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

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.


Is Leadership just a Fad? Do the Principles really apply in Law Firms?

I was a cross country runner when I was in high school in the mid 1970’s.  Our team was good, but I certainly was not the best runner on the team.  Generally, I was always somewhere in the middle, never quite making it into scoring position.  Our team was known as being one of the best in Virginia at the time.  One of our coaches was a marathon runner himself.  He insisted that everyone on the team run twice a day, and our mileage was fairly high for teenagers.  Many of the athletes in my school in the traditional “big three” sports (football, basketball and baseball) looked on the distance runners as a bit crazy, and our extreme training as a bit compulsive. 

Since that time, running seems to have become quite a popular activity among the masses. I have kept my running up over the years, and have observed that at times it is an activity that is almost a “fad”.  Where the activity was once seen as a “non- mainstream” sport, it now seems to have become one of the most popular sports in the country; one where anyone and everyone can take part.

The recent “Leadership” craze might be considered by some to be akin to what happened with running.  I recall going to my first leadership conference about nine years ago.  I have been back to the same conference almost every year since.  The first one I attended was held in a facility that seated about 2,000 people, and every seat was not taken.  That same event is now held in an arena that holds 10,000, and there are very few empty seats available, with the premium seating selling out 6 months in advance. So is leadership just another “fad” to eventually fade away?

Leadership is certainly a word we hear quite a bit nowadays.  We hear it in the press, we hear about it from politicians, and we talk about it in our law firms and business organizations.  But what is it really?  Is it just another way to say that a person is a good organizer of events, or a good manager of resources?

The word leadership seems to be one of those words that mean different things to different people; sort of like the word “hero”.  “Hero” seems to apply equally both to successful NFL quarterbacks and those who risk their own lives to save the lives of others.  To some folks “leadership” is primarily about having a position of power and force.  In many law firms, leadership is viewed in this same manner, with most lawyers not really understanding that one of their main roles is to positively influence clients in some of the most important life decisions; and that is truly leadership at its core.

It is my hope this blog will provide lawyer leaders with guidance on what leadership is really all about, how they can become as effective as possible in influencing others to action, and how universal leadership principles can be most effectively applied in the unique setting of a law firm.

It is my hope you will come to see that true leadership, defined in relation to service of others, is not just the latest fad.           

Helping Lawyers Lead Others Effectively and Strategically

Welcome to the Strategic Legal Leadership Blog.  My hope is that I can help lawyers to be better leaders in the practice of law, and in their professional lives.  Being a lawyer is about leading others in a positive way.  It is primarily about influence.  One of the most basic definitions of leadership is simply “influence”.  Being a lawyer is therefore very much about being a leader. 

Over twelve years of leading my law firm as managing partner, as well as many more years in leadership positions within my law firm and other professional organizations, I have come to realize that theories of leadership are very easy to understand, but not as easy to apply.  I hope that through this blog I might help others understand my views on the application of basic leadership laws and principles to leadership of a law firm and the clients the firm says it serves.      

I hope you will check back at least weekly.  I hope you will find my insight and experience of leading lawyers helpful in your own law practice, professional organization or business.