The world, the law, and business are changing more rapidly than ever. What is industry today can be a relic tomorrow. The inability to change quickly, recognize trends, and act upon information has been the downfall of many companies, and many big law firms in recent years.
In Jim Collins’ seminal business work, Good to Great, he lauded corporate giant GE as a company who defied the odds by becoming a “Process Hedgehog.” In short, GE has been successful by cultivating the process of developing human resources that can adapt and succeed in a wide array of business environments. For more than a hundred years GE has operated successfully in everything from “30 Rock” to nuclear weapons. Today’s business attorney must take this lesson to heart. Effective advocacy is effective process, method, and preparation. The business advocate must become a “Process Hedgehog,” a resource able to adapt and succeed in an ever-changing, dynamic market place.
In the age of automation and specialization the legal profession has lost sight of the basic ideal of representing the whole client. The needs of the business client reach far beyond the selection of an LLC, partnership or corporation, far beyond operating agreements, workouts, and litigation. The business client needs a trusted advisor, prepared to spot issues in multiple legal disciplines, assess and manage risks, resolve disputes, aid in future planning, inform, and assist in critical decision making. These are the processes that must be mastered to produce optimal outcomes for clients.
Today businesses do not operate in a vacuum. Legal and contractual issues are based in complex, multidimensional fact scenarios that require the ability to diagnose these issues, then quickly assess and manage the associated risks. This is the first critical skill set required to be a process hedgehog lawyer and to ultimately represent the whole client. An effective legal advisor to a business can quickly cut across the fields of contracts, state and federal law, industry regulation, labor, employment, and dozens of other disciplines to identify potential issues, causes of action, and other associated risks. Then assess and communicate this information to mitigate potential damage and maximize potential benefit.
When conflict between parties is discovered, the process hedgehog lawyer moves to potential options in resolving the dispute. Unlike days of old, the process hedgehog lawyer is not the one-trick pony whose first instinct is to sue. Litigating a case can take years and thousands of dollars away from a company’s bottom line. Effective representation of a business client consists of weighing all of the options and potential outcomes, gauging the critical interests of all parties, and evaluating the alternatives to agreement. Sometimes, litigation is the answer but not always and it should not be ventured into lightly. The best attorneys of the 21st century understand the art and science of negotiation, psychology, dispute resolution, and when necessary, litigation.
The marketplace is fierce and competitive for the lawyer of today. Attorneys who are thriving have embraced the “value added” approach to legal service. There is no service that can add more value to a business than aiding in effective decision making. In addition, those lawyers who develop acumen for identifying flawed decision making processes can be the difference between a business succeeding and failing. Recognizing and alerting a client to flaws in decision making such as cognitive biases like sunk-cost effect, overconfidence, recency effect, confirmation bias, anchoring bias, and illusory correlation can “wake up” a business going down common roads to failure. Conversely, a skilled advisor can assist in devising effective organizational structures and decision making processes that result in superior decisions for the organization, creating untold value over time.
Times are changing and the practice of law is changing with them. The best lawyers already focus on processes that consistently produce desired outcomes. Acquisition and application of knowledge in divergent legal fields, efficiently and effectively resolving conflict, and the understanding and application of effectual decision making are the most critical processes to command in order to deliver the best results for business clients in a world evermore in flux. The days of treating one symptom are gone, competent legal representation requires a whole client approach. It is the “Process Hedgehog” lawyer who is creating results, adding value, and representing the whole client, the way it should be.