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As they used to say in the ’60s, “What a long, strange trip it’s been!” In less than a year, the ride that began when the Internet economy kicked in came screeching to a halt (or at least entered a coma) for the many large and small technology companies that shot to the moon during its heyday. While technology companies are here to stay, as is the need for law firms that are expert in satisfying their needs, there is no doubt that a distinct and long-lasting change has occurred. For law firm associates, and the firms they work for, it is time to re-evaluate the assumptions and expectations that have driven them during the last several years. Last year I issued a caution for law firm managers: if you wanted to properly attend to your associates, staff, partners and clients, it would be critical to keep perspective and stick to your core values through every market movement, and that advice has not changed. Be a team. Be open to change and listen. Be nimble and decisive and avoid bureaucracy and hypocrisy. Be fair and honest and provide real opportunities. Create bonuses and other financial incentives for business development, hard work and great client service. Don’t let your firm be a commodity in the eyes of your clients, partners, associates or staff. If a firm keeps its focus and discipline, then despite the need for major strategic focus on technology and all of the “convergence” disciplines in a competitive environment, amid all the noise, a funny thing might happen. Your firm might stand for quality, collaboration and dependable client service and associate treatment notwithstanding fleeting markets, “flavor of the day” spending and advertising at costs that are silly at best, and the greedy push by individuals for the most money now at any cost (including the loss of real opportunities for lawyers and real value for clients). LEARN FROM TECH CLIENTS Many law firms of size and prominence today grew up during the Internet boom. They would be wise to learn from their clients’ experiences. Those of us who spend considerable time working for technology companies know what happened to many of them: They responded to a market that rewarded, in the short term, growth, glitz, catchy phrases, promises and other gimmicks, huge advertising and recruiting expenses, preferring equity positions (which they knew could only go up!) in lieu of fair payment of cash compensation, and doing all it took to dominate the “space” today, no matter what the cost tomorrow (which seemed so, so far away). With tomorrow here faster than anyone thought possible, are the law firms that grew up with those companies going to suffer from the same hangovers as these clients, especially those firms that never took the time to achieve balance and financial responsibility? Reading the papers lately, do they somehow think that the business models that failed many of their clients could still work for them? And will others follow, thinking they have no choice? Which brings us once again this year to associate compensation and our choices. Like last year, this important issue is but one of the key factors in the overall associate experience and must be reviewed in context. MONEY IS ONLY ONE FACTOR There is now little doubt that firms had to grow, and grow quickly, to build the platform of expertise, depth and geographical presence required to compete in the global economy. But in doing so, they, and the technology and media companies they serve, had a choice as to compensation and other key issues, and they still do. The easy route was to quickly follow the apparent “leaders” of the moment without thought of the impact on long-term business performance or culture. Or, they could do the same thing while retaining core values and ensuring that our top priorities (ever-increasing client satisfaction, disciplined business growth and expansive employee opportunities) were constantly at the center. It is respectfully submitted that the “better” way, the way most likely to develop and maintain the culture that our lawyers want to be part of every day, indeed the way of the “survivors” and winners among the technology companies themselves, is the latter. And focusing on the issue at hand, associate compensation, note that associates are now more sophisticated and realistic than ever and want, indeed need, a culture with some key characteristics. Based on a series of individual and group meetings with many associates, these characteristics might be best expressed by an aware associate as follows: � Honesty. Don’t tell me what I want to hear to stay in place for another year or two. Tell me the truth and be candid. � Inclusion. Help me understand and make sense of our business and how it works. Make me a part of decisions that impact me and the firm. � Training. Make sure I am learning and growing, not only in my substantive practice area, but in client relations and the business of being a lawyer. � Incentives. Provide motivation through reasonable compensation for efficient and high-quality work efforts, creativity, business development, teamwork, leadership and other important performance criteria. Give me a system flexible enough to truly reward my value. � Dependability. Don’t “trick” me. Mean what you say and say what you mean. Don’t change your ideas and values based on this month’s market conditions or “what you can get away with.” Don’t use our compensation system as a marketing device; make it organic and honestly intended to reward true value. Make sure our firm’s core values are identified, communicated and adhered to, even as compensation levels reasonably change from time to time. � Fun and Diversity. I know law is a serious business, with high stakes on the line for our clients. I also know I am expected to work hard and wouldn’t want it any other way. But let’s enjoy being together every day; have fun, don’t take ourselves too seriously and laugh as much as possible! And if I am a performing professional, don’t judge me or vary my opportunities based on my sex, my lifestyle, my race, my religion or what country club my family does or doesn’t belong to — ours needs to be a big tent where our diversity is our strength. � Balance. Make sure our firm is balanced in its areas of expertise, client base, partner and associate backgrounds and personalities and in its business model. Make sure financial pressures can never dictate culture. � Fairness. Treat all of our associates fairly and base decisions on merit, not politics. Pay me reasonably while allowing the firm, in which I have a vested interest, to maintain its business model, culture and profitability. It is “our” firm, and we want to treat each other fairly. Neither of us should be greedy; neither of us should be selfish; the only “win” is a win for us both. � Respect and Opportunities. If I perform, give me recognition; give me respect; give me commitment; give me new opportunities; give me a future. I am not a number or a fungible commodity, nor is the firm; let’s not treat each other that way. There is no formula for the “perfect” compensation system, though any rigid formula which rewards only certain elements of performance without the discretion to recognize others, on a case-by-case basis, can chill a firm’s ability to employ a properly motivated mix of individuals with varying strengths. But if a firm adopts a culture that keeps client service and satisfaction at its center, and that provides the kind of cooperation, flexibility and creativity that will indeed satisfy our hypothetical associate’s pleas noted above, I wouldn’t bet against that firm no matter what the market. We need to understand and value our own firm’s unique culture and think long and hard before simply following the crowd. All you have is your integrity and your character. If you are one of those rare firms that has the courage to keep them no matter which way the wind may blow, associates will flock to your door and be proud to stay there. Once you let them slip, associates won’t be the only thing you lose. Many law firms of size and prominence today grew up during the Internet boom. They would be wise to learn from their clients’ experiences. Richard A. Rosenbaum is the managing shareholder of Greenberg Traurig’s 220-lawyer New York office and a member of the firm’s executive committee.

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