Change ourselves from the inside out

In my morning meditation today (yes, I meditate) there was a great passage that got me thinking about myself, my character and my traits.

I am, by nature, a very cautious person and a loner. I don’t like people. I don’t like to socialize. I don’t take risks. And, I care what people think about me … too much.

Now, for those of you who know me, I’m sure you’re laughing out loud right now. When I have confessed this in the past, I hear protestations of: “You’re so social.” “You’re always taking a stand and speaking your mind.” “You’re bold and forward thinking.” Yes, I am those things as well, but only because I work at it, on a daily basis. Over the years it has become easier and more natural for me … but I can easily revert back into my cave at any given moment.

Every day I have to actively work against my natural state of being so that I can participate in my life: at home, at work, and in my personal and professional communities.

So what does this have to do with lawyers? Attorneys are, by nature, cautious, autonomous and lack sociability.

There are natural “rainmakers” out there, who are few and far between, but what about the rest of the lawyers?

I have been asked before: “can you turn that service partner into a rainmaker?” The answer is “No.” I cannot turn a service partner into a rainmaker … but he or she can. It will take work. Daily work.

I would counsel the attorney to read books, attend seminars, subscribe to blogs and e-zines that promote the habits of highly successful rainmakers and salespersons. I would also counsel them to go against their nature every day. Pick up the phone when you’d rather send an e-mail. Write that commentary when you’d rather shut your door and play fantasy football. Go see your clients, speak at that conference, call that referral source. Get out of your cave. Go against your nature every day and fool us all.

From Eknath Easwaran’s Words to Live By:

Mind is consciousness which has put on limitations. You are originally unlimited and perfect. Later you take on limitations and become the mind.
Ramana Maharshi

Much of our daily behavior is conditioned by forces deep below the conscious level of our minds. This means we are limited to a conditioned, automatic way of thinking and responding to the events of life around us. When such a conditioned behavior is strong, we think of it as a fixed part of the personality. Othello is jealous, Hamlet indecisive, Macbeth ambitious; that, we say, is their nature. To many biologists, this is something that is built into our very genes.

I do not agree. Jealousy, vacillation, competition, and the rest are not permanent mental furniture; they are a process. A mental trait is a thought repeated over and over a thousand times, leading to words repeated a thousand times, resulting in action repeated a thousand times. At the beginning it is only a burgeoning habit of thought; you do not necessarily act on it. But once it becomes rigid, it dictates behavior. It is possible, through the practice of meditation and the other disciplines, to go against these conditioned ways of thinking and actually change ourselves from the inside out.

Do you trust me?

Jack asked this of Rose in Titanic. Deckard asked this of Rachael in Blade Runner. Aladdin asked this of Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin. Trust is the ultimate litmus test for any relationship. It’s what happens after you’ve moved past the stages of know and like. In these tough economic times, what we really have is a crisis of trust. Employees don’t trust employers. Banks don’t trust creditors. Consumers don’t trust their advisers. Without trust, markets freeze, productivity goes down, and fear quickly takes over the business environment. Bad times quickly become a self fulfilling prophecy when trust is absent.

U.S. currency doesn’t have a lot of text on it but one sentence that is printed on every bill and coin is “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Many in this country don’t even trust in this concept anymore. So what happens as trust erodes all around us? As Thomas L. Friedman states in his book The World Is Flat, “…the very thing that keeps open society open, innovating, and flattening, (and that) is trust.” If we allow fear to take over then trust has little opportunity to grow. Instead of giving into this fear perhaps it is more productive to reflect on who you trust and why?

Stephen M.R. Covey in his book The Speed of Trust goes a step further and spells out the economics of trust.

“A cynic might ask, ‘So what? Is trust really more than a nice-to-have social virtue, a so-called hygiene factor? Can you measurably illustrate that trust is a hard-edged economic driver?’”

Throughout Mr. Covey’s book he demonstrates his “…simple formula that will enable you to take trust from an intangible and unquantifiable variable to an indispensable factor that is both tangible and quantifiable.” Basically, he concludes that when trust is low, speed is slow and costs are high. Conversely, when trust is high, speed is fast and costs are low.

How true is this when we look at life inside a law firm? Our primary goal when working with attorneys and clients should be to establish trust. As Mr. Covey believes “Trust is a function of two things: character and competence. Character includes your integrity, your motive, your intent with people. Competence includes your capabilities, your skills, your results, your track record. And both are vital.”

If you have consistently performed both to the satisfaction of your audience then you already know the answer to the “Do you trust me?” question. If you haven’t, then maybe it’s time to regroup and focus on improving your character and competence.

Money and billable hours should not a law firm make

For the decade that I have been in legal marketing, the business plans of the big-firms, and the followers, hasn’t changed much. Bill more, bill at higher rates, increase leverage, lower real estate, get rid of under-performers, shed practices, or only invest in “high value” practices.

Some firms have learned how to get their partners playing nice in the sandbox together well by redesigning compensation plans to promote cooperation, or forming productive client teams. Some firms have learned how to better integrate new partners, new practices, new offices and newly acquired firms. But not many.

I had a great response to my “Not so Classy … Katten” post last week over at Legal OnRamp.

I don’t like cross posting, as that would defeat the purpose of having a forum like Legal OnRamp, but I’ll try and recap a couple salient points:

Money cannot be the only reward. Right now law firms are not developing and retaining talent. The only incentive to stay right now is money … and that reward is not a business plan.

Partnership is no longer the glue that holds a firm together. If money is the driving retention factor in a firm, it is left vulnerable to the portability of clients and talent to the firm across the street when revenues take a downturn.

Job or career security at a law firm has disappeared. The bigger the firm gets, the more susceptible their partners are to becoming more like “employees.” With no support or loyalty to the employees, including partners, how can the institution expect to receive any in return?

More Hellers and Thelens to come. Why, in the face of an economic downturn, without a compelling reason to stay together, would partners who don’t really know, like or trust one another, stay together?

Firms need to invest in their partners, associates and staffs in good times and in bad. While the corporate clients are taking a financial hit, left and right, every day, where are the law firms (And accounting firms, office supply/paper vendors, building management, etc.)? Will the law firms automatically increase billable rates come January, or will they partner with their clients to weather the coming recession? Will they continue to lay off non-equity partners, associates and staff, rather than reduce their PPEP?

Today’s ABA Journal blog, Howrey Chairman: ‘We Have to Economize for Our Clients’, is based on a Washington Post article, Law Firms Tightening Belts — By Request.

Robert Ruyak, chairman and managing partner of Howrey LLP, said he began feeling the heat from corporate clients last year. With tighter budgets, legal departments at Procter & Gamble, Qualcomm, GE Healthcare and others prodded the Washington-based law firm to provide significant savings in the fees it charges.

Howrey responded: It is assigning more work to lower-paid staff attorneys and negotiating fixed fees for certain clients rather than billing by the hour. To keep up profit, the firm is hiring fewer associates and has acquired a Madrid firm to expand its antitrust practice into the booming Spanish market.

Will client partnering win out? Or will be just more of the “same-old, same old” in the end?

Washington area law firms are retooling due to a financial crisis that is bringing growing pressure from corporations and a drop in work in mergers and acquisitions, litigation and commercial real estate. At least one global firm with a D.C. office is closing, and another announced layoffs last week. Some big firms here are becoming bigger through mergers, which are up this year, or by snagging teams of lawyers from their competitors. Others are shifting to more lucrative specialties, such as bankruptcies, foreclosures and regulatory work related to implementing the bailout package, or capping salaries of associates and restructuring.

(Emphasis added)

Not So Classy … Katten

Well, it didn’t take long for our first “not so classy” layoff announcement. Our friends over at Above the Law quote Katten partner and spokesperson Tasneem K. Goodman:

Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP this week eliminated the positions of 21 associates and counsel across multiple offices and practices. This measure was taken to further improve the firm’s efficiency, to allow for the continued growth of its associates and to ensure the firm’s long-term success. No adjustments will be made to the new first-year associate class. The firm’s financial performance remains strong despite the current economic downturn.

I am so glad that eliminating these 21 associates will further improve your efficiency. Good luck to the Fall Associates.

Just Because … I have a posse

Carolyn Elefant asked in her blog post earlier this week: Who Needs a Mentor, When You Can Have Your Own Posse?

today’s colloquial meaning of “posse” — a group of folks with whom you surround yourself for personal support, or in the case of the workplace, to help you meet your career goals.

I have to say that not only am I fortunate to call many of those reading this blog mentor, but I also have a posse who have my back.

Here’s to Jayne and Tank … watch this (video also embedded in next post) .

Here’s to my posse

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Greetings from Ohio

Law firms shutting doors on both coasts, lawyers looking for work on both coasts, marketing staff reductions on both coasts of the U.S. and in the U.K , have been the conversation on this blog and on the Legal Marketing Association Listserv. There is even an “emergency” Webinar on the topic being hosted by the LMA.

A day ago I reluctantly, and with low expectations, dined at the restaurant of a hotel in Dayton Ohio where I was staying on business. Greeted by a cheerful hostess, seated at the white-clothed table with a lush vase of fresh flowers, I glanced at the attractive evening view over autumn hued flatlands. A fall menu was featured. The waiter approached and made a recommendation. I ordered the celery soup with fennel to start and pheasant with a wine reduction sauce. The entrée came with potatoes William, asparagus, and a field greens salad. The waiter recommended “Little Black Dress” pinot noir promising it would lift the flavors of meal. If I weren’t delighted he would make another recommendation. Warm bread with a crisp dark crust accompanied my first glass of wine. The ambiance was calming and even romantic; just me and my book. And then the soup arrived. Hot, but not too hot, and incredibly over the top delicious with fresh fennel. I sent the chef my compliments. The attentive waiter allowed just the right amount of time before serving the salad. It was remarkably crisp, chilled, very fresh and tasty. Okay. I’m thinking; it’s just a salad. I really wanted to ask for the celery soup recipe. A few more pages of reading after the salad was finished and the second glass of wine arrived. Did I mention that it was really nice wine for food? Then came the pheasant. The plate was beautiful. The bird topped with an orchid. I know, pretty predictable, but all the same it was a visual treat. The real dream was the asparagus. Not over cooked, not undercooked, just perfect. The wine glace on the pheasant, with a few fresh mushrooms, was light and proportionate; not over seasoned. The pheasant was moist and warm. Now the potatoes, well, people who know me know that I am a potato connoisseur. I judge a restaurant by the French fries they serve, so this William stuff was out of my ordinary scope. It did NOT disappoint. A mound of mashed with a crispy crust – almost like a croquette. I could hardly contain myself. Give the chef my compliments –again. I almost ate the whole meal. Okay, I’m not a restaurant reviewer and I’m getting to my point. When the bill arrived I thought they surely forgot to add the wine to it. Nope. 2 glasses of wine, soup, salad, and all the rest for $40.00! I was blown away. In Miami, $40.00 will get you a basic chicken entrée. In New York it will buy you a glass of wine. I had to tip generously just to feel good about myself. I felt I had robbed this chef of his priceless meal.

Back in my room I thought…that was an amazing meal; in Dayton Ohio. Funny – I didn’t have to pay New York prices to get an extraordinary meal. And that, my friends is what clients will learn once they taste the service, the menus, and the pricing of a mid-west law firm. Take heart non-AmLaw firms in the heartland. There is opportunity to shine when you may least expect it.


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