Archive for September, 2010


Changing the Status Quo

Author: Debra Baker
September 22, 2010

“That’s not how we do things around here.”

So begins a recent Forbes.com article, Kill the Status Quo Police, (Thanks to @sapreston for sharing it on Twitter).

The article is about how some organizations are so tied to how things were done in the past that they end up deterring innovation. The author points to a number of compelling examples, including Microsoft , Dell, Motorola and others.

“Such destructive norms couldn’t be sustained if there weren’t people anointed to enforce rigid adherence to them. Those are the Status Quo police. Their job, first and foremost, is to make sure that historical ways of doing business are not altered. It is not to focus on positive business results. To the contrary, it is to make sure the organization stays with the tried and true regardless of results. The police simply assume that results will be good if the status quo continues,” writes Adam Hartung.

Although this article focuses on technology companies, I would argue that nowhere are the Status Quo Police more prevalent than inside law firms and in-house legal departments.

Heavy investment in infrastructure keeps firms from adopting faster, less-expensive technology. Firms cling to the billable hour in fear of having the tough conversations about how to value the services they provide. Lawyers are afraid of collaborating on business development for fear of having to share clients. Many would rather keep a small piece of business with one client than take a chance to expanding the relationship by introducing to new talent — even when that talent is their own partners.

When the legal market hit the skids in late 2007, I thought for the first time in a long time that law firms would be forced to embrace change and realize the status quo was no longer an option. Nearly three years later, little has changed. Budgets have been slashed and firms have cutback to the barebones, but the status quo remains largely intact. There is close to what I would call a genuine fear of trying something different.

I’m with Hartung. It’s time to kill the status quo.


It’s a Dog’s Life: Mistaking motion for progress

Author: Debra Baker
September 17, 2010

Everything I know about business, I learned from my dog Star.

Star hasn’t  made an appearance on this blog lately. I was attributing it to the dog days of summer but — now that September is half over — I have to reconsider.

The real reason is laziness. Once you break a routine, it’s hard  to get back on track. 

For Star too. During her latest trip to the vet she weighed in at 99 pounds. This after the vet had told us 91 pounds was borderline overweight.

I call her fat. My husband insists she’s just “big boned.” Either way, it’s time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

We’ve been pretty defensive about it. We do a lot with our dog. We take her to the dog park. The neighborhood “pack” regularly runs wild. She goes to work with my husband most days, and we take her with us whenever possible on the weekends. She is not neglected.

Granted, we used to get up every morning and take a three mile walk to the beach and back. Because of our schedules, we maybe do that once every couple of weeks, but still… We do a lot.

The problem is that she does not have a disciplined approach to staying trim. We equate all her moment for exercise, which it is not. There is motion but no progress.

In trying to come up with a relevant topic for the blog this week, I started thinking about my clients — what is working for them and what is not. I realize this problem of mistaking motion for progress is universal, particularly at this time of year when the clock for measuring results is ticking faster and faster.

So the question of the day is this: Is your firm moving or is it progressing?

We all need to look at what we are doing. Are our efforts to build strong organizations and develop new business something we are doing in a consistent, disciplined way or are we just making motion so we can check a box and feel like something has been accomplished. I’m taking Friday to figure that out and reset my priorities.

But first I’m going to take Star for a walk.


Ditching Teamwork for a More Tribal Approach

Author: Debra Baker
September 9, 2010

With Labor Day behind us, I can’t help but think about how quickly rest of the year will go. For me, fall is a time to evaluate what’s working and what isn’t, and to adjust as needed to finish the year strong and start off next year on the right foot.

Much of the work I do with law firm involves Client Teams. I attended an event recently that has me rethinking my emphasis on team dynamics. The program, Helping People Win at Work, featured Garry Ridge, President of WD-40.

Two points resonated:

1. For people to be successful, they need to know what success looks like in a specific way. A manager should not just assign responsibilities. The manager should define what success looks like and provide the tools/support to help them be successful (Ridge’s mantra is “Don’t Mark My Paper, Help Me Get an A”).

2. Organizations shouldn’t work in teams, they should work in tribes. In a tribe, there is a chief and a circle of senior elders. The chief leads the elders and the elders lead the functional managers and so on down the chain. The chief’s job is to help make the elders successful in doing their jobs. In this way, the chief will be more successful than a captain trying to lead a group of functional equivalents.

This paradigm shift from team to tribe got me thinking about law firms. Partnerships often struggle with organizational dynamics and decision making because of the flat hierarchical structure. Firm leaders often lack the authority to act on the best interest of the firm because, titles aside, they are still partners. As a result, most law firm leaders spend a lot of time trying to build consensus, taking a team-oriented approach.

Although most law firms have yet to fully recover from the economic downturn, there remain incredible opportunities to transform their business model and take advantage of new ways to generate revenue. The challenge is prioritizing them and getting those ideas to action. And, once those priorities are set, communicating them and providing the partnership the tools they need to be successful.

It’s time for law firms to think tribal. Partnerships need to give their leaders — their chiefs — the authority to make hard decisions and to define the expectations of the practice group and office leaders — their elders. The chiefs then need to help the elders get an “A” as they work to implement the firm’s strategic plan. This is the only way firms will be able to make real change in the way they do business.


Does Your Geek Talk to Your Client’s Geek?

Author: Debra Baker
September 1, 2010

I was disappointed to miss this year’s ILTA conference but was lucky enough to attend a post mortem at yesterday’s San Diego Women in eDiscovery meeting. There, Saeid Ahmadian of Luce Forward provided a summary of the programs he attended.

One session focused on issues facing corporate IT. Their message: They have no one to talk to inside the law firms. In-house counsel talk to their internal teams. Outside counsel talk to their teams. But the folks who handle the data directly don’t talk to each other. And it’s causing problems.

DLA Piper’s Browning Marean , who spoke at ILTA on the topic of defensible e-discovery strategies, refers to this as the “Geek to Geek dance.” (That is with a capital G out of respect to those who talk in zeros and ones).

Saeid pointed to all the positive changes that are happening as corporations get smarter about their data. They are bringing more technology in house. They are hiring more IT. These are good things. “The less time we have to deal with client data, the more time we have to focus on legal issues.”

That said, he noted, both lawyers and their clients need to rethink the way they communicate with each other and bring in the data experts to have conversations with each other.

He is right. The real hurdles that need to be overcome are human. Lawyers who try to translate complex information about data to each other are playing a dangerous game of telephone. Depending on the attorneys involved, they understand most, some or none of the conversation. Even in the best scenario, a lot gets lost in translation.

The Geeks need to be talking to each other directly.

This needs to happen at the onset of every case. Better yet, the Geeks, or at least the chief Geek, should be integrated into the broader client development strategy. Set up a lunch or a meet and greet for the litigation support groups so they can learn from each other in advance of the next big piece of litigation.

Translated: Let your Geek talk to your client’s Geek.