On May 20, 2009,  Mark Beese (www.leadershipforlawyers.typepad.com) evaluated an article that appeared in AMLAW Daily by Zach Lowe titled “How Essential is a CMO?” (Chief Marketing Officer).  The importance of both posts is not whether a single person should be appointed to drive the firm’s marketing effort but instead the question is whether anyone in the law firm is focusing on the future to position the law firm for survival first and maximum productivity secondly.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?

“There is always one unexpected moment when the door opens and lets the future in,” according to Graham Greene.  “The business that thrives is the organization that peaks around the next corner” Gary Sutton.  Rather than mire in self-pity or mediocrity during the present harsh recession with untold casualties, the firm and attorneys who will thrive are looking for inspiration with bold thinking, curiosity, and discovery through the willingness to take some risks.

 An old business axiom warns “that if your horse dies, get off.”  By the same token, it is clear to the future visionaries that “what made you successful in the past won’t in the future.”  Lew Platt, Hewlett Packard.  What worked two years ago will soon be out of date. 

The goal of business is to seek security and success.  There is a greater chance of security in change and movement of the business to meet the new demands of communication, quality, responsiveness and success as defined by the client.  The future is likely to be successful for the law firms that identify how these demands have changed and embrace change rather than trying to hang on to what worked in the past.  Otherwise, the people who are stuck with their feet in cement will find their tombstones reading, “Died at 40; buried at 80.”  The dreamers may not be the leaders in the firm but the leaders must allow and facilitate the business so that the creative, innovative and dreamers are excited and turned on about life so that creativity thrives within the business.

SO WHAT IS A LAW FIRM TO DO?

A CMO could drive this effort but the danger is that a law firm, Big Law or small, could leave the task to the CMO thereby compartmentalizing the work to be done and failing to support and develop ideas that can enhance the entire business.  Having a creative visionary with the power to implement ideas and take chances is only the starting place.  The firm executive committee or managing partner need not be the one to invent the change but it is essential that the center of power within the firm embrace and support the effort to change.

WHAT IS THE DANGER IF WE DO NOT INNOVATE?

The danger is the extinction of your firm.  Employees will become discouraged and think the grass is greener at other firms.  Clients will wonder why your firm is not paying special attention to their needs at a time when business is in close competition among firms.  Your firm will become yesterday’s news or the lead story of the latest law firm failure.  The vitality and spirit that makes employees want to be a part of the firm will fade, which will ultimately be reflected in the work and client contact.

SO WHERE DO WE START?

1. Change your outlook first.  Just when you think all is lost, the future remains.  You need the perseverance to take a chance.  This involves work, but so does looking for a new job or starting a new firm.  The path of least resistance is to change from within for the benefit of your current clients and employees.

2. Create a judgment-free environment so that the creative ideas that are trapped inside the lawyers’ minds are not hidden for fear of rejection.  A brainstorming session in which different groups meet, write down all their ideas to enhance the business in any way, and then share and discuss all the ideas with the group will put the maximum amount of ideas on the table and enable meaningful discussion within groups of lawyers with common interests to explore the pros and cons of means to change the future.  The result will be a list of the top three or five or ten best ideas to reinvent the business and to enhance what it already does very well.  The benefit is that great ideas will see the light of day, obtain the support of others, and have an opportunity to flourish. 

These meetings need not take a full day, a retreat or even an afternoon.  A two hour meeting can accomplish this task with up to twenty people per meeting.  A representative of management should be present not to shoot down a potential idea but to be able to answer questions about the structure and finances of the firm and to demonstrate support to try new approaches in the new business world.  “The executive of the future will be rated by his ability to anticipate his problems rather than to meet them as they come.”  Don’t be an innovation killer in the process.  See http://blogs.bnet.co.uk/sterling-performance/2009/03/30/the-top-five-innovation-killers/.” 

3. Don’t delay.  Reports are already appearing in the news that the recession is beginning to recede.  When it is over, the businesses that have prepared for the future will soar in the marketplace.  Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, said, “I am convinced that if the rate of change inside an organization is less than the rate of change outside, the end is in sight.”  What could be more important than implementing innovative and creative ideas now to (1) determine if they work, and (2) to be poised to expand those ideas when the market is ready?

4. Don’t ignore the curmudgeons locked into the old way; but don’t let them lock the firm into policies originally implemented during a different time.  They may now be the skeptics and cynics of anything new or original fpr a variety of reasons, but they also have ideas how to approach the future successfully.  To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, “We need men and women who can dream of things that never were.”

5. Look at the present and future in a new way.  We tend to attract not what we want but who we are.  When you change the way you perceive things, you have a whole new way of experiencing things.

6. Then what do we do, hire a CMO?  Maybe that is the way to start at your law firm but it is not the only way.  The final step is to engage everyone in rainmaking.  It is not just about originating new business.  Rainmaking involves talking, not emailing, clients and discussing their needs and wants and how to meet them in a tough economy.  Rainmaking involves establishing a presence in the legal marketplace as a specialist or expert in a particular field through advertising, articles, blogs, twitter, speeches or attending conferences and meeting people in need of these services.  Rainmaking is not a natural talent but can and must be learned.  It behooves law firms to engage the services of people who can teach, in a hands on method, the basic skills of rainmaking so that each member of the law firm is an ambassador of the firm and a vehicle to make change work for the benefit of everyone in the law firm and most importantly, for the clients.

There are a lot of articles containing opinions about the future of law firms.  But there is one consistent theme in all of them, if you do nothing, you will be left behind.  There is a new world order to communication, service and employee relations.  Law firms must adapt in creative ways to stand-out and thrive.

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