Tag Archives: Ed Wesemann

You Will Have It in the Morning

runningI am often asked to submit a proposal which will describe how my team and I might approach a problem and what our services might cost. The person requesting the proposal often intends to share it with others inside their firm.

The question is, when should the proposal arrive on their desk (metaphorically speaking)?

In this article, I make the argument that you should do what our late partner, Ed Wesemann, would do. He would have that proposal delivered to the person requesting it by the next day.

I’m sure you have many arguments to support the notion that it will take you a lot more than one day to respond to a request with elegance. However, you would not have convinced Ed that any of those arguments would hold water.

I still remember conversations with some of Ed’s clients who would recount that they were “blown away” by the speed with which Ed would get a proposal to them.

Here are just a few benefits of proceeding with haste:

  • You will still remember the conversation(s) that led up to the request (as opposed to trying to piece together horrible notes two weeks later).
  • Your client will be impressed by the priority you attached to responding and speculate that you might attach the same priority to doing the work. (If it takes you two weeks to get a response to a request for proposal how long will it take you to do the work?)
  • Your recipient will receive your proposal while the same conversations are fresh in their mind.

Ed frequently recited the popular saying, “Do not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”

He would argue that we were delusional to think that a proposal that took us weeks to write would somehow be so far superior to what we could put together right now that it would somehow impress the prospective client and win the day. Wrong.

You know 95% today of what you will know in two weeks regarding the proposal you are writing. If there is a gaping hole in your knowledge, you can pick up the phone to a colleague or other resource and get the information you need promptly.

The truth is, many of us want to procrastinate. . . . It is more comfortable than doing the task now because:

  • We want to do it perfectly
  • We want to succeed in being chosen
  • We want to be impressive and maintain or enhance our brand

Ed had virtual staff that could proofread proposals before they were delivered ­– but that proofreading would be done overnight, not over a few days.

The most compelling reason you should learn from the wisdom of Ed Wesemann is that he was consistently the top rainmaker in our global consultancy and had the best score at being chosen to proceed to do the work that was proposed in his responses.

Ed was a winner. We who worked with him for so many years have the enduring benefit of having his philosophies and wisdom well ingrained in our memories. We aspire to come close to his level of accomplishment. . . and through this article, I know he would be proud to share this framework with you, and for you to benefit from it as well.

So next time you are asked to submit a proposal, say what Ed would have said: “You will have it in the morning.”

 

Ed Wesemann on Leadership

LeadershipIn a recent Edge International Communiqué we paid tribute to and farewelled our fondly remembered late colleague, Ed Wesemann, a pillar of the law firm consulting world for the past 30 years.

In support of a conference program on leadership I was running in New Zealand in 2015, Ed kindly prepared a short video on leadership. I thought readers would find it interesting to read excerpts from the video:

‘There is probably no other topic which has had more discussion and training and writing than leadership – we have talked about whether leaders are born or whether they can be trained, we have talked about styles of leaders, the concept of level 5 leaders, and there has been a lot been said about it – the presumption being that the firm with the best leadership wins, and that leadership equates to success.

We have also had two decades of success in the legal profession, unprecedented growth in number of lawyers, growth in revenues and growth in profitability, so there is a natural tendency to say ‘let’s look around at the most successful firms and if the presumption is that the most successful firms have the best leaders, let’s see what the traits of those leaders are’.

Well, not surprisingly we didn’t see a whole lot of consistency among the leaders we looked at.

I tend to think of leaders the way I think of symphony conductors – it is their job to hire the musicians, to select the music and decide how it is going to be played, and when certain sections should come in, how loud they should be and how fast should they play and finally, to get everyone to start and stop at the same time. We have an orchestra nearby here and they call it the Democratic Orchestra. What happens is they audition musicians by a sort of consensus process. The whole orchestra identifies them and interviews them and they also select the music on a consensus basis. They have groups who get together and decide what the music will be that they will play, and they annually elect their conductor. In candour, it is a terrible orchestra but they succeed, and they succeed because there’s not a whole lot of competition.

And that in fact may be a little bit what law firm leadership is like in relationship to how successful law firms have been. If you ask a managing partner of a successful law firm what he or she does, the answer is often that ‘I am responsible for building consensus’. But, one of the difficulties is that we are seeing a breakdown in the way you build or are able to build consensus in a law firm. Part of this issue is pure size; for instance, when you think of a law firm of a couple of hundred people or even a couple of thousand people it is hard to go around and measure and also build consensus. Then you build in the international element with different time zones, different languages and vast cultural differences, and you further add to this things like Swiss Verein structures that limit the real cultural glue and it complicates it further.  As a law firm is depending on the firm’s loose configurations or confederations of lawyers, you end up with a sort of a breakdown of the culture that’s necessary to operate on a consensus basis.

So the result is the legal world is changing dramatically and very rapidly for law firm leaders: they can’t simply just enunciate what is popular. For a long time they have been able to look around and see what’s popular or what’s acceptable by the partners and use that as essentially the basis upon which they create their vision. It’s a bit like politicians who decide their policy positions based on what people say in the polls. It doesn’t quite work like this anymore for law firms, and increasingly it’s going to be difficult to do that in future.

So what’s the future going to look like!? I think we are going to see three things from leaders:

  1. The first thing is that they are going to have to become extraordinary visionaries. Visionaries have the ability to look into the future and through creativity and intuition understand where the world is going, where the marketplace is going, where clients are going, where the practice of law is going and interpret all that for their firm;
  2. The second thing is that they are going to have to be extraordinary communicators. Now this is not just about being a good public speaker. They are going to have to be able to be storytellers and present a compelling picture of the vision in words. They won’t simply be saying ‘This is the vision,’ they will be saying, ‘This is how it will affect you and your firm and this is what I want you to do’;
  3. The third thing is they are going to have to be builders. By builders we mean they are going to have to be able to implement the vision they see. Now generally implementation is a real weak point in law firm leadership and management but it’s going to become more critical, not only in developing strategies but to be able to create alliances within the firm notwithstanding that many firms are now spread out both geographically and culturally and also need to form alliances with other organisations that they are going to have to work with.

So, in short, the easy money that was to be made in the practice of law has been made. We have had the good years. The years in future are going to be much more challenging. As a result, simply being in the right place at the right time won’t work in terms of being a successful leader. The leaders are going to have to do what we’ve been giving them credit for doing for lots of years, and that is going take some very extraordinary people.

 

Edward Wesemann: 1946 – 2016

Ed Wesemann

Ed Wesemann

It is with deep sorrow that Edge International acknowledges the death of our longtime partner and friend Ed Wesemann. Ed died peacefully at his home in Savannah, Georgia on August 1, 2016.

Those who worked with Ed mourn the loss not only of an esteemed colleague and friend, but an essential contributor to the knowledge that made Edge International a respected, leading legal consultancy around the world. Says founding principal Gerry Riskin of Canada and Anguilla, “For many years, as Edge’s focus on strategy for global firms became our hallmark, Ed has been our ‘man on the mountain’ from whom wisdom was always available — wisdom that always stood the test of time. Ed was a mentor and a leader at Edge, and many of our achievements have been accomplished thanks to him. On a personal level, I am bereft. It’s unimaginable not to be able to pick up the phone and talk things over with Ed.”

Adds U.K. principal Nick Jarrett-Kerr, “I have worked with many extremely clever people throughout my career, lawyers and consultants whom I have admired and respected. Ed is right at the top of the list! There was a great deal about Ed to love and respect: his deep knowledge of the legal profession, his ability to command respect every time he opened his mouth, his intuition, his humility, his respect for others, and the pithy phrases that distinguish his many articles – all of which were well worth reading. But above all, I will always value his friendship that transcended the long distance between us and enabled us – every time we spoke – to continue where we had last left off. This was a man I truly loved.”

Ed Wesemann was considered a leading global expert on law firm strategy and culture, particularly issues involving market dominance, governance, merger and acquisition, and the activities related to strategy implementation. As well as in the U.S., he worked with law firms in the U.K., Europe, Africa, China, Australia, New Zealand, South America, Canada and Mexico. Sean Larkan – longtime Edge principal based in Australia – explains in part why Ed’s work was so widely admired: “Ed helped to engender a genuine culture of caring for and about clients. What strikes one is how well he is remembered from past trips and assignments, and how fondly by those who met him. As a result, he created a wonderful atmosphere around the Edge brand.”

“Ed’s passing hits hard for all of us. His legacy, however, is remarkable and worthy of celebration. His skill with clients, his deep knowledge of his market and his contribution to colleagues are just a few things I will remember every time I take on an engagement.” – David Cruickshank, Edge principal, New York City and San Diego

Atlanta-based Edge principal Mike White also admired Ed Wesemann’s work with clients. He says, “Ed had a remarkable ability to synthesize seemingly irreconcilable inputs and ideas, derive trends, and deliver insights more efficiently than any consulting professional I’ve ever been around. The legion firm leaders who relied on Ed habitually went to him for unfiltered direction (‘Just tell us what to do!’), and Ed always delivered. His clients ended up implementing Ed’s recommendations with noteworthy conviction and confidence.” Nick Jarrett-Kerr echoes that statement, saying “He had a unique incisive diagnostic ability to get straight to the heart of every issue and immediately to be able to frame options that might solve the problem.”

Ed held a Masters of Public Administration degree with Honors from Roosevelt University and a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Valparaiso University. He served on the adjunct faculties of a number of law and graduate schools of business including the Case Western Reserve School of Law, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, the Carnegie Mellon School of Public Affairs and the Gordon Institute of Graduate Business School of the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

Long-time Edge International principal Jordan Furlong, now at Law21.ca, says, “It’s hard to know what would be the best single word to describe Ed Wesemann. ‘Professional’ would certainly be appropriate, reflecting the world-class expertise, loyalty and dedication with which he constantly helped achieve the best interests of his law firm clients. ‘Leader’ would also be fitting, as anyone could attest who saw him easily command the attention and respect of high-powered lawyers and consultants, and help direct them towards their optimal outcomes. But I think that as a naturalized Southerner, Ed might appreciate no description more than ‘gentleman’ – a word that goes only some way towards expressing his extraordinary generosity, his gracious hospitality, and his stalwart friendship. We will not see his like again, and we are immeasurably poorer for his loss.”

Bithika Anand, Edge principal based in Delhi, India, remembers the warm reception she received from Ed when she joined the group. “He was a wonderful professional and a human being,” she says. “His passing away has left a void.” Adds Mike White, “As good a consultant as Ed was (and he was simply the best!), he was an even better person. He was both an ‘idea’ person and a ‘people’ person, and everyone he touched became more of the latter.”

Ed was the author of four books on law firm management, including Looking Tall by Standing Next to Short People, Creating Dominance: Winning Strategies for Law Firms, and The First Great Myth of Legal Management Is That It Exists. In addition to having published over 100 articles, he was a frequent speaker and the author of a monthly email message that was read by thousands of law firm leaders around the world.

Toronto-based John Plank joined Edge in 2004 after meeting Gerry Riskin and Ed in Savannah. As a communications coach himself, John ranks Ed Wesemann as one of the top communicators in the profession.  “Shy by nature, Ed put effort into communicating simply, clearly and as economically as possible.  Whether conversing, presenting or in his writing, Ed’s genius was to be able to make the complex simple, to make sense out of chaos and to achieve it in simple, eloquent and inclusive language and style that was always infused with Ed’s abundant warmth and humanity.”

Ed’s legacy to Edge International is massive. In the words of Sean Larkan, “There are few professionals who leave behind what I call ‘capital fabric’ – a basic, solid foundation for their firm that will benefit it in years to come. Ed is certainly one of those people, in terms of culture but also learnings and approach, and the actual materials and references he unselfishly shared with us and left for our use.”

“There is a saying that ‘no one is irreplaceable,’ but in the case of Ed Wesemann that simply does not apply.” – Gerry Riskin

Ed Wesemann is survived by his beloved wife of 49 years, Janice, his children William and Emily, Emily’s spouse Erin, and his grandchildren Carmella and William. The formal obituary may be found at Fox and Weeks Funeral Directors. Any clients or friends who would like to share their memories of Ed with us are welcome to contact us directly.

Is It Time to Abandon Your Firm’s Business Model?

Fist above the  paper made house“Big Law is dying”

That’s the theme of thousands of articles and blog posts that show up on our desktops every week. Mainly the writers are wringing their hands about the disruption that is occurring to the traditional business models of large law firms. But if we can divert our attention from the pity party that seems to be overcoming the business of the private practice of law, we will notice that it’s not just us. All of our clients are seeing their business models disputed too.

The first goal of every business model is survival, and that’s getting a lot tougher to do. In 1935, the average life expectancy of a large company in the S&P 500 was 90 years. In 2011 it was 18 years. By the same token, there are lots of large law firms that can directly trace their roots to the mid-19th century but, realistically, how many of the AmLaw 200 do we expect to see still around 20 years from now? In fact, law firms have become so fragile that managing partners fear that a single bad year or the departure of a few partners with large billing bases will start a downward spiral that could threaten their firm’s survival.

As a result, the greatest threat to law firms may not be the economy, the surplus of lawyers or even the operose pricing demands by clients. Instead, it may be law firms reacting to threats by cannibalizing their own business models to supplement short-term profitability. For example, the way most large law firms make money is by performing complex and sophisticated work that permits aggressive billing rates and the ability to leverage work to lower paid lawyers. But to maintain short-term profitability, firms have reduced their number of fixed-compensation associates and routinely taken on less sophisticated work to keep timekeepers’ plates full.

Actions that are contrary to a firm’s business model are not necessarily a bad thing. Indeed, they may be necessary to maintain the delicate balance that holds a law firm together. But when a firm continues to change the type of work it accepts and the manner in which it prices and performs the work, it is effectively creating a new business model – one that may or not make sense in the long run. That is, what works to generate necessary revenue in the current year may not be sustainable over a number of years.

So what is a firm to do? It can start by understanding the firm’s traditional business model and how far the firm has strayed from it over the past few years. Then, project the impact of the revised business model and likely further changes over the next few years. For many firms it is likely that this analysis will not paint a pretty picture. Business models are like automobile engines. One cannot remove or change around pieces and expect them to perform effectively.

The answer for the many firms that have inadvertently abandoned their business model is to take a hard look at their client base, understand the necessary changes that are occurring in the client’s business models, identify the impact of those changes on the legal services they will require under their new business models, and figure out how best the law firm can provide those services on a profitable basis. This may require some significant and painful changes in the structure and makeup of many law firms. But, by definition, these changes will be less severe than the results of continuing to meander away from their own operating model.