Yet another confirmation that power has shifted from BigLaw to in-house attorneys or "the client." This one, reports Kashmir Hill in Abovethelaw.com, is via the ABA JOURNAL. According to that JOURNAL:
"About 75 percent of general counsel and law firm partners said the balance of power now lies with law firm clients ... A majority of both groups believe the power shift will be permanent."
Earlier this week at the Georgetown School of Law Conference on emerging legal models, Trevor Faure hammered the same point. He was the architect of the Tyco's consolidation of its myriad law firms to one. Faure gave BigLaw a maximum timeframe of 18 months to accommodate clients in, what for old-line law, will be radically different ways. One is measuring inputs and outcomes with Six Sigma-like precision.
Before that legal consultants Hilderbrandt and Citi Bank also indicated that in their new assertiveness clients were continuing the push for more cost-efficiency. In 2010 that could mean that partners could be cut.
The issue is hardly a shocker to managing partners. The challenge is to create fresh power strategies to help neutralize this force. The old tricks, ranging from premium branding to size, are downright counterproductive in this marketplace.
In my new book OVER-50: HOW WE KEEP WORKING, I deconstruct the more effective power moves. On April 1, I will lecturing on some of those at the New York State Bar Association. It was Manhattan power broker and reputation consultant Bob Dilenschneider who mentored me, mostly by osmosis, in the mid 1990s. Around 1991, he rocked the world with bringing power out of the corporate closet. Dilenschneider was a major client for my communications boutique.
Here are some fundamentals on how managing partners can gain control of the new power game:
- Take seriously the research on mirror neurons or how we affect each other cell by cell. The heavy introduction to that is by one of the scientists in the loop Marco Iacoboni. His book is MIRRORING PEOPLE: THE NEW SCIENCE OF HOW WE CONNECT WITH OTHERS. Each and every human element of the law firm must be aligned with the clients's. Yes, that means targeting prospects with who a connection can be made. This is micro-marketing. One key tactic is special events such as seminars custom-made for those prospects.
- Ferret out sources of what's been called "porcupine power" or the ability to obstruct. Being able to present obstacles either on behalf of or to the client is a business-development magnet. Case studies can easily be found in the wooing and arm-twisting during healthcare reform. As a former community organizer, Barack Obama had this down cold.
- Own the expertise territory. Premium or high-stakes work with go automatically to you, on your terms and conditions. That might entail buying the best talent in specializations.
- Develop a speeded-up metabolism, ranging from simplified processes to more human energy. This is how Politico.com ate the WASHINGTON'S POST lunch. The trick is that the pace must be maintained.
- Dish up a combo platter of being there or high visibility and the right timing. That has been the success formula here in Connecticut of Attorney General Richard Blumenthal. He doesn't miss an issue such as UT's attempt to ship jobs out of the state and immediately makes a public media stand.
- Create a no-blame ethos. No one wants to hear it. It's unattractive. And, most importantly, failure and setbacks can be leveraged as a platform for success which gets universal notice. As the defense teams in the Rhode Island lead paint trial know, failure is the 21st-century killer app. Here is a WIRED article on this key professional rite of passage.
Clearly, in addition to migrating to becoming buttoned-down businesspeople, managing partners have to become at-home with being power brokers. Excellence in the practice of law is simply the price of entry.