A Review Of “Decisions That Matter” – A Must-Read New Book For Law Firm Leaders
The first American law firm opened on September 15, 1783. It still exists today in Philadelphia as Rawle & Henderson LLP, a civil litigation firm. The second and third law firms also still exist, with the third known today as the venerable Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft.
“Decisions that Matter,” by authors Roger Hayse and Andrew Jillson and contributor Eric Fletcher, uses history and more than 50 stories to share lessons about the life-cycle of law firms – celebrated names that many law firm leaders will know, others that you won’t. It doesn’t matter. The tales are as relevant to a millennial lawyer with a dream to start and grow her own firm (who may not know any of these names) as they are to an AmLaw 50 firm chair who recognizes them all and sees challenges, transition or growth in his firm’s future.
The five life-cycles include: firm formation, growth, sustainability, crisis and closure. While the Internet offers thousands of pages of advice, a time-strapped law firm executive seldom has the time, patience and (perhaps) discernment to sift through the rhetoric and land on the much-desired pieces that will actually make a difference. Practical, grounded advice that you can trust seems elusive. But – it’s not. It’s right here.
For example, in talking about growth . . . We all know that “growth” in and of itself is not a strategy. But, when tied to a specific vision and an execution plan that fortifies the strengths and openly calls out the deficiencies (with no fear of making tough decisions that address them), a firm is on the right track to safely and strategically grow. Smart policies, procedures, not being transfixed by the mirage of financing growth with debt, and understanding that thinking, feeling humans are your greatest assets – clients, lawyers, staff – the answers to your questions about how to proceed and the illustrative case studies that serve as cautionary tales are here. Growing or running a law firm without a complete, disciplined understanding of how to mine, manage and maximize the productivity of your assets will stall or undermine the success you might otherwise achieve.
Has your practice grown stale? Are your lawyers restless? Is your compensation system chipping away at an otherwise cohesive law firm culture? Are you flummoxed by all the change you are seeing in business, government and law, and worried about clients’ increasing array of choices of legal and non-legal providers? History and the stories in this book prove that failure to choose a direction can be as debilitating as choosing the wrong one, that eat-what-you-kill compensation systems can, in fact, kill law firms, and that strong, unwavering leadership is imperative during all five life-cycles, especially in times of transition and crisis.
Watching client and industry trends are the best harbingers of what’s to come for law firms. BigLaw, MediumLaw and SmallLaw have all closed their doors for a variety of reasons that you will understand after reading this book. Why are some firms immune to closure and others vulnerable to it?
Other than being designed for the legal industry, “Decisions that Matter” is a combination of two best-sellers: Jim Collins’ classic book on leadership, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t” and Stephen Covey’s immortal “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It reads like a novel – or even better, a Michael Lewis book, such as “Boomerang,” “Moneyball” or “The Big Short.”
When you see this title cross your desk, you might think, “We had a great year last year. We’re exactly where we want to be.” But, as history has proven time and time again, the authors tell us that “…the conclusion of a great year is no assurance that the new one will be equally positive.”
You’ll want to keep this book, earmark pages, highlight and underline passages and advice – you’ll read it and re-read it. Since it covers all five major milestones in a law firm’s trajectory, you’ll want it at different times of your career when you are confronted with different circumstances – some of your own doing, some determined by a changing market.
Buy it and keep it close.