Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Wiggity-wiggity-wiggity Wack!

So much to say. So many people to say it about. So much foo to flung, as it were. I say "as it were" a lot. But not for serious. Just, you know, like a joke. . .(wait for it!). . .as it were. Not my friend Joebo. He's all up on the lingeaux (that's lingo, gettin' jiggy wit itself). Me, I'm of simpler stock.

But not our friends up in the Strato-fied air of the BigLaw BigLaws (aka BL-squares). And I meant to say "strato" as in "stratospheric heights", and not just stratified, meaning, sort of, layered (geddit, strata? How kewl is English?!). But that too. We have SO many things to talk about. . . how ever will we get it all done? As it turns out, I have the answer. First of all, put your phone on "make busy." If, like me, you don't actually know HOW to do this, ask your assistant to do it for you.

Between us, the only reason I know about "make busy" is because once, at band camp, no, once, I said "Hey, is there a way I can make this phone not ring, because if it rings one more time, I might have to kill someone!", you know, the way ya do, and Miss MaryMay Vajayjay, Assistant to, um, someone not me, let's say, yelled at me "Why don'tcha put it on make busy, Wonder Puppy?", and I said "Ruh? Rut's Rake Rizzy?", and now you know about it too. And between us, again, how many of the Senior Partners do you think just got the, uh, "Roobee Roo!" joke? I mean, before I just gave them the punchline this second?

Yeah, that's what I thought. I do that a lot. They're like little Pop Culture tests, mini exams for your soul. I'm not accusing you of having a soul, don't get all bunched up there, or anything. I'm just saying, you can test yourself. You know, like a voluntary breathalyzer in your car, sort of, but less obvious (and probably less useful).

Which brings us to our next topic, which is 'pacifically for our Fray-enz in Californy (say it like an ol' time preacher or politician: "Mah Fray-enz! . . . ."). It would appear that the seemingly successful Diversion Program for Wayward Lawyers, which The State Of California amusingly calls the Alternative Discipline Program, doesn't do NEARLY enough to shame, and embarrass, your fellow members of the bar to satisfy prosecutors. Oh, Nay! No, these feckless thugs think the program is too easy, takes too long, and allows attorneys enrolled to, get this, KEEP THEIR LICENSES! O, the Horrah!

But the thing that really seems to rub the noble, and certainly NOT feckless, (CERTAINLY not!) Scott Drexel, the wrong way, is that, and I quote: "27 other jurisdictions have diversion programs for attorneys but none allows participation by lawyers who engage in acts of moral turpitude." (Let's be clear. . .I'm quoting the article, not His Counselness.) Now, I'm pretty sure I don't know what a moral turpitude is. I doubt I could pick one out on say "The Price is Right" or nothin' like that. I don't even know what one tastes like, although I doubt it tastes like Chicken. But really, this is California. California.

The Diversion program, despite its flaws, is said by many to have been instrumental in helping a significant number of Attorneys get their acts together, and get flying in a line with the rest of the geese. It has saved careers, and probably lives. And it has saved attorneys, which, as my mama used to say, "that ain't no punk!" [Don't tell her I told you that.] By which I mean, persons with licenses to engage in the practice of law (and, for the first time ever, NO "practice of law" joke. The crowd goes wild!).

But, really, Becky, Moral Turpitude? That's what has you so cranky? My seventh grade edition of the "Not Ready For A Real School" Dictionary defines Moral Turpitude as: "the gross disregarding of moral standards expected of a human being while doing some activity or crime. Eg. Raping in front of the parents." Well!

However, my Hello Kitty dictionary defines it as "n. gross violation of standards of moral conduct,vileness, such that an act involving moral turpitude was intentionally evil, making the act a crime. The existence of moral turpitude can bring a more severe criminal charge or penalty for a criminal defendant." And you can't get more definitive than Hello Kitty, I don't think. Well, there you have it. I was wrong. Moral turpitude, on top of everything else, just makes a bad thing, more, just, far more worser. And bad. And stuff. Gosharootie.

To be fair, Mr. Drexel is cranky about a lot of details about the ADP program. I suspect that, in time to come, we'll find out that SOMEONE in his family works for a Payroll Processing Company, and then we'll really be in for it. I had to.

So, down with Moral Turpitude. It's bad. And stuff. Oh, except this. Mr. Drexel's big BIG problem is that some of the tactics engaged in by accused persons (or are they presumptively guilty, or are they, in fact, guilty scalawags, cutting deals? I'm not clear on THAT either), are "unfair to prosecutors." Oh, and costly. But mostly, I suspect, unfair to prosecutors.

You know what, I just stepped away to learn how to make my phone busy, again, and I had an epiphany. It wasn't very big, hardly worth mentioning. But I had one. I decided that Scott Drexel is right, and I am wrong, and always have been. Burn the lawyers, I say, whenever you can. Why try to save them? There's just too damn many of you anyway. If you get trapped by Drugs and/or Alcohol, too bad. You're just weak. Your turpitude don't have any moral in it. Or you got too much, whatever. I'm still not clear on this. Anyway, down with ADP. Down with ADP. Down with ADP. Boom. Boom. Boom Boom Boom! (Cymbals!). End.

So, anyway, back to BigLaw BigLaw. Apparently, the folks in charge of the Brain Trusts at some of the biggest and brightest of the biggyest and brightyest of them all have decided that they can stanch the flow of talent outward, and retain all those smarts they want to retain (always a tricky juggling match, even in the best of circumstances), by reclassifying you all as "Talent," or "People," or "Knowledge Workers,"or, heck, I dunno "Special Ops" ('kay, I made that up), and then hiring a lot of special people to, I guess, feed you and bathe you, and give you special food, and, perhaps, give you special beer, and massage you every two hours. No, wait, that's Kobe Beef, right? Could be you too, I don't know yet. This is all new to me.

So let me ask you. Does the hiring of a Chief Talent Officer, or a Director of Knowledge, or Finder of Truth, or Seeker of Wisdom, or whatever, make you somehow more inclined to look favourably upon the Firm, or do you think, as I do, that this is just another Guru Goof-up? Don't get me wrong, I LOVE me some guru. I even like to be thought of as a guru.

But we've talked about this (okay, not you and me, you know, privately), and it's important, and sometimes it gets missed, and unfortunately, Consultants, Gurus, and Vendors, as important as THEY are (hey, we do consulting too, after all), sometimes become enmired in our own goopy language. Language should CLARIFY not OBFUSCATE. Language should crystallize and focus thinking, not muddy and scatter it. Even when it comes to labels and titles.

The worst thing about it is that the firms already KNOW what they need to do, and they already have the resources available if they DON'T know. I'll tell you the secret in just a moment, but, in order to build up the drama a little bit, lemme tell you a story. Of course, I have to share with you that since we saw the movie "Happy Feet," all of my friends and myself have to say "Layt me tell sahmthing to Ju!" I know! And, no matter what, when someone says that they don't want something, or they hate something, are tired of something, or just don't want to do it anymore, we say "No, ju like eet!" Yeah, easily entertained.

So, the story is this. When I used to do my little Management Seminars, I always did this riff about how I really appreciated everybody coming, but that they already had all the knowledge they needed to have in order to accomplish their objectives as managers, and it had always been waiting for them back at their office, plant, firm, whatever. Yeah, that made a lot of friends. But it's true. And here's the punchline: All a law firm has to do if it really wants to reduce turnover, increase retention, increase profitability, motivate its people, whatever whatever, is to simply ASK. Just ASK them. Sincerely. And mean it. And listen, really listen. Oh, yeah. . . And do what they say. And there's the rub, as they say.

Each law firm is different, (duh, thanks for the update, Dr. Obvious), we all know that. And one of the major differences is that the people who make UP the law firm see themselves, and the firm as being special in a way that no other firm is. This is particularly true with law firms, much more so than with any other organisational type. The problem is that most of the people who work IN law firms, who consult FOR law firms, and who STUDY law firms, don't have backgrounds in Organisational Culture, let alone organisational development, management, or theory.

I see a lot of people who talk about culture as if they think they know what it is, but I've never seen any of those people at any of the meetings specifically devoted to it. They don't talk about culture from any theoretical basis I understand. They talk about it as if it can be driven from the front. And none of these things are true.

Now, granted, I flatter myself that I know these things because I did ALL of my Graduate work in Organisational Culture. In fact, I wrote my Thesis on Teaching Organisational Culture, and the vast majority of my experience prior to working in the field of Legal Recruiting centered on culture. So, naturally, I have a bit of a bias. But I have come to believe a couple of things, which I hope I've learned to see through my bias regarding.

I believe that the people who are in the best position to tell you how to manage them are the people you manage. I believe that people will TELL you what motivates them if you ask. I do NOT believe YOU can motivate anybody else, which is to say, I believe all motivation is internal. All you can do is provide those things that function as motivators for others (i.e. Motivation-Hygiene theory). I do not believe FEAR is a motivator, but I do believe it is a powerful De-Motivator, and I believe that anxiety is even more destructive than fear.

I believe high-function, high-activity, high-intensity types, like lawyers, do best in an atmosphere and environment of what I call Negative Certainty rather than Positive Uncertainty, by which I mean, I think a lawyer would rather know, up front that s/he is NOT on the Partnership track, and never will be, but that the firm really REALLY likes him or her, for real, than be kept in the dark.

I have also come to believe that those same lawyers would totally appreciate the offer of help finding a great opportunity elsewhere if offered sincerely, and I know this because it's what I've been told. I believe the foregoing is true for Salary increases, Bonuses, and almost everything else to do with compensation and benefits.

Lawyers actively solicit the opinions of their colleagues in the local marketplace for information about firms and place much more stock in those opinions than in anything the firm does, even when it comes to Summer Associates, although Summer Associates have also told us that they tell the firms that the activities, mentoring, and assignments during Summer are the usual determining factors.

The most important factor for determining whether or not a lawyer is interested in making a lateral move is rarely a compensation factor. Most of the time, it's an issue of platform, personal and professional support (I'll break this down for you), the belief that the firm is actually "interested" in the success of the attorney's practice, and their "fit." Let me see if I can make sense of this for you.

This is the overarching principle, expressed as a statement: "I need to believe that my firm, Super Law, LLC, sees me as an important part of the "team," even if I don't think of myself as Little Tommy (or Tammy) Teammate, or express it that way. And I want them to relate to me the way I like to be related to, even if I'm a bit of a Diva, because that's who I am. You guys need to LISTEN to me. If I hate my Assistant, get me another Assistant. If my Practice Group Leader is a jerk, then help me find a way to solve that problem. And when I come to you and ask you if you think we should be looking at ways to expand my platform, that is a SERIOUS warning sign. Bells should be going off in your head. I haven't had a meeting yet, but it means absolutely that I feel like I need to expand my platform, and all of a sudden it's important to me, and if I've had to come to YOU, it's already almost too late. And finally, I don't know if anybody told you this, but I'm a grownup. At least I'm doing grownup work. If you don't think I'm an adult, you shouldn't have hired me. Or you should fire me. But stop looking over my shoulder. If you can't, won't, or don't trust me, I shouldn't be working for you. There's more, and if you want to know what it is, just ask."

Whew, that was a LOT to cover, wasn't it? It sure was, and it isn't over yet. Certain issues are individual, like whether or not a particular lawyer wants to make partner in five years versus twelve, whether she likes to train, how he feels about managing, things like that. And what lawyers want is for you to accommodate them with respect to these issues. The (I hate this word, but there's just no way around it) nexus is this: Lawyers want law firms to trust them to drive, and law firms don't want to give up the illusion that they have some kind of power that they just don't have. How do we know you don't have the power? Ummm, look around. Are you, or are you not, losing lawyers left and right, paying more each year, watching internal satisfaction scores plummet, and so on, and so on? You tell me, who's really in charge here? Right, law firms, of course. But you don't need to rub it in. Give in on the little stuff and the big stuff takes care of itself. We'll talk about this more below.

The most important thing is this, and there's no way around it. Lawyers love law firms. They really and truly do. Even lawyers who want to go in-house don't really WANT to go in-house for the most part. They just want less insanity in their lives, and believe that, if they want to continue to practice law, it's either in-house or nothing. But really, who doesn't love law firms? The marble, the dark woods, the thick carpeting, the quiet easy hush, and the history just oozing from every nook and cranny? Even in Brand Stinkin' New offices, and Super High Techy Tech offices, there's just something about Law Firms. I love 'em, too.

But the practice of Law Firm Management, occasionally, is a little, um, "hidebound." It's crazy really. Lawyers, and Law Firms, are SO out in front in so many ways. You adopt the latest technologies. You're caught up on the latest information about everything. In fact, Lawyers, and Law Firms, and their activities, in many ways, DRIVE many of the innovations, advances, changes, not just in American society, but, in some cases, on a Global scale.

And then we look at the management practices, and it's like "What? Time Tunnel? Are ya sure?" It's wacky, too. Because, sometimes, we ARE asked. It goes like this. A client-elect (that's where I elect for them to be a client, they're not so sure yet; aka Almost Every Law Firm In The World, B'Cept A Few Really Smart Ones) will say, "You know, we don't really have anything against recruiting firms, but sometimes it seems like all we do is look for attorneys. And yet, our [fill in here] research shows [factoid here]. We'd sure like to get to the bottom of this (hint, hint)." Yeah, me too. No, seriously, I would.

Sometimes, way too often, we have discussions with either a firm, or a lawyer, where the discussion starts off with "Well, the last guy (company, consultant, recruiter, head poobah, whatever) done us wrong. You need to do better." No problem. What exactly did THEY do wrong? Oh, gotcha. Everything. Well, that explains it. No wonder.

Sure, I can do that. Let's start now. You wanna keep lawyers, all kinds and flavours, for longer? Wanna drop turnover instantly? Wanna recruit more women, minorities, diversity candidates, and keep actual talent, and slow the spin on the exit door, starting tomorrow? No problem. This is what you do. You do these few things, and you'll drop turnover, increase profits, increase minority, female, and diversity recruitment and retention, and make clients happier, because your lawyers will be happier. I guarantee it. Here we go:

1. Drop minimum in-office requirements. In fact, drop ALL office-specific requirements. To the extent that there's no legal impediment, allow lawyers to work wherever, whenever they want, insofar as it doesn't impact on Client Service. Make the issue of Client Service the ONLY criterion, and, instead of making assumptions, let the Client be the judge. Allow for telecommuting, job-sharing, home-officing, and so on. Let lawyers work in whatever way makes them the most comfortable, as long as they get their work done. Feel free to raise the bar on performance, but lose the facetime requirements.

2. Create an instrument to poll lawyers about their opinions on firm policies, procedures, operations, and so on. Have it tabulated, analysed, reviewed, and reported on by an uninterested third party, and presented to the Management Committee, as well as the entire firm. Commit to making any and all changes that don't hurt the firm's profits, LEGAL standing (i.e. don't do anything illegal), and client base. Make it a rule that, even if something seems uncomfortable, or downright crazy, it's still up for consideration. Report the results to the entire firm.

3. Ask yourself just one question (I know. . .and I hate myself for saying it too), what do you believe? Seriously. We don't do mission, vision, and all that stuff, as a general rule. But there are all kinds of lawyers, for all kinds of law firms. If you're a law firm that just wants billing machines, I can tell you for a fact, I know those lawyers exist out there. . .I know some, personally. They love it. There are also lawyers who believe in pretty lih-tel flowers and trees, and Bambi and his woodland friends, and delicate Rainbows. Awwww. I think mountain, I think 4x4, but that's just me. My point is, not everyone is Green, even now, so, if YOU aren't Green, don't say that you are. Or, maybe you're like us. . .we're not Green up in here, we're just cheap, and we don't like to waste, because we have better uses for the money. Be who you are. Even if you have ten thousand lawyers all over the world, and there's no area of law you don't cover, you still have a take. Trust me on this. You want people to stay with you for more than a minute, find people who are like you.

4. Open up the books. Really. All of them. Tell everybody how much money it takes to run a firm. It's expensive. Show them why you keep reserves back. Show newby Associates why they need to bill out 2100 hours to pay their keep, because you have to pay for support staff, and leases, and the pens that they take home, and the staplers that they steal and give to their friends, and the legal pads that they take home and forget, and the cases of sticky pads, and so on and so on. Show them why ten fewer hours billed per Associates means 15% lower profits this next year, and how much the firm spends for coffee each year, and how much a parking pass actually costs.

Most attorneys, especially Associates, have no idea how much it actually costs to run a law firm, especially a big one. Sadly, most law firm leaders are too afraid to show anybody how much money they make to clear things up. Guess what, fellas and ladies? Everybody already knows how much you make. Within a couple of thousand dollars, anyway. With a surprisingly HIGH degree of accuracy. I know you don't think so. ALL recruiters know you don't think so, and we play along with you, because it seems to be important to you that you think you have some kind of control over this information, but, trust me, EVERYBODY knows your business.

I know this law firm, who blah blah blah, you know the drill. Anyway, once they told me, and some other recruiters, that absolutely, under NO circumstances whatsoever, were we to share any information about the firm with potential candidates. Nothing. No income information. No comp information. No partner information. No info about equity positions. Nothing. So, okay, we didn't. Didn't matter. Every lawyer I ever talked to already knew. They said so. And they were astonishingly accurate. Within a few hundred dollars in some cases.

Yeah, sometimes, an individual attorney won't know how much the Chairman or MP of MegaFrisky BigLaw will make for Fiscal Whenever because of their bonus structure, but, again, it's a matter of degree only.

My point is, just open up the books, share information, and you'll find that people will start to get on board with you, as long as you're fair about compensation, bonuses, and other firm policies, which leads us to. . .

5. Learn to be fair. You don't have to be EVEN. I don't believe in Egalitarianism, and I never have. Never will. I believe that s/he who works the hardest, or the smartest, or contributes the most, ought to get the biggest reward. But I DO believe in fairness. Basic fairness. I don't believe you should reward cheaters, and I don't believe you should tolerate bad behavior. Which brings us to the next topic. . . .

6. Clean up the Kitchen: Yup. Have a "come back to the fold!" meeting. Put another way, declare a Moratorium on Jerks. Just like that. Decide, and declare, that Jerks, and jerk-y (Jerk-like?) behavior will no longer be tolerated. If you're reading this, and the problem is The Leader, then gang up on him or her, and do the same thing. Do whatever you have to. Vote them out, buy them out, arrange to have them pricked with a needle containing a powerful drug which renders them unconscious and sell them into indentured servitude, or just outright fire them.

In the direst and most extreme of cases, if you absolutely have to, I understand that you can hire someone to bury them up to their neck in the desert, cover their head with Peanut Butter, and sic a very enthusiastic Dachsund on them. His name is Clarence. I'm not saying anything, but I know a guy. . . .

Here's the logic. It has long been assumed that it's worth it to put up with these people because, very often, the Bad Actors are extremely profitable for a firm. They're often rainmakers, they usually have long-term client relationships, they usually have large practices, and they usually contribute significant profits to a firm, or, on the other side, they usually have significant ownership, so losing them could hurt a firm.

But there's new research that says that this might be a myth; that, over time, the costs associated with tolerating a jerk (bully, butthead, insert your favourite expression here), might actually wipe out the upside potential of keeping the bad news around. Not just in terms of increased turnover, although that is a major factor, but in terms of opportunity costs, tertiary costs of doing business and THOSE lost opportunities and profits, and additional costs related to those, not to mention the ACTUAL costs of goodwill in the larger business community. Pretty compelling stuff. And worth considering.

It makes sense. We all know the value of, well, "Reputational Capital." We consider it all the time. How many times have you had a recruiter call you up about an attorney, and NOT had it enter the picture?

Think about it: "Howdy, Mr. Wise Decision-Maker. I'm calling about Richard Snerdpoot, a Partner at Flotsam, Jetsam, and Bilge. He's been there for twenty years, but he wants to work for you now. As I'm sure you know, he's been in charge of their Skirt Wheedling Practice for the past decade or so." And what do you say?

You say "Ah, yes, of course, well, Skirt Wheedling is, naturally, a big interest of ours, and FJB certainly is a leader. As I recall, he built that practice from nothing. Let's take a look at his details, and we'll chat about how to proceed."

The point is, reputation is huge, whether it's about a particular practice, or a practice area, or a particularly jerkish boss. And, of course, alumni have opinions, too. But we'll leave the discussion of alumni for another day.

Fortunately, most lawyers refrain from uttering even the smallest criticism about anything, and, frankly, I think it's remarkable, how rarely I ever hear anybody in the profession criticize anybody or anything. You'd think a candidate would tell their recruiter everything, but, no, I've heard almost no negative comments about anything from lawyers I've talked to. It has led to some interesting problems.

Once, I found out, after the fact, that I'd set up a meeting between people from two firms that had definitively different points of view. The leader of, let's call it Firm A, never shared this with me, nor even any hint of an issue. I didn't find out about it until the leader of Firm B called to let me know that the meeting had gone, well, badly. I never did find out why Firm A consented to the meeting. And Firm B never talked to me again.

I'm NOT complaining. In comparison to other professions, I say give me lawyers any day, and twice on Sunday. I'm just saying that stuff happens, and I'm convinced to this day that Firm A believed it was not ethically appropriate to air their dirty laundry with me, and I'm not sure I disagree even a little bit. However, in future, it might be good to send a telegram, you know, like Bugs Bunny does.

So, put the jerks on notice.

7. Policy, Shmollisy: This is my favourite. It was the very most hardest thing for me to learn. For reals. I am a policy geek. Love 'em. Can't get enough of 'em. I love me some policy, and I most especially love me a good, thick, delicious policy manual. Or several. The expression "policy and procedure"? Nectar! Yeah. Lose it. Lose all of it. Okay, not really. But start to loosen things up. Open them up. Rethink. Try things a different way. Partnership? Hmmm. What does it mean to be a partner? What does it mean, in this firm, to be a Partner? What would a person need to bring to the table to BE a Partner? Fine. If Jane or Joe Blow BRINGS that stuff, however they bring it, as long as it was legal, then they should be able to be a partner, whether it's money, clients, negotiable bonds, or cherry trees, who cares? Look at decoupling time from being the main, and sometimes ONLY criterion for many policies, and maybe any policy.

Here's one of my favourite examples: Firm K had a personal time policy. 12 days a year. Use it or lose it, but use it any way you want, i.e. Personal Days, Sick Days, Vacation, who cares? However, some staffers wanted to be able to "buy" additional days, i.e. sick or personal days, in order to spare their Vacation days, because the policy was, no matter what, when you're gone, for any reason, you have to use your Personal Time, and you have to use four-hour increments. So, if you have a Dentist appointment, hey, no problem, just use a four-hour block, right? Are you crazy? Let me just come in a half-hour late and make up the time, said the staffers. Oh no, said HR. That's what the Personal Time is for. . .no coming in late and making up time. . .it's too hard to manage, and it's not fair, and it's too hard to track, and so on.

Well, you know what happened, right? A lot of people started to get sick around the same time, and the office was just WIPED OUT. For like two weeks. And then? People still got sick, and again, a few weeks later, the WHOLE OFFICE was sick, for like TWO DAYS, but nobody had any sick days left, so they all went in to HR, and they went to the boss, and they mumbled, and caroused, and grumbled, and so on, and "now what are we supposed to do? Someone comes around and makes everyone sick, but we used up all our sick days, and now we're getting punished for something not our faults, this is so ridiculous, blah blah blah!" Some quit. Just said "goodbye, I don't need this." A few good ones.

So, now, people can buy additional days, designate time, and take as little as an hour of personal time, and, of course, they can choose to make up time too. There are many other companies, with many other examples, but I know you can feel the words that are coming out of my brain.

LAW FIRM LEADERS, WE'RE LOOKING AT YOU! I'm telling you this to help you keep the lawyers you've got, if you want to. One of the biggest reasons you guys lose lawyers is this right here. . .stupid-ass policies that have nothing to do with a lawyer's competence, ability, or integrity, but instead only serve to remind him or her that you are in charge.

Guess what. . . they don't care, and they don't think so, either. And the funny thing is, the better the lawyer, the worse they hate it. Oh, they might HAVE to stay around for a while because of bonuses, or clients, or whatever, but I'm here to tell you that they always figure out a way to make that time work for them.

You want to keep the good lawyers, recruit even more, even better lawyers, and build a reputation as a leader with the diversity community? Change your policies to reflect the needs, and realities, of today's world, the new circumstances facing today's attorneys, and demonstrate that you get that it's a different world, and you'll become an employer of choice. You can't rely on your reputation to carry you through any longer. . .I think the past year or two has CLEARLY demonstrated those days are over.

And finally, talk to your recruiter. Hey, I had to slip in a commercial. SOMEONE has to pay for all this good advice.

Keep Lawyering,

James E. Mason
Managing Partner (and ChaCha Instructor!)
Mason|McRight Legal Recruiting

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