Legal Intelligence – an oxymoron

imageYesterday, the Wall Street Journal ran what is I believe an annual story on lawyers who bill more than $1,000 per hour.

With the exception of those who list Bankruptcy as their practice area, who I understand are required by the courts to track their time to the tenth of an hour, I submit that this is the list of smartest, but economically ignorant people in the United States.

Here is the “time is money” quote from the article – “Harvey Miller, a bankruptcy partner at New York-based Weil, Gotshal & Manges, said his firm had an ‘artificial constraint’ limiting top partners’ hourly fee because "$1,000 an hour is a lot of money.”

Yeah, the “artificial constraint” is called the almighty billable hour! At least poor Harvey is a bankruptcy attorney, so maybe he knows better.

My Sessions at Summit 2011

With registration going live for Sage’s partner and customer conference Summit 2011, I thought it would be helpful for those who might be attending to have a list of my sessions.

In the table below, session codes beginning with P are for Partners and those beginning with C are for customers. Sessions that are repeated for both partners and customers have two codes and two day, time combinations.

Code Session Title Day, Time
P-CHN15 Ed Kless’ Session on Advanced Consulting (or Beethoven’s Night Out) Sunday, 1pm

P-CHN10

Advanced Topics on Setting Price (with Ron Baker) Monday, 11am

P-CHN08

Creating a Great Scope Document Tuesday, 8:45am

P-CHN12

Killing the Timesheet: Yes It Can Be Done (panel moderator) Tuesday, 2pm

C-CHN02

Creating Shared Vision in the Small Business Wednesday, 8:30am

C-CHN03

Creating Strategy in the Small Business Wednesday, 10:15am

C-CHN04

Project Initiation: How to properly initiation a project in a small business (with John Shaver) Thursday, 1:15pm

C-CHN10

In Defense of Business

Thursday, 3pm

 

In addition, here are some other sessions that are being presented by friends and colleagues, that if I were you, I would attend.

Code Session Title Day and Time
P-CHN14 and        C-CHN07 Will, Skill, and Drill: How to Sell More Than You Ever Thought Possible (Rob Johnson) Monday, 11am and Thursday, 10:15am

P-CHN09

Baker’s Dozen: The 12 Business Books You Must Read and Why (Ron Baker) Monday, 2:15pm

P-CHN11 and        C-CHN11

Understanding Emotional Triangles: A New Leadership Mental Model (Howard Hansen and Steve Geske) Monday, 4pm and Wednesday, 1:30pm

P-GEN12

Putting Sage Consulting Academy to Work in Your Organization (John Shaver) Tuesday, 10am

P-CHN13

Selling in a Competitive Environment: A Primer (Rob Johnson) Tuesday, 2pm

C-CHN05

Basics of Selling (Rob Johnson) Wednesday, 8:30am

C-CHN09

Turning Your Customers’ Experience Into a Competitive Advantage (Dennis Frahmann) Thursday, 10:15am

C-CHN06

Customer Panel: Developing an Internal ROI Document Thursday, 4:30pm

Customer Service Transparency

MAS 90 Guru, Wayne Schulz told me about a cool customer service feedback mechanism that 37signals uses. 37signals are the creators of TypePad, MoveableType and other blogging solutions Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, and Campfire, all web-based collaboration software solutions.

imageWhat they do is post, for all the world to see, the rating of there most recent 100 interactions with customers on a simple three point scale: great, just OK, and not so good. They tally the ratings and post them on a real time basis.

This is brilliant. It is simple, easy to understand, and I would think relatively easy to do.

How about doing them one better and posting it on your home page?

Sesame Street for Knowledge Workers

Last Sunday, my wife and I brought my son, Sean, and daughter, Cara, to the Imagination Movers concert at the Verizon Center just outside Dallas. To coin a phrase, a good time was had by all.

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For those of you not familiar with the “Movers” (as we in the hip-in-the-know-‘cause-we-have-a-five-year-old crowd like to them) let me give you some quick background. The Imagination Movers are a kid-focused rock band that began when a group of four friends in New Orleans discovered they shared a similar distain for music groups oriented for children. (With this I agree with them. Barney, Teletubbies and especially The Wiggles are downright creepy.)

They achieved significant regional success, selling over 100,000 copies of their independently produced CDs. In 2006, they inked a deal with Disney and for the past three years have been one of the top-rated shows on the Disney Channel.

Aside from being a pretty darn good writers and performers, the messages they convey in their music and on their show is spot on for their audience of future knowledge workers.

Each show centers around a different customer (yes, they call them customers not clients) coming into their Idea Warehouse with a problem that needs solving. The four Movers than ask some diagnostic questions (notice they do not jump to a solution!) until they decide that they do, in fact, have an Idea Emergency (I love this term). This phrase always trips an alarm and begins the song called Brainstorming which is sung in every show.

Because there are “no bad ideas when you’re brainstorming,” the Movers always end up solving the problem for their customer. Now the exchange of money is never talked about, but a few of the shows have focused around the guys solving some of their own problems, including one episode in which they record a TV commercial to attract more customers. In another episode, Bad Hair Day (one of my son’s, OK, one of my favorites), they need to help Mover Scott get his hair under control so they can take a picture for the newspaper.

In the first season, there was a neighbor called Knit-Knots who always wore beige, played only one note on his tuba (b-flat because, “the b stood for boring and the flat made it extra boring”), and did nothing in his office but “staple, stamp and stack” papers. While I rather enjoyed this slam at the monotony of the office service worker, it was clear that after season one, the gag had played itself out and Knit-Knots is not in season two or three.

Knit-Knots’ niece, Nina, however, has continued on the show in part to bring some female presence, but mostly because the actress that plays Nina, Wendy Calio is quite a talent herself.  The live concert featured her in a cover of The Black-Eyed Peas’ I’ve Got a Feeling. Dare I say, she has a much better voice than Fergie.

 

I strongly recommend the Imagination Movers to any of you with children or grandchildren. Heck, maybe it should be required viewing for all current knowledge workers.

On Foreign Aid and Military Spending

In half a dozen places on Facebook and other online places, my mantra to many Republicans recently has been – If you don’t want to subsidize the welfare state at home, why are you willing to subsidize it abroad?

Let’s even, for the purposes of this argument, put Iraq and Afghanistan aside. Most of the countries we support with troops and cash have rich entitlement programs.

Our policy with Japan for years has been, as Christopher Preble of the Cato Institute has put it, “We agree to defend them and they agree to let us.” They can spend more on their welfare programs precisely because we provide their defense.

In Korea, I believe we are there more to keep the South from going North now than the other way around. Neocons will say, “But what if the North gets nukes?” On a Facebook post today, a friend of a friend, Warren Redlich, said this, “If North Korea uses nukes, what exactly are the US troops going to do about it other than die?”

In short, it makes no sense to say, let’s not pay for education and health programs for citizens (let’s not even discuss immigrants), yet support foreign governments who support rich welfare states.

Direct foreign aid is not smart either. I have no problem sending charitable relief to Haiti to assist temporarily the victims of a natural disaster, but to pour billions of dollars into Haiti in transfer payments does nothing to actually help the poor grow wealthy. In order for a country to increase its wealth, it must create the conditions necessary for economic freedom.

I often wonder if some people are more friends of poverty than friends of the poor.

TCMOOTITATIWWWPWAUTC

The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. – Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, p. ix

edwin-friedmanThis quote, with which I often open a speaking engagement, has had a profound impact on my career and, indeed, my life. Its application ubiquitous – to family, to colleagues, to church groups, to political parties, to international relations – and I encounter its effects daily and often multiple times in one day.

The name of this post is, maybe not so obviously, an acronym for this quote. In the past week I have used it, the acronym no less than four times in various on-line conversations. (One person, after just seeing the jumble of letters, asked me if I was alright. I think, perhaps, they thought I was having a stroke.)

Just yesterday I was in a conversation with a colleague about some folks who seemed to be caught up in the past. In a meeting he attended with them, they were unmoved by the mounting evidence he was presenting that the situation was, in fact, changing. This was clearly contrary to their belief and they refused to accept it.

He then asked how I might approach changing their minds. I was, yet again, reminded of Friedman’s great quote. I replied that it is futile to try to change their minds because, well, it is their mind, not his.

I did suggest that in the future when confronted with a similar situation he ask the following question, “Are you willing to admit that there is a possibility that the situation could improve in the future?”

I said that only if he gets an affirmative response to this question should he agree to continue the conversation. Anything other than a “Yes” response would mean it would be futile to continue. If an individual or group is unwilling to recognize this possibility, no amount of data, evidence, anecdotes or emotional appeals will change them. Continuing the conversation will only heighten your anxiety and theirs.

Which reminds me of another famous quote by Robert Heinlein, “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

What about you? Are you open to the possibility of a better future?

PS – If you are interested in learning more about the work of Edwin Friedman this video provides an good overview.

I am NOT Against Efficiency!

There, I said. I hope everyone is happy now.

Once again the subject of effectiveness and efficiency has created some buzz among the friends and follows of VeraSage especially in the legal world. It began when VeraSage Fellow, Michelle Golden, replied to a tweet by Valorem Law’s Patrick Lamb. Patrick responded with a blog post. To which newly minted VeraSage Fellow, Jay Shepard replied.

I will try, once again, to clarify my position on efficiency.

  1. Efficiency does not kill innovation per se, rather an over focus on efficiency kills innovation. Too many people and firms worry too much about efficiency at the expense of thinking about being innovative. That is the problem. Also, efficiency happens naturally. It fact biologist call it parsimony. We humans call it, “the learning curve.” You need no efficiency expert to tell you the best way to load the dishwasher. After you do it a few times, you get better at it.
  2. RescueTime (Automated Time Tracking Software)Efficiency is a personal judgment. Thomas Sowell says it this way, “There is no such thing as generic efficiency.” He is right, but I think understanding it as a personal judgment is easier to understand. Peter Drucker never said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” He did say, “Reports and procedures should be the tool of the man who fills them out. They must never themselves become the measure of his performance.” For example, I came across this tool yesterday called RescueTime. I have no problem if someone thinks this will help them, personally, be more efficient. However, I draw the line at allowing to be used by management in any way. And, by the way, I would not use this tool personally. I prefer to just make a judgment.
  3. Efficiency is always a ratio of outputs over inputs and is always a measurement. Effectiveness is the quality of the output itself. Therefore, improving efficiency cannot, by definition, improve effectiveness. Since efficiency is doing the thing the right way. The thing (result) is always the same. If you change the value of the result or the result itself, you are changing its effectiveness, not its efficiency.
  4. Efficiency gains are never a competitive advantage. Despite what many experts opine cost reduction is not a sustainable competitive advantage. In fact, even efficiency gurus, Michael Hammer and James Champy authors of Reengineering the Corporation, believed that the only sustainable competitive advantage is out innovating the competition. True innovation is customer (outwardly) focused. Efficiency gains are always inwardly focused.
  5. Focusing on effectiveness (or more precisely efficaciousness) ALWAYS and EVERYWHERE trumps focusing on efficiency. I used to think this was only true of knowledge work, but the more I think about it, the more I believe it is true about everything. Think about farming. Improving the efficiency, perhaps the speed at which you sow the seed or harvest the crop, does not increase the yield. Developing a seed that would allow for the reduction in distance between seeds, might actually reduce your efficiency (it will take you longer to sow and harvest). However, it will increase your yield, that is, it will be more effective.

Let me try to close on a statement that upon which I hope we can all agree – The only way efficiency helps you become more effective is if you invest the efficiency gains into being innovative.

Your thoughts?

How NOT to handle customer consultations

Recently, a friend of mine passed along a newsletter she received from her CPA. Most of the content dealt with tips on preparing for tax filing, but one entry stood out.

Consultations versus “Quick Questions”

One of the things my clients have enjoyed over the years is relatively easy access to me for “quick” questions, by email or phone.

I noticed this past year, that sometimes I was overloaded with these “quick question” contacts during my busiest time of the year.  Even though I strongly encourage my clients to contact me for consulting during the other months for planning-type consulting, I was having to dedicate one to two hours a day replying to “quick” questions when I had 3 weeks or more of tax return work to attend to.  Handling all the “quick” questions was not happening quickly enough, and I fell even further behind.  My CPA association professional standards require me to obtain documentation for all advice given, which adds to the time needed to reply to your questions.

To help with the stress, and to be fair to those clients who have brought their tax information in to be worked on, I have decided to handle these email and phone “quick questions” a little differently this coming year.  It is an experiment, and I am open to hearing from you constructive comments on how I can better handle this area.

As announced in an earlier newsletter, starting February 1, 2011, I began handling these consultation requests more formally.  I will provide one “quick” question consultation, by email or phone for free to each returning tax client, per year.  Of course, there are limits to this, based on complexity and time involved, thus the implied definition of “quick” question.

After the one free “quick question” consultation, each additional such consultation will be provided to you for a small fee, depending on the complexity of the consultation and the length of time involved.

The minimum fee for these additional consultations will be $25 and will be due promptly.  If you choose to have me charge this fee to your credit or debit card, I will add $1 to cover part of the fees the card companies charge me for handling the transaction.

Yes, I know this is quite a change from the unlimited access to me you have enjoyed in the past, but I must get better control over my time, especially during tax season.  Your planning ahead on consulting questions, to minimize the fees I charge to you, will enable me to devote more time to tax form preparation during the busy times.

During the less busy times of the year, I will, at my discretion, waive the “quick question” consultation fees.

Please understand the limitations on my time during my busy time of year, which does not end until early May.  I will be working 70 to 80 hours a week during this time, doing my best to get your tax forms back to you as soon as possible.

One thing you might keep in mind, too, is that when you call for that “quick question”, if you talk with my receptionist or my tax assistant, and you will accept an answer from her, and she does not have to ask me the question to give you an answer, I will not consider this a consultation subject to the fee mentioned above.

What I am trying to accomplish is a reduction of the interruptions.  The preparation of your tax forms is tedious work requiring deep concentration.  Each time I have to stop to answer a phone “quick question”, even if it just takes 5 minutes, requires me to then have to regroup my thoughts and get back to the task at hand.  On a typical day in my busy time, I receive 20 to 30 calls a day.  I have a receptionist to take those calls and hopefully handle your requests.

Much is wrong with this, but let me point out a few items:

  1. The use of quotation mark around the word quick indicating that they are so-called by the client (his word) and that in his mind often these are not quick.
  2. Clearly, he uses the term client in all of its patron-benefactor denotation glory. He views my friend and others as the great unwashed, who can never understand the subtleties of his work.
  3. He acknowledges that these have become a problem, but rather that stratifying his clients (customers) and offering options, he decides to limit these connections for all.
  4. By limiting these interactions he is losing potential business. I am sure that some of these calls turn into engagements, now he will not ever get them because customers will be wondering if they should blow their one free call on something they think is insignificant.
  5. He also institutes a penalty of $1 for putting one of these on a credit card. I guess he would rather bill them in arrears and wait to be paid for at least 30 days. Why not just charge everyone $26 and call it even across the board?
  6. He insinuates that the answers giving by his receptionist and tax assistant have no value. If they answer the question then it must be unworthy. This makes them feel valued I am sure.
  7. Ultimately, he is blaming his own mismanagement of his resources on his customers.

Here is the kicker – he does not bill my friend by the hour, he fix prices all his work and as far as I know does not keep a timesheet. He could be a Trailblazer based on this. But the tyranny of time cuts deep, my friends, he is still mired in being a firm of the past.