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Legal Business Development: Are Your Firm’s Strengths Becoming Weaknesses?

Experience success and it’s like a drug… you want more. Success in your law firm is much the same. Whatever got you there, you put into high gear to get you more. Whether it is building relationships with big corporate clients or lateral hires that bring a book of business, oftentimes the strategies that once worked will outlive their usefulness and become liabilities. Author and Inc. Magazine contributor Les McKeowen has seen several “types” of strengths turned into destructive weaknesses…

 1. The legacy business that holds growth hostage. Perhaps the most common way in which a great achievement becomes a liability is when the company has fought a long, expensive battle for industry prominence– and won.

Often the price that has been paid for that victory in terms of time, resources and personnel is so high that everything that follows is distorted by its gravitational pull: A components manufacturer builds an unassailable position in the plastics industry, but can’t (or won’t) adapt to new materials because of the literal and psychic sunk cost in its old, legacy industry.

Take a long look at your practice areas and industry teams. Are they truly relevant in today’s world… or are you stuck simply because your founding partners got you there?

 2. The single customer that distorts the entire business. Sure, it’s great to get a large customer. Your industry’s equivalent of Walmart or Apple comes a-knocking and before you know it, you’ve got massive orders, a lengthy pipeline, and predictable cash flow (even if the profits are tight).

You also get considerable bragging rights. At industry conferences, competitors look at you with envy. Your employees feel proud to see your product at outlets everywhere. You’re a member of an elite club.

But back on the factory floor, or in office cubicles, your entire business is gradually being distorted.

Until one day, you no longer have control over your own destiny. You can no longer afford to lose this customer, because if you did, you’d have to essentially start all over again.

Take a look at your single largest sales success – has it brought you freedom? Or are you trapped?

I have first-hand experience with this one and the word “trapped” hits to the heart of the matter. It’s hard to admit, but stop and take a hard look at what this big gorilla is doing to your organization and if the feeling is “trapped” then start doing something about it… now!

 3. The maverick-turned-jerk who pollutes the atmosphere and destroys your culture. Every growing business needs a big dog or two–hard-charging, get-it-done Operators who work every hour God sends (and then some) to build the success of the business in the early days.

But those big dogs can sour. As the business grows and becomes more complex, big dogs often bristle at being forced to comply with the systems and processes needed to scale. A little drunk on the autonomy they’ve built over the years–and often having built a massive amount of sweat equity with the business’ founders–they become mavericks.

Take a long look at your biggest big dog. If they’re teeing off everyone except you (and maybe, if you’re honest, they’re teeing you off, too), it’s time to admit that your once greatest asset has become a maverick liability.

Every law firm has one… the “big dog” who causes more havoc than the organization can absorb. Ask yourself and others, could the firm survive without him or her? The answer is usually, YES! It may be uncomfortable but sooner or later you will need to bite the bullet and part ways. Once it’s done people will say…”Finally, we thought you’d never wake up!”

It’s time for a reality check. Take your blinders off and make sure your strengths haven’t turn into your weakness. And please shoot me an email if you’d like to discuss this subject further!

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Comments

  1. The effect you cite, attitudes, processes, protocols, etc., that were instrumental in creating early-stage success, but later become liabilities, has been around a long time, and referred to differently each time.

    In the computer industry, it was called Founder’s Syndrome, referring to the inability of Founders to adapt to the business’s later-stage requirements.

    More recently, Clayton Christenson called it “The Innovator’s Dilemma,” in the book of the same name.

    Just as there are product cycles, there are people cycles. Some people belong in a company when it’s starting out, anything goes, and creativity and nimbleness of foot are critical; others belong there later, when succeeds requires operating disciplines and other scale-friendly protocols.

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