Thursday, April 28, 2016


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).

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

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