Archive for April, 2010

You’ve all heard that fable of the wind and the sun wagering which one could get the traveler to remove his coat. The wind blows and blows faster and stronger, and the traveler holds on even tighter to his coat. Then the sun bursts forwards and the traveler gladly strips off his coat. 🙂

Moral of the story: “As you can see it is easier to influence people with gentleness than with force.”

On Wednesday, I was invited by the non-profit I’m on the board at to listen to a star in the fundraising word, Penelope Burk.  Ms. Burk has spent years since her active fundraising days testing, interviewing and collecting massive amounts of data in North America about fundraising – what works and why.  What she taught me applies perfectly to lawyers.

I will break down some of Penelope’s wisdom and hard data into a few points directly relevant to anyone who is marketing themselves or a small firm. The overall theme never changes but it seems we have to hear it over and over again in different contexts to keep remembering it:

Over soliciting your donor (client) will work once.  As a long term strategy it is the most certain path to failure. The most cost effective ROI is communicating with the client often without asking for money (offering services), building trust so that when you ask (or offer) it’s welcomed.

It remains a mystery why we need Penelope’s hard data and hundreds of interviews to tell us something we essentially already know. Aren’t we all consumers too? I guess we need to be shown with objective data what the results of spam, endless service announcements and oh yes…the infamous “look what I did recently newsletters”.  🙂

Yet, many professionals will panic and fall victim (can I say victim if it’s totally conscious), to this tactic.  They will crash into the rocks with the sweet siren sounds of impressive short-term revenue, from aggressive and impersonal marketing campaigns. Given the fable above, could we call  this between us as passing wind??  Bloated windiness will cost more and more, and one can guarantee a decreasing return on investment, year in year out, from the increased attrition of clients.

Monday I will break down some of Penelope’s work with philanthropy and how it applies to ALL professionals.  Have a great weekend.


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I began working as a virtual legal office in 2007 from South Africa, then Europe, Canada and finally from a couple of ocean front beach apartments in Florida and the Caribbean.

Hey, nothing is perfect!  🙂 I love it and I loved it.  But I was alone most of the time. I missed the camaraderie of been in an office full of people.  The ability to reach out to friends and ask questions, go to lunch, I even missed the nagging office politics – the latter only a little.

I had found a paradise lifestyle, but I found it all alone.  I needed friends, not just for social reasons but also for career, to ask questions, to share victories and opportunities with. I needed peers to help and to team up with on larger projects.  Friends and colleagues I could trust with my clients, with my plans with my ideas.  Most of all colleagues I could grow with professionally and spend time with at fabulously exciting places like London, Vienna, Sidney, Milan, Madrid, Hong Kong, Singapore, Buenos Aires, Paris, etc.  You get the idea.

On the business side, I could see clearly I was not alone. Almost 1300 members in the Online Bar Association in 6 weeks corroborated that.  As fellow OBA member, Mark Marino remarked, “we lawyers like to build relationships first before doing business.”  Our focus since we began was building a highly social organization. One in which you can build with trust each other and business will follow.

The vision for OBA is social 1st , business 2nd.  The exponential evolution of technology, including free social media platforms allows us to build relationships online in ways we never envisioned 10 year ago. Whilst relationships online are great, we all know that the life long bonds of trust are forged in the face to face encounters.

We’re planning that today. We’re organizing regional events and a global conference. As founders of OBA, we don’t decide when that happens – you do!

Your efforts in connecting with each other, in being open, vulnerable and candid determine how quickly we can build momentum and excitement. You are the stars!  Look around and read the introductions of the 10% of you that have shared your lives and careers.  To me you’re 100% amazing: talented, experienced and you know where we’re headed.  You know how much fun this will be, and you know what being an active OBA member feels and looks like as we evolve into a global organization of talent and trust.

You know how this opens up the world to you.

Law stopped being a jurisdictionally bound practice years ago. Even litigation is quickly evolving into a borderless practice.  Our relationships will be a determining factor in our happiness 1st first and wealth 2nd.  In fact, these will run parallel. But not in the old transactional sense of being “that guy” that sells to everyone, but by being genuine, authentic and generous.  No one wants to be spammed anymore. We want to have friends that care, friends that aren’t in it for the money, friends that are willing to be vulnerable, open and kind.

That’s why I launched OBA.  What we can and will create together wakes me up every morning with joy. 🙂

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Let’s face it AVVO built it. But they didn’t exactly wait for you lawyers to come, did they?

They took your name, your public information, and cleverly announce their proprietary ability “to evaluate a lawyer’s background using a mathematical model that considers the information (they) know about a lawyer.”  Secrets are always a rapport breaker!! 🙂

This was downright clever, even if feels a little sleazy and taken by force.  It reminds me of those teenage movies Hollywood churns out, and, yes, I watch. The cool guys have the club and if you don’t play with them, you’ll be a loser. Clever! Stunningly clever, or is it?

Take a look at these less than raving reviews: “AVVO lost its credibility” http://bit.ly/bG1HW2 plus other critics of AVVO.  Nothing like “poisoning” your guests with the secret sauce.

From one perspective, Avvo played a rather heavy, paternalistic hand. After all how many lawyers would really have volunteered to play in AVVO.  Sure a few, but not enough to raise VC money with. Give credit where credit is due. And they gambled well, because the economy caused many USA lawyers to run into AVVO out of desperation.  Where else could you get a high ranking by having your friends, family and neighbors send in reviews of what a jolly good person you really are.

But can you build a long term strategy when one side is forced to play – albeit cleverly!  Does this build trust?

But what am I asking? Avvo was not built for our sake as lawyers, but the sake of the public….of which I think I still am.  It was built to help them navigate “the complex and confusing legal industry”.  BTW we’re not an industry. We don’t build anything – unless you count towers of paper files.  I agree with the ends, it’s the means.  Does it really serve the public? I guess it’s better than nothing, but force is force and it doesn’t lead to success in the long-term.  I would not trust those ratings when choosing my lawyer, why should the public?

Imagine if Linkedin dragged your name onto its site like chattel on a stage to be bid on by the public based upon a “secret sauce” rating system? Would you play? Yes. I’m sure you might, but for how long? 😉

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“I think the biggest hurdle to this vision from a pragmatic viewpoint is the shift from adversarial to collaborative.  In every rule of law nation the law is built around the adversarial system, with legislation and common law supporting this structure.  No true transformation like that envisioned by Colon can take root while laws and ethical codes place strict limits on true collaboration and truth-finding.”  From a highly intelligent and talented lawyer colleague.

I hear this a lot from lawyers. It’s the “what is” argument. The best lawyers are the most vociferous. I’ve learned that most people that present a “what is” argument in the face of innovation are not at all pessimists, nor is it personal. In fact, they may be more idealistic that we commonly imagine. Most often a challenge against innovation is a personal desire to see it happen, but first prove it to me before I follow along. Anytime anyone brings in a new idea, this is the crucible they must cross, albeit briefly. 🙂

Whilst, I agree with the author in principle, I’m not sure about the facts. Nonetheless, I want to emphasize that a move towards a more collaborative global profession is what’s coming – whether I like it or not.

The game changed with the exponential evolution of technology and globalization. Technology is allowing us to build vast global networks of highly collaborative enterprises.  These networks are not yet a part of our legal services market, but they will be soon. The reason they will be is the increasing efficiency of open, dynamic systems and vast global marketplaces for talent. When mass accountability and highly dynamic systems allow a lawyer to practice (advise) in many jurisdictions and on several networks, how you work with others becomes a currency.  Think Terrell Owens versus Drew Brees.

As these networks begin to evolve, you will know from social media platforms exactly what you’re getting when you invite a lawyer or small firm to participate. The new currency, already being circulated today, becomes the value of your network and how many people want to work and play with you.

We don’t have to adapt this trend. We can insist on playing nasty, without regard for the social consequences. One may win a case with force, but it could end up in increasing isolation from the marketplace. You won’t starve, but you will live in a perpetually declining market.

Collaboration in this manner is not exclusive of competition. As one colleague expressed elegantly: we can compete and still buy each other a beer at the end of it. I anticipate that competition for projects and inclusion in legal networks will be more intense between colleagues. Much like a sports team, we all compete to start, but when the game is on, we’re all ONE team.

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One of my favorite films is Henry the V as performed by Kenneth Branagh.  The movie/play opens with the clergy (Archbishop of Canterbury) plotting their legal case in support of Henry V’s claim to the French crown.  Then, in the next scene, the King invites Lord Canterbury to speak as to the legality of his claim on the French crown.

In a brilliant piece of legal argument the Archbishop finds a loophole in the succession to the French crown.  The religious leader of England makes a clever and passionate oral argument for the invasion of France. Watch below how he finishes whispering to the King the covert, and probably the true reason, for the claim to the French crown.

The clip with the Archbishop’s argument begins at the :50 seconds and last for 4 minutes.

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Take a look at this excerpt below from Law.Com. The full list is of the world’s top 100 law firms by revenue.

The top 10 firms below alone bring in over $20 Billion dollars in revenue, with about 25,000 lawyers.  Although clearly not an internally equitable spread, that’s about $800,000 in revenue per lawyer.

2008 Rank by Revenue Firm Gross Revenue, Most Recent Fiscal Year
1 Clifford Chance International (U.K.) $2,660,500,000
2 Linklaters International (U.K.) $2,588,500,000
3 Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer International (U.K.) $2,358,500,000
4 Baker & McKenzie International (U.S.) $2,188,000,000
5 Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom National (U.S.) $2,170,000,000
6 Allen & Overy International (U.K.) $2,034,000,000
7 Latham & Watkins National (U.S.) $2,005,500,000
8 Jones Day National (U.S.) $1,441,000,000
9 Sidley Austin National (U.S.) $1,386,000,000
10 White & Case International (U.S.) $1,373,000,000

Not bad for “pushing paper” as my former client at the tabloids used to accuse us of!

What is glaring is that fact that these top ten firms are exclusively American and UK firms. Even more stupefying is that almost all the top 100 law firms come from the UK and USA, some from Canada and Australia. As these firms grow, the practice of law in English, as in business, will only increase exponentially.

Recently it has become trendy to talk about the demise of law firms and big law. It may happen to a few big firms, as it is happening to a few “ancient” businesses like General Motors. But the legal services market is essentially opportunistic. Lawyers are valuable whether the client is going up or down – we just don’t bet against them. Some of the largest USA/UK firms in the world were built on the founder’s bankruptcy practices dealing with the volatility of the 1850s- 1920s. No, I don’t expect big law to disappear, except maybe from the reach of the mass of lawyers graduating every year.

Ok, back to the English only point: will this mean that all laws in major economies (OECD and BRIC) will be translated into English? If that happens, what will become of local laws in Spanish, Urdu, Russian or Chinese? I don’t expect that local laws in native languages will disappear – certainly not from the courts.   But I can see how the culture of law will also be changed by the use of English only.

Maybe the proliferation of English language only laws will affect only the financial elites like multi-nationals and banks. Will this in turn create an exclusive cadre of global lawyers that can literally practice without borders – or has that already happened?

What do you think?

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Lately, I fall asleep suddenly reading about collaboration. Please stop making collaboration sound like it’s some sort of painful medical procedure!  It is not a clinical process.  We won’t get excited about collaborating by talking about it like it was dental exam.

Better to pretend to be a carnivorous wolf and salivate, really sloppy salivating, like a dog mesmerized by a bone held in front of it. Get physically excited at the thought of working with others collaboratively. Submit yourselves to a trance-like collaborative experience of divine inspiration. Better yet, induce hallucinations of angelic beings collaborating with you:  showing you how to care, to cooperate seamlessly, to be generous and to compete with and FOR your colleagues like it’s the World Cup Finals everyday!

Maybe we should use a different word: like orgy or crusade or rally? Ok, maybe not.

Anything, please anything, but the stale, old PC manual dribble that passes for content on collaboration. It’s enough to make me want to retreat into my paradise on the beach and forget about playing nice – forever!  If I read one more uninspired bureaucratic sounding call for collaboration, I’m going to burn down your online villages of boredom with uncontrollable passion; I will ransack your blogs with comments of love and desire; I will infect your followers with an unquenchable thirst for trust, team work and carry them all back to my village like a savage berserker Viking on ecstasy!!

Are we clear? You have been warned!

If I overstated the matter, try Seth Godin’s more placid expression:

When you love the work you do and the people you do it with, you matter.
When you are so gracious and generous and aware that you think of other people before yourself, you matter.
When you leave the world a better place than you found it, you matter.
When you continue to raise the bar on what you do and how you do it, you matter.
When you teach and forgive and teach more before you rush to judge and demean, you matter.
When you touch the people in your life through your actions (and your words), you matter.
When kids grow up wanting to be you, you matter.
When you see the world as it is, but insist on making it more like it could be, you matter.
When you inspire a Nobel prize winner or a slum dweller, you matter.
When the room brightens when you walk in, you matter.

And when the legacy you leave behind lasts for hours, days or a lifetime, you matter.


YOU MATTER – we all matter. Now let’s get back to work!!

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Last night we returned late to Orlando airport exhausted after a wedding in Canada.  We were hungry.  We stopped at a Chipotle Mexican Grill only after trying a Chinese restaurant that was closed.  I’ll admit that I have negative associations with Taco Bell and really bad Mexican fast food. But this was an altogether different experience!

As soon as we arrived, a young man engaged us. I could tell he was the manager from the manner in which his staff responded to him. Everyone else was busy cleaning or doing other things and one woman looked like she was training with him.  We told the young manager we tried the Chinese restaurant and he calmly assured us he would show us why his restaurant was better.

I chose a carnitas burrito, and was asked if I was ok waiting a few minutes as it was cooked fresh, because carnitas get dry if left heated –  already a very different introduction.  As we were sitting down to eat, the young manager said he would be over in a minute to see how we’re both doing.


I know it was almost empty (10 minutes before their close time) but I thought he was just saying it to be nice.


He actually showed up about 3 minutes later and asked us how we liked the food. Then he proceeded to talk briefly about the food and the restaurant. At first, I thought: is he for real??  But his enthusiasm and charm triggered my curiosity.

This is what he told me: they use family-farmed, naturally raised, hormone free, organic meats.  It was mostly organic, delicious and only $6.00.  Huumm…. now as an entrepreneur I was really curious – how are they doing this and still growing?  I asked the young manager lots of question about the business.  I watched him carefully as he answered them all with ease.

I don’t know how many of you have come across a young rising star and how you knew it. But I could see this manager’s eye, and I could hear in his voice, a passion for “his” store and “his” business.  I could sense talent.  Like Seabiscuit talent ready to race.  I want to shamelessly add that I have an almost perfect record of picking rising stars.  I’m also privileged that many of them are my friends today.

This Chipotle manager’s name is Adam Roskoph (redhead in German).  He answered all my questions about the business, while still keeping an eye on the restaurant. At one point, he even conveyed the cook’s thanks for complimenting his carnitas!

What? The chef send his regards in a fast food restaurant?!  Speechless…..

Adam went on to tell us the history of Chipotle Restaurants, the culture, the founder and his 7 year career with them starting at 17 years old. So infectious was Adam’s passion and enthusiasm, I was ready to poach him on the spot. And I may one day.

I have never met a rising young star in a restaurant.  Someone that could be removed from his industry and he/she would still be a star.  Adam is only 24 years old, yet he speaks with the authority of a young CEO and the enthusiasm of an entrepreneur in the Dragon’s Den.  He is charming, authentic, and focused.

This is a photo of Adam: 

He manages the Chiplote Mexican Grill on South Semoran Blvd in Orlando (near MCO).  Say hello to Adam if you’re in town and ask for the carnitas!

Never hesitate to reward talent publicly. It could be you tomorrow.

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I’m summarizing and excerpting from Ken Thompson’s The Networked Enterprise. Ken is a leading expert on teaching small to medium sized businesses come together to form Virtual Enterprise Networks (VENs) to enable them to achieve scale through collective projects.

Ken’s Guidelines for Effective Group Operational Meetings:

1. Sterile Cockpit: In meetings this means focus exclusively on the agenda. Ken borrows from the aviation term for restricting all discussion in the cockpit during take-off and landing to those tasks and nothing else. Even if an interesting topic comes up, don’t allow the meeting to be distracted.

2. No Telling Stories: “Give the absolute minimum facts to allow the meeting to determine the correct action”.  Any stories inevitably lead to defending or justifying.

3. Reveal Don’t Conceal: Put everything on the table without being asked. Don’t force others to deduce or uncover information.

4. The Four Task States: Task may only be: Done, On Plan, At Risk, or Missed.

  • For Done or On Plan tasks: congratulate and end discussion, unless there is a challenge.
  • For At Risk or Missed: Team must find a new commitment that they really rely on.

5.  The 5 meeting roles: to be allocated to participants before the meeting.

  • Customer: The participant with predominant need for a successful outcome.  This role decides the success of the meeting.
  • Facilitator: Leads the meeting to make sure the customer gets what they need.
  • Timekeeper: Self explanatory!
  • Scribe: The designated notes recorder and after meeting report with action tiems and minutes.
  • Sensor: Senses how the meeting is going and spots unhelpful moods or agendas.

Last year I helped manage an online community (Greenlight Community on ning) of about 8000 members.  Ialso organized Greenlight Community city groups in 12 cities.  From my experience leading conference calls every week for 13 months, I have not seen more effective and concise guidelines for operational meetings. We learned this mostly by trial and error.

Please submit your own guidelines that have worked for virtual or distributed groups.  Thanks.

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Iain Jacobs,General Counsel at The Contract Centre and Managing Director of The Dispute Centre, posted this at The Online Bar Association Group on Linkedin:

There is also prejudice against part-time working amongst lawyers (my own former company only took on one part-timer among around 170 lawyers). I think the technological tools and virtual office structure is ideally placed to allow a second emancipation (and that view is shared by several of my highly qualified and experienced women-lawyer friends here).  Switzerland is an extreme case, but how is it in your country?”

No matter how extreme the Swiss may be perceived, all it takes is for one Swiss lawyer with nothing to lose, to figure out how to work part-time from his seaside flat in Valencia.  Soon that sun tanned, part-time lawyer will be leveraging all the full-timers at the traditionally, snow-bound firm by outsourcing work to them. Then the self-exiled “part-time lawyer” will occasionally supervise the full-time lawyers’ work while sailing around Sardinia on the client’s 100ft, hand-made Finnish yacht.

Game over.

But the traditional firm will not actually know the game is over for some time yet. When it does it will seem like it happened overnight.  Revolution is the common shriek let out by those abruptly woken up from inertia.  For pioneers, change is an excruciatingly slow evolutionary process.  It’s like watching a glacier melt.

Traditional firms actually cannot change within their existing paradigm.  They torture themselves and their employees with unnecessary demands.  One cannot embrace real change by changing the color of one’s shirts. Real change is more like giving all your belongings away, moving to Namibia and joining a tantric group of hippies!  It’s no wonder very few firms embrace change voluntarily.

Who would give up a life of comfort and prosperity for uncertainty and temporary scarcity?  Those that think they know what’s coming, those that like uncertainty and those that were tricked into it.  May your trip to Namibia be joyful, may your hippie friends bathe often, and may your family and friends appreciate all your belongings, because you’re not getting them back.

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