Utilizing Summit Meetings for Integration: An Interview with Don Boyd

Don Boyd is the Executive Chairman of the Australian-based group of worldwide Deacons offices. Don instituted four days of summit meetings that he conceived of to kick off the practice management and firm leaders of their newly-integrated firm. We'll let him tell you about the successful impact those meetings had on the new firm structure...

Well, who are we? Deacons in Australia is a 400 lawyer firm with 110 partners. We have five offices in the major capital cities. And there's Deacons in Hong Kong and Asia. We had a joint venture in Asia and together owned and operated 11 offices. My job in Australia is apparently described as the Executive Chairman and my night job is to manage the other Asian offices.

We had been an association of law firms in Australia. We were five independent law firms, three of those firms over a century old. And in the last 18 months we have committed to a fully financially-integrated firm. So I've been running a one-man-against-110-others negotiation for the last 18 months.

I've got a plan that is 176 pages deep and I've finally worn down the forces of evil. The first of February 2000 we went live with our integration. It would have been the first of January but for Y2K. That's who we are over the period that I've been the Executive Chairman.

In any event, we've established interest groups across the country. I'm really just talking specifically about Australia now. Those interest groups were formed along pretty traditional lines -- practice lines. We teleconference and we organized brochures and all the normal sort of activity.

I had originally conceived a model that would be totally industry-focused and we had practice groups, which were, in a sense, the universities providing lawyers to the Industry Group. Well, nobody understood that except me. So I was then forced into a hybrid situation where we now have 11 groups which are a combination of practice and industry groups. Now I'm the only person who doesn't understand it and everybody else does.

So the 11 groups that we're moving to are partly industry -- for example, we have a construction and engineering group, and a government group which in a sense is an industry-based group. We have a property development group and then we have more traditional practice areas like corporate advisory and tax, commercial, dispute resolution, etc.

One of the great advantages to being involved in a change mode is that you can introduce lots of change. We're in this implementation mode with our integration so there is significant structural change, hence, the 176 pages that I had to dish out to people. But I also had to explain to people how it was that I was going to move totally from a locality-based structure with managing partners. How was I going to operate these 11 practice groups across the country? Dumping four managing partners and bringing on nationally 11 practice groups -- how was I going to take this to the next step?

I thought about it quite carefully and decided that I would fail if I didn't get the leaders committed to doing what they should've been doing -- the kinds of actions outlined in PracticeCoach®.

So, we decided to host a Leaders Summit. We brought together the 11 practice leaders, the four industry leaders, the knowledge manager, the business development director, the human resource director, and the lawyers who sit on our Executive Board. We had a total of 28 people.

We decided to get everybody to Sydney on a weekend. We started to map out our program and realized that we couldn't do this in only two days. Then we went to three days and then to four days and this was starting to become a very dangerous experiment. I mean, to get 28 people to come from all over the country to one place and try to sit down and work for four days...?

We worked for four days from 7:30 in the morning to 7:30 at night. We didn't have any golf; we didn't have any play time except at night when we drank heavily. And, at the end of that time -- we've all been to lots of conferences, lots of management activities -- I have never been to anything as good. The enthusiasm started right at the beginning and it reached an absolute crescendo the final day.

Now why did it do that? I think a number of reasons. We went through 15 of the PracticeCoach® modules in those four days. We had presentations from all sorts of people from business development to the finance CFO. Yet at the end of those four days, we had an absolute commitment in writing from 28 people to go forth and cascade their own PracticeCoach® efforts.

What were the other things, why did it work?

We had 28 people that were pretty much lined up to move forward. We had appointed our leaders. We knew from the past that national interest groups didn't work with democracy. People used to change every year because the remuneration wasn't tied to what they were doing as interest group leaders. Now the remuneration of the business leaders is directly tied to their results. Let me tell you, that gets their hearts and minds very focused on producing -- not personal billings -- but producing billings and performance from the group. So we had done that. We had picked, I think, good people. These weren't the best and the finest lawyers; these were the people we believed that were actually going to do the job. These are the people who other people believe in. And there was a positive attitude. There were no nay-sayers.

The level of enthusiasm has just kept on going up. We have a commitment to a minimum standard of action. The follow-through now is that each group has undertaken to apply three modules of PracticeCoach® prior to a Partners' Conference where we will work through another two days with all of the partners and try to get the level of enthusiasm from the leaders into the 110 partners.

While we are cascading down all of those practice group modules, it's not without problems. And one of the problems we have is with multiple locations. We don't have video conferencing yet. We're currently installing a wide area network and I think that will be the solution to this. But what we're doing is expending an enormous amount of money in flying people around. We are committed to making sure that the groups know each other from top to bottom.

We are working through all those PracticeCoach® modules, the personal direction and shared ambition, and all the rest of that...and the results are just amazing.

We have a shared bulletin board where every Monday the leaders e-mail in what action plans they have accomplished for that week. There's a shame sheet if there are any leaders that have not done it. Then they're up in lights. But they spread the gospel across the whole nation so ideas that are obtained from one unit are immediately spread through e-mail via the internet.

Some of the leaders from the big groups fly from their home base. They'll go and sit down with each group. Then the smaller groups will fly people in to one of the centers.

The achievements that are happening...I don't know why, but our lateral acquisition program has just mushroomed. We have acquired a banking and finance group from one of the major firms just a week or two ago. And for some reason, because the groups are concentrated and because they're concentrating on what their skills groups are, they're having enormous success in hiring partners from other firms.

The Knowledge Program has just gone far ahead. We were wavering and I guess not doing very well, but we have increased there.

The other thing that we have done is what we call cross leading. Some of the good leaders go to groups and assist with leading even though it's totally outside their area of expertise. So one particular property lawyer goes to many of the other groups and leads them -- particularly with teleconferences -- because he's a friendly guy. And people like following him.

The future is that we are applying PracticeCoach® at one module per month to everybody across the whole firm. And my mission is to basically work through the whole of PracticeCoach® for every partner, for every lawyer, every office.

The logistics are enormous. My e-mails have gone from maybe 40 or 50 a day to nearly 100. I think those people are ringing up all sorts of things but that's the pain I think you have to put up with in the early days.