When I first attended partners meetings, “what are other law firms doing?” was a question that I heard over and over. Whether the topic was a billable hour requirement, parental leave policy, marketing initiative, or just about anything else, the question of what other law firms were doing always seemed to be relevant.
There is nothing wrong with that question of course. Knowing what your competition is up to can be useful. However, what I eventually figured out was that the answer to the question was being used incorrectly. The partners would invariably decide that if other law firms (particularly the big ones) were not taking certain initiatives, then we should not be implementing them either.
Over time, as our law firm became more successful, two developments evolved with this dynamic. First, we started looking at the answer to the question differently. When we concluded that other law firms were not doing something, we carefully considered whether we could differentiate ourselves by doing what they were not doing. We stopped granting deference to the unspecified expertise of ‘other law firms.’
The second step in our evolution was even more significant. We stopped asking what other law firms were doing altogether and started asking what other businesses were doing. There is a great deal more creativity out there in the business world than you are going to find in most law firms. We were looking for a competitive advantage in our industry. We were not going to find it by following the pack.
As a firm, we had some good success by expanding our horizons and looking outside of the profession for answers, and I am proud of what we achieved in that regard. But as I look at the issues facing the profession today and the efforts by many young lawyers to effect meaningful change in matters such as mental health, work/life balance, and the implementation of new technology, I realize that we did not go nearly far enough.
Today’s generation of young lawyers has evolved the question even further. They are no longer satisfied to ask what other law firms are doing or even what other businesses are doing. They are looking beyond the business world and asking what our goals should be as human beings, and then trying to bring that perspective back to change the business model for lawyers.