Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fixed-Pie Thinkers Need Not Apply

Some people go through life thinking it is a zero sum game! They have a fixed-pie mentality. It is like they are born this way . . . with fixed-pie-disease! Sometimes life throws these people little crumbs of bread . . . and they all stomp on each other like pidgeons to get a bigger piece of the crumb. Sometimes when I walk down the street I throw pennies and watch people with fixed-pie-disease rush to pick them up for fear that someone else might get them. Half of them are lawyers, I'm sure. These people don't know a thing about value creation. The one's I like are the ones who pick up my pennies while whistling to a tune, feeling like it was their lucky day. They understand value creation. You see, my penny wielding experience is proof that value creation exists and that the economy is chugging along in a healthy fashion. For me, the reason I throw the pennies is because it is worth more than a penny to me to either 1) watch people infected with fixed-pie-disease frantically chase my pennies as they bounce happily down the street on their ends, OR 2) enjoy that warming feeling of watching someone who appreciates value pick up my penny and feel lucky, if only for that moment! For them, it was clearly worth more than a penny to bend over and pick it up. . . it was almost the principle of it! Value creation is such a beautiful thing.

Every day infected lawyers go to work and fight over origination credits, pad their time sheets or try to out-bill their colleagues in order to get one of the "fixed" number of partnership positions at the firm. Firms get into bidding wars over the "fixed" number of graduates in the top 2% of their class (as if such a designation were the ONLY redeeming quality of significance to a firm). What are you working for? There are only 24 hours in the day . . . the game is "fixed" folks! You don't win in a competition where the prize for the pie eating contest is . . . well . . MORE PIE! That is, unless you are infected with fixed-pie disease. Somehow they just never learn. . . and so I will continue to watch them chase down my pennies much to my amusement (fortunately for them . . I mean my pennies . . . they will never be out of a job!) Life will continue to throw these poor souls crumbs of bread and the rest of us will watch them posture for their crumb slices as those of us who truly understand value create loaves of bread from air!


Anonymous said...

Wow, great stuff! When I was at my old Big Firm, when I dared suggest that the billable hour system was broken, I was told "you just don't understand law firm economics." After hearing it so many times, I finally snapped and informed one partner that, unlike him, I have a degree in economics, and that at no point in any of my studies did any professor halt any lecture and declare, "By the way, these rules apply across the board to all industries EXCEPT LAW FIRMS, which operate by their own rules!" That wasn't well-received, of course, but I knew I was heading out soon anyway.

So, 5 years ago I left that Big Firm and founded my own solo practice in Arizona that had similar goals to yours, albeit on a much smaller scale. And my journal from that time reflects many of the same sentiments as does your blog...it is great to find a kindred spirit! The good news was that I found some clients willing to think creatively, and we all thrived using a largely fixed-fee structure, until my biggest client was bought by a bigger, more button-down company and 60% of my revenue went out the window. This was right about the time that my family endured some personal and medical crises, and I guess I panicked. I took an in-house position, which has been okay, but most of my creative ideas and solutions have immediately been shot down. "That's not the way we do things here" is not unique to Big Firm, I assure you. Big Company has that disease, too.

So, I wish I had found your blog and Exemplar a year ago. But, better late than never, and now I understand "the client" both inside and out so it wasn't all bad. And, having seen things from the inside, I'm more convinced than ever that your system can work. Unfortunately, my path to the GC chair has been blocked, so it is not up to me, and I may well be heading back to my own practice.

I took the liberty of sending an email to your "careers" mailbox and including my contact information. Your words hit very close to home, and to the extent we can find a way to work together, I think it might be a happy marriage indeed.

Keep it up, and best of luck to you!

Christopher Marston said...

Dear anonymous,

Thank you for the reply. You would be surprised just how many people run up against the same walls. The funny thing about it is that most law firm partners don't know any more about economics than how to pronounce the word itself. If you asked them what Karl Marx's Labor Theory of Value was I'm sure they would look at you as if you had two heads (They are clueless that they are operating under a flawed economic theory which was refuted long ago). All you can really do is shake your head and smile. As a n emerging firm and the potential competitor, I take great comfort in the fact that they are so happily clueless as to be a great danger to themselves. Ignorance is dangerous. Their ignorance is a significant competitive advantage in a marketplace that is crying out for change!