Before we get to the challenge fast-growing firms face, let me ask: Are you watching my FREE Lateral Link Rainmaker Series? It’s available on YouTube. My latest program will teach you how to prepare a business plan that works. If you are interested you can use my 2019 ATTORNEY BUSINESS PLAN TEMPLATE.

When I was being heavily recruited, I wanted to join a firm that was on the move. I wanted to be part of a firm striving to get better. I found what I thought was the perfect firm-and it was for a few years. But, then…

A few years ago I read a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge interview with Thomas J. DeLong: New Challenges in Leading Professional Services:

Professionals in professional service firms are reporting greater frustration, unmet needs, lack of shared purpose, poor morale, etc.

I believe those issues are even more true in fast-growing law firms. I have some first-hand experience.

It was 1998, my old law firm was on the front page of the National Law Journal as the fastest growing firm in the United States.  I was the lawyer who told the reporter:  “At Jenkens & Gilchrist you can dream Texas-sized dreams.”

To be noted as the fastest growing firm was very positive, but there were some underlying challenges our firm leadership either did not see or saw but didn’t address. Jenkens lost its shared purpose. If your firm is growing fast by adding lateral lawyers, you may encounter the same challenges.

In 1999, the Dallas Business Journal published an article: Jenkens & Gilchrist has `never been stronger’. If you have a few minutes, the article is worth reading. We had recently added the Chicago office that would ultimately lead to the demise of the firm.

You might also read a Dallas Morning News Article: How Jenkens Lost Its Way.

Your firm might be a collection of very talented independent contractors, each with a unique story, unique challenges, and unique dreams. If so, you have fiefdoms. A lack of trust/experience will cause partners to hoard their client’s work and will prevent partners from abandoning their own interest in favor of your clients and your firm.

As your firm grows and adds lateral partners you may be challenged to maintain or even identify your constantly changing core values. For example:

  • What does your firm stand for?
  • When you talk about the (name of your firm) culture, what is it?
  • How does your culture or the way you serve clients differ from your competitors?
  • What do you want to be?
  • How does each practice group and office fit into the what your firm stands for and what you want to be?

Years ago I read:

The foundation of cooperation is not really trust, but the durability of the relationship. It is readily evident that firms which have grown through mergers and senior level lateral hires always have less internal cooperation than those which have grown from within.

I remember going to a Jenkens & Gilchrist firm retreat where the theme was “One Firm.” I should have saved the tee shirt and hat with that catchphrase on it. It was a nice theme, but simply not true. A more accurate theme would have been Jenkens & Gilchrist will give you “the platform to build your own independent practice.”

Is it any wonder a fast-growing firm struggles with cross-selling and a lack of office/lateral integration? You won’t achieve success as a fast-growing firm by accident. You have to be very purposeful in your efforts to build trust, collaboration and shared values.