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The New Normal

Lawyers: Make Finding Your Mojo Your 2011 New Year’s Resolution

Posted Jan 4, 2011 2:29 PM CST
By Paul Lippe

Paul Lippe

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

For all you Austin Powers aficionados out there, you will remember his quest in the 1999 sequel, The Spy Who Shagged Me, to regain his lost mojo, purloined by Dr. Evil.

For many lawyers, it seems the last few years have been ones of ever-diminishing mojo, a thought captured in a post last week by Vivia Chen at the Careerist asserting that “lawyers will always be a miserable, hardworking lot.”

But the notion of unhappy, mojo-less lawyers makes no sense. The folks I know who lack mojo are those whose expectations are disconnected from reality, who keep saying “but I thought that …” yet refuse to be open to understanding how the world around them may be different from an expectation they formed in 1983.

I (like you) am lucky enough to know some lawyers with exemplary mojo who are on top of the profession and their game. They all share a high level of energy and engagement, and a willingness to take on the world as it is, not a sense of entitlement about how it should be. (Full disclosure: All of the following are friends or colleagues in some manner; only John Knox has a commercial relationship with me.)

• Bill Schnoor of Goodwin Procter was recognized in Above the Law as one of its “exemplary” partners to work with, based on a survey of associates. Bill has been in a big firm his whole career (first Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault, which he helped make big, and now Goodwin) but has no big-firm malaise. He’s deeply engaged with his clients, and open and responsive to his associates and colleagues. He loves his job, and so he’s quite good at it.

• In slight contrast, Alex Hamilton just left a partnership at Latham & Watkins to start what may prove to be 2011’s most innovative new firm, RadiantLaw. Radiant is built around New Normal principles of predictable (generally fixed) prices, a senior lawyer-heavy delivery model, sophisticated use of technology to deliver services more efficiently, and a deep focus on one area of practice.

• Fred Bartlit has led the presidential commission investigation into the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster. Fred—who led a similar review of a North Sea oil rig explosion 20 years ago—took a sophisticated and fact-based view of the causes of the disaster. Although not an expert in this field, Fred objectively spoke with enough experts that he was able to synthesize the expertise of different participants who undoubtedly lacked his perspective and objectivity. To borrow from a New York Times Magazine article, Fred exemplifies intelligence as “the ability to take in information from the world and to find patterns in that information that allow you to organize your perceptions and understand the external world.” Fred’s role and performance is exactly the lawyerly ideal many of us had in mind when we chose the profession.

• John Knox is not a lawyer, but helps market and sell to them. The former regional head of marketing and business development for Allen & Overy, John started Advent Lawyers as a “new category of firm,” hiring senior lawyers and “lending” them to in-house departments at predictable rates far below conventional law firms. Started less than two years ago, Advent is growing so fast that John has had to move his office from Sydney to Singapore. According to John, “We also believe in a high energy, positive and externally focused culture. Being a lawyer is hard work, but it should also be rewarding and enjoyable.” How many law firms can say that?

To be a well-educated, reasonably autonomous professional and be unhappy makes no sense, and almost certainly predicts poor performance and lousy commercial results.

In a market that is likely to continue to go sideways, clients will choose lawyers who enjoy their work.

If you’re feeling low on mojo, then your No. 1 New Year’s resolution needs to be to find a setting and context to get your mojo back. If you’re having trouble getting started on your mojo-quest, then these four folks can provide some mileposts.

Editor’s note: The New Normal is an ongoing discussion between Paul Lippe, the CEO of Legal OnRamp, and Patrick Lamb, founding member of Valorem Law Group. Paul and Pat spend a lot of time thinking, writing and speaking about the changes occurring in the delivery of legal services. We hope you will join their discussions.

Last updated at 10:30 a.m. to clarify that Knox is a former regional head of marketing for Allen & Overy.

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