In BigLaw, Why Morale Matters

By: Gaston Kroub
hands in

While President Eisenhower’s legacy lives on for most of us in the form of the Interstate Highway System, all of his achievements must be measured against his performance as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces during the re-conquest of Europe from the Nazis during World War II. Any student of history appreciates the enormity of the undertaking that Eisenhower spearheaded, and the importance of his role as a strategist and symbol of leadership during the most trying moments of the 20th century. While the idea of a “mobilized” America may feel a little strange in the current age of a professional (and shrinking) armed forces, circumstances during WWII compelled the involvement of every segment of the American citizenry, with Eisenhower personally responsible for the combined war effort of the United States and its allies in the European theater. As a leader, particularly one charged with launching an unfathomably complicated assault against the Nazi war machine that had enslaved a continent, Eisenhower surely understood the importance of morale.

It is interesting, therefore, to consider Eisenhower’s feelings about the role of morale in an organization. While we may default to considering “team morale” as something that needs to be discussed, at least on occasion, General Ike felt very differently. In his words, “The best morale exist when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy.” That’s an insightful take on the subject, from someone who knew full well the importance of morale in preserving the ability of an organization to function at its peak potential. While morale is important, however, Eisenhower also implicitly recognized two truths that are of interest to us as lawyers. First, morale is meaningless if the organization or firm does not have a mission. Second, firms who fret about “boosting morale” must understand that they already have a serious problem on their hands — because morale, depending on the mission and the organization, may actually present a zero-sum calculus, such that morale among the members of an organization may be good or bad — with no in-between.

It is much easier to appreciate the importance of morale operating in service of a broader “mission” at a small firm. At smaller firms, everything is “personal,” and it is extremely important that each member of the firm understands the firm’s mission and their role in making that mission a successful one. If morale is poor, for whatever reason, there is little doubt that the entire firm’s ability to execute on its mission will be compromised, at least until the reasons for the poor morale are addressed. In contrast, larger organizations can sometimes weather pockets of poor morale, because there is less likelihood that a problem in the Phoenix office’s real estate group will have much of an impact at all on the ability of the firm’s Chicago corporate attorneys to function effectively. If the source of the poor morale, however, is some type of existential concern, then it is unlikely that discussing the issues will be of much help anyway.

Just as poor morale in one group is less likely to have an impact on the performance of other groups in a large organization, so does the existence of good morale only extend so far. At a small firm, however, it is very apparent when morale is good, and it is much more likely that an esprit de corps will pervade the entire firm. At our firm, especially when business is humming along, there is little doubt that morale is good. When everyone is busy, and contributing, there is little need to discuss morale, or try and tinker with something that is working. Even when there are some challenges to overcome, morale can and does remain good, especially because we all have a common goal in mind, and a full understanding of our firm’s mission. That understanding helps smooth out any rough patches, and prevents discouragement or malaise from taking root.

But what if morale is bad for whatever reason? Small firms simply can’t survive very long in such circumstances. The tonic for poor morale? Leadership, for one. If there is a serious drain on the firm’s emotional well-being, something needs to change. Leadership is required to determine whether the problem is with the mission — which can be altered if destined for failure — or with the people executing on that mission. Likewise, every member of the organization needs to reaffirm their commitment to the mission, and actually take concrete steps to perform as best as they can — even in the face of poor morale.

As Eisenhower noted, what certainly won’t work to solve the problem of poor morale is a lot of discussion, since excessive discussion could actually lead to more harm. That is not to say that grievances contributing to the poor morale should not be aired, only that the firm’s leadership realize that it will take action, rather than just talking, to turn things around. Every business faces adversity, and there is no guarantee that the owners and employees will be able to steel themselves in the face of that adversity. Leaders understand the importance of morale and their role in building and sustaining it — just like Eisenhower did. We may not face the same challenges he did, or run as complex an organization, but we can still learn from his straight talk.

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5 Fears You’ll Need to Overcome to Be an Effective Leader

Adapted from an article by:  Anna Johansson
5 Fears You'll Need to Overcome to Be an Effective Leader
Being an attorney demands effective leadership. You need to be able to make solid decisions, organize plans, hire teammates and provide direction — all under the steady pressure of being accountable for all those decisions and actions. To add even more heat, as an lawyer, your personal success is often tied directly to the success of your practice, meaning every little decision you make could have significant consequences.
Under such pressure, it’s natural to have worries and fears. But fears can intimidate you and obscure your judgment, rendering your decisions less logical and your approach less systematic. If you want to be an effective leader, there are five fears in particular that you’ll need to overcome.
1. Making the wrong decision
As a leader, you’ll be facing decisions on a nearly constant basis. You’ll make major decisions, like choosing your initial partners, and small ones, like whether to continue a proven marketing campaign. Being faced with so many decisions can lead to decision fatigue, a well-known psychological phenomenon that can interfere with your mental health and your ability to make good decisions.
Adding to this is a potentially growing fear that the next decision you make will be the wrong one — your new hire won’t work out, your marketing campaign won’t be effective, or possibly even bigger, more significant fallout will occur. This fear can make you postpone or delegate your decisions, but don’t let it — remember that even the best leaders make bad decisions sometimes. Avoiding a decision is always a worse move.
2. Being criticized for your approach
As a leader, you’re going to have your own signature style. You’re going to value some things more than others. For example, you might appreciate a rigid, formal dress code, or you could completely disregard what the people around you are wearing. When working with others, you could prefer a hands-on style or a much more relaxed approach.
There’s no one right or wrong way to lead. If you’re afraid of being criticized for your approach, it could lead you to become the leader you think people might want rather than the leader you naturally are. You’re going to be criticized no matter what by some, and accepted no matter what by others, so pick the style that suits you best, and don’t let the haters interfere with your vision.
3. Speaking as an authority
Speaking publicly is one of the biggest, most commonly reported fears in the U.S. population. That’s because it puts you on the spot, making you vulnerable to anywhere between two and several thousand people all at once. Any stumble could make you appear foolish, and a slip in words could compromise your credibility.
It’s natural to feel a little fear before speaking to a group as an authority in your field, whether it’s to your team or to a potential client. But don’t let this fear trip you up! Relax before you go on stage by preparing as much as possible and reminding yourself that you’re human, and the people in your audience will see you as a human as well. Even if you make a mistake, it will probably turn out fine.
4. Taking responsibility
Whenever you make decisions, take actions or lead a project in a given direction, you’re making yourself responsible for the potential outcomes of those actions. If your new marketing campaign succeeds, you’ll get a lot of the credit. If it fails, you’ll get a lot of the blame. Proverbially speaking, the buck stops with you.
This can be a crippling fear for new attorneys, but one that disproportionately emphasizes the results of your actions. All leaders will experience successes and failures, so try to focus on measuring your worth in terms of the motivations behind your actions rather than the consequences of them.
5. Failing entirely
As an authority in your field, the fear of failure is personally, financially and logically motivated. If a project fails, you may loose a case, a client, and possibly a lot of money. But remember — failure is never the end of the line, and it shouldn’t exist as the bad word it’s often seen to be. For most successful people, failure is an important first step of a longer journey, and you’ll always have another chance for a different kind of success.
Leadership is at the root of any successful position. Often, you’re the director, decision maker and figurehead for the group. The moment you let a specific fear — even a rational one — enter your head and get in the way of your responsibilities, your effectiveness is going to plummet. Overcoming those fears isn’t easy, but it’s certainly possible, and it’s necessary if you want to become or remain a great leader.

What Kind of Lawyers Would Star Wars Characters Be?

Star Wars Logo

With the new Star Wars movie having been released, it is only appropriate that those of us in the legal industry examine the franchise’s characters and formulate ideas regarding what kind of attorney each character would be.

By: Elie Mystal

I think R2-D2 would be the best personal injury lawyer. He’s brash and confident. He can take on foes much bigger than him. He’ll look into the jury box and play a holo-recording of an injured client saying, “Help me, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you’re my only hope.”

Obviously, Boba Fett would be opposing counsel for the defense. He’s got corporate trial attorney hired gun written all over him.

Not that he’s a Biglaw partner. That’s Jabba the Hut: “Bring me the associate and the Wookie. They will all suffer for this outrage.” Vader is the managing partner of a Biglaw firm: there will be a lot of apologies accepted and whole bunch of “I’m altering the deal, pray that I do not alter it any further” when summer associates return to the firm to start full time.

Okay, okay, but now if we’re thinking of Jabba and Vader as Biglaw partners, doesn’t that set Luke Skywalker up as the best law student/Biglaw associate of all time? Come on, there’s the petulant begging to go to law school in the first place “But Uncle Owen, all my friends have gone.” Which of course leads to the immediate destruction of his former life. A mad scramble during the law school years with Constitutional Law professor Obi-Wan Kenobi (“So what I told you was true, from a certain point of view.”).

He spends some time with public interest lawyer Yoda — “judge me by my size do you? And well you should not. For my ally is the Law, and a powerful ally it is” — but eventually rushes to face his Biglaw destiny (“not ready for the burden were you”), is tempted (“join me and I will complete your training), and eventually gets his arm cut off.

But he doesn’t die. Maybe through family connections he starts to get some clients and suddenly he’s standing in-front of established partner Jabba, talking smack and coming into his own. Jabba is an aging partner trying to hang onto to his book of business from the hard-charging Luke who says, “Nevertheless, I’m taking the Morgan Stanley account, you can either profit by this or be destroyed. It’s your choice, but I warn you not to underestimate my power.”

He passes the Jabba test, makes partner and now has the biggest case of his life in front of the Supreme Court. It doesn’t go well, he gets shocked by electricity from the bench by Emperor Scalia Palpatine (Palpatine = Scalia is the easiest Star Wars and the Law connection in the entire galaxy). But at the end the managing partner Vader saves the day and hands over the firm to his protégé.

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Don’t Just Set Goals This New Year!

By: Nancy Grimes

In 2016, instead of making decisions or setting goals based on how others expect us to perform, we need to set our own expectations of how we believe we CAN perform.  Expectations have a powerful impact on whether we fulfill them in a positive or negative fashion.  If we express expectations in terms of doubt or with a lack of confidence it creates skepticism and it will have a direct bearing on the results we will see.  If you believe in yourself, exude confidence, and really expect to meet your goals, then the results will be different and you will be more apt to succeed…despite those around us, the nay-sayers or the world economy.

We don’t have to buy in to what the economic predictors say.  As a matter of fact, numerous studies have been done on the Rule of Expectations and how they dramatically affect our personal performance.  The Rule of Expectations can also be used to change what other people’s expectations are of “us”.  When we get others to believe in us, it creates an atmosphere where it actually becomes easier to succeed.  Using expectations, we can create immediate reactions.  We can use expectations to create First Impression Expectations, Time Expectations, Reputation Expectations and Behavioral Expectations.

Tying our goals and our actual expectations together is really the cornerstone of helping make our goals become reality.  Many people do not like to set goals.  They are like New Year’s resolutions and many people actually cringe at the thought!  In years past, they might have set them but more often than not, they were quickly broken.  The fact of the matter is that goal setting really works.  It puts into action the Rule of Expectations and in of itself helps the person increase his/ her personal performance and increases future expectations of themselves.

Visualization is another powerful aspect of helping us reach our goals.  When we set the expectation of what we want to become, then we visualize ourselves reaching those goals and the end game becomes more tangible.  Goals are powerful in that they inspire us to stretch and reach beyond our past standards of performance.  They actually help us increase personal performance.  So instead of merely having repetitions of previous goals, and in order to personally achieve more, we have to start by examining what expectations we truly have of ourselves.  Then we can begin changing our own expectations, how others perceive us, and the environment around us.  Ultimately, these tips will help us with our performance expectations.


How Listening to Your Gut Can Make You a Better Attorney

Adapted from an article by Zach Robbins

Being an attorney is a tricky career path. Unlike the typical corporate-ladder structure, there is no roadmap telling you how to achieve greatness in a way that is best for you as an individual. It is important, when the path is unknown, to listen to your instincts.

Follow this checklist to use your gut and become a better founder:

Burn your security blankets.

At the beginning, I sometimes got stuck on a project for too long, because I was too comfortable to admit it wouldn’t work. I ignored data right in front of me. After investing a lot of time, energy and capital, it’s only natural to become attached to a project or idea. You can even convince yourself that you’re doing well when you’re not.

But when you get overly content, you’re not listening to your gut anymore; you’re not even listening to facts. Remain objective. Step back and look at the raw data. What is it telling you? You need passion to make something work, but you also need the intellect to cut bait when it isn’t working.

Break open the suggestion box.

Early on, I could have benefited from some expert direction to guide me through early-stage challenges.  Sometimes, having one person’s instinct in agreement with your own is the push you need to move an idea forward. On the other hand, a questioning voice can help you think differently and save you from a critical mistake. Steer your gut in the right direction by calling on trusted advisers when you need a second opinion.

Never betray your instincts.

An adviser may have more experience than you in some areas, but that doesn’t mean it’s applicable to every situation you’ll face when launching your business. Scrutinize each adviser’s point of view, background and areas of expertise against your own.

Value others’ opinions and weigh them appropriately, but don’t take them as gospel. You’re the only keeper of your vision, and if the data and your intuition are backing it up, you’re probably right on track.

Escape a false sense of productivity.

While building your own book of business, there are a million ideas and items that can sidetrack you. And it feels good to be busy. After all, busyness signals progress, right? Be careful: a false sense of productivity won’t get you anywhere. What’s more, juggling multiple tasks at once can cost up to 40 percent of your productive time.

Keep your business, and your instincts, on track by setting big goals. Each day, I try to accomplish three smaller steps that are directly in service of my goals and avoid getting roped into projects and conversations that aren’t.

The risks are yours to bear, but so are the achievements. Make following your passions less scary by always looking to the data, keeping trusted advisers around, setting and celebrating goals and trusting the instincts that guided you in the first place.

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Top 25 Social Media-Inspired Gifts

The holidays are right around the corner, but regardless of whether it’s Christmas, Valentine’s Day, someone’s birthday or any other holiday, you can always surprise that special social media lover in your life — or yourself — with any of these awesome gifts.

1. Social media cookie cutter set

Image credit: amazon

What could be better than baking some Twitter, Facebook and hashtag-shaped cookies? Nothing, that’s what! Roll out some dough, use the cookie cutters — and you have the recipe for some social media goodness.

2. Hashtag necklace

Image credit: amazon

Here’s your chance to have your very own hashtag…necklace, that is. It comes in silver and has a variety of chain lengths to choose from.

3. Social media collar

Image credit: amazon

Your dog will be the coolest pup on the block when he or she sports this collar. And if your pet is trying to become the next social media superstar — think Grumpy Cat and Boo the Pomeranian — then this is definitely a must-have.

4. Thumbs up / thumbs down shotglasses

Image credit: amazon

Want to have some fun? Throw a couple of these bad boys back and you might be feeling pretty thumbs-up yourself in no time.

5. ‘I Love Social Media’ luggage tag

Image credit: amazon

No more luggage getting lost on the baggage claim carousel. This luggage tag is sure to help your belongings stand out so you can grab them and be on your way.

6. Facebook ‘Like’ totes

Image credit: amazon

These adorable tote bags with their leather straps are a step above the normal canvas tote bags — and you have several options to choose from.

7. Social Media Shirt

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Top 10 Stores For Black Friday Deals: JC Penney, Kohl’s Lead Pack

This holiday season, each American shopper will spend an average of $594.80 on gifts for family and friends, according to the National Retail Federation.

The annual deluge of competing Black Friday ads, promotions and coupons from retail chains and e-commerce sites alike can make it tough to figure out where best to apportion that budget.

WalletHub is here to help.

Data gurus from the personal finance site surveyed 8,000 Black Friday ad scans from 30 of the biggest U.S. retailers, including those known for ‘doorbuster’ deals over the Thanksgiving weekend like Walmart and Best Buy.

WalletHub calculated the average discount offered by each of these companies on Black Friday, weighted based on the pre-discounted price of each sale item in order to give more credit to stores discounting higher-ticket products like electronics or jewelry.

Department store chain JCPenney leads the pack, with an average discount of 68%. Kohl KSS +2.22% comes in second with an average savings of 66.7% off.

Here are the top ten stores for Black Friday deals, according to WalletHub’s data:

  • JCPenney 68.0%
  • Kohl’s 66.7%
  • Stage 63.9%
  • Groupon 63.7%
  • Belk 59.5%
  • Macy’s 56.0%
  • Kmart 50.1%
  • Panasonic 47.0%
  • Fred Meyer 45.3%
  • Office Depot and OfficeMax 42.8%

Perhaps surprisingly, big-box giant Walmart comes in fairly far down the list, at number 23 with an average discount of 30.1%.

Amazon, which has been promoting early access Black Friday deals for Prime members, ranks 28th out of 30 with an average 25.8% off.

Walmart’s members-only subsidiary Sam’s Club and its competitor Costco round out the list at 29 and 30 respectively.

For the whole WalletHub list of Black Friday’s biggest deals, see here.

Be safe, and have a great holiday!

5 Things Worker Bees Can Learn From Actual Bees

Adapted from an article by: Jeffrey Hayzlett
5 Things Worker Bees Can Learn From Actual Bees
One thing that many people may not know about me is that on top of being a podcast host for CBS radio and TV host for C-Suite TV, I am also a beekeeper. Out at my place in South Dakota, I have hives set up, and every year, my family harvests honey for our side business, Hayzlett Honey. It’s fun, relaxing, tasty and a great way to help save the bees. They are vital to the global food supply, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. beekeepers experienced over 42 percent in loss in their honeybee colonies from 2014 to 2015.
Seeing a bee can strike fear into some, but there are great lessons to be learned from these creatures. They are experts in working together, achieving goals to positively impact the common good. Here are four lessons we can all learn from bees:
1. Work together.
In a single colony, there can be thousands of bees that need to work together in order to survive. Survival is a pretty good incentive to work together — and in order for your law practice to survive, your team must work together. Bees have neither ego nor ulterior motives they’re working around. Instead, they are totally focused on obtaining the goals for the betterment of the entire colony, not just specific individuals.
For your team to really understand what together means, you as the leader must be totally transparent in how the practice runs. If your practice is experiencing challenges, sit down with your team for a brainstorming session. Just landed a big win? Share that with the team, in both a congratulatory announcement and celebration, whether it’s bringing in lunch or taking folks out for a beer.
My best practice: Don’t hide in your office or in the boardroom. Be out where your team is. In fact, even bring some of your meetings and calls out into the open, so the team has the chance to hear how the practice is being run.
2. Communicate.
Just as bees best communicate in dances and pheromones, your practice must have a solid communication structure in place. Team members must be confident and comfortable enough to raise the red flag if needed, ask their colleagues for help or reach out to you for guidance. If bees were unable to effectively communicate with one another, their very survival would be at stake.
Communication is just as critical to your practice’s survival. You must also be clear in your communication to your team. Don’t be vague in requests — be specific. Be clear and concise in your expectations and goals, and expect that how you communicate to your team will be how they communicate back to you.
My best practice: Set aside time each week to talk with your team individually and as a group. Keep it to a standing meeting — 15 minutes at most. That way, everyone has time to bring opportunities and challenges to you without beating around the proverbial bushes.
3. Adapt.
A bee’s survival also depends on their ability to adapt. If environmental factors such as extreme temperatures or drought threaten their survivability, bees will relocate to better circumstances. They don’t let personal feelings or the notion of “we’ve always done it this way” interfere with the bottom line.
Encourage your team to do away with any preconceived notions of how your practice needs to be run, and quit with any limiting excuses. Running a successful practice is hard work, and it’s called that because it’s hard.
My best practice: Get in the habit of causing tension amongst your team, clients, partners and everyone in between. Ask probing questions that push people to the edge of the table instead of staying comfortable in the middle. We’re change agents — so we need to act like it.
4. Servant leadership
Yes, there is a queen bee — but she isn’t a tyrannical leader laying down laws. Rather, she is a servant to her hive, laying eggs and producing more quality bees to help ensure the hive continues. The queen knows her role within the colony and performs her duties while trusting the hive to do their duties.
As much as we are leaders in our firms, guiding others to achieve our vision for the firm — we are also servants to our team. There have been times where I’ve had to let clients go because they weren’t a right fit for our practice. Rather than force my team to work with the client, it was best for our practice to introduce the client to another firm who could best meet their needs. Does it sting to lose money? Sure — but it stings even worse when my team is struggling to meet unrealistic goals set forth by clients, and other clients are feeling the effect.
Other times, I’m the one who needs to step out of the way of my team. My team knows what they’re doing, and they don’t need (or want!) me micromanaging details, so I need to get out of their way and let them do what they do best.
My best practice: Ask what your team needs from you and actively listen. Sometimes their requests are actually just opportunities to vent, whereas other times they’re actual needs. It’s your job as the leader to discern the two and take action when need be.
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Americans: Overworked, Overstressed

By: Dean Schabner

Recent studies have painted a grim picture of the American working world: Longer days, less vacation time, and later retirement, and — and that was all during the good years of the 1990s.

The last few months have done nothing to ease those conditions, adding job insecurity to the mix as an increasing number of companies lay off workers to “downsize” in the slumping economy.

Those lucky enough to still have a job can expect to be asked to do more, to make up for the “streamlined” workforce.

Not only are Americans working longer hours than at any time since statistics have been kept, but now they are also working longer than anyone else in the industrialized world. And while workers in other countries have been seeing their hours cut back by legislation focused on preventing work from infringing on private life, Americans have been going in the other direction.

A trio of recent books, The White-Collar Sweatshop by Jill Andresky Fraser, The Overworked American by Juliet Schor, and The Working Life by Joanne B. Ciulla, have been embraced by a public that apparently feels harassed by the pressures of the workplace.

Road rage, workplace shootings, the rising number of children placed in day care and the increasing demand on schools to provide after-school activities to occupy children whose parents are too busy have all been pointed to as evidence that Americans are overstressed and overworked.

Bureau of Labor statistics released last year confirmed what Fraser had been hearing in four years of interviews with white-collar workers. In 1999, more than 25 million Americans – 20.5 percent of the total workforce – reported that they worked at least 49 hours a week, and 11 million of those said they worked more than 59 hours a week.

Sweat Under the White Collar

Indications are that the bulk of those overworked people were white collar workers, who do not punch a clock and whose hours therefore are the most difficult to track.

Schor’s 1997 book, which became a bestseller, stated that in 1990 Americans worked an average of nearly one month more per year than they had in 1970. Statistics indicate that the trend she described hasn’t been reversed in the last decade.

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