Speaking at the Australian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA) annual conference in Sydney, the principal of John Chisholm Consulting had a simple point for the successful management of a law firm. "I think the better firms do the simple things consistently well," he said.
Further innovation, he said, was pointless if a law firm can't get common courtesies and common sense right. "Even the small things, like saying 'Thank you' and returning phone calls ... how often do we need to hear about that kind of stuff? Why do we keep getting it wrong?"
Moving forward with successful management occurs when a law firm has a clearly defined vision, along with values and strategies. "The better firms have visions that are realisable, they stretch goals and aspirations, usually they're written down," he said.
And values, he said, should be real and achievable instead of empty words that mean nothing to staff. "I've seen firms with value written down but when you go into that firm, it's all just marketing puff," he said.
Recognising the values of the firm should always be applied when hiring new personnel to join the firm. If a hiring mistake has occurred, Chisholm said, it often comes down to simply choosing the wrong person - usually someone who is not consistent with the firm's values. "I'm all for giving people an opportunity, but if you've made mistakes and got the wrong people, my view is that you deal with it quickly."
Meanwhile a culture of stewardship, of empowerment and encouraging staff to constantly seek improvement and foster change and innovation will ensure people will give back to the firm, he said. "Good firms embrace the culture of stewardship, it means we're not here for the day to rape and pillage and take from the firm, it means we also embrace the future."
Tolerance in the profession, said Chisholm, has also seen the values of a law firm destroyed as partners are sometimes not always held accountable for their actions. "At times we've been tolerant of abhorrrent behaviour - particularly that which doesn't fit our values," he said. "Collegiality is the whole essence of the partnership. But that doesn't mean that we tolerate abhorrent behaviour."
As for taking on as many clients as possible, he said that doing too much with too little would only lead to the demise of the firm. "Eighty per cent of profit comes from 20 per cent of our clients ... We have got to look after our top clients," he said. "Say no. It's difficult for us lawyers . In many firms I look at, we would be better off financially if we got rid of that bottom 20 per cent. We have this culture of 'We need clients'. [But] we don't need every client," he said.
John Chisholm, a former chief executive at Middletons and ex-partner at Maddocks.