Tag Archives: Lawyer

Top 5 sales FAILS (for lawyers)

In a fit of New Year’s good intentions (see last week’s post on resolutions) I’ve been scouring the Internet to find out how to be a better blogger. All for your benefit my friendly reader…

Anyway, one of the suggestions I found (which I liked), was “write a list post”. I wondered what an earth a list post was, and found out that it was a post, that is based around (can you guess yet?) a list! Brilliant! So topped off with a sexy title (well I liked it), here goes…..

Although Sarah's sales figures weren't great, at least she was in the ballpark

5. No homework.

When I was in-house, I often used to start conversations with lawyers who were selling to me, with “what do you know about the company?”. This was not to be difficult (if I was being difficult, I would have asked “so, what do you think of our share price this week?”) but so I could provide some helpful context for the meeting.

The number of lawyers from well-regarded firms that crashed and burnt at this stage of the meeting was phenomenal. The smell of failure often used to be tangible, as I was faced with “I’ve, er, looked at your website” or “I think I have a high level view”……

To be honest, I didn’t expect anyone to know chapter and verse on the company (although those that were well briefed made a very good impression), but often those who had been on the website didn’t seem like they had got much further than the homepage. At that level it’s hard to see how they had started to think about our needs at all, let alone identify the current issues we were facing.

2. A barely smouldering platform

It’s often said that one of the big problems law firms face when they sell services, is that they are often a distress purchase (litigation etc) and if the client doesn’t have an immediate need, they won’t buy. While there is undoubtedly some truth in that (although I think litigators can provide a wide variety of preventative services), even for non-contentious services, the client will invariably have to have a clear need before buying.

To highlight this need, sales professionals often talk about “the burning platform”, which to my mind suggests a dialogue when a need is uncovered and the consequences explored, to the point when the prospective client realises they need to act quickly. Talking to a number of corporate counsel, a fairly common experience is that a conversation with external lawyers who are selling identifies an issue that it seems like it needs addressing, but there’s no real need to do it right now, and it goes on the “must do later” list that all in-housers have. The platform is gently smouldering, but certainly not burning.

Hardcore sales professionals may shake their head and lament of that legendary ability to “close”, but to me I think it’s often both a failure to explore the issues fully, and also perhaps a lack of familiarity of the sales process as whole, rather than a particular skills gap.

3. Capability mismatch

Often a prospect or client will articulate a need, but for a variety of reasons, the law firm is unable to meet that need. It maybe capacity, it may be capability, but it becomes clear that the lawyers selling are not the right team for the job. I’ve seen it in a number of scenarios – a solid UK firm but didn’t have the European experience for a particular project; a great sole practitioner but without the resources to tackle a larger transaction; a small office from a global firm without the local capacity to manage a set of instructions in a timely fashion.

Personally, my own preference in these situations is for the firm to identify the challenge and hold their hands up. This allows us then to work around and find a solution (e.g. the firm could work with other advisors or maybe not get the work at all, but generate a stack of goodwill by finding an alternative). Surely this must be better than over-promising and under-delivering?

2. Disregarding the relationship status

This is another personal perspective, and of course many in-house counsel (often for sound reasons) take a much more transactional approach to instructing law firms, but for me sales conversations were usually part of a much wider relationship. If indeed that is the case (and the good firms were very savvy at using client review meetings to explore my current challenges), then the overall temperature of the relationship should be considered when working out whether a sales conversation is appropriate.

I always took a realistic approach to legal work, and never expected my external counsel to churn out flawless work time after time. No matter how good your standards and quality control, the practice of law involves human judgment, often significant pressure, and input from a variety of sources. What was important is how any issues were resolved – ideally, in a pragmatic, non-judgmental way that identifies the causes, deals with the consequences and puts in place a remedial plan to stop recurrence.

While that may sound idealistic, and to some perhaps a touch understanding (think tough on the problem, not the people), I did  however take a pretty dim view of being sold to in the aftermath of a real problem. I remember one particular challenge, where members of my business had repeatedly ignored the company’s outside counsel policy, and the firm involved had ignored the legal team’s request to notify us whenever they were contacted by our internal clients. I had asked for a face to face meeting with our account partner, which given the previous discussions on the subject, meant this really was the last chance saloon. To say I was surprised when he turned up with two colleagues, to tell me about the services their departments offered, was something of an understatement.

Sadly, that wasn’t the only time it happened, but each time it did I was surprised that the firms involved weren’t able to take the temperature of the relationship before making the call.

1. Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk….

Those that read this blog regularly know that I’m a big fan of the S.P.I.N. sales methodology. This is all about asking questions to uncover needs. I was always open to being sold to in this way (even though I was aware this sales method was being used) because to my mind if a genuine need was uncovered, and a law firm could help me with the need, then why wouldn’t I be interested?

The polar opposite of this is when a law firm tries to sell by talking. And boy do so firms talk……

This is how many offices we have (fascinating). This is how many partners in our Geneva office (great). This is what the directories said about us last year (really?). This is a really big we’ve recently done (which is not relevant here).

You get the picture.

I’m perhaps being overly harsh. There are of course times when it’s useful to find out some details about the law firm, but please (1) remember the client can ask if he/she wants to know more; (2) I can read, and may well have done some research on your firm – perhaps that’s the reason you are having the meeting? (3) many in-house lawyers will have been in private practice for a long time, and will know many of the firms well.

That said, one meeting sticks in my mind as the biggest sales fail of my in-house career. City firm had a meeting with me at their request. Talked constantly for about 45 minutes about their firm and how wonderful they were (I was feeling charitable, and let them use the allotted hour as they wished). At this point I asked what they knew about my company. “Very little” was the unspoken answer. I spent ten minutes outlining the company, what it did, how the legal team was structured, when we used outside counsel and what type of firms we tended to use for particular types of work, and why we valued long-term relationships with our advisors. The meeting concluded with the lead partner cheerfully saying “so, I suppose you’ll just look for a piece of work to give us a try, and then we’ll take it from there?”.

FAIL.

The bad ones (tales from tenders part II)

Last week’s post on law firm responses to RFPs (requests for proposal) drew good numbers and prompted some interesting discussion (it’s here if you missed it). I promised I’d follow up the horror stories with some thoughts on what makes both a good and a bad response.

Senior corporate counsel Kevin Ratmiester looked forward to spending his weekend reviewing law firm tender documents

Moving from the terrible to the merely unimpressive, there are some fairly common boo-boos (at least in my book they are boo-boos) that show up time and time again. None of them are fatal, but at the same time they can take the sheen off a response and given the hard work that goes into these documents, it seems a shame not to pick up maximum points!

The first is inconsistency between sections. This is most common when the sections cover different practice areas or different offices (for example on a global pitch) of a law firm. When drafting documents for clients, lawyers are very skilled at ensuring consistency of language and making sure the document reads well. With RFP response often there are sections which have very clearly got different authors and have taken totally different approaches to a common question, giving the document a really disjointed feel, and giving the impression that the two teams don’t really talk to each other. This one is pretty easily remedied and a response that gets it right feels much more aligned and cohesive, which is I suspect what most clients would want from their advisors.

The second common one, is peppering a response with a huge amount of examples which are only slightly relevant, if at all. Let me be clear, very similar work for either similar clients or marquee clients are very instructive and helpful in demonstrating that the law firm has real experience, but too often the examples are not well chosen or their relevance not fully explained. This leads to a high “so what?” factor, particularly by the non-lawyer members of evaluation panels.

One of the real challenges for law firms in these processes is the need to stand out. Many RFP responses are just, well, a bit bland. I don’t have any real silver bullets to explain how to avoid this, but the really good responses (which I’ll look at next week) manage to convey both a real sense of effort with the document, and a genuine hunger for the work. The less impressive ones feel like they’ve just come out of the RFP response sausage factory. For example, a tender I recently ran asked for a firm’s competitive advantage for particular type of work. One response (from an incumbent law firm) answered this simply by saying “we work for you so we know your business”. Well, that’s great, and it may well be true, but the fact that the company I was working with was running a tender process suggests that they were looking at their options for a reason, suggesting this existing knowledge may not be enough? It left me wondering if this was their only source of competitive advantage (and let’s be honest it’s not the hardest barrier to entry to overcome), and if so how they ever won any new business!

Conveying enthusiasm and setting the firm apart from its competitors is difficult; so perhaps a useful step is to get someone in the firm not connected with the tender to read through objectively and see how compelling the document is before it goes out of the door to try and assess how well the team have done specifically in making a distinctive, compelling document.

A personal preference I’ll share with you (and I know other in-house lawyers do take a different view here) is that I’m not a fan of over-reliance on directory awards and quotes. While these type of rankings and verbatims can provide some much needed third party validation, having been on the end of directory research many times both in law firms and as a client reference, the quality of the researchers can vary hugely in my experience, and I wouldn’t necessarily put too much weight on a host of glowing quotes.

Perhaps more useful are client references and direct client quotes. There have been a couple of occasions where I have asked for references and a firm has declined to provide them, which doesn’t send off a strong message, even if the reasons for declining are sound. An engaging, and honest reference (particularly one who will talk honestly about the law firm’s weaknesses as well as their strengths) can do the law firm the power of good, and I would encourage law firms to grow their base of champions who will fulfil this role. Generally speaking, people who have received a really good service from a law firm will be happy to talk about it, and while of course conscious of the need to respect the time of these advocates, I often find these discussions (whichever role I am playing) can be mutually beneficial.

Finally, length. Less is more.

Repeat.

Less is more.

Now the client needs to take some responsibility here, but bear in mind that an evaluation panel will often include senior execs who may not have shaped the process and may only have a marginal interest in proceedings even though they may be important contributors to the decision making process (see Miller Heiman’s Strategic Selling for a classic discussion of buyer roles). This people are likely to have neither the time or the inclination to wade through five or six thirty page documents, so do try and keep it readable and concise, or if you are bound by the process to provide a lot of detail, write in such a way as to convey the key points early and clearly (Chip and Dan Heath talk about how to do this in “Made to Stick“).

So next time will be the good guys – some general approaches (without of course compromising and confidences or giving away trade secrets) that press the right buttons. In the meantime, good luck with your tenders.

The insidious side of hourly rate billing

Much has been written about the demise of hourly rate billing by some excellent writers, and rightly so, much of the focus is on why hourly rate billing doesn’t work for clients. Encourages inefficiency, doesn’t relate to value delivered or market rate for work, makes bill auditing onerous etc etc.

These criticisms are absolutely valid and it is undoubtedly clients who are driving the nails into the coffin of the hourly rate.

Time's up for chargeable time

But I want to look at hourly rate from another angle, and investigate some of the problems it causes within law firms.

Starting with the most obvious, chargeable hours targets for lawyers. Still the numero uno metric for measuring law firm performance, and still causing associates heartache in so many ways.

The number (be it 1,400 p/a 1,800 p/a or if you’re at a US firm maybe 2,400 p/a) it’s still the main criteria that lawyers are judged in the performance management cycle. Many law firms talk a good game about recognising non-chargeable work and rewarding high performance outside of pure client work, but speaking to associates at some of these firms, this type of recognition only occurs once the chargeable hours box has been ticked.

  • Want to have your business development truly recognised? Just make sure you hit your chargeable target.
  • Want to spend some time studying an emerging area of law? Fine, as long as you hit your target.
  • Like to spend some more time with clients, learning about their business? No problem, as long as it’s chargeable.
  • Up for partnership? Better knock your hours target out of the park this year.
  • Want to devote some time on pro-bono or other CSR initiatives? That’s great, do it at the end of the day when the timesheet is full.

There are so many activities that create value in law firms, yet so few of them get real recognition in comparison to chargeable hours targets.

Note also that many of these activities above represent an investment in the future health of the firm (you may remember David Maister talked about the tension between short term firm hygiene and longer term health) as opposed to the short term focus on current revenue.

One of the consequences of this is that lawyers fit in all the additional work over and above what are sometimes very onerous chargeable hours targets, leading to the inevitable work/life issues which are a hot topic over at the Careerist right now (http://thecareerist.typepad.com/).

And yet more frustratingly still, chargeable hours as a key metric has so many flaws

  • Do chargeable hours reflect the quality of work produced or client satisfaction? Nope
  • Do chargeable hours demonstrate profitable work or good financial management? Afraid not.
  • Do chargeable hours promote effective delegation and encourage senior lawyers to mentor train junior lawyers? Absolutely. Sorry, only joking.

I’m not necessarily suggesting the total abandonment of time recoirding. Indeed Peter Drucker, one of my favourite authors, talks about the importance of understanding where you spend your time in his brilliant book “The effective executive” which is one of the reasons I spent over three months as an inhouse lawyer recording my time. Also, capturing time utilised on client projects is important for calculating cost and determining profitability, and can also highlight development needs (if for example one lawyer takes 30% longer on a task than his or her peers).

But for as long as hourly rate billing and chargeable hours as the key metric continue staggering round like a zombie that just won’t die, I’ll continue wielding my personal chainsaw to send them to the grave!

Are you high quality? Really?

The topic of quality of legal advice seems to come up a lot more frequently these days. Perhaps that’s a sign of a more competitive marketplace. Maybe it’s down to more discerning purchasers of legal services. Either way, the days when law firms could talk in general terms about providing a “quality service”, without any proof, are long gone.

I recall discussing the take over of the mighty Liverpool FC football club, with a U.S. Liverpool fan who is also an attorney. The subject turned to Slaughter & May, the law firm acting the club, and I assured my friend the club was in safe hands, as the name of the firm is synonymous with quality and the (albeit fairly brief) dealings I have had with them in my career had done nothing to change my perception.

The "Servqual" model does a good job in offering a framework to think about the gap between client expectation and management perceptions of client experience.

At first that got me thinking about brand, market perception, and the way firms communicate with clients and prospects, but a chance conversation with another senior lawyer about the nature of quality in law firms meant that this post took a different turn…..

My starting point was whether the word “quality” always has to refer to “high quality”.

In simple terms, I might not want to buy a Rolls Royce, and indeed if I choose to buy a mid-market family estate car (sadly representative of my requirements  at the moment!), then surely I am still entitled to expect a degree of quality.

The key point is that my expectation of quality will be different, but my perception of whether the supplier meets my quality expectations  will go a long way to determining what I communicate about my experience with the product (The “Servqual” model does a good job in offering a framework to think about the gap between client expectation and management perceptions of client experience).

This raises an important point. Taking the car analogy a step further, what if the car passed a number of rigorous production line checks before it left the factory, was subject to further inspection at the dealership, and then goes through a final barrage of tests before it is driven away. If those tests and checks are the right ones, and the product met the manufacturer’s specifications, does that guarantee quality?

The point I’m trying to draw out here, is that quality has both internal and external dimensions for lawyers, whether in private practice or in-house. Quality can mean different things to different people, and indeed can mean different things to a single person at different times.

For example, quality may mean technical excellence. It may mean a piece of drafting that simply can’t be improved. It may mean advice that is delivered with empathy and by a lawyer who genuinely cares about his or her client. It may mean some advice that is extremely commercial, and allows a business client to achieve their objective. Quality might have a compliance angle, in that the advice has complied with all regulatory or process requirements. Quality might mean not just meeting client expectations, but exceeding them?

One way of thinking about this is to start with CTQs, or “critical to quality” factors, which is tool from the six sigma methodology that is used to start an examination of a process by looking at what the client sees as the critical factors in determining the quality of the output (I wrote a bit more about this here: https://intelligentchallenge.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/delighted-by-a-lawyer/).

When it comes to quality, I would argue that clients are not the only stakeholders. Advice is also likely to need to meet certain internal thresholds and pass regulatory hurdles, irrespective of whether the client requires this.

Another angle to consider is the extent to which quality assurance in “hardwired” into your firm’s (or team’s) processes. What checks or audits are made during service delivery to pick up errors before they reach a client (at which point the error would become a “defect”)? Indeed do you know where errors are most likely to arise?

What feedback is taken at the point of, or after delivery, to investigate the client’s experience? While the net promoter score (“NPS”) metric is contraversial in some circles, many client focussed organisations in the corporate world (admittedly often serving consumers rather than business) live or die from their scores, but in my experience similar tools are not widely used in the legal profession.

“How was it for you?” may be a cliché, but understanding client expectations of quality upfront, and then asking directly for feedback as to how you did in meeting them after the event, can give hard data that offers lawyers a real chance to improve quality and to adjust/build processes to make these improvements permanent.

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What’s your agenda?

My friend Ross, an in-house attorney in the U.S., is known for his personal crusade against unproductive meetings.

Derek's two hour meeting to discuss the colour pallete for the firm's new logo was not as popular as he had hoped

We’ve all been in them: the time-devouring, pointless meetings that swallow time and achieve little (if anything).

The book “Rework” by Fried and Hienemeier Hansson gives a great explanation of why there are so many meetings of this nature, arguing (quite persuasively) that meetings are inherently toxic for reasons that include:

– they cover a very small amount of information per minute

– they frequently drift off-topic and often have vague agendas

– to be productive they require preparation, which most people don’t have time to do properly

The authors also highlight the set-up time involved, which is to say getting to meetings, waiting for them to start, leaving meetings, and then getting ready to do “real work” is also another hidden time cost associated with meetings.

Now in my experience, law firms certainly have their fair share of unproductive meetings, and I absolutely agree with the criticisms in the book (which is definitely recommended) but I do think there are reasons why law firms suffer less than some other businesses from the plague of pointless meetings.

Perhaps it’s the culture of time recording meaning that lawyers are more aware of how they spend their time, but I do think that there are fewer of these meandering, aimless meetings than in a corporate environment.  Lawyers are also pretty good at setting agendas and sticking to them, which might be because they are trained to structure and run client meetings from a relatively early age or it might be simply the result of common personality traits in lawyers. Either way, if a meeting is wandering in a law firm, there’s a good chance there will be a fairly direct, strong character to pull things back on track.

Another angle to this is the need to expedite the flow of knowledge. As the ultimate knowledge workers, lawyers need to share experiences and information to build their individual and organisational intellectual capital. A quote sticks with me from a book I read a few years ago (I think the book was Working Knowledge, by Davenport, but couldn’t swear to it) that to maximise knowledge acquisition and transfer, a firm should “hire smart people and let them talk to each other”. Meetings may not be the best forum for this, but if the topic, agenda and participants are right, they can be an effective forum for learning.

This dialogue can be particularly important for those law firms that are rigidly structured, leaving their lawyers sitting in silos. I’ve seen this in firms of all shapes and sizes: from the five partner law firm where the personal injury team has no idea who the tax and trusts lawyers are acting for, to the large City firm with a corporate team preparing for a pitch for a FTSE100 energy company, not knowing that the partner who recently joined the real estate team spent ten years acting for them at her previous firm.

So, let me be clear, I’m not aimlessly waving the flag for meetings. Far from it. However, in law firms that still fall prey to the tyranny of the timesheet, a focussed, well-run meeting may well have some benefits that are proportionate to the time invested in the meeting.

You do what?

Reading another interesting discussion on the Interweb last week, which was urging lawyers to ask their clients the simple question “so what do you do?”. The basis of the article was that this would give a client or a prospect the opportunity to talk about their business, and thus provide a deeper level of insight that would allow the lawyer to provide a better service.

"tell me what you do?" asked the driver innocently. A question he would soon regret....

It was a good starting point and could lead into an examination of question-based sales techniques such as “S.P.I.N. Selling” by Neil Rackham (still one of my favourite sales books). However, I took the opportunity to flip the question, and asked how many lawyers could give a concise and compelling answer to the same question.

So, what do YOU do?

A refreshingly simple question, but a difficult one to answer well IMHO. Not least because in our society, your occupation is an important part of your identity. For me, after 10 years as a lawyer, answering that question suddenly became much more challenging. However, even when I was practising law, beyond the simple, one-word answer (be it lawyer, attorney, solicitor, barrister etc), the question is really what DO you do? How are you different from all the other lawyers? How do you help your clients, whether you are inhouse or in private practice.

I’ve tried to answer this question at various times in my career, and it’s not easy. At the heart of the problem is the need to differentiate yourself, either at an individual level, at a practice level, or at an organisation level. Do you feel more comfortable talking about yourself and your skills (creatively solving problems, aggressively defending my clients), your practice and work type (I draft contracts for….) or your firm (I work for a company that…..)?

Whatever the level you answer the question, once you have the descriptive answer, you can then challenge yourself to ask how many other people could have given the same answer. If the answer is “a lot”, then ask yourself what it is that you do that’s different.

It’s not an easy task; before you know it, you’ve run into your second paragraph, and the person you are talking too has glazed eyes and is desperately wishing they hadn’t asked the question.

Ultimately, I think to answer it well, you need an understanding of your personal value proposition: how do you create quantifiable value for your clients? What results do you create? An exploration of value propositions (a great subject for lawyers) is probably best saved for another time, but thinking about how you create value can give you another angle on how to answer the question about what you do.

Finally, if you think you’ve answered the question “so what do you do?”, it’s time for the ultimate test. Grab a taxi to somewhere more than 15 minutes away, chat to the driver and wait for the inevitable question. If you can answer it before the driver loses interest, starts a rant about how much he hates lawyers or talks in detail about their recent divorce/house move/tax investigation, you’ve done well!

The curse of knowledge?

But knowledge is power, right? How can it be a curse? The answer, is when it prevents simplicity, which is key for lawyers in both their professional practice and their business development.

The partner at Scratchit & Co was not worried by the curse of knowledge

The inspiration for this post came from an intriguing little book called “Made to stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. The book is about why some ideas stick, and get adopted, while others are easily forgotten. Which ideas are understood and change behaviour, and which fall by the wayside. The range of topics to which the principles can be applied are huge, but strange though it may seem to my legal readership, it doesn’t directly deal with the practice of law in any detail. However, whether you are trying to persuade a judge or jury of the strength of your argument (think “idea”!) or explaining your suggested way of structuring a deal (another idea!) to your client, many of the principles in the book can be usefully applied.

The key characteristics of sticky ideas are that they should be simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional and use stories (acronym “SUCCES”), but it is simplicity that I want to focus on here. I particularly liked the idea of a relentless focus on prioritising and getting to the core of the idea. The Heaths  mention a lawyer making ten key points to the jury, and the jury not remembering any of them. With a piece of advice, what is the core message that you want your client to take away? Could you make it clearer or more central (or both)? Chip and Dan make the point that simple doesn’t necessarily mean short; they are not advocating empty soundbites. Rather, to make an idea stick you must be very, very clear on what the message is, and communicate that with clarity.

The curse of knowledge is investigated  when we try to understand why this simplicity is actually quite difficult. The idea is that the more knowledge you have about a particular subject, the more difficult it is to imagine what it is like not to know about that topic. Hence for a lawyer advising a client on intellectual property, a hugely experienced, “rocket science” type partner may have more difficulty than a more junior associate in communicating the basic issue in a way that is easy to understand. Now of course, communication skills play a big part in this too, but I think for lawyers (whether in practice or inhouse) considering the possible impact of the curse of knowledge is a useful discipline.

At more junior levels of practice, a variation of this exercise can also help test your understanding of a subject. Try taking a legal concept or argument, and try explaining it to someone with no knowledge of the area (particularly if you role play and the subject can ask simple questions to clarify things), and it will give you a good feel of how well you really know the area. I had a fascinating conversation about 5 years ago when a phd friend of mine explained quantum physics to me. The light bulb flashed on and I was amazed I could grasp the concept so quickly. In my excitement I rushed to discuss the topic with a second friend later in the day, and the simple question he asked collapsed my pseudo-understanding like a house of cards, and I realised I didn’t grasp the topic at all.

So, the concept of simplicity of message can help with client communication, but what does it mean for business development? Firstly, in terms of communicating with a crowded, competitive marketplace, where attention is at a premium, to make your message stick, it needs to be simple. Certainly when I have had law firms selling to me when I’ve been in-house, I have been on the end of messages about firms, teams and services that have been less than clear, and none of them stuck.

The complexity may be the result of some detailed planning and analysis, but ultimately at some point before the message reaches the market, it needs simplifying. If it is a product or service, it needs a clear (one sentence?) value proposition. If it is a team or firm, can you sum up the core reason to engage them in a simple message? Better yet, make it memorable without being trite?

Want some more ideas? You could do worse than pick up the Heath’s book. It’s not a five minute read, and it will take some thought as to how best to apply the ideas to the legal environment, but if it makes your advice or your business development messaging stickier, I suspect it will pay the cover price pretty quickly…..

When fear stops you going forward

Thinking about new product development in law firms, the word innovation pops up. That market is one that’s getting more and more competitive, and law firms need to be different to succeed.

The problem (as I see it), is that for many firms, as innovation become increasingly important, firms will run up against the widely accepted wisdom that innovation requires you to be prepared to fail (“fail big and fail often is a maxim oft repeated in the business books).

Why is this a problem? Well, lawyers are trained from an early age not to fail; in a sense many professionals (not just lawyers) are. Use the word “negligence” and see them twitch. However, for lawyers I think the problem is more acute; much of their work involves negotiating, arguing and looking for weaknesses in another person’s case or argument, while protecting and defending their own position.

oooops, it went wrong

Did someone say negligence?

To come up with big new ideas, particularly “game changers”, businesses and people need to be prepared to see some fail. Aside from the fact that if people are not prepared (or allowed) to fail they are much less likely to  try and innovate, there is often some great learning in failure, and if a law firm is not prepared to admit failure, it may miss some crucial learning.

I’m not saying all failure is good; far from it, people need to be accountable for their use of resources (particularly time in law firms), but a place where people are institutionally conditioned not to accept failure is very different. Different as well  from a culture where people understand the risks of failure and may take some informed decisions on new products and other projects that may (whisper it) fail. Fear can be a powerful motivator, but it can also be an insidious inhibitor, and at the very least people and firms need to be aware of the role it is playing in their work lives.

 

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