Archive for the ‘ business of law ’ Category

Big Titles are not the problem at Big Law

imageA momentary pause in my vacation to bring you the latest installment of the showdown in Texas between the “haves” (a JD) and have nots (“non-lawyer” professionals).

In his must-read post, Texas Scold ‘Em, RyanMcClead responds to Chrysta Castañeda‘s article from Texas Law Book entitled Get Wall Street Out of the Practice of Law. (Subscription Required)

From Ms. Castañeda’s article:

Hourly rates have gone up because that is how you increase profits in a law firm, and what the business school graduates who run Big Law know how to do is to measure profits. Increasing profits is how they get paid big bonuses (a potentially unethical practice, according to the opinion).

There is only so much cost-cutting you can do to increase profits, and the hourly rates have to pay for the Big Titles of the ever-increasing non-lawyer management ranks. As a result, every lawyer needs to bill more hours at a higher rate each year for the firm to look profitable in the year-over-year metrics that the non-legal managers live by. They have trained the lawyers to live by them too. Et voila: sky-high billing rates that only the most profitable corporations can afford.

Seriously? The skyrocketing costs of legal services has nothing to do with partner profits and associate salaries? A quick scan of the original AmLaw 50 firms finds partner profits tripling or more (even when adjusted for inflation) at many of the firms. Associate starting salaries go far beyond their skill and knowledge level. But that isn’t the problem either; I’ll save that for another post when I don’t have a dune buggy to pick up for the day.

Let’s just take the easy out and blame the half-dozen “chief” whatevers at the firm. Their salaries are just breaking the bank and driving those $700-$1500 hourly rates.

For those subscribing to Ms. Castañeda’s opinions, my friend and professional services consultant Ben Greenzweig has a question for all of you:

What makes the practice of law so different, so special, so unique that it’s business model must be so fundamentally different than other professions including professional services?

Let me let you in on a little secret: in my role as the senior marketing professional in my firm I do exert influence, and sometimes control, over the BUSINESS of law, but never the PRACTICE of law.

This exertion comes in the form of conversation, guidance, the drafting of letters and RFP responses, coaching, etc. It comes from going over the numbers and making suggestions based on my knowledge, education, and experience. And while I am not obligated under the California Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct, I am obligated under my employment contract with my firm to adhere to them nonetheless.

However, as much as I try, I cannot make a lawyer do anything they do not want to do. As a legal consultant once noted to me, “Lawyers pay a lot of money for good business advice they never take.”

Ms. Castañeda, I wish you well in your new career as a consultant to law firms, and look forward to seeing if your opinions have changed now that you have joined our ranks.

Oh, Brother. The Period Space v. Space Space debate. Again.

typewriter r. nial bradshaw

Hello. The ’80s called. They want their electric typewriter back.

As a legal marketer I often times debate with partners over whether or not it’s “period-space” or “period-space-space” in a document. As a writer, I often times debate this with random people in cocktail settings. Working with lawyers, who always want me to site my sources, I am always well prepared. Unfortunately, I don’t always carry my grammar books on me, so I will link my sources here for the inquisitive:

Chicago Manual of Style (online)

The view at CMOS is that there is no reason for two spaces after a period in published work. Some people, however—my colleagues included—prefer it, relegating this preference to their personal correspondence and notes. I’ve noticed in old American books printed in the few decades before and after the turn of the last century (ca. 1870–1930 at least) that there seemed to be a trend in publishing to use extra space (sometimes quite a bit of it) after periods. And many people were taught to use that extra space in typing class (I was). But introducing two spaces after the period causes problems: (1) it is inefficient, requiring an extra keystroke for every sentence; (2) even if a program is set to automatically put an extra space after a period, such automation is never foolproof; (3) there is no proof that an extra space actually improves readability—as your comment suggests, it’s probably just a matter of familiarity (Who knows? perhaps it’s actually more efficient to read with less regard for sentences as individual units of thought—many centuries ago, for example in ancient Greece, there were no spaces even between words, and no punctuation); (4) two spaces are harder to control for than one in electronic documents (I find that the earmark of a document that imposes a two-space rule is a smattering of instances of both three spaces and one space after a period, and two spaces in the middle of sentences); and (5) two spaces can cause problems with line breaks in certain programs.

So, in our efficient, modern world, I think there is no room for two spaces after a period. In the opinion of this particular copyeditor, this is a good thing.

Wikipedia has a full page dedicated to the topic, and another on language and style guides that references the spacing as well.

AP Stylebook:

Use a single space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

Gramamer Girl :

Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence.”

And while Strunk and White have remained silent on the topic, you can see that they use the single space in their publication.

To me there really is no debate, but I am happy to compromise nonetheless. In personal correspondence, take your pick, but just be consistent. In any published piece coming out of the marketing department, it’s going to be a single space after a period.

For those of you who are looking for the loophole, here it is: Why two spaces after a period isn’t wrong (or, the lies typographers tell about history).

Photo credit: r. nial bradshaw on Flickr.

Although how many spaces you use is ultimately a style choice, using one space is by far the most widely accepted and logical style. The Chicago Manual of Style (1), the AP Stylebook (2), and the Modern Language Association (3) all recommend using one space after a period at the end of a sentence. – See more at: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-many-spaces-after-a-period?page=1#sthash.Of5W7jmi.dpuf

Two tips to revolutionize your time and project management

busy-ladyI know I am not alone in always trying to manage my time and projects. Truth be told, I do this better on some days then on others.

When things get out of hand, and my in-box starts to overwhelm me, I know it is time to get back to basics. I need to declutter, toss and delete, file, create action lists, and hopefully find a couple new tools or tips along the way to aid my efforts.

So here are two tips I will be living today as I clean out my in-boxes. Yes, plural: Work. Personal. Girl Scouts. Not to mention all the piles of paper on my desk.

  1. If it takes two minutes or less, do it now.
  2. Begin your project/action items with a verb. (this one is new)

Both tips are courtesy of David Allen, the go-to guru for productivity. I also liked this article today from HBR, How to Spend the First 10 Minutes of Your Day.

And for those wondering, I’m still loving the Get it Done app to manage my projects and lists. I just have to do it more.

 

 

Legal marketing lessons from the NBA playoffs

I was reading a debate on the NBA playoffs where the commentators were wondering how an older team could beat the better players? And not just beat them, but crush them.

Very simply stated, the San Antonio Spurs played as a cohesive team, competing with the Miami Heat for the title; while the Miami Heat players competed against one another for the ball.

How often do we see this in the law firm environment?

Lawyers down the hall, or in other offices, competing against one another for work, then wondering why the smaller, less prestigious, or more expensive firm got the business?

How often are client “teams” built based on “protecting” an individual partner’s relationship (origination credit), rather than deepening the client’s relationship within the firm?

Working together as a team across a firm allows a law firm to pool the strengths of the individual attorneys, endure challenges, make it through rough patches, and regroup to try again and do a better job, based on the lessons learned, the next time a similar opportunity arises.

Competing against one another only pits rainmaker against rainmaker, practice against practice, and office against office.

While on paper the firm might be the better firm for the work, have the more experienced partners, and a wider variety of practices to provide better service, but gather them together and the group does not function as a team. In these “best player” firms, there is often a lack of communication, sharing of work, and, worst of all, a lack of trust.

I urge us all to learn the lesson from the older, not as fast or agile players of the San Antonio Spurs, and come together as a team at all times.

However, players alone did not win the 2014 NBA Championship. The strong leadership of Coach Popovich cannot be overlooked nor minimized. Without his leadership we might have another three-peat on our hands.

Without a strong leader, to whom all the players, or, in our place of business, all the “some partners are more equal than other” partners will answer and take direction, we will never achieve true success. We might make it to the final rounds, we might win some great matters, but we won’t have the longevity of a dynasty team … or firm.

Exceptions don’t make the rule. The business model is broken.

2372626568_63f6b8c069_oGreat debate starting to take place in the legal marketing/business of law world.

Is the business model broken?

At the Legal Marketing Association‘s annual conference, I attended a moderated roundtable discussion on Disruptive Legal Trends. While it began as a discussion of the Axioms of the world, the conversation quickly shifted to the business model itself. The summary of that session, along with the Big Data session, can be found in LMA Think Tank Live Summary prepared by Shift Central.

I was in the room when Toby Brown spoke his now immortal words, summarized in his post, The Business Model is Not Broken, and he is right, all eyes in the room “turned and gave me [him] the ‘who farted’ look.”

I must admit, I am one who believes that the model, in general, is broken. And while there are exceptions out there, such as Toby’s firm, Akin Gump, who are leaders in the change management, there are too many firms out there refusing to evolve.

The leverage pyramid of partner to associate is gone. The billable hour is losing popularity and faith. Alternative fees are not discounts at $1 million billed.  And merger to grow (or survive) is not a strategy.

Clients are more and more in tune with cost and price to value propositions, and lawyers, the service provider, need to evolve and meet their clients on their plane (and I am not talking the kind with first class seating to be billed out as a necessary expense).

I have heard attorneys say, when presented with new processes and procedures that will save time, “Don’t they know how I make my money?”

And that’s what’s broken. The profession of law has evolved into the business of law and not all lawyers and law firms have drunk the Kool-aid and evolved.

Firms and attorneys that truly understand the nuance between profession and business will survive. Those that don’t will fade away. Sadly, most of those firms will fade away with little fanfare.

Toby and I are not really at odds. We’re just looking at the same thing, yet our perceptions are skewed by our vantage points. He is at Big Law that is doing it right, while I am at a regional, mid-sized firm that is evolving. The conversations we have with our peers are different, because our peers are different.

Our firms are lucky. They are the exceptions. Their legal professionals are in the middle of the conversations surrounding this evolution, and helping to reshape the cultural and business model within our firms. But what about the rest?

The Patton Boggs and Orricks (are they next???) of the AmLaw 100 world get lots of press as they search for a merger partner, yet annually there are dozens of other firms of local prominence across the country that are acquired by big law with little more than a press release, or fail on their own and quietly close their doors.

As I said in the Think Tank, on the smaller platforms it is hard to hide a failing business model. It is readily apparent what is working and where things are not, and merger as a strategy, in and of itself, will not help a firm to survive. It just puts off the inevitable.

It’s a very interesting conversation and one that will continue.

Photo credit: Amanda Hatfield on Flickr

Memorial Weekend Reading: Strategic Imperatives for the Law Firm of the Future

Legal Technology Future HorizonJust in case the weather kills your plans to drink, BBQ and surf your way through the holiday weekend, I suggest you download a copy of ILTA‘s new study: Legal Technology Future Horizons, Strategic Imperatives for the Law Firm of the Future (PDF).

From the (seven page) executive summary:

At the legal industry level, they have highlighted six critical issues:

  • An accelerating pace of technology disruption and diffusion with the associated challenges of learning to manage rapid systems change and embrace the strategic potential of IT
  • Responsiveness to client needs around value, speed, innovation and security
  • Industry level forces such as intensifying competition, changing firm structures, business models, new entrants and a heightened talent agenda
  • The impacts of consumerization, commoditization, automation and the pursuit of optimal firm scale
  • Responsiveness to the opportunity and competitive challenges presented by emerging economies
  • The pursuit of differentiation in the face of continuous change

And while the report was written with the global or large firm in mind, how can any firm, of any size, in any location not take note of the following:

While IT advances are expected to permeate and transform every aspect of law firm activity, four core themes emerge:

The Client Is the Priority

We must focus IT investments on securing and enhancing customer relationships. Strategic priorities must include quality of insight and advice, speed, responsiveness, flexibility, enhancing the capability and efficiency of professional staff and the capacity for innovation. Operationally, client demand is expected to focus on clarity of progress and budget  reporting, providing real-time visibility of legal workflow, improving collaboration, integrating with client systems and building intelligence into systems to add insight and value and reduce the level of human involvement required.

Leverage Lawyers

We must enhance the productivity, strategic insight and impact of lawyers. At the most basic level, they need to perform from anywhere at any time on a range of personal devices that could emerge over time. Next, we must build intelligence into lawyer support to anticipate and provide the content they need when they need it — from analyzing critical information to presenting in court. Artificial Intelligence will play a major role in learning how lawyers work, personalizing the support and gradually automating many of the tasks historically performed by professionals.

Re-Engineer Processes

We must take a process- and project-management approach to all work undertaken. Workflows must be streamlined, broken down to discrete tasks to be allocated to the lowest cost resource that can complete them — a lawyer, outsourced service partner or intelligent system. This will accelerate the commoditization of many tasks and could reshape the legal value chain as more low value tasks are parceled out to external providers. This in turn will drive the firm to focus on developing new, value-adding higher-fee services.

Innovate to Differentiate

As a greater scope and volume of work is automated and the price gets driven down, firms must focus on using IT to generate and support client-focused innovation. This may be the development of new products and services, taking on activities traditionally performed in-house by the client and moving up the value chain into areas such as new product development. For example, as clients enter new markets with technology solutions like driverless cars, these will be highly disruptive and will require new thinking in areas such as risk and liability. Increasingly intelligent products might even have laws embedded; for example, cars could fine us for exceeding the speed limit. Law firms will need to use IT to help develop early warning systems that alert them to the emergence of such new ideas. Leaders will seek to gain a “first mover advantage” by approaching the innovators and becoming involved from the product design stage.

If you are interested in having a conversation on the study, turns out we have some June Gloom headed my way … so feel free to post in the comments below or join us over at the LME. We’re talking 140 pages of good stuff here.

“Non-lawyer” is NOT a word. More fallout from Opinion 642.

For a profession that can literally live or die by the comma, the word “non-lawyer” is tossed about to describe anyone without (or in some cases with) a JD  working in any capacity within a law firm. Yet “non-lawyer” isn’t a word.

Not only is it not a word, it is not a labor category via the EEOC.

Not only is it not a labor category, I can’t find it as a job title via Monster.com or CareerBuilder.

Yet, time and time again, those of us working in the legal industry as business professionals are lumped together as “non-lawyers.”

Once again this “non-lawyer” has reared its ugly head, this time with the Texas Center for Legal Ethics’ Opinion 642.

I wrote about the opinion on Friday, Dammit. We’re a BUSINESS, Texas Center for Legal Ethics. Not just a profession, and you need to know about this whether or not you are a lawyer or a “non-lawyer,” and whether or not your firm has offices in Texas or not.

In short, Opinion 642 bans all references to “officers” in titles, and bans any type of bonusing based on fees generated.

This is a serious issue, which could have dramatic unintended consequences, yet humorous in a sad way. As captured by 3 Geeks and a Law Blog’s Ryan McClead in The Depths T’Which Ethics Reaches: or, The Origin of Opinion 642:

Dewey said to Cheatum, “What ever shall we do?
Our book is getting slimmer and I haven’t got a clue
How to run a proper business, you know, one that still makes money?
We can’t just raise our rates… stop your laughing. It’s not funny!”

“Oh silly Dewey, how you worry!” chortled Cheatum through his drink.
“There’s no problem we can’t tackle with a good and proper think.
We’re the brightest and the smartest and by far the best paid too,
We’ll just put our heads together and we’ll figure what to do.”

The business of law has far surpassed the profession of law. From the recently released 2014 AmLaw 100 results, each of the top 23 firms’ revenue was between $1 billion and $2.5 billion. This is no small profession, but a full industry to be supported by educated and well-trained professionals in their specialized departments.

For my department, marketing, the industry “standard” is to hire a full-time, in-house professional by 40 attorneys, and then another FTE for every 20-40 more. Even at that size of a firm, we’re oftentimes looking at businesses with revenues of $50 million or more. Once again, not a small business to be run without full-time, sophisticated, professional assistance.

The whole “non-lawyer” topic reminds me of an article written by Jeffrey Brandt at the beginning of this year: “Name Shame. You don’t need a bar ticket to be a legal professional.”

Jeffrey was objecting to a legal consultant’s use of the term “nonprofessionals” in a Legal Technology News article, “Culture Shift, Technology Lead to Staff Cuts,” to describe, well, people like me:

Boston-based legal consultant Jeff Coburn was quoted as saying, “The ratio of nonprofessionals to professionals is going to continue to go down. It’s all part of law firms becoming businesses.”

I’m not going to debate that culture and technology are impacting job roles inside law firms. I’m not going to comment on whether ratios are changing or should change (at least not now). But I am certain that I am not the only reader who took issue — severe issue — with the term “nonprofessionals.” Even without the context, I knew exactly who Coburn was referring to — the nonlawyers. Other less offensive phrases in the post included “traditional clerical functions,” “nonlawyer staff,” and “support staff.” As part of my disclaimer, I should say I don’t know Jeff Coburn. I sincerely hope it was just a poor choice of words on his part and not representative of an attitude or belief that he holds.

The new normal is changing the way law firms do business. The article itself argues that culture, technology, desire for greater efficiencies and higher profits are changing the roles of law firm employees. But last time I looked, in addition to lawyers, law firms require technologists, Help Desk staff, library specialists and researchers, litigation support teams, marketing personnel, financial experts, paralegals, secretaries, human resource staff and other administrative experts in order to run.

Merriam-Webster defines “nonprofessional as “being such only for recreation” or “lacking or showing a lack of expert skill.” It offers up synonyms of amateur and unskilled. It goes on to define professional as “relating to a job that requires special education, training, or skill.”

I could kiss you, Jeffrey.

Lawyers practice law. Something I do not do. But unless they are a solo with no support at all, their business operations are being handled by professionals. The CFO with a finance degree from UCLA. The COO who is a Harvard Business School grad. The CMO with an MBA from Wharton. The CTO from MIT. Not to mention all the non-practicing lawyers who are running and managing these multi-million or billion dollar operations.

So can we please retire the term “non-lawyer”? But, at the same time, we need to recognize the sophisticated nature of the business side of the business.

One of the fears raised by the Texas Center for Legal Ethics is that it will be misleading to provide a “non-lawyer” with a title that includes “officer.” That by tying compensation to revenue you would create an environment where the non-lawyers would interfere “with a lawyer’s independent judgment in practicing law.”

Once again, if you can show me where a non-lawyer was able to interfere with a lawyer’s “independent judgment in practicing law,” we need to have a conversation. If you can show me one situation where a client was misled that a Chief Operating Officer or Chief Marketing Officer  or Chief Diversity Officer was a practicing attorney working their files, there’s a comment section below.

Every one of our clients’ top executives receive bonuses based on revenues and performance. I don’t think these non-lawyers and lawyers running these Fortune 500 companies really care how the COO, CMO, CTO, CDO are compensated. They really just care that their bills are timely, and that they receive value for the money that they spend. Something over which we “non-lawyers” have little control, and, when we do have influence, it is in the clients’ best interest. We WANT our firms and lawyers to provide better services at a better value.

I will say that the business environment of many, many law firms keep the best and brightest business professionals away.  If this latest ruling, and our inability to move past “non-lawyer” when discussing executive professionals within the legal industry, prevents us from recruiting the best and brightest of the business world to our firms, then that is truly the unethical business practice.

That very day they wrote the rule that Howe had recommended.
Though sometimes even good ideas have pieces unintended.
Their non-attorney staffers all packed up and walked away.
Leaving Dewey alone with Cheatum to await their dying day.

Dammit. We’re a BUSINESS, Texas Center for Legal Ethics, not just a profession

I was having a perfectly pleasant Friday afternoon until a member of the LME posted about the Texas Center for Legal Ethics’ Opinion 642:

CONCLUSION

Under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, a Texas law firm may not use “officer” or “principal” in the job titles for non-lawyer employees of the firm.

The Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct also prohibit a Texas law firm from paying or agreeing to pay specified bonuses to non-lawyer employees contingent upon the firm’s achieving a specified level of revenue or profit.  A Texas law firm may, however, consider its revenue, expenses, and profit in determining whether to pay bonuses to non-lawyer employees and the amount of such bonuses.

What is the problem that the Texas Center for Legal Ethics is attempting to correct?

While most likely a plaintiff’s firm or SEO marketing company pissed somebody off, the following questions posed could apply to any corporate law firm:

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

1.  May a Texas law firm include the terms “officer” or “principal” in the job titles of the firm’s non-lawyer employees?

2.  May a Texas law firm pay or agree to pay specified bonuses to non-lawyer employees contingent upon the firm’s achieving a specified amount of revenue or profit?

In other words, let’s just prevent a law firm from, gasp, attempting to act like a business.

Continue reading

Controversial Clients and Social Media: The Donald Sterling Edition

As an LA Clippers fan, I am disheartened and disgusted by Donald Sterling, his wife, and everyone associated with the franchise who have stood by and co-signed this racist crap.

However, just as his wife is currently being represented by counsel in her attempt to retain her ownership of the team, Donald Sterling deserves the same, controversial or not.

Yet, in our social media warfare world, TMZ is reporting that eight major law firms have rejected his attempts to retain counsel. Donald Sterling is “radioactive.”

Our sources say partners in the firms feel representing Sterling would alienate both their African American clients and corporate clients that are hyper-sensitive to controversy.

One source closely connected with Sterling tells TMZ … it’s especially galling for the Clippers owner, because a number of partners in these firms have called him from time to time asking for favors, including tickets to games.

They are reporting major firms in Los Angeles and San Francisco, which brings to mind several AmLaw 100 firms who are not shy or meek when it comes to their client base.

I am sad to say this, but I told yo so.

Mad Men, Lawyers and the Drudgery of Business Development


In the most recent episode of Mad Men we meet up again with our protagonist Don Draper, going through the motions of showing up to work. On time. Saying the proper hellos, then walking into his office and shutting the door.

Don has lost the trust of his partners. He has no work. He is bored. He sits in his office  and waits. For something. Something to happen. Waiting for the phone to ring.

When the call comes, from Peggy Olson, his former underling — not a mentee — he is insulted. He is being asked to do a job several rungs down the ladder.

But Don has yet to rehab his reputation. He is still on the outs with his partners who are unwilling to fire him. So he just sits in his office collecting a very large check.

Don, being Don, scoffs and gets rip roaring drunk. He causes chaos.

The work he wants, he cannot get. He has not earned back the right. He can see the future, it’s computers, but he cannot touch it.

Freddy Rumsen, his sober friend and ghost copy-writer, who has yet to repair all the damage he caused in his drunken days, tells Don to “just do your job.” Continue reading

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