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    Archive for December, 2007
    Season’s Greetings!
    Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

    What a bright time
    It’s the right time
    To rock the night away.
    . ♫

    Words and Music by Joe Beale and Jim Boothe

    At this time of year, I would like to take a moment and wish each and every one of you the best of the Season and Best Wishes for a Wonderful Holiday and a very Happy New Year in a world filled with Peace, Happiness and Hope for All.

    By way of my small gift to you, I offer a few moments of reflection. Please download our slide show and play the PowerPoint file (note – turn your speakers on). The file is large (49,000 KB) and will take a few minutes on a high-speed connection. The music is by Lori Pappajohn, Celtic Harp for Christmas, and the piece is the Huron Christmas Carol (Canada’s oldest Christmas Carol) and she is a British Columbia artist who plays with her group Winter Harp. Used with permission of the Artist.

    (If you don’t have PowerPoint installed on your computer, download the Microsoft PowerPoint Viewer from the Microsoft web site: )

    Best wishes for a safe holiday filled with warmth, comfort and good cheer!

    Posted in humour, personal focus and renewal | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    Achieving Excellence in the practice of law
    Saturday, December 8th, 2007

    Only night will ever know
    Why the heavens never show
    All the dreams there are to know
    Paint the sky with stars..

    Music by Eithne Ní Bhraonáin, lyrics by Roma Ryan, recorded by Enya.

    It is nearing the end of the year…time to look back on the year and reflect on what is past…and what is yet to come. You recall your earnest resolution at this time last year that “things were going to be different next year!” Reflecting for a moment you realize that not much has changed, people are more or less performing as they were last year. Your own performance has fallen into a predicable range – or rut. You ask yourself “How do other businesses manage to achieve better-than ordinary results?” What is their magical formula? Short of cracking a whip, how do you motivate yourself, and others, to excellence?

    The high art of achieving extra-ordinary results from people has been clearly demonstrated time and time again. However, it is an inexact science with many factors and ingredients. Let us examine the tips and techniques that have been put forward towards achieving lofty goals:

    • The Oracle at Delphi dispensed age-old, but very pertinent advice namely: Know Thyself. To achieve excellence you have to start with a strong potential – so ask yourself what is it that you are very good at? Put it another way: Marketing is not selling what you have but knowing what you have will sell. You probably know countless examples of lawyers who are doing whatever comes in the door rather than concentrating on what it is that they are good at. Clients want and expect to go to a lawyer who has a strong reputation and profile – they seek out those lawyers. Isn’t that what everyone wants – a practice where the clients find you rather than your trying to find the clients? Start building your profile by deciding – now – where lies your best potential to be excellent

    • In doing some research into this matter, the April 2002 issue of Fast Company had an article on the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) and the Pan-American Chess Championships – and how the UMBC Chess team went from placing 26th out of 27 teams, to taking the tournament’s fifth title in six years in December 2001 (and currently the UMBC Chess Team is the six times winner of the Pan-American Intercollegiate Championship). Their secret? By recruiting top high-school students and creating an environment where it is “Cool to be Smart”. Oh – another factor – the majority of students are African-Americans. UMBC’s exacting standards combined with their desire for everyone to succeed – creates a “fire in the belly” of the students that helps them succeed. This approach is 180 degrees off of the conventional educational approach involving disadvantaged children – namely that you lower expectations for such kids because high expectations would be an excessive burden . The message: set high standards – you may be surprised at the results

    • So what motivates people to perform? Money? Study after study show that while employees desire money, they are motivated by intangibles: challenge, recognition, opportunity for growth, involvement, meaningful work and pride. Money is a way of determining success – keeping score, so to speak, and is therefore the result of doing excellent work, not the inducer. What is the world’s most powerful motivator? Achievement. “I do because I can”. Motivation is tied to “internal matters” – grey matter, ultimately..

    • Assume full accountability for your future. Now surround yourself with other high-achievers. Place yourself in a high-nutrient mix – where the peers with whom you associate will radiate higher expectations and their own pursuit of excellence. We tell our kids not to associate with certain crowds – do we drink of the same medicine?

    • Acknowledge other’s successes. Don’t dwell on errors – praise results in public and deal with problems in private. Listen to your staff and their suggestions and act on good ideas. Whenever possible, give immediate feedback (shortens the learning cycle) and positive reinforcement. Give staff greater autonomy and encourage them to be confident and responsible. Do the annual performance reviews – and let the staff member verbalize their own strengths and weaknesses – and set their own methods on how they are going to grow. Let each staff member know why each person is put in their position. Let each individual know what skill development is required for them to go beyond their present job. Be clear on what it is that you expect them to accomplish in their present position. Make sure that the people with whom they work know this, too. Most of all, be consistent – be seen to be dealing with the deadwood as a way of communicating that low performance is not tolerated.

    • Offer to pay for skill development (job-related, interpersonal and communication skills). Encourage staff to seek out managerial responsibilities in social settings – community groups, schools, social institutions, non-profits etc. – for the skills that they learn in those settings will come back with them into the work environment – as well as the recognition for a job well done.

    • Model the behaviour you want. Care – passionately – about results. The test of anyone’s character is when the going gets tough. Keeping firm hold of the basics – grace under fire – tells volumes to the world and keeps the troops going. Edith Wharton said: There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” Churchill went further and said: “In the past we have had a light which flickered, in the present we have a light which flames, and in the future there will be a light which shines over all the land and sea.”

    • Bring people into big projects. Let them feel and be part of the action. They can learn from their involvement and you can benefit from their energy.

    • Eliminate bottlenecks and Red Tape. Process is important – except where it becomes an inhibitor of performance and new ideas. Recognize where your own procedures could be putting the stop to greater things.

    • Have fun. Go to: and read the testimonials from the alumni. Operated in conjunction with NASA, these programs challenge kids and adults to be, in effect, rocket scientists. (There is a Canadian version as well: Comments from those who went through the camps (The 500,000th camper, Samantha Rice, graduated June 15, 2007) consistently state that it was the experience of a lifetime. Achieving excellence and mastering new ideas does not have to be a slog. The evidence is clear – people who are having fun outperform those who are not.

    Moving to higher ground may ultimately depend on ignoring the glitter and concentrating on that quiet place inside all of us where dreams are made and a candle glows on what might yet be.

    (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)

    Posted in Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal | Permalink | 1 Comment »
    How to do a good job at turning off your employees…
    Sunday, December 2nd, 2007

    ♫ Come Monday morning’ I’m the first to arrive
    I ain’t nothin’ but business from nine to five…
    Well I’m a hard livin’, hard workin’ man…. ♫

    Words and music by Ronnie Dunn, recorded by Brooks & Dunn.

    The traditional view of management is that they must be continually focused on motivating employees lest the business fall into rack and ruin. However, research published in Harvard Management Update (Jan 2006) shows that most employees are very motivated when they start a new job. But, after less than a year, their motivation drops off significantly. Why? Paradoxically, the answer appears not to lie with the employees, but rather with management. Rather than motivating people, management’s style and overall behaviour can be a strong demotivational force that saps the natural energy and willingness of employees to do their best. Furthermore, thinking that the problem lies with the employees (and *of course* not with management), management then implements policies that only accentuate the difficulties that are facing the employees. You now have a downward spiral with management believing that they must ‘crack down’ further as they perceive they have a problem with motivation.

    So what can be done to break this spiral and put staff and lawyers on a positive track that leads to both happy and motivated staff as well as management? Here is a selection of tips put forward in this area:

    • Respect: Management often adopts a ‘need to know’ approach to communication. This inevitably leads employees to frustration as they are not clearly and consistently told why or why not certain actions must be done. Displaying a lack of respect for an employee’s need to understand not only what they must do but also why they need to be doing it is a very strong demotivational force. It reinforces the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ view of labour and management, it excludes employees from feeling part of the team and it leads to distrust – as employees never feel that they are being told the full story. Communication is poisoned as anything management says must be in turn, searched for its ‘true meaning’ – leading to speculation and suspicion.

    • Recognition: Everyone likes to be recognized for their accomplishments. However, when a lawyer overtly takes credit for something done by his staff, or even worse, never recognizes when his staff has saved his bacon, the staff quickly catch on. Lack of meeting the basic human need of recognition – before clients, before other staff and before other lawyers – can quickly quell the motivation of any staff member to ‘go the extra mile’ for any organization.

    • Expedite: Staff look to management for one major reason – to solve problems that are difficult or impossible for them to address due to their position in the firm. By failing to take action to make your staff’s job easier when requested to do so, you have clearly shown that you are unconcerned with your staff and the problems they face. Next time, be a hero by stepping up to the plate and quickly bulldozing a path for them to allow them to do their jobs as they wish to do them.

    • Purpose: In some cases it is clear why staff member are being asked to do something. However, there may be tasks and projects that they undertake that are not clearly aligned with meeting client needs. In these cases, it is necessary to communicate how the task meets the overall needs of the firm. It is even better if all tasks can be tied to a ‘principled’ view of the firm – in other words, a mission statement that clearly states what purposes the firm serves, other than just being a vehicle to make money (for example, it would be a goal for the firm to be a leader in the community and a conduit for social change). These principles on which the firm lies will be the bedrock to which all the work of the firm is related – from providing pro bono services (as it meets the mission and goals of the firm), to building an informational infrastructure that allows the firm better meet the firm’s stated goals..

    • Workloads and Pace: There is an old story about the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Unfortunately management can fail to heed warnings that continually adding to workloads or expecting too hectic a pace can be counter-productive and lead to burnout, absenteeism and departures. If any of these are a factor in your firm, you may wish to speak to your staff and start a dialogue about what is a reasonable workload and turn-around time period for work in order to improve the morale for the betterment of all.

    • Team Members: Another old adage is that one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel. In this case, failing to deal with a non-team player when you are trying to build up a strong functional team can be a frustrating exercise at best. Moreover, by keeping the rotten apple, you are communicating to the rest of your staff that standards are not enforced and there is no need for anyone to perform at anything but a mediocre level. This is one exception to the rule that firing someone (after visibly trying to work with them to improve their performance) can reduce morale. You may hear the quiet cheer when the troublemaker is finally shown the door.

    • Take the Blame: Along with giving credit where credit is due is not allowing public fault to fall onto your staff. Leadership is demonstrated by openly accepting the burden if something did not work out as planned. This does not mean that you don’t work diligently behind the scenes and find out why something went wrong and take steps to correct it. However, if you clearly communicate in act, words and deeds that your desk has a plaque that says ‘the buck stops here’, you will encourage your staff to trust in you and this builds positive morale.

    Management needs to be aware of not only how to actively promote motivated staff but also how their actions or inactions, as the case may be, may actually demotivate staff from their initial enthusiasm that they bring to their positions, in order to achieve an office full of hard-working men (and women) who are all business from nine to five.

    (this post is based on a column originally published in PracticeTalk in the Canadian Bar Association – BC Branch’s newsletter BarTalk)

    Posted in Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Leadership and Strategic Planning | Permalink | 1 Comment »