The New Normal

Resist the Mumbo Jumbo of Change: Don’t Fall Into the Label Trap

Posted Apr 26, 2011 3:35 PM CDT
By Patrick J. Lamb

Patrick Lamb

I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a commercial for The Private Bank. This is from the body of the commercial:

“Let’s touch base to arrange a little face time so we can appear fully engaged. Let’s be proactive, synergistic and leverage this thing. Better yet, let’s circle back and do a deep dive so we can empower a paradigm shift with a value added, team building, best of breed, Six Sigma, perfect storm that could go viral. And be scalable! It can be a loss leader, but let’s focus on the low hanging fruit. Also, look for change agents that generate robust ideation. Make sure the concept has legs and allows our stakeholders to focus on our core competencies with seamless integration. As for the action items and next steps? Well, we’re going to be proactive and bench mark the bottom line. That’s the bottom line—in all candor. So that at the end of the day, we’re on plan, even if we’re off plan. We’ll have to manage up. Manage down. And manage expectations. Net-net: It’s a win-win. Got it? OK? Fantastic.”

It’s pretty funny and, in with the rest of the commercial, is a nice ad.

Right after I heard the ad, I received a voice mail message that sounded almost exactly like it. Like many of you, I get a high volume of calls from various service providers wanting Valorem’s business. Between the commercial, which I loved, and the voice mail message, which I didn’t, I started thinking about mumbo jumbo, in marketing and in business in general. This isn’t the first time I’ve traversed this tangent. I’ve written about how law marketers jump on the flavor of the month and with the wave of their wand turn their firm into the fad flavor. (At this point, you might be tempted to watch this video—“they are who we thought they were.”)

People and enterprises tend to develop their own language. And it’s not always easy to understand. As a litigator, I’ve been involved in more industries than I can remember, and each has its own vernacular. As a lawyer, one of my most important missions is acting as translator, so I can explain things to a judge or jury. It is an important role on behalf of a client, but the role of translator is not one I should have to play when considering a service offering, nor is it one I should ask prospective clients to play when I am asking them to consider engaging Valorem.

One of the reasons we fall into the trap of relying on mumbo jumbo is because it is easier to use a label than to explain what we really mean. For example, lawyers might say they are offering “alternative fee arrangements” instead of describing precisely what types of fee arrangements the firm is utilizing. Label / mumbo jumbo = not clear. Earlier, when client service became the latest labeling craze, everyone became “client service-focused” even though there had been no behavioral changes in most firms.

Labels, including when talking about change, are a bad crutch on which to rely. I know I’ve been guilty of doing so, and as part of my spring cleaning, I’m trying hard to catch myself when I fall into the mumbo jumbo / label trap.

Patrick Lamb is a founding member of Valorem Law Group, a litigation firm representing business interests. Valorem helps clients solve their business disputes and coping with pressures to reduce legal spend using nontraditional approaches, including use of nonhourly fee structures, coordination with LPOs or contract lawyers, joint-venturing with other firms and implementation of project management tools to handle lawsuits or portfolios of litigation.

Pat is the author of the the recently published book Alternative Fee Arrangements: Value Fees and the Changing Legal Market. He also blogs at In Search Of Perfect Client Service.

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.

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