In my forty six years in law, there’s never been a moment like this.  

Firms are preparing to resume normal operations after a period of totally remote working.  The phenomenon of “resuming” creates a unique chance for firms to take a fresh look at how they operate.  A chance to make those improvements that have been sitting on the drawing board.  A chance to make their firms all they can be, and need to be, to meet the imperatives of the 21st century. 

The moment is uniquely conducive to progress.  All firm personnel have just experienced how well different models work.  They enjoyed the greater flexibility, they embraced the greater responsibility, and they gained increased confidence in modern technology tools.  

And clients are expecting change.  They, too, have learned from the WFH experience.  And they now must recover from the negative economic impact the pandemic had on their businesses.  They need better, faster, and less expensive service more than ever,  

So, what path will law firms choose as they resume?   Will they simply return to business as usual?  Or will they reset, choosing a better and more modern path?  We are about to see. 

“What would you do, Ralph?”

In a video interview with Joe Calve for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal last month, Joe asked me, “What would you do if you were leading a law firm today?”   “I’d make the most of this moment,”  I responded.  Reflecting further on Joe’s question, I believe I would pursue five initiatives:

  • Create a comprehensive, integrated information hub
  • Embrace “Legal Technology 2.0”
  • Modernize the operating model
  • Increase diversity and inclusion
  • Double down on client relationships

I think law firm leaders should seriously consider such an action plan.  In my next few posts I’m going to talk about each of my ideas, phrased as recommendations to law firm leaders.  I’ll address the first one today, preceded by thoughts on how to approach the reset these recommendations will entail. Continue Reading Law Firms Should Seize This Unique Moment


This is my seventh post about law firms in the Coronavirus Crisis.

“Re-entering” from the crisis offers law firms an unprecedented opportunity to improve themselves.  Law firm leaders should take it seriously.

The opportunity derives from several elements.  

          A Chance for a Reset

First, re-entry creates a genuine moment for a reset.  This will not be just another Monday morning.  Firms will be moving from several months of doing everything differently.  They now must actively, literally decide how to do things going forward.

          New Normal Is in the Air

Second, “new normal” is in the air.  It would be an overstatement to say that everyone is expecting a new normal, but nearly everyone is wondering if firms will learn from recent events, and, I think, hoping they will.  

          Pre-Existing Imperative for Change

Third, law firms recognized an imperative for change before the crisis.  They knew their processes and models were behind the times, but the cost and inconvenience of change outweighed the benefits.  This imperative is only greater as we appraoch re-entry. Continue Reading Three Building Blocks to Make Law Firm Re-Entry the Most it Can Be


This is my sixth post about law firms in the Coronavirus Crisis.

As governments around the US and the world begin to ease restrictions on social interaction, law firms, like all other business entities, are planning for “re-entry.” 

When law firms return from the compelled remote working experience, will they return to business as usual?  Will the fundamental operating models be the same as before?  Or will there be a “new normal”?  These are very real, and very important questions all law firm leaders need to answer.

History suggests that law firms revert to past practice once a crisis passes.  It is what they did after the financial crisis of 2008.  It is in their nature, they are trained to rely on precedent, and the old ways of working produce reliable results. 

I believe this time will be different for two fundamental reasons.   Continue Reading Law Firms Must Look Ahead to a Very Different “New Normal”

Thoroughly Examining Lessons from the Coronavirus Crisis Operating Model

This is my fifth post about law firms in the Coronavirus Crisis.

In an earlier post, I suggested law firms pursue three ideas to navigate this crisis: Lead, Manage, and Learn.  This week I address the third idea.

There is a lot to learn

Two months into the crisis, most law firm leaders are well into the process of anticipating what the future holds, and getting ready for it.  Of course, no one actually knows what lies ahead, but we have increasing clues, and a growing understanding that the future will be different: a “new normal.” 

I have spoken directly to a large number of law firm leaders in the last few weeks about the impact of the crisis on their firms, and how they are managing and leading through it.  I am encouraged by how thoughtful they are being about the entire range of issues, including, specifically, the health and well-being of their people.  

Most law firm leaders are confident that demand will eventually return to robust levels. I think they are right.  The challenge will be staking out a strategy to continue to win at least as great a share of that demand as the firm did before the crisis.

Most law firm leaders also realize that the new normal will be even more competitive than before.  As they rebound from the financial impact of the crisis, clients will be more exacting in their standards, expecting greater value for each dollar they spend on legal services.  And the competitors, including ALSP’s and in-house solutions, as well as other law firms, will provide clients worthy alternatives to consider.   

I believe the most important change in the new normal will be in the way the law firms will operate and do their work.  Continue Reading A Time to Learn: Three Questions Law Firms Should Ask to Prepare for the “New Normal”


This is my fourth post on law firms and the Coronavirus Crisis.  This week I’ll examine how firms can make themselves stronger in the long term, by actions they take during the crisis.

This post was inspired by a question Bob Ambrogi asked me on his show, Law Insights,  earlier this month: “Do you think there are any silver linings in this crisis,” he asked.  I answered yes and offered a couple of brief examples.  

I think the crisis actually creates a number of significant opportunities to advance firm interests, including to: 

  • Strengthen vital relationships
  • Activate institutional resources
  • Address projects that need attention 
  • Achieve a shared sense of accomplishment

Strengthening Vital Relationships

Law firms have a number of vital relationships, including, specifically, with their people, their clients, their suppliers, and their communities.  In each case there is a mutuality of interest and dependence. The healthier and stronger those relationships are, the healthier and stronger the firm is.

In a time like this, the way people interact with each other matters.  Nearly everyone is under stress, and uncertain about the future. They notice who seems sincerely to care about them, and who does not. Continue Reading Potential Silver Linings: Making Firms Stronger for the Long Term By Actions During the Crisis


This is my third post about law firms in the Coronavirus Crisis.  Last week I addressed leadership. Today I turn to management.

Managing during this crisis will be challenging and mission critical. It will require leaders to draw on their experience and imaginations to adapt pre-existing strategic and operational plans to guide radically changed circumstances.  The firm still intends to go where it was going, but it needs to deal with a new set of challenges on its way.

Today, I want to share some thoughts about two of those challenges. 

Managing a Remote Workforce

Starting in mid-March, all law firms suddenly found themselves with a totally remote workforce.  An unprecedented management challenge. Continue Reading Managing a Totally Remote Workforce and Budget Pressures in the Coronavirus Crisis


The Coronavirus Crisis is unlike any other in our lifetimes.  As I wrote last week, how law firm leaders perform their duties will make a big difference in how their firms, and all who depend on them, fare.

What law firm leaders need to do can be short handed into three categories: Lead, Manage, and Learn.  This week I will address the first of these.

Law Firm Leaders Must Lead Through This Crisis

Leadership is a sometimes undervalued part of the role of the person chosen to head a law firm.  Their position has different titles: “managing partner,” “CEO,” or “chair,” but rarely has the word “leader” in it.  The role is predominantly regarded as responsible for setting and executing firm strategy. Performance is assessed by how the firm does, measured primarily by financial results.  The best law firm leaders care about much more than just financial results, but working toward them occupies most of their time and attention.  

That said, most law firm leaders actually are leaders.  They were successful in practice, in part, because of their leadership in advising clients.  They are able to get their partners to pursue a common mission by leading them. It is part of what makes them good at what they do.

Law firms need true leadership during this crisis.  Intelligent and accomplished as they are, nearly every partner and employee of the firm is worried and uncertain about the grave risks that they face as individuals, and the risks the firm faces as an organization.  No one knows what the future will hold, but everyone knows it could be bad.  They need and will welcome leadership.

I believe it is every law firm leader’s duty to prioritize giving people confidence in the firm and its future, and inspiring them to do their part to help the firm succeed, notwithstanding their anxieties.

Four Essential Elements of Leadership In This Crisis Continue Reading A Time to Lead

 A TIME LIKE NO OTHER: A LETHAL PANDEMIC GRIPS THE WORLD                                  

We suddenly find ourselves in a dire and unexpected crisis.  A lethal, novel virus is spreading like wildfire around the world, leading to social policy decisions that radically change the way we work and live, which in turn are wreaking havoc with the world economy and financial markets, and having other grave consequences.  

I have decided to devote Legal Services Today for the next few weeks to discussing how law firms work through this crisis and prepare for what follows.  Law firms are the dimension of legal services I know best, having spent a quarter century leading one. In that time we confronted some very challenging times, though none as challenging as this one.  

Law firms will be profoundly affected for the duration of the crisis, and beyond.  The way law firm leaders execute their responsibilities during this time will make a big difference on how the firms, and all who depend on them, fare.  

This week I will address the unusual and complicated nature of this crisis.  In the weeks ahead I will discuss specific facets of law firm leaders responsibilities in the crisis, including:

  • Leading stakeholders through these risky and uncertain times;
  • Managing operations in a suddenly-imposed remote format; 
  • Balancing financial and other vital considerations; and 
  • Distilling lessons from the crisis to make the firm stronger when it is over.

Here is the first installment:

Understanding the Unique Nature of This Crisis Continue Reading Leading Your Law Firm Through the Coronavirus Crisis


This week I want to examine four core values that I believe enable effective legal service and promote public confidence, and their implications for our future. 

In almost all discussions of the future of law we focus on change.  What we need to do differently.  That is because we can and must do better.  A very healthy outlook.  

But, as we make changes, we should never lose sight of what enables clients and the public to have confidence in law and our justice system.  Those core values can be our guide as we decide how and what we change.

The Core Values of Effective Legal Service

The concept of “core values” took on special meaning for me when I read  Jim Collins’ and Jerry Jerry Porras’ seminal book Built to Last.  They were very helpful at Orrick as we articulated what mattered most many years ago.  They are values that must never be compromised. No matter how other considerations weigh on a decision, the core values must be honored.

I believe there are four core values that comprise the foundation of effective legal service: Client Focus; Quality; Character; and Reliable Outcomes. These are values established by our current system, at its best.  Here are my thoughts on each. Continue Reading Four Core Values to Guide the Future of Law


Modernization of legal service got an influential new ally last week with the launch of the Future of the Profession Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.  To mark its launch the Initiative hosted Law 2030: A Global Conversation About the Future of the Profession, welcoming approximately 250 leaders from across the legal service community, last Thursday and Friday in Philadelphia.  More than 600 others joined online.

The Initiative has the resources to make a meaningful difference in the pace of change. Based in one of the country’s leading law schools, it has:  the full support of the Dean, Ted Ruger, who actively participated in the discussions at Law 2030;  an engaged Advisory Board of prominent PennLaw alumni;  and an effective executive team, led by Executive Director Jennifer Leonard, also a PennLaw alum.  In my experience, the quality and depth of resources supporting and leading a venture of this kind are critical. 

The content and format of  Law 2030 reflected a sophisticated and ambitious outlook.  The sessions addressed the most critical challenges and opportunities facing the legal profession and its clients today. And they were structured to present diverse perspectives and divergent opinions, and to enable genuine discussion of emerging issues, stimulating more new ideas than the traditional panel format. Here are some highlights: Continue Reading Law 2030: Penn Law Launches a New Initiative Dedicated to Improving Legal Service