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Monday, January 11, 2021

Walkabout



When my best friend sent an invite a couple of months ago to their 25th anniversary just outside of Fort Worth, it seemed obvious the first thing to do was to book a flight from Tallahassee to Salt Lake City and drive back weaving my way through parts of this country that show up in those gray areas on cell coverage maps. With my wife’s blessing because the itinerary involved a good deal of hikes and sites that she and my daughters do not find that passes for a good time, out of the bubble I flew with a mask, hand sanitizer, and a stop to load up on snacks and PB&J.

Not sure of what I would find, whom I would talk to, or what the open road would hold, it was liberating. Delays on the front end sending me through open prairie en route to Ely, NV past the “loneliest road in the country” sans radio signal save for NPR, arrived at dark, left at dark to get to the trailhead of Wheeler Peak at Great Basin National Park. Planning on solo hiking, quickly made friends with a fellow on a walkabout named Steve. Pushing each other to over thirteen thousand feet talking about his two-month journey, faith, family, what he would do for work when he got back to San Diego. The type of talk that it usually takes guys years to get into, we dove right in. He needed an ear, I needed someone to kick me up that last thousand feet on a few hours of sleep. Both of us needed to know that we weren’t on this journey alone.

Aggressive travel planning had me on the 7 am shuttle at Zion National Park the next morning and huffing my way up to the top of Angel’s Landing with an afternoon of walking waist-deep in water through The Narrows. Angel’s Landing's chain section had been closed up until a couple of weeks earlier as it is one way up and down holding on to them. The early crowd held the mountain as the sun revealed shades of color pallets down the valley. Happy to be there, happy to be anywhere other than the four walls from which they came. A veritable party like it was 2019 and the world hadn’t gone crazy that made everyone sort of linger there. Making way down as the log jam along the chains making way up.

Peakbaggers, thru-hikers, day-trippers, the earthy set, folks visiting from outside a metroplex, I wore them out zippity-do-da-ing my way down that trail greeting everyone with some variation of good morning. Most returning the greeting in kind, craving some sort of connection looking forward to the day, once taken for granted, where we could get on a packed elevator and talk about the weather or third trip our way through an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Everyone needs something to get through this. Hiking is getting somewhere. Fatigue and exhaustion, support from a stranger in a turn back moment. Mentally one foot in front of another until you get to where you want to go. Eye contact, check-ins, shared fuel along the way. We have too much time and not enough, but all that there is.

How much further is it? Just around the corner. Over that hill. You are close. Not that much. You are doing good at your pace. Hang in there. It’s worth it.

We all need that connection to someone for those answers. We are all fatigued and exhausted, but on the trail, it is really tough to stay down when you find your people on a journey.

When a snowstorm pushed me to Plan B en route to West Texas, traded alpine peaks for places like Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, and Alpine, Texas. A few months ago Big Bend National Park had closed a day before we were to go as a family. If you have never been to this part of the world, I am convinced, like with Great Basin that some of the best national parks, and I have been to 45 of them, are the ones that take some getting to.

On your way, support these small towns. If you have ever driven through a town where you believe that at some point something was happening there, that is what a great deal of these towns are becoming with Covid shutdowns. Who is going to open a hardware store downtown anywhere anymore? Lunch spot, when all of the chains are around. Stuff stores when dollar stores are on the city limits. A lot is spoken about big city and big business disruption and it is tragic, but people live and chose to live in towns for generations handing some of these businesses down that they will watch close and never come back.

With a last day of hiking at Big Bend National Park, witnessing a West Texas sunrise en route the two hours from the closest town, down a gravel road to the Santa Elena Canyon trail. Two people had just come off the trail leaving me alone on it for the better part of an hour. A mile and a half up the Rio Grande with thousand-foot cliffs on either side. Listening to the breeze blow through the canyon over the river mixed with the desert scrub. The Paleo-Indians walked these paths, looked at the tops of those cliffs, heard the same river going back to 15,000 BC. All alone, feet in the water, the end of a journey near, overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude. To God, family, friends, health. To life.

That last hike trying to hold on to the journey up Lost Mine Trail 4.2 miles it had been a long week. Legs were tired, views had been seen that tend to stick in your wayback machine a while. Encouraged to do this last hike by a couple of guys in from Houston with their families, looking at what I thought was the destination I happened upon a few folks on their way down.

“How much further is it?” Just around the corner. Over that hill. You are close. Not that much. You are doing good at your pace. Hang in there. It’s worth it.

We’ll get there.

Andrew Wilcox, Owner of Wilcox and Hackett, LLC and Author of Compass, now available on Amazon, 850-274-7849, Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Second Acts

Contrary to what F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, second acts in American life are more the norm than the exception.

Of course, he was 44 when he died. Second acts often are projected onto people. Can you imagine Elvis in Branson, or Marilyn Monroe as a sage grandmother in a rom-com? We lock them in their time even though each lived to 42 and 36 respectfully.

The reality hits you when you go to a 80’s flashback band concert and see more gray hair and finger snapping. It’s not pretty for the most part. Inevitably, there is always one that dances the full Elaine and tries to get the others to join. We are all just a little sore and unhip for that nonsense.

Owning a search and consulting firm, I am in the second act business. The “rising action” as referred to in the theater. Listening to attorneys talk about what worked in act one, what they never want to do again, people that they never want to work with again, and what options resolve to await them in the second act.

A couple of years ago, I took part in the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship. Prior to the program, I knew him as an owner of a Pontiac dealership growing up in South Florida, that then owned JM Enterprises, and had a yacht named the Gallant Lady moored at Bahia Mar.

After WWII, Jim Moran opened a gas station in Chicago with a $360 loan, began selling Hudson’s and became financially successful eventually selling Fords and Pontiacs before being diagnosed with terminal cancer in his 40’s. Deciding to relocate to Florida, beating cancer, he got a call from a friend to learn if he may have an interest in an upstart car company called Toyota.

Test-driving one down the interstate, he threw it into reverse trying to break it every way he could, deemed that it was well built and reasonably priced. He would go on to launch Southeast Toyota where 20% of all of the Toyotas in the US would be sold through. A 15 billion dollar company as a second act.

He was always a car man. Tough to wake up in your 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s as a lawyer and decide to become as qualified in anything else. Besides, those bill rates aren't just based on the hour, but rather the years of experience that lead to that hour. Perhaps the way that you are doing it needs examination. The how, why, and for whom. A call from a friend that points you reluctantly in a different direction.

How many people do you know that have never gotten out of act one for fear of what comes next?

What must be dealt with and treated in the first act to move on to your second act?

What do you need to try and break before you are sold on a new direction?

Are you ready to determine and plan your second act? Then act, don’t project.

If you want to have a confidential discussion about your goals and what a second act would look like to you please contact me at: Andrew Wilcox, Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com, 850-274-7849

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Time and Space

It has been said that Margaritaville is anywhere that you want it to be.

So after reading articles about law firms acting like two schools yelling across a Friday night football field about who has more spirit, and counting up the many nickels that I would have for every firm that I know that has maintained the same general headcount for a decade deciding to add office space for 30-50 new offices in a city. It seems that many firms want it to be the 80’s and 90’s again. (Personal privilege, I’m all for it. Lived in Lauderdale. Loved the music. College was fun.)

However, just like you see the many things that cell phones have replaced. The idea of space is dated. Other than photo backdrops, why exactly do law firms have decades-old Westlaw books on walls of shelves? Go watch a Mad Men episode and realize how many of those jobs are obsolete. Watch The Office and realize that all of the admin would be centralized in Tallahassee, Jim and Pam would be on flex-time working from home. Dwight would be working from the farm on his beet growing side hustle while filling his pipeline. Michael would manage a remote sales team of certainly more than 2-4 people. The reception would be automated and supply-chain efficient distribution centers would ship next day paper supplies to the customers who still use paper for the entire region. Still, nobody would know what Creed does, but every company has one of those employees.

Over the past several years, I have constantly heard the refrain from attorneys that a lot of their offices are empty on any given day. People are working from home more and at different hours.

Planning a retreat earlier this year I found a flight with a 3 am connection and it made me question why there is such a thing as rush hour anymore. Why not fly or drive at 2-4 am? This 9-5 world is so analog to people who want to work until time to pick up their kids, have dinner with family or enjoy a hobby, reengage with clients a world away from 10 pm until 2 am when their clients are working on their second cup of coffee.

A colleague of mine works with clients in London first thing in the morning, east coast clients through the day and west coast clients in the afternoon from a beach condo in Destin.

The idea that the only way to engage this world is to put on an expensive outfit, sit in traffic, go to a building, kibitz in the snack room, before taking in the beautiful panoramic views from the high floor conference room, when all of the speeds, video calling, legal resources can be accessed anywhere at anytime is a mind shift change that is happening at a rapid clip.

In my little town of Tallahassee, I can name a dozen attorneys that either work from home for a large international firm in another city, or have clients that are in the UK, Asia, Latin America, or anywhere in the US that they rarely see and even more rarely need to see in their office. Staying closer to home, better serving people further away. More nimble with rates, time, and space.

Some firms are embracing this as a way to recruit attorneys whether it is utilizing technology, processes, and procedures to ensure that attorneys can leverage their practices and not be siloed in their home offices. Other firms are embracing hybrid models that are more hotel options where less office space is secured, but available for attorneys that need it.

If you aren’t using all of that overhead that you are working to maintain, why are you paying for it? To be part of a national or international firm? It is at least a visual way to take stock of a firm’s culture and fiscal mindset when evaluating a move. Firms that have solid processes usually have them throughout the organization. I have never seen a firm that handles the hiring process with a ton of bureaucracy only to become efficient when someone is hired. Fiscal irresponsibility usually rears its head all throughout a firm. Ask to take a tour and let what you see inform you. Eventually, you will be on the hook for paying for someone else’s dream.

A dream that may be a dated way of confusing someone’s presence in a building with their productivity and legal prowess.

So what constitutes a national or international law firm or practice? I guess it’s wherever you want it to be?

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

The Journey



A couple of years ago I was invited to mostly proctor a plenary session at a 2-day conference. Paying freight by weaving a few recruiting and client development best practices to a room that was amped up just short of a Tony Robbins firewalk, then brought down with soft music, reamped with mantras chanted, chakras aligned, laughter, crying, an entire gamut of emotions. Perfectly articulate folks who found their inner middle schooler taking profanity for a test drive. Others who escaped offices for a few days finding an inner peace that would hopefully last them past the following Wednesday.

Gone were the elevator pitches. Apparently, people take the stairs, are afraid of triggering in a boxed space, or interrupting people scrolling their Facebook pages. Several people took turns on the last day delivering their “tagline” or “money” line describing what they do in the form of a verb. Not an attorney, “I help clients navigate the real estate buying process.” “I help companies manage their legal risk.”

At a carb social between sessions, a gentleman introduced himself, gave his tagline and asked what I do, to which I blurted out, “I go on journeys with people.”

By this point, I was around state 32 of a journey with my family to all 50 state capitols, presidential libraries, and national parks that's origin began with noun destinations in mind. Around state 15 somewhere lost in Thelma and Louise country missing the turn in Hanksville, Utah as the Sun was setting, two young daughters and my wife in a car that was getting close to empty thanking the paper map as GPS was lost, or the church in Salida, Colorado opened on Wednesday evening, when apparently every gas station, store, and restaurant owner within 200 miles shuts it down early for Hee-Haw or Lawrence Welk reruns, we found that ears that hear the who, what, why, when, and where will garner instant recall as a book of capitols stamped from each will end up in a bin somewhere.

This summer we finished in Montana, every presidential library, and 48 national parks realizing that the two in the backseat are approaching the age where the Griswold family vacations will soon give way to their own personal journeys and the logistical capabilities of embarking on them.

There is a lot of time to think on some of the roads out West where after hours in a direction, mountains do not seem to get closer. Thinking of the people in the van, friends, family, but also the journeys that I have been lucky enough to travel with attorneys over the years.

By now, I have known some attorneys from a LinkedIn connection or advice-seeking emails when they graduated from law school, through the associate ranks, partnership, starting their own firms or managing firms. Along the way, marrying, kids, parents that have fallen ill and needing to be close to. Vacations, hobbies, triumphs, tragedies. Overcoming self-inflicted obstacles. Taking calls, texts, emails at all hours from some that are paid a $1000/ hour to always have all of the answers, but can’t find an escape from the pain that they feel. Counseling to make amends when they can, listening to their stories and what they want of the next chapter. Helping to navigate an opportunity that helps pay for their kid's college, enables time in the morning or evening to share a meal with family, surrounds them with people that challenge and embrace them.

Please contact me at: Andrew@Wilcox-legal.com, or 850-274-7849 if you want to discuss what is next in your journey.

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