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After Heenan, Big Law is Not Dead

April 5, 2014

For those of you who may have missed it, the Globe and Mail’s Report on Business Magazine, last week featured an excellent article on the state of legal business today.  You can read it here:  After Heenan Blaikie Is It All Over For Big Law?

The article provides extensive coverage of some of the new, and also not-so-new, developments in legal business models, and examines the troubles of big firms today.

One challenge I see is the big disconnect between big law firm expectations for associates, and what associates actually want from their careers.  Many associates no longer want to be partners in a big law firm.  And “big” can mean a lot of things – from a 20 lawyer regional firm – to a 100 plus national.

The comment I keep hearing is “I look at the partners at this firm, and I see no examples of the kind of career I want or life I want to lead.”

The junior and mid-level associates in big firms are working hard, polishing their skills, and dreaming of a move out.

Partnership in the big firm  just doesn’t have the appeal it used to, and many associates are not planning on buying-in.

Are big firms going away?  I don’t think so.  There is a particular type of client that prefers working with the big firm, and there are particular types of work such as large-scale resource development projects, and complex multi-jurisdictional transactions, that big firms excel at.

There are also those associates who will stick it out and remain at the big firms.  But these are becoming the exception, not the rule.

Are big firms going to change?  Absolutely!  Not as fast as some would like, but change is certain.  The upcoming generation of lawyers now sitting in the income partner and young equity partner ranks will be the ones driving it.  I know theses lawyers.  They are highly active parents, many of them place a high value on dedicating time to community organizations.  Money is not what motivates them.  They like the security it provides, and what it brings to their families, but never got hooked on the high earnings that lawyers senior to them earned in those high-billing pre-2008 days.

Change is coming.



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Getting things done with three wishes

June 2, 2013

As a lawyer coach I have had the privilege to coach many inspiring lawyers over the years. They are all very generous about sharing their practice and productivity tips with others. This Sunday I wanted to one of my recent favorites with you.

The three wishes practice:

This comes from a lawyer, who I will call Anne, who has a specialized personal injury practice. Anne has a dedicated legal assistant who helps keep her on track. Last year Anne went through a personal transition that threw her off her game. She fell behind in her work, and was feeling like her communication with her assistant wasn’t what it used to be. To get communication flowing again with her assistant and to ensure she was able to keep her practice in good shape she established a practice habit she calls “three wishes”.

How it works:

In the morning Anne asks her legal assistant what are your three wishes for today of the things you want me to get to? Lawyers are notorious for dropping administrative balls because other “more urgent” matters take precedence. With the “three wishes” practice Anne’s assistant has the opportunity to communicate about the important actions she needs Anne to take that day. For example it might be that she needs Anne to review and sign a letter that needs to go out, to return a phone call that came in the previous day, or to confirm the date and time for a client meeting the assistant is trying to set up. Whatever the assistant’s three wishes are, Anne will ensure those are three tasks that get taken care that day.

The three wishes practice was a huge hit in Anne’s office. Now some of her colleagues have taken up this practice too. The three wishes practice brings some fun into the daily routine that both the support staff and the lawyers enjoy.

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Powerful practice habits

February 21, 2013

I am now convinced that one of the most powerful drivers of success are positive habits.  My Slaw.ca column this month provides a step-by-step guide to building and maintaining positive practice habits.  To learn more about establishing positive habits try these books: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg and The Habit Factor by Martin Grunburg.  To get your positive habits aligned with your goals follow this simple recipe from Grunburg:

  • Identify the goal.
  • Visualize accomplishing it. How does it feel?
  • Answer: Why is this goal important?
  • Decide: What are the positive habits (3 to 5) that I want to develop that will help me achieve my goal?
  • Answer: Why are each of those habits is important?
  • Set the minimum performance target for each goal. Not every habit has to be repeated each day.
  • Start your new habits.

I suggest you stagger your start so that you give yourself time to focus on getting one established before adding another. Habits for different parts of our lives, such as a healthy breakfast and combating procrastination with the 15 minute challenge can be started simultaneously without too much difficulty.

Track you progress daily by asking “did I accomplish my habit today yes/no?”

Build in some rewards commensurate with the degree of success you achieve. It is important to congratulate yourself and treat yourself to something special for successfully meeting your new habit formation targets. Sometime success is its own reward, such as the pleasure of walking into a tidy office each day. Sometimes it helps to reward yourself with a treat such as a massage, or heading home early from the office one afternoon.

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