What do successful law firms have in common with successful basketball teams?

The season is over for 2 elite basketball programs. But, for neither, was this a losing season. Both won more than 30 games this year, against some very good teams … and all of the Final Four teams, for the first time in NCAA history, were ranked #1 in their respective regions.

Are there any lessons to be learned from this excitement for lawyers and law firms?

For UCLA, this was another great year, though the team did not win the ultimate prize, the national championship … and did not become the 101st title in the school’s storied history. Coach Ben Howland, one of the premier coaches in the country today and his team made the Final Four with 3 different teams in 3 straight years! A remarkable feat!  This team won more games in a season than any other team in UCLA’s basketball history, even under Coach Wooden. They forget that Coach Wooden won his first national championship more than 15 years after he started.  Coach Howland is only in his 5th year … and has already knocked on the door 3 times, and the final game once. His players are good students, good athletes and good citizens of the campus. One cannot utter higher praise.

Are there parallels for lawyers from this “game” of basketball that millions of folks watched the other night.

After watching Memphis outperform UCLA (my alma mater), I am reminded of legendary Coach Wooden’s observations in an era where videotapes of one’s opponents were seldom reviewed. He said: “Play your own game and you will win your fair share." Obviously, he won more than his “fair share” of games.  But, then, he had the likes of Lou Alcindor, Bill Walton, Gail Goodrich, Walt Hazzard and a host of other outstanding athletes. As good as today’s players are, they are not Alcindor, Walton, et al.

In Saturday’s game, Memphis played about as well as they could  … and UCLA didn’t. Basketball, as is a law firm, is a team effort. If a cylinder of a car is not firing well, the entire engine falters. And when competing against another fine vehicle, all cylinders are needed to win.

UCLA  had a great inside game. But, its perimeter folks were missing shots. This put too much pressure on the inside … If the guards and forwards had made a few more of their open shots, if their players had made the inside shots that were uncontested, the inside players would have had a bit more breathing room … and everyone would have seen a different game. Memphis, on the other hand, was firing on all cylinders; everyone was doing what they were supposed to be doing. Memphis played “their game.

In a law firm, you cannot profit and you cannot grow unless you have skilled visionaries and lawyers who are rainmakers.  You cannot grow and continue to increase profits unless you work as a team, share client information, legal expertise, and legal knowledge with all the other lawyers in the firm.

Firms that grow, even to a 100 or 200 lawyers, where rainmaking is limited to a few stars generally are law firms facing collapse when those few rainmakers retire or “die in their boots.” Without a succession plan that includes the willingness of the “stars” to share their knowledge and transition their client relationships to others in the firm (the next generation), the entire firm disintegrates when they (the stars) leave the firm.

As in basketball, successful law firms are team efforts … with all cylinders working well, together!

Tags: , , ,

Categorized in: ,