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Ed Poll
  Week of May 6, 2008

Law Firm Lessons from the Court

During the "March Madness" of the NCAA college basketball tourney, I had the privilege of watching my alma mater UCLA play in two games. One was a victory—a tough, close game against Texas A&M. The other, with a berth in the championship game on the line, was a loss to Memphis. Results aside, the games were an opportunity to watch talented performers in action and draw lessons from their achievement. And those lessons are directly relevant to another group of talented performers in a tough competitive environment—lawyers.
In its victory, UCLA prevailed even though the team played one of its worst games of the year. The players had the mental toughness to stay in the game and grind out a win. For me, it was reminiscent of a discussion I had recently with a client who asked me to do a profitability analysis of her firm. She and her partner believed that the expenses of their small firm were too high. My review of the data indicated changes that could be made in how certain expenses were accounted for, but more importantly, the review showed that the firm was in sound financial shape. The lawyers needed more revenue, and had the resources to pursue it. I believed that my recasting of their expenses would help instill in them the confidence that they are not in terrible shape and that they could succeed. That kind of confidence provides the mental toughness to continue seeking the appropriate client base to generate increased revenue. Looking at the data positively removed the fear of failure and created confidence in success.
In its loss, UCLA's opponent played about as well as they could, and UCLA didn't. Successful basketball, like a successful legal practice, is a team effort—if the team isn't firing on all cylinders, it too often tries to overcompensate, and gets away from what made it successful. People no longer play their true roles.
In a law firm, you cannot profit and you cannot grow unless you have skilled visionaries and lawyers who are rainmakers. You cannot grow and continue to increase profits unless you work as a team, share client information, legal expertise, and legal knowledge with all the other lawyers in the firm. Some firms grow even to several hundred lawyers, but continue to limit rainmaking to a few stars. These law firms generally face collapse when those few rainmakers retire or "die in their boots." Without a succession plan that includes the willingness of the "stars" to share their knowledge and transition their client relationships to others in the firm (the next generation), the entire firm disintegrates when the stars leave.
As in basketball, successful law firms are team efforts...with all cylinders working well, together!

Ed Poll

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Ed Poll
Ed Poll

Personal Commentary
This past week, I had the great pleasure to speak several times for the Ohio State Bar Association. They are truly fine lawyers and it was a joy for me to participate with them.
A few of the "seashells" (lessons learned from the presentations that they will implement when they return to the office) they shared with me after my presentations are: begin to think in terms of value to my client rather than my time spent on the matter; describe what we've achieved for the client first in the listing of services delivered and then continue with the balance of the description; batch all n/c charges at the bottom of the billing statement so the client gets a clear picture of how much was done for him/her without being charged; be more diligent in time keeping to reduce the amount of non-billed time. These and many other lessons were taken away by our participants.
What are you doing to improve the business focus of your practice? Please share your achievements by sending me a note, Thank you.
Best wishes,
Ed Poll

Ed Poll
Ed Poll

What Readers Are Saying...
"I look at Ed as my business partner now—my once-a-week essential business meeting to take the pulse of my practice. During our one-hour phone conversations, we hash out the larger and smaller business challenges of my law firm. I always come away from those conversations enlarged, challenged, and sometimes even quite shaken, but with the tools necessary to move forward down the path he and I are constantly redefining for me and my firm."
-AL, Northern California

Ed Poll
Ed Poll

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