Monday, November 20, 2006

Are Corporate Firms Dizzy From Chasing Their Tails?

There is nothing more funny than watching a dog chase its tail. They go round and round as if they are thinking "I'm gonna get it . . . I'm gonna get that tail of mine!" all the while the rest of world is nearly rolling on the ground with laughter, smart enough to know what a futile effort looks like when we see one. The big corporate law firms are like dogs chasing their tales, so caught up in their own game of "I'm gonna get it" that they don't know how silly they look to the rest of us: How are they chasing their tales? Ahh, join me for a game. . . but remember to take your Dramamine!

Tens of thousands of lawyers work at the nation's largest firms. Law firms, in an effort to get the "smartest" candidates (or those who prefer white-collar slavery to a life), are all sucking from the same gene pool for candidates . . . dangling the financial carrot in front of them. Since the candidates all come from the same gene pool (tippy top of the class and top schools), it is no wonder that firms have a difficult time differentiating . . . this is a people business, and they all have the same "types" of people (thus, little diversity). Consequently, they have similar cultures. Therefore, they have very little to entice these candidates to their firms other than competing on price (higher and higher salaries). So, in true bidding fashion the biggest firms end up with the winners curse . . . sure, they got the candidates, but now they have to work them longer and harder for the money they are paying. If these associates actually used their critical thinking skills and took a second to think about where the heck the money comes from, they would realize that the offer letter really says "Welcome to Discovery Hell." So, the work hard, get burned out and quit. So let's try chasing our tails like a big firm: Try this

1) Be the highest bidder and get the "smartest" slaves
2) Make them work longer and harder for their money
3) Watch them burn out and quit faster than associates at your competition
4) Go see a Financial Consultant who will tell you that it costs you $250,000 each time an associate walks out the door
5) Don't learn a lesson from this. . .
6) Go back in the market and be the highest bidder again for laterals to fill the spot of those who just quit.
7) Make them work like dogs with no indication of how, if, or when they will ever make partner
8) See Spot Quit
9) Blame them for quitting, citing that they lack work ethic (if only they had a mirror handy)
10) Do the same thing over and over again because apparently the firms are so busy salivating whilst panting "I'm gonna get that tail of mine" that they cannot see how they really look to the rest of us!

Dizzy yet?

Here's a basic lesson for firms: Having a "highest bidder" recruiting policy will start you spinning like a dog chasing its tail. You will attract candidates who are primarily motivated by money. The very same people will leave your firm as soon as they can get more money elsewhere, and the ones who stick around will be terribly competitive against one another for the fewer and fewer spots available as they move up the pyramid scheme, creating a nasty working environment for those who don't live to work. Don't chase your tail! While it is terribly entertaining for the rest of us to watch, it is no way to run a business. It's just inhumane.

At Exemplar, we love what we do and we don't live to work. We recognize that the "smartest" candidates choose a firm for how rewarding their careers can be at the firm. . . for how much responsibility they can have. . . for the respect and trust they have amongst their colleagues. . . and for the reward of watching the clients they serve thrive with their support. We appreciate (and so do our clients) the diversity that comes from looking outside of the limited "gene pool" that big firms pull from. There are more than one million lawyers serving clients in this country . . . most are not at the big firms. . . 90% of the time you do not need a brain surgeon . . . so if you are using YOUR brain you will realize that you don't to pay 10x the price for a brain surgeon when you don't need one. But if you do it anyways tell the surgeon to take your brain out and give it to someone who will use it! :-)


Bruce Lewin said...

I think it needs a step change, a crisis, or perhaps it is a generation thing?

Christopher Marston said...

Hi Bruce,

I agree. I do believe either of the three suggestions will do it. There are several reasons why I think the next generation is likely to change it over the next 10-15years instead of there being a crisis. My thinking is that the step-changes will be too slow and too little too late for many firms given the low barriers to entry for creating new models are so low and working within current structures to change them is so arduous! My generation is in more of a power position than they know or yet believe. When we do know that we have choice, we will vote with our feet.