Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Verrill Dana: A Ceiling Smasher!

Posted in Law Firm Diversity, Law Firm Human Resources, Law Firm Leadership

VerrillDana2Kudos to the law firm of Verrill Dana LLP for ranking as one of the top law firms in the US for its percentage of female partners.

A nationwide survey by Law360 showed that Verrill Dana is among the top 25 firms in the country with the highest concentration of female partners – earning the company 14th place in Law360s “2014 Class of Ceiling Smashers.”

At Verrill Dana, a full-service law firm with more than 100 lawyers, 32% of the firm’s partners are women. Law360 reports that, by contrast, only 21% of law-firm partners nationally are women – despite the fact that women make up 43% of all non-partners.

Obviously, the national balance between male and female partners will not be equitable until it reflects the gender balance in the practice as a whole, but firms like Verrill Dana LLP are to be commended for their achievement, and congratulated for their well deserved national recognition.

As always, I invite your feedback on this and any other subject either through the Comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

Don’t Let “Age Profiling” Slow Your Firm

Posted in Law Firm Communications, Law Firm Diversity, Law Firm Human Resources, Uncategorized

I recently wrote a post for Edge International Communiqué on the perils of making age-based assumptions about our legal-profession colleagues. I share it here for those who missed it.

Business People Working on DocumentsBoth older and younger lawyers can let all kinds of intergenerational nonsense get in the way of clear thinking. The misunderstandings that result can do actual damage to their firms.

Older lawyers have told me that lawyers in the younger generation simply do not have the values that they did. “The younger generation expects to have it all. They didn’t need to earn it the way we did. They lack our principles and they lack empathy. Mature lawyers have to suffer and figure out what to do with these aberrations.”

For their part, younger lawyers have knowledge of technology that the senior lawyers at the firm do not. Some seem to believe that the mature generation should just scramble into their graves. Then, free of the deadwood, they will be able to get on with utilizing the best and most modern technology to serve the clients of the firm.

As most rational people realize, both points of view are riddled with emotional nonsense. The younger generation is not lazy. The younger generation does not lack values. The younger generation has empathy and wants to serve others. They may want to do things a little differently than their predecessors, but they are no less righteous or valuable.

For their part, some senior people at law firms understand technology better than the newer generations. “What?” you may say. “How can this be? The younger generation texts rather than using voicemail. These younger lawyers understand gaming technology. Isn’t gamification an important new concept with a host of real-world applications?”

These are opinions. But what is the reality? In my work with law firms, I have noticed that while the younger generation may text rather than use voicemail, and may prefer email to picking up the telephone, there is no guarantee whatsoever that the thirty-something lawyer has any clue about how to use current technology to manage projects or to streamline systems. Please note that I didn’t say that the younger generation isn’t at the forefront of the evolving technology. It is. But for the most part, the technology leaders just don’t happen to be lawyers. Furthermore, in many of the firms I serve, it is the senior practitioners who have been struggling to figure out how to add value to quench the insatiable appetite of the ever-more demanding clients. Not every senior lawyer is so forward-thinking, to be sure, but a good many of them are.

In short, you simply can’t predict mindset or receptivity based on vintage or era. To do so is “ageism” – whether you are making presumptions about younger people or older ones.

My strong recommendation to those law firms who do not yet have research and development (and/or “skunk works”) groups is that they get busy and start forming them. And don’t let your bigotry exclude any generation. Invite those who are interested. Invite those who care. Let them run up the mast and be your early warning system. Give them some room. They don’t need a lot of budget to read and explore and understand what is going on around them. And if they do recommend something, be slow to reject their recommendation.

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I invite you to read the August, 2014 issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC), where this article appeared. You can also subscribe to the newsletter by clicking EIC’s “Join Our Mailing List” button.

Can You Be Too Nice?

Posted in Law Firm Communications, Law Firm Human Resources, Law Firm Leadership, Law Firm Management

Beautiful little baby boyTo most of us, courtesy and consideration are almost second nature. However, Michael Fertik — founder of reputation.com — says that when we assume a leadership capacity, being “too nice” can actually be detrimental to our organizations.

In a guest blog for the Harvard Business Review, Fertik says:

Many yield to [the instinct to be nice], because it feels much easier to be liked. Few people want to be the bad guy. But leaders are also expected to make the tough decisions that serve the company or the team’s best interests. Being too nice can be lazy, inefficient, irresponsible, and harmful to individuals and the organization.

Fertik sets out several scenarios in which a leader’s being “too nice” can be counterproductive. When managing a difficult or non-productive employee, for example, a clean cut may be the best strategy for both the employee and the company, even though it may be the most difficult move to make.

I encourage those who are working in leadership capacities in law firms to consider Fertik’s words, and to determine how his thoughts may be applied to the work you do. As always, I invite your feedback on this and any other subject either through the Comments section below, or directly via email.

Asking the Right Question

Posted in Law Firm Communications, Law Firm Leadership

BeautifulQuestionIn a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, journalist Warren Berger discusses the importance to effective leadership of asking the right questions – with the emphasis on the word “right.”

How you question is critical,” says Berger. “Questions can be great for engaging and motivating people, but they can just as easily be used to confront or blame, and can shift the mood from positive to negative.”

By way of example, Berger  – author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas – offers five common questions that can get discussions off on the wrong foot. For example, he points out that “Haven’t we tried this already?” can “come off as condescending or even defeatist.” Instead he suggests changes to wording that focus on the positive rather than the negative (e.g., “If we tried this now, what would be different this time?”).

I believe that Berger’s suggestions are of benefit to law firm leaders as well as corporate leaders, and I encourage you to take a look at this article. As always, I welcome your feedback on this or any other subject related to law-firm management, either via the comments section, or directly by email.

“Competitive Intelligence” and the Practice of Law

Posted in Law Firm Advertising, Law Firm Management, Law Firm Security, Law Firm Strategy, Law Firm Technology

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 8.56.30 AMThe Legal Intelligencer has launched a series of articles that focus on “competitive intelligence” in the context of legal practice.

The term “competitive intelligence” refers to the ways in which one company makes itself aware of what other companies in the same field (i.e., its “competitors”) are doing. This may include tracking their business practices, assessing their client bases and fields of practice, monitoring their promotion and marketing initiatives, and other tactics.

The first installment in The Intelligencer series points out that competitive intelligence among law firms is still in a “relatively nascent stage” and that even those firms that are using it in one form or another don’t necessarily agree on what the term means when applied to legal practice — or what it entails.

The article’s author, Gina Passarella, says that while such initiatives are today often undertaken only for specific purposes, such as pitching a prospective client, some law-firm consultants believe that ultimately “the goal is to reach the strategy stage in which competitive intelligence analysts are assisting firm management in making long-range decisions such as mergers and office openings.”

Passarella quotes Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, director of marketing and business development at the Boston-based law firm Foley Hoag, who predicts that as growing a client base increasingly means attracting work from other firms, law-firm approaches to competitive intelligence will become more and more refined. However, she hopes that the practice will not degenerate to include the “take down” tactics that occur elsewhere in corporate America.

The title of the article in The Legal Intelligencer – “Competitive Intelligence: Spy Games or Market Research?” – could itself lead to some interesting discussion.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Let me know in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

Where Evolutionary Technology Meets Your Legal Practice

Posted in Law Firm Diversity, Law Firm Innovation, Law Firm Leadership, Law Firm Marketing, Law Firm Strategy

RoboticImageAt first blush, you might ask what a bionic arm catching objects in mid-flight has to do with the practice of law. I assert: “Everything.”

Who are the lawyers who represent these evolutionary products? Clearly, there will be lots of intellectual property involved, but I say that the list goes on.

Here are just three legal areas that could relate to technological advances:

  • Lobbying: Just like Google trying to get approval to put its driverless cars on the road, legislation may be required for many applications of a robotic arm.
  • Liability: If these arms replace humans in various situations, what if they miss? What if someone is injured?
  • Labor and Employment: What if these arms are going to replace workers who are the subject of a collective agreement?

Somebody in your law firm needs to be thinking about how the evolution of technology is going to impact both existing and prospective clients – and the practice of law. Most firms will ignore this, leaving the spoils for the forward-thinking firms who get their hands (human ones – not robotic ones) around all this and leave their competitors in the dust.

I invite your thoughts on this and all topics relating to the practice of law, either through the comments section or directly by email.

E Is for Effort

Posted in Law Firm Design, Law Firm Human Resources, Law Firm Leadership, Law Firm Management, Law Firm Training

FriedIn a May 2014 article for Inc. (Magazine), Jason Fried warns would-be employees that simply submitting a well constructed resume detailing impressive credentials is not the best way to get a job with his company.

Fried, who is is the co-founder and president of 37signals, a company that builds web-based productivity tools such as Basecamp, says one of the major attributes he is looking for in prospective employees is their ability to invest effort in their work, and he believes that he can tell from the moment of initial contact from hopeful prospects whether they have what it takes in that area or not.

In “The One Trait That Guarantees a Good Hire,” Fried cites what may sound like an over-the-top example of going beyond the resume: the person who built an entire website just to show his or her suitability to fill the job Fried had on offer. It is not necessary to go quite that far, he suggests: he gives positive feedback to such initiatives as customizing resumes and cover letters to show particular suitability to the position for which the application is being made.

He says that people who really want to work with him “… don’t speak in generalities about what makes them great. They speak specifically about how they would be a great addition to Basecamp.”

Considering “effort” (or even “extra effort”) among hiring criteria is a step that could benefit not only applicants but also employers, no matter what the field.

Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter by commenting below or directly via my email.

 

How “Niche” Can You Get?

Posted in Law Firm Client Service, Law Firm Diversity, Law Firm Management, Law Firm Marketing, Law Firm Strategy

In recent years, boutique and even mid-sized firms have begun to offer increasingly specialized ranges iStock_000017359643Smallof legal services. One notable example in this regard was recently the subject of an article in The Philadelphia Business Journal.

Helbraun Levey & O’Donoghue was established in Manhattan in 2005 to meet the specific needs of one industry and one industry only: bars and restaurants. The firm’s areas of specialization include small- to medium-sized enterprises that require leases and contracts, licenses, and assistance with litigation. With six lawyers and a growing reputation based primarily on word of mouth, the success of Helbraun Levey and O’Donoghue in New York prompted the firm to open a second office in Philadelphia.

It has been recognized for many years that legal specialization can attract new clients and expand a firm’s range of services to existing clients. There are two major categories of legal specialty: focusing on particular legal areas, such as tax law or intellectual property, and offering legal services to specific industries and disciplines, such as oil and gas, or real-estate development.

As the challenges increase to traditional methods of legal practice, we are seeing increasingly creative forms of legal focus. A 2009 issue of CBA Practice Link cited new areas of specialty that include “cottage law” and “elder law.” The viability of niche firms like Helbraun, Levey and O’Donoghue demonstrates that the possibilities for specialization are limited by only the imagination.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter, either by leaving a comment on this post or by contacting me directly by email.