Several years ago I heard Wolverine World Wide’s CEO, Blake Krueger, give a speech at an Association for Corporate Growth event. During his speech he touched on a hiring philosophy that started at his former law firm, Warner Norcross & Judd, LLP and continues at Wolverine World Wide. It was premised on the theory of hiring people smarter than you are. Too often law firms hire underlings – individuals who do not demonstrate the potential to blossom into successors. If you hire individuals who demonstrate so much promise that those immediately above them in seniority feel threatened, you are doing it right. Young talent benefits everyone in a firm. It ensures that senior partners will have a viable exit strategy and associates talented enough to perform quality work for the firm’s best clients. It sharpens younger attorneys through healthy competition and it promotes a more vibrant work environment. So the next time you are considering a candidate, ask yourself “Will anyone feel threatened by this hire?” If the answer is “yes” you are on the right track.
Out of private practice now for over two years, I find that my mind drifts now and then to thoughts of whether or not I will ever return to the profession that I enjoyed and that influenced so many facets of my life. Naturally, when I consider this question, I often think about whether I would change any aspect of my practice. Recently, these musings lead me to a very definite conclusion. I would speak and publish more.
Most of us have expertise in several specialized areas. We gain this expertise through research on a topic that is of interest or in order to take on a matter for which we did not possess prior expertise. A thirst for continuing intellectual challenge drives us. But how good are we at letting the world know how or even whether we can help them? How likely are we to receive a referral or a call from a new client if only a handful of others are aware that we even possess such knowledge.
This seems so elemental yet I was always astounded as I sat around the partnership table at how I often we learned for the first time what skills even our partners possessed. Imagine what little the bar and the general public know of us.
The options available today to aid us in getting our word out are greater than ever and effectively eliminate the excuses we give ourselves for not doing more. We can still take traditional routes like speaking engagements, publishing articles or, for the academically inclined, authoring treatises. But we can also now pursue such a staggering variety of modern methods of publication and speaking that we are seemingly limited only by our imaginations. We can write blog articles, tweet thoughts or references, publish an online newsletter, keep our website, LinkedIn or Facebook pages up to date and current, record YouTube videos and tweet them out or publish them to our social media sites, we can keep our electronic referral profiles up to date. Truly, there is no need for a tree to fall in the woods without someone hearing it.
Not convinced? Try this exercise. On a sheet of paper (or several of them) draw out three columns. In the first, using a stream of consciousness approach, write out an itemized list of all the areas of legal expertise you possess that you feel are of value. These are the “goods” that you have to sell. Then, next to each, describe who or what groups of people you are confident are aware that you possess this expertise. These are your potential customers or referral sources. Finally, in the third column, again for each item estimate the total number of people who fall within the groups you described. This number has a profound impact on your statistical probability of landing your next new client. Humbled? So was I.
I recently had lunch with a business acquaintance and the subject of his company’s legal counsel came up. His attorney had recently changed law firms and my friend recounted how at the new firm “all of the attorneys wore suits and ties and seemed to be higher caliber.” His comment prompted me to reflect on the current trend away from formal business wear to casual attire. His attorney’s former firm is certainly regarded in the legal community as a very respectable firm. Could it be that some firms are becoming too lax on proper business attire? His perception certainly indicates that for some clients the answer is yes.
Incidentally, my friend came to lunch in jeans on a Wednesday. It would have been easy to infer from his casual dress that to him formal business attire for a lawyer was not only unnecessary but might even be viewed as up tight or out of touch with today’s business world. The reality was quite the opposite – at least in his view.
So, how should we dress as lawyers? The answer is apparently not as clear as some might think. I tend to believe that most business clients will still view us as more professional and therefore more competent if we dress professionally regardless of the prevailing trends in the business community. Does your firm have a dress code? If so, is it in keeping with the perceptions of your client base? Might you be losing business to the competition? This question, it seems, remains worthy of discussion even today.