I first came across this expression in Tom Peters’ book, The Little Big Things. It is attributed to Ross Perot.
I return to it again because it encapsulates everything that legal practice doesn’t do.
No, their modus operandi involves an incessant need to debate every issue, canvass opinion, have endless meetings, prepare boring memo after boring memo and very often still seek more information or make no decision until they can be certain that they have bottomed out all the issues. Even where they do finally make a decision it has taken so long to get there that most people have lost their initial enthusiasm and don’t have the same heightened sense of anticipation. Hardly the most auspicious of starts.
Right now the challenge for law firms is to decide on a strategy that will enable them to stay in the game and give them a clear path towards growing a sustainable practice. As part of that process they will have to consider:
- Do they have the right business model?
- Do they have the right people on the right seats on the bus?
- Have they or do they need to invest substantially in IT or IT outsourcing?
- What are the growth areas where they face less competition from the consumer facing brands?
- How much working capital will they need to fund the business going forward?
- Who is going to drive the business development initiatives?
- Should they be promoting more people but not to partnership?
- Is the client base fundamentally weak and if so how do they strengthen it?
- Should they be considering legal process outsourcing?
- Are the staff properly equipped to drive through change?
- Are there any major threats which may in fact be capable of turning into opportunities e.g. a merger?
- Does social media have the power to reshape or reposition the brand?
- On a more molecular level, how do they get their fee earners to start recording more of their time and recovering more of their unpaid bills?
Frankly the list is endless (WOW, what an opportunity – seriously) and is likely to be no different even for some of the top 50 firms. They certainly don’t have all the answers.
Legal Services Act (“LSA”) or no LSA firms need to stop wondering all the time “What if”. Instead they need to become more action orientated. Of course, it is much easier said than done particularly when you are battling against the prevailing culture which is backward facing or certainly more inclined to tip its hat to the past.
Perhaps firms would be well advised to look to the sporting arena and see how professional athletes train and generally behave.
Can you image Sir Steve Redgrave waiting to see all the time if he had the right kit, that it wasn’t raining, the oars were the latest carbon fibre make or the boat was of a particular model (it would need to be big enough to house his enormous frame)? He probably wouldn’t have got very far in his career, but yet you hear that all the time from law firm partners who let relatively minor things stand in the way of meaningful progress.
If you are someone who has the potential to shape the firm and you are wrestling with the fact that you have too many choices then join the club. Accept that you are in no different position to the majority of law firms.
Your #1 job is to pick a strategic direction and go to work on the business rather than adopting a technician mind-set, burying your head in the sand and just doing the legal work. In other words if you spend all your time working out your strategy you will end up doing nothing or nothing to make a difference. You need to go to work on the execution part, having picked a general direction that hopefully everyone has bought into.
Remember – Ready, Fire [and then] Aim. If you keep aiming then by the time you have zeroed in on a mission critical path it is likely that your competitors will already have jumped you and be a long way down the road.
I am not suggesting that you should be slap-dash or complacent but all I am imploring is that you forshorten the decision-making process and do more stuff. You will need to continually and regularly quantify your efforts as otherwise you might be inclined to give up too early. If you think something it is not working don’t be afraid to change direction or increase resources. In the current market there are no sure bet winners but one thing is for sure the firm that executes most will win. Don’t adopt the mindset of failure. Consider that every adversity carried with it a seed of opportunity.
As my children constantly remind me you have to be in game to stand a chance of winning.