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

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