"Imminent" no longer

Heller partners vote to dissolve 118-year old firm on Friday. Check in with our friends at Heller Highwater for insider details as they start breaking.

As I said earlier today, I don’t think that Heller will be the last of the firms to dissolve, or merge out.

My best advice is to network, network, network. Download all of your contacts and start letting people know what’s going on. Update your LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter profiles immediately. The LMA job bank is an active referral source.

Buddy, Can You Spare a Job?

As the imminent demise of Heller Ehrman is wagging on everyone’s tongue, I can only wonder who will be man or woman enough at the firm to stand up and safely shepherd the good, and unfortunately loyal, staff into new positions?

Heller, however, is not the only firm in danger. As more companies (AKA “clients”) go under, as firms begin to lose their lines of credits, whose job is next?

As I sit in my office on the 47th floor, safely immune (for now) from the economic crisis at hand, I am so grateful. But what if …? I owe my career path to LMA. I owe my current job to my service role on the LMA-LA board of directors. I have always turned to LMA and LMA members when I have needed, or wanted, to make a job change.

Where are LMA, ALA, NALP, ACC, ABA, etc. on the issue? We all know that access to networking is key to finding a soft landing place. I challenge all of us to contact our professional associations and insist that they open up our national conferences and local meetings to anyone who is laid off due to the economy or a firm closure. Give them access to the networking opportunities available.

It need not come at a loss:

  • A headhunter can underwrite a sponsorship of registrations.
  • Attendees can have a check-in box on our registration forms to donate $10.00 towards a registration fund at a national conference or $5.00 for a local meeting.
  • Speakers, whose firms are willing to pay for their attendance at a conference or event, can donate their complimentary registrations back for someone else to use.

I commend the headhunters who are offering open houses in key markets. But there is more to be done. This morning I once again heard a definition of integrity: it is doing the right thing when no one is watching. I challenge all of us to do the right thing today.

Is Your Technology Standing in the Way of Service?

While I know everyone wants to talk about Wall Street bailouts and law firm layoffs, I’m still recovering from massive jet lag and need to keep it simple. For me, it always comes back to client service.

I was traveling back east for the past week on business. Starved on Sunday, I entered the hotel restaurant to grab a late lunch. With numerous empty tables in clear view, the hostess put her head down into the computer to see if there was a table available.

As you can see, there were several clearly available. But, after several minutes, I had to point it out to her. And, when she started to lead me to a darken table in the back room, I had to stop and insist on a table with sunlight. The hostess didn’t know what to do. I wasn’t sitting where the computer told her to seat me. I was messing with their technology. I was messing with their plan.

The restaurant’s technology was standing in between me and a basket of bread, and I was having none of it.

The experience got me thinking about technology and client service. I love technology. Technology allows us to be reached 24/7 via BlackBerry, use WiFi to work from nearly anywhere, and Twitter our every moment. But how many of us now use e-mail or texting to avoid conversations? How many of us screen our calls to avoid direct communication? As we begin the countdown to holiday card season, how many will wonder if it’s ok to send out an e-mail, rather than a personally signed card?

When I think about technology, I want it to advance my client awareness, not curtail it. I want technology to clear my plate so I can spend more time face-to-face with my clients. I want technology to enhance my ability to build “known, liked, trusted” experiences with my clients and referral sources. But, when technology only benefits the service provider, rather than enhance the experience of the customer/client, than it must be removed.

Let’s Have Some CONSTRUCTIVE Anger

In our busy days watching the markets, tracking the comings and goings at Heller (well, goings, anyhow), headlines like this, Pay Inequity for Women Paralegals, often get missed, but headlines like this, Shame, Shame: Gender Gap for Paralegals, don’t.

There’s a call for our collective anger. But might I be so bold to ask, where’s our CONSTRUCTIVE anger?? Let’s not turn this into a gender war, but use this as an opportunity to open a dialogue that will help resolve the issue, rather than divide it further.

For Chere Estrin, who first raised the issue here, she is focusing on gender inequality. Legal Blog Watch sums up Ms. Estrin’s post, “there is only one explanation, and that is that we still face a lack of equality between the genders. While we are less surprised by that in other fields, it is a shock for a field whose genesis is women.”

Is gender inequality the only explanation to the disparity in salaries? Not according to the comments that I read in Legal Blog Watch:

  • How about the studies that show that, for whatever reason, men tend to ask for more, and are less inclined to accept less, salary at the time of the job offer or pay raises.
  • A better explanation is probably found by examining what percentage of the difference in pay is due to overtime – and then finding out why there is an unequal allocation of late night work.

From the comments section of the Common Scold:

  • One of the biggest reasons why men are getting higher salaries is because they ask for them. Women tend to underestimate their value (and are sadly raised to avoid conflict) and, as a result, request salaries lower than their male counterparts. For example, a male paralegal may negotiate his salary upward from the offer, while a female paralegal may accept what is offered.
  • It would be interesting to look at how long women stay in a job compared to men. My sense is women stay at a firm longer than men which puts them into an annual COLA progression of salary, while the men jump firms and thereby jump salaries.

Hey, I agree, there is something wrong out there, but dropping bombs like this will only further the Us v. Them divide, and will halt all reasonable discussions:

The comment that women do a miserable job of negotiating salaries makes my blood boil. As a former exec in the legal staffing biz, I can assure you that is as much a wives tale and stereotype as anything else I have heard.

Does that mean that if a woman wears a short skirt, she’s asking to be raped? Employers have an obligation to keep those salaries equal.

Let’s get constructive and look at all the facts, all of the studies. If it turns out that women don’t negotiate well, then I recommend reading Talking 9 to 5. If it turns out that you work for a sexist jerk, update your resume and find a better job.

The Dance Might Be Over, But It’s Not Time to Go Home

I don’t know about you folks, but back in the day, when the dance was over, rather than call it a night and go home, we headed over to Cantor’s for some late night snacks and coffee.

Huh? Not making the connection?? The dance might be over for mortgage-backed securities, but I don’t see anyone ready to call it a day on the financial services market, the lawyers who represent them, or the staffs whose livelihoods are dependent upon them.

Right now we’re all focused on the screaming headlines and gossipy articles.

No one wants to go to work on a Thursday morning to find their firm’s biggest client listed in this hit piece? And with an article titled “Sidley essentially told their people: ‘DON’T PANIC!!!!!!!!!’”, can they do anything else but?

But, come on, people, flip the page and read past the negative headlines and start looking for the opportunities:

I might be pulling a Pollyana here, but I just left a lunch where we talked about how we can look to the current landscape and find the positive opportunities. Since I don’t believe there is a firm out there whose clients are not susceptible to the crunch, I will add to my suggestions from the other day:

  • While the big cases will go to “CYA” firms, what specializations do you have that will benefit your clients as part of an overall team approach?
  • When one practice slows down, others speed up. Time to start dusting off those bankruptcy attorneys.
  • Become the expert now. What is the landscape going to look like in 6 months for your practice/clients?? Time to update your website and bio to reflect future needs.
  • Get top of mind: Client alerts, speaking opportunities at trade conferences, timely articles, etc.
  • Invest internally. Linklaters unveils in-house business school. The Linklaters Law & Business School was launched on Monday (15 September) and includes practice diplomas, training for partners and managing associates and an orientation programme for new trainees.
  • It’s time tear down the barriers and cross-sell your current clients within the firm. Make a list of any client that might be susceptible to the markets downturns, or who might benefit. What services can your firm bring to the mix?

And I’ll repeat this from Tuesday’s post – it’s time to pick up the phone and call your contacts. If they are personally at risk of losing their jobs, how can you be of assistance? Can you be a friend that they can call? Can you make an introduction or two? Can you serve as a reference?

We can all get caught up in the gossip, but these layoffs and company failings are affecting real people both inside the legal industry and with our clients. Heller won’t be the first law firm to go under and Lehman won’t be the last financial institute to fail. My question is: how are you going to approach the news?

Financial Markets: Cooler Style

As I logged onto the news this morning I kept seeing headlines like Wall Street Braces for More, Market Swing Amid AIG Drama and AIG, Lehman Shock Hits World Markets. But this one brought it home, as the fallout will hit each and every one of us personally, London, New York Stand to Suffer:

Jobs in financial services tend to be more important for the overall economy. About 5% of New York City’s jobs are in financial services, but they account for about a quarter of wages, some $60 billion in 2006, according to the New York Office of the State Comptroller. That same year, personal and corporate taxes paid by the securities industry accounted for about 10% of the city’s tax revenue.

But it’s not just the WSJ, NYT and LATimes that are reporting the effects. The Insurance Insider, a trade publication for my firms’ clients, in an article this morning, Four cat bonds on negative following Lehman collapse, summed it up (emphasis added):
… no asset class can be completely isolated from turmoil in the wider financial world.

It’s not just the corporate types who will be affected by the imminent extinction of Merrill and Lehman. There are a lot of litigators out there billing these companies–and worrying about losing them as clients.

What’s going on at large law firms right now?Everyone is nervous. And it’s not a good thing to be a lawyer and to be nervous.

“There’s not a firm in the city that’s not terrified about what’s going on right now,” a managing partner of one top New York firm tells Tony Lin of sibling publication New York Law Journal. The source asked to remain unnamed because he was dealing with a heavy volume of client inquiries about the current situation.

If you think that you or your law firm is immune, think again. Linda Hazelton, Hazelton Marketing & Management, is doing a presentation this week at the LMA-Southeast Conference on Marketing During a Recession. I’ve asked her to share with us some of her main points, and perhaps feedback from those in the rooms.

Until we hear from Linda, here are a few of my suggestions:

  • What are your clients’ key industry pubs reporting on today? Understand how the financial markets impact their companies.
  • If your clients/referral sources are at risk, call and see how you can be of service to THEM. Not just their companies, but THEM. If their company is on the brink of collapse or bankruptcy, their first concerns will be about putting food on their table, not who is handling the filings.
  • Face time. Face time. Face time. You need to be, and stay, top-of-mind with your key contacts.
  • For we marketers, time to start thinking about clearing our budgets of “unnecessary” items. Now might not be the best time to kick-off a rebranding campaign or overhaul the website. I’m not going to ask for a high-capacity color laser printer right now. End-of-year charitable contributions/tables-of-ten will soon be reaching your desks. How are you going to evaluate them?
As I told Linda last week: if it doesn’t involve business development right now, it’s not on my radar. I want to be able to track financial ROI in the form of new business to anything that I propose doing.

When It’s Broke, Fix It

Seth Godin’s recent post Breakage is a great commentary on people’s tolerance for steadily increasing rates year after year.

For the last couple of years ACC members have been at the point Seth was when he’d “get the bill, sigh about the fee, consider the hassle of switching, pay the bill and move on.” In-House Counsel are increasingly annoyed with poor resource management, never-ending rate increases, and the beaming pride law firms take in increasing PPP. To make matters worse now rumors of rate padding are surfacing. Passive consumers of legal services are being called to action and the legal landscape is rapidly changing.

Throughout 2008, ACC has been planning a revolution and there will be casualties. The opening battle is set for Sept. 26th. How much time is left to fortify relationships with clients before they are blown apart? By year’s end, who will be rushing to clean up the rubble?

When it comes to billing, the legal profession is broken. The current billable hour structure rewards inefficiencies. So which law firm will be the next to step up, take the risk, and begin to aggressively redefine billing for the profession? If it’s a top AmLaw firm the process of this change will be accelerated because everyone wants to keep up the Jones Days, O’Melvenys, Gibsons, Sidleys, and Lathams of the world.

Perhaps instead of debating “holiday cards” – electronic vs. traditional or “gifts” – charitable donation vs. logo item, law firms should start thinking about giving something that’s on their client’s wish list like reduced rates, value based fees, or alternative fee arrangements. I guarantee these are the types of presents clients will appreciate now and in the future.

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