In this extended podcast, co-founding Partner of Edge International, Gerry Riskin, talks to me about his reflections on 40 years leading and advising leaders of professional firms. Recording this podcast with Gerry was a treat. He's one of the most generous and positive people. We cover a lot of territory in this podcast, from what makes a great managing partner (spoiler alert: courage), to advice for new managing partners, to change management, partner evaluation, dispersed teams and knowledge management (specifically one of our pet topics: after action reviews). Gerry also reflects on his own journey, from his desire at an early age to be a lawyer, his passion for business management and the profound influence of David Maister on his life. (Full transcript below).
Gerry Riskin, B. Com, LLB, P. Admin, is an internationally recognized lawyer, author and management consultant and a founder of Edge International.
A graduate of commerce as well as law, he began practicing in 1973 and was Managing Partner of a law firm in Canada and Hong Kong. Gerry co-founded Edge International in 1983 and turned to full time consulting in 1989.
Gerry is author of The Successful Lawyer, Creating the Marketing Mindset, Herding Cats and beyond KNOWING.
Apart from being a prolific speaker to legal associations and law firm networks globally, as well as frequently conducting workshops, retreats and seminars, Gerry engages in:
Gerry focuses on implementation and execution with which many excellent law firms struggle. He has served hundreds of clients from small boutiques to mega firms.
As an authority on developing trends that impact the profession, Gerry habitually disseminates such information as well as potential reactions, including the impact of a pandemic and the resulting need to prepare for and effectively work virtually.
Gerry is still a Canadian but has resided on the Caribbean Island of Anguilla, British West Indies for the past 25 years.
Performance Leader helps your firm build a culture that engages, develops and rewards your partners and employees. Our market leading software is used by some of the world's leading professional firms.
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Ray: [01:57] Gerry, as you look back over your long and distinguished career as an adviser to the professions, who or what were some of the key influences on your practice management philosophy in the early days?
Gerry: [2:10] I think a great deal of credit is due to the magnificent firm that I spent my first 10 years with. It became over 100years old since between then and now, but magnificent firm in every respect, in terms of its management and the skills of the lawyers were unbelievable, and of course, I've had the privilege of working with leaders of some of the best firms in the world since then, and I say that my life is a PhD program, I'm continuously learning from the best of the best.
Ray: [02:43] As you think about some of those managing partners who have been particularly impressive or influential, what are some of the characteristics that you've identified in a great managing partner?
Gerry: [02:54] I think the best of them are courageous, they have the courage to lead, they have the courage to think through a vision, and they aren't afraid to say what they think and aren't afraid to take the risk of doing so. The corollary would be those managing partners who unfortunately don't have that courage and don't have that will and therefore try to figure out which way the herd is going and try to jump out in front and be the leader. And that does not work.
Ray: [03:26] And so when you're working with managing partners that are facing a partnership that is resistant to a change or an idea, what sort of advice you are giving them?
Gerry: [03:37] Well, first of all, it's important to be humble when you're trying to invoke change, I like to ask the question, have you ever tried to change the religion of someone who's a zealous believer in their own religion? Have you ever tried to get someone to choose a sports team ,a new sports team that was the primary competitor of the sports team they've been a primary fan of? Have you ever tried to make that switch? Have you ever tried to make someone love another country more than their own or their own province or state or city or region? The answer is, if you've ever tried that, you know, it's futile. And so change, in my opinion, and I will say humble opinion, because causing change is an activity fraught with humility. It really is based on finding at a higher level of abstraction, a commonality, something that everybody wants and that takes you beyond the petty differences. And once you get people to focus on that, then you can reverse engineer the changes that are needed in order to get there. I'm not sure if that's too abstract or know.
Ray: [04:49] Have you been at a retreat or a conference in a facilitation role where maybe the firm's been able to really grab on to something big and unifying?
Gerry: [05:00] Wow, that's a great question. That's like of all the clients you've ever served asking, let's say, a practicing lawyer, you know, which has exemplified whatever. I would say this, I think it comes in bits and pieces. You know, for example, when one episode that comes to mind isI had the privilege of facilitating a retreat of many hundreds of partners in a mega firm. And the managing partner and chairman had decided that he wanted the firm to be a little more creative, a little more forward thinking. So, you know, in the morning deliberations, there were some discussion groups and some feedback was heard from those present that, you know, did the firm really encourage such behaviour or not? And after lunch, the chairman announced there will be $100,000 available starting now for any group or combination or permutation of lawyers in this firm who have an idea that moves us forward and allows us to be more creative and we'll allocate that hundred thousand dollars to those who decide to participate in trying to get it. Now, that was a decision made on the spot and I nearly fell over.
Ray: [06:20] How do you know when a partner is ready to step up into the role of managing partner?
Gerry: [06:26] Well, actually, that that brings to mind a little joke, it's a joke about you and I are in the woods and there's a bear that gives chase to us. It's no joke. Everybody's heard it. And the punchline, you'll recall, is that I don't have to run faster than the bear, I just have torun faster than you.
Ray: I hadn't heard that, by the way.
Gerry: Well, then I'm glad to help propel that joke around the globe. That's fantastic. So, the reason that joke comes to mind here is that very often the managing partner tends to be that wonderful human being who's generous in spirit and supportive of the firm, willing to help in any way, shape or form. And so somebody kind of puts them up for the job and they don't want to be negative. So they accept graciously. And then then they go about the business of trying to indeed lead the firm.
Gerry: [07:57] Now, if a firm goes through a bit of a process whereby they select carefully, based on capability, and in fact some firms in some jurisdictions will have a potential leader take an MBA program ora partial MBA program or some other learning relative to the task. However, if they choose carefully, OK, fine, if they don't, then there can be some real problems. For example, the real leaders of a firm are sometimes not on the executive committee, sometimes they're power rainmakers. Now, this is a delicate subject because if if that means that I'm going to say something negative about power rainmakers - no, I'm not - because many of the power rainmakers are so because they are tremendous people persons, and they can invoke trust and confidence in clients and prospective clients. They can persuade, they can describe their offerings effectively and constructively, all to the benefit of themselves and their practices and the firm.
Gerry: But some very capable attractors of work, unfortunately, have symptoms of certain disorders. They sometimes tend to get a little alpha. Sometimes they're not all that cordial or empathetic with others, at least in the firm. You wonder sometimes how the behaviour contrasts between the behaviour they exhibit to those clients and prospective clients and the behaviour they exhibit to their partners.
Gerry: Ok, getting to the point, getting to the point, so that innocent, naive managing partner might find out who the real bosses are in this firm. They're X, Y andZ, who are the huge billers in this firm. And don't you dare try to do something that doesn't have the blessing of those three or you'll end up nowhere. You'll end up nowhere at all. And so that managing partner tends to do a dance. That's an impossible dance, trying to guess what the power people in the firm want that managing partner to do.
Gerry: And that's a losing proposition. So I favour choosing carefully. I also encourage even if a managing partner is selected because they're a good person and they took it on, I encourage them to show the courage of describing their vision and being prepared to be replaced. In other words, managing partners sometimes are afraid: 'gee, if the firm doesn't follow me, it'll be an embarrassment to me'.It's a worse embarrassment to fail financially and fail in terms of the other aspirations of the firm. It's a better tactic to say 'if you're not happy with the vision I've laid out, you're very welcome to replace me. Just allow two or three months for a smooth transition.'
Ray: [10:15] So courage from day one.
Gerry: [10:18] Absolutely.
Ray: [10:20] So where do they need to go in order to draw support in the early days?
Gerry: [10:30] You know, that's a very insightful question. And I wonder if I could share a personal anecdote of something I learned in student politics that applies here. It sounds a little like bragging, but I'll tell you that I became the president of the student union of my university where I studied business and law and I was proud of it. And I won that election by the largest margin in the history of the campus. And so I thought, well, isn't that wonderful? And then I started my first council meeting and found out that I couldn't pass a resolution to, you know, to give free parking. I mean, I was powerless. Nobody agreed with anything I was about. And so I was lucky that a couple of the other reps on the council confided in me. You know, the science rep said, 'Gerry, you know why you're ineffective?' And I said, 'no'. And he said, 'because you don't go drinking beer with us after the meetings.' And I said, 'Darryl,' which was his name, 'I don't like beer, first of all. And in Canada at that time, the beer parlours were big and ugly and they smelled and I hated it in there. And I prefer a rum and coke, if you might know. He said, Gerry, order your rum and coke, but you need to have a drink with us after the meetings. Try it. And I did try it. AndI found out the people I was on that council with were wonderful people. I found out that they were engaging. I found out that we could formulate great friendships very quickly and just their not believing of me that I was aloof and some kind of self-centered so-and-so, which is a story that I hope wasn't true, but a story they believed of me. Things turned immediately. And in those meetings, while I sipped my rum and coke and a jug, their beer we would use, we used to conspire, OK, who's going to move this motion? Who's going to second it? All right, we're on. And I never had to look back. Now, I am not, especially in these times of well-being, being a huge concern in the legal profession and the abuse of alcohol and maybe drugs and other things being areal problem. I am not going to advocate engaging in a lot of drinking. No, no, no, no, no. But what I am going to advocate is get off your rear end, get out there and interact with your people. It's not a waste of time. It's an important use of your time. Listen to them, understand them, and be persuaded by those who should persuade you. And you'll find that your influence increases geometrically.
Ray: [13:17] Gerry, one of the most difficult aspects of being a managing partner seems to be the evaluation process of other partners. Can you talk us through why that's so difficult and perhaps some of the things that you recommend or see working for managing partners in a positive sense?
Gerry: [13:40] Yes, I think I think one of the Achilles heels, one of the reasons it doesn't work is that even litigators who fight in court against three-headed fire breathing dragons are scared to death of giving any feedback even to their own partners.
Gerry: They just cower at the idea. And why is that? Why is that? Maybe because we're such a close community within a firm and that we want to preserve our, you know, the respect of others and our dignity. I don't know I don't know what it's all about. But the but the winning behaviour is not only to engage in such evaluations, but to do so frequently. Yes, it can be done formally, once or twice a year and perhaps should be, but it can be done informally so that for example, if there's behaviour that's a bit of a concern, then there's a candid discussion.
Gerry: Let's say,Ray, you were aware of some behaviour on my part. Maybe I was a little abrupt with some of the support staff or or who knows what, you might take me aside and said, 'Gerry, I need to have a little chat with you. I want to talk to you about the fact that I've been getting a little feedback that you tend to lose your temper sometimes and the people have noticed it and their feelings get hurt some time.' And if I need an illustration of it, you don't have to turn somebody in. But you can give me enough of a description that I know what you're talking about. And then if you ask me, 'Gerry, what's going on? What do you think's causing that?' I might start defensively by saying, 'well, for crying out loud, you know, they're not doing their jobs, right? I know who hires these people. But if they would do their jobs right in the first place, I wouldn't be so frustrated.'
Gerry: Ok, you might say, 'Well, Gerry, that's understandable if you are worried that they're not doing their jobs right and you're getting frustrated, that explains frustration. But what it doesn't explain is your trends get transgressing against values that we share in this firm always to treat one another with respect. So let's take a moment and discuss how you might cope with that frustration in a more constructive way without, in fact, getting yourself into the kind of discussion you and I are having right now.' Ok, I won't go further with the role modelling, but you get the idea. You get the idea and the letter.
Ray: [15:59] And a lot of that is possible because of what you mentioned earlier around having a relationship with the people who are in business with if you if you've got that kind of strong relationship, they know you care about them, then that sort of conversation is a whole lot easier, isn't it?
Gerry: [16:16] Absolutely, absolutely. And, of course, what you also need and Ray, you know this well from the world that you're a leader in, we need good data. We need to get some good data on, on how people are doing. And we need data across the spectrum of areas like, you know, where we have the quantitative stuff, like what were their billable hours and wha twas their gross revenue for the billable hours? That's that's measurable quite easily, I guess. But there's other are other things. What are their activities from a business development point of view, mentoring, reaching out to the community, training internally, etcetera. All important attributes of the responsibilities of a partner in a firm. So they need some of that data and they need a dashboard.
Ray: [17:06] Yeah, absolutely. And especially as the firm grows and these challenges increase or it moves into other locations, that kind of face to face contact becomes a lot more difficult. So having systems that don't replace the face to face contact, but at least support it to be effective becomes really important.
Gerry: [17:27] Absolutely. And I think just to punctuate that, the senior senior leadership, managing partner, etcetera, you know, should get over the fact that it all has to be them. They need lieutenants and others who are capable of also leading, and they have to have those people report to them regarding the subgroups and hold them accountable. So so just like a military - I don't want to use military for everything - but you can't lead the military by having the commander in chief tell 10,000 troops what todo. You have them in little pods and buckets and they have their leaders. And you get the leaders together and you train them. You help them be more effective.
Ray: [18:08] What else about the evaluation process do you recommend?
Gerry: [18:16] One other element that comes to mind in this kind of mission impossible, and I know how tough it is, easy to say it tough to do it, but here it is. Evaluation has to be customized. I know it's tempting in a large organization to have data across a big spectrum, you know, and then compare the data. I understand I'm a realist. I know. But the fact of the matter is that the people inside professional firms are highly independent individual individuals who want to be known for the person they are. And so the evaluation, as well as the feedback that they receive, has to be customized enough that they feel. Let's say you're the head of the firm, Ray. You really know me. You really. And to your point earlier, you care about me. You understand me? I don't have to agree with every perception you have about me, but you I know you're doing this in good faith. And I know you have my back andI know you're trying to help me be better. So I'm going to be somewhat receptive to you.
Ray: [19:16] Yeah, I think that's a great point and certainly from our perspective, that person centred approach also then applies to the forward looking part of that evaluation process, when we start talking about what are you going to work on for the next three or six months, we want that to be person-centred too because then we have the ability to make that partner's objectives meaningful to them, not just a kind of top down directive.
Gerry: [19:46] Here, here, in fact, in so many firms, Ray, and you know this from the work you do, in so many firms, OK, everybody, your business plan has to be filed by November 1st for next year, please. And here's a form even we've completed created a form for you to make this easier. Well, the fact of the matter is that when I fill out that form, I say, OK, here we go again. I don't know who suggested this bureaucratic nonsense to the firm, but I know they've adopted it. So, OK, I'll fill this out now. I'll carefully walk the line between looking like I care and looking like I have some ambition. But at the same time, I'm not going to fuel my plan with things that are impossible for me to achieve. So it becomes mediocre at best. And what I love about what you said, Ray, is that a great plan is one that is meaningful. So guess what? Somebody has to ask me to create a meaningful plan for next year, meaningful to me and consistent with the aspirations of the firm. And guess what else I want? I don't need you to hold my hand while I fill out the entire process, but I do need someone who helps me. I need someone who guides me. I need a mentor. I need to someone who I can bounce ideas off, who has my best interests at heart, not just the firm's.
Ray: [21:08] Gerry taking a step back and just considering this idea of a high performance firm: what does a high performance mean to you? And have you seen some examples of firms that you instantly recognize as high performing?
Gerry: [21:26] Yeah, in fact, they possess the indicia of high performers in every aspect of our lives. For example, one for comes to mind, the leader of that firm says of Chambers. We will be in Chambers and we will be number one in every area that Chambers covers. Number two is unacceptable. If we're number two, temporarily, we will focus and double down on never being number two again. And guess what? That firm is number one, just about across the board in Chambers. For everything they do. We will have premium clients. Given the nature of the practice we have, we will have the best clients that are available out there to to serve. And guess what, they do?It's an attitude. It's the same attitude that a young person has when they they prepare for the Olympics and they decide that nothing short of gold is worth achieving. Now, of course, they might get silver and they might get bronze, but at the same time, they don't prepare to get bronze and they don't prepare to get silver. They prepare to get gold. So when I'm in a firm like that or near a firm like that, they reek of excellence, just like that high performing Olympic athlete does.
Ray: [22:47] It starts with that strategic focus. I guess a big part of the challenge is operationalising that and bringing the partners with the managing partner on that on that mission.
Gerry: [22:59] You know, I was in a big firm, in a big firm one time and I was training leaders. And I was confronted with a comment which I will savour for ever from the leader of those leaders who said, because I think I made the comment something like in a professional firm, we can't just give orders. You know, we have to we have to. We have to inspire people. And so this gentleman looked at me and said 'I was in the Marines, Gerry, and I was a leader in the Marines. And guess what? You can't take a hill because you give an order to take the hill. There are two conditions, precedent. One, you have to make your troops believe they can take the Hill. And number two, you have to make your troops want to take the hill. I have never forgotten that because in law firms and other professional firms, we take the easy way out. Oh, you can't give orders, baloney, you can't give orders. You can still inspire people to want to achieve excellence and you can make them believe they can. That marine was right.
Ray: [24:09] Gerry, on your wonderful blog 'AmazingFirms, Amazing Practices', which our listeners can find at gerryriskin.com, and which catalogues years and years of your thoughts and observations. Last year, just before the pandemic, on your blog, you shared an article of some research about working from home and flexible work practices and how these things are good for firms or good for performance. Can you talk us through that and your philosophy on this?
Gerry: [24:46] Well, first of all, thank you so much for mentioning that blog. And the way you mentioned it is an honour to me. So thank you so much. I also want to take the liberty of saying that one of my colleagues in England, in fact, is Jonathan Middleburgh, formerly a barrister and also a renowned psychologist. And he's about to launch a current survey on working from home, etcetera, to try to inform the firms that are struggling with the decision about what do we do next based on what we've learned in these times. And of course, referring back to the blog post you mentioned, you know, my thoughts obviously are evolving, but here are the punchlines. A firm that I work with closely was going through a strategy process. And one of the senior folks told me how some of their folks desired the opportunity to work from home on occasion. But a lot of the senior people would have none of it. They just they just weren't comfortable with the idea of losing all that control. So Idid some research and I found that those who had experimented with allowing their people to work from home, at least part of the time, found that their productivity increased. It did not decrease. So they didn't want to hear that either. And it wasn't until the pandemic that, of course, everybody was forced out. And some firms right now - the leaders are saying to me, well, I can't wait for permission to go back to the office because I'm sure going to have our people go back to the office. And they're not listening to their people who have learned that they can be highly productive away from the office.
Gerry: But let me just shine a light on flexibility and working from home for a second, because there are two dimensions I would like to touch. One is objective and the other is subjective. Let's take objective. So you'll let me work from home some of the time or all the time if you have to. Here are the objective issues.Am I comfortable at home? You know the chair you give me in the office, irrespective of my role, is probably more comfortable than one of the dining room chairs for eight or 10 or 12 hours. Number two, is my spouse also working from home and do we have to negotiate times for our video calls? Do we have some children that are in or out of school, depending on the situation, who one of us at least has to look after? Do we have wi fi that's robust enough for our needs, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera? Those are objective issues relating to working from home. Subjectively, we have mindset. We have mindset. Now, those who are forced to put their people out to distribute their workforce found to their delight and surprise that their workforce has tended to rise to the occasion. The productivity tended to be significant or even higher in some cases than it was anecdotally. Some people said, you know what, with that commute out of the way, I can actually get more done in a day, etc., etc.. Now, what's the downside of that? Well, there are a number of downsides. One of the biggest downsides is the water cooler. And it may sound silly to say it, but the loss of social interaction is huge for a lot of people who are distributed, working from home or whatever.
Gerry: Now, there's a punchline to that, too. And that is if I'm a firm leader and I say, yeah, that's right, they're working from home, they just don't get the camaraderie. They just don't get the interactions that they would in the office. There's no way to replicate that. So as soon asI can get them back, I'm going to get them back. No, hold on, hold on. Some firms have had the virtual water cooler. Some firms have used Slack orMicrosoft teams or whatever other technology they've deployed so that people could have happy hour on a Thursday evening together or they could have other launches and issues done virtually that are not substantive completely, but are rather informal and make up for the fact that they're not together. The one area that makes me crazy is the fact that leaders are not compensating for thef act that their staff needs someone reaching out to them. And I'll refer back to the fact it doesn't have to be the managing partner for everybody in the firm. It can be subgroup leaders. But somebody has to ask that secretary, that paralegal, that associate lawyer, that partner, how are you doing. And when they ask, they have to mean it. And when you say, well, I'm fine. No, no, no, no, no, I really want to know how is it? You know, how is your sleep, your eating patterns, your exercise pattern? How rough is this? How is your family doing? Do you have anybody close to you that's a high risk? That somebody has to care. And it's not a religion that I belong that's strange. It's a matter of a philosophy that I care and leaders have to care. And what do they get out ofit? Well, number one, they should do it without getting anything out of it. But number two, they will have a more engaged workforce. And number three, they will have a more loyal workforce.
Ray: [30:13] In your book, The Successful Lawyer, you talk about the lawyer as a consultant. Seems like consultants, particularly management consultants, have nailed with knowledge management issue a lot better than lawyers and accountants. Why do you think that is?
Gerry: [30:29] Wow, that's a that's a great question. I think one of the things consultants value very highly our methodologies and protocols. I mean, if you look at a firm like McKinsey or Boston Consulting, these firms have the McKinsey Way or the Boston Consulting Way, and the consultants in the firm better know what the heck that way is. In a professional services firm, you know, when I do a merger or acquisition, too often I'm left to: 'well, the checklist is in my head. I've done a bunch of these before. I'll get it right, which is, of course, nonsense.' There was that great doctor who wrote the wonderful book Checklist Manifesto, and he was a Harvard doctor who, because of the programs he initiated, lowered the death rates and lowered the number of days patients had to stay in the hospital after procedures. So I think the consultants, again, punch line, need to care more about processes and protocols. And the professionals think they can all wing it because they have an extended or exaggerated view of their own capability. And by the way, I love my brothers and sisters in the professions. I am not speaking down to them. And I appreciate that some of that bravado is part of the courage they need to fight hard situations. So I don't want to be too mean to them, but they could benefit from reading the Checklist Manifesto.
Ray: [31:53] Gerry, one of the knowledge management tools that we're really passionate about at Performance Leader is the after action review. And I think I first came across the after action review through a product that you created many years ago called 'Practice Coach', a video training resource that you created with David Maister and Patrick McKenna. AndI've seen it appear in many more books and writings on the professions since then. But I'm yet to see after action reviews consistently done in firms. I don't understand why that's the case. Do you have some insight into why this is such a stubborn, stubborn issue for so many firms?
Gerry: [32:38] I think there are probably several reasons. I think, number one, it's non billable and therefore takes a second seat to billable work. Number two, I might be embarrassed by the review and therefore,I'd like to avoid embarrassment at all cost. Number three, discipline, just pure discipline, the absence of a process or protocol where after every significant engagement or engagement for every major client, we should conduct one of these. You know, Jim Collins in 'Good to Great' referred to it as an autopsy. And that's become my favourite word for it. Jim Collins was clear in his book that the rules for an autopsy were no finger pointing, no blaming. We would just have an objective discussion about: if we had this matter to do over again, is there anything we could do better that might have resulted in a quicker result or better result or less friction or difficulty if we encountered some of that? SoI think that's the real world. But doesn't that take us back to leadership? If we have leaders like a leader of the leaders who has the courage to say, 'hey, wait a minute, we are going to do after after action reviews and it's going to be part of our process, part of what we do. Now, we can be reasonable about it.If we do 10,000 matters a year, we can decide we're not doing 10,000 of these, but we can have some criteria that are reasonable. We can spot audit if nothing else, but we're going to do them. And that means my subordinate leaders, you are going to learn how to do them and you're going to take training with me on how to do them. And then you're going to do some that I'm going to observe and I'm going to give you - its meaning, what you say and saying what you mean and breathing life into it. That's what winners do.
Ray: [34:35] As you look back over your time consulting to the professions over the last 35 years or so, what has surprised you most about change in the profession?
Gerry: [34:49] Well, what surprised me the most. I'll tell you, Jeff Bezos was asked about the future, and his answer was, that's the wrong question. And the person asking him the question said 'what's the right question?' He said 'what remains the same?' And just to just to flesh out JeffBezos answer, he said, look, people want quality and they want ever improving quality. They want speed ever faster speed. They want value, ever better value, etcetera, etcetera. And they always have wanted that and they always will want that. So that's what the future must offer them. So when you ask me about the about my experience, my long experience in the legal profession, that I'm very proud of, the very best practices that I learned day one are still the most important practices. Do clients want to be listened to? Do they want to be understood? Do they want to be served by someone who cares about them? Do they want someone who exhibits effort on their behalf, which is relevant to the outcome they want to achieve? You bet they do. And the people who knew how todo that when I was a baby lawyer accomplished a huge amount. And the lawyers who do that today also accomplish a huge amount. So that stuff is not changing.
Gerry: What is changing is the structure of how we look at the needs of people and how we serve those needs. For example, a lot of my clients are very focused right now on multi-disciplinary solutions for people now in certain jurisdictions, and you may be one of them, the UK is you know, these kinds of organisations are allowed to do more things. Even the big four accounting firms are allowed to do things outside the US that they're not allowed to do in it yet. But the fact of the matter is that the providers of value to clients are learning that what we used to package up in one package, a merger, an acquisition or the purchase of a business or whatever, we now can can take apart. We can now unbundle and we can now have various specialists with various capabilities contribute in their own way, giving a better result to the client.
Ray: [37:20] When I first met you in 1999, you were a consultant. I was working in a firm and we had some time together. And I was struck by how optimistic, generous, creative you were. I was 20 years ago. We haven't been in contact for 20 years. We've recently got back in contact. And those same three words apply: optimistic, generous, creative. So I'm interested in your own career path and how as a professional in a high stress job, you travel a lot. How do you maintain that that essential set of characteristics that, you know, was so impressive back then and you've still got them?
Gerry: [38:04] Well, I am so grateful for your perception in 1999 and your recent perception that is such a gift to me, for someone of your calibre and stature and what you've achieved, to believe that of me is a reward I don't take lightly. Thank you so much. Thank you so much. And I find it motivating too. I think to try to give an answer to that, here goes. I was11 years old and I had to be a lawyer. No, no, I wasn't interested in being a lawyer. I had to be one. There was no other choice in my life. When I was in high school and the counsellor said, what courses do you think you want to take? I said, what are the best courses for a lawyer to have taken? Well, Latin would be one of them. Ok, sign me up for Latin. And then when I was approaching university, I went to the best managing partners in the best firms that I had access to and said, what's the best prelaw? Because we had to take a degree before the law degree. And they said, well Gerry, if you want to serve business people, take a business degree.Done. So I took a four year business degree before law. Then along the way, a little hiccup, which is a positive hiccup. I love the accounting. I love the organizational development. I love sociology. I love psychology. I loved everything about business. And I love marketing, too. Yeah, it was it was fantastic.
Gerry: OK, now I get to my dream team firm. I get to my number one choice. These are the best people in the world. And they wouldn't have known a business principle if it had bit their necks off. Now, don't get me wrong, they had succeeded. They were prosperous. They were brilliant. They were great lawyers. There was a line up at the door of people who wanted to choose them. They had never hit an iceberg in the ocean, yet they had steered around every single one of them. So I was mystified. How on earth are they so successful without knowing much really respectfully about business? So suddenly I became very interested in the management of the practice of law, even when I was a baby baby lawyer and an understanding of these business principles and how they apply
Gerry: And the last bit of this, Ray, is that my first opportunities to help other law firms came in the form of my charging them fees and billing them to my law firm. So my law firm wasn't jealous of my being away for a weekend to do a retreat. They receive the benefits of that. And so they encouraged me to do it. So they punchline on this is that I had a dream. I know I sound a little like Martin Luther. King, but I did have a dream. What if I could combine what I learned in business school and what I learned in fifteen years of practicing law What if I could combine those two things? And Ray, the rest of my life has been the privilege of doing just that: helping my brothers and sisters in my profession with everything I've learned, but everything I can impart to them So that's whyI'm so excited still.
Ray: [41:12] Gerry, one of your early collaborators in your consulting career was David Maister, who remains an incredibly significant figure in the professions, largely because a lot of the things he said and wrote over 20 years ago still have enormous relevance today. Now I also understand you keep in contact with him, which is great. But how did he influence you or your way of thinking about the area in which you work?
Gerry: [00:55:05] Well, David Maister is a dear friend, and you warm my heart at the mention of his name and his wife, Kathy. They're amazing people and even in retirement, he inspires me. I think, you know, if he listens to this, maybe I hope he doesn't so he won't be embarrassed. But if you listen to this, he will be embarrassed by what I'm about to say next. He has a gift and has had a gift to write in a way that is so clear and so persuasive and so catalytic that one puts down what he has written and then reflects and considers and has better and more important thoughts than they would have otherwise by a mile. You know, the embarrassment will be when I mention Albert Einstein. Albert Einstein gave us a formula we know of as E =MC2.Pretty simple stuff if you just look at the formula. Well, David Maister's an Einstein, too, because he converted to simplicity issues, challenges, concepts that were daunting to so many. And that's why, as you and I have discussed his book, How to Manage the Professional Services Firm, which he wrote in 1995, that's before dinosaurs right now anyway, which he wrote back then became the Bible. And so many leaders of so many major firms around the world called it the Bible. So I'm privileged to still know him and still have a chance to chat informally on occasion or or exchange written greetings, et cetera, cetera. ButI am so lucky to have known him and he's contributed so well. I'll leave it at this. Here's the here's the summary. It would be like a kid who went to Juilliard trying to play the violin and having Itzhak Perlman as the teacher. I don't know what I would have been, but believe me, whatever I am and a good 80% of anything about me that is extremely positive and helpful to anyone I owe to that man, David Maister.
Ray: [43:54] Gerry, it's been a treat to talk to you.Thank you so much for giving your time and all the best.
Gerry: [44:02] Thank you so much. What a privilege to be with you and keep on your amazing work with the with the your software creation that is going to change this legal profession