The Why?

On the first day of class at University of Calgary Law School this week, one of the first things I wrote on the white board was one word: Why?

Of course, I got a number of eye-rolls from students.

But as the course has continued, “why” has become a common part of the class lexicon.

Can we “five why” this issue?

Why do law firms do what they do?

Why are they structured as they are?

Why did Heenan Blaikie disintegrate?

Why are partnerships difficult to govern?

Why can’t outsiders invest in law firms?

Why am I in law school?

Why do I want to be a lawyer?

Why do I get up in the morning?

My point to students is that if you don’t constantly ask, “why?” for every part of your law practice, then your processes stagnate and eventually suffer.

If you don’t understand “the why?” of your career, you’ll float aimlessly through it. You may make a decent living, but you won’t be personally satisfied.

While in Australia, I heard a number of managing partners say “understanding the why?” was key to personal career satisfaction and vital to the success of their firms. From a firm management perspective they could clearly annunciate “the why” their firms existed and that “why” was also articulated to and understood by everyone in the firm.

Knowing “the why” was vital to their strategic planning.

Knowing “the why” was key to good mental health.

I have yet to hear any managing partner at a Canadian law firm articulate “the why” of her firm.

Heenan Blaikie’s management couldn’t articulate why anyone should stay at Heenan.

And Heenan showed us the consequences of partners not understanding “the why.”

When partners didn’t understand why their practices should stay at Heenan – and the money was less than expected – they left.

Since there was no good reason why Heenan should exist, it was very easy for Heenan Blaikie to cease to exist.

Want to build a stable, long-standing law firm?

As Simon Sinek says, Start with Why?

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