A Perspective by Ron Bockstahler, CEO

Reverse-Engineering A Law FirmRaising six children has given me some insight into the creative mind. For years I have been amazed at how my children find creative ways to avoid their chores or how they will spend 20 minutes trying to convince me they completed 2 hours’ worth of homework in 15 minutes so that they can watch a show or go play with friends.  Recently I was reading an article about a first grader that noticed his father was having difficulty with the car radio, so he explained to his father he should reverse-engineer it. After some investigation the father learned the young scholar was learning about industrial espionage at summer camp, where they were deconstructing toys or reverse-engineering them and using the parts to make new toys. College level instruction and material many consultants have built their careers on.

It seems law firms would be well-served to apply the same thinking this first grader used with his father’s car radio to their business operations. Start with considering how best to care for clients, with reasonable profit margins. Yes, profit margins are not a bad thing, but they are when the firm pays little to no attention to expenses with the mindset that they have near unlimited pricing power. When it comes to taking care of clients, this is best done by employees that enjoy their work and the work environment in which they spend most of their waking hours. For more years than I care to admit, I believed working set hours in the office demonstrated my quality of work and commitment to my employer. With age comes wisdom, or so we hope, which is why I have a different view point today.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to creating a work environment where we all can maximize productivity and happiness. Prior to the pandemic most of us came into the office 5 days a week and worked fairly set hours. It was our norm, what we grew up watching our parents do, and what we were groomed to do from an early age going to school. Although, somewhere between school and getting a full-time job we eliminated the long summer vacation we all enjoyed so much. Now that we are reverse engineering the work schedule, place of work and work conditions, maybe this is something that needs to be implemented into work life in some form?

Law firms and other professional organizations are competing for a small pool of available employees and the primary tool being used to lure these employees is compensation, a tool that can run counter to the best interest of your clients, since they are directly or indirectly picking up the tab. There are numerous articles highlighting the factors employees are taking into account when deciding which job offer to accept. As you are going through this reverse-engineering process of your law firm, pay attention to what your employees are asking. If they want flexibility, try to change your business model to allow the most flexibility possible. This may mean introducing flexible work hours, being creative with where they work, implementing a hybrid work model that still allows the firm to maintain the desired culture, or maybe implementing rotating sabbaticals for team members.

Reverse-Engineering A Law FirmAs you work through the reverse-engineering process of how your law firm operates, be open to new creative possibilities. Can you reduce your office footprint and reduce costs to your clients? Are employees more productive and loyal when allowed some freedom to choose when and where they are allowed to work? What is involved in creating and maintaining a culture? These are a few of the questions to consider as you work through this process.

I’ve been providing flexible office space and support services to law firms for 20 years and have never experienced the demand from law firms with 5-15 lawyers and support staff that I am seeing today. Is it possible the traditional office for small and midsize law firms is changing forever? As I client to a few law firms, I sure hope so.  I will add that I expect to see corresponding cost reductions in the services I receive because today’s law firm should be able to operate with a lower overhead than was possible just 7 years ago. If they cannot, it may be time for clients to rethink the law firms with whom they work.

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