Sunday, April 30, 2006

A New Employee? Wheel Him In!

It is truly a mobile world, especially at Exemplar. We have a beautiful office in downtown Boston with roughly 4,200 square feet (in true capacity-first style). There is a big open space in the center and windowed offices on three sides of the building. What is different about us is that we work in project teams and have 3-4 people in each office. . . . with desks on wheels! We all work on laptop computers, on desks with wheels, with file cabines on wheels, and when you move into an office to work on a project team you just log into your phone and your extension rings wherever you are. We have a new team member starting tomorrow. He is from China and comes with a career in marketing and business development in China. He will be working with our Chief Marketing Officer to help create a strategic marketing plan for approaching the China market. Do we put him in the office with our attorney who handles China matters or in the CMO & Business Development pod? When our people are together in offices communication improves, relationships develop. and innovation is a natural product of the sharing of ideas that we see on a regular basis. What's more, not only are our poeple happy in this team-based environment, but our cost structure is one-third of a firm that isolates its people in big offices all alone. Our happy people not only provide great service, but the cost-structure savings is definately something that our customers can take to the bank. That is the type of win-win situation we look for when we evaluate how to improve the way we work.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Get Real Chris

After having sent my blog to my fellow team members for comment I received a good deal of teasing. They said that what people want to know are the day-to-day activities in the trenches of a firm that is pioneering and not the broad-stroke concepts that we are implementing. I was duly reminded of this when I was interviewed by David Maister today, who sternly and gently (all at once) reminded me that he has heard every concept out there and really wants to know the real details on what makes us so different at Exemplar.

I have always lived by the phrase "head in the sky, feet on the ground," but it hit me as I was responding to my team members and David that I much prefer to think and talk about the "sky-like" issues rather than the "ground-zero" issues. I am now learning that I must be able to do both well, so here it goes. It is time to get real folks! My team and I want to share with all of you the things that really happen on a daily basis to make this firm the best it can be. In order to satisfy my desire to communicate the philosophies and broader concepts that we have at Exemplar, I have decided to start another blog that I will link to at the top with the rest of the links!

So, the next time I blog it will be from me to you directly from the pit.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Exemplar's Zero Tolerance Policy for Negativity

Did you know that law is one of two professions of one hundred four professions where pessimists perform the best? This is no surprise because lawyers are trained to identify the problems with everything. What's more, those who perform best on law school exams are, in fact, those who identify and argue the most "issues" and those who offer solutions are graded down or offered no credit for their solution-orientation. This training seems to a bit backwards if you consider that clients really want solutions. After all, anyone can argue that our welfare system sucks. . . and I would not be impressed with such a conclusion. . . but I would be astonished if someone came up with a better idea. Do you think it would be any different for your customers? We don't think so.

Exemplar has a policy to only hire attorneys who are capable of seeing beyond the problems to a solution for our customers. We have something we call "solution-discipline" at Exemplar that permeates our culture. Being around a group of "positive" people on a daily basis creates a tremendous energy that helps us to provide the best service to our customers every day. In addition, it promotes a productive and happy work environment that is so severely needed in our industry. As a firm that is growing fast, though, we are also aware that a positive culture is very sensitive (see merger of Coopers & Lybrant with Price Waterhouse). It only takes one Grinch to ruin Christmas for a lot of people (disclaimer: the grinch has also been shown to ruin Hanukkah, Qwanza, and other important holidays). I think we all know a Grinch. Often, they are biggest producers in the office or those with the most power or egos. Now, close your eyes, imagine you are Donald Trump, and exclaim to that person with a grin of pleasure "Yer Fired!" Feels good, doesn't it? You see, at Exemplar we are all the guardians of our positive culture. You cannot buy a position at our firm with your book of business. In fact, we have turned several of them away. Your name will not be on the door no matter how many hours you can bill. If you need a power trip then you need a personality transplant, not a managing partner position. These people will not find an open door to Exemplar, and if one of them ever finds a side door (note: even Jack Welch only made the right hiring decisions 80% of the time at the height of his career), then our "positive" people will most proudly proclaim "Yer Fired." At Exemplar, the practice of law is not about our ego, it is about Excellence, Leadership, Integrity, Team, Trust, Respect, Communication, and Equanimity. . . the very values that will distinguish us well into the future.

Monday, April 17, 2006

The Exemplarites - Making the Dream Real

I went to Easter services and I learned a wonderful way to think about what we are doing at Exemplar. You see, we normally use the saying "seeing is believing" to describe the fact that results are the only thing that will convince most people that new things can be done, and I am sure that some people feel that way about what Exemplar is doing. However, if that were true than it simply does not explain how humans with uncompromising conviction and passion for what they believe in can make things happen that, to most, would seem impossible. After all, if everyone waited to see in order to believe than there would be no leaders in this world. On the subject of faith, Dan Harrel continued his sermon saying that the opposite of this saying is responsible for changing lives. . . . "believing is seeing," he concluded. Finally, it clicked. It is absolute faith, belief without proof, that causes us to see the true potential in what we do. It is this faith that changes lives, industries, and cultures. As I sit and reflect upon this new-found wisdom I think about the Exemplar Team, all of which came together with a common mission and vision of the future of the professions , all of which sacrificed high-paying jobs, some with families and young children to feed, believing in and embracing the vision of Exemplar every day. I am everday surrounded by wonderful professionals from different generations and backgrounds who "see" the potential of Exemplar because they believe in what they are doing. As we grow and expand and mountains begin to move, it will be because of the great people that have "burned the ships" and come together in a statement of faith to build the Firm of the Future that will be responsible for our success. Looking back in time at the innovators and inventors who shape how we live today, it was their belief in the "impossible" that caused them to see the solutions that exist today. For the rest of the world, "seeing is believing." The only caveat to living by the motto "seeing is believing" is that you have live with seeing a lot of dust. Understanding the difference between the two viewpoints is an awesome lesson in faith.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Reinventing The (Square) Wheel

The great thing about reinventing a wheel that had not been examined for 50 years is that you realize just how square it really is. Our Executive Committee will be examining every discipline of management over the next several months to determine how the Firm of the Future should operate. Together, we will explore best practices (from outside the legal industry) in knowledge management, marketing, customer relations, operations, and human resources, among others. The implications of our discussions and subsequent decisions will be both broad and deep. Unlike most firms where the attorneys tell the management team what they can and cannot do, our organization will empower our executives to do what they do best. What enables Exemplar Law Parnters to succeed in this regard is a team of attorneys who respect the management function and do not pretend to be experts in every area of business by virtue of having a law degree. The level of trust and respect that is displayed amongst our professionals is the highest I have seen in my career. Our key challenge as we grow exponentially will be to maintain this culture that is based firmly on a set of eight core values. I will be pleased to report our progress as we make key decisions over the next several months.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Leadership Challenge

This week I had a visit from the father of the value-pricing movement and well-known author Ron Baker (author of Firm of the Future and Pricing on Purpose, among others). Over an extended meal we discussed the true leadership challenges in our industry. Experts such as David Maister agree that most law firms are over-managed and under-lead. This fine topic of leadership surfaced as we explored why such a logical and well-supported business model such as value pricing has not yet been done in the legal industry. After all, we are one of the only industries that operate under a model that nearly everyone hates, including the professionals who practice in it. (Google the words "billable hour" and see for yourself. If you find a single positive article on it, please let me know). The only logical conclusion is that there is no shortage of industry-changing ideas in this world . . . but there is a true shortage of leadership, specifically in our industry, to execute on such an innovative model. Pracititioners in the old model are too entrenched, their opportunity cost is so high considering the money they are making, and lawyers are risk-adverse by training. Lawyers spend their entire careers depending on precedent without questioning whether they are doing the right thing (cattle call -- can you hear the "moooing"). It is true that this is no recipe for leadership and innovation. However, we know that people lead at many different levels and that not all leaders are change agents. What I ask is for the true leaders in our industry to stand up. If you are passionate about positive change and innovation I would love to speak to you about how we can work together as leaders in a leadership-starved profession.