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.