Originally posted on The National Law Journal on May 31, 2012
In 1996, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers started the season as one of the worst teams in the NFL. They hadn’t made the playoffs in more than a decade and hadn’t won a game on the West Coast in 15 years. Then something changed. In a famous game against the defending division champion San Diego Chargers, the Bucs turned a 14-0 deficit into a hard-fought win. They ended 1996 with a losing record, but it would be the last losing season the team would suffer under coach Tony Dungy.
So how did he do it?
Some credit the installation of a new defensive strategy, and that may be part of it. More instructive than what he added, however, is what he took away. Dungy had a team of great players, and he realized that if he could simplify the playbook and allow their instincts to take over — if he could stop the players from thinking too much and allow them to react instinctively — they would gain a speed advantage over every other team.
Instead of trying to change them, he accentuated their unique skills. During the next five years, the Buccaneers would make the playoffs four times, and finally won the Superbowl the year after Dungy left. He would go on to win a Super Bowl of his own with the Indianapolis Colts in 2007.
What can law firms learn from Tony Dungy? Two things:
Firms are made up of extremely talented and high-achieving individuals who can be effective when given the right direction.
An understanding of how lawyers think and work is key to bringing about change.
Two change agents shared with me their insights about helping law firms. It may seem somewhat surprising that neither of them is a lawyer.
Mike Kren is former managing director of DLA Venture Pipeline, a service he founded to connect entrepreneurs with venture capital firms; parent law firm DLA Piper would facilitate the meetings between the two interested parties. Obviously, when they struck a deal, the firm was in the perfect position to take on the work.
The project has been a success for the firm and for entrepreneurs, helping more than 150 companies acquire venture funding. Krenn personally has helped to raise 100 million for 50 companies.
It all started with a simple database of VC firms looking for investments and entrepreneurs with active projects. From there, it was easy getting buy-in from the lawyers.
“The program was a success because we understood the attorneys,” Krenn said. “We understood how to make everything part of building the success and the books of the individual lawyers. This was a great vehicle that all of the lawyers could leverage. Even litigators could use it to help entrepreneurs set up meetings.” Krenn’s two major pieces of advice to individuals seeking to be change agents within their organizations: “Provide value and go outside the box. Then put in the extra time to make your project succeed.”
I also spoke with Jill Weber, director of marketing at Leonard, Street & Deinard. She was tasked with increasing the books of business of the twenty lawyers with the most business development potential at her firm by $10 million over 2 years. She wasn’t told how to accomplish this, only to “figure it out, make it happen.”
She set to work interviewing lawyers and researching which methods were most effective in increasing their books of business.
The program she came up with had three components: individual business plans; group coaching; and outside individual coaching. As an incentive at the one-year mark, the lawyers that reached their goals were sent on a four-day, three-night, all-expenses-paid vacations at any Ritz Carlton hotel in North America. This really rather modest incentive turned out to be a major motivator.
Still, there was push-back.
“Higher goals made the lawyers very comfortable. Lawyers had to be willing to stretch and many were very uncomfortable with that,” Weber said.
“The qualitative results were incredible, though. One young attorney said: ‘The high goal made me nervous, but it made me focused and disciplined.’ ”
Just as Tony Dungy unlocked the untapped athleticism of his Buccaneers, Weber used her lawyers’ competitive instincts and drive to help them achieve remarkable things.
The twenty lawyers fell short of their $10 million-dollar goal, but they did hit $7 million, and now nine of those twenty lawyers have books of business of more than $1 million, when none of them had books that large to begin with. The program was such a big success that Weber — although she continues as marketing director at her firm — has formed a separate company that sells this program under the name Fast Forward, teaching other firms how achieve the same success.
I recently received a message on Twitter from the marketing partner at a midsize law firm who shared with me, “I’m the champion for social media within my firm; how do I get others to follow?”
The answer lies in both of these case studies. Find a program that will add real value to the lawyers, and as long as it helps them accentuate their strengths, you have an opportunity to bring about change. You may not win the Super Bowl or hit your target goal, but you will certainly advance the ball. Sometimes that is all you can ask for.