May 03, 2005

The Right Answer to Ron's Wrong Question?

Ron Friedmann, a sharp guy and colleague, "recently asked a lawyer whether his firm was pursuing a relatively new idea and his response was, 'how many other large law firms are doing that?' Ron's reply was "why is that a relevant question?"

Ron ultimately revealed the question was whether that firm had considered a blog, and the interesting issue is how firms think about change and new ideas. "Large law firm technology managers who suggest new initiatives frequently face the question 'how many other firms are doing that.' Most businesses evaluate a proposal based on benefits, costs, feasibility, and risk." He asked to hear from someone who has a better explanation.

Ron, I agree with you, and perhaps I can add another perspective. As an observation, many legal organizations are conservative, risk-adverse environments. Lawyers are trained from Torts 101 to recognize, assess, manage, and avoid liability. So, if one is risk adverse, rather than follow Nike's motto, he/she will naturally ask, "well, before we do it, let's see if anyone else has tried it and observe what happened to them -- we don't know what will happen if we try it first." "Let's let someone else be on the cutting edge and see what happens -- we have other things on our plate to attend to."

Yes, benchmarking is a useful tool, but it quickly becomes a hindrance as a knee-jerk reaction to replace critical, original entrepreneurial thinking. The problem with looking left and right all the time is that one becomes accustomed to not looking forward on their own. As Ron, Dennis Kennedy, myself, and other blawgers have mentioned, there is a vast amount of untapped first mover advantages for law firms. A few have recently begun to realize this, but the rest are still very slow to follow -- well, at least until several other firms have tested the waters for them. The irony is that while more and more attorneys "get" what savvy technology application can do for them (perfect example: BlackBerries and wireless networking), they're much more cautious about it in client-facing situations.

While that's understandable to some degree, Ron is right that good business decisions are based on other factors than what the Joneses have tried. With legal services becoming more of a commodity every day, the Joneses are going to have a more difficult time to distinguish themselves if they continue to let their competition go first.

Instead, firms would likely fare better by defining their overall business and marketing strategy, and then find ways that other firms haven't tried to execute their plan. Instead of asking "why", I've always liked the semi-irreverent approach of asking "why not", and then get creative in finding ways to work through any objections, mitigate risks, and justify the decision. Now that's something that legal management understands and appreciates.

Topic(s):   Law Practice Management
Posted by Jeff Beard