Jordan Furlong is a strategic consultant and analyst who forecasts the impact of the changing legal market on lawyers, law firms and legal organizations.

The Brink

The perils of squandering talent

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Filed under: Law School, Management, Talent

Malcolm Gladwell has written a new book about the factors that most influence the likelihood that you’ll achieve (traditionally defined) career success. Outliers: The Story of Success posits that much of what affects our success is out of our control, and that arbitrary or even trivial factors play a disproportionate role in what we end up… Read more »

Malcolm Gladwell has written a new book about the factors that most influence the likelihood that you’ll achieve (traditionally defined) career success. Outliers: The Story of Success posits that much of what affects our success is out of our control, and that arbitrary or even trivial factors play a disproportionate role in what we end up doing and how well we do it. As part of the book promotion tour, he spoke with the Globe & Mail the other day and made an observation that I think resonates deeply with the legal profession.

Giving an example of arbitrary success factors, Gladwell noted that a huge percentage of professional hockey players have birthdays early in the year. That’s because the standard cutoff date for hockey programs is January 1, so when all-star teams and other squads are recruited, the players who seem most talented are invariably picked — but in fact, they only seem more talented because they’re older and more physically capable. But then these players get special attention, more coaching, more opportunities, and by the time they hit their teens, they actually are more talented. The same applies in school — Jan. 1 cutoffs mean kids born later in the year are younger and therefore farther back on the learning curve. His point is that arbitrary dividing lines can have huge unintended consequences.

Then the interviewer asked Gladwell, at the end of their conversation, why anyone should care enough about this to actually do anything about it. His reply made me sit up straight:

Because we squander talent. Even in a country like Canada, where hockey is a priority, an obsession, we’re squandering a huge amount of hockey talent without realizing it. We could have twice as many star players if we just changed the institutional rules around finding talent. To me, that’s such a powerful lesson. Because it just says, look, in a simple area like hockey, in a country that cares more about it than almost anything else, if you’re still squandering 50 per cent of your ability, how much more are we squandering everywhere else?

I’d go further and say that squandering talent actually has two components: failing to realize the potential universe of talent at your disposal, and then failing to maximize the talent that you do choose. When you apply that analysis to talent identification, intake and management in the law, you come to realize just how arbitrary and undisciplined we’ve been. Look at it in these terms: Read more on “The perils of squandering talent” »

Can’t get no LSATisfaction

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Filed under: Law School, New Lawyers

Here’s something interesting: the consultancy Kerma Partners recently conducted an in-depth study of more than 1,300 current and past “timekeepers” on behalf of an AmLaw 25 law firm. The study identified which personal qualities and attributes of lawyers correlated most strongly with firm success factors such as productivity and longevity. Lawyers possessing the best of… Read more »

The power of positive blogging

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Filed under: Innovation, Law21

It’s not often I can derive a blog post from a tweet, but Debbie Weil‘s recent Twitter entry sent me to this thought-provoking post at CopyBlogger, and got me thinking about the purpose of the legal blogosphere. Brian Clark’s entry talks about the phenomenon of “social proof” — people’s tendency to judge the quality of… Read more »

These are the days of miracle and wonder

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Filed under: Innovation

I’m not American, I didn’t cast a vote in the Nov. 4 election, and I’m not especially partisan (nor is this blog remotely political). I just wanted to make a very brief entry here about the courage to innovate. All of us have said, at one time or another, that there’s no point in trying… Read more »

Whatever happened to the talent war?

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Filed under: Talent

Funny, isn’t it, that you don’t hear many people using the phrase “$160,000 first-year associate salaries” these days? Along with its close relative, “$140 per barrel oil,” it’s a numeric mantra that enjoyed its heyday way back in that comparatively sunny era we call six months ago. Nowadays, though, no one seems to be talking… Read more »

Follow your clients through the recession

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Filed under: Clients

And now, your legal services marketplace update: “First six months of 2008 has weakest revenue growth in this decade. Expense growth is significantly higher than revenue growth. … [D]emand is falling, gross hours are falling. The old cliche that law firms are recession-proof has been debunked.” “Spending on outside counsel by corporations has dropped to… Read more »

E-document ethics and the rise of regulation

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Filed under: Big Firms, Ethics, Technology

It’s been a great week for conversations with Law21 readers, because I’ve also had a terrific correspondence with John Gillies, head of Practice Support at Cassels Brock in Toronto. John brought to my attention an opinion issued this past summer by the New York City Bar Association regarding lawyers’ ethical obligations to retain and provide… Read more »

The new legal publishing niche: clients

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Filed under: Clients, Publishing

Hey there, legal professional — looking for a career change in these uncertain times? I have a legal publishing niche to recommend to you. But first, some background. This economic crisis has inspired some of the best legal blog writing I’ve seen in a while — urgent, direct, and relentlessly focused on communicating to readers… Read more »

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