Perhaps I’m one of the lucky few that has always had a good relationship with the Marketing Department. Although I am the incoming President of the American Association of Law Libraries, I am also a member of the Legal Marketing Association, and I find value in both. I have leveraged the relationships built by the Marketing teams to advance my own ideas and projects, and have partnered with Marketing when they need resources and research to advance their own processes and projects. It just makes sense, and there is a mutual benefit for all when there is a trust and partnership between the two groups. After all, we are on the same team, and we can do more together than we can individually.

This is why I am amazed when I see dysfunction between these two departments. And when I have run across firms where the relationships between the two groups exist, it usually comes from the following issues:

  1. Money
  2. Credit
  3. People
When I was still a newbie in the law firm environment, I made an effort to determine how the individual components of a large law firm administration functioned. I saw the power of interaction with the Partners that the Marketing team had versus the Library’s operation which tended to be more service oriented and low-keyed. Both serve important functions, but the “attitude” of each group was different. Although Marketing had influence and the ear of the partners, the Library held the power of the purse strings, products, and relationships with the vendors that provide those products. Marketing had their MBAs, and the Library had their JDs/MLIS’. Marketing was a three-year revolving door of talent, and the Library had members that did orientation when the Managing Partner was a first-year Associate. The two departments have their different structures, but again, played for the same team.
Where I’ve seen the divisions between the two come to a head when it comes to money, is typically the Marketing Department needs a resource, and wants the Library to pay for it. In a good environment, this means that the two heads of the departments meet and work out a plan to evaluate, test, and determine what the correct product is that solves the problems faced by the Marketing team (and by proxy, the firm.) In a bad situation, the Library determines that they will not work with Marketing because the library staff will not be the ones using the product. Or, Marketing goes out and buys the product without working with the Library, and then sends the Library the invoice. These two latter situations are more common than they should be, and completely unnecessary if there is a good relationship between the groups. When it comes to money, I have a very over-simplistic approach that I take. First – It’s not my money, it’s the partnership’s. As long as the powers-that-be approve this, it’s fine. It doesn’t affect the money I take home at the end or the month, it affects the money that the partners take home at the end of the month. Second, I make sure that these types of increases to my budget are made apparent to those that monitor my budget, and I show where it was approved by those powers-that-be. If the money hawks are concerned…  I point them to those that approved it, but also point out that the expense was something that will help leverage our firm for the future and (hopefully) bring in new clients and revenue. We’re all on the same team, so don’t throw your team-mate under the bus.
When it comes to credit, this is where feelings tend to get hurt, and power trumps cooperation. The typical story is that the Library conducts research and analysis for a Marketing Business Development or Client Development project. The work is compiled and sent to Marketing, and then it is restructured (sometimes) and sent to the Partner for action. When the project is successful, Marketing gets the credit, and the library gets ignored. Again, when the two groups work cooperatively, this happens less. However, I have learned, sometimes the hard way, that when it comes to credit, the last person to handle it, tends to get the credit. This happens when reports are turned over to Accounting to add in “the numbers,” or IT to add in the tech specifications, and with Marketing when it comes to analysis and action items. The best way to solve this situation is to have a conversation with the other department to make sure that the value your team put in is made clear to the other department, and when appropriate, to the partners that use the final product. It is also important to have a thick skin and sometimes understand that, while what you did was very important, credit doesn’t always come back as you would like. It’s okay. Put it down for your “wins” list in your annual evaluation and take credit for it then. If you’re running Marketing, make an effort to credit the Library when appropriate. 
This brings me to the people part of the process. Leaders that deem their value by the size of their departments are not leaders at all. (Insert [in]appropriate joke here.) 
Librarians are visionaries. We tend to see trends before others and position ourselves to handle those trends. I’ve written many posts before where I argued that giving the “Information” title to the computer networking department was probably the biggest defeat in the Library world. We were the leaders when it came to information technology, we were the leaders when it came to knowledge management, we were the leaders when it came to competitive intelligence. We’ve been in the forefront of artificial intelligence and analytics. Unfortunately, we also tend to start these programs, and watch them be pulled out of our departments and sent to others, or spun off and created in a different department altogether. I am perfectly okay with that (well… mostly okay with that.) What I don’t appreciate is when the Library creates a successful group, typically these days, a Competitive or Business Intelligence group, and then the Marketing department comes along and snags it away from us with the perception that this should have never been in the Library in the first place, and that it belongs in Marketing. If that is true, then why did it have to originate in the Library to begin with? Why didn’t it begin in Marketing? The biggest reason is that the Library has the external relationships with the vendors and industry to build these departments. If there comes a time when it makes sense to spin them off and move them, then it’s a blessing for the department that takes it over. Unfortunately, it tends to become a turf war where the acquiring department somehow belittles the Library for taking this on in the first place. That is such a silly concept an doesn’t have to happen when there is a good relationship between the departments. I mentioned earlier that Librarians should not throw their team-mates under the bus. That also goes for other department leaders that leverage the Library’s work to make themselves look better, or increase the size of their departments. Quite frankly, if you grab a group from within the Library to make your own, you should increase the Library Director’s bonus to include a recruitment stipend.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again:
ALL PROBLEMS ARE COMMUNICATION PROBLEMS!!!

If you work for the same law firm, you are on the same team. You don’t have to like each other, but you cannot be successful as a firm if you are undermining each other, or you are so sensitive that you think other leaders are out to get you. Administrative departments of law firms are the grease that makes the organization run smoothly. Find ways to talk to one another. Understand the strategic goals of the firm. Fix problems that the firm is facing (the firm’s problems, not your department’s problems.) And, realize that when you look good, we all look good. We are all allies here. Let’s act like it.
  
Image [cc] Cory Doctorow

A fellow law librarian pointed me toward a Daily Report article yesterday entitled “Kilpatrick Transforms Library Into Modern Collaboration Hub—With Latte.” The story is a well-worn tale of how the law library space was cut and transformed into a collaborative space with workstations and high-end espresso machines.

These sort of articles don’t really bother me anymore. I, as a law librarian, read it more as the library material and the space that houses it is superficial, not the service and research provided. The way I interpret it is that the firm is really saying this:

We had allocated 3,000 sq ft of space to house books that no one needed, but we were too afraid that someday, someone, somewhere, might need one of these books, so we spent $60K+ a year in rental as an insurance policy… so to make us feel better about it, let’s cut that to 1,500 sq ft and serve lattes and pretend it’s a collaboration space. Problem solved.

However, a non-law librarian, especially law firm leaders, and consultants who are brought in to guide these types of spacial decisions, may take articles like this and pull out key passages like “little-used,” or “she didn’t know where [the law library] was,” to mean the library, as a service, is irrelevant. That approach is something that I stand against and will argue is short-sighted and will have damaging long-term effects.

If you have read anything I’ve written in the past decade, you know I’m not a library space guy. I’m a service-first, people-oriented, space-as-needed, law librarian. My largest office has no central library space. None. We went from around 6,000 sq ft of space in the old location to zero by embedding the collections into the practice areas.

The primary reason? Attorneys do not leave their floors. (We even have fancy coffee machines, and attorneys that have never used them because the machine is one floor away.) Therefore, we put the relevant material close to them, and focus on the research services and people skills that we provide. Instead of creating a space and attempting to lure people to the library, we turned that around and put the library people in the lawyer space. For us, it works very well and solidifies our approach of people and knowledge first, and information and resources second.

One of the biggest issues I have with this article isn’t what’s in it, but rather what’s missing. Someone from the Law Library explaining how this enhances the services we provide by moving the focus away from the space, and toward the service and people. Not a single word. Now, granted, this is a piece focused on collaborative space, not about law libraries, but I would think that someone at Kilpatrick would want to stress that this is a win-win for collaboration as well as how they share knowledge and information.

From what I am hearing, the probably reason for omitting this part of the story is something that we are seeing too much of lately. A long-time law library leader has left/retired, and no succession was established to replace this leader. These leadership voids for the evolving law library service are becoming more and more visible, and many firms are wasting opportunities to embrace a new style of law librarianship and research/information services. It feeds into the narrative of law libraries are irrelevant, and in my opinion, will come back to bite these short-sighted firms in the end.

Law Librarianship is not about the number of books on the shelf. It is not about turning shelves into collaboration spaces or coffee bars. It is about positioning the firm in a manner that aligns resources, internal and external; human and information, in a way that puts the firm on a better competitive footing. It’s about risk-management. It’s about negotiating the best deals with very expensive vendors. It’s about evaluating what is, and what is not needed to support the practices of the firm. It takes a strong leader, one with vision of where the law library fits in the strategic goals of the firm, in order to guide the firm on the correct path. Leaving these leadership positions empty, or eliminating them altogether may have short-term financial gains, but long-term repercussions that will plague firms for many years to come.

Image [cc] Lucy Kimbell

I was watching Tim Corcoran’s video on “Useful Metrics & Benchmarking” and it made me think about how some of the metrics and benchmarking strategies apply to information professionals within a law firm environment. Are we, as managers of these professionals, giving them the right type of feedback that contributes to the overall strategy of the group, or are we asking them to hit benchmarks which do not mesh with the strategy? Tim makes a statement that “You can’t manage well what you can’t measure well.” Of course, Tim is talking about law department metrics, but I’m pretty sure the same concepts are applicable to law firm information professionals.

Here’s Tim Corcoran’s video. I have borrowed heavily from around the 7:36 through the 10:46 portion of the video (with Tim’s permission), and applied it to measuring the efforts of the Information Professional.


Metrics and Benchmarks for Law Firm Information Professionals
So what are Law Firm Information Professional metrics today? Let’s borrow and edit the list that Tim uses for law departments:

  • Costs (rates, hours, total cost)
  • Ratios (attorneys:InfoPros)
  • Write offs/downs
  • Repeat Work
  • Additional Costs / Adherence to Budget
  • Service (responsiveness, experience/specialty)

Let’s think about each of these and how we benchmark them and score our InfoPros to these metrics. I want to talk about these on a high-level, and not get into the minutia of what does and doesn’t apply on an individual level.

Costs – pretty straight forward metric of finding out how much the firm is actually paying for this person.
Ratios – this could be attorney to InfoPro, or it could be Practice Group or Office to InfoPro. However you want to measure it, just make sure it is consistent across the staff so you don’t start getting apples to oranges comparisons.
Write offs/downs – Again, pretty straight forward measurement of what did they bill versus what did we bill the clients… and what did the clients actually pay.
Repeat Work – Are attorneys or groups returning and asking for more work from the individual? I know that many of us, my group included, set up a pool of InfoPros to handle work as it comes in, but I think most of us have a reality that attorneys become comfortable with certain people that do good work for them, or are conveniently located to them.
Additional Costs / Adherence to Budget – Are the InfoPros aware of budget restraints for certain clients, and following those rules? If clients do not pay for online legal research, are they going in and using these tools anyway, or are they finding alternative methods to get information that will not cause additional write offs on the client invoice?
Service – How responsive are they? Do individual InfoPros have specialty knowledge of certain practice areas or are subject specialists with unique access to individual resources (usually allocated to them because of licensing issues or overall cost of these specialty resources)?

Mission and Strategy vs. Evaluation and Goals
Do the metrics we measure match our strategy? I’m going to guess that most of us have a mission statement (whether implied or official) that says something like this:

Our department serves the broad needs of our internal and external clients with a highly knowledgeable staff providing exemplary research results in an effective and efficient manner.

I’m sure there are a thousand different ways to say it, but effectively we have a mission of having high-quality people with great knowledge and research/analytical skills who get great results back to the client in a quick and cost effective manner. If that is our mission and strategy, are we measuring our people on those items and encouraging them to fulfill the strategy, or are we rating them and giving bonuses/pay increases or promotions on other metrics? Are bonuses and raises tied only to length of time at the firm, or are there measurable items used to determine how these are allocated? Are there non-monetary incentives available to reward those who score well on certain benchmarks.

Scorecards
Can we take Tim’s idea of using Scorecards to let the InfoPros know where they stand within the firm and perhaps even against their peers? If the only time that your staff knows how well they are doing against the benchmarks which they are being measured is at review time, then that’s bad management on your part and unfair to everyone.

On Tim’s example of scorecards, he lists a number of measurable subjects that can easily apply to Information Professionals, but in reality, it needs to be modified to fit the benchmarks you are asking them to hit. The scorecard should both be presented as a constantly updated piece of information, as well as a snapshot of how well the person is doing in a set period of time (monthly, quarterly, etc.)

Again, borrowing from Tim’s list, let’s think about what InfoPros would see on their scorecards, and where they stand in relationship to those benchmarks.

  • Practice Summary – What have they worked on? Bullet points of projects assigned and completed. Perhaps this piece of the scorecard is kept by the InfoPro themselves, or a joint effort. 
  • Top Billed Matters/Clients – What matters or clients are InfoPros constantly asked to cover? Perhaps expand that to practice areas if they are subject experts.
  • Spend by Practice Group – What are the costs associated to the InfoPro when they are asked to perform a task? Look at time spent, resources used and charged to clients. Don’t forget to measure things like training or client development tasks that may not show up on the client invoice.
  • Tasks or Hours Worked vs. Peers – I know that some of us don’t like this type of competition within the group, but if we are going to allocate bonuses or future pay based on how well they compare to others within the group, it may be fair to expose that information throughout the year so that they know where they stand.
  • Client satisfaction – what type of feedback are they given from those requesting their assistance? Can you get measurable feedback (1 to 5 scale) from internal clients? Perhaps your reference 
  • Adherence to Budget – are they following guidelines, or are there additional expenses incurred when using certain InfoPros?
  • Time Entry Turnaround – Is there a lag between time worked for a client, and the time entered for that client?

Metrics vs. Gut Feeling
Tim doesn’t get into this area directly, but I think it is a logical step in this conversation as most of us may be very uncomfortable using these types of metrics to judge people who report to us on a daily basis. It would be much easier to simply give feedback and measure performance based on what we experience with the Information Professional on a personal level. I’m not saying that personal interaction and experiences should not be used in evaluations, but it should not be the only measurement. There simply has to be benchmarks that have clearly defined measurements, and transparent to those being measured as to where they stand within the benchmark.

Where the gut-feelings and individual experience comes into play is putting a narrative to the metrics. Metrics give us data, but may not tell a complete story. One prime example would be that some individuals may have high write-offs simply because they do a lot of work for attorneys that won’t pass along their costs to the client. This is where the periodic reviews of the scorecard comes in handy. By setting the metrics and monitoring them, you begin to understand the story behind the data at an earlier point in time. This will allow you and the InfoPro to take corrective actions either by correcting internal behavior, or client behavior.

I’ll bring Tim’s comment back of “You can’t manage well what you can’t measure well.” Establishing metrics and benchmarks based on the overall strategy of the department and the firm will help the InfoPros work toward that strategy, and will allow you to measure how well they are doing in achieving that strategy, as well as how well your overall department is working toward promoting the firm’s overall strategy.

Benchmarking the Department
I’m going to borrow one last thing from Tim from around the 10:30 mark in his video where he talks about the law department leveraging the scorecards as an integral part of the overall business needs of the company, and apply it to the efforts and mission of the Information Professional department.  In establishing clear benchmarks that drive overall strategy of the firm, you can leverage this process and become so closely linked to the law firm’s strategy, that your groups becomes a competitive advantage for the firm. Firms are always looking for a cost advantage, or a unique skill set for its marketing to clients. How about leveraging your department to help the firm get to clients faster, overcome obstacles more quickly, manage information and knowledge more effectively so that we operate more effectively in our markets. Tim concludes this section of establishing metrics that show your impact on the overall business with a thoughtful statement. “Think about that. A metric that helps us understand the impact we’re having on the business throughput can be pretty powerful.”

Thanks again, Tim, for letting me morph your legal department concepts for metrics and benchmarking onto the world of legal information professionals.

Bully
Image [cc] serzhanja

When I was a kid, I used to believe that everyone was nice, and that there was no such thing as a purposefully mean person… then I met my fourth grade teacher and my bubble of niceness quickly popped. Although I still believe that 99% of people out there are well intentioned, good mannered, and overall easy to deal with, there are still those that have none of those traits. Some of whom are in positions of power, and we all end up having to deal with them from time to time.

Yesterday, I ran across an article written by Marc Chernoff entitled 7 Smart Ways to Deal with Toxic People, and it described a number of the traits that most of us hate dealing with in what he labels as “Toxic People.” The basic advice is to not let Toxic People get into your head and stay there. My favorite is #5: “Don’t take their toxic behavior personally.” It’s probably the hardest thing to do, but it is also the most liberating when you can remember that the person you are dealing with treats most people this way, and that it must work for him or her because they continue to act the way they do. To modify a common meme I’ve seen on Facebook, “Love your enemies… it really ticks them off.”

Being in the legal field, it seems that we may be subject to a greater share of Toxic people. Whether that is actually true or not is probably up to your individual situation. However, whether it is a Partner in a corner office, or a Secretary down the hall, or a mean Librarian, this article walks through a number of ways to deal with these Toxic people and gives some really good advice that I think most of us could use in our day to day lives. Mean people exist, but as Chernoff rightly puts it, you don’t have to allow them to take up space in your head… “raise the rent and get them out of there.”

Image [cc] Wonderlane

I’m usually not big on sharing motivational sayings, but occasionally I run across things that make sense to me and make me feel a bit more motivated in moving forward in my profession. I have run across two of those things in the past 24-hours.

First of all, I read Andy Hines’ post on Ten Do’s and Don’ts for an Aging Futurist. Andy’s a great guy and has works in the field of Professional Futurists. You might remember the post on “Coolhunters” I did last year. Andy lists ten things that Aging Futurists should, and shouldn’t focus on as they enter the twilight of their careers. I particularly like #5 (the “Do” part, not the “Don’t” part.)

   Don’t… Do….
5. deflate the energy and enthusiasm for a project or idea by pointing out how “this is nothing new” or “this was already done before,” often by pointing out a critical paper written 20 years ago (that probably was not read then either ) build up ideas rather than tear them down; if there is relevant history, contribute what we can learn from it that aids the present case

Andy ends his list with the idea that “Don’t” think of all the above as just related to aging. I’ll add to that by saying “Don’t” think that this only applies to Futurists. Thanks Andy. I also look forward to hearing more about this when you are the lunch speaker at the AALL Conference in Seattle this July.

The other list was just pointed out to me by Geek #2. Inc. magazine has a list of 17 Ways to Be Happier at Work. He especially played up #7 on the list:

7. Daydream more rather than less.
The idea that daydreaming and working are mutually exclusive belongs back in the 20th century. It’s when you let your thoughts wander that you’re more likely to have the insights that will make you both unique and more competitive.

 I like #16, too. Trash everything in your work area that isn’t useful or beautiful. I’ll even expand on that one to include the attitude you take at work with a saying that my Aunt Joyce used to say in her infininte Southern Wisdom: “Don’t act ugly.”

Editor’s Note: I received a note from a reader that wanted to post something that they felt would be a good fit for the discussions we have on this blog. In their own words:

As a long-time fan of 3 Geeks, I was compelled to add to the useful pool of content published here. I do this anonymously, based on the topic I address.

There are many of us on the “Admin-Side” of the law firm that see things that make us simply shake our heads. It was refreshing to talk with someone that wanted to point a few things out that really bothered them, not about how attorneys practice law, but rather on the business of running a large law firm and all of the professionals employed at the firm hired in the persuit of maintaining that business. We’re more than happy to post it here, and share with everyone, all while allowing the administrator to keep their day job. – GL

After working in the legal industry for many, many years, I wanted to add my voice to those lamenting the treatment of us so-called ‘non-lawyers.’ Mr. Furlong has previously posted on this topic, but my inside experience at a firm may add another dimension to the dialog.

My basic premise is that lawyers do not value those outside their profession. They deem anyone not a lawyer a ‘non-lawyer’ as a clear distinction between them and everyone else. They hold this opinion to the point that a person’s credibility and ability are first determine by whether they

a) have a law degree, and
b) they use this degree in practice.

The base opinion seems to be that if you as a person were truly capable, you would have gone to law school landed a job at a reputable firm. Absent that achievement, your abilities must be below that of lawyers.

As an example, too many marketing professionals at firms are treated as glorified secretaries. They may have deep experience and truly valuable marketing skills and experience. However, most of what they do is dictated to them by the lawyers in a firm. Mind you, these are lawyers with no training or background in marketing. They make marketing decisions based on what they want to hear, not on real market information about what a customer would want to hear.

In my role as a firm administrator, I endure constant complaints from lawyers about trivial issues. The issues may be real (printers out of ink, conference rooms without the right color of notepads, parking spaces not allocated according to seniority, and the like), yet the treatment of my staff and me can be horrendous. I have never witnessed similar treatment to another lawyer in the firm. So why is it OK to treat ‘non-lawyers’ this way?

My assumption is that this comes from a position of arrogance. If one deems themselves as more capable than everyone else, why would they show them respect and consideration?

Although this arrogance can be manifest in other ways. Lawyers seem to pride themselves on their ability to tear-down others’ opinions. When a new concept is presented to them, instead of trying to understand the value of it, they focus on the details of the proposal looking for signs of weakness. As an example, in a client proposal they are more likely to attack the grammar than consider the strategy of the proposed approach. Bad grammar to them is an indication of poor thinking and therefore an indicator that the suggested strategy must be wrong. Looking for ways to disprove every suggestion leads to every suggestion being attacked and rejected. All it takes is two or three lawyers to be involved, and any idea can be torn to shreds. So this combination of arrogance and the tendency to attack instead of understand makes lawyers poor business people.

Many friends ask me why I have worked in this environment so long. There are benefits. Lawyers are smart and challenging people to work for. They keep you on your “A-Game.” However, I sense that this arrogance is catching up with them. It is my opinion that lawyers need to understand and embrace new ways of running their firms. 3 Geeks writes about this need all of the time. So this arrogance and unwillingness to embrace new ways and to recognize the value of other professionals may well be their un-doing. I for one am beginning to question how long things can continue like this and how long I want to stay a part of the whole law firm world.

But who knows. The day may soon come when I will actually be recognized and treated as a true professional. I suppose at this point it is a matter of my patience and how soon this might actually happen.

Image [cc] My Silent Side

I was recently pointed to a post from Pam Woldow called “What Law Firms Can Learn from Hotels: Perspectives on Service” and it reminded me of a program we had at my former firm that we borrowed from the Four Seasons hotel on Service Excellence.

One of the key aspects of what the hotels, be it Trump Towers or Four Seasons, isn’t just the excellence of service, but also the consistency of that service regardless of which location you stay. There’s a very good article from a few years ago called “Service Showdown at the Four Seasons” that describes how the Four Seasons fought against allowing certain locations to change the way they offered services from location to location, mainly because the local owners wanted to trim budgets in a tight economy.

My favorite part of the article discusses the need to standardize the way service is presented to the customer:

The company competes on standardization and scale, not words we usually associate with luxury.  But impeccable service comes from exquisite attention to the details of an experience, and that experience isn’t necessarily diminished by the fact that it’s being replicated all over the world.  In fact, companies like the Four Seasons achieve excellence because of — not in spite of — a high degree of standardization.  Standardization of operations frees up the time, space and money to compete on a main driver of excellence in hospitality industries:  personalized, detail-oriented interactions with guests. (emphasis added)

Going back to Pam Waldow’s article, if Pam goes to another Trump Towers hotel and doesn’t get the same consistent treatment, then she will no longer associate the excellent service with the Trump “Brand” but rather with the specific Trump location.

That’s something to think about as a law firm, given our desire to cross sell our clients on our own services across locations and practice groups. From a law firm administrator or department head, you can even take this idea and look more on the granular level within the firm on how the staff service levels are seen by attorneys between the different locations or departments. Are our departments known for excellence, or just some individuals within the departments?

Listen to how your brand is discussed among your clients. Do they talk about the brand as a whole (“The firm did an excellent job handling our case.” or “The library is my go to resource for getting the information I need.”), or do they isolate the individuals and disassociate the brand from the people? (“When I need help with arbitration, I go straight to Joe.” Or “When I need research, I only go to Sara.”) Normally, this type of preference for individuals over the group is normal, but you have to think about what happens when Joe or Sara aren’t there? Can you bring in Jane or Steve as replacements when needed? Does the customer have trust in your firm or department’s ability to consistently produce excellent results? If the answer is yes, then your brand benefits; if the answer is no, then your brand is weak because you do not have that consistancy.

The process of building excellence and consistancy is one that takes effort and planning. I like looking to really good IT departments and seeing what they do to provide excellent service on a consistant basis. A few months ago, Ryan McClead, Lynn Oser and I wrote about one way of building excellence and consistancy by adapting an established Information Technology concept (ITIL) to library and research services. (PDF) There are probably many ways to get there, but it takes vision, leadership, and a desire to constantly monitor the services you provide to your customer and making sure you are consistant in providing excellent services and results, regardless of the individual, the office location, or the practice group, that provides the service.

Image [cc] dground

One of my biggest pet peeves about working in a law firm is that we are completely reactive in our operations, and we are quick to jump on the next project without reviewing what we have just finished. Toby touched on the reactive process of our business model yesterday, so I’ll focus on the lack of process review today. When I was in the Army, we called this an “After Action Review.” The idea is pretty simple and can be summed up by asking five open-ended questions:

  1. What was our mission? 
  2. What actually happened?
  3. Why was there a difference?
  4. What have we learned?
  5. What will we do about it?
The key to this whole process is to extract the things that went right (and why they went right) and the things that didn’t go as planned (and why they went wrong), and memorialize that information so that we continue to do the right things, and we adjust our processes on the things that didn’t go as planned. In the Army, it can literally mean the difference between life and death… luckily for law firms, it doesn’t go to that extreme.
There are two obvious stumbling blocks that are present in the law firm environment regarding these types of post-matter or post-project reviews:
  • The need to assign blame if something went wrong
  • The fact that you can’t charge a client for the time you spend on these reviews
As for the first issue, these reviews cannot turn into gripe sessions. The purpose of the review is to take a very cold, calculated look at the situation, the timeline, the people, the processes, and the results. I like to refer to it as an autopsy without blame. The results of the review (and you need to keep everyone’s eye on this goal throughout the process) is to identify what we learned, and what we will do next time to create an equal or greater outcome. Period. 

Now, for the “but, we can’t bill our time” issue. A law firm is a business, run it as such. If you think that you cannot afford to take the time to do a review of your previous matter or project, then you are doing a disservice to those people you lead, your clients, and to yourself. The time you take to work out what went wrong in the prior matter can help prevent you from making that same mistake in the next.

Image [cc] Bryoz

I had a friend tell me a story about showing up to work one day and having this conversation with a co-worker:

Friend: Do you ever feel like a little tiny piece of you dies every time you walk in here?
Co-Worker: Not a tiny piece.

We’ve probably all had jobs (or at least days) where we feel like we are simply spinning our wheels, or worse, going backward. The reason for that feeling usually lands quite squarely on the shoulders of one person: your immediate supervisor. In fact, a Forbes article earlier this year nailed the effects that bad managers have on the work environment:

A bad manager is a big factor in employee performance. A good manager, no matter the salary, will inspire loyalty. … Managers who don’t create the right opportunities for their employees, don’t communicate with them, and don’t appreciate them often find themselves dealing with a high turnover rate. Good managers are people you keep in touch with even after you leave a position. Bad managers are people you keep track of so you can avoid them in future. (emphasis added.)

If you are reading this blog, chances are you work in the legal industry. Your co-workers, supervisors and subordinates are probably well educated with a minimum of a High School education, and many (probably the majority) of them with advanced degrees. You work for, with and supervise extremely smart people. That’s both good and bad. Smart people need to be challenged and felt appreciated. When they come into work, they need to feel like they are there to do something that matters. When they leave work, they need to feel like they’ve actually accomplished something that day.

How do you do that? Well, first of all, simply ask you them a simple question: “What are you doing that excites you?” I actually had someone ask me that this week in a meeting (a meeting that I planned to go in and discuss something that didn’t excite me at all!) This type of open-ended question does a couple of things. First, it gives someone the power to discuss the type of work that they like to do. Plus, it puts the person in control of the conversation… it tells them that their opinion matters and that you (hopefully, as a “good” manager) are willing to listen to them and that you want them to have a good work environment. Of course, as a manager, if the conversation about what excites your workers is all about things you do not provide them, then you should see those red flags popping up and understand that you have a big problem on your hands that needs to be solved quickly.

One of the best jobs I ever had was also one of the worst paying jobs I ever had. However, at the end of the day, I felt good about what I was doing, because I felt that I was actually accomplishing something that mattered, that I was contributing as part of a team to the overall mission of the workplace, and that I felt appreciated for my contributions by my peers, supervisors and subordinates. It didn’t mean that we all sat around a campfire and sang songs… far from it. We had numerous challenges, I got chewed out for failing to meet expectations, and I had to fire employees who would not meet the expectations I had given them. But the one thing that made it all worthwhile was the fact that at the end of most days we all felt like we were accomplishing something and that we weren’t simply showing up to a place that sucked a little bit of life out of you each day.

Image [cc] origamidon

After I wrote the post last week on de facto embedded librarians, I started getting comments in from my friend Colleen Cable arguing that we shouldn’t settle for de facto librarians in law firm practice groups, but instead we should be pushing for real live librarians in every practice group. Initially, I thought Colleen had misunderstood my concept of de facto embedded librarians (attempting to “make due” with existing resources) but after hammering back at me a couple of times, I began to see that she was attempting to tell me something that I’ve heard before: “Why Would You Limit Yourself To That?”

I still think my idea has merit (as Denise Pagh verified last night!), I can still see the point of not wanting to limit the idea of what is possible. Since we are all about asking the hard questions here on 3 Geeks, what would be better for a law firm in the long run? A common situation where there is one qualified library researcher for every 75-100 lawyers? Or, where there is a qualified library researcher for each practice group within the law firm? If we could start over from scratch, which would better serve the strategic goals of the law firm?

Reality and tradition may smack this idea down, but it is an idea worth asking. Imagine that each practice group had a librarian embedded in the group that understood both the goals of the group and the resources (internal and external) available to help the group reach those goals. Imagine a law firm where the library researchers came together to discuss their individual practice group needs, and then pooled their resources together to create a wealth of resources all while negotiating on behalf of the firm to keep the costs of these resources affordable, reducing duplication of resources, training attorneys and staff on those resources, and identifying the best resources that fit the overall need of the practice group and the firm.

I know, I know, I can hear all the mumbling coming from the other side of this argument… “let’s get back to reality…”  “this is how we have always done it…” “no need to rock the boat…” “we can’t touch that sacred cow…” “it would never work at my law firm…” “no one would be willing to take that risk…” etc., etc.

Perhaps all those people need to be challenged as I was by Colleen and fire back at the obvious reaction with our own version of:

Why Would You Limit Your Firm To That?

Really. Why would you?