Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Change Happens, Initiate it or React to it!

In 2007, I realized that after spending almost two decades in professional services it was time to speak what those in firms all around the world were thinking. Looking back on my original writings on this form and in publications, although the topics changed; the theme didn’t. The core theme which I have been professing has always been the same – it’s time for change. Break free of the bondage of your ancestry and lead the pack!

In the academic world there are volumes upon volumes of articles that address organizational change. Everything from being a change master to managing the process of change, some of the great business writers lately have been very bold in putting forth their ideas. With all of this going on, there is one thing for sure – change happens. Several years ago a great little book was written Who Moved my Cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson M.D. The book took a light-hearted approach in explaining the human behavior of failure to change, as demonstrated through mice in a maze. This is definitely a must read for anyone who feels they are no longer growing or changing.

I have found through the years that society is built up of institutions that assume positions along the ‘habit/status quo’ continuum. There are those institutions that constantly push the status quo, with their developing of the latest and greatest. While there are others who are more stayed in their behavior. Those who push the status quo, evolve more, learn more, earn more, and do more for society. Conversely, those who are stayed they experience decreasing membership in their institutions, soon they wither and die. Several years ago a colleague shared with me his experience with a financial institution that found its roots in the 17th century. When he joined the organization their business processes probably dated back to their origins. During his tenure, the board of directors interviewed for a new president. Throughout the interview, the candidate responded to various questions with the same line, ‘I will change things’. Finally the interviewer asked what will you change? To whom he replied, things. The point to be made here, was that a change was needed, any change. The organization had become stagnant over its life and this visionary saw that a single change will be the precipitate to many changes. Today that organization has now in 120 countries around the globe and in many of those countries, has become the leader in the financial markets.

My contribution of last week precipitated several comments. The one that I feel is most relevant to share is from Ed Poll. I have known Ed for a few years and I have always been inspired by his writings. I feel he is the voice of change in the legal management community. Ed’s closing remarks on last week’s contribution was: “Nevertheless, there is much about the operation of law firms that needs to be examined more closely and then changed if the "institution," called a law firm is to survive and thrive.” Ed’s statement comes at a time, I feel, when today’s law firms are at the cusp of a business management change. No longer can firms continue along the antiquated behavior of doing the same things month after month, year after year, decade after decade and not only expecting the same results… but better results!

The cascading changes that law firms will face will probably come by way of one or two very progressive forward thinking organizations. They will be the fuel that fires the change of the legal landscape. In reviewing the literature of today, I feel this impetus to this type of overwhelming change will come from a smaller firm outside of North America. The seed to change will be from a firm not imbued in processes of their history; they will push the status quo and thereby make change. In the last two years, we have seen considerable change in law firms outside of North America. One such firm, an Australian law firm went public. Currently in the Asia Pacific regions, companies are no longer accepting the status quo for legal services and legal fees. Corporations are undertaking statistical and probability analyses to identify their return on investment in legal engagements. It is this type of analysis that will determine if they proceed or halt the engagement.

On May 7 LawFuel, a New Zealand publication, ran an article entitled Are Lawyers getting away with Blue Murder on fees? The author cites that there is a considerable increase in outside consultants who review the legal engagements and assist in getting the costs ‘seriously trimmed’. I feel these two incidents are very important to the future of law firm viability as we see it today. One firm, taking a proactive approach in adopting more business behavior through outsiders objectively examining their business management, while there is a growing malcontent in the market that will push law firms to change. One firm is taking a more proactive, non-status quo approach, while the others are being subjected to increasing pressure to change. Either way change is happening and the institution of the practice of law as we have come to know it; is ripe for change.

No matter what you choose to do, you will be affected by change. Metaphorically, you can lead the pack or get trampled by it. At this point, the choice is yours. However, when market change begins, and it will fast and pervasive, you will be in your defined spot and will have to suffer the consequences. Maybe it is time for firms to empower their business managers to critically examine the firm and make it part of the change and not let it fall victim to being a product of change.

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