Over the years I have been blessed to work with some great law firms and great lawyers. For several years I coached lawyers at McCarthy Tétrault. When I started coaching the McCarthy lawyers, I introduced them to Seth Godin’s blog and his thoughts on creating a purple cow.
A few weeks ago McCarthy Tétrault held its annual firm retreat. Shortly before the retreat I learned the firm had invited both Seth Godin and Adam Grant to speak. Wow, that just had to be the most awesome law firm retreat ever. I asked Leila Rafi and Elder Marques to share their takeaways from the retreat.
As two young partners in one of Canada’s leading law firms, we spend a lot of time looking forward to make sure that we’re doing what we need to do today to get where we want to be. The reality of a busy client-focused practice, however, means it can be a challenge to integrate forward-looking thinking in the day-to-day grind.
To help foster thinking strategically about the future, our firm decided to build an entire firm retreat around the idea of understanding and embracing the change that’s happening in our profession, and urging our lawyers to seize the opportunities created by that change.
Lawyers from all our offices, including our office in London U.K., arrived in Chicago on Friday, October 24, 2014, for Mission 2020 – Fuel the Future. Over three days, we undertook a series of learning opportunities, a powerful community building exercise, and social engagements to build and strengthen connections.
Our CEO, Marc-André Blanchard, moderated a panel discussion featuring leaders from U.S. law firms and advisory firms. The panel tackled the evolution of the legal industry and the ways in which clients are challenging fundamental premises upon which law firms operate – including questioning the billable hour.
We learned about how professional services firms can present their value proposition and measure success for clients in a holistic way and not just the number of hours docketed to a file. The panel also addressed how to effectively manage talent, recognizing that in today’s profession young lawyers are facing a different path towards partnership and are inspired differently as a result.
Today’s world requires innovation, a need to think outside the box, and a real understanding of challenges that clients face in order to foster lasting client relationships.
Listening to Seth Godin, we learned that real innovation can’t happen without failure and that failure is an event, not a person. For the vast majority of lawyers, this represents a radically new way to think about what we do and what we define as “success”.
Our firm leadership has embraced this idea and encourages young partners to take control of their own destiny and safely face the risks associated with trying something that is fundamentally new and different from what others did before. You can see that change to our firm culture starting to happen in many ways, one of which being how our lawyers use social media to connect with our clients and share knowledge with them.
Our retreat also featured Professor Adam Grant, whose Give and Take book is transforming the way many people think about relationships within their organizations and the kind of culture they want to build.
Last year both of us were in a Give and Take book group where lawyers shared their reactions to Adam’s ideas after each chapter. The book and the ideas we shared with our colleagues helped us professionally and personally and the connections we made with other lawyers resulted in business development opportunities and actual work! Understanding how individual behaviour impacts the group is especially important in a legal environment where talent is central to what we offer our clients, and where our most effective work is the product of collaboration.
Cordell Parvin, who has acted as a very effective coach to many of our young partners (including both of us), understood these kinds of changes long before the legal industry did. Cordell first introduced us to Seth Godin and Adam Grant, put together our Give and Take book group, and encouraged us to take ownership of our career development.
He has helped us recognize that today’s profession does not allow any of us to rest on our past achievements, but that we must be flexible and jump into the tide of changes that our clients are facing. We need to adapt; be creative; and master the art of collaboration with others if we are to find real success for ourselves and our clients.
Seth Godin reminded us at the retreat that while we think we have “a job”, what we really have is a platform: a platform upon which to be remarkable. Seth is best known for his ‘purple cow’ concept, the idea that we must throw out everything we know and find ways to stand out in the way that a purple cow would stand out from a crowd of Guernseys. Working in a law firm that recognizes that, and actually embraces it by encouraging its lawyers to ‘just do it’, is truly remarkable.
What will you be doing in 2020?