Revised resolutions | Above the regulation
Most of 2020 felt like a bad Jerry Springer episode. Only when you think it can’t get worse does it. Most of us have aged about a decade in the past nine months, but the vaccine is here and hope for a better 2021 is looming. Throughout all of this, the legal industry seems to just move on, going through at least its third one-off event in the last 20 years.
Last year I made some New Year’s resolutions for myself, my company, and my industry with the aim of having a stronger, healthier, more profitable future. As the days get shorter and the holidays approach, I want to revisit some of these resolutions through a post-COVID lens to talk about where we have all been since and how we did it.
Prepare for a possible downturn – check!
It took a long time to beat the drum that the legal industry had not adequately prepared for the next economic downturn. It took us nearly a decade after the great recession to make up for our losses, a recovery that lagged far behind the broader business community. Our industry’s general reluctance to adopt new technology and business practices certainly didn’t help, and much of the biglaw middle class saw business shift to either the highest of the highly regarded outfits, down to low-cost boutiques, or outside the traditional industry in total, either to internal lawyers or to alternative legal service providers. We didn’t exactly set the industry up for success, and when COVID-19 hit the market people were rightly concerned.
I am happy to say that overall it went better than expected. Many firms have been able to tighten their belts or aggressively gather AR to fill the shortfalls suffered in the second quarter as businesses shut down and lawyers everywhere switched to remote working. After things settled down we saw incredible scratches and hustle and bustle from lawyers everywhere. Instead of fearing change, many people embraced it – or at least didn’t let their fear of it stop them. By and large, the industry managed to keep the lights on. Most companies performed better than expected in March in the third and fourth quarters. Part of it was luck: employees like us were able to adapt to COVID-19 in ways that other segments of the workforce couldn’t logistically. But much of it was an industry of hard-working professionals rising to a historic moment. I am proud of what we have done and hope that companies will continue to use this newfound discipline and ingenuity in the future.
Don’t waste any more time – check it out!
Back then, when we could stroll into a conference room, have a cup of coffee, clap for a few minutes, and then get down to business, meeting management was a constant problem. Meetings were usually set up without sufficient thought and often went off the rails into unrelated topics or over the allotted time. They were far more pleasant to work with, but they often weighed on efficiency more than necessary.
As little as many of us enjoy the concept of another Zoom meeting, I have to say that it was surprisingly good to force people to sit down, log in, and show their faces on screen to keep meetings focused and off keep high quality. I wouldn’t recommend abandoning face-to-face meetings altogether when we can safely hold them, but the past few months have forced many of us to rethink the purpose of a meeting and think more deeply about how best to organize individual meetings for meeting the goals of those present.
Living in a pandemic has been difficult, especially for families who have to look after them and juggle them during the work day. The time we spent with this experience has resulted in the attorneys I know cherishing their own time and that of others. While this upward trend may pale in comparison to the general tragedy of COVID-19, it is at least something good that most of us will get out of this dire time.
Resolutions where your mileage may vary
My list encouraged attorneys to build their illegitimate networks and knowledge bases, spend more time listening and less time talking and self-sufficient. These were personal challenges that weren’t really prone to industry-wide interpretation. COVID-19 gave some of us unprecedented chances of success, while it took others away.
Networking within or outside of the legal industry was massively hindered by COVID-19. Having lunch or sharing drinks with strangers and business friends is basically the opposite of anything medical professionals have asked us to do in the past nine months.
Building illegitimate knowledge databases was a more achievable goal. Many of us have used the past few months to develop our skills. Some have learned to program, play an instrument, or paint. Sourdough bread membranes have been a big deal on Instagram for most of April. Whether out of boredom, a desire to improve ourselves, or just something that forces us to stay in custody for a while, many of us have made good use of our quarantine. These kind of things make both of us rounder people and can come back in surprising ways and help us professionally.
In the world of remote work, it was easier and more difficult to listen to each other. I’ve seen some teams do a great job of checking in with each other on a regular basis that have become much more conscious of getting feedback and making everyone feel like they are being heard. Other teams I’ve seen are drifting into their own silos, with communication kept to a minimum. Speaking takes more effort these days, which means we have less chance of hearing what our teammates are really saying. Listening is a challenge that many of us must continue to work on to improve even after the bans are lifted. We must swear to maintain the relationships we have established during this time and repair those that have fallen away.
After all, self-care was more important than ever. For most of us, the past few months have been an exhausting mental and emotional marathon. There was literally a need to find ways to relieve this tension in healthy streets. The law is harsh and lawyers can be harsh on one another.
Back to our starting point: Jerry Springer. Not only does he have a JD from the northwest, but he’s a man who has seen more than part of his craziness. Perhaps later in 2021 we should heed the advice he gave at the end of each episode: “Take care … and each other.”
James Goodnow is the CEO and managing partner of NLJ 250 Fennemore Craig. At 36, he became the youngest known executive director of a major law firm in the United States. He has a JD from Harvard Law School and two corporate governance certificates from MIT. He is currently attending the Judge Business School at Cambridge University (UK), where he is working towards a Masters in Entrepreneurship. James is the co-author of Motivate millennials, which achieved number one on Amazon in the category “Business Management New Release”. As a practitioner, he and his colleagues founded and operated a technology-based one Practice of the plaintiff and business model. You can connect with James on Twitter (@JamesGoodnow) or by email at James@JamesGoodnow.com.