♫ Ya know it’s true
Everything I do – I do it for you…♫
Words and music by Bryan Adams, Mutt Lange and Michael Kamen.
I have been reading the Ohio State University Leadership Center’s weekly email on leadership for some time. In particular, I have been looking for information on how a law firm can ‘close the gap’ between the difficulty that a client may have in perceiving the value that lawyers bring to their client’s problems and the actual services rendered. Like it or not, legal services are not terribly ‘tangible’ and lawyers face a continual challenge in communicating their value to their clients. As such the Ohio State leadership email struck a chord in terms of focusing a law firm leader’s work in a law firm directly on the client. It sets up a measuring stick to use in terms of determining if any proposed action will ultimately ‘add value’ to the client. Their post was as follows:
Five Expectations of Customer Leadership
1. “Every leader needs to be able to hear the customers ‘voice’ in everything they do.
2. Leaders who are aware of customer needs should be customer advocates, whether others in the organization are or not.
3. Leaders need to implement only those changes that are customer driven.
4. Leaders need to be knowledgeable about the entire value chain of how work is delivered to the customers and ensure that the value chain interdependencies work efficiently and effectively.
5. All objectives and measures for leaders (and their teams) need to be articulated with a clear connection to the value that the objectives create for the external customer (Weiss, 2005, p.58-61).”
Reference: Weiss, D. S. (2006). The leadership gap: building leadership capacity for competitive advantage. Mississauga, ON: John Wiley & Sons Canada Ltd.
Milton Zwicker, a lawyer in Orillia, Ontario has been writing in this area for decades and was one of the first ‘law firm client advocates’ that I can recall. He has spoken and written long and hard on the need to focus on the client and on how one orients a law firm around the concept of client service and value. In this context, the advice from D.S. Weiss is apt – before making any change, take a moment and ask if this particular change is one that is client driven. If a proposed change does not add value from the client’s viewpoint, then perhaps greater thought needs to be put into the proposed change and the reasons behind it. After all, when a leader looks around at the hub of activity before him or her in the office, they want to be able to say that ‘everything they do, they do for you…’.
♫ But change is never a waste… it’s never a waste of time…♫
Words and music by Alanis Morissette.
When the rate of change inside an organisation is slower than the rate of change outside the organisation, the end is in sight – John Welsh, Chairman, General Electric
I came across this quote and it caused me to stop and reflect. Law firms have not typically been vortexes of change. What implications does this have for the practice of law? On one hand, the law itself has been able to adapt to the rate of change in society…witness video gaming law, IT law, biotechnology law and the like. These are all wonderful examples of how the law itself is adapting to the newer developments in our society. But has the practice of law kept up with the rate of change? Do law firms adapt to change as quickly as the law that they practice? My feeling is that lawyers may be in for a fairly turbulent time over the next while as the forces of change wash over the traditional law firm.
First, there are the developments in Australia from the firm of Slater & Gordon. The 140-lawyer firm is the first law firm in the world to go public through an ‘Initial Public Offering’. As a result, the seven senior partners will each end up owning stakes of between $2 million (USD) and $8.5 million(USD). The new firm will have a market capitalization of roughly $89.7 million (USD) (as per law.com). The theory is that greater access to capital markets will allow law firms to invest in greater innovation (“R&D”).
The UK is looking at the Clementi Report and the Legal Services Bill. The proposed changes to the practice of law in the UK go much further than just opening up law firms to ownership by non-lawyers. The changes that they propose are designed to provide the capital for and foster the development and innovation of legal services and products. Increased efficiency and lower costs are two stated goals in the Report.
However, there are also more subtle factors at work. Demographics, for one. The population is aging and the boomer group of lawyers are looking at retirement. As a result, there are many firms that are now facing succession issues – and their ability to attract, groom and advance younger lawyers to partners will have a direct impact on the retirement plans of the older lawyers in the firm. The challenge for these law firms is to rework the values and culture of the firm to appeal to younger lawyers – thereby bridging the Gen X and Y chasm that has developed and stratified our society.
Another subtle factor is the increasing importance of community. Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, sees this as a major factor in software – and a challenge for Microsoft (New York Times, Oct. 14, 2006). Now Microsoft deals constantly with change – it is after all, a defining feature of technology. If Steve Ballmer feels that collaboration and interaction at work is increasing in importance, then the logical step is to look at law firms and see the degree that they are forming client teams and practice groups to foster the collaborative approach to meeting (and increasingly, anticipating) client needs. Certainly practice group management and client teams have been a focus of many larger firms for some time – but what about mid to smaller sized firms? How are they adapting to the new collaborative work environment? Are they adopting new technologies, approaches and structures that meet the expectations of their clients?
Further, there is the whole coaching and business development movement, which recognizes that associates and partners alike need to increasingly focus in on the business aspects of the practice of law. Business development is hot right now as firms start to embrace a strategic approach to their business.
All in all, this indicates that individual law firms must become adept at implementing and responding to change at a rate at least equal to the rate of change that surrounds them. The challenge to law firm leadership – and the stakes – have never been higher.
♫ In the summertime when the weather is hot
You can stretch right up and touch the sky…♫
Words and music by Ray Dorsey, recorded by Mungo Jerry.
Robert Denney of Robert Denny Associates, Inc. has just released his Midyear update on What’s Hot and What’s Not in the Legal Profession. Robert has been writing the trendsreport in Law Practice Magazine for some time, and his Midyear update is well-worth the time invested in reading it. He looks at hot practice areas (Maritime Law for example) and what is getting hot (Environmental law) and business development trends. I find his analysis of the issues facing law firms to be invaluable. You can obtain a copy of his report (free!) by filling out the email form at:
The report is interesting reading for anyone thinking about their practices in the summertime and looking to stretch…
The American Bar Association’s e-zine, Law Practice Today was kind enough to post A Business Plan and Budget: The foundation of a successful and profitable practice, co-written with my award-winning colleague, Dan Pinnington. This article speaks to the essentials of setting up a business plan and budget, to set your practice up on the right footing. These two documents start the process of taking your practice from a historical position (i.e. how did we do last month?) to a visionary one (where is it that we want to go? What milestones do we wish to reach? How do we know if we are meeting our goals?). The sports coaches tell us that we have to visualize ourselves completing a successful maneuver prior to acting. In a similar manner, the process of drafting your business plan and putting numbers into your budget spreadsheet takes you into a visioning mindset – where you contemplate your future and your place in it. You take charge of the future that you wish to have. Many – successful – firms that I have visited don’t draft a budget and are comfortable taking in whatever comes in the door. This is fine – if you are content in ‘going with the flow’. However, if you desire a practice where you are in charge, seeking and receiving the clients and files that you desire, then you have to take a proactive stance and scope out your future. Your budget and business plan is the starting point. A law firm budget in Excel format can be found at:
♫ Oh, oh, listen to the music
Oh, oh, listen to the music
All the time…
Oh, baby, let the music play ♫
Words and music by Tom Johnson, recorded by The Doobie Brothers.
Some interesting research is coming out of Cornell University by Thomas Seeley, a professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell, working with University of California-Riverside entomologist Kirk Visscher and Ohio State University engineer Kevin Passino. They have been observing, devising experiments and mathematically modeling honeybee swarms.
And along the way, they are shedding new light on the problem of decision-making and leadership. Inevitably, they are also throwing a monkey-wrench into the traditional view of running a law firm along the lines of either an authoritarian (i.e. the ‘beneficial despot’) or a traditional committee decision making process.
What are the bees rules for decision-making? They “seek a diversity of options, encourage a free competition among ideas, and use an effective mechanism to narrow choices”. This method so impressed Seeley that he now uses them at Cornell as chairman of his department.
“I’ve applied what I’ve learned from the bees to run faculty meetings,” he says. To avoid going into a meeting with his mind made up, hearing only what he wants to hear, and pressuring people to conform, Seeley asks his group to identify all the possibilities, kick their ideas around for a while, then vote by secret ballot. “It’s exactly what the swarm bees do, which gives a group time to let the best ideas emerge and win. People are usually quite amenable to that.”
The idea is that even in complex decision-making processes, people can form smart groups. The requirements for a ‘smart group’ are that the members are diverse, independent minded and use a mechanism such as voting, auctioning or averaging to reach a collective decision (James Surowiecki, The Wisdom of Crowds).
(“Swarm Theory”, National Geographic, July 2007, p 138).
This has important implications for any law firm facing decisions such as whether to take on a new client, deciding which business opportunities to pursue or the choice of a software application in the office. Rather than having an individual or small group decide the issue, swarm theory (or the theory of smart groups, which I prefer) indicates that a law firm should involve as many people as possible into the decision (seeking a wide diversity of opinion to achieve collective intelligence), disseminate information about the options to the group, allow time for a diversity of opinions to form, encourage a free competition of ideas (presumably by holding open discussions where people are free to discuss the concepts (ie being hard on the problem and not hard on the person) and then allow a confidential method for the aggregation of opinion around the best option (a secret ballot would be one method that could be used, either by paper ballots or by using an anonymous on-line survey tool such as www.surveymonkey.com or www.zoomerang.com).
The implications of ‘smart group’ intelligence is profound. By linking together millions of computers in a world-wide network, we have crafted The Internet, which in turn has spawned Google and Wikipedia, themselves examples of the application of collective thought and aggregated decisions. By tapping into smart group thinking, a law firm taps into the collective intelligence of all of the members (provided that the group isn’t being overly influenced by one member or a small group therein).
The idea is to create an environment where the best ideas win rather than having decision-making by position (ie the practice group leader decides) or by hierarchy (the management committee decides). Law firms today can take a different approach by letting all voices be heard and in the process, allowing the best ideas to emerge and come forward, and in the process benefiting by listening to the music. I think the application of swarm theory has potential to create a real buzz in law firms today.
♫ I want to fly like an eagle
To the sea
Fly like an eagle
Let my spirit carry me
I want to fly like an eagle
Till I’m free
Fly through the revolution.. ♫
Words and music by Steve Miller, recorded by the Steve Miller Band.
This is my welcome to the official launch of my blog on law practice management. My name is David J. Bilinsky (or Dave, as I prefer) and I am the Practice Management Advisor for the Law Society of British Columbia. Drawing on my computer science/math background, my years of law practice and my MBA, I have been writing, presenting and helping lawyers with the business side of their practices for 17 years.
My Mission is to:
Empower lawyers to anticipate the changes, realize the opportunities, face the challenges and embrace the expanding possibilities of the application of practice management concepts to the practice of law in innovative ways that provide service excellence.
My work focuses on enhancing law firm profitability, strategic planning and the application of technology to the practice of law. I am frequently called upon by law firms, legal associations and conferences to address personal productivity, legal technology, career satisfaction and leadership issues. I particularly feel that leadership is an area that is underdeveloped in law firms, and yet this is where the future of lawyers and law practice lies. Leadership – and in particular, lawyers thoughtfully examining where their practices are and envisioning where they could be – using financial ratios, benchmarks and other tools – empowers lawyers to take charge of their futures and build the type of practices and the quality of life and career satisfaction that they desire. I take great pleasure in helping lawyers with this aspect of their practices.
I have several reasons for establishing a blog. I have Co-Chaired ABA TECSHOW, founded and chaired The Pacific Legal Technology Conference and assisted with many other legal technology, law practice management conferences and CLE’s over the years. Along the way, I have listened and learned a great deal from thousands of lawyers and other management consultants right across North America and even into China. I have shared many of these golden nuggets in my writing for various publications for almost two decades and I see a blog as a way of drawing together these thoughts in one place to assist lawyers. It is my desire that this blog creates a ‘community’ of interested lawyers and others who continue the long-standing tradition of sharing their tips and ideas for the betterment of their colleagues and for the betterment of the practice of law. I also see this blog as a gateway to the thoughts of others whom I respect and which are valuable resources for lawyers to improve their practices. It is my hope and expectation that working together all of us can take the big leap and find that our practices are soaring and that we are flying like an eagle.
Accordingly, this blog will be a continual work in progress. My intention is to keep the posts concise, with links to valuable content and resources. Over time, this should grow to be a resource for those looking for specific information and tips. And I hope to aggregate some of my prior articles and papers, to allow it to be indexed, organized and made available to readers and to link to other resources that I find to be useful.
The thoughts on this blog are my own; I will provide as many references to sources as possible. If a link appears on these pages, I trust you understand that the content on those external pages is the responsibility of that author and I am not endorsing their content. The views herein are my own and may not be shared by The Law Society of British Columbia, my employer. I hope that you will find these pages to be valuable and will email me with your thoughts and ideas in order that we can continually add further information to enhance the content and the experience for all.