in the law firm, or the group that I lead, share the same vision and values?

Is the actual brand that my law firm has in the communities we serve consistent with the brand that our firm says it has, or desires to have?

Hands – This third attribute is about what you do.  Your motives can be pure, and you can express why you do what you do, but your actions speak louder than those words.

The inquiry here is: What are you doing, and are your actions consistent with what you say?

Habits – You can have a good heart, and all the plans you need, and even start performing, but unless you have discipline you will fail.  Leaders need to have a plan to stay on course; otherwise the emergencies of today crowd out your opportunities to expand service to, and empowerment of, others. Ask yourself the following questions:

Even though I desire to lead others, how am I doing on leading myself?

Do I study leadership on a daily basis?

Just like the practice of law, do I practice leadership on a daily basis?

To the extent possible, have I surrounded myself with a leadership growth environment?

It is important to understand that this principle of servant leadership does not only apply to staff or lawyers within your firm, but equally to leadership of clients.  With regard to clients, it’s not only about the results of the work that you are doing for them.  They have certain basic requirements or expectations that they anticipate in that regard. The servant leader, however, is not only going to simply meet a client’s needs, but exceed them. The successful client leader of the future is not only going to be about results, but results and relationship. Results and relationship is the only way leaders are truly able to both serve and empower clients, which is what servant leadership of clients is all about.

What I learned at Leadercast 2014


   Simon Sinek



Bishop Desmond Tutu



Leadercast is an event held in Atlanta, Georgia each spring. It is simulcast live to locations all over the world (and this year the portion with Bishop Desmond Tutu was simulcast back to Atlanta from South Africa).  Unless I have an ABA meeting to attend during the week of Leadercast, I attend the live event. Over the years I have met several of the leadership experts that I count as mentors (even though I have only, very briefly, personally met two or three of them, much of my leadership learning has come from study of resources they have created).  The event was held on May 9th 2014.  I highly recommend this event to anyone interested in “lifting the lid” on their leadership (i.e. developing their leadership skills).  You can find out more about the event at www.leadercast.com. The belief of Leadercast is that leading and being led by people who inspire and enlighten us, gives us strength and allows us to grow. Leadercast was built on a belief that the world needs better leaders—leaders worth following.  For lawyer friends that follow me for leadership advice, remember that leadership principles apply not only to the non-legal world, but to the leadership of our profession as well; leadership of other lawyers, leadership of law firms and leadership of clients.

Here are a few tidbits of what I learned at Leadercast this year:

Andy Stanley, a local pastor from Atlanta opened the day up (as he has done several times).  He truly is an expert on organizational visioning and leadership.  He shared the theme of the day with us, which was: Becoming a ‘Beyond You” Leader. He taught that being a Beyond You leader is about fearlessly and selflessly empowering others to lead – those by our side, as well as those coming up behind us.  Stanley taught that the value of our lives is measured in how much we give away.  He used the example of a funeral and what is honored or remembered about a deceased.  It is usually not how much a person made, but instead generosity and selfless acts of kindness.  In life we celebrate generosity, but tend to envy accumulation.  

Dr. Henry Cloud, a clinical psychologist and business consultant, furthered the topic of Beyond You Leadership.  Most people are control freaks.  Being a “Beyond You” leader, one who achieves both results and relationships, is about three things to understand: 1) that you will only really understand those you desire to lead when they understand that you understand them, 2) that there has to be something in you, some motivation or reason for leading, which is beyond you, and 3) that as leader we must be willing to give up control. 

Award winning author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell, as he is famous for, made his leadership point by telling a story.  He told the story of a leader in Northern Ireland after World War II.  The story is beyond this blog, but the point he made was that followers will only follow rules, laws or policies of a leader when they see the leadership of the leader as legitimate.  To be viewed as legitimate, followers must feel: 1) respect – the kind where they feel that leadership respects them as persons, 2) fairness – that leaders do not play favoritism but treat every individual fairly, and 3) reliability- that leaders are  not arbitrary in their decision making.

Leadership Expert and Best Selling Author Simon Sinek spoke to the attendees about the environment that we create as leaders.  He mentioned that with so much uncertainty in the world the one area where leaders have some control is the internal environment of the organization.  He called it the “Circle of Certainty”. We must on a daily basis work to make the environment in our organizations positive.  We must make progress on a daily basis.  He used (as does many a leadership speaker) Southwest Airlines as an example.  That company always comes up in studies as one of the best places to work.  Is it really because they hire better, happier people?  Sinek says that it is because of the environment the people are in – one created by great leaders who understand that environment is crucial.   

These were just four of many speakers throughout a full day.  Other speakers included Bishop Desmond Tutu, Former First Lady Laura Bush, former advertising sales executive and author, Laura Schroff, screenwriter and producer Randall Wallace and current CEO of SAP (the world’s leading producer of software) Bill McDermott.


Five Things I Learned at Managing Partner Forum 2014

I had the opportunity to attend the Managing Partner Forum in Atlanta Georgia on Thursday May 8, 2014.  This event is the one event that I know of, held each year, where law firm managing and executive committee partners from all over the country come together and primarily learn from each other, and from experts, about leading and managing law firms.  The day starts with a keynote speaker, followed by a panel of experts who respond to real time electronic voting by attendees (who are responding to questions on issues of firm management, leadership and finance such as “What is your Firm’s revenue per lawyer compared to a year ago?” and “Do you think law firms should have a firm-wide strategic plan?”) . The remaining 3/4ths of the day is broken into segments referred to as MPIE’s (“Managing Partner Idea Exchanges”) – 20 to 25 managing members of firms sit around a table and discuss topics of interest and importance in management and leadership of law firms, facilitated by two or three law firm leadership experts. Kudos to my friend, and founder of Managing Partner Forum, John Remsen, for coming up with such a great learning experience for law firm leaders, and sustaining it over so many years. 

Given the high value of content during this one day of programming, I decided that this blog post should give you a tidbit of what I learned:

1.       Keynote speaker Tim Corcoran, President of the Legal Marketing Association began the day by discussing 5 obstacles to law firm success, indicating that the greatest obstacle is our own reluctance to embrace proven business principles.  He stated his belief that the reason for this is that lawyers continue to see the law as solely a profession, and not a business.

Tim discussed 5 more specific obstacles to law firm success. A comprehensive review of his whole keynote is beyond the scope of this blog post, but here is a short list:

     a.       Governance is an obstacle, where law firms allow all lawyers to be involved in management.  Leaders need to be allowed to lead!

     b.      Law firms do not understand clients and their needs.  Lawyers need to deliver what client’s want, at what they are willing to pay.

     c.        Law firm pricing needs to be rethought.  Discounting without rhyme or reason is a problem.  If you discount all the time, you send the signal that either you do not value your own work, or you know your client does not value your work.

     d.      Compensation plans continue to be a huge obstacle.  Most encourage turf building, as opposed to collaboration.

     e.      The typical formula for deriving profit simply encourages more time keepers and actually less profit.

Tim did not leave us hanging with just the bad news, but had a numerous suggestions as well – here are a few:

     a.       Adopt new operating models to law firm structure – there are other ways to succeed than what we currently use.  We need to look at what works in other businesses and professions and innovate.

     b.      Make client satisfaction your primary focus – make sure that all clients are “Firm” clients

     c.       Compensate for retention and long term profit – quit encouraging folks in the firm to focus merely on their own short term personal gain

2.       Firms need to do be more strategic in their hiring practices.  Cultural compatibility needs to be a priority, including: 1) structured hiring process and 2) psychological testing /personality testing. It makes sense that each party, employer and new hire, should be interested in assuring that they are a good match for each other.

3.       Succession planning, in all areas of law firm future planning is of utmost importance.  As a leader your job is to reduce uncertainty, and succession planning is all about reducing uncertainty of the future.

4.       The key to successfully adopting alternative fee arrangements in a law firm is client trust – including a belief by the client that the relationship is of utmost importance to the lawyer.

5.       Dr. Larry Richard, another expert helping in facilitation of the conference, pointed out that we should change the name of the position of a leader of a law firm to “Leading Partner” instead of “Managing Partner”.  Leaders need to delegate management tasks to managers instead of giving in to the temptation to micromanage. This is difficult because lawyer skill sets are more conducive to management than leadership.

For anyone in law firm leadership, I recommend that you make time for this annual event.

Use of Handheld Devices in Meetings

Moving Beyond the Charge of Rudeness to an Environment of Cooperation and Understanding

A few weeks ago, during the NCAA Basketball tournament, I heard an XM Radio interview (I cannot recall if it was on ESPN or some other station) of Rick Pitino, coach of Louisville Cardinals.  He was discussing his leadership style, specifically answering questions regarding the prevalence of use of handheld devices by young athletes, and the difficulty with discipline that is caused by constant use. Basically, he has a “no device” rule whenever one of his college basketball players is in his presence. No devices are allowed in the locker room, no devices are allowed during practice, no devices are allowed during team meetings, and no devices are allowed when the team has meals together.

I have to admit that until recently I was in agreement with Mr. Pitino when it came to my view on the use of hand held or portable devices during meetings , whether with clients, partners or other professionals.  For some time now, however, I have been making a concerted effort to observe the use of portable electronic devices by others in public settings. Though I hate to disagree with a basketball coach with such a great win loss record  (and I dread his entry into the ACC next year because of his great success ), my observation has led me to the conclusion that communication expectations in society have changed, and nowhere is this more true than in the practice of law. In the past, law firm leaders seem to have opted for solutions which appease those lawyers who are most averse to the use of personal devices in meetings. I propose that tendency should change.  

Client meetings and communications

As the leader of a law firm, your recommendations regarding use of technology should always focus on quality service when it comes to clients. Some clients come to meetings with tablet in hand, and would not expect anything different of legal counsel. These clients understand the importance of being connected, and expect you to be as well. They also appreciate that having a device with you does not mean you’re necessarily not paying attention, playing a game or checking personal emails every time you glance away. True, they want your attention at meetings they are paying for you to attend, but are not offended by your technology. In fact, a lack of personal technology availability can work to the detriment of a lawyer in a client meeting, since the presence of handheld devices is a sign of the availability of information.  In other cases however, some clients may be less technologically savvy.  The bottom line is that in order to meet and exceed client expectations it is important that lawyers know their clients well. It is incumbent upon law firm leaders that to include in firm training, sessions which  encourage firm members to know and understand their clients; their needs, expectations and desires when it comes to communication, which is an integral part of quality service.

Colleagues and firm meetings

Whether the use of technology is a help or hindrance comes up as an issue most often when considering the use of handheld devices, or their presence, at meetings; meetings of partners, firm attorneys, executive committee, Bar Association Meetings, etc. It was not so long ago that I was known to simply “flat out” prohibit handheld devices at partner meetings and retreats. I’ve come a long way in my thinking however. Even 10 years ago, very few professionals regularly brought handheld devices to meetings. I now do not only believe that it is only a majority of folks who do, but truly the exception is actually when someone does not have their handheld device at a meeting.

It is true that some folks may be using these devices to “goof off” instead of pay attention. My observation however is that the world has changed, and handheld devices now provide access, response and security. Regardless of where an attendee stands on the technology spectrum, all should understand that clients have expectations, and with changing lifestyle demands, productive firm members need the security of “connectedness” with their family at all times (especially those with young children).

Given the potential for distraction due to misuse, but considering the demands of a rapidly changing world, law firm leaders need to find solutions that work for all firm members. Members need to be open to have discussions about proper use during meetings, and the need to use discretion in only answering or responding to emails when it is a true client or family emergency or demand. Those with negative attitudes about the use of handheld devices during meetings (which usually includes at least a few dinosaurs who have held on as non-adapters) need to be involved in the discussion, and led to understand that limited/controlled use during meetings is not only acceptable, but encouraged when safety, security or client satisfaction is the concern.

The days of exclusive mandatory rules, procedures and penalties are over. Both the means and mode of communication have changed. Young and old alike are demanding and expecting collaborative, inclusive and understanding leadership. Firm leaders must find solutions that meet the needs of all stakeholders if they expect to retain valuable firm clients, as well as the best and brightest legal talent.