Complacency Means the Death of Success

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Success can lead to complacency, and complacency is not your friend.

Now that the economy is rebounding from the Great Recession, it seems that businesses are again in danger of becoming complacent despite lessons learned from that time period. It's important not to let that happen.

During the recession, we had a phenomenal dislocation in our economy. In the context of Big Law, there was an interesting change: Hiring was cut back or frozen, and recruiting was cut back or disbanded.

Even the law firms that honored their commitment to hire new graduates fresh from law school did not all take on the new lawyers at the price to which they originally committed or the circumstances originally contemplated.

In the lateral market, the amount of partner movement increased by at least 11 percent in one year, according to one statistic. In other words, partners were being fired. That's a lot of movement from one firm to another. How can a partner be fired? Law firms are structured in such a way that they have the ability and the power to de-equitize lawyers and "suggest" that they leave.

The law firms that partners left were obviously cutting back — either in number of people, because they didn't have the necessary business, or in the practice areas that had become inconsequential in the legal market at the time.

But let's look for a moment at those firms that engaged those lateral partners: They increased their practice areas. In other words, they expanded their product lines to be able to offer more services to their existing clients. They increased the depth, skill and breadth of their existing practice areas by engaging more lawyers in a given field that already existed within the firm. And some of the lateral partners had a book of business to bring with them, making them considerably more attractive.

But what does all that really say about the hiring law firms? Here's what: The firms were strategically planning what they wanted to be when they "grew up" — what kind of law firms they wanted to become. They were looking at what kind of services and the strength of those services that they wanted to deliver to both existing and new clients. Like every good business, those firms were looking not only at today and tomorrow, but to the more distant future.

Which brings us to today. Are you doing likewise? How are you seeing the marketplace? How are you evaluating both your clients and the clients you'd like to serve? Are you looking for those opportunities when talent is available at a reasonable price under reasonable circumstances? Are you looking for all opportunities to develop a new culture of service for your clients?

Fear paralyzed many firms during the recession, and some have paid for it. Now, in more robust times, the danger is complacency. Don't allow it to penetrate your firm's walls. Always be looking for new possibilities to grow. It shouldn't take a catastrophe to turn your business around. Just keep your eyes open — always.

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