How often has your firm hired a lateral partner (or senior associate) who makes great claims about the size of their practice (as well as the portability of their book of business) only to find out AFTER they join your firm that the business doesn’t materialize? It always amazes me how rarely firm leaders adequately assess the human networks of the candidates they’re pursuing.

human network

As all of us have found, it’s easy for a lateral to “talk a good game” when discussing their network and their book of business. Don’t believe anything without some verification of their human network. It’s the rare firm leader who asks any probing questions about the candidate’s human network. The size and nature of the candidate’s human network will tell you volumes about the potential rainmaking ability of the lateral candidate.

Through the years I’ve coached many lateral hiring partners on how to best go about assessing potential lateral candidates as rainmakers. The Maraia Method® coach knows how to assess a lateral partner’s network before an offer is made so there are no hidden surprises later. It all begins with the candidate’s human network. I’m not suggesting that their social networks aren’t valuable, but those numbers can be gamed much more readily than human networks.

Possible Interview Questions
Anytime you need to assess a lateral candidate’s network you should consider asking these kinds of questions during the early stage meetings:

  1. How many people are there in your database of contacts?
    The top rainmakers almost always have 900-1,000 or more. The larger the human network, the better. If the lateral has done lots of speaking, probe further to find out who was in the audiences where he/she spoke. It’s not uncommon for rainmakers to have as many as 3,000-5,000 contacts in their database. Generally speaking, the bigger the database he/she’s working from, the better he/she will do at your firm. As important as this number is, there are other factors to consider.
  1. Is your database kept in electronic form or is it paper based?
    In most cases, paper based systems for gathering this data suggest you’re not working with a rainmaker. However, simply having an electronic system isn’t a guarantee you’re hiring a rainmaker. This database should be kept all in one place rather than found piecemeal in several databases. Maraia & Associates, Inc. just completed our database consolidation effort with the help of two summer interns. We had to pull this data from three different places. Now that we have it all in one electronic database containing over 5,000 contacts, it’s much easier to be systematic about reconnecting with our human network.
  1. Who is your ideal client?
    Most lawyers don’t have a clear and concise answer to this question. That is a red flag in itself. The best rainmakers often do. This simple question allows you to better assess fit between the candidate and your firm. If the candidate is, for example, an Employee Benefits expert he/she might say his/her ideal candidate is a “senior executive of a Fortune 1000 company.”  So far so good. Be sure to follow up with something similar to question #4.
  1. How many senior executives of Fortune 1000 companies do you know who are NOT already clients? Why this question? You want to assess how well the candidate is able to develop his/her own practice without much help from other partners in your firm. You’re assessing the pool of prospects he/she can draw from.  Maraia Method® coaches have used a version of this question during our programs for many years and the average answer to this question is between 0 and 4!! By contrast, most rainmakers will say “dozens” or “hundreds.” [Note: If you know that many of your partners have many connections that fits the lateral candidate’s ideal client profile his/her practice probably meshes well with your firm’s.]
  1. How do you tell a great networker from a good one?
    Ask questions that gauge the KIND of networker you’re dealing with. In Chapter 16 of my book,  Relationships Are Everything, we make the distinction between Level 1 (all take), Level 2 (Quid pro quo) and Level 3 (Does favors for others and plants lots of seeds) networking. The best rainmakers (and best lateral hires) operate from an abundance mindset (Level 3) and have done more favors for the people in their network than the rest of the firm combined.
  1. What is your plan for contacting your network during your first 90 days at our firm?
    The rainmakers will be bursting with ideas whereas the typical lawyer will give you a lame answer, stutter, or blank stare. Several years ago a client hired us to coach a group of 20 Intellectual Property laterals being absorbed into its culture. Every one of these 20 laterals had a lateral integration plan AND was expected to work with us to implement the plan! This group generated so much trackable new business that integration was declared a success less than 4 months after arriving!
  1. Do you have a detailed business plan for your practice?
    One litigator wanted to move from Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, California and asked me for ideas on how to improve his portability and hireability. We developed a detailed plan that featured his human network and what he was going to do to build his practice in California. It was so well written and conceived that he was able to generate multiple offers in his new city where he’s now been practicing for over 20 years.

There are many other questions you can ask depending on the nature and type of practice, but hopefully you get a sense of the power of human networks. Your firm will make a much better lateral hiring decision if it can develop the discipline to assess the human network of lateral candidates. In fact, you might want to try these questions out on your current partners. Doing so will give you an indication of whether or not your partners “think like rainmakers.”

Thanks for reading.


Traditionally, money has been a huge motivator in the business world.
Now enter the Millennial also known as Gen-Y, and money is just not enough to keep them engaged in their job for more than 18 months, productive and motivated, even after years of education.

The question then becomes, what can a firm do to keep their Gen-Y Employees motivated?

Members of this generation are generally born between
1980-2000. They are well educated, accustomed to communicating electronically, motivated by a sense of purpose and are known to not separate work/life and social/ life.

They live their lives holistically. They are also the largest generation to ever enter the workforce at 80 million strong vs. the “Baby Boomers” who were a solid 76 million and “Generation X” a mere 50 million.

Wikipedia identified Millennial’s as the “Trophy Generation”, or “Trophy Kids.” The term reflects the trend in competitive sports, as well as many other aspects of life, where mere participation is frequently enough for a reward. Recognition of reward for participation is one of the biggest clues to effectively engage this generation of employees.

Studies predict that Generation Y will switch jobs as frequently as every year if they are not satisfied or feel like they are not progressing in their jobs.

There is no stigma perceived by Gen Y about job switching. They are very mobile. After watching their own parents slug it out working extremely long hours and on week-ends, they have a clear opinion that they do not wish to follow in their footsteps.

Millenials Article Image (1)


4 Ways to work with Millennials

  1. Motivated by Learning. It has been made clear that Millennials view work like a continuation of their education and are motivated by learning, feedback and coaching. One positive approach that leadership in firms can make is to give feedback frequently and outline clear identifiable goals that will motivate their young professionals to continue learning and growing. Providing programs in areas they need to excel in to move up in the firm such as Business Development benefits both the firm and the Millennial.
  2. Socially Conscious. The millennial generation is highly socially aware. According to a 2011 study by ad agency network TBWA/Worldwide and TakePart, the digital division of Participant Media, 7 in 10 young adults consider themselves social activists. They identify more with companies that are attuned to social issues and when you look at the most popular brands that cater to the Gen Y demographic, they all give back to community. Toms Shoes is a great example. For every pair of shoes bought they give a pair to a child in need. In fact, 3 in 4 Millennials believe that corporations should create economic value for society by addressing its needs. They also chose to work at companies and firms based on how socially responsible they are. This is a great opportunity for a firm to tap into this social awareness by getting their younger associates actively involved in choosing causes that they believe in and will ultimately benefit the firms they work for.
  3. It’s all about the lifestyle. It’s not just about the work. Often in multi-generational firms there is a clash between Boomers and Gen Xers. They had to slug it out, and so should Gen Y. The fact is that Gen Y is looking at the work ethic of other generations and deciding that a lifestyle that only focuses on work is just not the lifestyle they want to live. They are not as motivated by money as their parent’s generation. By providing opportunities for work/life balance many firms can improve retention. This can be with flexible work schedules, options to work from home and even shorter days in the summer.
    Many partners in firms have shared with me their frustration in working with this demographic and are shocked that they are even considering making concessions to younger professionals, but the fact is as boomers begin to retire, Gen Y is moving in and in record numbers. It is documented that in the next 10 years, Millennials will become the dominant generation because there are more of them than Gen Xers.
  4. Natural strengths: Technology and Teams. Generation Y is incredibly technologically savvy and efficient, having practically been born with an iPhone. They also work extremely well in teams, since from a young age they were encouraged to work in groups in schools and sports. Again, firms that tap into their technological abilities and desire to work in groups will achieve greater buy in and advancement than firms that do not.

Many Millennials who I have spoken with have expressed frustration with existing law firm culture. In fact many associates I’ve met with have made it clear that they do not want to make partner due to the impact it would have on their lifestyle. Law firms that recognize a need for culture change and are willing to invest in developing their Millennials as well as coaching other generations on how to work together will achieve greater retention and a sustainable practice.

If you are interested in learning more about Maraia Millennial programs or having us speak at your firm abut bridging the Millennial gap, then send us a note at:

– Stephanie Wachman

stephanie-wachman-executive-coachStephanie Wachman, is a Maraia Method Executive Coach ®, specializing in helping professionals achieve their business development goals by tapping into their natural abilities. Her areas of focus also include Time Management & Productivity Training, Leadership Coaching and supporting leadership in bridging the gap for multi-generational firms.

She has a BA degree from McGill University, in Montreal, Quebec and received her coaching certification from CTA. Stephanie has over 20 years of experience in marketing, product management and executive sales management.

Based in Denver, Colorado, Stephanie is also fluent in French and provides coaching to clients internationally. Stephanie is President of the International Coach Federation, Colorado Chapter and is Certified in Emotional Intelligence 360 Assessments.

Stephanie has been featured on 9News Denver and The Entrepreneur Pros Radio show on 560AM Denver.

I’ve worked almost exclusively with law firms for over two decades.  I’ve spoken to lawyers and audiences who hail from over 100 different countries and it always amazes me how similar they think regardless of their cultural heritage. Law schools around the globe teach them to “think like lawyers,” however, law schools are not doing their students or clients any favors.

Today lawyers need to think like rainmakers (they do not actually have to BE rainmakers but they must think like them) and they need to think like business people.  If there isn’t a sweeping wholesale move towards thinking like business people there will be thousands of lawyers whose career prospects will be very dim.  Why?  Because most law firms unwittingly drive their clients crazy because they operate in a fashion that is so radically different from almost every business they serve.

Most businesses are in a fight for survival.  Their business models are under attack and they need to find new ways of moving forward that make them sustainable and they need service providers who get this.  Those businesses who’ve managed to make the transition to sustainable tend to do these four things consistently well.

By contrast, I don’t know of a single AmLaw 500 firm that does these four things well firm wide:

  1.  Gather client feedback from top clients.  This business practice is common in the corporate world and almost unheard of in the legal and accounting professions.  Even when it is done, it’s not done systematically and performed by top leaders.  Those firms wise enough to make this a regular business practice are gaining competitive advantage.  How so?  Gathering client feedback makes it much easier to make strategic decisions and choices because you can do so with data.
  2.  Measuring performance.  Unfortunately, most firms are still heavily focused on billable hours even though that is not a metric that clients value.  That is a suicidal business practice that has crippled nearly every firm who places too much emphasis on the billable hour.  We’ve developed an instrument at Maraia & Associates, Inc. that measures the rainmaking talent within your firm based on nine characteristics.  I’ve asked hundreds of leaders in professional service firms this question:  What measurement tool does your firm use to develop its rainmaking and leadership talent?  Every time the answer is “we don’t have one.”  I’ve yet to find a SINGLE FIRM that has systematically been able to assess and develop the rainmaking talent within its four walls.  No wonder the profession is in trouble.
    With our Rainmaker’s Scorecard your firm can actually gauge the rainmaking talent (including potential) of every lawyer in your firm.

Measuring performance

  1.  Setting forth clear expectations.  Once again, firms are abject failures at spelling out what they expect from each person in the firm.  There should be networking expectations spelled out for every level of professional they hire.  What’s expected from junior associates, mid level associates, senior associates, new partners, income partners, equity partners and even rainmakers?  Without setting forth clear expectations your people will develop their rainmaking skills very haphazardly and without focus.  Your firm will take much longer to become sustainable.  Yes, there will be the occasional dynamo who makes every one else look like they’re standing still.  What’s really happening is that person is operating with clear career goals that are driving his or her behavior.  In effect, he’s setting expectations for himself that are sky high compared to the average lawyer in your firm.
  1. Establishing a culture of accountability. In simple terms that means, if you don’t perform you don’t keep your job or maybe you keep your job but you are de-equalized or demoted.  What is the job of lawyers in modern times?  Deliver value far above the fee you’re charging. The prevailing view in many firms (although NEVER stated out loud) goes something like this:  “I’m an equity partner and I don’t have to be accountable to anyone or anything.”

So if you really want to drive your clients crazy ignore these four pillars of sustainability and you’ll be sure to have them pulling out their hair in VERY short order.  On the flip side, if you manage to implement all four of these pillars into your firm you will run circles around the competition.  If you’re ready to get your firm thinking like a rainmaker then give me a call or send me an email and I’d be happy to tell you about our most dynamic new program or you can save the date of January 29th, 2015 and join us for Mark Maraia’s Rainmaking Conference: Ten Tools for The Complete Rainmaker.

Register Now

Thanks for reading.


The WSJ recently had an article that grabbed my attention, Partner Exits Magnify Woes of Destabilized Firms. As the article points out, “Law firms are facing increased competition for work at a time of slack demand for legal services, making rainmakers of these troubled firms especially tempting targets for rivals looking to gain an edge.”

Firms that are trying to “acquire” their way to profitability are likely to be missing the point on how to achieve a sustainable business. [An even more cynical view is they’re trying to steal talent.]

We’ve now been living with the new normal for better than five years. In those five years it’s easy to see what clients are now militantly demanding from law firms and accounting firms.

In fact, the firms that have the best idea of what clients want have had their leaders conducting ongoing client service interviews for the past five years with top clients. Nothing like taking the “radical” step of asking clients what they want. [My concern is that by asking clients what they want and not delivering it we’re actually reinforcing the “professionals don’t listen to us” label.]

By asking for feedback, some professionals have learned that what clients want most from service providers are people who can speak their language and thoroughly understand their business. If clients were to put their collective request succinctly to the industry in a sentence it would be this:

“Give us people who understand our business as well as they understand the law or tax or whatever profession they hail from!”

The only ones who typically can deliver to this standard are the rainmakers in your firm. So what is stopping firms from creating more rainmakers?

Nothing other than inertia, time and wishful thinking that business will pick up again without having to make such a change. I’m not suggesting that everyone in your firm become a rainmaker. However, I AM suggesting that everyone in your firm be told in no uncertain terms that they are expected to “think like a rainmaker.”

Over the past 23 years, Maraia & Associates has served as the rainmaking and talent development arm for many firms that hire us. We’ve noticed that our best clients see the development of rainmaking talent within the firm as a core competency that brings competitive advantage. In order to do that your lawyers must learn how to deliver value to clients well above the industry norm.

Current market conditions, combined with the many conversations I’ve had with corporate executives during the past five years, have forced us to sadly conclude that most firms are NOT on a sustainable path. On the bright side, most firms ARE working diligently towards that end. Is yours? The question is are you moving fast enough to make YOUR practice sustainable? If not, there is one sure fire way to make your firm sustainable: cultivate a rainmaking culture.

Whereas during the boom years it worked to have rainmakers be a definable and small subset of partners who understood relationship building both within and outside the firm. In a very real sense, clients are insisting that every person THINK LIKE A RAINMAKER. These are people who could be counted upon to generate more work than they can personally deliver.

Business People Working with Business Issues

Our business for many years could be described as turning individual attorneys, accountants and other professionals into rainmakers. Today most firms will not remain on a sustainable path without the firm’s intentional movement towards developing the relationship, networking and rainmaking skills much more widely in the partner ranks.

Let me use a sports analogy from baseball to make the point. In the old days, teams were content to have sluggers like Babe Ruth on their team.

By contrast, most teams today want to help every hitter learn to produce as many home runs as possible given their physical and mental limitations. The same could be said about professional service firms today. They don’t just want more rainmakers in their firm they want a rainmaking culture. By the way, one of our Big Four accounting clients eschews the term rainmaker and instead prefers that everyone seek to become a “trusted advisor.” I use these terms interchangeably.

There are two clear obstacles to achieving this needed transformation:

  1. Most professional service firms do not have good systems for measuring a person’s progression from “desert maker” to “mist maker” to “rainmaker.”
  2. There are too many service partners in most firms and they are not given the tools needed to grow their practice.

Indeed, Bill Henderson, a widely respected and heavily quoted authority on the use of metrics in the legal profession says there is “too much mediocrity within the partner ranks.” That isn’t shocking when you consider that professional service firms have been underinvesting in the training and development needed to make them sustainable.

For those two reasons, we’ve developed a hybrid form of training that has elements of coaching built into it. Or better said, there is an element of accountability built into the training. We refer to this hybrid form of training as “Call to Action Workshops.”  We’ve conducted several of these workshops in the past year and they have produced stellar results and movement.

In one instance, one of our Big Four accounting clients achieved stellar results from a pilot group of 18 people who were selected for participation only after they took all five Action Steps. In other words, they played their way onto the team or pilot group. In another instance, one of our law firm clients got so much movement within one week of their retreat where we delivered a Call to Action workshop that their leaders were pleasantly surprised.

You may be wondering what is a Call to Action Workshop? It’s a workshop that asks the participants to undertake action or movement within one week of the training program. This company has long operated with the view that most training is mostly wasted investment without coaching. However, the reason why Call to Action Workshops are so valuable is they produce movement and there is an accountability mechanism built into each workshop.

In our Call to Action Workshops we ask every attendee to select from a menu of options in which they are asked to take five Action Steps within one week of the training. So, if there are 100 attendees in a workshop the firm expects 500 movements from those 100 people. How many training programs has your firm done in the past few years that meet THAT standard? Very few in our experience.

The other advantage to conducting a Call to Action Workshop is it gives firm leaders a way of determining the engagement level of its partners towards relationship building and rainmaking. Remember that most professional service firms lack an effective system for measuring the relationship building being done by individual partners. If your firm conducts one of these workshops it can skip doing an engagement survey and go straight to an engagement experiment.

For example, suppose you have 100 partners in your firm who all attend our “20 Tools For the Complete Rainmaker” Call to Action Workshop.

  • Within one week you will know how many of those 100 partners accepted our challenge and completed all five actions.
  • If they completed fewer or none you will know that too.
  • Within one week of that workshop you will know which of those 100 partners are the most receptive to further development of their rainmaking skills.
  • More importantly, you will have a much better idea of which people in the firm are most likely to deliver the best ROI in the training and coaching programs

If these programs are so powerful why aren’t they being used more? First, very few training companies provide such actionable learning that it allows for the call to action and such clear accountability. Another way of putting it is this: Most training devotes too much time to teaching concepts without tying those concepts to the behavior needed to make your firm sustainable.

I’ve also been told, by more people than I can count, that my newsletters tend to call people to take action and I hope this one is no exception. What simple step can you take today that will make your practice more sustainable? It doesn’t have to be complex or grandiose. In fact, the simpler the step taken the better. What I’d suggest you do is pass around this newsletter within your firm and ask for ideas on what each lawyer has done this week to make their practice sustainable.

Relationship building has been evolving in this social media age to mostly high tech.  It seems almost every company has lost touch with the important yet simple idea about relationship building. So let me suggest you take this Action Step: Call a long time client using the 100 year old technology called a telephone to let them know that “your success is vitally important to us.” You can follow that with this question: “What can I do to help make you and your company more successful?” Listen to what they have to say and do your very best to deliver on their request. You know the old saying that the “journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

As always thanks for reading.

As a Rainmaker, you already understand the need to constantly add new prospects to your network for a sustainable, growing base of future clients.  But you may not know how to use LinkedIn as a tool for identifying new clients.

When you think of your network of client contacts, you can segment them into three categories: (1) Clients you know and have done business with currently (“active clients”) or previously (“dormant clients”); (2) Prospective clients you know but have not yet done business with (“prospects”); and (3) Ideal client prospects you don’t know.  When we ask audiences, “How many prospects do you know that you aren’t doing business with?” the answer is usually less than 10.

If you want to grow your business, but your network consists primarily of clients you know already, you have an excellent opportunity to use LinkedIn to add names of clients you’d like to meet.  Growing that portion of your network holds significant opportunity for the future.


Here are several steps to use LinkedIn as a tool for identifying new, prospective clients.

  1. Define Your Ideal Client – It’s imperative that you have a clear picture in your mind. This means the type of company (industry, size, geography) that fits your profile and the title/role of individuals who are either “decision makers” or “influencers” in those organizations. Your objective is to build relationships with these decision makers and influencers.

    How well do you know your ideal client?  Try explaining it to your spouse or a good friend in less than 2 minutes.  Do they understand?  Can they explain it to someone else?  If so, you’ve probably got a clear definition in your mind.For example, an attorney who practices employment law in Denver might say, “My ideal client is a company in the Rocky Mountain region with 100 or more employees.  The decision maker is usually the General Counsel or the Vice President of HR.”

  1. Convert your ideal client profile into LinkedIn language – Using the “advanced people search” function, check the industry boxes and geography (zip code) appropriate for your services. And, you should put at least a partial title in the appropriate box.  For example, the decision maker at these companies (using the example from above) may have the title “General Counsel”  “Vice President HR.”  You’ll also want to switch the toggle below the title box to “Current” as you’re searching for people who currently hold these titles.
  1. Search for New Ideal Clients When you run the search, the top of the “Search Results” box will tell you the number of “hits” you got on this search. If it’s too large a group, you can narrow the search criteria to something more manageable.  The list will be sorted by relevancy with people that you have some connection with (direct or through other connections) at the top.Now you should scroll through the results and look for 5 – 7 people that fit your ideal client profile whom you don’t currently know.  These represent “ideal client prospects” that you’d like to meet.  For each, click on their LinkedIn profile to learn more about these individuals.
  1. Save and Tag These Contacts – Once you’re reviewed their profile, “save” them to your contacts. This is done by clicking on the “down arrow” next to the box that allows you to send them an InMail (next to the connect button).  Saving a profile isn’t visible to the individual, but it allows you to view their profile without having to search again.

    Then, to make it even easier to find them, use the “Tag” function to tag this as “New Prospect” or a tag that is meaningful to you.  Again, tags are not visible to others, but they allow you to easily find these individuals without recreating the search.  You can use multiple tags per person, so you may also use tags such as “decision maker” and “influencer” to distinguish multiple contacts at a prospective client organization.

  1. Set a Goal – Now that you know how to identify new ideal client prospects, it’s time to set a goal and measure your progress in building your network. To find your baseline number, go to the “Connections” page.  Then, filter your LinkedIn network using the “All Contacts” toggle and the tag (such as “New Prospect”) that you’ve established.  The search results will show you the number of contacts you have fitting that criteria.  That’s your current baseline.

    How many new prospects (that you don’t currently know) would you like to have at any one time?  Pick a goal.  For example, if you currently have 10 prospects that you don’t know, you might decide that you’d like to always have at least 30.  This means you have a goal of 20 new prospects to identify.  Using LinkedIn as described, you can add more prospects until you reach your goal.

As you meet these individuals, you can change their tag so that they are now in the category of potential clients you have met.  Similarly, if someone you haven’t met leaves the company before you meet them, you can “untag” them.  In either case, your goal is to always maintain at least 30 ideal client prospects you don’t currently know.

In a future article, we’ll discuss how to meet these prospects and begin building effective relationships so that they become future clients.

rick-shaum-business-coachRick Shaum
Rick Shaum’s business experience, spanning several decades, has allowed him to build a reputation as a “results-oriented leader and manager” who accomplishes his objectives by recruiting and developing top talent.  He spent more than a decade working within private equity portfolio companies where he learned how these firms focus on developing enterprise value.  Rick’s background allows him to move from advisor to manager/leader within a broad range of industries and functional areas of responsibility.  His versatility has been invaluable to organizations facing transition where bench strength and scalability were needed.  He enjoys coaching and mentoring talented individuals and helping others play to their strengths.  Rick earned a Bachelor’s degree in Religion & Psychology from Vanguard University in southern California and his Master’s degree in Speech Communication from the University of New Mexico.

Phone:  719-641-4006

David Hager consults with and coaches senior executives and leadership teams on organizational strategy, leadership impact, and team effectiveness.  He is also a former corporate attorney and an Associate of  Maraia & Associates.   He can be reached at or on 206.855.9373

My work as a corporate strategy consultant and coach to executives and leadership teams often takes me straight into the heart of the inner workings of these leaders and their organizations.  Sometimes, the lessons learned are surprising to all of us.

I was recently facilitating a business strategy development retreat for the president and leadership team of a global technology company. After nearly two days of exploring strategic options, perspectives, and challenges, the team had made some major advances in understanding how it might create some truly game-changing and sustainable advances for itself in the marketplace.

It was very encouraging and rewarding for everyone to see how they had come to a pretty strong, shared viewpoint about where they could potentially take their organization, and some of the key steps that would need to be taken.  But I was troubled by the subtle and not so subtle resistance to either undertaking or requesting commitments from one another to do anything specific.

Feeling somewhat exasperated, I heard myself blurt out: “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Bull!   You are in ‘violent agreement’ with each other, but that is not an action plan. I hear a lot of enthusiasm for talking about ideas but no one makes commitments to act.  You’re going to have the same meeting in three or six months if something doesn’t change.”

There was a stunned silence in the room. Slowly, a conversation began to emerge about the lack of a clear set of protocols or traditions around making specific commitments to act and holding one another accountable. It was as if a light bulb went on in the room.

These were very smart people, at the very top of their game. They had built a great organization, but were on the verge of losing their edge due to one small but critical missing piece in the group’s operating system:  Having an explicit understanding and agreement about making and requesting commitments, and on how to keep those commitments and plans alive over time. In the hour or
two that followed, the group did make some very clear and specific commitments and promises, as well as aligning on some actions and follow-ups to support them.

Fully embodying or developing a team process or norm in an area like this won’t be an overnight matter. It will be a learning and development process that may have some setbacks. But the “a-ha” moment went deep enough to stick, at least for the time being.

One wag once commented that “if you laid all the economists in the world end to end, they still wouldn’t reach a conclusion.” I would add that even if they could reach a conclusion, conclusions without commitments and processes for action are still likely to leave us with little more than a series of ongoing “violent agreements” that result in little change.

I admire this team for their thoughtfulness and honesty. I think they’re going to go far. And they helped me learn and relearn a constant lesson: Groups, as well as individuals, have blind spots about their behavior and thinking that can be paralyzing, or worse. Whether you are an external consultant or an internal leader, “Pointing Out the Obvious” can be one of your most important contributions to any team.

It’s my belief that a new (and collaborative) way to view the legal profession is needed.  Too few lawyers are delivering real value to clients.  The clients (the business world in particular which includes all of private industry) are in a far reaching search for responsive and knowledgeable lawyers who know how to create and deliver value – not just legal services.  Paint-by-numbers legal services which can be done by any competent lawyer don’t create or deliver value.  Clients don’t care where the value creators reside; i.e., in solo firms or 2000 lawyer firms or whether they are associates or partners.  Talent is THE driver of success in your firm and very few firms have a grasp of how to organize their talent in a meaningful way.  I believe that may be the largest single failing in the legal profession.  So your first step is to conduct a stem-to-stern assessment of your firm’s talent.  Look at your firm through a talent lens.  What do I mean by a “talent lens”?  Read on.

If I were leading any law (or professional service) firm, I’d immediately view the firm’s people through one of three talent lenses.  If you can’t see someone in any of these three categories, then show that person the door.  If you fail to show them the door, you’ll have too many of them (and in my opinion, having only one can be extremely toxic and is one too many) and they can make the ship go down.

Your people had better fit into one of the first two categories if you want to survive and thrive:

  1. Producing:  Lawyers and other staff who are producing the business or generating new ideas on how to increase service levels are rare.  Use them to full effect.  If more than 10% of your people fit in this category, you are the extremely rare firm.  Give us a call (303-791-1042).  We’d like to study your methods and may even have some valuable ideas you haven’t thought of.  You’re wise to bump up the target percentage of these types to 20%.
  2. Serving:  Most lawyers and support staff will fit within this category.  In all likelihood, the healthiest firms have 80% of their people in this category.  Based on my interactions with the market, I’m betting you will find much less than that in the average AmLaw 500.  Serving client needs is great but not enough.  What really needs to happen is a shift to value creation.  It’s not easy strategy to achieve; but if you aim high and fall short (some might call it failure), you will have a healthy (and going) concern.
  3. Retooling:  Lawyers’ current skills and knowledge gaps are very large.  In normal times, that should only comprise about 10% of your people in the typical AmLaw 500 firm.  These are not normal times.  This knowledge e-gap was exposed when the business world retrenched in 2008.  My educated guess is that the percentage of people needing retooling is more like 50%, mostly within partner ranks of the average large firm.  This can’t be stressed enough:  Not all of them are worth keeping.  Unless a lawyer is consciously working to retool him or herself and the firm is consciously supporting that effort with a defined plan and expected outcome, then any lawyer who is not in category 1 or 2 needs to go.  This is painful, unpleasant, and frankly highly personal and offensive to many.  It may mean telling your partner of 20 years that he or she is no longer a part of the firm.  The firms who plan to survive in the coming decade have realized that they lost the advantage of leverage when they found they had more partners than associates.  Why did this happen?  Because the firms slowed down their hiring and didn’t weed out their partner ranks.  Look around and see if you fit this picture.

You may disagree with these suggested categories and related thoughts or perhaps you disagree with the entire idea.  Whatever your view, we’d love to hear it!

If you don’t like my idea, then I challenge you to tender another practical idea that we can examine and act upon.  Time is short and the pain and suffering continues.  In a market rife with fear, lawyers tend to focus on themselves and not enough on clients.  Poor choice.


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