An Open Letter from Seyfarth’s New Chief Strategy Officer
On July 1, I become Seyfarth Shaw’s Chief Strategy Officer. This is a new role for the firm and a new role for me. Entering this role, I join an exceptional team of law firm and legal industry leaders, with a distinguished record of accomplishment. Our mission is to create unparalleled value by designing real answers to the right problems — the problems that matter most to our clients — and to deliver those solutions through a unique client experience.
Why Strategy Now? To Address the Mid-term Emerging and Evolving Needs of our Clients
In recent decades, firms in the AmLaw200 have become chained to the short-term. They think, plan, and make choices with this fiscal year in mind, narrowly focusing on inorganic pathways to growth such as lateral recruitment, acquisitions, and mergers.
One way in which Seyfarth has differentiated itself, particularly in the last decade — since the inception of its efforts to apply Lean principles to the practice of law — is to look further out into the future.
The firm has made, and continues to make, deep investments in proactive response to the fundamental, structural shifts we see coming to the legal services marketplace. This commitment underpins all of our work on SeyfarthLean and our focus on driving real change and improvement in the practice, and of key importance, the business of law.
All of us at Seyfarth are proud of our efforts in innovation because we believe our body of work in this area represents living proof of our commitment to do the right thing for our clients — for the long haul and not just this fiscal year.
But as the pace of change accelerates, there is a need for us to focus more intently on the mid-term. Our clients increasingly need us to see clearly and think creatively to prepare our own teams and their legal departments for a future that is just around the corner — a period of about 1 to 3 years out. To enhance our ability to solve for the emerging and evolving needs of our clients, I’ve been charged as the designated scout and keeper of this critical time frame. As CSO, I will help the organization survey the short-, mid- and long-term views as appropriate — so that we can best align and drive our innovation efforts with unrelenting focus on the client.
We hope our efforts will spur others in the industry to seek meaningful change — knowing that ultimately, our clients will benefit most from this competition.
My Core Mandate: Improve the Client Journey
A commitment to a client-centric view of the world is something that I share with Seyfarth — something that I think is in the firm’s DNA as well as mine. This is, of course, part of why I accepted the role and why I already feel at home. We believe that accolades, rankings, lateral hires, acquisitions are all secondary to the client experience we deliver every day. We believe that if we can continue to provide measurable outcomes and a meaningfully unique experience to our clients, our firm-centered measurements of revenue and profits will be better served.
The client journey is a critical challenge for even the best service businesses. The insights and ideas that feed strategic thinking are scattered throughout different geographies and functional areas within an organization. As CSO, I will unify these efforts and translate them into actionable and meaningful elements — so that each and every person throughout the firm clearly understands their role and contribution to the execution of our strategy and the delivery of the client experience we aim to provide.
Building 4 Key Competencies
In recent months, I’ve been working with Seyfarth on a series of strategic projects. Based heavily on those experiences and refined further through a series of conversations with firm leadership, we sketched out a vision and structure for the CSO role together. I have been charged with supporting, and in some cases building, teams and processes around these four key competencies.
- Insights: Centralized competencies around business, market, and competitive intelligence will develop deep and meaningful insights about our clients, our markets and our competitors (both incumbent and emerging).
- Strategy: We’ll synthesize insights and ideas to identify organic growth opportunities and drive cross-business units/practice group initiatives that nurture and deliver on our brand promise.
- Innovation: Through business model innovation and new business incubation, we’ll focus on market-driven development, identify new market segments and analyze market subtleties.
- Engagement: The traditional roles of marketing, business development and practice management will be transformed into an integrated, high-performance team that introduces, communicates and sustains the Seyfarth client journey.
One of the key traits that has set Seyfarth apart for many years is our commitment to meaningful dialogue with our clients: the enduring promise to listen to the voice of the client — and to take action. While many of these functions exist in our competitor firms, I believe they will look and feel different at our firm, particularly when they are integrated into one cohesive unit — and our commitment to client-driven action will be a key differentiator in how we approach these competencies.
Why Me? Because Design Matters to Seyfarth
Seyfarth’s choice in hiring me as its CSO is an unconventional one — but then again, Seyfarth has always been an unconventional firm. The firm and I are both believers in making courageous and proactive choices in anticipating change, and I think that is the part of Seyfarth’s DNA that has always resonated most for me. Change is stressful and hard — and no firm in the AmLaw200 knows those lessons better than Seyfarth Shaw.
For the last 15 years, my work has focused on changing how legal services are designed, delivered, bought and sold. Whether as a founder and leader of captive startups within established companies or as an external consultant to legal organizations of every size, I’ve practiced and lived intrapreneurship in its many forms. For the past decade, I’ve been an energetic student of and advocate for (and recently a professor of) the application of design thinking to the business as well as the practice of law. During this time, I have been applying and iterating upon business design through my company, the Legal Transformation Institute, working throughout the entire spectrum of legal services and technology.
Like Seyfarth, I put an emphasis on “doing” rather than just “talking.” I have always focused on delivering actual solutions to client problems — problems they often could or would not see themselves. Often I eschewed the label “consultant” as I operated up and down the organizational chart — defining the solution and then sticking around to execute it wherever that happened to be — in the crevices of a far flung business unit to the polished labyrinth of executive offices and ego. I desired to be not at the other side of the table, nor on the same side of the table with my client. I wanted to be in the garage working with them building what would better help them“win” in changing markets.
As technology and access to information evolves to shift power from sellers to buyers everywhere, we are seeing the legal profession and the legal industry enter a period of fundamental change. Some of these changes may surprise us all, but other changes are fairly susceptible to prediction and proactive response.
To compete in this environment, I know that lawyers must (a) engage more deeply with the individuals and businesses they serve, (b) take an active role in identifying the right problem to solve, and (c) solve for a bigger proportion of the client’s problem. This creates a need for firms to focus not only on the practice of law but also on the business of law — its business models that serve as the engine of value creation to both its clients and itself. Competing with design principles at the core of the organization requires a deep willingness to rethink and redesign the business model as a whole — around new value propositions that address new needs of our clients — those that are emerging as well as existing needs that are evolving. In my view, business design is one of the most powerful tools in a change advocate’s arsenal, and I am excited to bring those capabilities to an organization that is truly committed to client-driven innovation.
Law Firm Strategy: No Longer an Oxymoron
Let’s face it: most law firms have no real strategy at all. (In this, they are in good company — many businesses outside of legal services also struggle to articulate and execute a coherent strategy.) Amidst the unending grind of rankings, rating group submissions and the constant scrutiny on profits-per-partner and revenue-per-lawyer, law firms often forget the core mission of the business (and by extension, the raison d’état of any strategic effort): creating something of value to the customer.
So while other firms struggle with undifferentiated me-too strategies, our path is clear.
Our competitive strategy will flow directly from the market. For us, it is always about the client and the experience the organization aims to provide to the client, from the first point of contact and at every touchpoint thereafter.
But enough talking. Back to doing.