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.

 

Leadership and the Nation’s Capitol

I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to experience, and learn about, leadership this past week.  On behalf of the ABA Law Practice Division, and as a member of a North Carolina delegation of bar leaders, I participated in ABA Day in Washington, DC.  As representative of the ABA and State Bar associations, participants visit with members of Congress to discuss with them pressing needs and concerns.  This year there were two major concerns: 1) funding for legal services (a brief synopsis of the ABA position can be found at:_ http://www.americanbar.org/calendar/aba-day/resources/lsc.html ) and 2) a provision of recently proposed tax reform legislation that would, if passed, force upon small professional associations, such as law firms, accrual based accounting (a brief synopsis of the ABA position can be found at: http://www.americanbar.org/calendar/aba-day/resources/vawa1.html ).  The North Carolina Bar delegation was fortunate enough to visit with both NC State Senators, as well as all but two of our members of Congress, and/or their staff.

One of our last visits was with Congressman George Holding of the 13th Congressional District of North Carolina.  Mr. Holding is a first term member of Congress, and before that served as a US Attorney.  After discussing with him the major initiatives of bar associations, we were able to ask Mr. Holding some of his views as a first term member of Congress; specifically his views about the contentious environment that seems to pervade all levels of our government. From that discussion, I learned (or confirmed) two leadership lessons:

First, now that the two party system seems to be a more competitive political environment, and because of the unbelievably fast rate of flow of information today, there is very little time for “leaders” to build the types of relationships necessary to truly lead each other, or the country.  Mr. Holding described for us the way members of Congress no longer have any time for each other.  Most time is spent away from Washington raising money or politicking.  When Congress is in session, Members leave (assuming they are not in session Friday) on Thursday evening, and return either very late Sunday, or on the first flight Monday morning.  I can attest to that fact, as I recall being on the last flight out from DC on a Sunday and crossing paths with my own Congressman in the airport. Even when at work in their offices in Washington, it sure seems like every minute is spent meeting with some constituent or other party asking for some type of influence or support. John Maxwell’s sixth law of leadership (Maxwell, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership (1988)) is “The Law of Solid Ground: Trust is the Foundation of Leadership”.  It seems impossible to build the kind of trust needed to lead others if you are not spending any real time with them.  Apparently, in the past, members from both sides of the aisle had time to get to know each other and form the kinds of trust that help build the types of coalitions that transcend party lines.  It seems this has been lost.

For leaders of lawyers in law firms and clients, the lesson to learn is that we truly do have to spend time getting to know those whom we lead.  Leadership of others takes time, and the kind of trust that leads to success will only be earned over a long period of devoted time.

Second, listening to Mr. Holding as well as other members of Congress, it seems that the power of position has increasingly become a real hindrance to leadership in Washington, DC.  In 20th Century years gone by, it seemed as if there was a less competitive environment, because there was less likelihood that the Congressional makeup and control could change from election to election.  One party held Congress for many years, and status quo was maintained because congressional districts did not really change from D to R or R to D, very often.  This is simply no longer the case.  With position, or the possibility of position, comes the potential (or thirst) for power, and therefore the possibility of having the power of “forced” influence (or as some leadership guru’s call it, Level 1 Leadership).  True leadership, or what is known as “Servant Leadership”, is not about the power of position, or forced influence, but positive influence through service to, or for, others as the main incentive to lead.  We seem to have lost this in the present environment in Washington, DC.  Let’s hope that the environment will change in the future such that even with change in position, the focus (or passion) of our “leaders” will be on service, and not power.

The lesson for leaders of law firms and clients is to understand that your motives need to be pure.  If you are simply “leading” to have power or influence over others, then you may get your way, but you will not be leading.  Our passion as leaders in the profession needs to always be primarily focused on the service of others: partners, associates, staff, clients, other members of our profession and the communities in which we live and work.Bk3xMzyIMAA6vIS

Rep. Holding and Reed Head of Winston-Salem, NC

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NC Delegation and Congresswoman Renee Elmers of NC Con. District 2

Hagan and NC photo

NC Delegation and NC Senatator Kay Hagan

As a Leader of Clients and Lawyers – Do you Know How and When to Say No and Yes?

just_say_no[1]It might be one of the first words that most of learn to say as a child.  But for some reason it becomes so difficult to say…….. a simple NO.

As Lawyers, we like to tell people Yes.  We like to say yes to helping others in dealing with their legal issues, we like to say yes to providing aid to our local community, especially when non-lawyers need our special legal expertise to do good works.  We like to not make waves at the office, and say yes to our colleagues.

Saying “Yes” at the wrong time, and to the wrong opportunities may cause problems to your legal practice, leadership effectiveness and personal and business relationships.  It might also make it impossible, or very difficult to say yes to the right opportunities that come along.  Saying “No” is a skill.  Developing that skill is a key to the future of every leader/lawyer.

To learn more, see my recent article in Law Practice Magazine: The Power of “No”,  Volume 40, Number 2 (March /April 2014) at the following link:  http://bit.do/jGNM

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.