Now’s the Time for Law Firms to Act More like Businesses

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Law firms have always marched to the beat of a slightly different drum. And given their historical success, why change their ways? After all, it has always worked for them.

But, times are a changin. And in significant ways. Changes that law firms must get in line with if they want to continue to succeed.

What Is Your Firm Known For?

I think we can all agree that American businesses have certainly changed their beliefs about what is important to be a successful organization these days. American business leaders have intentionally and consistently steered their ships in the areas of vision, purpose, culture, and “giving back.”

American business top management understands that the success equation has changed in their world from the traditional “top-down” approach – still in play for most law firms – to the more caring, listening, “bottom-up” direction of today’s more enlightened organizations. Many of today’s and tomorrow’s business issues, such as AI and cybersecurity, are just more suited for bright, younger minds. Future leading, successful companies must attract these young minds and, as such, build their organizations on the issues that these young minds care about – purpose, culture, vision, and giving back.

Moving Beyond Profit as Motive

Modern successful businesses have moved far beyond Milton Friedman’s proclamation: “Companies exist solely to create profit for shareholders.” But for many law firms, that Friedman edict still applies. And their “shareholders” are, of course, themselves – the partners of the law firm.

This is a short-sighted strategy. It is certainly less enticing to the younger generation and is an increasing “turn-off” to clients and potential clients.

And of recent concern, the clients of law firms are recognizing this lack of vision and purpose behind their law firms – especially as they see how their organizations have made serious steps to change what is important. These clients really don’t see a similar change occurring with their law firm…and that is not good. As one client told me: “All our outside partners organizations must share similar values to our organization, or we will cease to do business with them. They must be increasingly focused on “giving back” in a real and intentional way, just like my company is.” Make no mistake, those “outside partner organizations” include their law firms.

So, things at law firms must change. And it has to start at the top.

Funny thing. Fifty-plus years ago, law firms were the “purpose drivers.” They were the venerable leaders of their communities and beyond. They were the visible “movers and shakers” that made the way for parks to be built, non-profit powerhouses to be formed, and hospitals to step up their game. They were the ones at the forefront of making good things happen in society. When you heard some of these leading law firms – your mind conjured up images of smart, powerful, respected people making right for the world.

Now, more time than not, it’s corporations that make things happen as the law firms step out of the limelight and take a more minor, supporting role.

The Rise of the Mid-Sized Law Firm

It’s time—especially for midsize law firms—to return to being more visionary, purposeful, and culture-driven. Become the law firm known for having caring, selfless “trusted advisor” people who truly leverage their talents to help their community and others.

Managing Directors and law firm CEOs need to inspire and create a clear vision for how their firm should be seen. The culture needs to be intentionally steered and become a magnet for the smart, more caring people coming out of law firms today.

For more help in how law firms can get where they need to be, turn to your successful business clients. Let their CEOs counsel you on becoming a more relevant and inspiring organization for today and tomorrow. Listen to your clients and ask for their help. They want to see you continue to succeed as they succeed. They have some insights that you need.

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About the author 

Fred Moore

H. Frederick T. Moore is a well-known and respected strategic communications veteran. Prior to launching Big River in 2001, Fred served at several of the nation’s top strategic agencies where he led engagements with preeminent business organizations such as IBM and SAP. More recently, Fred has helped nationally recognized law firms such as law firms such as Hunton Andrews Kurth, Williams Mullen and Lightfoot, Franklin & White.