Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

I borrowed the title from Ricardo Semler’s talk at MIT about his famous SEMCO company.  If you’re like most of us lawyers, you’re forgiven for not knowing anything about SEMCO and its evolutionary way of doing business.

In the MIT talk, Semler talks about a recent celebration at the company: his 10th year without making any decisions. Whilst it is unlikely Ricardo made absolutely “0” decisions in 10 years at a company earning hundreds of millions, you get the point. Semler created an environment in which the employees organized and managed themselves. He took a $2 million business his father built and grew it to over $200 million year.  More amazing to me is that SEMCO grew continuously during every type of economic and financial disaster in Brazil during the last 18 years.

Ricardo candidly acknowledges that many people go to Brazil and visit SEMCO to study how it works. But almost none of them make any similar evolutionary steps towards innovating or evolving their own organizations.

As one very religious friend once told me, “it is easier to breed church members than it is to convert them”.   Let’s be empathetic about this: entrenched management simply has no controllable means or tools with which to quantify intuition and reward collaborative endeavors.

The Online Bar is a global legal organization that is leading the way in learning how lawyers can work collaboratively on a global scale. We ‘re exploring and building a new way of practicing law.  Solo and small firms are the fastest growing segment of the legal market.  But they have not yet figured out how to collaborate to scale up and compete with larger global firms. How to use scale to design a more rewarding practice of law.

With the amount of free or almost free technology available, this is not a technology challenge.  It is a human one.  It takes a determined group to bring about this sort of paradigm shift. Not because any scientific principle or precedent requires it, but because it is too easy to fall back into doubt. It is too easy to feel comfortable (for now) in “what is” than to boldly step into “what ought to be” and “what could be”!

How we design a new way of practicing law is really up to us.  I could tell you exactly how to do it.  I could announce highly specific missions with detailed procedures, rules and regulations that you must follow, but then I would not be leading by omission….


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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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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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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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Imagine when all the Saas and Iaas and Paas needed to practice law are free or almost free.  Aren’t we almost there already??  As a lawyer you no longer need to memorize anything or keep a KM database at your firm.  It’s all available for free or at a minimal cost in the cloud and on your mobile device. Legislation has inflated such that we all consult our mobile devices on every action we take.  Is that legal? Is this legal?  But clients will still need professional legal assistance in resolving disputes, managing contractual relationships, transactions, etc., and navigating all the new laws.  Imagine also the global harmonization of laws and the inevitable competition of lawyers on a global scale.

What then?  What will you do? How will you compete?

Two extreme scenarios could run parallel.

  1. Massive global law firms (GLFs) assisting large corporations and governments will consolidate into proprietary “elite silos” numbering 10,000s of lawyers.  They will be distributed, but centrally controlled, and highly political.  Compensation will be astronomical and highly competitive.
  2. Many solo and small firms (SSFs), in the 100,000s of lawyers, will organize by necessity into “public law firms”: vast, open networks without borders and without jurisdiction.  PLFs will be completely dynamic in size and direction. They are decentralized except that some may share infrastructure and platforms. The members come and go as they please.  PLF members work the hours they want to, from any location and their only limitations on choice of practice coming from peer reviews. PLFs are intimate networks in which members must earn and build trust to be selected to participate in publicly announced projects.  Anyone can announce a project and build a team, from which professional project and team leaders will evolve.  Earning is varied depending upon who wants to play with you and the market value of your contribution.

I’ve only touched upon the infinite variables of a Public Law Firm as an idea.  What do you imagine your future as a lawyer will look like?

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I was recently reading about Otto Scharmer’s Theory U and The Presencing Institute.   By the way, Otto is a Senior Lecturer at MIT and consults with global companies, international institutions, and governments.  He has co-designed leadership programs for client firms including PricewaterhouseCoopers, Fujitsu, and Google.  He also facilitates cross-sector programs for leaders in business that focus on building people’s collective capacity to achieve profound innovation and change.

In Otto’s Theory U Toolbook from the Presencing Institute he listed some of the following questions, most which I’m editing for you to ask about OBA, and to ask each other as OBA members:

  1. What is your most important objective and how can we help you realize it?
  2. What criteria do you use to assess whether our (OBA) or another member’s contribution to your work has been successful?
  3. If we were to build two things into OBA within the next 6 months, what two things would create the most value and benefit for you?
  4. What are your expectations from a voluntary bar association and its members?
  5. What might your best possible future look like?

I will post these questions on our OBA linkedin and facebook groups for discussion.  There is no right answer as all the questions are highly subjective – it’s about you and what’s important to you.  Thank you in advance for your participation in these discussions.

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The industrial era injunction to work longer hours and literally drive oneself to the edge of physical and emotional exhaustion is almost dead in the opulent West.  Many lament this and it’s often the subject of many articles on our economy and youth.  We admire the Chinese for their work ethic but we can’t seem to find the energy anymore.  We’re lazy – they say.  We’re going to be left behind!

Maybe…. and maybe not.

All these are by necessity linear arguments that exclude the broad scope of evolution as a result of technological development. Maybe we are lazy. But then, why bother with technology?  Isn’t technology meant to free us from routine and repetitively boring tasks?

Let’s assume that technology continues at this pace, a pace not broken despite world wars, depressions, recessions and Communism.  From the limited perspective of what we know today, we can expect that if you’re a lawyer you will have access to a vast, almost infinite, ocean of information.  Maybe even AI: intelligent agents that can tell you the law, fashion arguments, draft briefs, etc. But then so does your “opponent” have this same access.  What then?  A sort of mutually assured stalemate situation – MASS.

What now?  Back to humans negotiating, I guess.

All roads lead to human interaction – even more so than ever before.  That’s what we’re seeing already today with the mass interaction using social media like Facebook and Linkedin.  As technology grows, human interaction increases.  Hence, the importance of building relationships, authenticity, trust, and credibility becomes its own currency.  But unlike capital currency (money), controlled by a few, relationship currency is a universal currency which everyone has access to.

Like it so far?

Ok, that was a really long winded explanation to conclude that we’re all in the “business” of human relationships – plain and simple.  And “relationship currency” is vastly more rewarding to a joyful lifestyle, to your capital currency base and to the time to enjoy them.

I know I skipped some steps, but it’s a blog not a treatise.  Can you already see that we’re “lazy” because we can be?  That our relationships are and will be more important that the technology you use and the hours you work?  That relationships are and will be more important than your access to capital in fiat currency. Relationship currency can’t be inflated by central banks, loaned by banks with interest; it can’t be counterfeited or stolen because it is based upon human experience and interaction.  You can fake it – for a while – but you will be soon exposed. There is no bankruptcy court that can discharge your relationship debts from deceit, manipulation and self serving lies.

After 9/11, I once saw a friend buy rural land and stockpile 2 years worth of food.  He was going to escape to his bunker in case of mass chaos, nuclear attacks and eat dehydrated food until it was all over.   The Lone Wolf syndrome – going it alone.  A practical idea up to the late 1800s in North America.  Today, someone will tweet that you have food and the mob will siege your house first! GET IT??  You’ll have to go underwater in a one man submarine or into space to escape mobs. Most of humanity will simply have to  build relationships so that a mob never materializes because we’re all too busy trading, cooperating, and collaborating to steal each other’s food!!

Today, it’s a reality that with social media and the lack of privacy, you are being valued by the currency of your generosity, accountability and trust.  These rules have not really changed in centuries, only the scale has changed – exponentially!

Now here comes the shameless promotion: that’s why we created OBA.  We’re a global mob trading in the currency of trust.  Investing in the market of each others success.

In the spirit of earning your trust, what is your most important objective and how can we help you realize it?

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Are you going to sit idly while the waters of commoditization rise? Will you passively observe while outsourcing and technology take over your routine legal work and make you obsolete?

I suppose you could.

After all, there is an undeniably numbing comfort in doing nothing in a crisis and just watching it happen.  You would not be alone: some soldiers in the massive battles of WWII were often so numbed by the cacophony  that they just stood there; not shooting or even trying to protect themselves from harm.  The only way to get these emotionally and mentally “frozen” soldiers to act was to arouse them to the awareness that they were letting their brothers die.

Will you let your colleagues down or would you protect them?

Maybe you perceive that it would be better for you if more lawyers did “die. Cynically, it would take care of the accelerating competition.  I invite you to use your hard-earned logic and deduce the inevitable outcome of a profession in which it becomes all against all. As in chess, there is only one outcome from that move – game over!  We all lose.

How did we become so deluded, so lost in a fog of lies to believe that our own best interest was to destroy the opposition at all costs?

In fact, not theory, I propose a more hopeful, rewarding and financially successful alternative:  a legal community (OBA) wherein we share resources, support each other to succeed, play nice and collaborate.  Most lawyers belong to one or more voluntary bars designed around a particular practice like employment law.  Increasingly, these niche bars are exclusively either for defense counsel or plaintiff’s lawyers.  In these bars you will see legal communities of extraordinary collaboration, support and sharing of resources.  In one bar organization that I belonged to briefly, the lawyers, joined by a shared emotional cause, volunteered to take each other’s depositions and motion hearings throughout the entire country.

Question is can this camaraderie exist across all borders and practices? Can it include non-lawyers supporting the profession?   If only to survive and prosper in law, I propose you’re going to have to. There are hundreds of books clamoring about how business is changing towards just this type of organizations.   We are not immune from this evolution.

OBA is designed as such a legal community.  It’s a “community based knowledge ecosystem” where in participants share knowledge and experience.  Richard Susskind’s takes this topic on in his Chapter 4.7 in The End of Lawyers?  Richard predicts only in house lawyers can collaborate in legal communities.  He goes on to say that “….bearing in mind the current business models of law firms and the intense competition between them, they would not be incentivized to collaborate with one another….around the world”.  In the case of elite and large firms (ELFs), I agree, but not with Small and Solo Firms (SSF).  Why? SSFs have more to gain by joining and sharing resources, and more to lose by intense competition.

That being said, OBA is a social organization (technical term for we like to have fun) maximizing technology’s exponential growth for mutual support and success.  Let technology work for us.  The technology that is only now beginning is that of trusted communities of lawyers.  If you’re interested in becoming a part of this growing movement go to www.theonlinebar.com and join OBA.

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