I’ve been thinking a lot about that word lately. Change. I get it that change is constant and to be successful you need to embrace change. That doesn’t mean we should just accept changes that are bad. No, I think it means that we need to accept that change is inevitable and be ready to respond to change with a positive attitude, which may include working in opposition to changes that are perceived as bad or negative and putting yourself in position to capitalize when that negative change has run its course and dissipated.
Introspectively, Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.” I have recently made a big change in my professional life. I was elected to be Managing Partner of Ulmer & Berne and so a good portion of each day now involves attending to the duties of a Managing Partner instead of drafting and negotiating retail leases. I still plan to devote a significant amount of time to my leasing activities, but clearly my job description has changed. Unfortunately, being Managing Partner reminds me every day just how imperfect I am.
The business of law firms is clearly changing. There is increased competition for good work. There is pressure to keep rates down. Technology has increased the pressure to work 24/7 and respond immediately. At the same time, professionals want more time away from work. No self- respecting attorney can easily embrace these developments, but we all need to adopt strategies to address these issues with a positive attitude. At Ulmer, these strategies include: (1) differentiating ourselves through fanatical, user friendly client service; (2) focusing on project management as a way to economically staff assignments; (3) maintaining a collegial, supportive work environment free from internal competition to maximize the benefits of a team approach; (4) pushing management down to the practice group level where those on the front line can quickly and effectively manage our practice; (5) promoting diversity in the firm to create a better work environment and appeal to a wider array of clients; and (6) implementing a growth strategy to add similarly minded folks.
To be sure, more change is coming. Multi-disciplinary firms, technology changes and legal regulation changes will all change how we will need to do business. By retaining our culture and front-line management, we should be positioned to respond accordingly with a positive attitude.
On a personal level, I need to improve (i.e., change). I need to listen better – to pay more attention to what others are saying (and not day dreaming about the Red Sox’ need for better starting pitching) and not interrupt others because I think I know better (you know you have issues with that – and all attorneys do to one degree or another – when a partner says you are doing a good job but you really need to stop cutting everyone off). Someone once said “envision the period,” meaning wait until they have finished what they are saying before you respond. I need to be clearer in my communications and not just assume everyone understands my short-handed jargon. I need to exude a positive attitude even if my dog ran away, my car broke down, or a tree fell on my house. I need to be able to admit a mistake and be able to change my mind. I used to think if you don’t agree with me it’s just because you haven’t been listening close enough. I have repeatedly learned that I am not the smartest one in the room – we have some really good attorneys here, but I am pretty good at drinking beer – no that’s a song that’s stuck in my head, sorry – I am pretty good at bringing people together. And I think I can capitalize on that ability if I listen better and understand my partners’ needs, attitudes, and abilities.
Anyway, all I can control is my attitude and effort. And I’m going to give it my best shot.