Why Aric Press matters?

ReflectionsFor those of you wondering, “Who is Aric Press?”, he is the outgoing editor in chief for American Lawyer, and love it or hate it, through the AmLaw 100, and now 200, reports Aric placed a spotlight onto the business of law.

Aric announced his retirement from the American Lawyer late last year. Those of us who follow the business of law, especially in the LME Facebook group, released a collective gasp and wondered, “What does this mean moving forward?”

I can’t answer that question, but I have a perfect example of the questions I posed in the title of this post: “Why Aric Press matters?”

Aric Press matters because he gets us thinking about things differently. When I started out in the legal industry straight out of college, while studying for my LSATs, there were no conversations around the water cooler about the business of law, or legal as an industry, or clients, for that matter, or how to bring in new business.

Business came and went the way it always did: Referrals and the ol’ Martindale-Hubbell books on the shelf.

And then the world changed. The Internet opened up a whole new world of being able to research and find attorneys. The recessions changed the practice of law. Competition changed the pyramid business model. Partners started packing up their business and moving it across the street to a competitor. Somewhere along the line the profession of law became the business of law.

And Aric Press, and the American Lawyer, captured it all.

If you read only one article this month (subs, req), you need to read this one: Big Law and Me: Aric Press Reflects.

Understanding the business of the firms took longer. It’s not as complicated as many other lines of work. There are no complex supply chains, and few if any product launches to manage. It’s why, over the years, so many law firm heads compared their business to the character in the movie “Bull Durham” who described baseball as a simple game, one involving throwing, hitting and catching a ball.

But on the field, baseball isn’t quite that elegantly simple. And neither is the business of Big Law. As I look back on what I’ve learned over the past 16 years, a dozen principles or observations come to mind …

I’d start listing his dozen, but you just need to go and read the article.

While everyone is expendable, and the American Lawyer will go on, Aric Press, you will be missed. Happy trails to you.

Photo credit: Francisco Antunes
UPDATE: I received a very thoughtful note from Aric Press yesterday. While I am all for click-bait and utilizing blogs to gain the attention of prominent people within your community/industry, I truly did not expect to hear from him. I am touched.
I also need to note that the American Lawyer article is locked down and registration is required. Seriously. If you don’t have a subscription, and you are reading this blog, I’m just SMH. You need to read the industry pubs for your industry, and our industry is legal. Even if you are not a part of Big Law, the information is valuable. Subscribe. It’s $500/year or so. At the least, go in on a subscription with a friend.

How to set up your marketing plan for 2015

I started this year off wiping down my white board and getting ready to plan my year.

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So much white. So much potential. So many ideas.

I am not a huge fan of large and intense marketing plans; they usually just end up buried in some drawer somewhere, only to be pulled out at the end of the year to be revised for the next year. I prefer A Daily Resolution:

By setting daily resolutions and having daily goals, I am setting myself up for success. By doing this, day after day, I will achieve something wonderful over a span of time (could be one week or one year). The end results might not be exactly what others expect, or what I expected myself, however, the flexibility will allow me to alter my plans as to best accomplish what needs to get done today. Flexibility will allow me to adjust my sails to the changes in the economy, in technology, in my personal and professional relationships. By focusing on what can and must be accomplished today, I can set aside worrying about things that I have no power or control over (yet).

I’m not saying, implying or inferring in any way, shape or form that you should not have, nor should you abandon, long-term plans and goals. I am just saying, break those action steps into daily activities, actions and resolutions. Focus on what can and must be done today.

In other words, you do need a plan, but you don’t need a complicated one. What I do, and suggest to the masses, is to focus on three to five larger ideas (buckets) that you can rattle off the tip of your tongue. Under each bucket fall the specific tasks. Those become your daily resolutions.

So here’s my white board now.

IMG_9185Eventually all the white will disappear filled in with ideas, tasks, notes, and more. I continue to manage my tasks through Get it Done, and am spending time this week cleaning out all my emails (work, personal, Girl Scouts) to make sure I am good to go.

So Happy New Year to everyone. I look forward to a productive year, and look forward to the new experiences and good things to come.

Is it time to say “good bye” to the annual holiday card?

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Flashback Christmas (2002)

Holiday cards. Hate ‘em or hate ‘em?

Over in the LME a question was posed: “Are you receiving fewer holiday cards this year (print and e-cards),” and the resounding response was: “Yes!” and can be verified by the USPS:

In 2011, American households on average sent about 16 holiday greeting cards, according to the Postal Service’s recently released 2012 Household Diary Study report. Twelve years earlier, 23 holiday cards were sent. Data from the Greeting Card Association also chart the downward trend: U.S. consumers bought 1.5 billion holiday cards in 2011, compared to 2.7 billion in 1995.

(note, these stats are from 2013)

And then we started chiming in to answer, “Why?”

I have not conducted a full marketing survey on this, so I will go with my intuition and personal experience as I know I am receiving fewer cards, and it’s been a few years since I have sent any.

For the past 20 years I sent out cards, and lots of cards, because it was what you are supposed to do. I had a list with several hundred names I compiled over the years. I wrote a personal message on each card. After I had kids the family photo cards started, with a quick little personal note on the back.

As the kids got older, they helped to stamp and seal all the envelopes. We had an assembly line going. It was a part of our holiday tradition.

Then my mother-in-law got ill and passed away right before Christmas a couple years ago and I just didn’t send them. The following year I couldn’t find the urgency to pull it all together, and felt guilty for every card I received. This year I made the conscious decision to go without sending any and removed myself from holiday card list I had been on for 27 years. And I’m okay with that decision.

For me, the annual holiday card was a time to connect with faraway family and friends, business acquaintances and colleagues. It was putting a little cheer in someone’s mail box who might not have a lot of family or personal connections. I would send a recent snap shot of my kids and the next time we met you would be amazed at how they had grown.

And then along came Facebook and we are connected every day of the year.

Of  the few photo cards I have received this year I realized that most of the pictures you used I’ve already seen on Facebook. I don’t really need your family newsletter because I know all about your vacation to XYZ, and your home remodel. I enjoyed the pictures from your wedding/new baby/graduation, and sadly, I already know about the recent passing in your family. And the good news that your daughter/son has gotten engaged/had a baby/was early accepted to an awesome college has already been shared and congratulated.

Come Christmas morning, I will connect with everyone I care about in real life, and I will call those who cannot come over to my house. Through Facebook I will enjoy every moment of seeing your kids awe in waking up to all the gifts that Santa left (because our Santa days are long gone), and will put out a notice that we’re headed to the movies at X time if you want to join us.

I believe the holiday card as a ritual is slowly dying out because it has lost its meaning in the land of Facebook and Skype. Which means that there is hope for a future. To me a holiday card will once again become something very personal, to be savored, just like a hand written thank you note, they will gain a perceived value.

Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah, from the MGM Family.

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The First Amendment is Alive and Well in Florida Despite State Bar Association’s Efforts

first amendmentFor anyone who follows the saga of the State Bar of Florida v. the First Amendment of the United States, I am happy to announce that the First Amendment has won yet again.

In the latest ruling, as Larry Bodine points out on his blog, a federal judge,

[b]lasting the Florida Bar, … threw out state ethics rules that ban the use of past results in lawyer advertising in indoor and outdoor display, television and radio media. The court held that the rules were unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment.

Fans of the First Amendment will enjoy ready more about the case at Rubenstein v. The Florida Bar.

You’ll find such great tidbits, such as The Florida State Bar’s own research shows that 74% of respondents “indicate that past results are an important attribute in choosing a lawyer.”

Or quoting Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, where the US Supreme Court rejected arguments that “the public is not sophisticated enough to realize the limitations of advertising, and that the public is better kept in ignorance than trusted with correct but incomplete information.”

In a country where Yelp! and Google are the go-to research tools for anyone trying to purchase a product or service, more information is better, not less. As I have written before, every state, and the federal government, already has rules in place prohibiting false advertising (click here for more posts). Use those laws for enforcement, if needed. But the rules for lawyers, via the state bar associations, often times go way beyond those constitutionally acceptable prohibitions.

One of my favorite rules is where a bar association bans (explicitly or implied) the word “expert” or “specialist” when an attorney is describing him or herself in a bio.

A quick search in Google finds that an expert is “having or showing special skill or knowledge because of what you have been taught or what you have experienced,” and a specialist is “a person who has special knowledge and skill relating to a particular job, area of study, etc.

(And it didn’t take a juris doctorate from an ABA-accredited law school to figure out what those word mean)

Riddle me this: When you’ve spent the past 20-plus years as an IP attorney, or litigating hundreds of (fill in the blank) cases, or exclusively representing families in divorces, why shouldn’t you be able to call yourself an expert or specialist? With or without a state certification in such a field? But the state bar associations have no problem with you branding yourself a Super Lawyer or Best Lawyer (with or without the plaque).

If you have past experience, and verifiable results, why should you not be allowed to communicate that to the purchasers of your services?

Oh, wait, you now can, thanks to the First Amendment. I just wonder how many billable hours and attorney fees went into getting to that decision that seems so obvious to this “non-lawyer”? (probably enough to call yourself a specialist in Constitutional Law.)

Once again, let’s give it up for the First Amendment … now, if we can just get rid of some of those other crazy disclosures rules.

 

 

 

You had me at “the billable hour is directly opposed to the best interest of the client …”

Mark this day down on your calendars, kids. We will one day look back on November 18, 2014, as the first day in the long anticipated end to the dreaded billable hour.

From today’s American Lawyer:

Law firms have been calling for the end of the billable hour for decades. And since the 2008 recession, they have increasingly offered cost-conscious clients alternative fee arrangements.

Now Jackson Lewis says it wants to take the next step in the evolutionary process of alternative fee arrangements by eliminating the billable hour as an evaluative tool for its 293 associates. As of Jan. 1, associates at the labor and employment firm will be assessed on efficiency, client service, responsiveness, team-orientation and pro-bono commitment in an effort to align the way Jackson Lewis “deliver[s] legal services with clients’ needs,” according to firm chair Vincent Cino. (The firm’s compensation model for partners is based on revenue rather than hours.)

“The billable hour is directly opposed to the best interest of the client and to the provider of service because by its very nature it adds an artificial barrier to the accomplishment of the only real objective, which is a quality legal product for a set and expected price,” Cino says.

Whether you agree or not that the “billable hour is directly opposed to the best interest of the client” you have had to wonder, at some point in your career, “Well, how did we get here?”

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Can a law firm exist without clients? 49% of new partners surveyed think so.

I’m reading a new survey from ALM, New Partners Ambivalent About Rainmaking, Survey Finds, and am aghast at the naïveté of the respondents. Apparently, 49% of new partners surveyed don’t think that their ability to make rain is a deciding factor in their being promoted to partner (equity or non-equity).

Asked how important they think certain factors were in their promotion, 84.4 percent of respondents said they believe they were promoted according to their ability to perform first-class legal work, and 60 percent cited the strength of their commitment to the firm. (Respondents were allowed to choose more than one answer.) Just under half—49 percent—of new partners said that their ability to bring in new clients was an important factor in their promotion, although equity partners saw developing clients of their own as somewhat more important than nonequity partners did.

“Associates are not adequately aware that they effectively need their own book of business of approximately $750,000 to $1 million to be a partner at a large law firm,” one respondent wrote in the survey. “Even if an associate is promoted, they are destined to be unsuccessful as a partner without this size of a book.”

Wow. Without clients, you know the people who write big checks to the firm, there is no firm. Clients do not appear out of nothing. Those relationships have to be developed over time, years actually, then maintained and hopefully built. Institutional clients no longer exist. You cannot make partner and expect — poof! — originating credits miraculously appear.

And to the 84% who think the ability to do first-class legal work is what got you promoted, let me clue you in on something: The ability to do first-class work is stipulated; you would have been fired years before if you could not do so.

And while business development might not be the most comfortable of tasks for an individual, it is very important to a firm that their equity partners bring in new business. A law firm cannot exist on service partners alone (unless you hire a Pete).

Business development (sales) is not a talent many of us are born with, but it can be learned and developed over time for many (not all). But it first must be engrained into the culture of the firm. Too many firms do not support business development, but expect the results. There is no training or coaching to learn the skills necessary to accomplish the tasks. There are no rewards, in the form of hourly requirement credits, for business development. Too often the hurdles to get approval become insurmountable, and I haven’t even touched on the compensation system.

How timely that Dave Bruns and I will be presenting next week at the ALM West Coast Law Firm Marketing & Business Development Leadership Forum in San Francisco: The Total Package: Business Development Integration for Success. This is a topic that is near and dear to the business development teams across the country, and we hope to discuss what firms need to do to support the success of their business development programs.

 

Merger Update: Two weeks in and all is good.

felix the catTwo weeks into the merger and I am starting to get my bearings. I’ve got my first assignment, overseeing the marketing and business development for one of the practice groups. We’ll add on some other opportunities and responsibilities as we go along.

I am at a great advantage being the new marketer on the team. I can push new ideas and processes because: 1) I don’t know they tried that five years ago and it didn’t work; 2) I am not constrained by preconceived notions of what can and cannot work; 3) I can get away with asking, “Hey, can we do this?” and not look or sound ignorant; and, 4) I am not influenced in one direction or another by the culture of the firm/department/practice/partners.

Today is a good day to evaluate and challenge the way things have always been done. Is this the best process? What is the procedure? Is this working? What isn’t working? Why is it done that way? What can be done better? Where can we push the envelope?

When you’ve been in a position for a while it’s so easy to fall back on “we tried that” or “that won’t work.” We get complacent. And when I say “we,” I mean “I.”

I am dusting off my bag of tricks and digging back in there to see what I might be able to try now. In “Leading Change,” John Kotter‘s first step in the eight step process for leading change is to create a sense of urgency, an opportunity that cannot be disregarded.

I have a great opportunity today to lead change, and find a better way of doing things. And that I will not disregard.

Side note: One day I’ll really get into this idea, but I have come to realize that in a merger like this while I am at a great advantage in many areas, I am at an equally great disadvantage, specifically when it comes to relationship building, and knowing what to do on day one. Why? I’m narrowing in on it having to do with not going through the interview process. In a way, I am negative two months into my job, still at the old job, but doing my job at the same time, while “interviewing” and getting to know people. But that’s a blog post for another day.

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