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July/August 2020


Making “Big Ideas” Into “Big Reality”

Rodney Dowell

As the nation and the legal community responded to the pandemic crisis, we saw that law firms—from solo to the largest firms—were forced to transition from planning for the next big idea that would drive new revenue to simply striving to implement remote work and, for many solo and small firms, scrambling to think about how to survive. The Law Practice Division and the ABA were there to help. This Division expanded its Disaster Resource section to include COVID-19 resources, and I could not be prouder of the efforts of the individuals who ensured that we had those resources in place for our members.

As I write this, I am hopeful that by the date of publication we are beyond the worst of the crisis and that we can now move forward to resurrect our law firms and begin anew to think of big ideas. In the spirit of optimism, I want to share my thoughts on implementing the next big idea for your firm.

I believe that every organization, including this Division, should strive to identify and implement “big ideas” that, even if not transformative, at least make a significant and lasting change. I recognize that organizations tend toward inertia, especially if the organization is successful and not subject to immediately identifiable significant challenges. Where an organization is successful, there is often little interest in recognizing existing and future challenges. Taking action to overcome that type of inertia requires either a leader with such a force of personality that she can move through the organizational inertia or a leader who takes steps to develop team ownership of the big idea so that it is not “my big idea,” but “our big idea.”

We have all led or been part of strategic planning retreats that run aground because there is a lack of commitment and ownership from either the leaders or the key team players. Do not assume that others will take ownership without a clear directive from leadership. It is essential that leadership share ownership of the big idea with key team players.

A vital step to ensure that individuals take ownership is to involve key leaders in the development of a clear action plan. The development of the action plan and the assignment to individuals of responsibility for implementation is a critical step for moving that big idea forward. Creating an action plan for implementation is also essential for identifying other important aspects of implementation, including access to resources.

As we know, resources are finite, and every big idea needs resources: money, time and individuals willing to do the work. The time to start finding and assigning resources to the development and implementation of the idea is in the early planning stages. Leaders of the effort are probably already fully engaged in other projects. That challenge must be recognized and addressed—those people need breathing room. They also need to know they have the resource support to be successful.

Distractions to big ideas are always arising in the day-to-day operations of any organization. Distractions created by the agendas of others or by the vagaries of Mother Nature (think hurricanes or pandemics) or the simple everyday crisis of the wayward employee or volunteer. Small but constantly arising distractions can slowly drain the momentum needed for the success of a big idea. To overcome the distractions, leadership needs to communicate the vision relentlessly, keep the distractions from becoming the focus, and drive the outcome with clear goals and timelines.

What is clear to me is that “big ideas” don’t become “big realities” unless there is leadership, management and the resources to succeed. As the Division stepped forward to help provide critical resources to help deal with COVID-19, what better place to learn and explore how to transform your firm than by participating in the Law Practice Division. Join LP and join the conversation.

Rodney Dowell


Rodney Dowell is chair of the Law Practice Division. He is bar counsel, Massachusetts Office of Bar Counsel, Board of Overseers.

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