October 23, 2012

Save That Napkin

Issue Cover Law Practice Magazine Logo


How Do You Get Inspired?


From the Editor

By Merrilyn Astin Tarlton

Okay. I admit it. It's my fault. There's a reason this issue of Law Practice focuses on innovation. It's because this is my final issue as Editor-in-Chief and, well, I figured it might be my last chance to talk to you about something I believe needs desperately to be placed at the very top of every lawyer's agenda: Thinking differently.

Wake up nearly any lawyer in the middle of the night and, before that person is fully awake, ask what the 10 biggest management issues are in his or her firm. Characteristically, when you're talking about problems, the lawyer can recite them backward, forward and in alphabetical order, nearly without thinking: Compensation, decision making, differentiation, getting paid, overhead, remaining competitive, setting fees, technology, time famine and turnover ….

It's a tough list. Often, when we hear from our readers, they tell us they want to know what other lawyers are doing about these things. I believe, to a certain extent, that can be very useful. If the topic of concern is a management problem that has already been solved by many, why not skip the brain damage, take the easy route and just find out what their answer is?

But if the solution you seek is to a practice management problem that remains unsolved by most, then it's time to get creative. And I suggest that, at this point in time, no one has a lock on best management practices for a law firm. And I further maintain that the way out of this mess isn't going to be easy. To quote Everett Ulysses McGill, from the film O Brother, Where Art Thou?: "Boys, we're in a tight spot now!"

So what do you do when the problems are intractable and the solutions impossible? In my book, you need to innovate. So while this issue may frustrate some readers because it doesn't enumerate the answers or list sites and books where you can find them, I'm hoping that it will inspire you to take on the brainwork of inventing some new solutions of your own.

You will read the reactions of Babson's Eric Mankin to what he found when the College of Law Practice Management sent him looking for creativity in law firms. You'll find some personal observations from legal technology expert Ron Friedmann about why it's so awfully difficult to make something good, but different, happen among lawyers. You will learn from Andrew Eklund and Dennis Sherwood some amazingly simple ways to start the wheels of creativity turning. And browse my article spotlighting four law firms that have already broken out of the pack.

By that time, I predict, you will be well on your way to what I call a "napkin conversation." Just picture yourself and your colleagues over dinner, lunch, drinks or coffee, doodling on paper napkins pictures of the possible new futures for your practice.

Save that napkin! It will be the start of something big.

The other thing I need to say before I'm through is more personal. It regards three very special, very creative and very hardworking people: my friends Joan and Mark Feldman and Joy White. As Managing Editor, Creative Director and Editor, respectively, they demonstrate extraordinary imagination, patience, wit and intellect in the accomplishment of this eight-times-per-year sausage-making task. Always open to new things, always willing to toss out many days' worth of work if they find a better way, and always looking for a new route to get closer to the minds of America's lawyers. I cannot begin to enumerate all they have taught me over the past nine years.

My thanks to them and to the many dedicated readers of this magazine.

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton , Editor-in-Chief