as teachers, not students.
CaveatA consultant or coach
who doesn't first seek to understand your vision and
mission is likely to substitute his
or hers for yours.
Copyright 1999 Advocates Management, Inc.
Things to Consider Midstream in a Legal Career.
By Michael A. Loduha, Esq.
Are these good days or bad days for
the profession of the law and those who practice it? After a decade of practice
and a decade on top of that doing market research, client research and assisting
firms meet the challenges of the times, the answer to this question is an
unequivocal "Yes" as to both.
Jack Trout, in his book The Power
of Simplicity, says that it is important to find the 'right horse to
ride'. By this he means the right organization and product or service to link
your career to. The same is true for lawyers. Changing firms in mid career
means one of two things, either you dismounted or got bucked off. Either
way, this is a good time to apply Jack's admonition to your horse in the
The legal profession, both in its
substance and its form is changing rapidly. The voluntary associations of
lawyers, called law firms, reflect these changes. If you are changing horses
in the middle of your legal career you will either practice the same law
as a member of a new firm, get into an new area of the profession or both.
Your goal is to be happy with your new horse.
Equine analogies are less imperfect
than they seem. When Lincoln used "Don't change horses in the middle of the
stream" as a campaign slogan in his run for re-election during the Civil
War the message of the analogy was clear. In times of trouble, don't take
on the risk of something new, in his case Presidential leadership. For attorneys,
the temptation is to eschew risk in times of change by hunkering down to
past practice and tradition. However, change in an unpredictable world always
involves risk. Tradition only reduces risk if the future will be like the
past. If you believe the profession is changing, it is not a question of
leaving tradition and the status quo behind, circumstances beyond your control
are doing that for you, it is only a matter of what you choose and how you
Changing firms in changing times is
a tricky bit of chaos to manage. The place to start in considering a prospective
firm is its leadership. You can not presume that the senior members of an
economically successful firm automatically possess the kind of leadership
that will take you to the end of your career with success and satisfaction.
Leadership in the legal professional is itself changing. It is evolving from
institutional to individual. No longer will a 'firm' succeed because it has
a tradition of success. The social and business institutions called 'law
firms' are being recreated with the speed of the internet. 'Leadership' in
the legal profession is increasingly a personal - not institutional - attribute
and this trend will continue. In this regard, the primary attribute of leadership
is vision. Your success in finding a happy law firm home is in matching your
vision to that to the existing members of the firm.
Vision is that to which an individual
aspires. Since groups don't aspire - only individuals - matching your professional
vision to that of leaders of the firm you are considering is the most important
predictor of a satisfying future relationship. Vision is not what you want.
(That always comes down to prestige/respect, discretionary control of your
time and money.) Vision is what is valuable in your life, it is what makes
your career worthwhile. The trick in picking a 'value' horse is getting past
the kind of stuff the Miss America contestants always tell the smiling guy
holding the microphone. This applies both to you and the leaders of the firm
you're considering. It's not that saying 'Miss America' stuff is wrong or
false so much as its incomplete. The 'vision' of the law is both intellectual
and socially positive, while the vision of the individuals is at least partially
emotional and partially unrelated to the commonweal. The practice of law
is now in free and open competition and compatible visions within the firm
are more important than ever before.
Vision is always personal. You and
another may have similar visions, but each is unique and each will evolve
as the individual evolves. For example, if the emotional component of your
vision is the excitement of competition in the courtroom, you won't fulfill
that vision by the victories of your partners. 'Mission' is the action expression
of vision. Finding a close match between your vision and the collective mission
of the members of the firm you are to join is the most important element
of a long term comfortable fit in the new saddle.
Lets consider some examples of how
this vision - mission stuff shows up in the real world so you can apply
it to your situation.
We're familiar with successful firms
that has a staffing ratio of .33 to 1: three attorneys sharing one major
domo. We are also familiar with a firm where the ratio is 23 to 1. In this
firm there are two attorneys and 46 'production' staffers. As Butch said while
Sundance looked on, "the only rule is, 'there ain't no rules'"
Consider staff ratios from two perspectives,
that of the attorney and that of the client. How will staff, within the mission
of the prospective firm, help you realize your vision? There is continuum
in how law firms view staff. On one end of the continuum is the convenience
of the attorneys and on the other end is the satisfaction of clients. Few
firms are at one extreme or the other but most are skewed to one concept
or the other. If your vision includes trying cases to verdict, you'll be
happier in a firm where staff is seen as assistants to the lawyers. If your
vision is getting home in time to play with the kids, a firm where the staff
is seen as delivering benefit to clients, if not independent of the lawyers,
at least in some sense parallel to them, will better suit you. In 'interviewing'
the firm, talk to a few staff persons, preferably outside the presence of
the attorneys. Are they there as servants to the attorneys or as more direct
agents of client satisfaction and how does this enhance your vision?
Introducing the concept of market
research to most management committees produces the single greatest non sequitur
in law practice development. When you ask a firm about their market research,
most respond with their position on media advertising. If you believe that
the law business will continue to change, and further believe that competition
between legal service providers will continue to grow, the only question
about market research is how best to do it. The only area of practice where
lawyers are secure for the time being is in the Courtroom. Even litigation
is becoming less a cult of personality, especially in areas such as insurance
defense, but for now at least, leg biters compete on a different plane from
the rest. For all but dedicated courtroom junkies, if members of the firm
use phrases like 'client driven' they're either imitating Miss America candidates
or they recognize that the practice is getting more competitive. In a competitive
environment, market research is the information asset that gets one firm
a lead against its competitors. This research is like driving with high beam
headlights while your competitors are using low beams; it allows you to
see a little further ahead and to safely drive a little faster. Look at
the research they've done, with past, as well as, prospective clients. Is
the firm taking itself where your vision and mission say you must go?
There are two ways to look upon technology
in the law firm: doing old stuff faster and using the technology to recreate
the way value and satisfaction are delivered to clients. Leadership and vision
apply here as well. As to leadership, the question is 'Can the old man dance?'
Can the senior partner 'dance' with the computer at his or her desk? Has
the computer been used it to take personal productivity (as opposed to their
secretary's) to a new level? Does he or she know it well enough to teach
it to you? Like every other service business in America, the legal profession
is being pressured to understand and focus on the core values it delivers
to those who pay the bills. Technology should be used to enhance value, not
just enhance profits. The value component will help make sure that the horse
you choose will have the stamina to finish the race. To choose wisely in
this regard, you don't need to understand the technology so much as to understand
the people who are using it.
Staying put - but not stagnating
Even if you're not changing horses,
you can still use these questions to check your mount.
In a changing environment these questions are the compass that keeps us
on the right path.
- What vision makes your professional life valuable?
- What is your action plan to make the vision a reality?
- How do your co-workers, especially those lower on the law firm
food chain, contribute to your vision?
- How do you gather and use information that predicts changes in
- And finally, how do you use technology to achieve vision as well
as enhance productivity?
Finally, if you are one of those who
got bucked off, because you weren't matched to the horse or because you weren't
holding on tight, or because you let your attention lapse or because you
weren't properly trained or because you have no talent for this kind of adventure,
get back on. Look for the right horse, dust yourself off, come to peace with
your vision and any sacrifices to your old self-image it entails and get
Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.
The Time Value of Knowledge:
Market Research and Getting More Out of the Practice of
By Michael A. Loduha, Esq.
Most folks understand the concept called the time value
of money. A thousand dollars today is worth more than a thousand
dollars tomorrow and a lot more than a thousand dollars five years from
now. That same law of human nature applies to knowledge.
Knowledge today is worth more than that same knowledge tomorrow and a lot
more than it will be worth in five years. The more competitive the
environment and the more relevant the knowledge to the competition, the
greater the time value effect.
The time value of knowledge has always been an
operational rule within the legal profession. Trial lawyers
understand that advance knowledge as to a critical bit of evidence often
leads to advantageous settlement or trial victory. Real estate
lawyers understand that a little advance knowledge of market trends yields
negotiations that prove successful in the long run. Every substantive
field within the legal profession has its own examples and now lawyers are
coming to realize that the benefits of a little advance knowledge applies
to their professional careers as well.
Just as a trial preparation or lease negotiations
are competitive environments where advance knowledge is valuable, the practice
of law is quickly becoming a competitive environment where advance knowledge
of relevant information can spell the difference between success and mediocrity
in the rewards of practice. Traditionally lawyers have
obtained market research (defined as information identifying where the legal
business is today and where it is likely to be tomorrow) from two sources:
their clients and other lawyers. As the legal profession
becomes more competitive, both sources are drying up.
The increasing competition in the legal profession is
manifesting itself in two aspects:
- Clients are increasingly conscious of their ability to make legal
and are doing so.
- Lawyers are increasingly conscious that, even in
a booming economy, 'good' legal work is a finite commodity and are thus
less willing to share those things related to obtaining
it. The specter of enhanced competition resulting from multidisciplinary
practices, when they arrive, makes the time value of market knowledge even
Unlike superficial preference questions associated with consumer
market research, market research for law firms deal with topics vital to
an individual firm's future. These topics include ...
The legal profession has always been, to use economic
terminology, a lagging phenomenon. It follows - or responds to - the
needs of society generally and clients in particular. The pace of
change is accelerating and with the acceleration both the risks and potential
rewards. The law firms that will thrive in the competitive future
are the ones that understand the time value of knowledge and take steps
to not only know and understand, but to know and understand first.
- Clients' and potential clients' perceived benefits received from
legal services for specific categories of substantive practice.
(By analogy, it helps you make sure you're pitching what they're catching.)
- Competitive analysis from the perspective of potential clients.
(How potential clients see your firm and your competitors from the perspective
by which they will choose a legal service provider in the future.)
- Client satisfaction, for both your firm and that of your competitors.
(Satisfaction is experience judged by expectation.)
- The integration of other demographic and market information with
the firm's practice development plans. (The 'cast a wide net' method
of new client acquisition must give way to specific and efficient targeted
Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.
Barking up the Right Tree
By Attorney Michael A. Loduha, esq.
We all must exercise caution lest
a casually tossed line become an aphorism or an epitaph. Supreme Court
Associate Justice Lewis Powell became dangerously close to being remembered
for defining pornography when he noted that "I may not be able to define
it, but I know it when I see it". 'Success' in the
practice of law is another of those things that is hard to define but that
hold out the promise that we will know it when we achieve it.
Success as an Individual within the Legal Profession
There are two formats for the definition
of personal success: intellectual and emotional. For a career in the
law to be satisfying, both must be achieved. In order to work toward
achieving both, both must be understood.
Intellectual success is easier to
understand but of lesser importance in personal satisfaction.
Some markers of intellectually defined success...
It is defined by others.
For example, in junior high, it was 'good grades'. Due to our experience,
we only knew grades defined success because significant adults, such as our
parents, said so.
It is judged by others.
With academic grades as a standard, we all remember "the curve". The
curve was a way of analyzing our academic performance compared to our classmates.
'Good grades' is a relative term; our success at achieving grades
was good or not so good by comparison to others.
Others think they can get a chunk
of ours. After our school days are over, money and / or power
becomes one of the markers of intellectually defined success.
The desire of others to acquire for themselves what we have achieved marks
These intellectual markers are societal
in nature and are external to us as individuals.
On the surface, the Law as a social
institution is primarily intellectual. That's why exercises such
as 'deductive reasoning' and other exercises to develop the intellect eat
up so many law school tuition dollars. The point, before this
discussion gets too theoretical, is that law is reason and intellect.
Therein lies the trap for those who think that success in the legal profession
lies only in reason and the intellect. Lawyers are people and as such,
reason and intellect aren't all they are cracked up to be in defining 'success'.
This is because lawyers are individual human beings first and only then
players on the intellectual stage of the legal system. To deny this
component of our professional life, or even to minimize it below its real
importance, is the equivalent of ignoring that plume of blue smoke coming
out of your tailpipe because your car is still moving forward.
I recall a discussion with a physician
friend as to why the music of Mozart was so satisfying, especially to people
who also found satisfaction in pursuits of the mind. We concluded that
Mozart's gift was the ability to express reason without words. Success
in our professional lives likewise has a component that goes beyond words.
That component is the emotional satisfaction of our professional success.
Some markers of emotionally
The feeling that the 'parts fit'.
In law practice this shows up in such ways as seeing your partners' strengths
rather than their weaknesses or in seeing a path through the obstructions
that lie in your professional future rather than the obstructions themselves.
The desire to have those you care
for share in the experience. The most obvious sign of this marker are
comments that you would or would not want your children to follow you into
the profession. Another would be the opinions of your significant
others, who aren't themselves involved in the profession on a day to day
basis of your professional life. If your spouse remarks to his or her
friends that "if it weren't for the damn clients, partners and judges your
job would be okay" is a tip off as to the level of emotional success you
bring home from the profession of the law.
Your escape fantasies.
Even the most emotionally successful lawyers have bad days, experience professional
disasters and must sometimes stand as uncomfortable witness to a client's
or colleague's personal misfortune. At these times we all retreat
to our 'escape place' -- be it a woodworking shop, art gallery or shopping
mall. It is the frequency of these escape fantasies coupled
with feelings of regret that tells us of the emotional success we experience
in the legal profession.
These emotional markers are idiosyncratic
in nature and are internal to us as individuals.
Each of us was a 'person' before we
became lawyers and we will remain such after our law practice days are over.
We have chosen the world of reason and the intellect as the vineyard in
which we will labor. For those labors to be successful they must first
generate success on a personal level. Achieving personal success
in the practice of a profession requires that we first define and understand
what is important to us as individuals. In law practice development,
that is called 'vision'.
Each of us can have several components
to our definition of professional success. Some may primarily define
success in financial or social status terms while others may define it in
the perceived benefit our work provides to others. Sometimes
these components of success can be mutually exclusive, such as when clients
need more services than they can afford. It is not the conflict between
components that degrades our professional success, but the failure to recognize
and deal with the conflict.
Success as a Group within the Legal Profession
Practicing law in a group does not
eliminate nor lessens the primacy of emotional satisfaction in determining
professional success. It is not necessary that each and every
stakeholder have the same personal vision of success. However, the
structure of the firm must recognize the necessity of a basic alignment between
the visions of the various stakeholders. It matters less what the stakeholders'
visions are than the fact that they are aligned.
While your firm may have a 'vision
statement' there is no such thing as 'collective vision'. Vision is
always unique to the individual. Because the vision that defines emotional
success is hierarchical ranking within each individual, different visions
always have an element of mutual exclusion to them. Where the visions of
the individual stakeholders vary one from the other, the structure and form
of the law firm must consider and reconcile differences in stakeholder vision.
A principle function of practice development is the recognition of individual
differences and their incorporation into the management of the firm.
To use the planning process to achieve
greater success in the practice of law, we must make sure that our day to
day professional activities align with both our emotional and intellectual
definitions of success. Or, as my Dad used to say, "Make
sure you're not barking up the wrong tree". If the cat you're
after isn't up the tree you're at, then barking longer, louder or more aggressively
will not help. Likewise, enhancing your internal operations
with new administrative programs will only more efficiently coordinate the
useless barking. Enhancing your visibility to the world outside
your firm with new marketing programs will only focus the attention of others
to the fact that you're barking up the wrong tree.
Before you can achieve greater success
in the practice of law, you must understand what success means for to you.
If you are already emotionally
successful, it may just mean more money (or money's doppelganger, time).
If your emotional success markers
tell you that the issues are deeper than hours worked to maintain the desired
checkbook balance, you, either individually or collectively as a firm, need
to take a step back and examine your success as you define it intellectually
and experience it emotionally. Taking a step back is an important
part of practice development for many if not most practitioners, even those
to whom Bentley directs its Wall Street Journal ads.
At AMI we're consultants and coaches to members of the legal profession,
not counselors. However, our experience tells us that enhancing success
starts with the personal vision of the lawyers and the collective vision
of the law firm. No one can run more swiftly until they remove
the shackles and clearly focus on the prize.
Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.
The Nuts and Bolts of Planning for Your Law Firm's future
by Michael A. Loduha
The State Bar of Wisconsin recently
held a two-day conference entitled Seize the Future. The
focus of the conference was the radical change overtaking the profession and
impacting everyone in it. The specific elements of the conference, important
to every Wisconsin Practitioner, will be reported elsewhere. Many practitioners
are sailing along, saying to each other "We couldn't have hit an iceberg,
the band is still playing". They don't see any reason to get out of
their deck chairs while others move to those smaller boats hanging off the
side. The attendees of the conference have heard the crunch and felt
the shudder of the ship. They don't like the increasingly obvious
conclusions they've reached anymore than anyone else. Liking it is
not an option. No practitioner and no practice area will be unaffected
over the next few years. It is inevitable that some will be left behind.
This discussion in intended to be
something like the instruction sheets related to the words 'some assembly
required'. Knowing you have to assemble your future from the
box of parts in front of you is one thing, actually making the pieces fit
together is another. The first thing to do is to gather the tools.
- Commit the time. You'll never have more
time than right now. If you lag, you will work harder and harder for
less and less. The most valuable time will be that spent 'getting
out of yourself' and seeing the legal profession through the eyes of those
outside of it. After all, they're the ones who pay the fees.
- Commit to change. The forces of change
are bigger and more powerful than the legal profession. The
question is not whether you will be impacted by the changes, but whether
your attitude will obscure your insights into how best serve yourself and
others within the changes.
- Get a coach. Just as in a productive attorney
- client relationship, you are not going to turn over decisions about your
future to someone else. But your commitment to that someone and that
someone's commitment to the process will get you over the rough spots.
There are five elements to the process
of assembling your professional future. These elements are: Vision,
Mission, Strategy, Tactics and Programs. Just as following the sequence
of instructions is important when assembling a corporeal hereditament for
your child's Christmas morning, following a sequence is useful in assembling
your firm's professional future.
Articulate your Vision
Vision is the aspirational declaration
of values . Stated vision without commitment is worse than
hypocrisy, it will mean failure. Everyone's vision must be spoken
aloud. Do not presume because someone has the cabin next to you on
the ship that you are both on board for the same deep-seated reasons.
The future will compel choices, and your common vision will guide your collective
The first step in the process is understanding your personal vision,
stating it clearly to those who share your future and carefully listening
to and understanding their visions. From this process you must develop
the collective vision of the firm.
Choose your Mission
Mission is the action statement of your
vision. The statement of your mission is not a marketing
tool. It is a commitment to the action that will take you to your vision.
Your mission answers the question of what you are going to do, just as your
vision answers why you are doing it.
If vision is the decision to travel,
mission is the choice of a destination and a means to get there.
If vision is the declaration of what is already in your heart, mission is
the declaration of choice of action. Thus, even when the
chosen mission is similar to the preexisting action commitments of the firm,
the act of choosing is valuable.
Consider your Strategy
Strategy deals with your practice environment;
that is, those things that you must deal with that you can't change or influence
. The need to adopt technology is a strategic necessity.
Select your Tactics
Tactics deal with your market;
that is, those things you control or at least can influence . You can
choose with whom to compete, how to present your firm's particular skill set
to the public and the like.
Implement specific Programs
Programs are discrete little bundles
of action. They are the turns of the rudder or change of speed
by which you guide your practice forward. Everything that goes before
is preparation for what programs to adopt and which to abandon. The
sooner you start and the further you look ahead, the more likely your program
will be to change course rather than abandon ship.
Programs have a beginning, middle and
end. They can be measured. Everyone should understand what they
are for, how they work and what their specific role in the program might
Learning itself is to a large extent a learned activity.
While we have clutched to stare decisis the financial planners have taken
our estate planning business and accounts our small business work.
Just as we teach judges and juries what they must know to see and decide
issues our way, we must teach ourselves to seize the future.
Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.
Nuts and Bolts II
by Michael A. Loduha
The first Nuts and Bolts article
discussed taking your law practice into the future focusing on Practice Development
from a personal perspective. Planning from this perspective begins
with vision (the expression of aspirations) and gives life to that vision
with a declaration of mission (the expression of vision in action).
This method then evaluates strategic issues (things that can’t be influenced
by the planner) and tactics (things that the planner can do something about.)
The final stage of this model relates to the programs that implement and
measure the progress of his or her law practice toward personal and professional
This discussion lays out an ‘external’
model for planning and development that must be simultaneously considered
and applied. Rather than see the law practice as serving the personal
vision of the practitioner, it approaches the venture ‘externally’ considering
assets, patterns and values. If the first model puts primacy
on where you want to go and then constructs the system to get you there, the
second model considers what already exists and helps select the direction
of most efficient progress.
In this second model, assets are the
available resources. For a solo practitioner, it would begin with his
or her personal and professional attributes and abilities and expand to include
information, financial backing, relationships and technology.
· In the nuts and bolts approach, the first step is an
honest assessment and inventory of the assets with which you will build
In addition to assets, there are patterns
of completing tasks or processes by which the work gets done. The legal
service value you have created for your clients in the past and will create
with greater efficiency in the future as a result of this planning process,
results from the conversion of assets and resources into services of greater
value to the client than to you. One way to look at this, is to consider
your time an asset and what you do with it to make it valuable to the client
as a process.
· Market related candor is an absolute necessity for the inventory
to be useful. I once did a comprehensive study of a firm’s client relations
and discovered that one of the partner’s listening skills was a major problem.
After as careful a presentation as I could muster, backed with mounds of
data, that partner declared – not that I had been mistaken in my research
– but that the clients were just wrong.
· Identifying and listing assets is quite different from evaluating
them. If some judgmental ‘filter’ is imposed, you will substantially
compromise creativity and limit options. Remember – things are changing
and will continue to change in ways that are hard to predict. I once
had a partner who couldn’t find the courthouse with a seeing eye dog, but
his clients brought in more fruitcakes at Christmas than we could fit in
the dumpster. His relationship skills were a substantial asset.
· It is almost impossible to objectively discuss assets that are
also personal attributes. For example, tell your significant other
that you want to discuss something they are wearing ‘objectively” and see
where it gets you. Since assets will be evaluated and used based on
their value to your future market of potential clients, outside assistance
is invaluable in this process.
· There are various ways to develop a firm asset inventory – at
a retreat, the divide and conquer method, etc. – but each method results in
a written assets inventory.
· In the Nuts and Bolts approach, remember that patterns
or processes are on a continuum. At one end are the formal patterns.
(This is how we check for conflicts.) The continuum goes through less
formal routines and ends up in what is sometimes called the firm’s ‘culture’.
In a law firm, culture is just the institutionalized habits of work and
interaction that are so ingrained that they are unconscious.
This step in the planning journey
involves not so much ‘inventorying’ your various patterns and processes as
recognizing what they are. This is an important step in their improvement.
These patterns relate not only
to administrative routine and substantive methods, but also to relationships,
information sharing and general ways of working.
Where the assets of two different
firms are similar, the pattern and process differences control how the respective
firms turn their assets and resources into client value and satisfaction.
The final component of this model
would be the values of the individual or firm. Values are the standards
by which decisions are made. Values set priorities. When the
values of the firm are aligned with the collective vision of its members,
practicing in the firm is satisfying, whether or not it is profitable.
In the nuts and bolts approach
to planning, your future considers values in a hierarchy or priority ranking.
The firm’s common hierarchy of values defines how decisions will be made.
Dozens of times a day, every person in the firm makes prioritization decisions:
which clients are more important, what work done first or what activity fills
the ten minutes before lunch.
· Clients pick up on values first, before assets or
patterns. Values are usually the fulcrum on which client satisfaction
and attorney choice decisions pivot.
The two models work together.
Marshalling assets and resources relates directly to the challenges presented
by the firm’s strategic and tactical realities. Programs are
how the firm modified its processes in an orderly and predictable way.
The values that mature within the firm become the priorities that accomplish
the firm’s mission and make the achievement of this vision realistically
· You can’t mandate values, but they can be influenced.
can be defined as the influence and direction of values over time.
The vision, mission, strategy,
tactics and programs process views the firm from the perspective of the
individuals who compromise it and will renew a firm from the inside out.
The assets / patterns / values analysis sees the firm as a functioning
whole. Both models must
be considered simultaneously as the firm prepares to satisfy itself and
its clients in the rapidly changing future.
Copyright 1999Advocates Management, Inc.
This page is always UNDER CONSTRUCTION. It is operational with articles
both that we have written and that we have found in other publications that
we believe are of interest to you. We will also have links to other sites
that complement AMI's focus. If you are aware of any such articles or sites,
please contact us.
Advocates Management, Inc. Voice: (920) 684-7739
1332 South 26th Street Fax: (920) 684-4414
Manitowoc, WI 54220 E-mail: