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September 17, 2006


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Neil McIntyre

These are great ideas - environment is the most important aspect of a firm whose success depends on its ability to attract the best in their field. Ideas like this make me want to start my own firm and implement truly revolutionary management methods.

David Maister

I agree these are important points and right on target. But I don;t think I really understand why those of us who share your point of view, Michelle, seem to be fighting a LOSING battle. What you advocate is becoming less common, not more. What are we doing wrong in our attempts to have a beneficial impact on the world? If what we suggest would trruly help everyone, why isn't it happening? What do WE have to do diffreently to help make it happen other than just keep on insisting that we're right?

Harry Styron

Maybe the demand for potential "great people" exceeds the supply. Also, the capability of people within firms to help ordinary lawyers achieve greatness is in short supply. At the same time, the demand for legal services is high, with clients not much interested in the morale within the firms that serve them.

Michelle Golden

Thank you Neil. Your statement about these ideas providing an inspiration to start your own firm, managed a new way, feels rewarding to hear. I hope you will do so one day!

David, it sounds a lot like you are issuing a challenge to energize a larger "movement"! :-) Lots of thoughts coming to mind as I read your comment. One thought is that, though it is our passion, goal, and career choice to positively impact firms--and help them achieve what they say they ultimately want to achieve--isn't it the responsibility of the firms, who look to us for guidance, to ensure implementation?

Believe me when I say that I'm the last consultant on earth who wants a firm to invest in me for research and development of solutions and then, for whatever reason, fail to implement the solutions they participated in creating. Some consultants don't care though I know we have in common that we do care--probably too much.

So, given that implementation is really the firm's responsibility overall, how can consulting experts be more influential in inspiring firms to desire results? I see a few huge barriers on the implementation side:

1) Problems and Solutions are NOT Simple
2) Democratic Leadership
3) Complacency
4) Defensiveness
5) Infrastructure

Perhaps if consultants work with fewer firms but in more depth, the results would be stronger than when working with more firms, but more superficially. I am writing a new blog post addressing the above in more detail.

Harry, thank you also for your comment. If there is a shortage of people to help ordinary lawyers achieve greatness, do you think that because people aren't as bright or gifted as they "used to be" or is it because of lack of training or leadership?

If there is a shortage (and I agree the number of *great* candidates is shrinking) isn't it probably because they have other options?

Just as in any free market economy, buyers are investors and they have choices.

It is absolutely a buyer's market but the tables have turned! Employers are no longer the buyers as they were in years past. Employees are. Today's human capital can invest their career development at your firm or another firm, or in another industry altogether. Employers, now the sellers of an "investment opportunity" find themselves competing heavily to attract (and keep) the kind of people they will find valuable. It's not just knowledge workers, either. Months ago, the news reported an immigrant labor shortage for orange farmers in Florida. It seems oranges rotted on trees (about 10-20% of the 2006 crop) because the laborers had choices...they could earn better wages harvesting other crops or working in construction in the Katrina zone. The fact that entire industries have come to rely on immigrant labor because Americans do not want to perform this work -- wages aren't enticing enough given the effort and conditions required -- indicates that most people have choices and have no qualms about exercising them. So it's not just the educated who have choices, it's anyone whose abilities are in demand.

I have to disagree vehemently with your suggestion that clients don't care about morale. While they might not actively think about it, it does impact them. Professional service firms have known for years that clients don't like the effects they experience of excessive turnover among those who serve their accounts.

Further, it is absolutely proven that employees with good morale provide better customer service and better work quality that those without. Look at SouthWest Airlines versus Delta or US Air. Look at Disney versus Six Flags. Look at Nordstrom versus Home Depot. And think about any company you've contacted where you could tell an employee couldn't care less the company's reputation before during or after dealing with you compared with someone who is clearly answering the phone with a smile.

Clients DO care about morale, or at least its impact on them!


Perhaps the profession would be well served to start more frequent and vivid discussions about the difference between authority and leadership. People who have "authority" but are not leaders need to worry about things like staff retention, cell phone policies and dress codes so that they can feel like they're using the authority they've been given. Leaders rarely need to exercise their authority, because people want to be in their presence, learn from them and follow their examples.

Just my opinion ...

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