Why Professionals Just Focus on Earning Fees…

…And don’t do all the other good things they should.

What sort of things am I talking about? It’s the non-billable stuff, such as business development, managing key accounts, generating knowhow and sharing it with colleagues, introducing clients to colleagues in other teams, investing time in mentoring juniors etc.

I know this situation frustrates the management of many firms. But the typical approach adopted, which is to give them a speech and put them on a training programme, doesn’t work – mainly because insufficient focus is put on understanding why each individual isn’t doing it.

And there are lots of potential reasons according to David Maister, such as:

  1. They don’t really understand the action’s importance.
  2. They see the action’s importance to the firm, but don’t see what’s in it for them personally.
  3. They don’t know how to do the action or some aspect of the action.
  4. They know what to do but is just not very skilled at it.
  5. They don’t want to do it. They’d rather stick to their technical discipline.
  6. They have lost their enthusiasm for innovation and are in an “I’ll just do my job” place.
  7. They haven’t been given the support or tools to do the action.
  8. They think the firm (in spite of its exhortations) really wants them to be focusing on earning fees and not to engage in non-reimbursable activities.
  9. The action is viewed as discretionary (ie they think that participation is optional).
  10. They view the activity as a long-term investment, and they would rather work on things that provide more immediate gratification.
  11. They feel more accountability and pressure for other things. They intend to do or would like to do the action, but they feel that they don’t have the time to do it.
  12. They feel that the action is not really valued by their peers. The corporate culture doesn’t reinforce the action.
  13. They view the action as a personal choice and is not thinking of team-level impacts (or approaches).
  14. They perceive the reward for the activity, but think it will only be given for high levels of performance — so why should a beginner even try?

Perhaps most important of all: When they don’t do it, management doesn’t react (except perhaps once a year at performance evaluation time). Since there are no short-term consequences for noncompliance, why bother when there is so much else to do?

Getting an individual to change and participate requires a more sophisticated approach and an ability to engage in a non-threatening conversation to uncover the true reasons for non-participation.

Once an action plan is agreed, support needs to be offered and the conversation needs following up.

All of which takes time. But the rewards should be great.


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Bad Meetings. Bad Decisions.

Hope you don’t get involved in a meeting as bad as this one…

It’s October 1940 when Benito Mussolini met with his generals to discuss the arrangements for invading Greece. He asked what might seem like an important question: Are we sure of victory?

Absolutely the generals replied, knowing that no other answer was acceptable.

After 90 minutes Il Duce closed the meeting saying: It seems to me that we have examined all aspects of the problem.

In truth of course no vital answers had been given. No important questions had even been asked!

A week later Italy invaded Greece and the country was humiliated.

It turns out that Italy didn’t even have enough industrial capacity to supply their troops with the equipment they needed.

But nobody asked that question!

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Solutions-Based Coaching using OSKAR

Originating from the Solutions Focused Approach, the OSKAR coaching model is a powerful framework to help your coaching sessions focus on solutions rather than problems. Here is a brief description of the different stages which I have adapted from the very readable The Solutions Focus by Paul Z Jackson and Mark McKergow.

So, OSKAR is an acronym:

O – Outcome

S – Scaling

K – Knowhow

A – Affirm & Action

R – Review


At this initial stage of the OSKAR coaching model you are establishing a ‘platform’ from which to coach. Here you are confirming that your coachee is really committed to change.

You are also clarifying:

  • what your coachee wants to achieve in the long, medium and short term
  • what they want to achieve from the session itself and how they will know it has been useful to them
  • the ‘future perfect’ -in other words the perfect scenario they desire. It helps to encourage them to visualise this outcome in a lot of detail.


The next step is to  establish where they are already in relation to this desired outcome, using a 10 point scale, such as:

e.g. On a scale of 1 – 10, where 1 represents x and 10 represents y, where are you in relation to this goal.

Know How

You can now build on this foundation by establishing what positives have given them that rating – what skills, knowledge and attributes do they currently possess which give them say a 4 or 5 rather than a 0. This stage is all about uncovering their strengths – their knowledge, skills and attributes and building up their awareness of these and developing confidence. The sort of questions you might be asking at this stage are:

  • What skills, knowledge, attributes do you currently have that will help you?
  • When have you done this or something similar before?
  • What would others say is working for you?

This stage really is about ‘digging for gold’ and plenty of time should be taken to establish the resources they have available to them.

Affirm and Action

Affirming – At this stage of the conversation it is helpful for the coach to provide positive reinforcement of what you have heard…reflecting back positive comments about some of the keys strengths and attributes your coachee has revealed, such as:

  • I am impressed with the knowledge you have in this area
  • It’s evident, from what you have just said, that this approach is working for you

Action – Now the coach needs to help the coachee determine what small steps they will now take.


This final stage of the OSKAR coaching model is to review progress against actions. It is therefore most likely to take place at the beginning of the next coaching session. The emphasis is on reviewing the positives. Questions that may assist include:

  • What is now working better for you?
  • What did you do that made change successful?
  • What do you think will change next?

This is a relatively easy model to use and I can recommend it, particularly when the person you are coaching is stuck with their problem. Maybe they just need to be helped into a space where they are focused more on solutions.

Let me know how you get on.

For another coaching model, see: https://tonyreiss.com/2013/11/11/coaching-for-well-formed-outcomes-pacer-beats-grow/

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There are Three Distinct Types of Firm

source: themuse.com

There are three predominant reasons for partners to go into business together, according to Professor Stephen Mayson (see stephenmayson.com).

None is inherently better than the others and each should have their appropriate supporting cultures which affect investment and approach to management and strategy. Each one can be successful.

The three reasons for being in partnership together are:

  1. For Convenience
  2. For Complementing
  3. For Combining

I describe these cultures below.


  • Partners simply share the overheads. The mathematical way of expressing this culture is 1 + 1 = 1.
  • Each partner has “my clients”.
  • Administration can be kept simple with little need for sophisticated ‘back office’ teams or expensive IT systems.
  • Strategic thinking is left to individuals or not done at all. Little time is spent on a firm strategy. There might not even be practice groups.


  • Partners join to offer a range of services to clients. So, here 1 + 1 = 2.
  • Partners see clients as “my client’s and my team’s”.
  • Some administration and management are required to support this infrastructure.
  • More thinking is needed on strategy, particularly at practice group level.


  • Partners join to help build an integrated range of services and approach to service delivery. Here, teams combine so that 2 + 2 = 5.
  • Partners talk about “the firm’s clients” and act as custodians for the long-term future success of the firm (ie leave it in better shape).
  • These firms need to invest in good IT, such as CRM systems, and need more management and leadership to create the shared vision and make things happen.
  • A clear strategy is vital to ensure everyone knows where the ship is sailing. And that the ship gets there, avoiding rocks and icebergs!

Key Lessons

You might read this and think the Combining firm, with its 2+ 2 = 5 approach, will do best. This is not necessarily so. Such firms – and there aren’t many – are making bigger investments. They have significantly bigger overhead costs and the leadership challenge of herding their cats to truly combine. Not easy to achieve, because deep down, many practitioners prefer to be sole traders!

The important thing is to be clear what kind of firm you are. For example, if you’re a Convenience firm, avoid investing heavily in management and sophisticated IT systems. You are unlikely to get the payback. If you are a Combining firm, it will be essential to invest in having effective leadership.

What type of firm is yours?





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How to Measure Your Sales Pipeline

Firms tend to measure sales predominantly. This is understandable. Sales are important and the figures tend to be indisputable.

But might this measure discourage sufficient activity in developing the sales pipeline? One firm I worked with found that it took, on average, three years to win a significant mandate from the first connection with the client. Maybe they weren’t very good at it, but we can all accept that it might take a few meetings to establish our credibility, build rapport and become trusted with each of the key stakeholders at the client.

Firms obviously need to encourage BD activity to ensure there is income in the future.

So here’s a way of measuring progress in the pipeline and early client phases. It’s a ten-point scale. You can adapt it to suit your own business activities.

0 – I doubt they’ve heard of us

1 – We have met and exchanged contact details

2 – We’ve had a business development meeting

3 – They’ve opened up to us and shared their plans

4 – They have called us for advice

5 – They have invited us to pitch

6 – We have started work for Joe (ie fees being earned)

7 – Joe has given us another project (ie follow up work)

8 – I have introduced a colleague, who is working for Joe (ie x-selling)

9 – We are now working with Joe’s colleagues (ie further x-selling)

10 – They have referred us to another client

A professional advisor might, for example, have the objective of moving a handful of target clients from a 1 to a 3 or 4 over the course of a year.

Furthermore, it should be emphasised that each of these stages are verifiable. They either invited you to pitch, or not.

Would your firm benefit from using a system based on this approach? I’d be interested to learn how other firms encourage activities to develop their pipeline.

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​Do You Listen to the Message or the Messenger?

Hermes – Messenger of the Gods and Divine Trickster (Wiki)

It’s frustrating isn’t it when many of our own good ideas are not taken up until an outside consultant comes in and says the same thing. Then it’s the best idea since sliced bread! They just had to be dressed in a suit, carry a briefcase and come from out of town.

Or it’s probably even worse when the boss’s protégé says the same thing but gets listened to.

The reason this happens apparently is because we find it hard to separate the message from the person giving it.

Edward L Thorndike an American psychologist studied communication in firms in the 1920’s. He found that, when rating employees on different characteristics, say leadership and intelligence or dependability and decisiveness, managers tended to use their rating on one dimension to guide their rating on another unrelated one. So a weak leader was more likely to be rated as less intelligent. This is widely termed ‘the halo effect’.

In effect there are just two types of employees: good and bad!

Later, in 1946, a Polish-born psychologist Solomon Asch found that individuals form impressions of one another from early or initial information. First impressions were established as more important than subsequent impressions. We either continue to look at others through rose-coloured or grey-coloured lenses. And see what we expect to see!

In this fast-paced, data-saturated world it is increasingly easy to fall into the trap of assuming a person talented in one aspect of work is equally good in another. Clearly this defies logic.

It happens in politics as well. A politician tainted by a failed policy will probably find it harder to have future ideas listened to.

Savvy parents will recognise this situation. Their offspring might not listen to them but might listen to their best friend. Or even better the cute boy or girl next door they have a crush on!

So what’s the lesson? It’s this. Even if you have the best idea, you may not be the best person to present it.



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Could Leaders Learn More from the Arts than Business Schools?

If you are in business and just like crunching numbers in a spreadsheet, you may not be interested to read on.

Believe it or not, MBA students at Said Business School in Oxford, as part of their learning programme, had to conduct choristers singing O Clap Your Hands by Orlando Gibbons, first performed in 1622.

Apparently, the first volunteer was an overconfident American. He went wrong early on. His most obvious mistake was not to ask the experienced singers how they wanted to be directed.

The students learned that leaders need to listen to their teams, especially when they have specialist knowledge. As conductors all they may need you to do is set the pace and let the group govern themselves.

It was noticeable that the choir managed pretty well even if the conductor was waving their arms around in an indeterminate fashion. The lesson there was that leaders can only do so much damage, particularly when they don’t try to control the whole process.

Said Business School is not alone. Carnegie Mellon has introduced poetry, art installations and a book club to its leadership courses to help develop empathy skills.

RADA also offers training courses for executives to improve their impact and influence through their voice and physicality. Women leaders in particular are commenting on how useful this training is.

Such training is proving to be popular and much more fun than traditional programmes, which focus on entering numbers in spreadsheets and learning lots of TLA’s – that’s 3 letter acronyms!

It looks as if business could learn from the arts and vice versa. ‘Twas ever thus!

Where did you learn most about being an effective leader?

For more on these recent business school initiatives, see the Bartleby column in The Economist.



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Why Isn’t L&D Happening in Law Firms?

I’ve recently attended an excellent workshop at Reed Smith on the O-shaped lawyer. In case you’re interested, this basically means a more rounded T-shaped lawyer. The T-shaped lawyer was one that had more than just technical excellence – they had breadth (see picture).

Anyway, I digress. Most of the biggest firms were represented and what really shocked me was the plea from many of the L&D specialists saying that they were struggling to get lawyers to attend their in-house training workshops.

One in-house trainer said: ‘If they give up a couple of hours, they’ll have to stay two hours later in the evening to get their chargeable hours in’.

Another said: ‘If they are not at their desk, they fear that a rival lawyer might be invited on to a prestigious matter’.

Several admitted that most partners didn’t see the value-added by associates attending training workshops.

It seems to be that this problem has got worse. Some big firms now have chargeable hour ‘targets’ of 2,000 hours. Ten-hour days and a proper use of holidays gets you a theoretical maximum of 2,250 hours at your desk. I accept that this gives little time for attending training workshops, business development, generating knowhow, supervising juniors, innovating better legal processes and all the other good things a professional firm needs.

This leads me to pose the following questions:

  • Is this law firm business model, with ever increasing chargeable hour targets, sustainable?
  • Is there anything L&D or HR functions can do differently to get more partners on side and appreciating the value from an investment in training?
  • If associates don’t attend training workshops, how else are they going to develop the skills that clients are increasingly demanding?

As ever, any thoughts on this challenge would be welcome.

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Letter to the Senior Partner: Diversity Matters

From: Staff Member

To: Senior Partner

Subject: Diversity Isn’t Happening!

We’ve been talking a good game on diversity and inclusion issues for some time now but, quite frankly, it seems to have fizzled out. Sorry to be so blunt about it. But many of us in the firm are feeling really disappointed.

Apparently 87% of bosses told PwC that diversity is a business priority. Maybe you were one of them. There’s plenty of talk and plenty of initiatives. We were pleased when you decided to post a job for a diversity manager. But there has been little change on the ground.

We agreed to the objective of having 30% female partners. It went up a bit to 25% but has plateaued. And then many of them are not fully equity. Something is clearly amiss.

You may be tempted to pass this memo to someone in HR. This will probably be someone with an arts degree. A sound moral compass and too little power. Please don’t. This is a Board problem. It will need strong and sound leadership. It’s your problem.

Here are some thoughts which might help you:

  1. Have you fully considered why diversity matters to our firm? Do we need to attract and retain the best talent? Most of our rivals do. Do we want more innovation? It’s pretty obvious that a lack of diversity leads to groupthink. And might we need to get better at using technology to improve our products and processes?


  1. Have you worked out what’s stopping diversity happening? A McKinsey survey showed that it’s the second rung in the ladder that’s broken. Female staff are sensing that our culture isn’t right for them early on. Partners (typically men) are choosing young men like them to work on their matters. Surely we should make the system of selecting staff for matters fairer.


  1. Training on its own doesn’t seem to be the answer. We’ve learnt about unconscious bias. We’ve done the D&I training. We tried to make women more assertive. It’s hard to beat the bias out of individuals, though it would surely help to see board members leading by example. But what about improving the systems. One of our rivals has introduced ‘contextual recruitment’. Surely a B in a school where most students get Cs may be more impressive than an A from a school where most pupils get an A*.

Anyway, please don’t give up on diversity. We think we can do better.


Staff member


PS This is adapted from a letter in The Economist, 9 November 2019

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How Lawyers & Their Firms Can Be More Innovative – Live Broadcast with Tony Reiss

A live webinar lasting 1.5 hours and starting at 2.30 on 12 November 2019.

Why do Law Firms Need to be More Innovative?

The world is changing fast, particularly with the development of AI and algorithms. Some commentators talk about us entering the fourth industrial revolution.

On top of this, client surveys confirm that clients want creative solutions to their problems and many law firms are failing to deliver. Clearly firms need to change. The question is how.

This live broadcast session is aimed at partners and senior members of the management teams.

About Tony Reiss

Tony was originally at Procter & Gamble and responsible for new product development in the food industry where he was project director for the development and launch of CLOVER – the first spreadable ‘butter’.

He went on to lead several consulting projects at Deloitte involving new products and services for clients such as BBC, BP, BT, Prudential, Shell, United Nations amongst others.

He then became the first BD Director for the pioneering Cameron McKenna firm where he introduced several innovations in the early 1990’s such as business planning, business development training for partners and setting up one of the first key account programmes. The firm won a National Training Award and was the first City firm to be accredited as an Investor in People.

He has designed several award-winning programmes for law firms and had two projects shortlisted for Law Society Excellence awards.

What You Will Learn

This live and interactive session has been successfully received on the MBA at the Nottingham Law School and on the IE Law School Executive Education programme. It will cover the following:

  • Understanding the need for innovation within legal services, as well as the organisational challenge of achieving this
  • Assessing the need for innovation in services, organisational structures, processes and relationships
  • Applying a conceptual six step model analysing the process of new service development, as well as the political processes involved in successful practice creation
  • Understanding the complex challenges in culture change and being able to assess the drivers for change and the blockers that need to be addressed

The live session will be recorded by MBL so you will be able to go back and access the recording – should you wish to revisit the material discussed.

If you think your firm needs to be better at Innovation, please make a booking. Further details and bookings can be made at https://www.mblseminars.com/outline/10900?CC=SPEAKER19&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=SPEAKER19&utm_source=mbl


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