SYNOPSIS

THE CLIENT

20 attorney law firm

CHALLENGE

Cultural complacency, as a result of ebb and flow of size of firm; recently hired new non-lawyer leader with intention of guiding the firm forward.

SOLUTION

  • Address the ineffectiveness of Executive Committee meetings by creating an agenda, putting a viable
    schedule together, and offer offsetting credit for contribution to this level of leadership in the firm.
  • Have specific conversations with each member of the EC to inquire about the direction of the firm, and the
    role each of them will play in moving forward. Investigate the reluctance of Mr. Palm to be a more active leader in the business.
  • Begin a systematic review of the operational components of the firm with an eye toward what could be
    improved in the short term, and develop longer term goals for those larger items ripe for improvement.
  • Examine business development and marketing practices for alignment with values statements; consider
    creating new values statements more closely aligned with the firm and their clients as part of strategic and/or long range planning.

RESULT

Firm efficiencies are improved. Executive Committee has bi-weekly meetings with an agenda and action items. Attention to aligning value statements with business decisions has led to new technology, improved job descriptions, and long term goals of developing component of compensation for contributing lawyer leaders.

CRISP & WAFER

THE CHALLENGE

Cultural complacency, as a result of ebb and flow of size of firm; recently hired new non-lawyer leader with intention of guiding the firm forward.

BACKGROUND

Crisp & Wafer is a 15 attorney firm located in Dallas, Texas. The firm was founded in 1970 as a two partner firm, and has been as large as 25 attorneys. The mission statement of the firm is as follows:

Crisp & Wafer is dedicated to providing high quality solutions to the legal problems of our clients. We are a primary resource for our clients, participating in the growth of their business as much as our own.

Our value statements:

  • Exceed expectations by adding value to our client’s businesses.
  • Strive to improve while celebrating our accomplishments.
  • Sustaining an enriching environment through diversity and teamwork.
  • Assure career opportunities by maintaining growth and financial strength.

Management of the firm is done by the Executive Committee of three partners. Committee members meet weekly, and are elected annually at the firm’s partner retreat. Other than Ms. Crisp, partners serve on the Executive Committee for a one year term. Service on the Executive Committee has a negative impact on productivity and billable hours, two major components of the firm’s current compensation model. As the recently hired Chief Operating Officer of the firm, you attend these meetings as well as all other partner meetings as a non-voting member.  These standing meetings are over lunch each week, and have no agenda set in advance. At times, when one of the three members is absent, the meetings are not held. Approximately one out of every three meetings is canceled.

Currently serving on the Executive Committee: Ms. Crisp, Mr. Moon, and Mr. Palm.

Ms. Crisp is a founding partner and has served as Chair for the Executive Committee for several years. She is loved by the staff for her willingness to listen to everyone, and her attention to staff training and social events.  The attorneys at the firm support her role, particularly because she is willing to do it, not necessarily because they view her as effective or results-oriented.

Mr. Moon has a good sense of humor and travels the halls of the firm creating daily interactions throughout. He enjoys conversation, receiving ideas from attorneys and staff, and bringing them to the Executive Committee meetings on a regular basis. Many of the people who have offered ideas are frustrated because they haven’t heard any response from the Executive Committee.

Mr. Palm is serving his one year sentence.  He had avoided being on the Executive Committee thus far, and was finally pushed to serve as the lone Equity Partner who had not been on the Committee.  He is the member most often unavailable to the meetings, and prefers to interact by email as much as possible.  His reputation in the firm is that he is fair and decisive, the same reputation he has with his clients. Some of his peers are frustrated that he hasn’t been more attentive to the Committee, and the firm.

Your input is perceived as valuable to the Executive Committee. And, the Partners are generally receptive to your comments and perspective.  There appears to be an opportunity to suggest implementation of some needed changes to non-attorney staff, operational financial management and business planning.  While the Executive Committee is perceived as unstable, you sense that they realize that some serious decisions must be made to preserve much of what the firm has built over the last ten years and that they are looking for innovative and possibly, drastic changes to be implemented through strong administrative leadership.

LEADERSHIP QUESTIONS

What is your perception of the culture of Crisp & Wafer?

What are the big picture items to address?

What are smaller items needing attention?

What recommendations will you offer this Executive Committee?

  • To improve the weekly meetings?
  • To gather firm support?
  • To the decision making process?

SOLUTION

  • Address the ineffectiveness of Executive Committee meetings by creating an agenda, putting a viable
    schedule together, and offer offsetting credit for contribution to this level of leadership in the firm.
  • Have specific conversations with each member of the EC to inquire about the direction of the firm, and the
    role each of them will play in moving forward. Investigate the reluctance of Mr. Palm to be a more active leader in the business.
  • Begin a systematic review of the operational components of the firm with an eye toward what could be
    improved in the short term, and develop longer term goals for those larger items ripe for improvement.
  • Examine business development and marketing practices for alignment with values statements; consider
    creating new values statements more closely aligned with the firm and their clients as part of strategic and/or long range planning.

RESULT

Firm efficiencies are improved. Executive Committee has bi-weekly meetings with an agenda and action items. Attention to aligning value statements with business decisions has led to new technology, improved job descriptions, and long term goals of developing component of compensation for contributing lawyer leaders.

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About Judy Hissong

Judy Hissong is the President of Nesso Strategies. A former law firm Chief Operating Officer, she helps firms become more profitable by developing leaders. Her mission is “world domination for Good.” By creating actionable, lightbulb moments that leaders want to share and spread, she intends to improve the world one person at a time.

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Judy Hissong