The Partnership Structure ~ Old Habits Die Hard

“To respond to the need for efficiency around the basics there is the stability pillar. To respond to the need for regular innovation, there is an entrepreneurial pillar. And to respond to the need for avoiding calcification, there is the ‘habit-breaking’ pillar.”

Tom Peters and Robert H Waterman, In Search of Excellence

This model was crafted by Messrs Peters and Waterman as a distillation of their analysis of the EXCELLENT companies mentioned in their seminal book. It was called the “Structure of the Eighties.” But what strikes me now, reading the book again, is how apposite it could be to the New World version of the partnership model/structure (post ABS).

The stability pillar – finance, compliance, risk and HR – is, prima facie, clear. And some firms may have moved into the realm of adopting a entrepreneurial pillar around client service, branded products and on-line delivery of services.

So far so good.

But how many, I wonder, have set up the 3rd limb of the structure?

All of us succumb to our comfort zone and never more so in a partnership where some respite is necessary from the day to day grind of billing, billing, billing. But once the curtain comes down (see Michael E Gerber’s book, The E-Myth Revisited for a wonderful description of the ‘curtain’), we are left in a situation, much like any ingrained habit, where it becomes harder and hard to break the chains and explore new territories of behaviour.

Lawyers love to adopt a ‘no stone unturned’ approach, particularly those of a litigious persuasion. They want to make sure that every facet of the case is explored and tested to make sure there are no surprises come trial. This is the process aspect. It is out ‘There’. But this rigour, unfortunately, does not extend to looking at their behaviour, either as a collective or individually.

Firms may not care less: “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. My answer: nothing is immutable. In fact, I would go further and say that you should deliberately tease apart (not blow up, just yet) every process you have created. Every form that you have produced should be considered for its raison d’être, brevity and necessity.

Now, of course, give the regulatory framework, I accept that there is a de minimus amount of paperwork that must exist ( … an understatement if ever there one), but the problem is that most lawyers run their businesses by looking in the rear view mirror and that extends to the processes that their practice is built around.

The whole point of this ‘habit-breaking’ exercise is to energise your efforts around the re-engineering of the practice. There is a cross-over with the entrepreneurial pillar – every lawyer needs to consider if the long-standing habits are still fit for purpose – but habits should be seen as a separate area for attention.

I would question:

1.Your telephone technique;

2.Your lack of brevity in your communication;

3.Your fear of using the telephone;

4.Your demeanour around the office (stop being so miserable);

5.Showing so little appreciation to those who support you;

6.Not working like a demon on developing cross-department working;

7.Staying close to your clients and being (wholly) reactive.

I have previously mentioned appointing a Wizard of WOW for your firm. Why not combine this Wizard with someone who challenges the status quo at every turn, every angle and every opportunity.

Their mission: to make the firm the Best in the World (your World that is).

Save for your regulatory obligations, just imagine what a New Habits firm would look like?

Hey, it might even leave you feeling human again.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~





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