It’s A Species That Seems To Be Going Extinct
It has become a tired story: The prestigious, historical institutions are losing market share and valuable employees, yet the industry doesn't change. After all, it’s hard to turn an aircraft carrier.
The leaders of these institutions have been around for decades, leading from the perch of their corner office; incredibly well paid; and paying their first lieutenants well.
These leaders keep traditions sacrosanct, clinging to the way things have always been done. Perhaps leadership is unaware of changes in the industry and, therefore is not responding to the changes.
For example, they have yet to realize that the ubiquitous nature and speed of digital content and the ability to access information at little or no cost has made printed content a thing of the past.
They also haven’t realized that the many of the most passionate and capable employees in their profession are diverse, nimble, creative, risk takers who are not beholden to the fancy offices. Instead, these professionals capably access electronic information from their laptops to efficiently and transparently collaborate with clients and want to work remotely without the need to put in “face time.”
These employees are talented and keen to the knowledge that the traditions are fraying, and have their own ideas on how to capitalize on the new realities. Because the institutions do not welcome these new ideas, these employees leave to start their own business, based on a model that is not tethered to history but rather forward thinking about how to add value for clients, how to keep employees motivated and productive, and how to build communities not obligated to the norms of an exclusive club.
What industry are we describing?
The fashion magazine industry, of course. According to the New York Times, the fashion magazine industry, even at the revered Vogue magazine, has been suffering. Vogue has been losing circulation, talent and revenue; and still has not discovered how to adapt. (NYT Article Does a Changing of the Guard at Vogue Signal More Change Ahead?)
Wait – the fashion publication industry? Isn’t this blog about lawyers?
Indeed it is. But the story is the same. The Times noted that fashion publications are “a species that seems to be going extinct.” Of course, other industries have gone extinct – the desktop computer, the land line, the corset. And, when someone like a Steve Jobs, Michael Dell, Donna Karan, or Coco Chanel break free from industry norms to define a new paradigm, they are hailed as risk-taking entrepreneurs, the smart creatives with the guts to break loose and create a start-up.
To my mind, the candid counselors with whom I have started this blog are no different. Each one of us spent years working in traditional legal roles. We worked with hardworking, experienced, wicked smart colleagues at prestigious institutions. We worked to solve incredibly complex legal issues that spanned the globe. We were well compensated, well regarded; and we loved our work.
But, my fellow candid counselors and I could not shake the thought that our profession was changing but the institutions in which we worked were stagnant.
For example, when I was in house in corporate America and a consumer of legal services, I would reach out to outside counsel. I was not looking for lengthy memos on the latest DOJ FCPA or False Claims cases because I had all of that information at my electronic fingertips. Nor did I need junior lawyers in meetings taking notes.
What I needed from my outside counsel was advice borne of wisdom and experience so they could provide me legal insight on what my businesses needed to do to mitigate our unique legal risks. I was fortunate to have had outside counsel who, when after some frank conversation on legal services, appreciated my needs and cut to the chase.
My outside counsel took their role as a valuable, trusted advisor to heart. They advised me on the law but also on how to have difficult conversations with business leaders and how to hold tough when a business opportunity should not be pursued. I developed relationships with certain outside counsel so that when my inside world was collapsing, I could phone a friend – and get the legal counsel I needed to shore the place up. I treasured those relationships and the counsel they provided was priceless.
The problem? I did not encounter this approach often enough.
My fellow candid counselors wanted to offer this type of service all the time. And, they knew as did I, that flexible, innovative fee arrangements often reduced a business’ legal spend while fairly compensating the lawyers for their work. So, we were all thinking of a different type of firm.
We also noticed that when we looked around, we did not see people like us sitting at those desks in those corner offices. But yet, we knew we had the capability to sit there.
So even before we knew one another we were each determined to practice a profession we loved, using skills we had mastered, to provide valuable counsel to clients who appreciated our capabilities.
We each relied on our courage to take the plunge and either joined a start-up or started our own business (yes, a law firm is a business, even if it will always be a profession first).
We have each purposefully decided, when none of us had to, to take the road less traveled. All four of us walked right out of those buildings with glass ceilings and fancy offices to run our own law firms. Of the four of us, some of us walk the road in high heels (we could fight or confront a witness on cross-examination in those heels if needed); some of us walk in pantsuits; some of us solo lawyers and some of us with a few other lawyers. But all four of us walked out of those “prestigious” organizations with the same fight that we brought there.
In other words:
Left a good job in the city
Workin' for the man every night and day
And I never lost one minute of sleepin'
Worryin' 'bout the way things might have been
Big wheel keep on turnin'
Proud Mary keep on burnin'
-Creedance Clearwater Revival
So, this blog will be about four proud lawyers who left good jobs without worry over how things might have been, sharing thoughts on how things could be. (See Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival)