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Ed Poll
  Week of June 2, 2009

Hit the Road, Jack - When It
Makes Sense to Do So

When recession cuts revenue, cutting expenses is the most feasible way for law firms to preserve profitability. Virtually any law firm can be run more efficiently and economically, but firms should be wary of cutting indiscriminately. A good example of where cutting is being done without adequate thought to the consequences involves meetings and travel.
Canceling meetings that bring people together for training, sharing of best practices, networking and meeting in person is a risky way to save money. Bringing people together, along with pertinent resources and activities, will make them feel more committed and positive about the future. Yet, just as law firms feel the need to placate their clients in so many other ways, they increasingly are taking (or feel they are forced to take) drastic action to curtail meetings and travel that is focused on internal firm needs, even legitimate education or governance ones, to demonstrate cost-cutting sensibilities.
The issue ultimately rests on the value of professional and organizational development. Can it be conducted only if it's local, or is there something to be said for travel and for meeting away from daily distractions? Technology - videoconferencing, webcasts, and the like - make it possible to absorb the content of a meeting without actually being there. But, many organizations (like the National Speakers' Association) have found that live contact among people enhances and expands both learning (in educational programs) and decision-making (in governance meetings).
Consider education and training programs, which should not be just a function of CLE courses for lawyers. Giving staff the right training and support will give any lawyer enhanced confidence in the law office team. Training on business realities may be had at a local community college or in a nearby city. The worth of the program always has to be assessed, but if staff and administrators are expected to do more with less, the value of training becomes all the more important. For lawyer CLE training, firms must differentiate between material-driven programs that could just as easily be experienced as a webinar, and panel discussions or group learning experiences in which personal presence makes all the difference.
In today's business environment, it seems reasonable to suggest that education and conferences, including related travel, should be considered adjustable expenses. Dollars spent on them can be modified as budget and business requirements demand. But to eliminate them would seem foolish in the extreme. Law firms that understand how the personal learning experience enhances their ability to provide value to clients will be the firms that survive today and thrive tomorrow when the economy improves - as it inevitably will.

Ed Poll

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Ed Poll
Ed Poll

Personal Commentary
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Ed Poll
Ed Poll

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