Bitter Sweet

It has been a month since my last post. Time seems to be on the run of late. I have been traveling a lot, mostly in Europe, where access to the internet is not always as ubiquitous as here in the US. I am home now and I have looked through all my email. It amazes me just how much email we get that we don’t want and how little of what we hope to see in our box is there. The modern world with all its technology is in the end powered by the same source as was the quill and the carrier pigeon, us. Humans have not changed much. Fresh from walking among the great achievements of the past centuries put in perspective the motivations for greatness, goodness and of course evil and harm are equally alive in us no matter what the “form” or “shape” the modern times cloak them in.

One email I received was from a person who I worked closely with years ago. Our communication consists of a few emails now and again and dinner when I am in her town, once or twice a year. I’d like to share the email:

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Degraded Times

Several conversations and commentaries put the phrase “degraded times” in my head. I by nature tend to hope for the best, think that people don’t put their feet on the floor in the morning to do harm or a bad job. I also tend to believe that 99% of all people know what is right and wrong. I qualify my statement of belief because I am not blind to actions and words that prove my tendency wrong.

A person I have worked with in my past, with whom I keep in touch, has an eye out for a new job from time to time. I saw a post on the ALA national web site which I forward to her. It was for a senior position in a well known, yet smaller law firm than her current international firm. This is a position for which she is extremely well qualified for by experience, character, and temperament. I will now post her reply to me:

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Business… Money…Wealth… Control

In the last week I have had more conversations about money then I have about business. These conversations all started out veiled in business issues but they quickly manifested the true topic, money. Money is certainly bound up in the goals of business, but I find it also is the least understood. I am astonished by the numbers of young lawyers (and old for that matter) who have no clue how to read a financial statement, let alone understand what they mean. I am a pattern seeker. I feel most comfortable when I see patterns because that means there is a process at work. What is the process at work to allow so many men and woman to not “understand” the concepts and laws of money?

Teaching a person to read financial statements is like granting a driver’s license, does not mean they know how to drive. It just means they are at the beginning of learning. I don’t understand those who say they desire “money”, yet they don’t take the time to even establish a working “friendship” with the subject of their desire. Money, in our culture, is one of the most neglected subjects, yet so many have a desire to achieve it. We learn to play golf, tennis, pool, bowl, (insert your hobbies here) and we are proud of our achievements in these areas, but when it comes to money, we are mum.

I often have to explain that money is not wealth. You can have substantial amounts of money and not be wealthy. Yet people speak of wealth creation as if it is a magic number on a balance sheet. Millionaires go bankrupt all the time. A lawyer millionaire is not exempt either. In fact, I wonder how many attorneys actually achieve the “control over their money" that is the true definition of wealth.

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Truth, Justice, Verdict

When thinking about our court system, the adversarial system, I can’t help but think about it as theater. The roles are set and the stage of the court house plays its part too. If a critic were to sum up the story of our play, the best might say it is a dramatic story of the quest for a verdict. From the prologue through the final curtain, it is not about truth or justice. In other systems where the judge plays the role of investigator and the process is more administrative than theatrical, I think the humanity is lost. I value the public performance of our system even though I know that both sides are looking to present only “their truth”, and even though I know that any human system will fail to meet its burden when the test of that burden is justice served. Although it’s not the most “marketable” reality of our court rooms, the pursuit of a verdict, is the reality.

There is a famous quote that one of the qualities of a good actor is knowing when to get off the stage. I have been thinking that one of the marks of a good attorney, in our system, is to know where the role begins and ends. While I do think the pursuit of a verdict through our court system is the best in the world (I say that fully aware of its shortcomings), I am equally comfortable to say that the “role” of an attorney, outside that scripted by the case, is to be a seeker and defender of truth and justice.

The very nature of government and laws is to create boundaries. The balance of these restrictions is the balance created among free people to achieve a productive society in spite of the excesses of human nature. I trust in the balance created by our system to ordain and empower gatekeepers. I believe attorneys are cast in this role by our legal system. I also think that the educational system which creates our society’s attorneys and those who support them have forgotten that the “role” of an attorney on stage is different from the “role” of an attorney off stage.

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I Live In The World I Create

Cold rainy days are wonderful because they slow everything down. The more we fight to keep our plans, meet our schedule; rainy days will push us back. Stillness is a force for inspiration when we spend our time accepting it and accepting its gifts in our lives. Poets, painters, and artist through the ages all give voice to the inspiration brought in the gift of being still, listening in the quiet.

It’s 4:30 in the morning now… the rain is hitting the window. The sun will rise and the day I had planned has been taken from me and replaced with a gift. Albert Einstein wrote, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

The quiet eloquence of inspiration can’t be heard when our thinking, the same thinking that caused the problem, crowds out our genius. We cannot hear the need to change our awareness. The nature of the delivery of legal services in our society too often disconnects us from inspiration, from the reflected light of our spirit. The gift of reflection allows for our thoughts, passions and visions to reconnect and re-harmonize with the spirit.

Those of you who read the blog will have noticed that my posts have been sporadic of late. The noise of my professional life disconnected me from my passion, my spirit and my vision. Things became important to me that really are not important to my passion.

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Step Up

Law firm operations are not mechanically complicated. It really breaks down into a series of steps, which when the organization gets larger, turn into departments. The workflow through these steps or departments are really the same across the spectrum of organizations. A docket or calendar or records or library or accounting professional can move from organization to organization with only the need to learn “cultural differences” and, in some cases, technology differences. The fundamental steps of the workflow are for the most part consistent with the same expected outcome.

Although these steps are well systematized, they do require constant decision making and the best decisions are made through the eyes of experience. Too often organizations hire based upon a preset salary range instead of on the experience level. I often suggest that the money not spent buying experience will be spent on the “manager” that inexperience will force to be hired. Organization needs to have a plan to “transfer” knowledge. It is a mistake to get boxed in by individual employees who solely possess critical path knowledge. I see that some organizations view the “manager” as the vehicle to transfer knowledge. While this is one way to go, I often suggest that the better vehicle is to empower the people in the critical path, not manage them. This means spending money on their salaries and tools over those of a secondary layer. This empowerment leads to a healthy widespread incentive to obtain knowledge by creating a hunger for it. This replaces the top down feeding.

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Contemplate Purely on the Idea Itself

Does it seem to you like there are a lot of people who have ideas and then almost immediately, with a clear vision of the goal, run for that finish line? Has it become a bad thing to sit and contemplate, not the mechanics of the execution, but the idea itself? Not contemplate on how much the idea can earn or what success it may bring to its proponents, but purely the idea. I suggest there needs to be a step, more like a long pause, when we contemplate purely on an idea itself and not on the goal. Setting goals are the first steps of execution. Goals can provide the stick by which we can measure progress and, crudely, people. But what is the measure by which the foundational idea is measured?

Ideas, great and small have all been supported or victimized by the execution. But what of ideas which are ill conceived? Can they be sustained through time by execution to meet the presented goals and thereby be accepted no matter how ill conceived?

How about the “idea” of burying the opposition in paper to hide the one document that has meaning, or the “idea” of hiring experts from the far corners of the country to make it too hard too or expensive for the other side to get a fair chance? These “ideas” meet the goal and are even, unfortunately, accepted as an attorney’s duty to “do whatever it takes” to further the client’s need. (“Whatever it takes”, I use that statement because it is the mantra of far too many attorneys and those who support attorneys in their work. I wrote about it in "Tail Wagging The Dog".) Contemplating these ideas, and purely these ideas, leads me unavoidably to see the harm they deliver to the proponents, the opposition, justice, and our society.

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Extremes

Is it human nature to hear and speak extremes? It would not be a noteworthy question except it is so common. Equally common is that extremes obscure the overall meaning of what people are actually saying to each other. The Catch-22 is that even when what is actually being said is not couched in extreme terms, a person may interpret it as an extreme when hearing it. It is such a waste of time and energy, yet it is common. Why is this so common?

Extremes in anger or other emotional communications I can understand, and am as guilty as most. It feels natural to spar in this way. It tends to be a steam valve in the human condition, although it rarely ends in a common point of view being adopted. Is there a benefit in using extreme terms in other forms of communication? If we exaggerate the hearing and give voice to it back, does it make the point more correct?

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Are Titles Important?

The reason I ask is because I am on the fence. Titles do allow for “classification” and that allows for a quick assessment based upon expected criteria. A CPA vs. bookkeeper for example: both are important, but not interchangeable. So based on the criteria of the title, certification, we can assess if we are speaking to the best person for our need. In law firms, the title of partner vs. the title of associate communicates what? What are the “expected criteria” by which the public should assess which is best for their need? Both have taken a regulatory exam to receive a license to provide services to the public. “Partner” has an element of more experience than an Associate. But if three attorneys open a law firm one week after passing the bar they would use the title of partner and no one would question it. So the “experience” element the public expects for one who has the title of Partner is not always present. Some firms don’t use the title partner; they use the title shareholder. The “expected criteria” for a shareholder is the holding of shares. That does not say much about the individual practicing law.

If titles are important what makes them important? How important is the title “partner” and to whom? How important should it be? Is it important because it is “sold” as important or because it has inherent importance?

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Alfresco, But Not in the Alley Please

“Voice” is as important as content when communicating. If the greatest chefs in the world presented the product of their profession on garbage can lids, it would be less than appetizing and called garbage by their patrons. Take the same meal and serve it on fine bone china in a pleasant atmosphere and not only do patrons pay for the pleasure, but they are very happy doing so.

Food is a purchase from “need”. That is to say people “need” food to live; therefore it is not a purchase from “want”, like a television. (ESPN addicts would disagree, Hi Bill). The “voice” of need vs. the voice of want is not something to dismiss or assess incorrectly. Often people engage others with the mindset and emotion of “need”, when in fact an impartial observer would correctly assess the situation as a “want”. However, remember that presentation counts, no matter the profession, in the human experience.

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Experiment with Thoughts

Despite some misguided opinions to the contrary I am not anti-lawyer. I am extremely pro-lawyer. The degree to which I am anti-anything is a matter of the topic and the facts. I am decidedly “anti” the current structure for the delivery of legal services in our society. A faithful reading of my thoughts will indicate my conviction that lawyers are not inherently bad - they are just drawn that way. (Pardon the pop culture reference to the famous Jessica Rabbit quote in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit.)

“The Frame” of negativity lawyers get “drawn” in is not “individually” of their own making, but at some point you have to say, collectively, there are issues that manifest the negativity. Of course a law clerk or an associate burdened with education cost and the passion to begin their professional lives, or a solo attorney who has not found a comfortable place at “the table”, or a “big law” attorney who has navigated the politics and the market to find a place at the table, are not “individually” accountable. I would even defend the “politician and government lawyers” who use their legal education to govern and write laws. They are not on the face of it individually responsible. I do not grant the same amnesty to the law firm structure and the delivery system it perpetuates.

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I think I hit a nerve...

There is a certain lawyer who writes a blog. Apparently this “lawyer” thinks he is God’s voice to the practice of law and some kind of “Hearst of the Blogosphere”. This “Blog Diva” has been spewing venom my way, and the gist of his blog is that “non-lawyers” like myself should not be writing about “his profession”. I am not to utter another negative word or else this “lawyer” will create a special blog website just to “shred” my thoughts and ideas.

Well then. I haven’t been writing about “his” profession. I have been writing about “our” system of delivering legal services in “our” society, and my background more than qualifies me for that subject. The fact that “his” profession is wrapped up in “our” access to the third branch of “our” government is little more than a speed bump in this “lawyers” drive to attack “non-lawyer” me.

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You've Forgotten What Law Firms Demand

There is a great article by Edward Honnold, titled “Love Advice for Lawyers”. Here are the first two paragraphs.

"You're never at home", complains Susan, a 42-year-old lawyer turned homemaker, glowering angrily at her spouse of 12 years. "How do you expect our marriage to work if you never see me or the kids? You're always running back to the office. And when you're at home, it's as if your clients are here too. They're obviously more important to you than we are."

"That's unfair," counters John, a 45-year-old litigation partner. "You're just as busy as I am; you're always running off with the kids or to your exercise class or your endless errands. You're too tired to have sex. You get angry when I don't praise your work, but when do you ever thank me for making the money? You've forgotten what law firms demand. Sometimes I dread coming home." And so it goes in lawyers' love lives.

“You’ve forgotten what law firms demand.” John did not say what “client’s demand” although they are demanding. He did not say what the “law demands” although it is very demanding. On the tip of his tongue, a litigation partner, was “what law firms demand”.

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Mentorship? Apprenticeship?

Not being a big fan of “mandatory” anything, I tend to repel any thoughts or ideas that follow the word. Not always to my credit and not always with success. I recognize in myself this character flaw and am sure Saint Pete will keep me in purgatory a few extra days for it. If I am true to form on that day I will, in my defense, throw in the balance what I can to compensate. With pride (another flaw to add to my sentence), I will recount the honor of being called “mentor”.

The word mentor often brings forth images of a more experienced person guiding a less experience person. But too, there is an association that the more experienced person is “older”, or more to the crux “more worldly”, than the less experienced person. When I ask, “What do you call a person, who is younger (less worldly), yet provides valued guidance in a particular area or issue you are facing?” The word “mentor” almost never is mentioned. I hear words like, “advisor” or “confidant”. It seems that there are deeper “qualities” inherent in a person to be vested with the title of “mentor”. As the discussions progress and intelligent people begin to sense the direction of the conversation, the focus on “age” versus “experience” brings to the forefront a discomfort. This occurs with the realization that if the honored title of mentor is predicated on age, then that seems arbitrary and discriminatory. If the criteria are really based upon “experience” and not chronological “age”, then it is possible for a younger person to have more “experience”. Yet hold your horses, rarely if ever do I have a conversation with a person who is comfortable with this title being granted to a younger person even if they are “more experienced”.

So what is it then? If it is not “age” but it has to do with age, and it is not “experience” yet it has to do with experience, what qualities earn the honor of being recognized as a mentor?

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How much is enough?

The glory of the capitalist system is that the question of, “How much is enough?” is ultimately answered by the individual and moderated by market forces. Now that attorney hourly rates have hit the rarefied air of $1,000 and the not so rarefied air of $300, and the billable hours expectations have long passed what can be accomplished in the 40 hour work week, I can’t help but ask: “How much is enough?”

My grandfather was a tavern owner, in Brooklyn. He served in WWI and raised 7 children of his own and supported his extended family through some tough times like the Depression and Prohibition. He spent his whole life at the “Store”, as we called it. But the Store was such a part of his life that the two were one. Was it healthy? In many ways, it wasn’t. But it was the life he made, and in the end, he seemed contented. He was his own boss and aside from market forces, he answered the question “How much is enough?”

My father was a 9 to 5 kind of guy, worked his entire life for the same company. After high school and his service in the Korean War, he landed in an oil company. The prospects were stable and he believed in the “gold watch”. He was never his own boss and he never was called upon to shoulder that burden. His was to shoulder the burden of following the lead of a corporate hierarchy through tough times like hyper-inflation, Oil Crises of the 1970s and the demise of corporate loyalty. Things did not work out the way he had planned and the “gold watch” was more like “electro plate tin”, but in the end, he did his duty to his family of four. He had other opportunities, but he answered the question “How much is enough?”

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Attorney “Career Path” Myth

Upon examination, a career path for attorneys is a square peg in a round hole. An attorney is an attorney. That is the “career” and that is the job. Does a compensation system or an “ownership expectation” equal a career path? I have to come down on the side of no.

A secretary can become a paralegal, which is a new job description, but may or may not be an increase in pay. A secretary may join law firm management and that would be a new job description but yet again may or may not be an increase in pay. I have seen many times that “staff” will make career path changes, even when there is a step back in pay, because it was where their interest lay. They follow their bliss. What can an attorney do? Do they have the same options?

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Connecting With Our Genius

“Everyone is born a genius, but the process of living de-geniuses them.”
-- R. Buckminster Fuller

There is something magical about talking to a child. Really talking to them, not about making their bed or how school was today. Asking questions like, “What made you happy today?” or “What does an angel do all day?” or “What does a lion think?” brings forth genius. Sometimes there is genius in the content of the answer but more often there is genius in their perspective. Simplicity is eloquent. Children have not been “de-genius-ed” by living; they are connected to their “genius” more fully.

There is an old urban legend about a truck wedged in the entrance to the Holland Tunnel in NY. Traffic is backing up and emergency services were having a hell of a time trying to pull the truck out. It just would not budge and then a little girl, in a passing car says “Why not just let the air out of the tires.” And so it was out of the mouths of babes, “genius”. Not that the solution was genius, but the perspective is. Original thoughts and alternative thinking can yield practical result.

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“Un” Commoditize Your Product

I was in the grocery store yesterday and I was buying some fruits and vegetables. It stuck me that I was not buying “apples”, I was buying “Washington apples”. I was not buying “potatoes” I was buying “Idaho potatoes”. Looking in my basket I realized there were “California eggs” and “Berkley farms milk”. The commodities in my basket were all “branded”. Not a single “generic product” made it into my basket. Am I a victim of ad campaigns spawned by Madison Avenue? Perhaps I am. But the lesson for attorneys in all this is that “it worked”.

Generic products (generic branding) reinforce the commodity. It takes the idea that “cost” is the main motivation of the consumer and runs with it. It is an effective way to keep product cost down and rely on volume to produce the profits. If that is your business model then you will look forward to the continued wave of commoditization of legal services.

The commoditization wave is a very real market pressure that legal organizations cannot escape, except through “branding”. Do nothing and you are a commodity, an apple... a potato... an attorney. For example:

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Law Firm Organizational Assumptions

Organizational, business or personal assumptions are only as good as the time it takes to make new ones. New assumptions are triggered by the realization that the old assumptions failed to manifest an expected reality. Assumptions need to be thought of as ephemeral and not be codified in the lexicon of your culture, your goals, or your mind. The need for “structure” tends to reinforce the status quo with all of its assumptions. Lawyer jokes are a basic example of how the public at large reinforces an assumption. On an internal level, law firm “organization” reinforces an assumption of “hierarchy” as being necessary. This goes so far as to corrupt the word “partnership” and re-engineer the meaning so completely that when you say the word “partner”, it is understood to refer to “hierarchy”.

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Cooperation not Competition

Do you live in a hostile world? That is to say, do you feel like you are in competition with the people and organizations around you? A thoughtful answer to this question will go a long way to uncovering your “expectation of the world” from the people and organizations around you.

In many ways, what we “expect will happen” will happen, because of the way we “pre-frame the experience”. Aggression is met with aggression, competitiveness is met with competition. Attorneys are particularly susceptible to this human trait. It is reinforced in society and through education that attorneys are supposed to “anticipate” circumstance to favor their clients’ needs. This natural human trait becomes exaggerated through learned behavior. This behavior becomes so second nature that it dominates professional interactions, and then it leaks over into personal interactions as well.

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Friends

Friends have a way of being able to give us a kick in the butt to help us get back on track. It is why they are called friends. Friends, on the deepest levels of the word, are people you can talk to without the pressure of “expectations”. Also friends have a way of reminding us of things in ourselves that we sometime lose sight of. I heard a great quote, not sure where it originated, “Friends are God’s way of helping us.” For me, and I suspect many others, the “expectations” placed upon us by others can cause us to lose sight of our own path.

Business and the people you conduct your business with have “expectations” that over time can drift away from the noble path you started out upon. In some cases, this is a natural evolution of one’s goals because of “active thought” and incorporation of experiences. However, and this is far too often, we drift off “our noble path” through trying to meet others’ expectations. We forget to “actively” focus on the “pure thoughts of our own goals” in favor of the diluted goals of competing interests.

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Realistic Cultural Expectations

I have been focused on the vision and structure of a law practice that supports the ambitions of its people and does not impose unreasonable expectations. Before you roll your eyes, this is not a bash on “big law”, “small law” or “micro law”. What I am working on is an overall “evaluation” and “reconstruction”. (lawfirm2.0)

When things occur that are over the top unreasonable there are usually obvious remedies. I am more focused on the “culturally reinforced” unreasonable expectations.

Time, place and individual skill-sets all have a lot to do with reasonableness: if you are not technologically literate, getting work done without a strong assistant would be “unreasonable”. On the other hand, if you are computer literate, being forced to route every draft correction through Word Processing would be an “unreasonable” anchor around your neck. So too, if you’re a family person, being judged on the amount of “face time” you put in at the office, as a measure of your commitment, is “unreasonable” when your contribution to the firm is strong albeit just “balanced” with family time.

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First Meeting Feedback- Lawfirm 2.0

I believe we should be long past having to convince each other that client feedback is a good thing. Unfortunately, I still get pushback on this issue. I understand being judged is not a fun experience but it does not have to be painful and it can be rewarding.

I found a “Project” conducted by Professor Clark D. Cunningham of Georgia State University, College of Law. Although the project is getting on in years, the points made and the processes it suggests still are useful and valid. The project addressed most of the common negative reactions to client feedback. Comments such as: low response rates, very happy or very unhappy clients are most likely to respond, responses are skewed by outcome, clients are not qualified to assess lawyer effectiveness, etc. Some of these comments are rooted in “urban myth” and others are valid, to a point.

The project highlights the need for feedback forms as part of the very first meeting, one feedback form for the “Client” and one for the “Attorney”.

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Woman In The Law

There is an article on MSN, written by Jay MacDonald of Bankrate.com, titled “Do you suffer bag-lady syndrome?”. This is a really interesting article about how even wealthy and powerful women often feel that their money and security is ephemeral. My mind focused on the stats in the article:

“Being single costs 80% that of a couple, and women are seven times more likely to be single and live six years longer," says Boyle. "Given a 50% divorce rate and that the average age of widowhood is 56…"

Now take a look at the demographic information published by the ABA on women in law. Clearly the number of women in law schools surpasses that of men and that demographic is also rising throughout all the traditional structures of the legal profession.

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Control, Challenge and Champagne

When I have the opportunity to engage people about motivations, I get very excited. It is when I get to see and hear the "spark" in their souls. It is also when I get to see people make positive changes. Often the energy that is released from individuals is like popping a Champagne cork.

The status quo has a comforting effect on many people, with good reason. We all have a need to master what we do. The beginning of any journey or project is stressful. The "risk" of the unknown or the yet unlearned keeps us in a state of readiness which can be exhausting. Once we acquire a level of familiarity with a subject or task, we feel more at ease. We enjoy the feeling of "control" being restored to our lives.

At some point in the journey two general personalities traits become important. One trait is our need to "control" and the other trait is our need for "challenge". In some degree we all have these traits; one or the other in more abundance from time to time. What tends to determine the vacillations in the degree between control and challenge is external pressure. When external pressure rewards the status quo, then we are being, in some way, rewarded for "control". When external pressure rewards "risk", then we are being, in some way, rewarded for "challenge". There is a time and place in any business strategy or life strategy for both control and challenge. Our success usually depends on our ability to make "active conscious choices" when to reward one over the other.

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Knowledge Management, One Step At A Time

The reactions I get to “knowledge management” as a buzzword (okay buzz two words) is mixed. But I am going to risk starting at the beginning and hope you don’t drift away.

The first step is “data”. When you have a lot of “data” you have a lot of clay to work with but really no result that adds value. The second step turns “data” into “information”. Information is formed when you have a lot of data that you have put in “context”, but really it is limited to only that context, so it adds little value without more human resources. For example records information is good for the records staff, but not so good if you are an attorney trying to figure out if a matter is active. You would need access and know how to locate the information in the records software. Not something the usual attorney is prepared to do without additional human resources. You have a lot of information in documents and spreadsheets, maybe in a few databases. But without specialized human resources you can’t get the information to “act” or “make a decision”. Too many firms have too many “information resources” which require too many man hours to mold into useable, business-level decision-making tools. If your “knowledge management” system (human and technical) ends with steps one and two, you need to hang in there with me for just one more step; it is worth the pay off.

Step three is making your information “active”. “Aggregation and Access” is where all the payoff from all that data and information collection occurs. A good rule of thumb to judge if your knowledge management system ends before the payoff is if there are Excel spreadsheets or human resources between you and your need being answered.

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The “Mind” Of Change

I went to DC for the long weekend. It is an annual trip I take, some business, some pleasure. The pleasure I get is meeting new people and greeting old friends I don’t see enough. I come away from this trip with a great, “I sat next to the most interesting person on the plane” story. I did not ask if I could use her name, so for now let’s call her “Mary” and hope she favors us with more of her insights and allows me to introduce her to you. I risk short-changing her resume here, but as a former banker turned Change Manager / Motivator / Executive Coach / Author… she is a person of impressive background. Her perspective on people and business made the flight time go by very quickly. The one thread I’d like to share is about the “mind of change”.

Mary has one exercise in particular that she uses to illustrate common human patterns. She has people sitting next to each other stand up. Then she has them face one another. She then asks them to look at their opposite and make a mental note of them. Mary then has them turn around, putting their backs to one another and asks them to “change” one thing about themselves, anything at all. Then she turns the pair back to face each other and have the opposite person identify the change. One of the results, as you may expect, that people are not very observant of each other because few note any change that was made.

Mary has done this in a room with a thousand people and in small groups as well. She has done this exercise for years now. The most interesting take away is that Mary observes time and time again that the “change” people make is “removing” something, not “adding” something, like a pencil, pen, handkerchief, tissue, appointment book, lipstick, paper in their pocket, etc. She observes that maybe two people out of every hundred will make a change by “adding” something. It illustrates that when it comes to “change” it is easier to “remove” than “add”. There is less thought involved.

Encouraging “change” that will “add” means you need to encourage “thought”. Any business that can withstand the rigor of “thought” is a business that is healthy. Change that is “issued” or “proclaimed” by a few will tend to miss its mark both in the effect and in the acceptance of the human mind. Quick change is easy but for people, asked to make quick changes, it tends to “remove” something. Change to “add” something takes a lot of thought and is best served with time.

Throughts from Anthony Colleluori

There are many blogs out there; we all have our “regular reads”. One of mine is Anthony Colleluori’s “that lawyer dude”. Yesterday he posted about the death of a friend, Bill Bryson, a criminal law attorney, by his own hand. Please go read it. Every once in a while, even for a blogger, there are no more words to add.

Here is an excerpt:

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How Important Is "Personality" To Your Business?

“You are what you eat” or “you get like the people you associate with” or “birds of a feather flock together” and I am sure you can think of many other, these are all Clichés for a reason. We have heard them all before and they have lost their freshness. I am sure you can guess I am going to express a view that even in a cliché there is a seed of truth. Science tells us we are all shaped through nature and nurture. For me, therein lay the seeds of truth to the clichés. I was in a discussion yesterday on the topic, as it relates to the “personality of a business.” I believe personalities are “imprinted” in the womb and from birth on there are an infinite number of possible environmental “tweaks” which occur; social, economic, sibling placement, and on and on. In my discussion we explored the “personality of a business” drawing the parallel.

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Thoughts On An Active Internet Strategy

If you are reading blogs you either have your toe in the internet waters or you are in full scuba gear. I put myself in the middle somewhere. I have a background in creating web based software to aggregate information from independent data bases into a single source user interface. I was drawn into it by necessity, as most people are to the internet.

Traditional “brochure” websites are evolving into more interactive sites and the distinction between website and blog is fading fast. The two pillars of the internet, “community” and “knowledge” are weaving together, finally, to fulfill their promise. What does all this mean to us today and tomorrow? Even the most proficient Futurists are only guessing. I will only add some practical tips on things as they now are.

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Marketing Skills Can Be Learned

Marketing is a necessary component in your Lawfirm 2.0 strategy as well as for any healthy business. Lawfirm 2.0 makes it necessary for all practitioners to become comfortable with marketing as soon as possible. It is not necessary to be a “master marketer” as the traditional “rainmaker” is labeled, but it is necessary that you become comfortable enough to take advantage of opportunities and are open to the marketing process. Often it is difficult to step back and evaluate how an aversion to the marketing process hurts progress. If you recognize the symptoms of your marketing aversion, you may be able to see a correlation between them and your lack of progress in the area of client development. Your aversion is not something to mask. It is something to accept and work towards, overcoming your aversion. It is also hard to learn what you avoid. Experience tends to strip away mystery and put people at ease with the process. If it is not second nature to market yourself, then you need to put your best foot forward to learn. If any of the “red flags” below strikes a cord in you, think about formal client development training. The process will help you overcome your aversion through role playing and other educational tools before you go for it live.

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Business Logic, Passion And A Helper’s Heart

Business logic is listed first only because it is the tested vessel to navigate within. Passion is listed second because once you have the vessel, passion is your wind. It is the one thing that can keep you going when times get rough. And last but the most important is a helper’s heart. It is your heart that will guide you and centers you like the stars in the sky.

All my talk of systems and business might leave the impression that I embrace robotic predictability and want to pump out more mechanical beings in the image of the worst capitalistic clichés. This is not what Lawfirm 2.0 is about.

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A “Reproducible Positive Client Experience” Is Not One Size Fits All

Those of you who travel a great deal may be able to relate to the feeling of a loss of control which can come at the end of the day when you are in a hotel after having dinner in this or that restaurant. At home we take for granted that our favorite food is in the refrigerator and the newspaper is on the driveway. Simple things like these orient us in our surroundings. After all, our homes are exactly as we set them up. On the road we are in an environment someone else has created based on what they think we might like or need.

Hotels and restaurants may get a good rating if they serve a killer steak or have a comfortable bed but to get an excellent rating they tend to have something more. They have learned what “I” like and need. They make “the” experience “my” experience, not a statistical crap chute based on market surveys. They have created “systems” to get to know me and educate me on my choices and remember my responses. They do this by asking what I liked and disliked. Sometimes in very subtle ways, through observation, and at other times through direct questioning. The key is that they store this knowledge, so the next time I call they know what I like without asking or know enough to ask if I will be alone or will person x be returning with me. The fact that they ask, have a system to remember, and incorporate the knowledge into our next interaction puts a sense of “control” back into my life even if I am in someone else’s world.

A similar feeling of a loss of control may accompany the act of engaging an attorney. This is more acute when the motivation of the consumer is “need” verse “want”. Often times the customer needs to be protected because something has entered their lives in a disruptive way. This could be a divorce, an adoption, a law suit filed by a neighbor or business associate. Consumers are looking for the attorney to make sense of what is happening and protect their interests. In other words to put a feeling of control back into the situation and thereby their lives. Most attorneys do this quite well as it directly relates to their core expertise in the practice of law. I encourage attorneys to develop the same skills when it comes to making the consumer comfortable with the attorney. I have said many times “attorneys are the product”. Not just for the knowledge they possess and the protection that knowledge affords but it includes the personality and interaction of the attorney with the consumer.

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Corporate Structure Is More Then Liability Protection

Business is for the enrichment of the owners. Philanthropy is for the enrichment of others. They are as different as night is to day but they are compatible and do co-exist just as night and day in our 24hr experience. The corporate structure has proven to be excellent for the success at both objectives. If your vision for your law practice lists the enrichment of others as the number one priority and the enrichment of yourself second your decision making process will be markedly different then another who’s vision is self enrichment first and enrichment of others second. Either way both are necessary components for the success of those visions. Even the best run, most respected philanthropies find it necessary to account for how they spend the money they are given in order to be given more to do their work. Similarly, businesses for self enrichment are accountable to market forces to earn income through the patronage of happy customers.

Accountability is everywhere no matter what the size, shape or form of your endeavor. Professional legal services are vital to the fabric of our society. It would be my hope that each and every organization delivering such vital necessities would, for very practical reason, commingle business and philanthropy. If you review this blog site for even a moment you will see that I strongly believe two things. First, law firms should be a safety net for those engaging in the practice of law. Secondly, the “ownership imperative” permeates the partnership structure wasting the rare resources of our legal community leading to some of the major dissatisfactions for both practitioner and consumer.

When I speak of “the corporate structure” I don’t focus on the legal implication of corporate protection. Those already exist in LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) which law partnerships avail themselves. I support and encourage those protections for law firms as I support them for “S Corps”, “C Corps”, etc. as a matter of public policy. No matter what the formation of a profit or not for profit venture they should always seek to secure these protections. So you see, it is not the formation platform that matters to my proposition that partnerships are bad, rather it is the internal operational “rules” by which partnerships conduct their business and pursue their vision.

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Benefits of an Advisory Board

Advisory Boards are foreign to most legal services organizations but not to most entrepreneurs. There are great benefits to having an advisory board you can bounce ideas off and who will present you with alternative perspectives for looking at your situation. It is never too late to get stated and even a board of one is a good thing. Make it a person you can open up to and who has a well rounded skill set different from your own. I have enjoyed the experience on both sides of the table and found that a board of three is a good number. These individuals should not be chosen at random and may take time to find. Choose them because you know they have the insight and skills to make your business better, and thereby, your life better. Ultimately, when those two are in sync, the client’s experience will be a positive one.

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How Would a Lawfirm 2.0 Strategy be Different?

The most important distinction to the implementation of a Lawfirm 2.0 strategy must be the elimination of the “ownership imperative”, inherent in the partnership structure. The law firm should be a safety net for attorneys to practice law. It should not place the requirement of business ownership on attorneys beyond the ownership each attorney accepts through the client relationship. The “product” offered by a partnership is in reality the individual attorney. This is where the true ownership is and will always be. Failure of some partnerships to recognize this truth is a source of conflict and ultimately leads to associate and partner dissatisfaction. It is the attorney’s knowledge, passion, communication and time being sold. While it is true that the sum is sometimes greater than its individual parts, I would argue this benefit is not realized without first recognizing the individuals. There is only so much time in a human life that can be sold. Therefore, it is by definition precious and should not be wasted. For example, too often good attorneys are forced to choose between family and the firm. Those who chose family often are marginalized or left to hang a shingle with no safety net or settle for whatever they can negotiate with the law firm. This is just bad business and wastes the “product”. This is because the partnership values the firm’s bottom line over the bottom line of the individual attorney, where I believe it should be. Lawfirm 2.0 means that your legal services organization is built to be proactive and recognizes that attorneys are the product and must be accommodated as a standard course of business, not as a negotiated exception. The conservation of resources is just good business.

There is no reason for the business of law to demand “control” from attorneys. It should empower them to exercise control without being forced out of the safety net. Attorneys are accountable through the license system. The economic realities of practicing law are hard enough without heaping on unnecessary controls. The structure of a Lawfirm 2.0 should be a safety net. Not a straight jacket as happens with many partnerships.

Ethical and economic realities must be reckoned with but I believe the benefits of doing so outweigh the labor involved.

Lawfirm 2.0 -- A Reproducible Positive Client Experience

I really believe most lawyers like being lawyers. I talk to attorneys all day and often I can hear and see the passion in their eyes and excitement in their voice. I’d bet the farm that many out there love it so much they can’t see themselves retired. A blessing of being a lawyer is that you are your own product. No matter where your life takes you, there you are with your knowledge at the ready. You have options to work solo or in groups for a common ideal. For some that I talk with, the motivation is external: protecting children, social justice or human rights. Others talk about internal motivations: their family, paying it forward, sometimes independence. Whatever the motivational reason, I have yet to see or learn of a person practicing law with a negative intent. We all read, hear about and experience some attorneys who get lost along the way and cause a negative result, but even the worst of that falls short of being able to say they intended to become a lawyer to cause harm. The negative perception of the attorneys in the marketplace must have its roots somewhere else. The evolution of the legal market out of the current perception by the public at large must be founded in a “reproducible positive client experience”. I don’t see myself as naïve and I don’t look for a revolutionary shift but I am idealistic. I am looking to engage creative minds and passionate hearts to build the system model of Lawfirm 2.0.