Law firms that lack energy dim their prospects for the future. Too often law firms pass over the issue of their own vibrancy (whether by a failure of recognition or simple indifference) and plod along without taking corrective action. A becalmed law firm, especially in these times of legal industry disruption, is flirting with danger.
Allowing a firm’s malaise to continue can institutionalize a momentum towards decline. It fosters a culture where expectations are lessened and acceptance of mediocrity metastasizes. A lack of energy cannot go on for long or it will grow into a potentially irreversible condition. If a firm finds its energy levels scaling down, it must take quick action.
Recognizing that an energy issue exists is the first step. Is the firm’s vibrancy at levels that are below acceptable? How can it know? Five common signs of a law firm’s waning energy can include:
Substandard Economic Performance. A great measure of a firm’s energy is the firm’s current economic performance. But an energy assessment comes from much more than whether the past or current year has been or is a good one. Detailed economic reports can unlock data that reflects a declining energy level at the firm. Even under the glow of a “good year” declining production, a drop off in new matters opened, reduced marketing and business development activity, smaller number of clients coming to the firm are all markers indicative of an energy decline. Sustained declines in performance measurements suggests strongly that a jolt of energy is in order.
Same Old, Same Old. A firm satisfied with its practice “as is” and only seeking to replicate it from year to year is setting itself up to disappointment. Continuing the status quo can mean that the client relationship building apparatus is in a rut. Satisfaction of this nature is the mark of complacency and can cause a firm to be passed by its competitors or abandoned by the marketplace. A firm with any vibrancy does not stand still. It constantly looks for an edge to make itself more attractive to prospective clients and other attorneys. A firm content to rock along as usual can need a shot in the arm.
Attrition. Unwanted attrition at a firm often deprives a firm of some of its best assets. Even attrition instigated by the firm can be a problem-it can signal that long-term planning inadequately positions the firm for the future. Either way, the loss of attorneys can sap energy from a firm and can lead to a slow and unintended bleeding away of more talent. When attrition occurs, inevitably a firm suffers energy loss. It must counteract its negative impact by taking prompt action, including replacing its losses with better talent or a better strategy.
No Obvious Succession. Succession planning aside, a firm must constantly ask itself whether young and dynamic lawyers are in the wings as a firm progresses towards a generational handoff. A pool of young go-getters at a firm tends to provide a sense of energy. But if scanning the firm’s roster fails to spotlight a pool of energetic potential successors, a lack of energy is imminent if it does not already exist. When a firm’s demographic weighting is skewed towards older contributors, an influx of young talent can boost the firm’s energy and make it stronger.
Indifference to Disruption. Today’s legal market is more competitive than ever. Disruption is all around. A law firm that ignores that fact either is profoundly unwise, lacks the energy to react, or both. “Whistling past the graveyard” of disruption is not a sound strategy in today’s market. In contrast, a law firm aware of the challenge posed by disruption and prepared to face it head-on is going to be, in most instances, a firm that possesses the energy needed to compete in today’s World. If your firm is indifferent to the changing competitive legal landscape, it may need, among other things, some fire in its belly.
Being a successful law firm requires many characteristics, not the least of which is energy. A lack of it suggests problems in the firm’s future. What is your firm’s energy level? How does it measure up when looking at these five signs?