Monthly Archives: January 2012

7 Reasons why Developing Leaders in Law Firms is Difficult

This is a blog post by Pennington Hennessy which you can find here:

Alan Hodgart recently spoke to a group of Law Firm Learning & Development Professionals about the challenges facing law firms – particularly leadership.  His analysis was sound but he offered few practical ways for addressing them.

I can think of 7 reasons why developing leaders in law firms is more difficult than in many other fields.

  1. A typical partner’s psychometric profile is very different to that of a senior corporate executive.
  2. Lawyers are atypical leaders, for whom traditional models require adaption.
  3. Lawyers rarely want to lead.  Most law firm leaders would be happy if they reverted to client-facing work.
  4. There are few role models, and leadership is “caught” as much as “taught”.
  5. Leadership development is left late (30 years +) compared to the corporate model.
  6. The rewards for leadership in a law firm are not always obvious.
  7. Few lawyers have corporate experience outside the legal function, so they haven’t experienced people who just want to lead.

The solutions are harder to find, but possible.  Key aspects are:

  1. Developing leaders, not training them.
  2. Leaders are grown, not made, so it requires a joined-up, firm-wide effort to develop leaders.
  3. New leaders learn by leading.



Synchronicity: The Inner Path of Leadership

I’ve read 4 books in the last 3 months that have significantly altered my thinking. I’d go so far as to say they have altered what I want to do with my life. I’m still figuring all this out but I feel compelled to share the details of the book so others, particularly lawyers seeking a more conscious approach to their life work, may be inspired too.

Incidentally, today I was unexpectedly given a Kindle by someone who knows just how important books are in my life. (I do wonder if it’s because apparently you don’t have to leave the light on when you read a Kindle!). I look forward to playing with my new toy although it will be weird not holding a book in my hands.

The most recent of these books is: Synchronicity – The Inner Path of Leadership, by Joseph Jaworski

I concur with a reviewer who said:

“Think of this book as the guidebook for a journey that connects you to life and culminates in the gift of leadership. His book takes the premise that leading is serving and gives insight to the transformation we must make internally, not externally to become a leader. For me though, this book was not about leadership or developing leadership. It is a book that helps you understand life in a new context. Synchronicity becomes the goal and the added benefits of leadership qualities become more of an after-thought.”

Jaworski was a trial lawyer in the US for 20 years, who had all the material trappings of success, when suddenly things shifted. His wife left him and in a series of events that unfolded through a process of synchronicity, he was guided or inspired to start the American Leadership Forum.  After perhaps a decade or so he went on to work for Shell as a scenario planner globally, which is where he worked with Adam Kahane who wrote “Solving Tough Problems” one of the other 4 books I refer to earlier.  Adam came out to South Africa to lead the Mont Fleur Scenarios – but more about that at another time.

Currently Jaworski co-owns a consultancy called Generon International. He and his colleagues have come up with the Global Leadership Initiative (GLI).  

An online magazine called Enlighten Next describes this as “so audacious and inspired that it has caught the attention of a new partner, The Synergos Institute, a well-placed international development organization, as well as major corporations, leading foundations, UN agencies, and local organizations in Africa, Asia and Latin America. GLI is committed to creating tri-sectoral projects to find innovative solutions to ten of the most intractable problems facing humanity—beginning with the world food supply and child malnutrition. The brilliance of GLI is that it doesn’t work through the usual channels. Rather than getting embroiled in the labyrinths of existing bureaucracies or caught in turf battles, their aim is to work with key leaders across all sectors to create a shift in consciousness, a leap into the future.

But to get back to the book, Synchronicity, Jaworski’s own journey begins with him describing his father’s involvement as the Prosecutor for Watergate – clearly a very difficult role to be brought into as the one guy tasked with uncovering the truth when it turned out that everyone including the President of the United States was lying through their teeth.  There are stories of Jaworski’s deeply meaningful encounters with nature, a tornado, loss, grief, his own failures and successes and projects of such immense scale that he brings to life. Throughout his story and his becoming more aware the central tenet is that:

“If we have truly committed to follow our dream, there exists beyond ourselves and our conscious will a powerful force that helps us along the way and nurtures our growth and transformation. Our journey is guided by invisible hands with infinitely greater accuracy than is possible through our unaided conscious will.” 

I will post a video of Joseph Jaworski shortly  – which explains much of the book. It is an hour long talk which I think is harder to stay absorbed in than the book was. Perhaps because I love to read. For those who take in more when listening, watch the talk and then see if you want to read the book. I can only say that I finished this book in a flood of tears. It is a book that I think is powerful enough to have a lasting effect on all those who read it and therefore in the interests of contributing to a more conscious world, please read this book.

Secretly (well, not so secretly) I wish to work with Joseph Jaworski some day.  I have the sense he’s who I need to assist me carry out my WIG (Wildly Improbable Goal). Mmm.  And if there were an opportunity to go and work for the GLI – I’d be on a plane tomorrow.

At the Edge with Gerry Riskin

I came across the consultancy called Edge International that fixes law firms around the globe in a previous incarnation as a highly strung young candidate attorney. I found some copies of Edge the magazine they publish somewhere in my law firm and thought it had some great ideas. Never one to be a wallflower, I promptly emailed the senior partner of the firm with my suggestions for improving various systems in the firm, based on what I’d been reading. Surprisingly, and to his credit, the senior partner was pretty receptive. (Most senior partners would have swatted an upstart like me away without a further thought!) It turned out that he had worked with Gerry Riskin, the creator of Edge International, somewhere along the line and had a lot of respect for him.

Once I’d made the decision to leave the law firm after completing articles, I started desperately wondering what I’d do next. As I had noticed what a significant proportion of my time in the firm was spent figuring out how to change things, I wrote to Gerry Riskin about possibly joining Edge International.   And he wrote a kind response. When I again contacted him at the end of 2011 and referred to this exchange of emails in 2005 –I was impressed he still had them and knew what I was on about.  It’s not clear how this will unfold but I would like to work Gerry someday.  I want to work with him because he is a man of whom someone said:

“When Gerry speaks, he reaches parts of your mind that have never been used before.”
–Sue Stapely, Solicitor and Media Professional; London, England

If you’d like to find out more about Gerry, he has his own blog called Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices. The website for Edge International is also a wonderful resource. There is much I could say but for now I just want to mention what it says under their “values” section.

Our guiding philosophy is “to provide clients with more than they are paying for, more than they expect and more than anyone else would provide under the same circumstances.” We live that philosophy by extending to you our “satisfaction guarantee” that allows you to always measure whether our fees match the results being achieved, and by our very serious undertaking to provide ongoing support even after the formal assignment has concluded.

Edge International’s work is unconditionally guaranteed to the complete satisfaction of the client. If the client is not completely satisfied with the services provided by Edge International at any stage of this engagement, we will, at the client’s option, either completely waive our professional fees or accept a portion of those fees that reflects the level of satisfaction.


Imagine if more law firms had values like this? What a different sort of place the world might be. I think it’s possible.  I want to work with lawyers and law firms that believe it is possible.

Theory U: A slideshow

<div style=”width:425px” id=”__ss_90541″> <strong style=”display:block;margin:12px 0 4px”><a href=”; title=”Theory U Intro” target=”_blank”>Theory U Intro</a></strong> <div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”> View more <a href=”; target=”_blank”>presentations</a> from <a href=”; target=”_blank”>ericaliang</a> </div> </div>

Um, this doesn’t look right…I’m trying to embed a slide show from on Theory U, which I think explains it really well and obviates the need for me to explain at length what it all means. I’m going to be referring to it a lot and using it a lot. This I know. I think this may be a highly useful tool for the conscious lawyer.

Some of the bad news

In order to truly understand a situation or problem, one needs to immerse oneself in it, learning as much as possible, while being careful to let go of old ways of seeing. In Theory U, this is referred to as stage 1 – observe, observe, observe.

Today I have 2 observations about the sad state of law.

One is from Seth Godin’s post today Learning leadership from Congress, in which he discusses the bleak state of leadership in Congress  and says  “Worth noting that 47% of those in Congress (House and Senate) are millionaires–an even greater percentage than those that are lawyers.” Yes, it is an indictment upon the profession that such a significant number of those leading the United States astray are from legal backgrounds. I’m not pointing fingers – I just don’t have the figures available for Parliament in South Africa to do a comparison. Nonetheless, to labour the point, I have an image of all these idealistic young lawyers at law school in the US eagerly learning about the forefathers signing the Declaration of Independence and brave individuals like Rosa Parks (the woman who, way back in 1955, refused to give up her seat for a white person on a public bus and which eventually led to the laws of segregation on public buses being changed). And then fast-forward – these once – idealistic lawyers are sitting in Congress passing all sorts of laws violating basic rights, in order to preserve the wealth of a few at the expense of the many.  Ensconced safely in their mirrored law firm eyries, they hardly ever look down in their all-consuming obsession to bill more hours to make it to the top.  If they do happen to look down,  those far beneath them on the street appear as small as ants. What do they matter?

The second sad thing was a T-shirt I noticed on a black labourer digging next to a road when I was running earlier. It was from some legal subscription service  and had a slogan something like “no lawyer, no power, call 3746559359 to ensure your rights are protected”.

I spent some time looking into these services last year and by and large my view is they are there to rip people off. Like the premise of a medical aid scheme, they aim to have as many subscribers as possible paying the monthly fee they can barely afford, and then try and pay out as little as possible. The exclusion list is ridiculous but written in legalese which it is clear the target market of these initiatives would never be able to understand. Perhaps one or two of these are honourable businesses which really do provide a mechanism for justice by enabling those who could never afford a private lawyer, to fight a legal claim with R100 000 worth of legal fees. I know a guy who runs one of these – I shall not comment on the integrity of his business because I really don’t understand enough. However, I can safely say that there are many such schemes out there that are complete rip-offs preying on the vulnerable and it makes me sick.

My mother’s gardener came to ask for my help a few years ago – all his friends were signing up lawyers and he asked if I would be his lawyer and how much he had to pay me every month. Only through this conversation did I realise how he had been misled – he had no specific legal problem but had been informed you had to pay a lawyer every month to get him on your side in case you later needed him.

In my endeavour to understand the bad rap and shark jokes, I mention these two things. Yet my focus remains on all those lawyers out there who are conscientious caring citizens, committed to helping others, and those who are smart and just trying to earn a living and would be grateful for an opportunity to operate more consciously and bring deeper integrity to their work. I’m finding ways to make this possible – watch this space.

The Bigger Picture: Why I studied Law

I’m still trying to understand why I studied law. On the surface, it was early in the year 2000, I’d completed a degree in languages, had a gap year, come back to South Africa and wasn’t feeling particularly inspired to join the work force. Everyone kept asking “what are you doing next?”. Pressure was on.

I had lunch with a lovely friend who was studying law, drank 2 bottles of chardonnay and felt inspired by her description of law school. Plus LA Law and Ally McBeal made it seem a good environment in which to be sexy and smart. In a hungover state the next day I wrote to the Dean of the Law Faculty, a slightly bizarre letter saying how I’d always wanted to study law but had forgotten to apply – could they let me in the following week?

On a deeper level, law had always intrigued me. I had studied philosophy as part of my undergrad degree and I was drawn to questions like why we need a legal system, who decides what is right and wrong, is the death penalty a deterrent/ morally acceptable?

On a very much deeper level, I am starting to believe more and more in notions of destiny. And studying law was part of my destiny.  I think it is our duty, maybe our privilege, to determine the work we are born to do. And I mean “work” in the widest possible sense.

Herman Hesse wrote this in one of his books Demian “Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself. He might end up as a poet or madman, as prophet or criminal – that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern. His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness”.

I’m trying to find once again, where my destiny lies. It’s not easy. This is not a well-trodden path, for anyone!

“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.” Joseph Campbell

Someone sent this Campbell quote to me 2 years ago and I liked it so much I stuck it on my wall.  Since yesterday I have been devouring Synchronicity: the Inner Path of Leadership by Joseph Jaworski, a most amazing book and I noted that Jaworski mentions Joseph Campbell’s  frequently as he describes his life journey, from trial lawyer to setting up the American Leadership Forum to scenario planner at Shell – which I shall definitely write more about soon. Campbell was a “brilliant scholar and maverick of sorts who saw a common thread in all of the world’s mythological traditions and religions. Through his meticulous studies, he helped to bridge the gap for the layman between the outer cultures and traditions of the world with the inner journeys and experiences of sages, shamans and mystics.”

I know that Campbell’s thinking is important to what I am meant to carry out. As is the work of Herman Hesse, because suddenly his work and quotes are popping up everywhere. And the woman who lent me the Synchronicity book – well she is also part of what I am meant to be carrying out. How do I say this without sounding like a New Age nitwit? I knew, deep in my soul, when someone told me to call her, and I walked into that first meeting, that I needed to work with her. She feels the same. We’re figuring it out.

On the one hand there is a slightly cheesed up version of the whole destiny/ synchronicity thing. You can see this in The Secret – which tells people they can have, do or be anything they want. Unfortunately some very potent ideas have been dumbed down for the masses – making the susceptible believe all they need to do is believe hard enough and their Ferrari will arrive. On the other hand, there is a plethora of writing of the world’s greatest thinkers from the Greeks to Einstein to more recent writers and thinkers including Eckhardt Tolle, Martin Buber and Joseph Campbell, Peter Senge and Joseph Jaworski and thousands of others which is all pointing  to the same things:

  1. Thoughts are where all reality begins – if you cannot dream it or conceive of it, you cannot do it.
  2. Most people are too scared to dream of what might be possible for themselves.
  3. When you commit absolutely to a meaningful vision which is not about self-gain, when you begin with willingness and stand in the state of surrender, you alter your relationship with the future. (Joseph Jaworski)
  4. Once committed and open, the universe will move to help you and put all the right people in your path and the resources you need to carry it out.

These ideas are entering the mainstream through talk show hosts and business coaches and actually this is a very good thing. This should not be the preserve of a privileged few.

My destiny is not to be a lawyer.   My intuition told me strongly to leave the law firm I was at as soon as my articles were up. I ended up doing some really interesting and totally unexpected things by following my heart and gut instead of my over-used head.  For a while at least, I knew absolutely that I was doing what I was born to do at that time: running a college for some very disadvantaged students.

But I came and I left. And I did other things. And now I am wondering what is next? I know that although I am not meant to be practising law, I am meant to be linking different disciplines like law and psychology and leadership and spirituality. Of this I am certain. And I needed to teach law, if only to realise we teach law all wrong!  And that there are a lot more important things we need to be teaching besides the law itself. The existence of the internet has changed studying as we know it. It’s all there. No one needs to remember random stuff anymore.  It’s not the “what” that matters anymore, it’s the “how”. Law Schools should be cultivating the “beingness” of lawyers, not so focussed on the “doingness”.

The entire picture isn’t clear yet. I read a wonderful metaphor of impressionist paintings, more specifically the pointillists – where up close the painting actually makes no sense, it’s a lot of splodges. Only when we move back, does the picture emerge. Life’s like that. It doesn’t make sense up close when we’re so deeply enmeshed in the details of each hour. It only makes sense when we get perspective, and that can take years.  Right now I’m stuck with the splodges but I am trusting these are all part of a much bigger, and very beautiful, picture for my life. And Shark Free Waters is part of that picture.

Triple Bottom Line: Metaphor or Measurable?

I’m pondering the concept of the Triple Bottom Line. I first heard the term when I was working with a visionary and I loved the idea – that organisations should care about PEOPLE, PLANET & PROFIT.  Sadly, I was left feeling that it was mere rhetoric. Maybe this was because at that particular organisation people were hired and fired and left so often that I could see “people” were of little import. Or perhaps it was when I realised that planting a vegetable garden does not, on its own, constitute an effective planet-saving initiative. Or when I looked at what we were doing and how much it cost and realised we could have outsourced our entire operation to another better-established institution for less money. Yes, I became she of little faith.

Now, many years on, I’m endeavouring once again to figure out whether the Triple Bottom Line is well-intentioned but meaningless rhetoric or whether it does in fact constitute a valuable goal towards which all organisations should aspire.

The concept of the Triple Bottom Line (also referred to as 3BL) has been gaining traction steadily in the last 10 years. It refers to the idea that that corporations “should (and can) manage not just the good old fashioned bottom-line (i.e. the financial bottom line) but also their social and environmental “bottom lines” too.

Chris MacDonald and Wayne Norman have written a PHD about it. In a summary they write:

On the face of it, this is an attractive idea: it is easy to agree with the idea that corporations have obligations that go beyond financial success. Unfortunately, we find that without exception the 3BL rhetoric fails to live up to its promises. Adding up the financial plusses and minuses is just a lot easier, as it turns out, than totting up, say, the ethical achievements and shortcomings of a firm. Any attempt to arrive at a calculation of a net social or environmental performance is likely to run head-on into just what it is that separates the management of finances from the management of social and environmental impacts. In the financial realm, money provides a common unit of measure that permits expenses to be subtracted from revenues. So while it makes perfect sense to take the costs of labour and materials and subtract those from sales revenues, it makes little sense to talk about (for example) taking a social “minus” such as a sexual harassment lawsuit and subtracting that from a social “plus”, like having engaged in corporate philanthropy. How big a charitable donation do you think it takes to off-set the social “cost” of a sexual harassment suit? Of course there’s no obviously uncontroversial way to make this sort of calculation. In other words, there’s no real social “bottom line”. The kinds of issues that arise in social and environmental domains can be (and regularly are) managed , but they will never be reducible to the kind of common unit of measure that would allow for straightforward bookkeeping.

Their PHD explores whether this really is a practical concept or a mere metaphor. And if it is a metaphor, is it a useful one?

Having spent many months of last year studying the new Companies Act, but ultimately deciding  that my calling is not drafting a perfect Memorandum of Incorporation, I’m intrigued  by the intersection of the new Companies Act, The King Reports on Corporate Governance and my yearning for a conscious Integral Approach to law. These all tie-in to the Triple Bottom Line concept in a way I am not yet fully able to articulate.

I don’t feel I have any insights to offer yet. However the beauty of a blog is that it allows a space in which to air one’s thoughts, even if not completely formed.  So I’m throwing the concept of the Triple Bottom Line out there – as I read further. And I will read the PHD and give a summary of it.  I’m open to any engagement on the issue but it must be thought-provoking!  There’s tons of stuff written about the triple bottom line, in a nutshell I am only interested in the bits that will make me go “wow”.

Tall order? Maybe, but there is so much information available these days that I’m becoming more discerning. I need to be wowed.

Whatsoever Things Are True, Pure, Noble

I’ve come across a site called Attorneys at Work that delivers a Daily Dispatch –  posts on a variety of topics. It interests me as I’d like to create a Conscious Law Daily Dispatch. One of the posts deals with opening a new practice and creating a mailing address. You can find it here. What concerned me deeply is this:

There are various options for attorneys who are trying to keep costs low and don’t have smart offices in which to see clients.  “There are virtual offices located in large office buildings that will give the impression that you work in a big fancy building downtown near the large law firms in your community. They provide you a mailing address and fancy conference rooms where you can meet with clients.”

The author explains that she personally chose not to use this option “after all, part of my image is that I keep my overhead low and pass the savings on to my clients. I want to work with entrepreneurs and innovators who will appreciate that I will meet them in a co-working space where they’re comfortable. I don’t need a fancy office or a receptionist to prove to myself or my clients that I’m a good lawyer. The quality of my work will do that.”  

Her name is Ruth Carter, apparently she was a therapist before she became a lawyer which intrigues me. I’m not trying to challenge Ruth herself, what troubles me that there are enough lawyers out there pretending they work in fancy offices at fake addresses, to create a demand for websites and books and services helping them to do this. Where is the integrity in that? Creating a virtual address so people think you work in a fancy law office or think you work at an office every day when actually you work from home – is this really necessary?  Maybe I’m old fashioned but I believe law is a noble profession. I believe lawyers have a duty and responsibility to build a practice based on honesty and integrity – and if you can’t even tell clients the truth about where your office is, you’re off to a poor start.

As for the title of this post? I was thinking about this issue of law firms being based on integrity when my old school prayer popped into my head.  We used to recite this at the beginning of every term – it was an Anglican school.

“We pray, O Lord, that Thou wilt make this school as a field which the Lord hath blessed; that whatsoever things are true, pure, noble, and of good report may here forever flourish and abound.
Preserve in it an unblemished name, enlarge it with a wider usefulness…”

I’m not advocating that law firms start reciting prayers or bring the Lord into it (I’m not really a proponent of organised religion, I take an Integral view, but I digress…). What I do want to say is that having some sort of fundamental set of values underpinning a legal enterprise is a good idea. Striving for an unblemished name and asking that it may serve a wider usefulness, that’s the way forward.

I wish that included in the curriculum requirements for all attorneys were modules such as Servant Leadership, as developed by Robert Greenleaf.  Servant Leadership can be:

defined as a management philosophy which implies a comprehensive view of the quality of people, work and community spirit. It requires a spiritual understanding of identity, mission, vision and environment. A servant leader is someone who is servant first, who has responsibility to be in the world, and so he contributes to the well-being of people and community. A servant leader looks to the needs of the people and asks himself how he can help them to solve problems and promote personal development.

Maybe instead of just thinking about this, I should go to my old law school and start teaching this course myself? Mmm.

Why it’s time for law firms to shift their thinking

There are many factors pointing to the increased need for lawyers and law firms to consciously start shifting from a rigid, hierarchical, right-brain, win/lose mindset to a more intuitive, inclusive, inter-connected world view.

Some of these include:

  1. introduction of new legislation regarding the structure and regulation of the way legal services are offered – such as the Legal Services Act in the UK and the Legal Practice Bill in South Africa
  2. the changing economic climate
  3. in South Africa, the pressures of BBBEE legislation coupled with fact that graduates are entering the workplace without the requisite skills
  4. a new generation that approaches work in a very different way to that of the Baby Boomer generation – Generation Y (born in the ‘80’s and also known as Millenials) are willing to trade high pay for fewer billable hours, flexible schedules and a better work/life balance. Generation Y is confident, ambitious and achievement-oriented. They have high expectations of their employers, seek out new challenges and are not afraid to question authority.
  5. The increased amount of legislation  – in our attempts to regulate society there are more and more laws every month affecting ordinary people. There is a proliferation of articles on the internet, yet dependable legal advice is still only available from lawyers and therefore financially out of most people’s reach. Lawyers are therefore in a powerful position – but as the saying goes “absolute power corrupts absolutely”. There  is an increased need for a high standard of moral and ethical behaviour in the legal profession.

The world is changing.  Law firms are being forced to innovate – which is uncomfortable for a profession that is generally regarded as extremely traditional and rigid. Many law firms today resemble law firms of 100 years ago. But as one of the greatest consultants to law firms, Gerry Riskin of Edge International says, “clients have tasted some power in the lawyer/client relationship and they are not going to give it up”.

There are many ways that law firms can meet some of these challenges such as introducing new and more effective systems and processes to keep up with the pace of technological developments. Or by changing the way they bill clients or remunerate their employees. Some of the innovations demonstrated by European law firms are described and analysed in a major annual study by RSG, published in October 2011 as a supplement to the Financial Times (UK). I will touch on some of these in further posts.

Right now, the subjects that are holding my attention are the culture of law firms and the mindset or worldview of lawyers.  I want to explore these and related ideas in the form of interviews with lawyers and lawyers who run law firms; research into organisational dynamics and various theories of personal and organisational transformation; initiatives both in South Africa and globally towards an Integral Law, and exploration of what this means.