Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Bargain

Just before Thanksgiving, I caught up with a colleague and friend from New York where the topic turned to pretty heady discussion about “the bargain” that attorneys make. Not just attorneys, really all high-stress professions, but since we work exclusively with law firm partners and firm management our anecdotes focused on such.

She and I met several years ago through a mutual friend as he was looking to relocate to Florida to give his family a fresh start after burning through holidays, weekends, vacation time, even being picked up at Easter service and returned to the office to work on a big deal. Graduating near the top of the class from a top law school, he got on the track with the hopes of Partnership, financial success, and all of the bona fides of entering a room as a high profile partner at a major AM Law firm in the biggest legal market in the world.

When the self-medicating began, compromises were made, chances given, help offered. The next firm was a bit less tolerant deciding that the first 90 days offered the protections of parting ways. Then the next. This time his wife had had enough.

He would call me much earlier than that, often after 8 or 9 PM, talking about raising his kids in Florida. Giving them a different lifestyle, but couldn’t take certain reductions in pay or title because his book was growing, but not particularly portable. It was the bargain that he made to get what he wanted, until it wasn’t. Our mutual friend found him after an overdose in a one bedroom apartment in New Jersey.

Last year, one of the kindest attorneys that I knew, who by all accounts had all of the worldly success anyone could ask for was found in Miami after committing suicide.

Every few weeks, an article is written in one of the legal journals about addiction, suicide, or an attorney losing their minds and throwing an entire life’s work away.

Earlier this year, I had to testify in a murder trial of an Atlanta attorney that was found guilty of killing his wife. During the preceding days, he and I had been exchanging texts and emails. Emails that he wanted sent to her email because he did not have a personal email, and he wanted to show her that he was trying to improve his financial situation.

After one discussion that revolved more around politics, football, and setting up a meeting about a group merger, he walked into his wife’s office thirteen minutes later and got into a verbal altercation. If there was anything weighing on him, as an attorney who was paid a lot per hour to have the answers at his fingertips, he sure didn’t let on.

Needless to say, testifying now at a murder and a divorce, is a bit more that I bargained for.

More though is that something is happening out there. The center isn’t holding anymore.

Studies show that around 70% of attorneys are dealing with an addiction. Get your mind around the fact that if you have an office of 10 attorneys, roughly 7 are quietly fighting a battle that only a few, if any, know about.

Maybe it is the hyper-focus of having to always have the answers when your name is called in the ever smaller tribes that amass each persons echo chamber.

As a recruiter, conversations crossroad between personal and professional every day. The opportunities sought or not sought based on the status of firm, title, leverage of practice, success measured in dollars. Answers to how much is enough, with the casual just a little more.

The holding off on opportunity because of a new child, marriage, ailing parent, that is one part exciting, but for some the first change of a plan that they have harbored since they were 1L’s bringing a little resentment. Then a little something to forget about it. Then a decade of compromises made for “the greater good”, lubricated in many cases with different hidden vices, until they aren’t.

In the past two weeks, I have placed a 73-year-old litigator from an AM Law 20 firm that still plays rugby, married to the love of his life, and finds bliss in the law enough to want to practice another 10 years.

Another in her early 40’s that wants to work as hard as humanly possible until the age of 50 because she has no intention of ever being an attorney after 50 and candidly hates being a lawyer. The next 10 years pay off debt, get kids through college, sock away retirement, and set up an already busy travel itinerary. That is her bargain.

This tends to be the time of year where attorneys wait for the payoff for the bargain that they have made.

Please feel free to call or email me if you believe that you need better alignment between your personal and professional goals. My approach is to listen and consult, not fit square pegs into round holes and spray and pray your resume around town.

If you could make a different bargain, whether it’s a conversation that has been held off, forgiveness withheld to someone or even to yourself, seeking a change that surrounds you with people who enhance you personally and professionally, changes made that reduce the impact of financial liability, one more meal a week with someone that you haven’t shared a meal with in a while, calling an old friend, attending a religious service, saying yes to something that you have said no to for a while, saying no to something that you have said yes to too much.

I’d call that a bargain. Maybe the best you ever had.

Andrew Wilcox, President, Wilcox and Hackett, LLC, Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com, 850-274-7849

Yes...And

Through a variety of circumstances, one of the circles that was run in during college was with a band of gypsies that found what they hoped to be their lives calling in comedy.

Every couple of weeks there would be an improv night at some old theater in Coconut Grove, Boca Raton, or Hollywood, where people would come for the cheap wine and interactive dance without a net that is the audience-performer experience. After which, I would sit and listen to the budding comedians debrief the performances.

A central tenet of improv is what is known as Yes...And. It takes whatever is thrown out at face value and builds from it.

The more outlandish and creative the better, as the debriefs would be critical of jokes that were obvious, gratuitously vulgar, or didn’t keep the act going.

Like in business conversations, the better the listening, the better the result. Have you ever had a conversation with someone that is waiting to talk, rather than actively listening? If you would only be quiet, they are about to drop some serious knowledge on you about just how knowledgeable that they are...

Two things make or break Yes...And, failing to release the creativity, innovation, and whether further engagement is possible. “No,” and something completely unrelated and not based on what the other gave you. They really wanted to get that zinger in regardless of the setup.

Yes..And may bridge the two topics, but does so through active listening and keeps the back and forth in alignment.

To paraphrase from Seinfeld, “You can take the reservation, but can you keep the reservation?’ Anyone can get someone’s attention, but can you keep someone’s attention?” Because, really that is the most important thing.

Attorneys receive some variation of waiting to talk emails every day from recruiters: Dear insert name. You are the perfect candidate for an AM Law top 100 firm in insert city. They are a fast growing firm with multiple insert either national or international offices and a dynamic practice. The firm is only looking for superstars with over insert how much portable business needed. Please contact me at your earliest convenience to discuss this fantastic opportunity.

Chances are that if you do not know if you are the perfect candidate for that opportunity, neither do they.

The same can be said when you are trying to develop your client base. Are they the perfect client based on where they sit on the Fortune 500 list, type of sector that they are in, and where they have offices?

You can’t Google search what drives people. Why is someone a corporate attorney instead of a litigator? Have they had enough of big firms and are looking for something smaller? What about the practice of law is important to you? Is a successful move based on making more money, or is making more money a function of having a platform to reach your other goals with people that you enjoy working with?

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The End of Books


It’s the million dollar question. As I talk with attorneys about potential career moves you can almost anticipate that they want me to ask it. They need me to ask it. They get asked it all of the time. Most hope that I don’t ask it. Why? Because no one knows the answer.

Let me be clear, I hate the question too. Firms want me to ask it, so I do…eventually.

Firms have gotten very smart about creating uncertainty around what people can claim as “their book”. Bring a client in and have 8 other people work on all facets of that clients needs. Smart, good business. After a team works successfully on a few deals, knows the people involved, has domain expertise of the client, trying to be the one attorney that takes that client will most likely result in a rock fight on the way out.

So the refrain goes, I brought in X amount over the last few years, but I can’t tell you how much, if any, is portable. That not knowing will slam the breaks on a prospective firms 30 pages of diligence that they need to determine if they are interested in bringing you into the fold. So you are a great attorney…if we cant measure it, we cant manage it. If we can’t manage it, then you aren’t worth it.

Books should be about stories though. What you have done over the last 3-5 years or over a career says a lot about how you have developed your character. Are you a role player or hero? Have you failed miserably in a way that has ultimately lead you to succeed? What has held the character back? What does the character need to move the story forward?

You can show originations and WIP for the last 3 years in a Tweet.

The question will not go away. Just like a mutual fund prospectus shows performance over the last few years, the disclaimer also says that it is not a guarantee of future performance. We have to start somewhere though.

As you evaluate opportunities use the exercise to formulate what you need and frankly what you don’t. If you are seeking a romance novel, don’t go shopping in the horror section. If you seek bill rate flexibility, other practice areas to leverage, specific firm culture, geographic footprint, etc. All of those things go to your list of requirements. This will tighten your list of suitors based on what you will tolerate or not.

Paint a picture of what you would look like to that firm over first couple of months (resources needed, clients to cross-sell with, practice groups to engage, marketing) to a year and 5 years in. Create an outline that everyone can use to fill out the story.

Firms WANT to know what you have done in the past with another firm, but they NEED to know how you will do that and more with them.

This is the time of year to start putting that story down on paper whether considering a move or kick-starting your practice where you are.

If you are looking for a new start to your story, contact me at: Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com, 850-274-7849

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Pepper

When you grow up as the child of a nurse, you go into the world armed with a lot of information that is useful, petrifying, and some of it fun at parties.

Nurses tend to diagnose everyone and share the findings at Thanksgiving dinner, when they meet your prom date, and with other parents on the bleachers at baseball games. If two or more of them are together you can pretty much leave them alone for hours as they share war stories.  The favorite refrain being, “Does this bother you.?  Guess I don’t think anything of it.”

She’d leave the house for a double shift with chores written in shorthand and with the understanding that if she didn’t work, we didn’t eat. So if I’m sick, I BETTER be sick. 

Being a kid with asthma stinks, but has its advantages.  If you don’t want to do something anymore you just say you cant breath and you sort of get a pass.  However, the 2 or 4 am rushes to Broward General weren’t as fun.  The drug of choice, which has since been banned, was Primatene Mist.  When that didn’t work and mom needed a solution at 2 am, she first reached for pepper.  I’d sniff it and start sneezing like crazy. This would probably get a call from DCF now, but the simple solution was to sneeze a lot, clear my head, calm down, and breathe again.

When you are a kid with asthma, you grow up to be an adult that doesn’t take breaths for granted.  You try and fail and learn and succeed but thinking it to death is like having pepper when you cant breath and waiting for clinical trials on a wonder drug.

Years later I had “outgrown” asthma.   Travelling in Arizona at 2 am something hit me though.  Something in the environment that shot my eyes wide open and took me back 25 years.  Desperate for air, no inhaler in site.  My back hurt from the gasping.  Emergency room in a foreign city, deep Tony Robbins cleansing breathes, or get downstairs and find some pepper. 

I walked toward the door and looked to the counter.  You would have thought that I was Scarface as I poured the 2 small packets out and went all Martin Short in Inner space to sneeze (good luck ever tying those two movies together again)

Firms spend a lot of money on people that “know more” and promise solutions.  Is your firm gasping for air?  Maybe the attorney that you had in mind to take over just left. Your growth is based on bringing on more people with revenue.  Trim a group.  It’s all ways to catch your breath.

Sometimes desperation seeks the simple solution, and knowing the symptoms makes it easier to find the cure.

Does your practice need a miracle cure or do you just need to catch your breath?

Let me pass you the pepper..


Andrew Wilcox at (850) 629-9073, or Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com

Thursday, April 28, 2016

WHY THE THINGS WE DO

Think for a moment about the great law firms that you know. Why are they great?

Now think of the best attorneys that you know (other than yourself of course). Why are they great?

In his book, Start With Why, Simon Sinek asserts that the organizations that outpace all others start with the Why (Purpose), then ask How (Process), and end up with What (Result).  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sioZd3AxmnE

However, law firms and potential lateral candidates usually are at inverse ends of this model. 

Law firms want to know “what” portable business an attorney has.  If it’s big enough, then “how” is it built.  Types of clients, practice areas, bill rates, leverage.  If a candidate passes through those hoops then, “Why” would they be lucky enough to join such an amazing law firm as ours filled with such legally skilled rainmaking firepower.

The question becomes, why would anyone that has that kind of practice and book of business ever be compelled to leave their firm?  Certainly, firms do their homework.  They know what the market bears in compensation.  Some pay higher base, lower bonus.  Others pay lower base, higher bonus, but the days of going across the street for substantially more on a book of business are fewer and fewer.  In fact, so many firms have been burned on promised or historical revenue that the chances are you may have to take the same or less than you currently make.

Past performance doesn’t guarantee future success as the stock disclaimer reads.  Firms are buying a snapshot of when an attorney is trading at their highest returns, rather than picking based on fundamentals and investing in their professional growth.

The attorneys that make the move have to know WHY. WHY is the story that reduces the risk.  The painting of the picture in that firms model that gets them from where they are to where they want to be. The How and What of a firm is a Google search. Websites with city pictures, attorneys smiling looking busy while standing in front of bookshelves, and accolades.  Drop down boxes with office locations, practice areas, and snappy graphics. 

Chances are when I asked, why you thought a firm was great, it wasn’t because they have 20 offices and a thousand attorneys.

Just like when you think of a great attorney, it probably has little to do with their revenue.

The WHY is the alignment of firm and attorney with culture, values, aspirations, practice, clients, colleagues, etc.  It’s not the secret sauce, it’s the reason for the secret sauce.

With more firms going to a teaming approach, less certainty can be given on who and what clients would leave with anyone.  Smart if you are the firm, but it also means that they are going after a shrinking percentage of legitimate rainmakers that everyone else is trying to lure.

Last week I spoke with an AM Law 50 client that gets it.  They said find us the best talent that we can catch on the way up, and we will give them the resources or the “how” and we will watch “what” grows.  That takes time and investment.  A 10-20 year vision rather than a 1-3 year.

Clients can buy WHAT you do from a variety of attorneys.  Firms can hire rainmakers for HOW they develop their business.  Both can be commoditized.  If you don’t believe me, raise your bill rate by $100/ hour or demand a big raise.

Silek states “People don’t buy what you do.  They buy WHY you do it.”
So WHY do you do it, and are you with a firm that gets it?

Andrew Wilcox at (850) 629-9073, or Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Presents

A few weeks ago I got to go to a high school football game with a good friend. One of the top rivalries in the country and a school that he went to. Fifteen thousand people, tickets on the 50, perfect weather, the home band has over 400 members and they and the visiting band filled the field before kickoff. I jokingly asked…”Did we really HAVE to be here an hour early?” He said, “HAVE to? You GET to..!”

What a perfectly simple way to look at this time of year.

Around Halloween you take a look ahead and the activity calendar fills up pretty quick. Thanksgiving, shopping, singing Christmas trees, parties, sporting events, travel, family events, religious services. From one busy to the next. From one choice to the next. One opportunity to the next.

This time of year brings out the best and the worst of emotions.

Maybe you just remember how the holidays made you feel. Maybe yours was the Facebook update family with all of the perfectness, or this time of year can have toxic memories.

Rarely, when you recall the holidays when you were 7, 17, 27, etc can you recall a specific present that someone gave you. There are always the big ones. Maybe the bike or the toy that you really wanted.

The biggest presents are the times when someone forgave or showed grace and kindness when you didn’t deserve it. It didn’t cost money, but carried a burden. Your present to others can be the same. Not because you HAVE to, but because you GET to.

If love is spelled by the closest ones to you, T.I.M.E, then give it. Not because you HAVE to, because this life is short, you can’t take it with you, and you GET to.

Moments are captured rather than enjoyed. On a device, to be seen years later and probably deleted, rather than experienced at the moment.

I wish you all of the blessings of the season and that your greatest Present given and received from the ones that you care about the most is Presence.

Andrew Wilcox at (850) 629-9073, or Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Silos

On a drive to Atlanta a few weeks ago I was struck by the similarities from farm country to downtown. Both have tall silos that hold valuable resources, tied to measurable market conditions, that stand alone next to each other, and hold perishable material if not used in a timely manner.

Of course silos downtown house people, knowledge, and technical resources that can measure market conditions, and in theory, act. Cultivate your resources, brand it, price it accordingly.

The problem is that within most offices there are several silos on the same floor, perhaps in the office next door. All separate, all different pricing, all different clients, all different need of resources. Protected like a farmer protecting their crop.

When speaking with firms about cross-marketing I either get a chuckle or a plan. The ones that do it effectively get granular in their metrics (but in a way that everyone understands), incentivize, and only hire or retain people that buy into that culture. They train associates to become client developers and communicate constantly.

There are plenty of “eat what you kill” firms. Not many are going to the top of the AM list.

The inverse is the firm mindset that, “If we train associates to develop their own business they will just leave..” So what happens when they become partners and need to have clients? Great attorneys that may have never had a business discussion in their lives are told that their career is on the line to do something that they have never been asked to do before.

Other favorites:

“As a litigation partner, if a corporate matter comes in I have no idea who to go to..”

“I only get paid on my originations that I work, no incentive to bring anyone else in, and if I did they would probably try and poach my clients..”

Getting new clients is hard enough. Why always chase new ones? The firms that take their talents and multiply them start out doing a percentage of work and leveraging other practice areas from their firm or network into that client to help manage their risk.
The price for services becomes a value when risk is reduced. Otherwise it’s just a cost...and there is always someone to do it cheaper and faster.

How can you tear down the silos in your environment and utilize the rich resources that are right around you?

Andrew Wilcox at (850) 629-9073, or Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com.