Law firm structures - always the last to know..
“Why did nobody tell me?!”
It’s a cry I’ve heard before ...
The person in charge of operationally managing a law firm system is informed that “We’re opening an office in Middle/Far East, Americas etc. Oh, and it’s opening on the first of next month, so get everything ready!”
It could be a new practice group, or a merger, but its always the same; there is no way it can be ready in time.
If only they had told you earlier then you would have had a fighting chance, and of course if you can’t do it in time then guess who’s fault it’s going to be?
Frustrating eh? You know that such things are like porcupines making love; it needs time are careful planning, so why can’t they appreciate that and give you adequate notice?
So what can you do?
Well first of all, accept the fact that as operational person, then no matter how much you think you need to be informed about such things with adequate notice then the fact is that you probably won’t...
You’re just too far down the food chain and such things are kept secret for a reason; the merger might not happen, the partnership needs to vote on it first, we need to find a new office, we’re waiting for lateral hires to come on board etc. etc. And the competition cannot be allowed to find out.
And of course although you can, can all of your, and the other staff, who will need to implement the technical changes be trusted? So the fact is you’ll hardly ever get the notice you need.
So ... Plan Ahead ...
“But how can I plan ahead for something I don’t know about?” Well, you can’t specifically, but you can generally.
Think about it—if your system is single currency now, what would it take to make it multi currency in the future? If you are a single office now, what would it take to go multi-office or add another level of reporting hierarchy? If you had to merge data from another firms system then how long do you think it would take?
So it’s quite possible to have a play book for all these different scenarios and to estimate the resources and time you would
need to make such things happen, either singly or in combination. As to the scenarios themselves, just jeep an eye on what’s happing to other similar firms. Chances are that what happens to others in the market may happen to you.
So your next question is “It’s all very well my having a play book, but that still doesn’t help me implement without adequate notice?”.
“Who in your chain of command will know about it?”
Think about it; eventually, somewhere, someone in your reporting structure will know about these things before you do. It may be your immediate superior, or a C-level CFO or CIO. They’re easy to identify; they’ll be the ones who apologise to you that they couldn’t let you in on the secret, even though they knew it would have been better if they could have done so ...
However if they’ve no idea regarding the practicalities of such changes then they can hardly be expected raise such issues during the ‘secret’ phase of the change.
So the trick is that once you’ve identified that person, then have a conversation which:
Acknowledge that they will probably know about such circumstances in the future, but that you will not.
Ask them if they would find it useful for you to prepare a scenario play book in advance. It may be useful to ask them to devise such scenarios with you.
Compare it to disaster planning, in that you are contingency planning ahead for critical changes (the only difference is that this will be planned). Ask them to mention the practicalities at an appropriate time in the discussions that they will be involved with.
Hopefully with such a play book to hand then they can raise your likely issues during the ‘secret’ phase so that the planning, and your involvement, will be so much better. In addition you’ll also be seen to be a pro-active part of the organisation who is more likely to be involved and informed in the future.
And if it’s not any better, then at least you can say “I told you so”