Monday, February 05, 2007

Changing Lives . . One By One . . Until We're All Done!

Several months ago I ended my blog post with a statement that people who think Exemplar is just about fixed pricing have missed the point. I went on to say that Exemplar is about changing lives, one by one, until we're all done. While many posts have been about the economic theory behind our pricing model, psychological barriers, and mechanics of fixed-pricing, I wanted to take a moment to talk about what we are really about. . . changing lives. This journey called Exemplar has changed my life . . . it has given me meaning in what I do as a professional. I am personally connected to the outcomes that we help our customers to achieve every day. I have not in two years counted my time, my "effective" hourly rate, and I actually have no clue how many hours a work a week. I know only one thing: I am truly happy and I would not trade a moment of this experience for anything. What does all of this mean? For me, this model is about giving professionals meaning in their work, valuing people, leveraging talents, inspiring our young, giving back, loving life, and doing well by doing good. At first, it may not be clear how connected the billable hour really is to the problems of our profession, but a closer look reveals that they are hopelessly intertwined. For instance, I see the following:

I see attorneys who's practice is all about going from crisis to crisis. They live their lives this way. It desensitizes them and it takes a crisis to get their attention. They let their personal lives reach a point of crisis before they pay attention to it . . . many of them getting divorced or falling apart altogether. These professionals either face enormous pressure to "Bill time" to meet quotas or they feel tremendous pressure to "fill time" by "billing time" when work is light because of the beauty contest that our industry has created by comparing the "spreadsheet" of numbers of each attorney against one another as means of determining their value to the firm.

I see attorneys who are so entrenched in counting their entire lives in 6-minute increments that they go home to their loved ones and think of time with their family as an "opportunity cost." These people know exactly how many billing units they are giving up by attempting to have a work life balance, and the very attempt to balance life is offset by a cloud of guilt and worry, knowing that they simply cannot beat the clock.

I see minority attorneys at large firms who readily state that they feel like "tokens" and are ONLY invited to client meetings when the client is of the same race. Since all attorneys are treated as fungible billing units, their unique value is not considered or leveraged. At the same time, the white-male partnership is ignorant of the fact that their own people feel this way and have yet to make meaningful headway in valuing diversity in their firms.

I see the most wonderful and talented female attorneys leaving the practice of law because of an inflexible business model that values "putting in more time" rather than "being effective for the client." At least these women are smart enough to vote with their feet and stand up for what they believe in when they realize that work-life balance is not and never will be a priority of their firms when profits, by definition, are increased by "billing day and night." This has been happening for YEARS and only reinforces that fact that firms are not addressing the real issue! They just keep hiring new young female attorneys to keep their "statistics" up so that they look good in the beauty contest!

I see young lawyers suffering from low professional satisfaction due to under-delegation, low client contact, competitive-individualistic work environments, little to no mentoring, and a partnership that is NOT grooming the next generation to be leaders of their firms tomorrow. The signal they are sending to their young is loud and clear . . . they would rather take their clients to the grave with them than pass on relationships to maintain viability of the firm in the future.

I see a traditional partnership model full of ego-driven, bottom-line oriented (to the exclusion of all else), untrusting professionals who have all but abandoned the next generation when it comes to professional development and addressing the needs of today's workforce. . . clinging on to a dying billing model that is based on a long-refuted economic theory. If you did not know the definition of "Lip Service" when you read this blog, look at a partnership. Nationwide, the partnerships have made promises to embrace diversity, be sensitive to work-life balance, address client-hoarding, mentor their people, and give their people a clear sense of what it takes to make partner, when they will be evaluated, and help them to achieve that goal. What has come of the their promises? Their lips are moving but nothing is coming out!

These are only a few of the things I see in our profession. What I see I do not like. I read a quote in the book The Firm of the Future that read "the people who get on in this life, if they do not find the circumstances they are looking for, they create it." and it really resonates with me. This is an appropriate month to quote Malcolm X, who said "If you are not a part of the solution, you are part of the problem." It is revolutionaries like these who make change by first believing it is possible, and then taking a stand with an uncompromising conviction to succeed in creating the new vision. Exemplar is about a new vision, founded on a faith in what we can be and do together, and grounded by our conviction, our values, our character, and our unending desire to do well by doing good. We are changing lives indeed . . . one by one . . until we're all done!


Anonymous said...

After following your blog every week, I want to say this one is the best one yet. Clear, concise, and makes your point understandable.

Christopher Marston said...

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for the kind comment. One of the most interesting things about what we are doing is that every piece of the model is perfectly sound from a theoretical and logical perspective, but what often gets overlooked is the significance of emotional satisfaction in what you do every day. I would much rather build a firm full of people who love what they do than a firm full of people who understand that what they do is logical. Even the most sound theory is hollow if your people go home every night feeling disconnected with what they do. Thanks again for the comment I appreciate you following our progress.

Anonymous said...

I just came across your blog for the first time and agree with everything you say. I want to add another symptom of the corrosive state of many law firms today from my perspective.
I'm an experienced human resources professional, with many years' work at big London law firms behind me. I'm currently with the London office of one of the big U.S. firms and I see the same problems in both U.K. and U.S. firms.
The patterns of behaviour you describe impact on the service we try to provide to the partnership, as well. Minimal time is spared to develop the lawyers as professionals and none as people or, crucially, as future people managers, because it's non-billable. The so-called "soft" skills are mocked and our advice and experience as professionals in our own right is brushed aside.
Partners fight each other from the practice group fiefdoms they have built up, and use junior associates as cannon fodder. We see the results frequently as exhausted attorneys - male and female - break down and weep in our offices.
And the same pressure is brought to bear on our team and all the other senior support people: we are expected to work long hours and put up with abusive behaviour from some partners. We are not respected because we are not lawyers. The huge contribution we could make to the business is ignored. The only support director invited to Executive Committee meetings is the Finance Director! And so professional support staff are also leaving in droves or, worse, staying and becoming bitter and ineffective.
Some changes are being introduced, in our firm and other City players, but they are just tweaking the existing system, not looking at new models. In many ways I love working with lawyers - your intelligence, speed of uptake, and breadth of knowledge - but I'm also thinking of getting out.
My apologies for posting this anonymously; I have my own blog but it is under my real name and I can't take a risk that these comments would get picked up.
Good luck to you.

Christopher Marston said...

Dear Anonymous,

Your comments are very close to me and I appreciate your willingness to openly talk about the issues you see. As a law firm leader, I am particularly passionate about solving those problems and, as you realize, they are products of a broken system and structure, not simply a management style. As you know, Lawyers are horrible managers of other and there is almost no training on how to be a good manager. It is our goal to have a Peter Principle Free organization! Imagine what work we have ahead of us! :-) Best to you and please stay in touch!