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    Archive for March, 2009
    Thoughts on Change…
    Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

    Take me to the magic of the moment
    On a glory night
    Where the children of tomorrow share their dreams
    With you and me…

    Lyrics and music by: Klaus Meine, recorded by  The Scorpions, “Wind of Change

    “The only constant is change.” Ηράκλειτος (Herakleitos; Heraclitus) of Ephesus (c.535 BC475 BC)

    Howsoever that statement is true, it is inaccurate in one respect – it suggests that change is constant but in fact, I believe it is actually accelerating (second derivative > 0 if you look at it in mathematical terms).

    Change occurs all around us – most of the time we accommodate to the change but there are instances when we must ourselves be an agent of change.  Sometimes that change is relatively small and the consequences relatively inconsequential – but there are occasions when much rides on the change and the successful implementation of same.

    Today any managing partners’ skill set must include the ability to successfully implement change. There are instances when that change is personal, there are times when that change relates to a department or team, and there are occasions when that change relates to an entire organization or system.  One other thing is constant – one cannot sell change.  For change to successfully occur, others must be brought into the equation and become supporters of change themselves.  Of course there is planning, communication, consultation and hopefully, agreement followed by action.

    Implementing change means seeking ways to overcome skepticism, passive/aggressive tactics and at times, outright resistance.  Some of the elements of implementing change successfully are:

    (1)    Begin with the end in mind: Covey’s advice is apt – know what the goal and success look like and how the organization will be improved by the change.  By having a firm vision in your own mind of where the change is headed, you can help others in their understanding.

    (2)    Build the business case:  Lay out the reason(s) for the change from a business perspective.  Everyone recognizes that organizations have to adapt – having an explicit business case shows that you have done your homework.

    (3)    Involve others:  Top-down mandated change may be effective in a crises, but in most other settings it rubs people the wrong way and is counter-productive to successful change management.  People want to be involved, they want to be able to have input and a voice and they want their concerns to be heard.

    (4)    Communicate: This means mostly listening.  Most often when a change is sought, management spends most of their time talking – trying to persuade or pressure others into conforming. Personally I think this is the wrong approach. Management should spend time laying out the vision and the goals for the desired change – and then sit back and let those who have to deal with the change ask questions.  Management gains credibility by listening to those questions and answering them if they can or by stating: “That is a really good question.  Let us think about that and get back to you by {date}.”   If you follow through and provide the requisite answer, you communicate that you care about the questions and the effect of the change on your staff and you are actively looking for ways to accommodate their concerns.

    (5)    Seek the Third Way: This is a powerful technique. When you know the goal and are aware that there are many paths that lead to that goal, you can open yourself up and be prepared to accommodate ways that meet others’ needs.  Thinking win-win is another way of stating this technique.

    (6)    Seek Face-to-Face Time: Email, memos, policy and procedure manual changes and similar communications all have their place to provide a written reference of the proposed change.  Nevertheless, they are not a substitute for the opportunity to meet and discuss perspectives and concerns; particularly when dealing with the sensitive parts in the change process and when you need to develop understanding – on both sides of the change.

    (7)    Develop a Sense of Timing: We have all seen instances when the timetable for implementing a change was introduced before there was any consensus achieved over the need for the change.  I think that is a mistake.  If you start with laying out the proposed change and your vision for the change without discussing timing, you should arrive at a point when people say: “Ok, I see the need for this …now ..when are we going to do this?”  At that point people have moved on from debating if the change is going to happen to becoming involved with the process of how the change is going to be implemented.  You have successfully engaged these staff members and brought them onto the change management team.

    (8)    Act the Part: Many people think that to appear a strong leader, they also have to appear like they have all the answers and fall into a command role.  The truth is that the most powerful leaders are those who treat others with humility, respect and integrity and have the patience to understand that change takes time.

    (9)   Empower People to Act:  In order to implement change, you will need to empower early adopters to become agents of change.  Provide support and recognize achievements.  Foster (and model) the kind of behaviours that you wish to see.

    (10)  Use S.M.A.R.T goals:  SMART goals are Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely.  Rome wasn’t built in a day (as my mom says so often) and change should not be expected to be achieved overnight.  By having smaller discrete goals that result in the achievement of the overall vision, you have let people climb to new heights using small stairs rather than a single bound (which, as we all know, was only possible if you were Superman).

    (11)  Keep the Energy Going! When the going gets tough, the staff will be looking to their leader for encouragement and inspiration.  Churchill had nothing to offer to Britain at the height of the Blitz but the glimmer of hope and hard work. Or as he put it: “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”

    (12)  Lastly, Institutionalize the Change: Reward those who assisted with the change and acted as change leaders.  Place them in new positions in the organization if possible to serve as change agents in the future.  Recognize and celebrate your success!

    Finally recall that dependable, reliable steady-as-you-go personality types are not the ones who welcome change – they see change as a threat and a risk. Law is also not a fast-changing profession. Accordingly, I think that adapting law firms to see change  in a positive light is a uphill battle.  But law firms and legal organizations must change and adapt to survive; the managing partner and law office administrator will need this skill in order to ensure the viability of their organization and have it weather the wind of change.

    Posted in Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    Disharmony over Harmonization..
    Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

    ♫  Let me tell you how it will be,
    There’s one for you, nineteen for me,
    ‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
    Yeah, I’m the Taxman.
    Should five per cent appear too small,
    Be thankful I don’t take it all.
    ‘Cos I’m the Taxman,
    Yeah yeah, I’m the Taxman…

    Lyrics and  music by George Harrison, recorded by The Beatles: “Taxman”.

    The Vancouver Sun reported today that Ontario is set to harmonize the PST and GST.

    Final details will have to come from the Budget once announced this week, but this could signal that Ontario will join BC in having legal services taxed at both the Federal (GST) and Provincial (PST) levels. At a time when the economy is in a downswing, this cannot be good news for lawyers in Ontario. Furthermore, if Ontario implements this, will the rest of the country be far behind?

    While tax news is never good, at least if Ontario makes all professional services taxable, then at least all professionals will be on the same playing field. BC has long suffered under the fact that legal services were taxable Provincially but services by other professionals were not.

    This had strange implications: when mediation services were rendered by a lawyer, in some cases they were classified as being taxable, but the same mediation services rendered by a mediator who was not a lawyer were not. There were other similar distortions that placed BC lawyers at a disadvantage – arising under the Interjurisdictional Practice Protocol. Perhaps Ontario lawyers can avoid the strategic disadvantages that have occurred in BC by the uneven application of the provincial taxation rules.

    One thing is for certain: It appears that Ontario lawyers cannot avoid the two great certainties in life: dealing with death and dealing with the Taxman.

    Posted in Budgeting, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Trends | Permalink | No Comments »
    A Silver Lining…
    Thursday, March 12th, 2009

    ♫  Hooray hooray
    I’m your silver lining
    Hooray hooray
    But now I’m gold…

    Lyrics and music by: Jenny Lewis, recorded by Rilo Kiley.

    This morning I received my good friend Bob Denney’s (of Robert Denney Associates, Inc.) March Legal Communique.  I thought it was excellent and with his permission, it is the first Guest Post on this blog:

    DON’T BELIEVE ALL THE GLOOM AND DOOM.

    MANY FIRMS ARE PROFITING IN THIS ECONOMY

    “These are the times that try men’s souls.”

    Thomas Paine

    And that is certainly true today in most parts of our economy including the legal profession. Yet legendary investor Warren Buffett sees this downturn as providing opportunities. And, despite the dissolution of some firms and lawyer and staff layoffs in a number of others, many firms – particularly mid-size and smaller – are doing more than just surviving. Some are even doing well.

    Why?

    For the most part, their practices were not dependent on major clients in the financial, automotive and real estate industries among others. But, like Buffett, they have also identified opportunities to not only survive but, now or in the future, to thrive. This is what these firms, many of which are our clients, are doing to capitalize on these opportunities.

    • Planning. To begin with, they are developing a strategic plan or, if they already have one, they are updating it.
    • Practice area focus. As part of their planning they are focusing, not just on counter-cyclical practice areas such as Bankruptcy, but also on other areas including Litigation, Intellectual Property (particularly litigation and patent prosecution), Employment and Environmental. They are also re-emphasizing and expanding their expertise in traditional Labor Relations.
    • Industry & geographic focus. In addition, many firms are focusing on certain industries such as Health Care, Energy and Technology. Surprising as it may seem, some of the mid-size firms are also expanding geographically by opening offices in other cities.
    • Client relationships. They are devoting time, usually non-billable, to strengthening them. One of the principal strategies is by initiating or accelerating Client Audit programs, even outsourcing them to qualified consultants. As a result, they are identifying their clients’ problems and concerns and, in many cases, also finding new opportunities to serve these clients.
    • Marketing. They are increasing, not decreasing, productive marketing activities such as electronic bulletins and client alerts to keep clients, as well as target prospects, promptly updated on important legal and business developments that may affect them.
    • Business Development. Their lawyers aren’t sitting in their offices waiting for new business. They are out in the marketplace meeting with clients, referral sources and prospective clients.
    • Pricing. They are not indulging in the annual habit of raising hourly rates – but neither are they cutting rates (a foolish step). What they are doing is finding ways to reduce the cost of their services by offering alternative fee arrangements including, where appropriate, fixed fees.
    • Commodity work. Some firms are phasing out commodity practice areas where price is the only factor.
    • Fee advantage. Having recognized that large corporations are vigorously trying to reduce their legal expenses, mid-size and smaller firms are seeking – and obtaining – work from these corporations by emphasizing that their cost structure, and therefore their fees, are lower than those of the large firms.
    • Retreats. They are holding retreats and firm meetings to communicate their strategic plans to everyone in the firm and to report on the implementation of their new, as well as continuing, initiatives.
    • Layoffs. Some of these firms have committed to avoiding layoffs by retraining and re-assigning lawyers and even staff from slow practice areas to areas where work and client demand is strong.
    • Evaluating partners. At the same time, however, they are taking a closer look at partners who have been consistently under-performing and either removing them or changing them to non-equity partners.
    • Training & development. While some firms are cutting their training budgets, these firms are maintaining and even increasing theirs. In addition to improving the legal, management and client development skills of their younger lawyers, they are finding this also is giving them an advantage in recruiting.
    • Recruiting. They are strengthening key practice areas, and even developing new ones, by successfully recruiting skilled lateral entry partners and associates who have been laid off by other, usually larger, firms.
    • Cash Flow. Most of these firms have recognized that “cash is king” in a slow economy. Therefore, they are reducing their work-in-process by practicing the advice of one Managing Partner who said, “Bill promptly while the glow of appreciation still shines in the client’s eyes.”

    And, of course, they are diligently following up on accounts receivable, using an administrative person rather than the billing partner. In some cases they are giving this person latitude to set up payment schedules or even to settle for less than the total amount due.

    • Firing clients. A growing number of firms are recognizing that many slow-paying clients are really costing the firm money and are not worth keeping. Therefore, they are advising these clients that they will no longer represent them.
    • Morale. By being pro-active and by maintaining both a positive attitude and constant communication within the firm, these firms are also maintaining great morale among their lawyers and staff.

    So, despite all the doom and gloom that is reflected in the legal press, there are many firms that have adopted Buffett’s perspective. For these firms, there is another statement that certainly applies:

    “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

    Mark Twain

    Robert Denney Associates Inc. has been providing strategic management and marketing services to law firms throughout the United States and parts of Canada for over 30 years – including three previous recessions. Further discussions of some of these items, as well as of other timely issues, are posted on our web site, www.robertdenney.com.

    ROBERT DENNEY Associates, Inc., 110 W. Lancaster Ave., Wayne, PA • 610-964-1938 • fax: 610-964-7956, email: bob@robertdenney.com • web site: www.robertdenney.com

    This communique shows that there is a silver lining in all the bad economic news … and for the firms willing to chart a new strategic path, this silver lining could be gold…

    Posted in Business Development, Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Trends | Permalink | 4 Comments »
    The Paper-less Practice of Law in BC
    Friday, March 6th, 2009

    ♫  Go ahead and rip up, rip up the paper
    Go ahead and tear up, tear up the paper…

    Lyrics and music by David Byrne, recorded by Talking Heads.

    There are many reasons for taking a law practice towards a paper-less (or digital) workflow implementation.

    For one, you are reducing the volume of files and paper that you have to purchase, print, handle, store and eventually, destroy.

    Two, you are able to search and find documents quicker and easier if all documents are in digital (searchable) form.

    Three, as government registries and courts come on-line, you can create, sign (digitally), file and send documents in electronic form.

    Four, you can not only send documents to clients and others electronically, but you can also create extranets, which are private areas on the web created for specific projects – for a litigation file, for a specific closing or for all files related to a specific client.

    Five, we have seen war rooms created on the web where one client (ie a corporate defendant) can host common documents, briefs, pleadings etc that relate to related litigation being undertaken in disparate jurisdictions. These war rooms can save substantial dollars by eliminating the need to continually recreate the wheel.

    Six, law firms scan and transmit incoming paper documents, allowing the firm to bring into their electronic filing system all paper-based correspondence.

    Of course there are many others, but this is just a taste of where implementing the digitalization of paper can take a law practice.

    With this in mind, there are many packages available that allow a BC law firm to create and file documents electronically:

    • In the Land Title Office:  There are now four providers of conveyancing software that allow a law firm to create and file documents electronically in the LTO:
      • Pro-Suite (NEW!) from the Notaries Society (annual fee includes training, upkeep and maintenance, no per-transaction charge).
      • Brief Convey powered by Stewart Title (per transaction charge)
      • e-Convey by OneMove Technologies Inc. (per transaction charge)
      • Convey Master by R&D Systems Auditing Inc. (installation and first year maintenance up front and $25 per transaction until the purchase price is paid).
    • For corporate documents, you can create, maintain and share corporate documents electronically using ALF Corporate.
    • Rather than mailing documents to clients, use Adobe Acrobat to create PDF’s (and lock down the document in the process) and save trees, postage and handling costs (www.adobeacrobat.com)
    • Adopt practice management software: Amicus Attorney, TimeMatters, LawStream etc all can save time, paper and increase efficiency in a busy office by handling office administrative tasks and information electronically.

    These products and more allow us to just tear up the paper and move into a world where we handle our client’s matters using only electronic communications.

    Posted in Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, Technology, Trends | Permalink | 9 Comments »