eyes open

eyes open
"know thyself" is the cure, the answer, the process, the goal, the result


Corporate America Goes to Kindergarten: Why Being "Nice" Could Get You To the Next Level. Really.

Now I usually do not get all dewy-eyed about the virtues of "nice"ness; in fact, I usually hate the word (just what is "nice" anyway?). But the verdict is in: nice makes might. Or so says Marshall Goldsmith, counselor and coach to the high and mighty in the corporate world. That's right. Big CEOs with bigger private jets are paying six figures to hear what I'm about to tell you, and what you maybe could figure out for yourself if you really thought about it, and what you ought to have learned at your mother's knee: that leadership involves putting the golden rule into practice: listen, temper your ego, and resist the urge to demonstrate your wonderfulness at every turn. Of course, you have to be Marshall Goldsmith to get paid to say this stuff. But don't get me wrong, far be it from me to diss anybody's gig (glass houses and all that--I'm a headhunter, remember?). Anyway, I think he's got a point worth saying.

Goldsmith's book, with the snappy, most-modern, haiku-like title "What Got You Here Won't Get Your There" (hey, at $24.00 a bargain over his usual fee!) lists 20 lessons for staying at the top, and then getting to the "tippy-top" (what else should I call it?). Never fear! My read of Goldsmith boils them down down to just five. You can read all 20 on your own time. Here we go:

1) Get over yourself. Stop trying to INCESSANTLY prove how wonderful, brilliant and sexy you are (that's what blogging is for). Subordinates, superiors and laterals alike really could use a break. Yes, yes, we must learn to promote ourselves, but that doesn't mean that every single conversation needs your last word, not every memo needs your little extra edits, not every proposal needs your revisions. Be judicious, in other words, with your glow: not letting the other children play and shine once in a while destroys morale and makes you look like the Machiavellian narcissist you really are (not that there's anything wrong with that).

2) Don't be such a jerk. Yeah, this needs to be said. As Goldsmith so succinctly puts it, the question is NOT "It is true?" but "is it worth it?" Interesting.

3) Try being positive. Um, this is more pleasant for everyone. It is amazing the capacity for humans (sorry, in my experience, especially lawyers) to believe that their negative take on all things is actually interesting, impressive or otherwise tolerable. It is not. Your secretary knows this, but s/he is paid not to say it. Thus, try to make affirmative statements. It won't break your face.

4) Grow up. Mature adults do not blame others for their failures, act appropriately by not playing favorites and not sucking up and actually apologize when they err. Amazing, but true. They also realize that supreme "self-actualization" is the sister-city of megalomania.

5) The past is the past. Get over it and move on.

I somehow get the feeling that if I had written the book, it might not have played so well. Regardless, the important thing is that after all my railing against the lack of management sophistication in the law firm world (here and here ), it turns out the regular corporate guys are similarly challenged in the "act like a grown up" department. Just like us.

The upshot of all this is that these seemingly innocuous tips really can, and really have, made an impact on the careers of high-powered managers. Apparently you can go far by running rough-shod over others, but when you get to the upper levels of management, it suddenly matters to actually exhibit real leadership skills. Just like in kindergarten.

subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now

Creative Commons License


Law Firm IPOs--The Great Equalizer?

The only law firm economics specialist I know of is Bruce MacEwen. His opinion of the utility of the much-mentioned but little discussed Clementi (non-lawyer ownership, read: corporate-style reforms, is that the large established firms don't need them: don't need the capital, don't have any trouble expanding when and where they want to, don't need more money for infrastructure. Pause. I find this difficult to believe, but then, I'm not an economist.

On the flip side, regional and "consumer-oriented" (read: personal injury and other mainly contingency-fee firms) do need all these things. And an IPO can give it to them. I'm sure that none of the AmLaw 100 firms are worried about PI firms getting more cash--the two groups move in askew lines. However, on the margins, I see this as a huge tipping point.

What about the smaller national firms, or the larger regional firms--isn't capitalization a large issue for them? Couldn't an additional tidy eight-figure sum mean the difference between expansion and retraction for them? Thus, I see the possibility of law firm IPOs as simply the next logical step in the "arms-race" for market dominance and, for that matter, market survival. As the philosophers say (at least the ones I like) and as the savvy money managers say (I now read the Accentureand Wharton on-line resources, too) life/survival is all about growth. If law firm IPOs are going to mean the ability of a large swathe of firms to expand--and potentially "take it to the next level" in terms of national or regional expansion--this is going to have real impact on growth and for that matter retention on the part of ALL firms--large and small.

I think whether or not IPOs could have an immediate impact on the big-law types, such firms are going to be hard pressed to forego the possibility once the kinks get worked out (yes, and after the rules get re-written). If they do forego, we are going to see the IPO used as an offensive weapon to create far more competition for partner attraction at the just-below-first-tier. And that potential for greater competition and thus playing-field-leveler, is a good thing.

To boot, it doesn't appear that a law-firm IPO would necessarily have much negative impact on a partnership in terms of productivity, focus, etc. If we take the words of the MP of the first law firm to do it, it is as easy as falling of a horse. Read MacEwen's interview here.

The bell has been rung.

subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now

Creative Commons License


"This world is the will to power--and nothing besides!"--Clementi, Psycho-Babble and the Need for Transformative Leadership

Ad Arguendo's new tag line is "the blog of law and leadership". I came up with that after agonizing over how to work through a new post on the "Clementi" effect that is creeping up on us (if you don't know what I am talking about, heaven help you and click here). I was trying to figure out what I could usefully add to the conversation that might be more articulate than: wake up! this is happening! US firms are going to be caught with their pants down while their European counterparts use new-found billions to outflank them in infrastructure and new platforms! I still think that pretty much sums it up--but that isn't what I was going to write about today.

Psycho-Babble Quip of the Day

No, my rant of the day is a little more abstract. Yes, more. As a good little disciple of Bruce MacEwen, I dutifully rushed over to his blog this morning to see what might have fallen from his lips. As usual, it is spot on. If I may, I'll clear up a little of the underbrush.

What law firms need, right now--today--is a new paradigm of growth, a new paradigm of what it means to practice, a new paradigm for exploiting resources. And that paradigmatic shift is: synergy, openness, responsiveness, dynamism, quest for dominance.

Nietzsche said it well when he opined on what "life" is (paraphrasing): an instinct for growth, for power. To date, lawyers have been quite sweetly (bless them) thinking in terms only of an individual practice group here, a new platform there. They have not (as a group) been strategizing how each can dominate a particular market, how they can become the greatest and largest in a particular niche, or better, how they can revolutionize a practice qualitatively, how they can reinvent what the attorney-client relationship means in a particular industry. In short, they are small thinkers, not big thinkers. They have failed to grasp that strategic thinking means a constant evaluation of what one has, what one has done, what one wants to do, and an open eye to the possibilities great and small.

Tactics versus Strategy

Said another way, there is a lack of understanding between the "tactical" and the "strategic." As a former soldier, I understand it well. "Tactical" and "tactical proficiency" mean knowing how to do one's job--knowing how to move on the ground when trying to reach an objective, knowing how one's enemy on the ground was likely to move and figuring out how to respond. This is the extent of most law firms' thinking: they are good lawyers and strive to be better and exploit the markets that come to them.

You Know it When You See it

But there is the second way of thinking--strategic thinking. This is one of those "you know it when you see it" kind of things. Strategic thinking is what those scary wonks in the basement of the Pentagon are doing--thinking three wars ahead, figuring out how to use weapons that haven't been invented yet, making scenarios to fight enemies that have not come into ascendancy. On a level a little closer to home: they are listening in not only to their current "targets" but every target they can think of. The strategic mind is one that is always listening, always seeking new information, and always integrating the new information into what is already known, striving to expose the mind to everything, in all areas, in short, to see the world, humanity and everything in an all-embracing vision of ultimate complexity.

Breaking it Down

Huh? I can tell you, that is what genius is all about. That is what Steve Jobs and the other wonder-wizards of our age are doing. They are taking it all in and they are thinking of entire new products, entirely new needs, completely tangential paradigms. In short, they are not just just making better beans, they are inventing new crops, reinventing how to farm them, reinventing how to eat them, reinventing what "food" is.


It means actually "seeing" what is hidden right in the open. Just for starters: All of our nation's former enemies are now economic partners and competitors. The world exists in a free-form exchange of capital unfettered by political necessities. Smaller nations, nations with few resources, and seemingly little savvy, can leap-frog over the powers that be. Plus, all of our "conventions" of practice (like no non-lawyer ownership of firms) exist only in our minds--they can be changed in a trice. That means that despite the growing hegemonic dominance of American law firms across the globe, anyone can change the rules. Law firms need to hire bigger brains, craftier brains, non-legal brains, to help them join the 21st-century in terms of management savvy.

Be That One

If you think for one minute that the world is going to wait for us to deign to grow up as an industry, take the reins that our head start have placed in our hands and then dutifully fall in line behind us, think again.

Think strategically. If you can do this, you will be ahead of 999 in a 1000 souls. Be that one.

subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now

Creative Commons License


"Mission" Trumps "Marketing"--Law Firms & Lawyers Need To Get to the Heart of Things Before Making Their Splash

Ubiquitous Marketing.
Clearly the premier law firms are getting on the marketing bandwagon. They now have professional marketeers, image consultants, not to say bone-rattlers and entrail-readers. Plus, I as a headhunter for partners and associates alike encourage individual lawyers to be continually branding themselves in their markets and communities, even if they plan to stay put--one always needs more visibility.

Garbled Messages
On the other hand, one must take care not to get lost in the shuffle--the "message" can begin to run rough-shod over the reality. I see firm websites that tout image, ethos and even practice areas that don't fit, aren't believable, and just don't plain fly with the history, present tense, or even honest aspirations of the firm. It pays to do one's homework first.

Process over Product
One useful way of getting at what "message" to put out there is to take full stock of what the firm (and/or individual lawyer) already is, already values, already believes. This sort of taking stock is the conceptual framework for a professional plan. The term "professional plan" is thrown about quite a bit, and it is something of a misnomer as it describes only the end-result of the true point of having one--and that is the exercise of putting it together.

A Better Paradigm
The huge caveat is that the first part of creating such a plan is the most important, and that is the identification of the values, skills, assumptions and drivers that already exist. The goal is not to rush to conclusion, but to embrace the questions for a while, kicking around the ideas for long-enough, and coming to some honest appraisals of where the firm stands already. Really, a better paradigm than "professional plan" might be a "personal constitution."

"Constitution"--Drill Down then Work Up
We as Americans find this a potent analogy. Our constitution is all about stating core beliefs (e.g., freedom of speech is essential), irreducible assumptions (e.g., all men are created equal), and cultural/sociological/practical realities (e.g., long-standing practice and enshrinement of the separation of powers). Something similar has to happen when firms get together to decide how to better exploit their markets and take advantage of opportunities--or just get a better PPEP. This gut-level and very hard homework is essential to success in that endeavor.

Grass Roots Stronger than Ivory Towers
And another thing: A firm "constitution" cannot be something that a committee cooks up with lots of cool PC soundbites and marketing glitz. It cannot be created out of whole cloth and then shoved down the throats of the rank and file. Rather, it must reflect and honest history, an open appraisal of current realities, and be the product of a gestalt, a process, of continual discovery and renewal of the firm's goals and strengths.

Full Circle
A parting shot: don't think these issues are just "airy-fairy" 21st Century post-modern psycho-babble--these issues have been thrashed around for centuries. Political philosopher Joseph-Marie, Comte de Maistre (a fairly notorious anti-democratic figure writing in the aftermath of the French revolution) scoffed at the notions of written constitutions--and for the same reasons. He feared that "constitutions" (at the time a new-fangled thing) would invariably be irrelevant as the true body of law of the land was contained in the hegemonic assumptions held dear in the hearts and traditions of the people as a whole--and could not be contained on a mere "bit of paper." I fear many firms' strategic plans are similarly not worth the "parchment" they are written on--but they could be.

subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


Fire At Will! Lessons from Jack Welch

My wife and I both love biographies--the only difference is that she actually takes the time to read them. I just go on about them. At any rate, one biography that I got roped into actually reading was that by Jack Welch, GE uber-CEO and dynamo (Straight from the Gut). I can tell you--the guy is a son-of-a-gun. But you knew that.

One theme that comes up--let us say, about 37 times in the book--is Jack's unabashed and ruthless relish in firing people. It seems nearly every step of the ladder up to the corner office (hell, the corporate jet) was littered with bodies--and lots of them.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Indeed, Jack had the right idea and I'll tell you why. Jack believed that the best way to get the best organization imaginable is to get the best people in place. Whenever he took on a new division or project, he always went in with the idea that he would do WHATEVER it took to get the best brains, the toughest minds, the biggest muscle he could find to trounce the competition.

On the other hand, lots of these 'firings' were mutual. Jack would go in with his usual two-fisted approach to management. He would insist on seeing the books--all the books. He would ask rapid-fire questions about details, about big picture, about everything. And he actually expected answers. Lots of people just couldn't hack it--they left. Plus, even if folks had difficulty performing, Jack would come to a mutually agreed-upon plan and give the guy a couple of quarters to start MAKING PROGRESS toward the goal. If there was no progress, the guy was out.

I hope I don't have to remind you just how successful GE has been under his leadership. Read the book or go find a stock analyst. The point is that Jack's ebullient and frankly hard-ass approach to management got him tremendous results. AND IT BUILT A STRONGER COMPANY TO BOOT.

Law firms can't afford to take quite approach; talent is so scarce and firms don't have the economic or contractual or other incentives to keep an organization strongly together. Mostly though, I think they just don't have the guts. It might not be fair to say so, as those who are successful as attorneys perhaps do not have the temperament (generally speaking) to take such forthright and direct action. I can tell you, though, that once law firm finally make the mental switch to corporate leadership versus old-styled "partnership" co-leadership, the heads will start rolling far more quickly.

Your best bet in anticipation of this perhaps startling but inexorable trend? Start pushing yourself now to be twice as good as you were last year. Maybe if you bust a gut, or two, you'll stand a chance in the new world. Welcome, folks, to the real 21st Century.

subscribe to AD ARGUENDO now

Creative Commons License