October 23, 2012

On the Horizon for Law Practice Management

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How Do You Get Inspired?



By Tom Grella

When Peter Drucker died last year at the age of 95, the world lost one of its greatest thinkers in the areas of management and leadership. Fortunately, Drucker's legacy lives on through the timeless principles he expounded in his many writings. Among his invaluable books is The Effective Executive (HarperCollins, 1967), in which he talked about the need for organizational leaders to "slough off yesterday."

As Drucker put it, "Effective executives periodically review their work programs—and those of their associates—and ask ‘If we did not already do this, would we go into it now?' And unless the answer is an unconditional ‘Yes,' they drop the activity or curtail it sharply…. No one has much difficulty getting rid of total failures. They liquidate themselves. Yesterday's successes, however, always linger on long beyond their productive life…. These tend to become … ‘investments in managerial ego' and sacred. Yet unless they are pruned, and pruned ruthlessly, they drain the lifeblood from an organization."

John C. Maxwell, another best-selling leadership author, provides additional perspective on this issue in one of his recent "Maximum Impact" lessons. (See www.maximumimpact.com for more details about these regular mentoring lessons.) Maxwell points out how "Dakota tribal wisdom says that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount." Yet often, he continues, we attempt other strategies when faced with a dead horse, such as "buying a stronger whip, changing riders, saying things like ‘this is the way we've always ridden this horse,' changing the bylaws to specify that ‘horses shall not die,' [or] promoting the dead horse to a supervisory position."

The principles expounded by both Drucker and Maxwell certainly provide good guidance toward a sounder path for any law firm or legal organization. For example, a firm might need to "prune" a practice area that is no longer profitable owing to new forms of competition not subject to bar regulation. It also may need to "dismount" some process for handling client matters that had worked for years, but is now a drag on profitability. Any organization can benefit from regularly analyzing what is being done, whether its initiatives are accomplishing anything, and whether a goal's or program's time of usefulness has passed.

In late summer, the LPM Section's leaders and staff met for a two-day leadership summit in Chicago. We dusted off the existing LPM Strategic Plan and asked ourselves whether the stated mission, vision, objectives and strategies are still valid, useful and relevant both for our organization and the practicing lawyers and legal professionals we intend to serve through the Section's resources. This meeting fostered great discussion, debate and collaboration—and it began an ongoing process of determining which of our efforts are truly focused on meeting relevant goals, while leaving behind strategies and tactics whose time has passed. To take the process forward, we have established a Long-Range Planning Committee that will continue the discussion begun in Chicago. I believe this process will benefit the entire Section membership.

The question is, could your organization benefit from a similar evaluation?