Bending the BigLaw Business Model

Because intrapreneurship is the new disruption

Some time ago, when I was still a consultant working with Seyfarth as my client, I was at a kick-off meeting for three high-stakes projects. One of these projects went on to yield the now reengineered SeyfarthLean Consulting. One was to evaluate the market opportunity for a technology platform that was developed inside the firm. The other is still ongoing (and therefore classified).

Each of these projects was unique in that each tackled defined problems in the marketplace. The meeting began with introductions and overviews of the various projects. Tending not to speak too often in meetings, I spent my time as I usually do listening and observing reactions.

Being the lead for two of these projects, ultimately it came time for me to speak and lend my thoughts to our action plan. Taking stock of the others in the room — a mix of business professionals, project managers, the Chairman, the Managing Partner, and my consulting partner — I avoided hyperbole about disruption and innovation while also ignoring the project mechanics.

Instead, I simply stated that what we were all about to do was to ask the law firm to do something it was not designed to do — design and launch new businesses. To be successful we would need to bend the business model of the firm enough to achieve success but avoid breaking it. Many in the room may not have understood completely what I meant by that. Nine or so months later, these folks fully appreciate this notion.

Let’s take a step back.

Why Business Model and Not Business Plan?

A business plan is typically a vanity project and writing exercise. It may be a helpful exercise: to get thoughts out of your head about your business idea, how you will operate and perhaps make some educated guesses about future performance. No matter how complex the projection models or how pretty the graphs of revenue and profit lines screaming upward, most business plans amount to nothing more than very structured and organized wishing.

Business plans seldom survive the first minute of contact with reality. In most cases, the document is often stuffed into a drawer, never to see the light of day, or stored on your computer, fated for nothing more than to attract virtual dust. My experience is that plans feel good to have, as you can point to something you did, but they have not much to do with executing. As Mike Tyson once said, everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.

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Joshua KubickiComment