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Better Law Practice Through Better People Management

The State of the Marketplace

Posted in Business Development, Client Service, Leadership, Management, Profitability, Recruitment

Ladies and Gentlemen, looks like we have consensus about our situation.  Or almost.

The Report on the State of the Legal Market (Peer Monitor/Georgetown) came out in early January followed by the Citi Private Bank 2014 Client Advisory (Hildebrandt) a week later. The Report on the State of the Legal Market noted an overall drop in demand for 2013 of slightly more than 1%, with a substantial shift to in-house work as part of a general reduction in engaging outside legal services and a further trend to move work that does go outside away from more expensive top tier firms to less expensive, more efficient ones. The conclusion was that there has been a permanent change in the marketplace that firms will have to recognize and adapt to. “The current trends… reflect fundamental changes in the nature of competition in the legal market, changes that have been increasingly evident since 2008… The first and perhaps most obvious change is that the legal market has become much more intensely competitive than it was five years ago.”  

Included in the report were statistics from the 2013 Altman Weil Chief Legal Officer Survey that indicated that 44% of over 200 CLOs surveyed had shifted work to in-house lawyers during the prior 12 months, and 30.5% had reduced the total amount of work sent to outside counsel. “Moreover, some 29 percent of respondents indicated that they intended to decrease their overall use of outside counsel in the next 12 months, and only 15 percent said they expected to increase such use. Consistent with these responses, 47 percent of CLOs indicated that they had decreased their budgets for outside counsel during 2013 (a figure that compares  to 39 percent in 2012 and 25.4 percent in 2011).”

The report concludes that: “[G]rowth-for-growth’s-sake strategy makes little sense…  Even if there can be assumed to be some economies of scale… there’s little proven correlation between size and profitability – and at some point there are even diseconomies of scale.” As one commentator noted: “There are plenty of issues facing the law firm industry; this report makes the argument that the one strategy that firms seem to be consistently applying to address those issues – growth through mergers and lateral hires – is simply not going to meet the challenges.”

Debunking the growth-will-solve-everything approach is certainly not new.  Bigger is not better is more recently the recurring mantra, and that started well before the Great Recession.  Latest are the reports that Big Law is declining and mid-size firms are increasingly winning market share.  An HBR author titled his blog entry “Law Firm Pedigree May Be a Thing of the Past,” quoting one GC who said: “I would absolutely fire anyone on my team who hired Cravath.”

Why are we stuck in the growth-as-a-solution ditch? According to the Report of the State of the Legal Market: “To address the concerns of clients for more efficient, predictable, and cost effective legal services, law firms must focus their attention on re-thinking the basic organizational, pricing, and service delivery models that have dominated the market for the past several decades.”  However, “the message that we need to ‘build a bigger boat’ is more politically palatable than a message that we need to fundamentally change the way we do our work.”   

The Citi Client Advisory comes to essentially the same conclusions about the current marketplace as does the Peer Monitor report.  Citi  reports that,“we do not project a return to pre-2008 levels of performance. We believe that we have witnessed a fundamental shift in the market for legal services, resulting in a changed and more muted demand environment for law firms. While some elements of demand are cyclical, the fundamental changes described in our Client Advisory will require law firms to embrace and respond to a new reality.”  Or as one commentator put it:  ”the growth curve has been permanently bent downward from the pre-2008 years.” (emphasis added)

But the Advisory is much more positive about law firms’ abilities to maneuver through the shoals. It characterizes growth as  more deliberate and strategic, with better planning and execution, than in the past.  Citi sees more firms moving from cutting expenses and prices toward actively pricing legal matters, using more sophisticated professionals and technology in the process.  And finally, “Unlike the commentary of many observers of the legal profession suggesting that today’s senior management do not ‘get it,’” it argues that law firm leaders have recognized the need for changes and have beefed up their management skills and staff expertise to effectuate them.

However,  the Peer Monitor Report makes the case for how uncommitted to the hard process of change law firms in fact are, noting “that few firms seem willing to go there, showing little appetite for new price models, staffing models, and packaging and delivery models.” Citing Altman Weil’s 2013 Law Firms in Transition Survey of 238 managing partners of U.S. law firms with 50 or more lawyers, “the law firm leaders surveyed clearly understand that the legal market has changed in fundamental ways, with substantial majorities agreeing that permanent changes in the market [are taking place]…  And 66.7 percent of respondents indicated that they believe the pace of change in the legal market will increase going forward. And yet, only a minority of firms has undertaken any significant changes to their basic business models.” (emphasis added)

What’s the hold up?  Fingers point rapidly away. When asked to rate their “partners’ level of adaptability to change” on a 0 to 10 scale, the median rating was 5 (in the “low” range), with only 2.2% indicating a “high” level of adaptability. “[A]sked how serious they believe law firms are about changing their legal service delivery model to provide greater value to clients (as opposed to just reducing rates)… respondents produced a median rating of 5 (in the “low” range).  That compared to a median rating of 3 given by corporate chief legal officers when asked the same question in October 2012.”  Woops.  Client perception is dangerously out of line with our own.

In fact, when asked to list “the greatest challenges their firms face in the next 24 months, the top four answers from respondents (which constituted just over 50 percent of all responses) were all internally focused issues aimed at protecting the status quo of the law firm and not at becoming more responsive to clients.” 

As the Peer Monitor Report concludes: ” [T]he legal market may be currently poised for what could be a dramatic reordering based on the same type of disruptive forces that have reordered many other businesses and industries.”

Almost a decade ago ClayChristensen authored a white paper on “Transforming Legal Services,” in which he noted that law firms have been able to successfully make outsize profits –40% on average for the AmLaw 100, or roughly twice the average margin of the country’s 100 largest publicly-traded corporations–without updating their product or their business model. He warned, though, that that success was unlikely to continue:  “In the parlance of disruptive innovation theory, corporations are ’over-served’ when they pay top-firm rates for routine matters… Corporations have reacted by fragmenting their legal spend… For the leading law firms, fragmentation means loss of market share.”

Christensen’s article in the October 2013 issue of the Harvard Business Review argues “that a disruptive transformation in the legal market may well already be underway… . The pattern of industry disruption is familiar: New competitors with new business models arrive; incumbents choose to ignore the new players or to flee to higher-margin activities… [A]lthough we cannot forecast the exact progress of disruption . . ., we can say with utter confidence that whatever its pace, some incumbents will be caught by surprise. The temptation for market leaders to view the advent of new competitors with a mixture of disdain, denial, and rationalization is nearly irresistible… As we and others have observed, there may be nothing as vulnerable as entrenched success.”

What was it that bankruptcy specialist Martin Bienenstock said, who toward the end was made a member of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s office of the chairman?  ”I think the world changed… and no one saw the new world coming.”


Paying Attention to What Matters

Posted in Books, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Professional Development, Profitability, Wellness

The cover title of the Time Magazine issue coming out Monday, February 3 is  “Mindful Nation.” The ultimate benefit of mindfulness is that it improves our ability to focus our attention, which is sorely needed in our 21st century lives.  Improvements in focusing attention in turn increase our ability to both perceive and regulate our emotions, as well as those of others.

Distraction is one of the most powerful forces reducing our ability to focus and therefore our effectiveness in emotional management.  Cathy Davidson, the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University and author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, notes the research on distraction: “Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, has shown that modern workers switch tasks an average of once every three minutes. Once their focus on a given task has been interrupted, it takes an average of 25 minutes to return to it. Mark’s research also shows that 44% of the switches are caused by “internal” rather than “external” sources of distraction—meaning that our minds simply wander.”

In a study by two Harvard professors, participants  carried iPhones with an app that called them at random times and asked them “What are you doing, and where’s your mind?” The study showed that, on average, people’s minds are wandering close to 50% of the time, no matter what they’re doing. Or, as the authors summarized it, people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and… doing so typically makes them unhappy.”

Daniel Goleman’s most recent book published in October 2013 is entitled Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence.  According to Goleman, “In Focus, I’ve rethought Emotional Intelligence in terms of attention.” In an interview about the book he explained: ‘I’ve always been interested in attention; my earliest research at Harvard was on the retraining of attention to help people recover from stress. But it was only while writing FOCUS that I updated my understanding with the most recent scientific findings that I saw my model of emotional intelligence could be recast in terms of where we put our attention and how.” According to Goleman’s interviewer, “Those who excel rely on what Goleman calls smart practices—such as mindfulness meditation, focused preparation and recovery from setbacks, continued attention to the learning curve, and positive emotions and connections—that help them improve habits, add new skills, and sustain excellence.”

“Flow” is the psychological term for intensely engaging our attention, free of distracting and unmanaged emotions, which produces great productivity, calm and a sense of well-being.  As Goleman explains it, “There’s an upside down U that describes the relationship between performance and cortisol levels (which is the stress hormone).  When people are very bored, they’re at the lower end on the left side of that upside-down U…  And when they’re overstressed, they’re on the right side, where performance is poor and cortisol is very high… When people are fully absorbed, when they’re in flow, they’re at the optimal point at the top of the U.” That U is also known as the Yerkes-Dodson arc.

“Where we want to be on the Yerkes-Dodson arc is the zone of optimal performance, known as “flow” in the research of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi at the University of Chicago. Flow represents a peak of self-regulation, the maximal harnessing of emotions in the service of performance or learning. In flow we channel positive emotions in an energized pursuit of the task at hand. Our focus is undistracted, and we feel a spontaneous joy, even rapture…This optimal performance zone has been called a state of neural harmony where the disparate areas of the brain are in synch, working together. This is also seen as a state of maximum cognitive efficiency. Getting into flow lets you use whatever talent you may have at peak levels.”

Flow  has been found by researchers to support and drive superior performance by promoting curiosity, interest, adaptability, humility, maturity, pride, empathy, realism, competitiveness, discipline, resiliency and the sheer enjoyment of overcoming challenges and excelling, a number of which are also aspects of emotional intelligence. Meditation is the surest route to mindfulness, according to mounting evidence.

Mindfulness is not, of course, just for the demonstrated benefits of stress reduction, better decision-making, better mental and physical health, and greater emotional balance.  As the leader of Google’s mindfulness program contends: “The one thing [that all companies should be doing] is promoting the awareness that compassion [achieved through mindfulness] can and will be good for success and profits.”   That conclusion is evidenced by the increasing numbers of companies like  Google that incorporate mindfulness meditation into their professional development programs.

How can we test our mindfulness? A well-loved on-line exercise can give us some insight into whether we pay attention to what matters.  Count the passes and then ask yourself what you saw.


The Thing About Blind Spots

Posted in Assessments, Coaching, Communication, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Diversity, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Professional Development, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork

Discrimination comes in all forms. In our 2011 entry on the dismissal of an EEOC suit against Bloomberg, we noted that Karen Lockwood, a senior female partner in Howrey, a Washington D.C. firm and then president of the D.C. Women’s Bar Association, made a distinction between discrimination and unconscious bias: “Law firms are way beyond discrimination… Problems with advancement and retention are grounded in biases, not discrimination.”

Discrimination is overt, explicit and legally actionable, while bias is implicit and often unconscious, covertly undermining the actions and opinions of some of the most overtly committed supporters of diversity.

In an article last week in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Do You Know Your Hidden Work Biases,” a vice-president at BAE Systems Inc., a major defense contractor, admitted she might have made less than optimal decisions because of missed input from introverts–she favors more talkative personalities.

The article contended that “big businesses are teaching staffers to recognize that ‘unconscious bias’—or an implicit preference for certain groups—often influences important workplace decisions,” and that a “growing number of U.S. corporations offer training programs aimed at overcoming these hidden biases. As many as 20% of large U.S. employers with diversity programs now provide unconscious-bias training, up from 2% five years ago, and that figure could hit 50% in five years.”

“It’s a blind spot,” as the head of one diversity consultancy explained. One that is “the most requested and popular diversity topic now.”

The list of companies willing to pay a typical one-day cost averaging $2,000 to $6,000 for 50 people to become better educated about their biases include Dow Chemical Co. (for 800 managers), Google Inc. (for 13,000 of their staffers), Pfizer Inc., PricewaterhouseCoopers and Microsoft (for 2,000 managers).  There have been some noticeable results. Dow saw the number of women in professional positions rise to 32.4% from 29.7% after the training.

The Implied Association Test. Unconscious-bias training arose from research by University of Washington psychology professor Tony Greenwald and his development in 1994 of the Implied Association Test, where you can join 15 million others who have taken it since its introduction in testing your biases.

What could we possibly learn from an unconscious bias test?  That we favor whites (the most common bias), men, the well-dressed, even those from the same schools and parts of the country as we are from?

Scary Faces.  Neuroscientific research regarding the amygdala, the primitive part of the brain, shows that even those who are cognitively convinced that they are not biased exhibit sub-cognitive, physical signs of distress—faster heart beat, increased perspiration, elevated blood pressure—when images of faces of a different race are flashed on a screen even for a few hundredths of a second (faster than cognitive recognition), which is the same reaction they exhibit to images of spiders, snakes and angry or frightening faces.

Different Sounds.  Ranier Kuchl, the concertmaster of the Vienna Philharmonic, once spoke for many professionals in the classical music field when he said he could instantly tell the difference with his eyes closed between the sound produced by a male and female musician.  This was particularly thought to be true of those playing “male” instruments, such as tubas, trombones and French horns, which, the theory went, required the greater lung power of a man.

In spite of this general conviction that the genders “sounded differently,” over the past thirty years the introduction of screens and other rules to assure anonymity have become standard in music auditioning.  During the same time, the number of women in the top US orchestras has increased five-fold.  The first time new audition rules were in place for the Metropolitan Opera orchestra in New York, all of the four new positions were awarded to women, more than doubling the number of women at that time in the entire orchestra.

What can be done about this “below the radar” bias?  Test-taker racial bias on the Implicit Association Test is dramatically reduced after exposure to images and stores of minority success.  For example, test takers who spent the day watching African-Americans excel in the Olympics then registered less unconscious bias on the test against African-Americans’ career and social success.

This finding makes it evident how important increased awareness and exposure to minority role models throughout society are in reshaping our unconscious biases.  It also highlights the importance of supportive company/ firm communications and “positive self-talk” both by minorities and the people they work with with respect to differences.

One interesting aspect to the BAE vice-president’s acknowledged bias is that it is against introverts–not a disadvantaged race or gender but a personal work style.  Introverts would include most lawyers, by the way, who may find  themselves in turn consciously or unconsciously biased against their chattier colleagues.  In our experience, personal style bias is one of the most entrenched and hard to re-educate discriminations.

The BAE vice-president says that as a result of training she has begun giving her staffers advance notice about difficult meeting topics “so there will be more time for the more introspective folks to assimilate their thoughts” and also hopes to switch to “blind” résumés without an applicant’s name or address.  Both great measures for acknowledging and proactively dealing with what would otherwise be unconscious biases.

Because the thing about blind spots is that you can’t see them.

Happiest of Holidays to You and Yours!

Posted in Announcements

We at Law People Management send our best wishes for the holidays and the new year to you, our loyal subscribers, and your families, friends and colleagues.  May you be blessed with the joy and prosperity that comes from community and connection.

Research shows that emotional intelligence promotes both. Look for our book on emotional intelligence  for lawyers to be published in 2014 by the American Bar Association.  Those wanting to be on the advance copy list should sign up here.

The Team at Law People Management


Sharpening Our Prediction Skills

Posted in Assessments, Client Service, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Management, Profitability, Risk Management, Uncategorized

The Lawyer’s Global Litigation Top 50 2013 annual survey of senior in-house UK lawyers has found that projected litigation costs provided by counsel to their corporate clients were off by as much as 100%, with the average being 40%. “[E]ven experienced law firms are often woefully inept at accurately forecasting litigation costs,” the report concluded.

That mis-forecasting can be particularly devastating to a litigation matter there.  The UK has recently implemented a new civil procedure rule 3.9 as part of legal justice reforms made by Lord Justice Jackson in April of this year.  It requires that legal budgets be set and approved by the court and was recently and famously enforced in connection with a defamation suit lodged by former chief whip Andrew Mitchell MP, prohibiting him from exceeding his budget of £2,000.  ”That decision sent shock waves through law firm litigation departments when the judges limited Mitchell’s costs in his case against The Sun newspaper because his legal team failed to submit a budget on time.”

Cost is not the only aspect of litigation that we are not so good at predicting.  In a prior post entitled Decision-making on Trial:  Are We promising More Than We Can Deliver?, we pointed out research done by Randall Kiser on the extent of lawyer mis-forecasting of litigation results, as reported in his book Beyond Right and Wrong: The Power of Effective Decision Making for Attorneys and Clients, and of evidence that optimism and overconfidence, particularly among  men, are drivers of some of that mis-forecasting.

Included among Kiser’s findings were two particularly troubling results: 1) the extent of the lawyer’s experience, rank of the lawyer’s law school and size of the law firm did not increase the accuracy of case evaluations; and 2) over the 40-year time period Kiser reviewed, the rate of poor decision-making with respect to litigation strategy actually increased.  “It’s peculiar if any field is not improving its performance over a 40-year period,” Kiser noted.

So what’s to be done about this escalating weakness in predicting results, as well as costs, of litigation? Do we need to keep more metrics? Employ better analytics? Put out lawyers through humility training?

Or could it be that we should trust our feelings more?  Huh?

Emotional intelligence has been shown to improve our predictive abilities in all types of endeavors.  In a 2012 review of eight studies involving more than 1,250 people, researchers found that in such diverse areas as predicting “the winner of a presidential primary (study 1), movies’ successes at the box office (study 2), the winner of a singing competition (study 3), movements of the Dow Jones (study 4), the winner of a football championship game (study 5), or even the weather (studies 6–8)… people who trusted their feelings in judgments and decisions consistently predicted these future events more accurately than people who did not.”

“Despite the range of events and prediction horizons (in terms of when the future outcome would be determined), the results across all studies consistently revealed that people with higher trust in their feelings were more likely to correctly predict the final outcome than those with lower trust in their feelings.” The researchers call this phenomenon “the emotional oracle effect.”

Interestingly, “it is mostly high trust in feelings that improves prediction accuracy rather than low trust in feelings that impairs it.“ As Professor Michel Pham, the lead researcher, explained: “When we rely on our feelings, what feels ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ summarizes all the knowledge and information that we have acquired consciously and unconsciously about the world around us. It is this cumulative knowledge, which our feelings summarize for us, that allows us to make better predictions. In a sense, our feelings give us access to a privileged window of knowledge and information — a window that a more analytical form of reasoning blocks us from.”

There are undoubtedly skeptics out there, whose eyes are surely rolling, but maybe the rest of us should try feeling our way to a sharper ability to predict.


Addendum to Lust

Posted in Client Service, Conflict, Culture, Decision-Making, Emotional Intelligence, Ethics, Management, Risk Management, Uncategorized

While our last posts have discussed the law and warmth, love, compassion, niceness and caring, there remains the unspoken kind of ardor.  No, not that one.  The one between lawyers and their clients.

One of the most all-time popular posts on this blog continues to be “Practical Practice Tips: Lawyers Lusting After Clients and Their Spouses.”  Its popularity speaks either to the dedication of our readership to continuously (re)educate themselves on the specific prohibitions that may arise in knotty situations or to some recurring slippage that fuels late night internet trolling for any possible solution.  And then there’s probably some highly amused spectators, as well.

Regardless of the reasons for your interest, to bring us up to date two partners at McKenna Long & Aldridge have written a nice recap of recent “gotcha” cases against lawyers who succumbed to affairs with a client or the client’s spouse–”a growing problem that threatens not only the participating parties but also their colleagues and law firm partners,” concluding with the cautionary title that “Sex With Client is Flirting With Disaster.”

At least 29 states have adopted some version of the ABA Model Rule 1.8(j) that “a lawyer shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.”  The theory is that a spouse, for example, should be able to represent his/her partner, and evidently that the pre-existing relationship does not reduce the effectiveness of counsel. A number of other states contend that they incorporate the sense of that rule into other ethics provisions, such as improper conflicts of interests, violations of confidences and secrets, and generic unprofessional conduct prohibitions.

Violation is usually punished by professional sanctions or disbarment, and enforcement seems to be growing, with penalties being meted out in many cases with little consideration for exculpatory facts, such as the brevity of the liaison. Although both his representation of the client and the affair with her were overlapping for only two days, a Minnesota lawyer was barred from practicing law for 15 months.  Pennsylvania recently enforced for the first time its prohibition against sex with clients with a one-year suspension and Ohio suspended a lawyer for one year for simply proposing the arrangement.

Mississippi was mentioned in our earlier post as a state whose rules of ethics were more forgiving of adulterous lawyers, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a price to pay.  A judge earlier this year awarded $1.5 million to an unhappy client/husband in a lawsuit against a Mississippi lawyer for alienation of affection, breach of contract and intentional infliction of emotional distress. All in spite of the tortious couple’s prompt marriage and childbearing–arguably ample evidence that it was love and not just lust in the offing.

And so it goes. The temptation is obviously there. The rules are pretty clear. The consequences quite grim. And yet these posts remain unusually popular…

The Caring Angle

Posted in Assessments, Culture, Leadership, Management, Mentoring, Pro Bono and Community Service, Professional Development, Recruitment, Retention, Uncategorized, Work Satisfaction

Law firm and law department managers who are using “caring” management strategies in response to the economic downturn are examples of playing nicely in the legal sandbox.  And research demonstrates that, again, being nice pays off.

According to a recent study by Grdinovac and Yancey entitled “How organizational adaptations to recession relate to organizational commitment,” published in The Psychologist-Manager Journal, smart leaders use “caring” measures as they adapt to hard times because caring will pay off in greater organizational commitment and performance over the long run.

And what would those caring ones be?

In the recent economic crisis, according to a survey cited by the authors, “short-term cost-cutting goals” have driven most executives’ decisions, with the most common strategies being attrition, hiring freezes, layoffs, cutting employee hours, salary freezes, and reducing or eliminating benefits such as health care coverage, pension plans, retirement plans, and flexible work programs. All of those practices fall in the “uncaring and callous category” of management strategies, they contend.  A second category, called “caring and humane,” included cutting senior management bonuses and reducing or restructuring executive compensation.

The researchers found that the three most frequent responses companies reported with respect to the recent downturn–maintaining full benefits, maintaining a 40 hour work week, and eliminating nonessential costs from budget–aligned with a caring attitude, while laying off employees, having employees pay more for their health care benefits, and hiring more temporary or contract workers constituted the uncaring adaptations employed most often.

According to the authors of the study, uncaring change initiatives impair the unwritten psychological contracts people have with their workplace, which include an “affective-based agreement.” Violations of this agreement negatively effect members’ affective, or emotional, commitment to their organization, making them more likely to become emotionally detached and dissatisfied.  Strong affective commitment in employees not only produces loyalty, but also makes for a workforce that has higher mental well-being, less stress, and better physical well-being.  For further elaboration on the study, see Dan DeFoe’s excellent post on his blog Psycholawlogy.

The researchers concluded that “employees who form a powerful bond with their organization are likely to produce positive organizational outcomes.”

To help organizations test the effect of their strategies, the team developed a new tool, the Caring Intervention Scale, which assesses the impact on organizational outcomes of worker reactions to company decisions relating to the psychological contract. While a new instrument, it has been carefully designed and tested extensively.

Law firms and law departments have all been in the vice of having to make short term financial cuts over the last few years and they are often able to endure uncaring or at least imprudent adjustments because they enjoy a buyer’s market when it comes to young legal talent.  But it isn’t surprising that some of these firms and law departments have built up a wave of resentment and dissatisfaction among their troops. The affective-based agreement has often not been recognized, let alone respected.

The all-too-frequent fallout shows in the number of their keepers who leave to lateral in at another firm where they feel a better “connection.”  Not where they necessarily get more money, but where they feel more affective commitment.

But then who in law cares about that soft emotional stuff?

What About Just Being Nice?

Posted in Books, Business Development, Client Service, Coaching, Compensation, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Pro Bono and Community Service, Profitability, Recruitment, Retention, Risk Management, Teamwork, Uncategorized

So you’re not really feeling the love?  Or even the compassion?  How about being nice–can you at least get into being nice?

Fitting nicely into our recent blog posts about the more heartful arts, the November/December 2013 issue of the ABA Law Practice Magazine is entitled “The Business of Giving,” and features a story entitled “Being Nice.” Included in the article is an interview with Peter Shankman, the author of “Nice Companies Finish First: Why Cutthroat Management Is Over–and Collaboration Is In.”

While “nice” is not a characteristic that many would use to describe practitioners in our field, the point is not just to raise the level of our perceived niceness, as the tag line to the article– “how law firms can finish first”–makes clear.  It’s more about economics than charity. “Not only are “nice” organizations more pleasant to be around, they are more profitable…” Shankman says that “law firms… are mean when they don’t care about their customers, don’t consider the effects of their actions beyond the bottom line or when they treat employees badly.”  The consequences of “meanness” reverberates.  ”In an era in which reputational risk has become a board-level concern, any allegations… of shady… practices can instantly stain a brand…”

The article hearkens back to the subject of our post– Adam Grant’s  ”Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,”  and to Grant’s distinction between giving and taking organizations.  When the authors ask lawyers which their firms are, they usually reply “both,” but more taking than giving. Shankman and Grant propose that that is not the route to lasting success.  When the taking exceeds the giving by a wide enough margin, employees/partners disengage and start looking for someplace that offers a better ratio.

Here are some strategies the authors suggest for law firms to raise their niceness quotient:

1. Use “inbound marketing” more than “outbound marketing.” Instead of telling people how great you are, offer “gifts” of expertise or give your time to establish a trusting relationship.

2. Become a go-to lawyer/law firm. Establish the reputation as being the person/firm who can make sure the client’s concerns are addressed, even if that involves moving the client to another lawyer/firm.  Success in this area depends on being a good listener.

3. Create a nice firm culture– encourage pro bono work, promote teamwork, build information sharing software that makes firm expertise easily available to all (and also easily applaudable), and provide coaching for young or lesser performing lawyers.

4. Reconsider an “eat what you kill” compensation system.  Incentivize helping others in the firm become successful by allowing workers to give “organizational tips” that recognize others for their assistance, and that are then considered in their compensation.

And please play nicely.

The Law: What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Posted in Books, Client Service, Conflict, Culture, Emotional Intelligence, Leadership, Management, Productivity, Professional Development, Profitability, Retention, Teamwork, Uncategorized, Wellness, Work Satisfaction, Work/Life Balance

Mindful of Rev. King’s exhortation to leaven power with love, remember the Doonesbury character Woodrow proclaiming “By God, I love the law!”  Well, there’s a perspective afoot in the legal industry that may take that sentiment and turn it on its head.  It sounds something like “the law is all about love!”

According to an article entitled “Attorney as Healer” in the August 2013 ABA Journal, ”Sean Mason’s legal practice is all about love.  Most lawyers wouldn’t associate estate planning or divorce mediation with tenderness and devotion, but Mason says ‘helping clients express love for the people who matter most in their lives’ is the principle that guides his Santa Barbara, Calif., practice…”

For those of you still befuddled, Mason is a practitioner of “integrative law,” which encompasses mediation, restorative justice, collaborative practice, and even positive psychology and social neuroscience concepts, viewing the practice of law as one of the healing professions.

Pauline Tesler, director of the Integrative Law Institute, believes that integrative law is the next “huge wave coming to the legal profession.” As she explains, this type of practice is aimed at “out-of-court solutions and the well-being of all players in the legal system, lawyers and clients included.”  It’s based on the premise that lawyers who are able to integrate physical and emotional healing into their own lives are more effective at conflict resolution and achieve greater customer service and professional satisfaction. They express compassion both to themselves and all those they interact with.

AOL CEO Tim Armstrong recently became an overnight internet sensation when he spontaneously fired one of his creative directors in the room with him while a thousand coworkers listened on the phone during a company-wide conference call. His controversial conduct was another instance of leading more from strength than warmth, using the terms discussed in our last entry, and incited a barrage of comments.  Many were about the lack of compassion Armstrong exhibited and the damage to the corporate culture that undoubtedly ensued.

One commentator on Armstrong’s behavior pointed out that researcher Paul Zak studies a neurohormone called Oxytocin and its effects on business decisions and relationships. “Oxytocin is released when we feel love, show compassion, and express appreciation.  Zak discovered that when there’s more of this chemical in our blood, we also feel more trust towards those around us.  And where there is trust, there is higher productivity, employee retention, engagement and [a sense of doing meaningful] work.” But how to cultivate that compassion in a world of hectic deadlines, grouchy clients and competitive office-mates?

Chade-Meng Tan developed the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program for Google, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program outlined in his New York Times bestseller, “Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path To Achieving Success, Happiness (And World Peace).”  His program employs meditation and mindfulness–being present in the moment–to help harried engineers, under-the-gun managers and other stressed-out Silicon Valley denizens cultivate inner peace, success and, in particular, compassion.

More than 1,000 Google employees have gone through Tan’s SIY curriculum. Tan says getting Silicon Valley interested in a meditation program to enhance emotional intelligence wasn’t difficult. “Everybody already knows, emotional intelligence is good for my career, it’s good for my team, it’s good for my profits… It comes pre-marketed, so all I had to do is create a curriculum for emotional intelligence that helps people succeed, with goodness and world-peace as the unavoidable side-effects.” Tan explains that mindfulness training helps to boost self-compassion first and foremost, which then expands to compassion for others. “[After the program], people say, ‘I see myself with kindness.’”

But the benefits of cultivating compassion go beyond greater kindness towards oneself and others. In addition to improving happiness, compassion can also boost a business’s creative output and bottom line, according to Tan—a sentiment that LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, a leading proponent of compassionate management, would agree with. “The one thing [that all companies should be doing] is promoting the awareness that compassion can and will be good for success and profits,” says Tan.

And how specifically do we achieve those feelings of compassion towards ourselves and others? Particularly when we’re all quarrelsome lawyers?

“To create sustainable compassion, you have to be strong in inner joy,” says Tan. “Inner joy comes from inner peace—otherwise it’s not sustainable. And inner peace is highly trainable.”

That inner peace is trainable through mindful meditation, according to Tan.  Daily meditation is Mason’s practice as well. And also the route to ditching damaging rumination, according to a recent post. “Mindfulness has two important sub-components: the ability to attend to the present moment and the ability to accept experiences without judging them… both aspects of mindfulness predicted helping behavior,” according to C. Daryl Cameron, a doctoral candidate in social psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose research focuses on the causes and consequences of compassion.

Here are Tan’s tips on cultivating compassion and also a few from the associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University.

Let’s meditate!  Then we can really love the law.