The Achievability of an Organisational Culture Change Project

In this post I consider two linked but quite difficult questions: Do law firms have any sort of organisational culture and, if so, how easy, possible or desirable is it to change it? Culture is a notoriously difficult area for any professional service firm and is a tricky area to write about. For a start, culture is intangible and somewhat hard to define; there are apparently more than 150 definitions of it extant today, and many of these lean on a confusing array of frameworks, matrices, overlapping circles and pyramids, accompanied by vocabulary and phrases that at times appear either dow...
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Why your Partners need to have Skin in the Game

Capital Introductions Driven by tax efficiency fail to address ownership issues Recent UK partnership taxes have apparently forced many firms to ask second tier partners to introduce some capital to the firm essentially in order to preserve self-employed status.  The problem is that capital introductions that are entirely driven by tax tend to obscure the real debate over ownership of law firms.  There are two sides of the ownership equation. The firm’s assessment of how much partner capital it needs to run smoothly and The more interesting question of how much capital a partner needs t...
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Lessons for Big Law Firms from Sole Practitioners

Big firms enjoy many benefits. There are clearly huge efficiencies to be exploited from a well-resourced organisation and, a multi-lawyer business model ought to lead to much greater profitability than most sole practitioners can expect.  Partners in big firms, however, insulated and protected by advanced systems, professional management and the comfort of co-workers, often lose sight of some of the harsh realities that face sole practitioners who spend much of their time at or near the front line of battle There are at least three areas where lawyers in larger practices can learn from the ...
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Comparisons need not be Odious – Assessing and Rating Lawyers

Model Three – Moderating the Scoring
Most lawyers are reluctant to score, grade or rate their people. They perceive that if you score low, it can result in an argument; if you mark high, it can make the rated individual complacent or arrogant.  Most raters tend to play it safe and mark somewhere in the middle, an averaging issue that can make the entire scoring process rather pointless.  There are also other difficulties to be overcome in the rating process Lawyers generally expect to see full details of the evidence presented and assessed – lack of trust usually means that a rating process can be long drawn out and compl...
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How You can Win through Practice Excellence

The attaining of best practice can often lead to an advantage in which true excellence becomes a winning competitive formula. What I love about strategic planning is its divergence, in that strategy takes an organisation in a distinctive and unique direction away from (and hopefully ahead of) its competitors.  In contrast, the achievement of best practice tends to be convergent in that most (if not all) firms are seeking to implement optimal quality standards, the best available systems, and the most streamlined efficiencies that are currently available.  Hence, whilst strategy ca...
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Why You need to get Communications Structures right in your Firm

Communication in professional service firms can to be sporadic, badly organised and effectively delivered.  Communications strategies need to be carefully planned and executed in line with the firm’s strategic objectives. Methods of delivery will of course vary but need to distinguish between the four different types of communications typically found in professional service firms.  1.    Educational and Informative Messages - getting information flowing easily  Informative or educational communications may be self-evident but there are nevertheless three important benefits of getting...
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Balancing the Work Ethic

Law Firms need a sense of balance in their work ethic expectations “My family and friends think I am mad!”, I was told by a young lawyer recently.  Fairly new out of law school after the attaining of two degrees, he leaves home for the office at 5.30am to miss the traffic and is in the office until at least 9pm each night.  He also works most weekends.  In his firm, the expectation is for hard work and long hours.  In contrast, I was recently nearly knocked over in the rush for the door at about 6pm at another larger firm, where moderate productivity has recently resulted in mediocre ...
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Strategies to ensure larger engagement practices are sustainable

“Swinging for the fences” is a baseball term used to describe the activities of big hitters whose aim is to hit the baseball out of the park and secure a home run.  Applied to law firms, there are partners who will spend huge amounts of time and energy chasing down and winning extremely large transactions that keep a large team busy for significant periods of time.  In contrast, and again using baseball terminology, “Steady Eddie” partners are those that have a sustainable and predictable flow of work from a body of clients who provide the firm with the confidence and certainty that budg...
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Keels in the Mud

As economic conditions in the main western economies start slowly to ease we are noticing that the financial performance of some of the major law firms in the USA and Europe are starting to improve.  The old adage is that “the rising tide lifts all boats” but all the indications are that the uptick has come too late to aid a significant number of troubled law firms.  Over-peopled and under-powered, some firms have their keels so firmly stuck in the mud that the rising tide may simply engulf them.  If and when the recovery increases in pace, I expect to see the better law firms starting...
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Efficient Meetings – an oxymoron or a practical possibility?

Decision-making in law firms can be slow, stifling and chaotic. Even where something has been agreed it is often undermined or subverted later or is simply impossible to execute because the action points are too vague. Almost every firm that I speak to has suggested to me that they spend too much time in meetings. Either there are too many meetings or the meetings are too long, circular in discussion or ineffective in reaching a conclusion. I have three main suggestions for making meetings more effective. The first is to focus on the right behaviours and attitudes on the part of members in o...
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