What We Learn From History

What We Learn From History

In Warren Buffet’s biography by Alice Schroeder, The Snowball, Buffet’s genius regarding stock picks was rooted in two things. First, he understood that he was buying the value of a business. He wasn’t interested in whether it was popular or not, but what the value of the business would be if it shut its doors right then and sold off for parts. Second, he relied on his fast knowledge of history regarding stock picks. He tirelessly poured over countless Moody’s Manuals to understand stock values. Many times he would lock himself in his office while his kids were playing. He sacrificed everything for the sake of becoming the premier financial advisor of our time; if not all time.

As lawyers, we rely heavily on precedents that the courts have handed down throughout history. Yet how much time do we actually spend reading cases? How many cases have you read in the last week? Month? Year? The best way to become an excellent lawyer is to pour over past cases and see how the court has dealt with the issues over time.

As leaders in the firm, we must also invest time in looking at leaders of the past. While there may not be numerous books of law firm leaders throughout history, we can spend time focusing on the habits of business leaders in other fields and apply their principles to our firm. Read biographies like Buffet’s. Read personal development books by John Maxwell. Whatever you do, start now. Perhaps one day, people will be looking at how you made history as a lawyer and a leader.

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Time to Stop Talking

So after reading Moneyball, and talking nonstop about how to use analytics in law practice, it’s time to put up or shut up. I know it has been a while since I posted and for that I am sorry. But I actually have a good reason – I’ve been working. Hard. Not just in law practice, but also in developing a system of predictive analytics for law. I’m starting small in the criminal and traffic space. I’ll give more details in a later post but suffice it to say with even the small sample size I am seeing a great deal of patterns in the outcomes of cases relative to the charges, whether the person has an attorney, whether a case typically gets reduced, and several other outcomes that are worth noting. So enough talk. Time to get back to work.

People First

People First

It’s easy to only think of yourself. As lawyers, we are busy. Our time is valuable. But people are worth more and I sometimes forget that. Oddly enough, as a leader, recognizing worth in others is extremely important.

First, you find a deeper worth in your clientele. As an associate, you are looking to add every billable dollar you can so you can move up the ladder. As a leader, you try to learn how to add value to that clientele so those dollars produce more dollars. You look past how a client can help the firm in the moment and instead focus on how they can become a part of the firm family.

Next, you must see value in your staff. It gets really easy to be frustrated with staff. After all, you killed it to move up the ladder. There were days where I played the roles of receptionist, paralegal, associate, and human resources at law. So when I hear a staff member complain that they do not have time to get something done, I have not been the most sympathetic.

But as a leader, it is not my job to crush people; but to inspire. You can only replace staff so often before you get a negative reputation in the hiring community. Lift your staff up and call on them to achieve greater. Give them a vision that they can buy into. You will find that with the right challenges and the proper motivation they will not only fulfill their work but will do so with joy and expectancy.

If you haven’t finished your list of resolutions add this to your list: put people first. It’s not just something to help you feel good. It’s something you need to do to take your firm to the next level.

Fear is the Enemy

Fear is the Enemy

There is only one thing that can prevent you from becoming the leader you should be: fear. Fear of failure. Fear of risk. Fear of taking a chance. Fear that you may lose a client. Fear that your staff won’t follow your lead. Fear that you won’t make enough money. Fear that the rainmakers might face a drought.

Ultimately, fear is an illusion. Any of these things can happen. But fear can be controlled. Replace your fear with faith. Faith that even if you fail, you can overcome. Faith that the risk is worth the reward. Faith that if you lose a client you will have more. Faith that your staff will believe in you because you care. Faith that when you do things the right way the money will come. Faith that the producers will keep on churning.

Don’t let fear control your firm. Fear is a choice. Choose faith instead.

Lawyer Moneyball

Lawyer Moneyball

I’m a sucker for underdog movies. Rudy, Rocky, the Rookie (why do they all start with R’s?) all speak to me that anyone willing to go the extra mile to overcome their obstacles can succeed. Another of my favorite “underdog” movies is Moneyball.

Moneyball is a baseball movie that shows us that success is not based on what you have but on what you measure. Rather than looking solely at what you see, the successful leader evaluates based on statistical analysis of one (or possibly more) specific criteria necessary to win. Sometimes our eyes lie to us; stats, on the other hand, are just the facts.

The problem with the legal field is that we aren’t very good at measuring. Much like the baseball industry, lawyers are slow to change and are even more deeply-rooted in traditions. But what if we started measuring how much it costs to obtain a client? Or the probabilities of winning a custody case versus settlement? Or measured the true value of the billable hour to alternative fee structures?

I have been searching for answers to these questions. Most of the articles out there are simply opinion or what ifs (sort of like this one). But I would love some input as to how lawyers in leadership roles are addressing these issues. What tools are you using? Are you even asking the questions at your firm? If so, what are you finding? I would love to get some feedback that I can share in future posts.

Time to Recharge

Time to Recharge

Lawyers underestimate the need to recharge. Personally, my heart begins to beat a little faster and harder just thinking about stopping the grind to take a minute to think. Despite all of the research and articles by those who are stunning successes, lawyers stubbornly disregard the advice to set aside time to think, meditate, and visualize. And I am the chief of sinners in this area.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to go to Myrtle Beach this past weekend for an early Christmas gathering with my side of the family. We do this every year before the actual Christmas holiday week so that we can take time as a family to reconnect and have some fun. It’s also a nice retreat from the hustle of work to allow me an opportunity to step back and see where I need change.

This trip I read The Energy Bus and wrote in my journal about my reading of Think and Grow Rich. The clear message of these books, and countless others, is that to be successful you need to know where you want to go, develop a plan of action to get you there, and focus your passion to getting the result you desire.

Persistence is a key. Failure is inevitable. But true failure only comes when you quit. When are you most likely to quit? When you are tired, lack focus, and feel stressed. This is why recharging your batteries is a must. Why not take just five minutes each day to turn off the TV and computer and let your brain rest. You’ll be glad you did.

The Gravy of Gratitude

The Gravy of Gratitude

Wow, that was way too much food. Turkey, sweet potato casserole, and chocolate pie. My family and I were blessed to eat way more than we should have. But the kicker was my mother-in-law’s gravy. Her gravy just makes everything taste better than it would otherwise. The turkey, the mashed potatoes; even things that didn’t need gravy tasted better with it. It adds a flavor that just makes you want to eat more.

Many times we come into the law office to do our jobs and get paid. This is certainly true of some of your staff. They work their 8:30 to 5:30 (on a good day) counting on their paycheck and hoping to get everything done that is expected. But what I’ve noticed is that when I show my staff that I am grateful for them and what they do to benefit the company, their work improves. Their attitudes improve. Everything is a little better with gratitude. It’s the gravy of the workplace.

Drop the Limiting Beliefs

Drop the Limiting Beliefs

One of the most oft used phrases in legal practice, as well as other fields, is “it can’t be done.” Clients come in wanting an immediate hearing. “It can’t be done.” Partners go to their staff and say complete this thing by the end of the day. “It can’t be done.” Usually, that’s the end of a discussion.

As attorneys, we are generally risk-averse. We fear losing. We don’t want to appear weak or hurt our reputations. After all, our reputation is what generates business. If we over promise but under-deliver, word will get out and the rainmaking will turn into drought.

But that’s just fear. Throw your limiting beliefs aside. As a law firm leader, you cannot afford to be risk-averse. You have to take chances. Innovate. Stretching is required to grow. If you are trying to move from associate to partner, you have to make tough leadership decisions. Don’t let your staff suffer from limiting beliefs. Trust them. Show them. Lead them.

Daily Habits for Law Firm Growth

Daily Habits for Law Firm Growth

As an associate, your main function has been to bill enough money to justify your salary and to gain enough experience so as not to commit malpractice. But as a partner, you not only continue those functions but add another: law firm development. So what steps can you as a partner to see sustaining law firm growth?

John Maxwell, leadership guru and author, teaches that we overestimate what we can do in one day and underestimate what we can do over several days. In other words, greatness is achieved in our daily habits. To illustrate this principle, he states that personal growth is like chopping a tree with an axe. If you swing an axe five times a day every day, eventually, the tree will fall.

He calls this principle the Rule of Five. As an author, his Rule of Five states that he must do the following five things every day: read, think, file, ask questions, and write. Christmas. His birthday. When he’s sick. When he doesn’t feel like it. Every day he does these five things. As a result, he’s written over 73 books on leadership.

I took a stab at a Rule of Five for Law Firm Growth. Obviously, this is a work in progress. These may not be the Five that we need, and I am open for suggestions. But these are the Five I have practiced over the last year and have seen a significant increase in my law firm business.

1. Every day I read the law.

Surprise. Lawyers need to know the law. Shocker. But you would actually be surprised by how many lawyers come to court unprepared. Sometimes it is intentional, but most of the time it was lack of preparation. We have a duty as professionals to stay up to date on legal precedents and codes. You wouldn’t want a doctor to operate on you that hasn’t prepared. Your clients don’t want an unprepared lawyer either.

2. Every day I network.

This is actually the hardest one for me. The practice of law is so busy. Running from court to court then to the office for appointments, it seems that there is never time to network. But this is crucial to grow your firm. People refer business to lawyers they know and trust. Take an hour a month and meet with a legal mentor. Send a congratulatory note to someone who was promoted. Just do something every day to put your name out there.

3. Every day I team build.

As a partner, you are a leader in your firm. If your employees are dissatisfied with their work conditions, you can be certain it will be evident to your clients. Build into your employees. Take them out to lunch. Make sure you are sending them to development training. Have family get togethers. Your clients will have a better experience if your staff is happy.

4. Every day I collect money.

Set a goal here. It’s not enough to bill. If the money never comes in, a bill is meaningless. I have a set amount of money I expect to bring in every day, whether by collecting on billings or through flat retainer fees. I have found that since setting the goal, I have always reached it. When I didn’t set a goal, the amount floundered.

5. Every day I communicate.

Whether you are a transactional lawyer or a litigator, you have to be able to communicate. I have a personal rule that I must try at least one case every week. Most cases settle but I find it pretty easy to find at least one person who wants to have their case tried. If you are not a litigator, take a public speaking course. If you are able to communicate, the sky is the limit for you.

So what are your thoughts on my Rule of Five for Law Firm Growth? Are there any that you would change? Any that you would replace and, if so, with what? I look forward to learning from those who are willing to share.

Why?

Why?

Students don’t go to law school to be leaders. They go to learn the law so they can pass the bar exam and get a job practicing law. But what happens when a lawyer reaches a position of leadership? An assistant prosecutor wins an election. An associate becomes a partner. Their legal skills have elevated them to a leadership role. But is that enough?

I have found that it isn’t. The skills necessary to lead a firm are much different than those of law practice. Lawyers are taught to be skeptical, risk averse, and critical. Leaders, on the other hand, are to be open, constructive, and risk-takers. So how are newly minted law firm leaders supposed to make the transition?

Most just flounder. After all, lawyers are a busy bunch. The billable requirements and rainmaking required to get them to partner doesn’t diminish with the new title. So leadership training is neglected, leading to toxic situations not only for their subordinates; but also for their associates.

It is my hope that this blog will be a resource for those who need some leadership guidance. I’ll be the first to admit that I am still in the growth process. As a named partner at a law firm who has practiced law for just over five years, the transition has been fast and full of mistakes. But with a steady diet of reading, tweets, and mentorships, the change in position has been made much easier. I hope that you will benefit from this. As we take this journey together, let me know what questions you have? What struggles are you facing? How have you overcome some of the lack of leadership training? I look forward to learning from you.DSC_0430