Migrated from eDJGroupInc.com. Author: . Published: 2010-03-30 16:15:39  

Today, most people equate the word ‘circus’ with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. You would probably be surprised to learn that there are lesser-known practitioners of the traveling circus trade who still ply their craft. I had the opportunity to observe one such production this past week when the Walker Bros. Circus came to my town for one day only.

Lou Jacobs: Ringling's Most Famous Clown

Lou Jacobs: Ringling’s Most Famous Clown

What, you may ask, does this have to do with the legal software consulting business? Actually, quite a great deal. If you bear with me, I believe a good argument can be made there is much similarity between operating a traveling circus and operating a small to mid-sized law firm. And much to be learned from the former by the latter.

It’s all about the money

Think about it: what’s the very first thing you must do in order to enjoy the services of the circus performers? You have to pay for your ticket of admission. While certain law practices do obtain “retainers” in advance of performing legal work, most do not. Some firms even advertise: “If we don’t win, you don’t pay”. Not very circus-like. Thus, most firms are already behind the money curve on Day #1.

At the performance I attended, there were “commercials” between every act offering the “official” coloring book ($2), the “exclusive” 2010 plastic LED sword (batteries included) ($5), a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a high resolution (instant) color photo of your child on an authentic circus pony ($10). And don’t forget the food stand where delicious hot dogs ($3), cotton candy ($2) and drinks ($3) were available. You can see the pattern: the circus wanted to get as much money, in addition to the admission ticket, it could obtain while it had your attention.

Compare that to the average law firm where little or no effort is ever exerted to offer additional services to the client once their current matter is completed. Does the personal injury lawyer ever recommend that the estates lawyer in the same firm (or in a referred firm) consult on structuring a trust for that insurance company settlement the firm just obtained for the client? Does the corporate lawyer offer the services of the real estate lawyer to the CEO client? In the rush to specialize, firms have lost track of the bigger picture, once you have a client’s attention, you don’t want to lose it.

Everyone knows their own job and helps everyone else too

The first circus act was the aerial act by Kelsie. Then the clown. Then Kelsie returned in a different costume, assisting her brother in his balancing act. Then the contortionist followed by the juggler assisted by Kelsie’s brother in a different costume. Each time a performer returned as someone else’s assistant, it was clear that they knew each other’s act down to the last bow.

Compare that to a law firm where it is likely that two legal assistants don’t even use the same letter template to generate standard form letters. Or no one knows Susie’s “personal” password, so when she is out sick, no one can open her workstation to get to the letters which are saved only on Susie’s workstation. No teamwork. No one looking out for anyone else.

There is a system and everyone follows it, precisely

It was apparent to me, notwithstanding the fact that this group of traveling entertainers have been presenting the same act twice a day for 90 consecutive days, that every word, every gesture, every musical cue is repeated precisely the same way at every performance. No variation is allowed. The reason is simple: in order to deliver a uniform product, everyone sticks to the same script.

Compare that to a law firm where Partner “A” waits until the 5th day of the month to handwrite his time entries from all of the previous month, while Partner “B” completes her time entries at the end of each day. Or Partner “C” uses a completely different collection of form letters than everyone else in the firm uses, for exactly the same purpose. No firm-wide uniformity. No single script for the same work product.

If you fail to remake yourself, one day no one will care

Sadly, there was one other lesson from my day at the circus.

At a sunny, warm Saturday afternoon performance, there were less than 50 paying adults (2 kids free with each adult paid admission). This group of 25 performers and stagehands live out of motor homes parked in a different town every night, install the circus ring, lights, sound system, food counter and bleachers, put on a 70-minute show with multi costume changes and then pack everything back onto trucks for the next town, all for less than a $1,500 gate twice a day. How can they compete today with Ringling, video games, 500 channel cable or the Internet? I would suggest that they just don’t know how to do anything else.

How many law firms are practicing law the same way they did 5, 10, 15 years ago? How many are marketing themselves the same way? Hiring and training the same way? I submit that if a law firm fails to adopt the latest time, billing, accounting and practice management software it too will find itself unwanted.

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