Over the last ten years, we’ve witnessed advances in law practice technology, the expanding roles of paralegals, as well as the outsourcing of work. Yet despite all these cost-cutting and time-saving benefits, many law firms, especially the large ones, stay struggling for their very survival.
Just a decade ago, authorities were appreciating remarkable levels of growth and wealth. Firm coffers were full and firms were spending substantial sums of money on promoting themselves to be able to enter new markets and acquire premium enterprise. Some companies began experimenting with branding. In these days, branding was mostly seen as just another form of advertising and promotion. In truth, business leadership rarely understood that the branding process or exactly what the idea of branding was actually intended to accomplish. Nevertheless, it didn’t really matter, earnings was climbing and sustainability remained powerful. However, what so many of these companies didn’t expect was that, in only a few decades, our economy would be shaken by a fierce and deep downturn, one that would shake the fiscal foundations of even the most rewarding of companies.
For many companies, particularly mega-firms, the decrease in law partner profits were reaching record highs and it was not long before the legal landscape was littered with unsuccessful firms both large and small.
In attempting to deflect additional losses, firms began to lay off associates and staff in document number. However, the issues went much deeper. There simply were too many lawyers and not enough premium work to go around. It was a clear case of overcapacity, and it was clear it was not likely to improve anytime soon.
Over twelve of the nation’s Matson Law Firm, with more than 1,000 partners involving them, had completely neglected in a period of about seven decades. Against this history, law colleges were still churning out thousands of eager law graduates every year. Highly trained young men and women who were starved for the chance to put in a profession that once held the promise of wealth, stability and status.
As partner profits dwindled, spouse infighting grew rampant. Partner would compete against partner for the same parcel of business. The collegial”team-driven” identity and”progressive culture” that companies spent millions of dollars encouraging as their company’s unique brand and civilization had vanished as fast as it was established. While fiscal times were demanding, in fact lots of the large firms had the resources to survive the downturn. Rather, partners with big books of company were choosing to choose what they can and combined other firms- guzzling people left behind.
To know why this was happening, we have to first remove ourselves from the specific context and internal politics of any 1 firm and think about the bigger picture. The failure and decline of firms wasn’t just a catastrophe of economics and overcapacity, it was also a crisis of character, identity, values and leadership. Sadly, the newest identity a number of these firms pronounced because their own did not match up against the truth of who they actually were. In other words, for many companies, the brand identity that they generated was illusory- and illusory brands ultimately violate in times of financial stress.
Ultimately, the branding process also has to be a transformative process in search of the companies highest and most precious values. It is, and must be, a process of reinvention at each level of the company – notably its leadership. The transformative process is fundamental to building a true and lasting brand. Without it, firms run the risk of communicating an identity that does not represent themand this is the threat, especially when the firm is analyzed against the strain of hard times.
This miscommunication of identity was permitted to happen varied widely from firm to firm. But generally speaking, while firm leadership was originally supportive of this branding process, in most cases the very same partners were rarely willing to risk ruining the business’s real problems in fear that it might expose their own.
While decline of law firm revenue was obviously conducive to both a bad market and an oversupply of lawyers, from an internal perspective the company’s inability to come together and develop effective measures to withstand these pressures could usually be traced directly back to the deficiency of spouse leadership. A firm that proclaims to be something it is not- is inevitably doomed to collapse. Say nothing of the psychic harm it causes in the collective level of the firm. It is no different then the emotional dynamics of the particular person who wants to be somebody he is not- ultimately it leads to confusion, frustration and finally self-betrayal.
Some partners may even feature their success to all that smart branding that they set into place years before. But, once the threat of financial crisis enters the picture, the identical company can quickly devolve into self-predatory behavior- a vicious cycle of fear and greed that turns into an”eat-or-be-eaten” culture- that for many firms marks the start of the end.
For any firm playing out its final inning, it’s just too late to rally the troops or reach for those so-called cherished values that were allegedly driving the company’s success. In fact, when times got bad, these values were nowhere to be discovered, except on the companies website, magazine ads and brochures.
The purpose is that if a company is in fact driven by its own cherished beliefs and core values, the company will start to live by them, particularly in times of hardship. The company will pull together and rally behind its leadership, and with clarity of purpose, every individual will do what needs to be done to weather the storm. It will stay dysfunctional and it will risk joining that growing list of unsuccessful firms.
The financial meltdown and deterioration of so many law firms in the last couple of decades is a compelling testament to the value of insisting on truth and ethics in the branding process.
In 2014, it is apparent that business-as-usual in our profession is not a sustainable proposal. For this reason I am convinced that companies driven by fear and greed are firms destined to finally self-destruct. That’s because, however much these firms attempt to manufacturer, they will not ever be able to brand truthfully, and so they will not ever have the ability to compete against more innovative and enlightened firms- those who do not worship power and wealth, but rather cherish personal and professional fulfillment.
There is a choice for those who believe their company is well worth saving- reinvent yourself to reflect values which are truly worthy of cherishing, or hazard devolving into something less than what you expect to be and hazard your company’s heart and spirit in the procedure.
We as lawyers have the possibility, indeed the responsibility, to play with a valuable and constructive role in this transformative procedure. And, within this procedure, we now have the chance to redefine our livelihood. I talk of that which Justice Berger known when he urged our livelihood to become”healers of human conflict.”
I often wonder what it’d be similar to professionally if we were viewed by the general public as portion of conflict instead of perpetuators of battle. I wonder what practicing law would look like and what values and choices we’d make as healers. Perhaps we would choose values such as marriage over division, addition over exclusion, and intellect over cleverness.
Ironically, it’s not easy to think of the legal profession as being composed of healers. It takes some imagination, and yet personally, the very idea of it really materializing in my lifetime or even in my children’s life deeply moves and motivates me.
To achieve this we have to proceed from a state of dreaming into a state of thinking. To a state of living out the values we’ve chosen to embrace. It dares us to be more than what we ever believed possible both professionally and personally.
The question is whether we shall direct the process of change or if we will lag behind itchained to all those self-serving stale beliefs that no longer serve us as a society and which have kept us from realizing our greater potential for a profession. I know where I stand on this particular issue.