I was delighted to be asked to create an article on leadership for the Law Practice Management Magazine of the American Bar Association.

My hands-on work with law firm clients has been very focused on the pandemic, remote working, and the need for extra special consideration of members of firm teams due to the strains and stresses created by the pandemic environment.

Smart people tend naturally to focus on the “efficient and effective”, however sometimes there are other management dimensions that need attention. This article explores the dimension of managing in light of pandemic-induced fragility in every firm

I am grateful to the ABA and the Law Practice Management Magazine for publishing my article and for granting me permission to re-publish here and in the Edge International Communiqué.

Gerry Riskin specializes in counseling law firm leaders on issues relating to the evolution of the structure and management of their law firms and the architecture of competitive strategies.  He has served hundreds of law firm clients around the globe from small boutiques to mega firms including working with the largest law firms in the world.  Gerry is still a Canadian but has resided on the Caribbean Island of Anguilla, British West Indies for more than 25 years.

As always, if you have any questions or concerns that you would like to discuss with me, I would be more than happy to explore them with you.  Email me at riskin@edge-international.com or text or call me at +1 (202) 957-6717

Why it matters:

Complacency will hit US law firms hard. That complacency stems from the illusion that American lawyers are protected from the incursion of those who are not licensed to practice in the US.

The Story:

Artificial Lawyer spoke to Emily Foges, the new lead partner of Deloitte’s Legal Managed Services (LMS) group. They explored the group’s growth plans, how it will serve clients, leveraging legal data, not using the billable hour, and how it will work with its US-based Deloitte counterparts.  The story includes this 22 minute video which you would be wise to ask your firm’s leadership to watch.


As always, I am interested in your personal reaction and welcome questions and comments by email.

Why it matters:  

The digital transformation war is escalating in many ways:


  • The number of credible entities that are combatants 
  • The talented individuals that the combatants must retain or acquire


The result will be the evolution of smarter and better platforms and processes that will be like nectar to GC’s and which will drive down cost without killing profitability for the providers.

Many traditional law firms are oblivious to what is happening and will not see overt client grabs but rather will begin to notice plummeting work intake levels and talent departures.

The Story: Process War Heats Up As UnitedLex To Spend $100m on Digital Transformation

As always, I am interested in your personal reaction and welcome questions and comments by email.

THE STORY: In this video series that was produced by the Law Society of the United Kingdom and Wales, Nick Jarrett-Kerr – my Edge International colleague – offers guidance that is comprised of pure gold and precious gemstones.

CAREFULLY CONSUME EACH VIDEO: Watch as Nick in his laid-back style takes you to places that most modern thinkers have not visited.

ABOUT NICK JARRETT-KERR: Edge International Principal Nick Jarrett-Kerr is a law office management legend. He was the managing partner of a prominent UK firm that saw a meteoric rise in revenues and prosperity under his stewardship. As a consultant, he has helped countless law firms around the world do everything from re-imagining themselves, to restructuring, to planning for a more prosperous future.

THE FUTURE REQUIRES A STRONG  RECOVERY: Sometimes I think Nick is a time traveler….  He must have seen the future, because his insights are beyond well-imagined and well-informed.

Experience all of each of his four videos – pay close attention to the content and then discuss each episode with your senior leadership team.


I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: As always, I am interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to law firms and how they are managed. Reply either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Managing Partners: Capitalize on your firm’s opportunity to enhance your outreach program to clients.*

Why It’s Important

The extremely fragile state of mind of your clients makes this essential for three reasons:

  • It’s the right thing to do. You will help them.
  • The unique opportunity is NOW, when client needs are intense.
  • Your firm’s relationships with your clients will be forever enhanced.

My Research / Hands-On Experience

In my research with individual attorneys and client firms I have learned that:

  • Many attorneys have been reaching out to at least some clients.
  • Some have done an effective job of showing care and concern.
  • Others have been a bit mechanical and missed the opportunity to show caring.
  • Those participating in the outreach can learn a lot from each other by sharing experiences.

Questions to Ask Your Attorneys

(test your attorneys’ client-awareness)

How are your clients doing right now?

What are their situations?

  • Living alone or with a significant other?
  • Kids?
  • Pets?
  • Do they have at-risk friends or relatives?
  • Is any family member or friend sick?

What are they doing to stay sane professionally or personally?

  • Virtual Happy Hours?
  • Virtual lunches?
  • Virtual coffee?
  • Other?

How are they coping with working from home (WFH)?

  • Regular work hours/routine?
  • Sleep – OK, or not so much?
  • Stress – how bad is it and what are they doing to reduce it?

Note: Attorneys who cannot answer these questions are not really in touch with their clients right now.

Ask, “What benefits would accrue to you or your practice group by showing you care about your clients?” (In a facilitated discussion, record these benefits.)

How Do You Do the Outreach?

Have each attorney list some client contacts and referral sources, active or otherwise.

Ask your attorneys to invite several clients a day to communicate.

  • Attorneys should suggest video.
  • They should explain why they’d like to use video.
  • Feedback from others suggests most people prefer video.
  • As a precaution, they should allow clients a choice (phone).

Attorneys should be trained to ask open-ended, big-picture questions, like

  • How are you doing? (Make it clear that you really want to know.)
  • Are there any surprises – things you did not expect WFH?
  • What’s the hardest part about WFH?
  • What’s the best part of WFH?
  • Do you need anything? How can I help?

Encourage your attorneys to:

  • Probe (dig deeper): “What’s that like?”
  • Avoid leading questions, like “It’s not so bad, right?”
  • Use empathy in your answers: “That must be pretty difficult.”

Do Not Sell

The outreach is about showing care, concern and empathy. If you are perceived to be looking for more work you will have reduced your credibility to ZERO.

Tracking the Outreach

  • Ask attorneys to list those to whom they have reached out.
  • Ask attorneys tell you about how each client reacted.
  • Publicize the anecdotes in your team meetings.
  • Give the attorneys who do this well some recognition. Ask them to detail in a team meeting.


Your outreach is a condition precedent to maintaining or enhancing client relationships.

The door to this opportunity is wide open – walk through it.

Do a good job, not a perfect job. (Don’t be the perfectionist who missed the opportunity.)

MAY I HELP YOU? If you would like to have an informal discussion about this topic, please let me know and I’ll set up a video meeting with you (no fee).

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on your outreach to clients or any other matter relating to law firms and their management – during crises or at any other time. Reach me via email.

* This article originally appeared in Edge International Communique (EIC). Each month, EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. In addition to the most recent edition, the EIC site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.


WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, far too many meetings and conferences are being kicked down the road to new dates that should instead be converted into virtual events. The decision by the American Bar Association to move its annual meeting online is a sign of true leadership. Over the years, the ABA has been criticized for many things, but right now I think they deserve a salute from all of us for leading the way.

THE STORY: Due to the uncertainty regarding the safety of holding major in-person events through the spring and into the summer – especially ones that require travel – the board of governors of the ABA has made the decision to move its annual meeting online. The entire event, originally scheduled to be held in Chicago, is being offered as a complimentary member benefit.

In her announcement of the transition, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said that “The virtual meeting will offer the highest quality programming with a revised schedule to accommodate members’ home locations and time. Events will include governance and business meetings, CLE Showcase programs, virtual networking opportunities, the General Assembly with the presentation of the ABA Medal, and the House of Delegates.”

The ABA has posted a Q&A for those interested in knowing how the decision to move online was reached. Registration details will be available soon.

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: Will the decision to move the ABA conference online – and to offer it at no charge to members – increase the likelihood of attendance by lawyers in your firm? As always, I am interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to law firms and their management. Reply either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

In most of the cultures on this planet, it is not polite—nor is it easy—to say “no.” In fact, in most cultures, saying “no” is considered inappropriate behaviour. As a result, due to our backgrounds most of us find it very difficult to say “no” when we have to, or when we should, in business or professional situations. However, we do ourselves no justice, nor do we serve our clients well, nor do we serve those with whom we practice well, if we say “yes” to everything.

People who say “yes” and take on too much simply fail to perform to expectation. We are far better off to be selective about what we undertake, but to always perform to expectation.

Saying “No”

In a lecture I attended, Alec Mackenzie, author of the internationally acclaimed book The Time Trap, focused on the art of saying “no.” His is not the only system but it is a good one.

Mackenzie’s approach consists of five steps. The first is to listen carefully in order to understand the request that is being made of you. There is nothing worse than saying “no” to something you do not understand. Paraphrase or provide feedback if necessary, saying for example, “Let me just make sure I understand. You want me to prepare the document by Thursday at noon. Is my understanding correct?” Make sure you have it right.

The second step is to say “no” — politely, but firmly. You will note that you do this before giving any explanation. Your “no” might sound something like this: “No. Candidly, I am not able to produce the document by Thursday at noon.”

Step Three is to offer an explanation — explain why you cannot fulfil the request. Say, “I would be unable to fulfill the other obligations I’ve undertaken and also prepare that document by Thursday. I would have to renege on another promise I made, and I am unable to do that.”

The fourth step is to offer assistance or alternate solutions that will allow the person who made the request to accomplish his or her mission. In this way you will show that you are willing to assist as best you can, even though you are unable to say “yes” to the request. Say, for example, “Would it be of help to you if I looked around to see if there was anyone else available who could help you get that document done on your time frame?” Or, “Is it possible that you could manage the client’s expectations so that I could do that document by Friday instead of by Thursday?”

The fifth and final step is to politely admonish the person who made the request. (This one really threw me for a loop when I first heard it. Admonish? I mean, normally we are talking about a client, or we are talking about someone who may be superior or senior to us in the firm. “Yes,” Mackenzie says. “Admonish.”) Your intent is to give a little bit of corrective feedback that might help the person making the request avoid getting into this kind of situation with you again in future. You say something like, “Gee, I wish I had known about this when you first learned that you might need this document, because at that point in time I might have been able to schedule it in and get this done for you.” Or, “In situations where you think I may be able to help in future, let me know as soon as possible, and I’ll clear the decks and see what I can do to help.”

Those are Alec Mackenzie’s five steps for saying “no.” Given some practice, they can serve you well.

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

This article is derived from actual counseling sessions with managing partners who are operating under tremendous pressure and are doing the best they can to prioritize the the key elements of Remote Working.


  • financial viability
  • staff who were mainly office-related – receptionist, etc.
  • protecting existing relationships
  • care of staff and vendors
  • effectiveness at marketing and business development
  • video production (including equipment)
  • quality standards of excellence
  • engendering high satisfaction levels
  • adherence to the firm’s culture and values
  • peak performance of your people
  • analyzing short-term viability of specific practice areas
  • esprit de corps

To achieve these objectives, here is a partial (but growing) list of the kinds of topic we are helping our managing partner clients address.

  • The tone of both internal and external communication (In the name of disseminating information rapidly, there is a high risk of damaging relationships with clients and staff)
  • Technology
    • capacity
    • platforms – technology that allows teams to communicate without email (can NOT help with Citrix but augment with Slack, etc.?)
  • Nature of jobs/responsibilities that do not lend themselves easily to the transition
  • Mindset of people involved – some calm, some afraid, some panicking
  • Home situations
    • space
    • children
    • pets
    • ill family members
  • Suddenly succession issues (or position mapping)
    • replacing those who fall ill
    • capacity to rapidly reassign responsibilities
  • Use of video in communications
    • fundamental video training
    • positive video usage role modeling
    • discouraging negative role modeling
  • Understanding the many advantages of video over “phone calls”
    • positive impact on client relations
    • positive impact on staff morale
    • positive impact on focus and concentration
  • Adding some level of sophistication
    • eye contact
    • sound quality
    • how to encourage a client/co-worker to meet by video
  • Leadership
    • What the managing partner must do effectively
    • Communication plan
      • what must be imparted and how
      • the right tone
      • frequency
      • mode (video live, video recorded, length etc)
    • What the managing partner can not do effectively and what must be delegated to other leaders:
      • practice group leaders
      • industry group leaders
      • client team leaders
      • administration
    • Listening internally and externally. Includes creating survey-fatigue-proof surveys:
      • short and obviously beneficial to survey taker
      • for clients, measuring satisfaction, feeling valued, and ease of dealing with firm virtually
      • for staff, measuring satisfaction, feeling valued, and ease of dealing with firm virtually, sensitivity of firm to special needs of staff
    • Firm personnel training – the 20/20-style training approach is ideal for virtual workers.
      • Topics for all:
        • continuing professional development training
        • identifying the invisible challenges
        • feeling out of the loop
        • how to replace the real coffee break/lunch with a virtual one
        • how to really listen
        • how to demonstrate genuine empathy
        • how to communicate virtually with clients – what is different now
      • Topics for leaders:
        • facilitating virtual meetings
        • ensuring individuals are not being orphaned
        • the frequent (relatively short) check-in (individual/group)
        • getting the tone right (even brilliant people get this wrong)
        • empathizing – the reality of what people are facing
        • maintaining awareness of values
        • (demonstrably) trusting your people
        • teaching your people how to communicate
          • with firm’s people
          • with clients
      • “Dynamic Resilience” required from us at Edge and our clients to overcome unforeseen challenges.
      • How the 20/20-style training approach works (timing not year).

If you would like to have an informal discussion about this topic, please let me know and I’ll set up an initial, without fee, meeting with you.

This article will be supplemented and/or updated based on the evolution of the topic of “remote working” as it evolves with our clients. This article is based on an article posted in the Edge International Communique, April 2020 edition

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on remote working or any other matter relating law firms and their management – during crises or at any other time – either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: My question is this: Thailand  today… where tomorrow? I contend that law firms in the USA, the Commonwealth and other regions cannot afford to be complacent or to ignore announcements such as this by major entities from outside the traditional legal industry, especially the Big 4.

THE STORY: A mid-February post on the KPMG website announced the launch in Thailand of KPMG Legal, an initiative intended to provide “a full range of business law services, such as commercial and corporate law, mergers & acquisitions (M&A) and reorganization, employment law, legal compliance and investigation, and privacy law.”

In the post, KPMG touts the strength of the company’s new division as its ability to combine legal services with its existing accounting and financial operations. Charoen Phosamritlert, CEO of KPMG in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, says, “At KPMG, we believe in being proactive. We need to be able to identify future trends and upcoming industries in order to be ready with our team of experts to serve our clients. With KPMG Legal and our strong background in various business industries, we will be able to provide our customers with a holistic legal counsel service backed by a team of business-savvy legal advisors.”

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: What risks do the growing number of ventures such as KPMG Legal pose to existing providers of legal services? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Britain’s largest publicly traded law firm is in acquisition mode, “expanding its legal presence in Poland, Spain and Germany. It even has its sights set on expanding in Canada.” – CBA/ABC National

I worry for the law firms that are not monitoring such changes to our profession.  Even a small committee to keep an eye on things global will act as an early warning system. Get a few people at your firm up into the crow’s nest now. (For an explanation of the Crow’s Nest, see my post “Icebergs and Sea Monsters in Treacherous Legal Seas.“)

THE STORY: As reported in a recent issue of the CBA/ABC National, DWF Law – a major publicly traded law firm in Great Britain – has purchased Mindcrest, a firm based in Chicago that operates primarily out of India, for $18.5 million. Mindcrest is an alternate service provider “which offers low-cost document review and legal process outsourcing.”

The article reports that according to Andrew Leaitherland, DWF’s CEO, “the company sees itself as a disruptor of an overly complacent business.”

We look at legal services as a very slow, reactive marketplace that (provides) a fantastic market opportunity to transform into a more efficient platform to deliver the right services to clients in the right locations and at the right price. – Andrew Leaitherland, CEO, DWF Law

The National article points out that DWF “still provides what it terms as ‘complex’ legal services in areas like litigation and regulatory services using lawyers charging hourly rates. But it sees an opportunity in offering its clients managed services of more routine work that can be handled on an annual contractual basis at a lower cost.”

As legal consultant and former Edge International partner Jordan Furlong points out, unlike the recent purchase of a legal process outsourcing company by EY (Ernst & Young), this is the first significant instance of a law firm undertaking such a purchase. Furlong rightly notes that this marks a turning point in law-firm strategy. All firms, no matter their size or purview, must take notice.

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or or directly via email.