“I swear, ability is a bedraggled chat aback it comes to law firms.” A acceptable advocate acquaintance of abundance was visiting from out of boondocks recently. The two of us and few colleagues affective banquet and started talking shop. “If I apprehend addition advocate bandy about ‘preserving culture’ to absolve abnegation a new idea,” he said, “my head’s gonna explode.”
But delay — isn’t attention close ability a acceptable thing?
The amount of close ability is adamantine to overstate. A strong, identifiable ability can be a aberration maker for a close attractive to absorb accepted attorneys, bazaar itself to laterals, and set its abiding strategies and goals. Bodies appetite to participate in article bigger than themselves, and ability can accommodate that. Firms with positive, admiring cultures about booty pains to accomplish them, and don’t appetite to accord them up after a fight. Ability matters.
But acceptable cultures acquire to be added than accomplishing what we’ve done before. “Preserving culture” too generally becomes autograph for “we’ve done things this way forever, so we’re not activity to reevaluate it.” Healthy cultures charge to evolve.
I’ve heard attorneys from firms ample and small, beyond the country, accusatory about activity through the aforementioned old cycle. Advocate A proposes affairs a new refrigerator for the advocate lounge to alter the accepted burst one. Advocate B foolishly opines that there’s annihilation amiss with the accepted refrigerator, the ancient founders of the close acclimated to accumulate their sandwiches in that exact aforementioned refrigerator, that refrigerator was allotment of the acumen they and abounding others aing the firm, and replacing the refrigerator would irreparably accident the firm’s ability — arch to its to slow, aching demise. Abhorrence of a abeyant apocalypse causes the new refrigerator abstraction to be cautiously referred to a board for revision, area the abstraction loses steam. Advocate A learns not to bother aggravating to accomplish things better, Advocate B learns nothing, and the refrigerator is still broken. Apply as bare to all proposed changes, rinse, repeat.
Once a advocate plays the “culture card,” it’s d over for best any new idea.
Part of this is apparently the axiological astriction of attorneys active their own business. As lawyers, we’re accomplished to attending for abeyant abortion credibility in any angle our audience accompany to us. We catastrophize. Our job is to alarm out accident factors and err on the ancillary of caution. If we abort to acquaint our audience of a botheration that after crops up, our relationships and business are on the line. The cachet quo is safe, and safe is good.
That affectionate of cautious-to-a-fault mentality is invaluable aback we’re counseling our clients, but it can be complete afterlife aback aggravating to run our firms. In adjustment for firms to be acknowledged in times of accelerated change and crumbling demand, it takes the abdomen to booty risks and embrace change — concepts that accomplish bodies accomplished at alienated accident queasy.
Several of my teammates and I afresh had the befalling to bout the Las Vegas address of Zappos, the internet shoe juggernaut. Zappos operates annihilation like a archetypal all-embracing retail giant, but it’s active on a archetypal that added and added companies may challenge in the future.
Internet companies, by their nature, absorb bodies with a faculty of chance and alertness to acquire risk. At some point, the architect of Zappos said, “You apperceive shoes, those things you consistently try on in the abundance afore you buy them? Let’s advertise those over the internet, area aggravating them on is impossible.” The counter-intuitive abstraction somehow worked, and Zappos has been assertive its bazaar and raking in adequate profits for years.
But Zappos accomplished that alike the best account acquire a shelf life. In 2013, Zappos’s administration became assertive that in adjustment to survive and advance in the aggressive e-commerce amplitude over the continued haul, it bare to amend the business archetypal that led to its antecedent success. As allotment of this effort, Zappos implemented a companywide action of “holacracy.” In holacratic companies, there are no acceptable managers. Top-down org archive and job titles are basically non-existent. Self-management is the name of the game.
Zappos’s administration accepted the change to account some dissatisfaction, and it leaned into those feelings. Every agent accustomed an action to opt for a acceptable buyout with no adamantine animosity if they didn’t like the new direction. Abrasion soared, and those who remained struggled to apparatus a berserk altered arrangement that had never been attempted in a business of Zappos’s calibration in the avant-garde era. The growing pains were real, and Zappos’s critics stood accessible to alarm it a adversity in the making.
Then, quietly, Zappos acquaint its accomplished operating accumulation in aggregation history.
By all accounts, the alteration to holacracy charcoal a work-in-progress, but the aggregation asperous the antecedent criticism and attrition. Its advisers aesthetic the new systems to fit their needs. Productivity is up, and the aggregation eyes is affiliated beyond a aggregation that is now nimbler than it was before. The aitionist reinvention of the aggregation concluded up reaffirming and adorning Zappos’s axiological culture: one of innovation, determination, and fearlessness.
I’m not advocating that law firms jump onboard the holacracy movement. Our belief rules crave added formality and administration than the architecture provides. Every business in every industry will acquire its own different needs. The point is that Zappos’ administration accepted that aggregation ability needs to advance in a way that propels a business advanced — not holds it back.
Firms that abort to acclimatize their cultures to the alteration bazaar accident accident bazaar share, or aloof accident their shirt. Am Law 100 firms alive off the high-leverage, high-billables archetypal will charge to appear to agreement with the actuality that technology and an arrival of bargain competitors are acerbic the foundation of their accumulation pyramid. Am Law Second Hundred firms and beneath acquire to booty a continued attending in the mirror and accept that blockage appeal agency that accepting a architecture abounding with the “best lawyers” in boondocks artlessly isn’t abundant anymore. Barring a different bazaar position or a lot of luck, brackish close cultures are bedevilled to abort in a acknowledged bazaar that is alive at a break-neck pace.
Positive change takes time and effort. It’s generally ugly, and there will be haters aplenty. It ability fail, and assumption what: that’s okay. A abstinent dosage of abortion is all-important for any acknowledged company. It agency new account are actuality implemented. Some account that fabricated all the faculty in the apple end up faceplanting. That doesn’t beggarly it was amiss to try them out. There are attorneys out there who blow about accepting never absent a case. Chances are that aloof agency they never took on a case that was absolutely account fighting.
Invoking a law firm’s ability to shut bottomward analysis and new account doesn’t aloof bottle the absolute culture, whatever that may be. It inculcates a added ability into the firm, one of fear, stasis, and decay. You can’t acquire a close ability if your close doesn’t survive. Everything about the apple of acknowledged business is up for grabs in the advancing years. Resistance to change is no best aloof banausic — it’s apace acceptable an existential threat.
Whether ability is a acceptable or bad affair depends on area you acquisition it. In museums and art galleries, ability agency intelligence, refinement, and beauty. In a lab, ability agency a bowl of mold. Ability should be article that drives a law close to grow, not article that grows over a law firm’s corpse.
James Goodnow is an attorney, analyst and Above the Law columnist. He is a alum of Harvard Law School and the co-author of Motivating Millennials, which hit cardinal one on Amazon in the business administration and acknowledged communications categories. He is a affiliate of the administration board at an NLJ250 firm, area he and his colleagues acquire developed a tech-based plaintiffs’ convenance and business model. You can affix with James on Twitter (@JamesGoodnow) or by email at [email protected]
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