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Three Building Blocks to Make Law Firm Re-Entry the Most it Can Be

Ralph Baxter, Intapp Board Member, discusses opportunities law firms should consider when they “re-enter” from the COVID-19 crisis.

RE-ENTRY PRESENTS AN UNPRECEDENTED OPPORTUNITY FOR LAW FIRMS TO ADVANCE

This is my seventh post about law firms in the Coronavirus Crisis.

“Re-entering” from the crisis offers law firms an unprecedented opportunity to improve themselves.  Law firm leaders should take it seriously.

The opportunity derives from several elements.

A Chance for a Reset

First, re-entry creates a genuine moment for a reset.  This will not be just another Monday morning.  Firms will be moving from several months of doing everything differently.  They now must actively, literally decide how to do things going forward.

New Normal Is in the Air

Second, “new normal” is in the air.  It would be an overstatement to say that everyone is expecting a new normal, but nearly everyone is wondering if firms will learn from recent events, and, I think, hoping they will.

Pre-Existing Imperative for Change

Third, law firms recognized an imperative for change before the crisis.  They knew their processes and models were behind the times, but the cost and inconvenience of change outweighed the benefits.  This imperative is only greater as we appraoch re-entry.

Firms See Where this Is Headed

Fourth, firm leaders see where the business of law is headed.  Clients will re-enter with greater and more concrete demands about how they want legal service delivered; it will go well beyond pricing. Competition will be even greater, both from the “new entrants” and from law firms which adopt new approaches guided by the lessons of WFH.  All in all, it will be much harder to flourish with business as usual after the pandemic.

Leadership Will Be Required

All the foregoing said, a new and better normal will not happen on its own.  Every organizational instinct and past practice will go the other way.  It will take leadership to resist the pull gravitational pull back to the old normal.

As I wrote early in this series, this crisis created a time for leadership.  That time does not expire at re-entry.  If anything leadership becomes even more important now.

The change agenda will not be obvious to everyone.  And, of course, everyone will have their own ideas about changes and priorities.  It will be hard work to get it done.

I have three suggestions for leaders who seek to achieve a the best possible new normal for their firms.

Distill Your Learning from the Pandemic

In an earlier post, I urged law firm leaders to take stock, thoroughly and methodically, of the lessons learned while compelled to operate differently during the pandemic.  From my conversations with law firm leaders, I know that they did just that.

Now is the time to distill the learning into actionable conclusions.  What changes does the crisis experience teach you should be made?

Articulate a Compelling Vision 

Law firm leaders should craft a compelling vision of the best possible future for their firm.

It will be helpful to adopt a mindset that this is a setting for a genuine reset.  You are starting over.  Akin to zero based budgeting, require a case to be made for reverting to the traditional processes and models.

Be mindful of what matters most to the firm, the values people will support, and which they will worry could be undermined by change.  I am thinking here about bedrock values like delivering the best legal service, earning client loyalty, recruiting the best people, and achieving greater diversity.

Finally, and mission critical, the vision should operationalize the lessons you distilled from the pandemic.

Drawing on these considerations, articulate a compelling vision for a brighter future for the firm.  Describe how it will be different and why it will be better.  It must be a vision that emanates from the realities of your firm: your strengths and weaknesses, your culture, your values, and your ambitions.

Build a Consensus

Achieving your best new normal, will require fundamental change, which, in turn, will require the buy-in of your people.  It is axiomatic that you can’t “run” a law firm the way you might run other kinds of businesses.  Law firms consist of highly independent, strong willed, and accomplished professionals.  However team oriented they are, in the end they will do what they think is right.  So, part of your leadership responsibility is to build consensus for the new normal you want to achieve.

Building that consensus starts with a vision that resonates with your people.  That is in keeping with their shared values, and their ambitions.

Consensus will also require leaders to make the case for why and how the new normal will be better.  Why is it a brighter tomorrow?  In what concrete ways?  Help each person envision their experience in the new normal.

Enlist the participation of your people.  You can’t do it without their involvement, and they will feel more connected if they feel they are agents of change and not just its objects.

Finally, do not confuse nodding heads with real buy in.  When I look back at my years at Orrick I know I sometimes did this.  You can tell when you have built a sense within the firm of a shared will to do something.  Don’t rest until you are there.

This Is Your Moment 

This is your moment.  There has not been one like it in my forty five years in law.

Contemporary process design and technology enable legal service that is better, faster, more reliable, and cheaper;  they also enable service models that create better careers for your people and greater satisfaction in your clients.  Re-entry from the pandemic offers an unprecedented opportunity to create a new and much better normal.

Make the most of it.


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