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Blawg Review #76

post # 198 — September 24, 2006 — a Careers, Client Relations, Managing, Strategy post

It is my honor to host the Blawg Review, a weekly selection of blogs related to the law.

Since I am not a lawyer, and this blog site is meant to appeal to a broad international audience working in a wide variety of professions and industries, I have (as previously announced) restricted my choices to the themes of work and professional life, firm management, marketing, strategy and careers (rather than legal topics per se).

1. Competition v. Collaboration in Firms

Tom “Bald Dog” Varjan has the blog post of the week in my view.

Of Sailors and Mountaineers: The Inherent Dangers of Internal Competition is a compelling piece of analysis, which nevertheless still leaves us wrestling with the mysteries of why our organizations run as they do. Are we all too competitive for our own good? If so, how has civilization thrived? Don’t miss it.

2. Throttling Clients

Ed Wesemann has a terrific blog for law firms called Creating Dominance, and his latest post is about “throttling” clients (no, it doesn’t mean what you think it means). It’s not glamorous stuff, but it’s important.

He discusses how he went about analyzing low-profitability clients, and then engaging actions which induced the clients to change their behavior (or leave). A clear exposition of some basic that all firms should be doing — and don’t!

3. Work-Life Balance

Stephanie West Allen at idealawg introduces us to Hot Worms and Workaholics: Let the Workers Be! She tells us that some worms live in water so hot that it would kill other worms:

“I have met many hot worm lawyers and I suspect there may be whole firms composed primarily of hot worms. These lawyers thrive on conditions that might prove injurious or even fatal to other lawyers. I am concerned for the hot worm lawyers and the damage that might be done to them if someone decided that these torrid wigglers needed to swim in cooler waters, to achieve life balance as defined by some other worm. In many cases, a cool, balanced worm may be an unhappy or dead worm. Lawyers come in a wide variety of temperaments, each with a unique, individual, ideal allocation of what and how much goes on each scale of life. That uniqueness is best respected for the sake of the lawyer, the firm, and the client.”

Fascinating — a wonderful counter-conventional blog post.

4. Advice for Young Professionals

Bruce MacEwan at Adam Smith, Esq. has a review of “The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law” (ABA, 2006), a wonderful book from Mark Hermann (of Jones Day). With great humor and deadly accuracy, Mr. Hermann cuts through the cant and provides tough love advice for those on their way up (and a few who have stopped rising).

I have read the book, and “Adam” is right. Managing partners in law firms should buy copies for all their junior lawyers. In addition, I would estimate that at least one-half of the book applies to all young professionals, in any industry.

5. Leadership, Emotions and Performance

Arnie Herz at legal sanity, reporting on a Harvard Working Knowledge forum, explores the role of positive leadership in creating the motivation, creativity, and performance of the knowledge workers.

Arnie reports that, according to the piece, a key discovery the researchers made is that workers’ performance is tied to their “emotions, motivations, and perceptions about their work environment”. There are lots of other good links in the blog to research in the field of “Positive Organizational Scholarship.”

6. Must BigClients have BigFirms?

JD Hull at What About Clients? estimates that ‘bet the company work’ is perhaps 10% of legal corporate work out there, if that. So what about the other 90% of available corporate legal work? Is there any reason why firms ranging in size from 5 to 150 lawyers with the right talent and specialties can’t do that work for BigClients?”

The questions is raised: when firms large and small can serve your needs, where do you go? Think carefully, and on the back of examination booklet explain why friendly neighborhood grocery stores no longer exist.

6. Future Earning Potential of Firms

Gerry Riskin of Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices provides a link to an article by his EDGE International colleague, Friedrich Blase, on assessing a firm’s future earning potential by examining its human capital, its structural capital, its relational capital and its investment capacity.

It will start your thinking processes — there’s a lot to be done exploring these topics.

7. Advice on the road to L

F/k/a [formerly known as] links to a number of law professors offering advice to first-year law students, and offers the observation that “much of that “lost” feeling never does go away — because far too many law school applicants, law students and practicing lawyers never took the time to assess who they really are and what they actually do want from life and from a career.”

Like the rest of us.

8. Client Satisfaction

Mark Beese at Leadership for Lawyers continues the (re)announcement of survey company BTI’s results that clients’ satisfaction with lawyers is going down dramatically, but provides link to other surveys and sources with confirming data.

BTI’s findings (which have been extensively reported for a while now) should be the springboard for deeper discussion of the sources and cures of low client satisfaction in the law, but so far the analysis hasn’t progressed — at least in the blogosphere. Let’s hope the firms themselves are taking the hint.

9. Recruiting Interviews

Eric Muller at Is That Legal? contributes a memory about being “conned” at an interview by one law firm partner into commenting on someone at another law firm who turned out to be her husband.

Ethical or good recruiting tactic? You be the judge!

10. Spotting the Winners Early

Carolyn Elefant at Law.com Legal Blog Watch reports in A Future Billing Machine is Born about a Washington Post story on a young man, Dravidian, who:

“whipped through college in one year, relying on a combination of 72 AP credits that he collected in high school, followed by 23 credits his first semester in college (instead of the usual 15), a whopping 37 credits the next (he’d complained that he had too much time on his hands the first semester), with the last three, needed for a double major, completed during the summer. The article reports that after finishing up a master’s in math, Banh will forego the doctorate and head to law school to become a patent attorney.”

As Elefant puts it: law firms, start your recruiting engines.

11. A Harvard Business School Case Study

Nathan Koppel, guest blogging at Larry Bodine’s Professional Services Marketing blog, informs us that Harvard Business School has written a 40-page case study on Philadelphia’s Duane Morris.

Based on my memory of how MBA students treated the companies offered up to them for dissection, this may not be the privilege that some at Duane Morris think it could be.

12. Diagnosis in Law and Medicine

Jim Belshaw at Managing the Professional Service Firm (what a catchy name!) picks up on a contribution by Prem Chandavarkar to begin an analysis of how diagnosis is performed in law versus medicine.

It doesn’t go deep, but it’s a useful beginning on an important topic.

13. Branding a Fruit

Dilanchian Lawyers and Consultants caught my attention by telling the history of transforming the humble Kiwi fruit, through wise use of Intellectual Property tactics, into a branded product.

A bit of a diversion from our theme here, but a fun blawg tale.

Next, let’s turn to some interesting blogs about blogging.

14. Marketing Yourself and Your Practice

Kevin O’Keefe at Real Lawyers Have Blogs reports on “Blonde attorney gets new clients at MySpace.”

No comment. Decide for yourself what you think about it.

15. Profile of a Prominent Blogger

Dennis Kennedy provides a useful link to an interview with (and about) him on the JD Bliss site, entitled Success Story: Dennis Kennedy: “TechnoLawyer of the Year” Bridges the Gap Between Law and Technology.

For the few who don’t know his background, it’s a good place to start getting to know the well-known lawyer, consultant, speaker and writer who is considered among the most influential experts on the application of technology in the practice of law.

Dennis was very kind and generous with his time when I was trying to understand what a blog was. If you don’t know him and his work, you should.

16. Blogging by Trainees

Scott Vine at Information Overlord picks up on a UK Legal week report that Watson Farley & Williams is getting its trainees to write a weekly blog on the firm’s web site. Each of the firm’s 12 trainees will take it in turns to write the weekly blog, describing the work they have been involved in and the firm’s training and social activities. Neat!

17. Blogging During a Court Case

Justin Patten at Human Law has a brief piece speculating on how blogging might influence the practice of law: “I envisage scenarios where lawyers in conjunction with PR Professionals and blogosphere monitoring tools, assess how a case is being seen on the web. Thereafter an assessment will be made whether a legal remedy is the right solution.”

18. Regulatory Restrictions on Blogging

Walter Olson at Point of Law collects some links pointing to the emerging concern that new Bar regulations in New York “might make it nearly impossible for attorneys in the state to publish or contribute to blogs about the law. (Each individual post would trigger elaborate compliance obligations of its own.)”

19. Blogging as a Substitute for Law Reviews

Ian Best at 3Lepiphany speculates that blogging by law students and others could create a much more powerful substitute for law review articles.

Seems persuasive, important and powerful to me.

That’s it!

Blawg Review has information about next week’s host, and instructions how to submit your blawg posts for review in upcoming issues.

1 Comment

Tom "Bald Dog" Varjan said:

Competition v. Collaboration in Firms

David has asked: Are we all too competitive for our own good? If so, how has civilization thrived? Don’t miss it.

I think, by nature, we are far too competitive. Or more accurately, not that we are, society turns us more and more competitive. Let’s remember, many years ago the cave folks were not competitive. They were collaborative. They could work together like the bits and bobs in s Swiss watch, and I don’t mean a $10 Chinese replica Rolex.

Today, there is one organisation that hires people without resumes, references or specific educational background, and turns them into the most reliable teams there is. It instils collaboration from day one, and ruthlessly destroys prima donnas and egomaniacs. This organisation is also often referred as the “Ultimate Professional Service Firm.”

So, what is this firm? Well, the military. It’s the best apprentice programme on the planet. And its teaching method is so effective that they can train great professionals out of novices in a short space of time even if they join the “firm” with zero knowledge just a burning desire to succeed.

In my work (I’m an ex-military myself), what I’ve found is that the more I can instil this “army culture” in a firm, the better they perform and the more profitable they become. And I’m not talking about yelling drill sergeants. I mean expectations and consequences. It’s human nature that what we expect of people is what we get.

So, where is the problem? The two major building blocks of the military culture are commitment and accountability. Professionals by nature hate both. A junior Harvard MBA will resent to be held accountable by a senior partner with an undergrad degree from a “second-rate” University.

But I’ve also found that when senior partners run the firms like drill sergeants as if people’s lives depended on their actions, everyone seems to take work seriously.

As an experiment, we started implementing a “consequence” system at a client’s firm. When people violate the firm’s Code of Conduct, depending on the degree of violation, they are sentenced to “hard labour.” There is an agency called Labour Ready that provides temporary workers for construction sites. This is usually pretty hard labour. Violators are sentenced to putting in time at the agency. During this time the firm suspends payment to them. It’s interesting how much people’s perspectives can change after two weeks of being sandwiched between a hardhat and a pair of steel-toed boots.

Firms expect collaboration, but there is individual compensation. At a few firms I’ve worked with, we flattened the payment system. Everyone got paid the same. Plus partners own the firm. Individualistic egomaniacs rebelled against it. They were asked to leave. The goal was to increase the firm’s earning potential through teamwork. The more the firm earns the more people in the firm earn. And this contrarian act improved teamwork. Now it’s a team. Everyone is on the same footing.

What is my approach based on? Year after year more and more people want to join the military. And many of them stay there for life. So, far this is the best model I’ve found for professional firms.

And one more reason I’ve found useful to model the army. Fee objections are virtually unknown. What the army wants is what the army gets. Governments don’t haggle with armies when they ask for a few billion to buy a few fighter planes, heavy horses, submarines or even trebuchets.

And many people who have been in the army remember their army years as some of the best years of their lives.

I know on the surface the army if endless yelling, command and control. But under the surface there is a bit more. And maybe this is where we could take some lessons from and apply them to professional firms.

posted on October 2, 2006