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Archive for March, 2010

In 5 years, we will care less about your professional specialty or education. We will care more about who are you playing with and who wants to play with you.

Right now it could not look more like the exact opposite. Try getting an interview today if your resume/cv does not match the exact description of the job. No chance to even meet anyone and try to explain what you can do for them or why you’re the best candidate.

A whole new paradigm is evolving at record pace parallel to the highly mechanistic one based upon past education and easily quantifiable work experiences. One based upon your abilities that are not yet easily quantifiable.  The best measures today are your social capital, or as I like saying, who wants to play with you?

In the latter paradigm, you have transcended locality and a mechanistic definition of yourself.  I am no longer the bilingual media lawyer from NBC Universal and Georgetown. I am Jorge Colon, and like that Verizon commercial, and my network!  But it’s even more than that: I’m Jorge Colon and the diverse experiences and  values of my lifetime and those of my network.

For now, many of us define our professional ability by our niche. That’s great.  But we know that we’re not one dimensional. It’s as if we must leave the totality of ourselves outside work. In some cases that may not be a bad thing either!  But we’re the sum total of all our experiences in our life.  We’re also the sum total of our access to all our network’s experiences, and those that want to collaborate with us. There is not an actual market for this experience today. It was actually considered a huge distraction from your highly mechanistic job performance.

Tomorrow, if you don’t have that collaborative network, if you can’t bring all your experiences and values to your work, you’re doomed to stay in the highly mechanistic world and definition of yourself. I say doomed not because you can’t make money or even enjoy that style of life, but that it’s a declining paradigm. You will find yourself struggling to merely survive and continue earning as computers and outsourcing perform better for less.

Let’s take the movie The Blind Side as an imperfect but dramatic example of a currency not easily quantifiable nor previously considered – but crucial.

The main character, Micahel Oher, now a Ravens offensive lineman, is quite large and exceptionally fast.  This alone gets him in the door for that position. Like a law degree and passing the bar. But it was another quality, that was identified when he was supposedly tested as a child, that determined he had extraordinary levels of protective instinct.  But how do you quantify that and how do you use that in a team? The movie tries to show that it is exactly the trait that made him incredibly valuable.  A player others want to play with because he will protect his team and his quarterback at emotional levels probably unavailable to equally large and fast players. On his team, you know he literally has your back – and he’s as fast as he is huge!

That’s the same argument I’m making about lawyers and professionals in 5 years.  You don’t need to be tested. You need to know yourself enough to know all your skills, values and share them openly.

Who are you playing with, and who wants to play with you?

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It is great to see so many of us as lawyers now delivering all of our services as VLOs, from a laptop, and many more evolving from hybrid versions. The technological leap of emancipating ourselves from traffic congested commutes, expensive office rents (any rent is expensive if it is not returning to you more than 100% of the investment in it), parking, and the unnecessary use if natural resources like paper, gas, electricity.

VLOs can be so much more than your legal office from home or your laptop. The very nature of technology today, and soon to come, will actually make that business model obsolete. Most of us are still thinking of VLOs in a linear fashion: we moved out from an office with paper files and standalone servers to SaaS applications in the cloud, or to a laptop, or to remote servers that run our data. It’s the same business model but with virtual computer technology. That’s why I refer to this definition of VLOs as putting wings on a car and calling it an airplane.

As VLOS we have an opportunity today for a larger definition. Think of “larger definitions” as saying “more opportunity to make more money and do more of what you like.”  Sounds better, no?

For example: a big law firm is a form of organization that pools together the talent and knowledge of hundreds of lawyers in one marketplace. Like a mall, the buyer gets to visit one place that can handle all or most of the client’s needs. Brilliant, and still fun to visit! Except that it is today a less efficient mode of organizing. First, a big firm is committed to its exclusive talent (this is decreasing) and expensive proprietary infrastructure, including expensive leases. Second, anyone that can adjust and access talent much faster and much better talent will always be more efficient and more effective. Big law firms know this. That’s partly why in 2009 the ABA passed a rule lowering the ethical hurdles to lateral hiring. In fact, big law often sees the future before the rest of our industry, but they simply can’t adjust fast enough because of size and bureaucracy.  Like a 16th galleon, they can see land ahead, but it takes a lot of sailors to hoist the sails and tack that big ship into the wind.

This is where VLOs can define and design themselves to compete. As a VLO you can move fast, but you don’t have scale, nor do you have trust with the best clients. But if you organize and build relationships of trust with other talent you can build scale and trust with clients previously not accessible to you.

There is another benefit to a VLO many are only now experiencing. You don’t have to be limited to any area of law you don’t want to do. You also don’t have to manage yourself as a business, if you don’t know how. You don’t have to do anything you’re not passionate about. This can only happen if and when VLOs build trust and then build scale with each other.

Hundreds of us are already exploring the VLO’s potential in thousands of conversations in social media. Those conversations are defining trust and building the formless platform for VLOs to increase scale.  Right now it has little direction. It’s like ants looking for a drop of honey. We know it’s here somewhere but no one knows exactly where.  So we exchange thousands of bits of info on social media trying to tract it down. In the end, even that is a limited example because there is not one drop of honey but an entire ocean of it!

The door is open. If we organize we can build a vast, high tech space ship instead of dreaming about flying in our grandfather’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

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It seems almost unfair to ask this question. After all who would consciously choose technology over trust. By choice I’m referring to where do you put the focus?  I admit I flirted amorously with the ocean of technology as the goal itself.  The child who wants to play with his toys comes out in me.  Sometimes, I become so carried away with the possibilities of all this technology, I lose sight of why I was originally so excited.

Oooh! Look it can do this and that!! I got a Google voice number last year. I was so excited that I was telling everyone how I could read their voice mail because Google’s technology transcribes it for me and sends to my phone via text. So what?

The real miracle was it allowed me to connect with more people and vice-versa (build trust), in ways I could manage more efficiently – and it was FREE!  Thanks Google.  But none of this technology made me nor my business more income, it merely facilitated it. Technology is a cost center. Plain and simple! It has no magic, no warmth or personality other than what we animate it with.  So why do we get so carried away with it?

Is it easier than actually relating to others? Is it easier than dealing with the highly subjective aspects of our own unpredictable human behavior? After all, technology is an object without choice. It must obey or it’s destroyed. But us, each other, well, that requires, care, attention, emotions, moods, feelings, constant misunderstandings, being open and vulnerable…on and on it goes. Yet, when there is trust, our behavior becomes highly predictable, and then more trust is generated in a self-reinforcing loop.

If I’m authentic, vulnerable and open, I become highly predictable. You may like me or not, but you will trust me, because you will know enough about me to predict how I will behave.

I will explore the theme of trust more in depth this week, including Ken Thompson’s team “Karma” concept from his book, The Networked Enterprise.  I’ll get back to work now and leave you with this excerpt from the book Virtual Teams: People working across boundaries with technology, by Jessica Lipnak and Jeffrey Stamps (2nd Edition, 2000).  The authors founded virtualteams.com and are considered the world’s leading experts on virtual teams and networked organizations.

“People work together because they trust one another. They make deals. Undertake projects, set goals, and lend one another resources.

Virtual teams are quicker, smarter, more flexible work groups in a sea of change. Highly adaptive as organizations these teams can cope with tumultuous complexity. For them trust is a need to have quality.

Trust builds with the recognition of the contribution that everyone makes. If you make a real contribution, people will trust you.”

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I keep hearing about how many law students are worried about jobs, careers, etc. The only reason most students are worrying about the economy this, and the profession that, comes from a belief that they need a job when they graduate.

Maybe because they think they need the job to get experience. Maybe they need to pay student loans. Maybe they imagine it’s the only way to make money as a lawyer, or maybe they are terrified of having to venture out and find clients.  Maybe they like the  prestige of a big firm job or corporate position.  Adding to this uncertainty, the game has become so competitive for big firm jobs, they have to really blow everyone away. You need a 4.0, you need to be the Moot Court Master of the Universe; you need 3 law review articles, and you need to bring your uncle’s billionaire friend as a client with you, just to get an interview! Some will make it and most won’t.

For the rest, it’s a new and exciting game and you don’t have to worry or work for anyone. You can do what you like.

Today, it has never been easier to own your own space as a solo or small firm, to collaborate on a global scale and to serve more clients than you need.  It has never been easier to build your dream job.  Instead of worrying, work hard at doing what you like, and   realize that you can practice law and still laugh, make friends, care for your peers, and let them care about you. You can be yourself, be authentic, and be as unstoppable as only you can be when occupy your space!

And you don’t have to do it by yourself.  You can learn and get experience by working with other more experienced lawyers virtually.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m building The Online Bar Association. You can live anywhere and join Timothy Ferris’ new rich. Today, you can be a successful lawyer from anywhere in the world.  The most important factors are loving what you do, being good at it and having friends that you trust and care about your success, that  care about YOU!

I’m not saying you don’t have to work. You will probably work harder at first.  But in the new legal world, where content is free and abundant,  it’s increasingly more about who wants to play with you, than what you know.

Are you ready to play and work hard?

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Monday, I received a call from a young man that has asked me to mentor him.  We’ll call him Carlos.  I met Carlos when I was helping my friend and mentor, Keith Ferrazzi, with the launch for his latest book, Who’s Got your Back? Keith’s first best seller was Never Eat Alone.  Carlos, about 28 years old, drove about 90 minutes with 10 people to Keith’s book launch.  We were all impressed with Carlos’ leadership and passion.

Carlos was in a hurry when he called me. He wanted to know if he could see me that same evening.  He did not really say why, but as I had accepted the responsibility to mentor him, I agreed to meet him.  I had a subtle sensation I was about to pitched, but I still wanted to give Carlos an opportunity to pitch. Last time we spoke he was working on an IT start-up in the Latin and Hispanic market.

When  Carlos arrived, with his friend Gus, I saw him all pumped up and excited, which is not unusual for Carlos as he has more energy than 99% of us.  His optimism and enthusiasm is truly engaging. It’s also why he has so many followers.  The conversation went nowhere and I sensed, as my wife says, I was being marinated like a juicy roast! J  I stayed relaxed knowing that how I responded to Carlos in front of his friend would define our friendship. I was now certain I was about to be pitched and it was looking like an MLM pitch.

Unable to wait for the pitch I firmly requested the purpose of the meeting – with a smile! J  It was an MLM!!  I knew that to reject Carlos would be more destructive and even more so in front of his friend, Gus.  I let him pitch me.

He was very excited because he had been brought in before the actual launch of the MLM and the directors were all major players in the MLM world.  He wanted to introduce me to one of the Directors.  Still very sensitive to the social situation, I knew I would have to sit through an MLM call.

I did try to stop the call from taking place, but Carlos was determined I meet this Director.  About 20 minutes later, thankfully, the call was over. Gus had observed my discomfort.  I told him I did not want to disappoint them, but that I was not interested in MLM and that they could have saved themselves time if they asked before driving to see me. But they argued, we just introduced you to the Director – a man who made millions…. You’re talking to a boss!

I sighed and said: “Carlos, I am excited about your new opportunity.  I think if you focus it can work beautifully for you and Gus. But I’m not interested in MLM.”

More persistence and this unique pitch from Carlos: “But Jorge you have a vast network of people who are very successful. That’s why we introduced you to the Director of this MLM.”

Jorge: “Thank you!  I am truly honored you think so highly of me.”

I paused and with conviction told them: “I don’t pitch my friends.”

Carlos and Gus were perplexed and totally confused, which they expressed almost in unison: “Then why do you have this network?  Why do you spend so much time building these relationships?”

I told him of an old friend from adolescence who is a successful lawyer and even appears on TV.  One day while I was at NBC, he stopped by and in the conversation he said this: “When you’re in private practice you don’t have friends, you have clients”.

Whilst I could not judge him, I felt the sadness in his voice – a subtle and almost imperceptible tone of regret and loneliness.  He billed everyone he invested anytime in and he was successful. This is not the path I took.

More perplexed looks followed by Carlos asking: “But how does this work for you?”

Because, I began, I am not desperate, nor am I in a short sales cycle.  I am building trust, credibility and friendship. Once you have trust, credibility and friendship, all business evolves naturally and abundantly – even with friends.

Trust is a rare, therefore valuable. It is not the same as reputation, which you can’t always control.  I carefully invest in relationships and now I have a priceless deposit of trust and credibility.

I know that many of us as lawyers and professionals have to close sales and some in a shorter cycle than others. I can only recommend that you seriously consider making friends and not burning through your contacts. That you invest in a relationship with generosity before you ask for anything.

We’re all inundated with fast pitches and spam from people we don’t know.  That’s what Keith Ferrazzi calls highly transactional: when a person makes no attempt to care, listen or engage you, but simply broadcasts or instantly pitches a service or product. I buy mostly from people I like and trust, even when it might be more expensive. Because I like them and I trust them!

They care.

Sometimes, there are those of us that prefer to take without giving in return. Most large networks are defined by a majority of people taking without giving or passively lurking, while teams and communities are defined by mutual generosity and active collaboration. Nonetheless, I reconsider before judging or rejecting the more passive or self-centered, and feeling that I was taken advantage of.  It has happened to me on many occasions, but it is the nature of finding treasure.

I’ll close with an excerpt from Emerson’s Essay on Compensation:

“Men suffer all their life long, under the foolish superstition that they can be cheated. But it is as impossible for a man to be cheated by any one but himself, as for a thing to be and not to be at the same time. There is a third silent party to all our bargains. The nature and soul of things takes on itself the guaranty of the fulfillment of every contract, so that honest service cannot come to loss. If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the more. Put God in your debt. Every stroke shall be repaid. The longer the payment is withholden, the better for you; for compound interest on compound interest is the rate and usage of this exchequer.”

My version: If you serve an ungrateful master, serve him the more….while you find a graceful exit!

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I recently discovered the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown Law School.  They just wrapped up their annual conference titled: Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business As Usual?

Notice how we all now increasingly use questions as titles. In all fairness, the more I read and attend conferences, the more I realize that no one knows what is really going on. Much like the scene of an accident or mob riot, we all know something is going on because of all the activity, but no one person has a clear idea of exactly what’s going on in our profession.

The conference website generously provides the conference papers to download for free.  I’m hoping we can send an OBA delegation next year to demonstrate the evolution in SSFs and VLOs cooperating on a global scale!  Anyone interested?

Eversheds presented a paper titled: Law firm of the 21st Century: The Client’s Revolution. (By Bryan Hughes, Chief Executive of Eversheds LLP)

I’m including an excerpt from their conclusion:

“….overall lawyers will actually be more significant business players in the new world. The increasing role of regulation, ethics and the re-examination of risk are heartland areas for the lawyer, ensuring that even as the transaction ‘go-go’ days wane, they still have an important role to play. What they might not see any more are super-high fees and, at the premium end of the profession, headcount may shrink for the next generation.

For Western law firms, the shift to the East is well underway both as a move to follow a global economic trend but also as the drive to efficiency dictates that low-cost jurisdictions are a key component of cost base reductions(italics added).”

In 2008, when the recession hit, I was contacted by recruiters for a position in Singapore with ESPN as media counsel.  I was quite perplexed that they would even interview me all the way from the USA.  The recruiter told me that already very well paid lawyers from Titanic-sized US firms and wall street, and some British firms, were jumping on the available lifeboats and heading East to Asia and the Middle East.

I imagined how different our profession would be as we become net exporters of highly educated and experienced lawyers. How would this minor exodus affect those countries?  We won’t know exactly for another 5 -10 years.  Part of what excites me is the global scale of the opportunities available to us in the next 5 years.

Big Law is going to go through a consolidation for a few more years.  It will be even bigger law as capital investments move into the market at the top. Decentralization in all professions will benefit Small and Solo firms (SSFs) willing to organize into vast networks of mutual support made up of reputable talent from around the world (OBA). If SSFs don’t organize themselves into competitive and trusted enterprise networks, they can still work in niche areas they own, or as labor for the new capital infused and publicly traded firms.

Wait?!  Will we see  lawyer unions next?

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When I came back from overseas in 2008, I went to see a doctor for some minor pain. He had no idea what was wrong with me or wouldn’t say.  I was told I had to have a full endoscopy under anesthesia.  Whilst I ran from his office and never went back (pain gone), I was left with a rush of memories of similar doctors visits: no idea – none – what was wrong!  In all fairness, doctors are probably blaming us lawyers and malpractice suits for their not providing a diagnosis.

Now for fun, pure satire, imagine running your office like some doctors.

Here it goes:  imagine having an office with only paralegals and assistants. Clients are asked to fill out massive questionnaires, with lots of personal information, explaining the exact nature of their claim and reasons to see the lawyer.  Then after 30 minutes, they go to another room and a paralegal asks them lots more questions, reviews any paper work they have and tells you’ll be right in.  After 15 more minutes, you walk in hurriedly like a chess grandmaster playing a tournament against 300 people. You’re on the clock! You smile, ask them a few questions somewhat related to their claim for 3 minutes.

Here’s the fun part!

You generously give them some law journal articles and statutes to read for when they get home. Don’t worry of it’s not even relevant to their case, as long as they feel it might help. You conclude by telling them you have no idea about their case.  But the articles may relieve some of the anxiety, and at least they won’t create more legal problems.  If they ask about the chances of winning this case, say it could be anything, you don’t know.  If they ask, well, am I liable , am I in trouble? Say, sorry, can’t really say without more research.  If they ask about the actual law, don’t worry, you don’t need to know the exact area of law.  Simply say you don’t know that either until you do some more research.  At which point, your assistant walks in and escorts them promptly to the counter to pay a retainer and schedule more research with a follow up interview.  After the research is done and paid for, refer them out to a specialist.

I could not resist. 😉 Now tell me some of you haven’t thought about it. Of course it’s ludicrous, unethical and unfair to many good doctors, but it’s funny to think of the possibilities…..

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