I remember working with associates in my old law firm and helping them decide what they wanted to accomplish in their work and careers and helping them prepare a plan with written goals.

I had great intentions and enthusiasm, and so did the majority of associates. But, over time I discovered that my large law firm was, perhaps inadvertently, contributing to our associates not following through.

Here is what I concluded happened. Maybe it is happening in your firm.

  1. The firm leaders don’t make clear that the firm values the associates setting goals;
  2. The partners don’t set their own goals;
  3. The firm seems to only value billable hours;
  4. There are no benchmarks identifying what associates are learning;
  5. Associates are made to feel they are not doing what they should when they do non-billable activities outside the office;
  6. Associates are not encouraged to participate in attorney development programs;
  7. Associates are not given meaningful feedback;
  8. Associates who set goals are put down when they share their goals with the partners for whom they work;
  9. Partners do not share credit with associates when they help with an article or presentation;
  10. Mentoring in the firm is just talk and not meaningful.





Many law firms/practice groups remind me of a quote from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree.

Which road shall I take? She asked.

His response was a question:

Where do you want to go?

I don’t know, Alice answered.

Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.

While most of your clients seem to have no trouble articulating where they want to go, why is your  law firm or practice group like Alice?

Lewis Carroll

Most law firm web pages look alike.

  • They are “full service firms” who represent both large companies and small ones.
  • They are experienced and responsive, and provide exceptional service (usually as defined by them).
  • They are typically strategically located to better serve those large and small clients.
  • They all provide “innovative solutions” to business problems.

I could go on, but my point is to simply say, they all look alike.

Let’s look at other service entities for ideas.  When I stay at a Four Seasons Hotel, I am amazed by the level of service at all levels in the hotel.

Years ago, I was in Houston for a meeting. As I ate my dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel bar, I looked down I noticed the hem on my suit pants had come undone.

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I went to the front desk and asked if for safety pins, or a sewing kit. I was told the hotel seamstress had finished her workday. That took me by surprise. I had never imagined the hotel would have a seamstress.

The manager told me to go to my room and wait for someone to bring me a sewing kit. A few minutes later an older Mexican American lady knocked on my door. She greeted me with a big smile. When she saw my trousers, she gave me that knowing grin as if to say: “I know you are a man and you don’t know how to sew worth a darn.”  She pointed and asked me for my trousers.

Twenty minutes later she returned to my room with the cuff to my trousers sewn to perfection. That is service.

Afterward, I wanted to better understand how Four Seasons did it and I found the Four Seasons philosophy:

A Shared Spirit: Four Seasons strategy is simple. Hire motivated people, train them to be the best they can be, and offer them an environment in which to flourish.

Take a look at the Four Seasons Mission Statement.

As Practice Group Leader of a Construction Law Practice Group, I made sure our group clearly understood what we wanted to become.

Because of the experience and background of our lawyers we decided to focus on representing contractors primarily engaged in constructing large civil construction projects; including highways, airports, mass transit, power, dams, stadiums, etc.

Our purpose was to enable or to help our clients build great projects while achieving their business objectives. We have hired lawyers who had a construction background, civil engineering or construction management undergraduate degree, or who exhibited a passion for the construction industry.

Our legal assistants included civil engineers or construction management graduates with construction experience.

We sought ways to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, including making efforts to be “first to market” on whatever happened to be the cutting edge legal issue affecting the industry.

We were among the first construction practice groups to have newsletters for clients and to conduct in-house workshops for clients. Several of us have written legal columns in trade magazines or for association newsletters. These were all things we decided we wanted to be.

I mention all these things, not to suggest that any other law firm or practice group adopt any of them, but to simply point out the importance of deciding what you want your practice group or law firm to become.

Without thinking about what you want, deciding and then articulating what you want, you will likely be like Alice and it won’t really matter which way you go.

10 Years ago I was asked to speak at the annual meeting of new Texas State Bar leaders. I really enjoyed that experience.

If you are interested in my presentation slides, you can find them here.

Many lawyers are active in the Bar because they want to make a difference and further the purpose and values of the legal profession. Each Bar is unique but share a common mission.

The mission of the State Bar of Texas is to support the administration of the legal system, assure all citizens equal access to justice, foster high standards of ethical conduct for lawyers, support and provide services to its members, enable its members to better serve their clients and the public, and educate the public about the rule of law. Members of the bar commit time, energy and resources towards achieving this goal.


The following 10 ideas are meant to assist Bar leaders in their service to the Bar and its members:

  1. Identify one major goal you want to accomplish during your leadership and ask yourself how accomplishing it will make a difference.
  2. Develop a plan to accomplish your major goal.
  3. Identify the “inspirational lawyers” within your bar and find ways to use them to provide inspiration to others.
  4. Reflect on what it means to be a lawyer and how lawyers have contributed to our society.
  5. Find a way to publicize the contributions lawyers have made to our society and your local community.
  6. If there is a law school in your area, develop a mentoring program for law students, helping them learn to be lawyer and to think like a client.
  7. Develop a mentoring program for young lawyers.
  8. Develop programs for your members on career development, work-life integration and client service.
  9. Develop programs on “professionalism” that go beyond ethics.
  10. “Think outside the box” and try something that has not been done before.

Hopefully each Bar leader will find at least some of these ideas useful. I am sure that some of the Bar leaders reading this blog are “inspirational” leaders and could provide other worthwhile ideas.

If you are in a large firm, how’s your attorney development program working? I was the partner in charge at my old firm and I tried to convince our lawyers that if our program was the best it would help in recruiting, retention of lawyers and client development.

If you want to increase the odds of getting the lawyers in your firm behind your Attorney Development program, articulate what the purpose of the program is, what the firm is trying to accomplish and what is expected of the lawyers.

That is what I tried to do at Jenkens & Gilchrist.

Diverse team

Jenkens & Gilchrist Attorney Development Program

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Chinese Proverb

In the book Aligning the Stars, the authors, Jay W. Lorsch and Thomas J. Tierney point out that: “Starmaking” is more important to a firm’s long-term success than “rainmaking.” Talent is the only source of a firm’s competitive advantage.

The purpose of the Jenkens & Gilchrist Attorney Development Program is to enable our attorneys to better serve our clients, to increase our realization and to provide opportunities for greater achievement and career satisfaction.

Jenkens & Gilchrist seeks to have an attorney development program recognized as preeminent by our clients, our lawyers and law students.

Core Values

  • Our attorneys will take responsibility for their career development and satisfaction.
  • Each attorney, associate, shareholder and of counsel must contribute in some way.
  • Supervising lawyers will give clear direction, answer questions, pay attention to quality and provide real time constructive and supportive feedback.
  • Teamwork is encouraged at all levels.
  • Each attorney and staff member will be shown respect. Respect engenders respect.
  • We will endeavor to provide consistent, real and specific direction on career advancement.
  • CLE will be used as a means of acquiring skills necessary to better serve our clients and enable our attorneys to grow.
  • We will demand a lot from our lawyers. They will work hard, meet high standards of excellence, and over time and with our guidance and support, learn to be outstanding lawyers, trusted advisors and mentors for a new generation of outstanding young lawyers.
  • Each associate in our firm has a unique background, unique skills and unique dreams, but they also share things in common. They all want to learn and become better lawyers. They want to perform interesting work. They want to feel like they matter, know where they stand and whether they are on track, and they want to feel respected by senior lawyers and peers.
  • Most of our associates know more about the “science of law” and less about the “art of lawyering” than they will ever know in their career.When it comes to the future, many young lawyers are confused. They feel like they are on a trip to an undefined and constantly moving destination (making shareholder). They are uncertain of the time expected for their arrival, feel they have been given no map to get there, and no compass to let them know where they are.They feel they have no coach or sponsor. Our job as senior lawyers is to teach them the art of lawyering and help them clear up the confusion. This requires us to get to know them, to understand what makes them unique and to encourage them to achieve success as they define it.
  • Our work with our clients is not any different and just was we get good vibes from helping our clients achieve their business objective, we get the same feeling helping our young lawyers achieve their career goals.

You will have more fun and success helping other people achieve their goals than you will trying to reach your own goals.  Dale Carnegie


Each year I read the Annual Report on the State of the Legal Market presented by The Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at the Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor.

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I wrote about the 2015 report last June: Clients: The Problem with Law Firms Rewarding Hours.

Here is a link to the 2016 Report which every law firm leader must read. If the report last year was pessimistic, the 2016 report is even more pessimistic.

As in some of the previous reports, the researchers state:

Increasingly, clients are demanding more “value” in return for their legal spend, and by value they mean greater efficiency, predictability, and cost effectiveness in the delivery of legal services.

The researchers find that law firms are reacting to this new environment passively if at all. Having begun the 2016 report by describing the demise of Kodak, the researchers suggest:

The reactions of the law firm market to the rapidly changing environment in which firms operate parallels in some respects the story of Kodak.

I could share with you many other quotes warning law firms they need to change and change quickly. But, you and your colleagues need to read the report.

With your clients are demanding greater efficiency, predictability and cost effectiveness, what can you do?

Clearly the law firms who embrace and proactively meet those demands will quickly differentiate themselves. 

I believe one way to become more efficient, predictable and cost effective is to hire the most highly motivated lawyers and train, develop and retain that talent.

Instead of managing lawyers, firms need to change their focus to leading, coaching and mentoring them.

There are four things over which your law firm has complete control:

  • To whom your firm makes offers to hire,
  • How well you train and motivate your lawyers and staff,
  • How efficient, predictable and cost effective you are
  • And, whether you embrace these changes in a proactive way or wait for your clients to insist that you change. 

George Bernard Shaw famously said, and Robert Kennedy ended each of his speeches with:

“You see things; and you say, Why? But, I dream things that never were; and I say, ˜Why not?”

According to the report, most law firms see these signs of growing client dissatisfaction as problems. I see them as a tremendous opportunity for law firms open to changing their focus from profits-per-partner to service, cooperation and collaboration.

Interestingly, I believe over time making that change will actually result in greater profits per partner.

To those of you who subscribe by email and got one yesterday afternoon for my latest Practical Lawyer Article, I apologize. I was trying to post it on my own and not only did I mess up the post, I also messed up by not doing it the way so you wouldn’t get an email.

I posted correctly last time, but…this time I needed help from Joyce. She told me the two things I messed up so if you want to read my latest Practical Lawyer Article, you’ll find it here.

If you ever read Jim Collins book: Good to Great, you know where I got the bus analogy.

If you have never read the book, here is a Fast Company article he wrote that summarizes the book pretty well: Good to Great.

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Collins says:

Most people assume that great bus drivers (read: business leaders) immediately start the journey by announcing to the people on the bus where they’re going—by setting a new direction or by articulating a fresh corporate vision.

In fact, leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.

It is incredibly hard to build something when you have the wrong people on the bus. I know. I experienced it.

I led my construction law practice group and came to a point where I knew we had two income partners who were the wrong people on the bus. They weren’t happy, they weren’t productive and they were dragging down the rest of us.

Each month I received management reports and the production of one of those partners lagged behind. He was a knowledgeable construction lawyer, and even though we had lots of work, he didn’t step to the plate to take on more of it.

Finally after hearing month after month that I had to do something about his performance, I fired him. At that point I was told I didn’t have the authority to fire an income partner. That was the first I had heard that.

I look back now and think about what I could have done differently. I found an interesting Entrepreneur article: 9 Ways to Manage Underperforming Employees. Each idea was a good one I wish I had tried, especially:

5. Create performance goals together.

I’m not sure my underperforming partner would have done it. But, if by chance he did, then it would be his expected performance, not something dictated by me.

Short, of getting them off the bus, how do you handle a lawyer in your firm or group who is underperforming?

Is training your lawyers thought of as an expense or a revenue enhancer? I believe most firms view it as an expense and that is why they do so little of it.

I know, because law firms routinely spend less money and time on developing their lawyers than their clients spend on developing their skilled workers and professionals.

Many years ago I read In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters.

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I still enjoy reading what he has to say. I recently read: Excellence, No Excuses, Now. I found many nuggets there in his 34 BFO’s (Blind Flashes of Obvious).

Here is Number 1 BFO.

BFO #1: If you (RELIGIOUSLY) help

people—EVERY SINGLE PERSON, JUNIOR OR SENIOR, LIFER OR TEMP—grow and reach/exceed their perceived potential, then they in turn will bust their individual and collective butts to create great experiences for Clients—and the “bottom line” will get fatter and fatter

and fatter. (ANYBODY LISTENING?)


PROFITABILITY. PERIOD.) (ANYBODY LISTENING?) (FYI: “People FIRST” message is 10X more urgent than ever in the high-engagement “AGE OF SOCIAL BUSINESS.”)

Here is Number 3 BFO.

BFO 3: The “CTO”/Chief Training Officer should (MUST!) be on a par with the CFO/CMO.

Training = Investment #1.

(8 of 10 CEOs see training as an “expense,” not an investment/prime asset booster.) (“Our training courses are so good they make me want to giggle.” “Our trainers are on the same pay scale as our

engineers.”) (In a 45-minute “tour d’horizon” of the enterprise: GUARANTEE 9 of 10 CEOs* [*10 of 10?] wouldn’t once mention training.

I imagine that 8 of 10 law firm leaders see training as an expense. Training in those firms amounts to lawyers getting their required CLE hours. It is focused on substantive law.

Practicing law in a firm requires much more. Lawyers must learn people skills. That is becoming an increasingly challenging task as young lawyers come to firms having spent the last several years communicating by text.

I have worked with the Professional Development Professionals in several firms. They love their work, they love the lawyers in the firm. They hate when firms cut their budgets to the degree that they cannot help the junior lawyers develop skills to become successful partners?

It all reminds me of the well known imagined conversation between a CFO and CEO.

CFO: What happens if we train them and they leave?

CEO: What happens if we don’t and they stay?

What is your firm’s plan for professional development in 2016?

As you know, Eagles leader and songwriter Glenn Frey passed away recently. I saw many articles about him and the Eagles. One I liked was a CNN opinion piece: Why Glenn Frey’s death shakes us.

Even though I grew up in the 60s, I really get why Glenn Frey’s death shakes those who grew up in the 70s.

The CNN piece includes a lot of background information including when Frey and Don Henley played backup for Linda Ronstadt and a great discussion of why Hotel California was an important song.

You may recall I wrote about it a few years ago. This is a good time to reprise what I wrote.

Is your law firm becoming like the “Hotel California?”

A friend sent me the link to Steven Harper’s book: The Lawyer Bubble. That prompted me to read the American Lawyer article: What’s Wrong With the Law—And How Lawyers Can Fix It. That article focuses on the book and many things Harper writes, including:

He makes the indisputable point that many law firm managers began running firms with their Am Law 100 numbers in the forefront. This led to (you pick) mindless growth, heartless treatment of colleagues, a depressed workforce, gross pay disparities, and, in some cases, spectacular public failures caused by leaders who believed their own malarkey and by the partners who followed them.

In those words,  Harper painted a picture of many law firms that have been in the news over the last several months. Reading about those firms reminded me of the  The Eagles hit Hotel California.

Nancy and I saw the Eagles in concert shortly after they recorded the Hotel California. They opened their concert with it. I am still in awe of the guitar opening and the guitar ending. But, for our discussion today the lyrics are important.

Many have shared their thoughts on the meaning of the lyrics. Don Henley in a 60 Minutes interview said:

I know, it’s so boring. It’s a song about the dark underbelly of the American Dream, and about excess in America which was something we knew about.

I am confident most law firms will not will not  experience a “spectacular public failure.”  But, how many law firms are so intently focused on money, that they are experiencing “mindless growth, heartless treatment of colleagues, a depressed workforce, gross pay disparities.” Will those firms ultimately face a “tipping point?”

I am reading a book I strongly recommend to lawyers I coach. The book is How Will You Measure Your Life by Harvard professor Clay Christensen. (There is so very much more in this excellent book. I will write future blog posts on some of those important topics.)

You can watch this 20 minute TED Video to get some of the ideas from the book. At about the 11 minute mark, Christensen describes why successful companies (law firms) fail. He says:

The reason why successful companies (law firms) fail is because they choose to invest in the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement. (Profits per Partner and AM Law Rank)

Is your firm choosing to invest in the most immediate and tangible evidence of achievement? If so, keep this line from Hotel California in mind.

And she said ‘We are all just prisoners here, of our own device’

So why does Glenn Frey’s death shake us (especially those who grew up in the 70’s)? Here is what the CNN writer said:

When we mourn for Frey, are we mourning our lost selves and a time when we all thought we could live hard and stay free and surf and bike and run and jump and love and never lose because we were forever young.

God bless, Glenn Frey. You were part of our dreams. Now, truly, you belong to the night.


As we are approaching 2016, is your law firm encouraging your associates to create a career plan with goals? I asked the question because when I was the partner responsible for career development in my old firm, our firm made if more difficult.

The message our associates received was that achieving billable hours was the only thing that mattered. Some of our partners subtly, and not so subtly, made the point repeatedly.

Bonuses were set based on “billable hours.” I used a graph to show spikes of billable hours at the bonus levels. Our associates were congratulated more often for their billable hours than they were for the quality of their work.

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Our firm laid off associates because they did not have enough “billable hours.” It wasn’t the associates fault. Their lack of hours occurred because the work in the practice group was slow, or because the partners needed to get their own billable hours.

I remember some partners in our firm discouraging associates from attending “training” and career development sessions because it took away from “billable hours.”

When associates returned to the office from a pro bono effort, community service or client development meeting, they were sometimes made to feel they were not carrying their share of the load. If they cut back on their billable hours in order to spend more time with their children or in the community, some were made to feel they were not committed to their work.

We had some really great mentors and some that were not interested. As a result some or our  associates became disillusioned by the mentoring process. They anticipated their mentor would help them in career planning and they had high expectations when they selected their mentor, only to have those expectations dashed when the sole mentoring activity was lunch at the firm’s expense.

I remember one associate who with my help had developed a specific career plan. When she enthusiastically shared it with the partner for whom she worked, he put down her idea.

In 2015, is your law firm encouraging or discouraging your associates?

My experience has shown that law firms are investing less in developing their next generation of remarkable lawyers. Maybe it is because we are living in the “new normal” era of law practice.

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Are you attracting star associates to your firm?

Are they learning the skills that make them valuable to your clients?

Are your partners behind the effort to train and develop the associates?

What are effective ways to train and develop them?

I got the opportunity to answer these questions during a presentation to managing partners at an annual bar association meeting. I loved the title they gave me.

It gave me the opportunity to focus on how to connect with the ‘next generation,’ make the business case for developing them, and then give specific ideas on how to do it.”

After the presentation, I wrote Developing the Next Generation of Remarkable Lawyers,  that also  asked and answered those questions.

In the article you will find that I decided our attorney development program for associates should include eight parts, each of which was tied to the associates’ Development Plan.

After you have read the article, please come back to this blog and post any comments you may have on whether developing the next generation of remarkable lawyers has changed in the “new normal” of law firm economics.