Open Letter to BigLaw Managing Partners: Four Imperatives for 2012 and Beyond
Dear BigLaw Managing Partner:
You recognize that the Old Normal is gone. Inertia may carry you a bit but change looms. If you are not retiring soon or if you want to help your younger partners, you need to take four actions to thrive in the New Normal. They’re hard and will take time, so start now.
1. IMPROVE VALUE BY PRACTICING LAW MORE EFFECTIVELY AND EFFICIENTLY
To meet the growing client demand for better value, you must improve how your lawyers practice.
Yes, partners don’t like others poking around what they do. But you can’t credibly say to clients you are one firm when every partner works differently. Figure out best practices, develop check lists, and standardize. Tell your partners this frees them to be creative where it really counts.
That will take time. So meanwhile, get cracking on legal project management. Whether your process is good or not, someone other than the billing partner needs to manage it. Grow or hire real project managers.
If you don’t have good KM and IT to support better process and project management, get it.
2. DIAGNOSE AND IMPROVE YOUR BUSINESS OPERATIONS
Have you taken a good look at your staff functions? Lay-offs reduced cost but did not fix underlying inefficiencies.
Find the fluff in your finance, marketing, IT, HR, library, secretarial, recruiting, and facilities. Figure out what you can centralize and streamline. You almost certainly have too many staff in your most expensive office space. If you don’t have the scale or stomach to open a low cost service center in a place like Wheeling, Dayton, Manila, or Nashville then consider outsourcing. Or consolidating operations in one of your own lower cost office locations.
3. ENGAGE YOUR CLIENTS
Delivering a brief, advice, or deal document is easy and billable. But to truly engage clients your lawyers need to know their business. Partners must read the news and attend the events important to clients and spend non-billable time talking to them about their business and legal problems (“what keeps you up at night?”).
Separately, you personally need to know what big clients think of your firm. Find out what your clients think; have regular conversations and act on what you learn.
4. ADOPT METRICS AND FORMAL GOVERNANCE MECHANISMS
You won’t succeed with the above unless you measure what you do. Decide what’s important prospectively, then measure to see if you hit targets. Rinse and repeat. You’ll also need a governance structure: who does what when you don’t hit the targets.
Your work is cut out for you. But you have one other task to do support all this: quit saying “non-lawyers”. Dividing the world in two serves no good purpose. Teams works best when you eliminate castes. And in the New Normal, it takes a team.
Happy New Year.
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