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.

My new normal begins today

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

It’s Thursday. Just Thursday. My email wasn’t blowing up at 6:00 a.m. with pipes bursting at the HOA. The kids got off to school on time. The computers at work are still working.

And while there are still balls in the air with the merger, and now the cultural and systems integrations, the dust is starting to settle (you know I love my mixed metaphors).

I’m not sure how your life works, but in my life either every area is blowing up at once, or everything is calm. It might look like pure insanity from the outside, and I get a lot of “I don’t know how you do its,” but my brain really functions well in those situations.

Basically, when it appears that I will never get through it, I know that I’ll get through it because I have always gotten through it. Time and again I have faced a “There’s no way this will get done by …” or a “I can’t handle this all …,” only to get it all done, and handle it all.

While in the midst of it all, I just remind my self time and again that I am just in the midst of it all. This is not “it.” This is just “now.” There will be another side. There will be another time.

What I do is just plug along with a “first things first” mentality: What needs to get done now? Today? Tomorrow? This week? And what can be put on the back burner, or handed off to someone else? My brain seems to just file things where they need to be filed. Do things ever fall through the cracks? Yes. In fact, on Tuesday we did have to scramble to get something done, but we met the deadline. Was I happy about that? No. But it does happen, and when it does you just do what you need to do to make it right, and then move on. Don’t blame others, or make excuses. Just get done what needs to get done and move on with no judgment. It happens.

For the most part, the past couple months have been a controlled environment of chaos.

Three weeks ago it was pure insanity. But it was a temporary insanity:

  • The “final” for my leadership class was coming up. I had two books to read and five homework assignments to prepare.
  • The merger date was fast approaching.
  • Girl Scouts was kicking off the year.
  • My HOA was suffering numerous crisis.
  • I have no time for my family.
  • Forget yoga.

Three weeks later:

  • Class is over.
  • The merger went live.
  • I have great Girl Scout moms who really carried the ball.
  • We just hired a phenomenal property management company for the HOA and they have already started to carry the burden.
  • I actually had a phone call with my sister today.
  • Back to yoga.

At work, right now, it’s about cleaning out the old, and making room for the new. So I’ll just shut my door, and turn on the music, and start to plug away at my email, the papers on my desk, the files that can be dumped. I need to clean up some things on the blogs. But for the most part, I will enjoy the peace today and tomorrow before I hit the road on Monday for some LMA meetings and to spend some time in the Chicago office learning the new systems, meeting new people, and finding my purpose moving forward.

Welcome to my new normal. I don’t have a 100% grasp on what that is right now, and that’s okay too. Because I know that will change soon enough.

M(erger) – We made it!

Well, day one is a wrap. The email worked. We had a nice welcome breakfast across the firm. Talked a little strategy. And got back to work.

Marty’s letters are ready to merge, print, and mail. Michael Newman was interviewed this morning by Business Insurance on a new California law. He wins the prize for the first legacy partner to be quoted in the press.

It was a good day.

And we got some new toys.

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M(erger) – minus 1 day: Ready or … we’re ready!

Well, the time is here. It is now. Today is it … well, actually tomorrow. But the switch is being flicked sometime between when I hit send on this post later today, and midnight (CT). As a whole, the mood in the firm and amongst those I’ve spoken with is great. It’s exciting. New things are coming. Sure, new is scary for some … but it’s still exciting, and everyone is focusing on looking forward, and not holding on to the past. The best part of doing this is that we’re not doing it alone. We’re all going into it together.

I will admit, I am a bit teary-eyed and nostalgic. I have worked at Barger & Wolen longer than I have ever worked anywhere else before now: seven years; which is a gazillion in legal marketing years. I will be tossing collateral out this week, and dumping old files. I will take those proposals off the shelf and archive them for future reference, including the ones I had just received to redo the website (we were in the midst of finalizing the design contracts and action plan when the preliminary meetings on whether or not to begin the merger conversation began).

So while I am excited for some of the new things that will hit my desk tomorrow, I am going to be gentle on myself as I start to let some of the other things go.

Here’s what’s on tap for today:

  • Staying a bit late to drop the something-somethings off on everyone’s desk.
  • Checking those email addresses. Of course, mine is wrong (better mine then an attorney).
  • Looks like it’s cake day. Happy birthday all you September people.
  • I am stopping everything right now and filling out my new payroll info. Getting paid is a priority.
  • Oh, crap. How’d that fall through the cracks??
  • Party at 4:00 to honor our past and celebrate our future.
  • Get Marty his letters for signature and mailing (Update: Yeah. Didn’t happen. Tomorrow is another day).

Tip: Commemorate the past, but embrace the future.

M(erger) – Minus 2 Days: Everything will be all right

Well, no turning back now. The switch will be flipped Wednesday morning, ready or not. I suppose we’re ready enough.

When you think about how quickly these mergers take place — from announcement to going live — 100% integration is not possible on day one. We have spent the past couple months prioritizing what needed to get done: pre-announcement; by October 1; from October 1 to October 31 (to produce the first set of bills); as well as what can/do we have to hold off on until a later date.

Some of the “delays” (I use that word very lightly) have to do with timing — there are only so many hours in a day, and days in a month — and some have to do with system upgrades that have to occur (which is why my e-mail address will have a little something extra added); some have to do with when contracts expire; and some have to do with cultural integrations: we can only throw so much at these people at once.

So anyone from Barger or Hinshaw reading this: Take it easy on yourselves. Seeing what you have done these past couple months, you have done all that you can to prepare, anticipate needs, and check items off those long check lists.

It will be okay. As long as the e-mails go through, and the phones are answered, we’re all good.

Now that everything that can be done is done, I am back to yoga at lunch. I’ve been skipping it and missing it. Have I mentioned that I am ready to get my normal back?

Here’s what’s on tap for today:

  • Woo hoo. I have letterhead and envelopes. Time to prep Marty’s first mailing.
  • Tackle a couple items in my employee paperwork pile.
  • Get in my final Barger expense reimbursement for month end.
  • Finalize the Barger history for the website.
  • Get that last practice group description in for the website.
  • Yup. Still getting bios back. But we’ve had great compliance.

Tip: Nothing is ever 100% perfect behind the scenes for any major event (be it a client CLE, a conference, an office move, or a merger). As long as the client service and experience are spot on (the bills are correct, emails go through), anything we have to do to make it work is what we have to do to make it work. So take a deep breath. Everything will be all right in the end.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

 

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