For decades, I’ve helped my clients change. Now it was my turn.


For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to clone myself—to create a twin that could bring my wish list to life.

Although conventional science has fallen short (perhaps a good thing), an unexpected catalyst became my genie in a bottle.

The pandemic.

Covid-19 shut down the typical version of David Freeman, the one who ran retreats, conducted live training, and provided business development and leadership coaching. It all came to a screeching halt when law firms hunkered down and delayed investing in my services.
Continue Reading A better way to teach business development (342)


Digital transformation was largely a buzzword until I saw what David accomplished during the pandemic.


For this week’s feature post (342), Legal Evolution is pleased to welcome guest contributor David Freeman, a renowned business development consultant who has trained and coached well over 10,000 lawyers in over 200 law firms worldwide.

I have known David for several years.  After reconnecting this summer, David walked me through some of the key features of his Lawyer Bookbuilder® online course.  Much to my delight, it was a fully productized version of 30 years of David’s best-in-class business development training condensed down to 4+ hours of video content, excluding exercises, homework, quizzes, worksheets, and many other downloadable practice aids.

Although David’s course is worthy of promotion, it’s equally noteworthy how a seasoned consultant who graduated from law school in the 1980s successfully engineered his own digital transformation.  Prior to the pandemic, David Freeman was the legal profession’s most successful “bespoke” BD consultant.  Now, two years later, he has a fully polished online course that arguably delivers better, more cost-effective results than David Freeman live.  How, exactly, did this happen?
Continue Reading Guest contributor David Freeman (341)


Yale has a different decision set than other law schools.


Yale Law School’s $1.2 billion share of the Yale University endowment provides approximately $63 million in operating funds, which translates into $106,000 per student, though this amount appears to be headed up due to the 40.2% increase in Yale’s endowment in 2021. See “Yale endowment earns 40.2% investment return in fiscal 2021,” Yale News, Oct 14, 2021; Evan Gorelick, “Yale’s endowment, explained,” Yale Daily News, Oct 22, 2022 (discussing Yale endowment’s 5.25% target payout and policy of smoothing returns over multiple years).

To be clear, these are the funds available before Yale Law collects its first dollar of tuition.  Nonetheless, as the top-ranked law school in the US News rankings for more than 30 years, Yale has a superabundance of highly credentialed students who would be willing to pay or borrow the current cost of attendance. For the 2021-22 admission cycle, Yale admitted only 5.6% of applicants; of those admitted, 81% enrolled, making Yale the most selective and elite law school in the nation. See YLS, “Statistical Profile of the Class of 2025.”
Continue Reading The dollars and math behind Yale Law’s withdrawn from USN rankings (340)


To break from the pack you have to be willing to break the rules.


A few years back, together with colleague David Parnell, we interviewed and surveyed 68 AmLaw firm leaders on their firm’s approach to strategic planning and their responses to 18 specific questions in preparation for a conference presentation we were delivering.

The overall results were startling in that despite months of preparation and thousands of dollars invested, less than 10% of these leaders were able to confidentially admit that they might have implemented “ALMOST all of their last strategic plan.”  Our presentation at the time was covered in Law360:  “Your Biz Strategy: Where Time and Money Go To Die” and the Global Legal Post: “Firms Spending Millions Writing Biz Plans That Just Gather Dust.”

We regrettably had to inform a room full of attendees at a New York Summit on Law Firm Strategic Planning that our research indicated that far too many firm leaders suffer an infliction that goes by the technical term of seeing SPOTS, with SPOTS being an acronym for Strategic Plan On the Shelf!
Continue Reading 10 fatal traps that explain why law firm strategic plans are DOA (339)


Legal technology is slowly becoming core to the legal business. It’s time to commit to a cross-functional team approach.


In the legal profession, attorneys with specialized subject matter expertise (e.g., discovery, trial work, corporate transactions, appellate, regulatory, and many others) provide tremendous value to their clients.  Similarly, technologists supporting the legal profession typically include accomplished programmers, skilled engineers, application experts, integration specialists, security ninjas, and the like. In both disciplines, specialized expertise is incredibly valuable.   

The premise of this post is that individual capabilities and excellence (either legal or technical) standing alone are not enough to ensure long-term, sustainable success.  No superstar technologist or lawyer is equipped to do it all, as there are too many specialties and functional roles which need to be filled.  Rather, a better approach is to construct team-based, cross-functional units that offer greater operational efficiency while building in layers of redundancy that reduce the potential for surprises, errors, or disruption.  Cf Post 323 (Patrick McKenna’s “rules of engagement” for high-performing legal teams).
Continue Reading The expanding role of technology in the law firm business model (338)


A. By embracing Adaptive Leadership principles.


[Editor’s note: Scott Westfahl and Anusia Gillespie worked together at HLS Executive Education and have been collaborating ever since.  Drawing upon Scott’s expertise in Adaptive Leadership and Lawyers Driving Change and Anusia’s perspective across organizations, their most recent effort was an online panel titled “The Resilient GC: Rolling with Disruption.”  Today’s NewLaw Fundamentals column summarizes the top five takeaways from this session, which strongly reinforce the message that NewLaw methodologies and frameworks are becoming core to legal department strategy. wdh]


Shannon Thyme Klinger, Terry Theologides, and Dev Stahlkopf

In The Economist’s recent General Counsel US Insight Hour, “The Resilient GC: Rolling with Disruption,” we heard from Shannon Thyme Klinger, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Moderna, a biotechnology company that went from $800 million US in sales in 2020 to more than $18 billion US in sales in 2021; Terry Theologides, General Counsel of Fannie Mae, a government-sponsored mortgage financing enterprise with $22 billion US in annual revenue; and Dev Stahlkopf, Chief Legal Officer and General Counsel of Cisco, a digital communications technology conglomerate corporation with $52 billion US in annual revenue.

What did these three leading General Counsels from three disparate industries have to say about thriving as the clock speed of change accelerates around them and their companies?
Continue Reading Q. How do GCs thrive amid disruption? (337)


Smart lawyers face hard questions.


After reading the recently published Servants to the Damned (2022) by investigative reporter David Enrich, which chronicles the role of large law firms in today’s political polarization and wealth disparities, I revisited some earlier psychology materials to consider whether a lawyer could find meaning while pursuing a career in Big Law.

Servants offered two questions in the context of trying to understand a Big Law team’s sanctions-worthy, abusive discovery maneuvers on behalf of its Big Pharma client in a product liability case filed by the parents of a brain-damaged child: “Am I proud of the work I’m doing?” and “Am I the person I want to be?”
Continue Reading Is it possible to find meaning in BigLaw? (336)


“Firms outside the Premier and Championship leagues are playing a different sport.” Thus, the winning strategies are different.


Jae Um, in her bracketing exercise for The American Lawyer magazine, arrays the 2022 AmLaw 100 based on the structure of the English football league system. At the top are 22 firms in the Premier League. Next is the Championship League, with 23 firms focused intently on getting promoted to Premier.  The third group is “Everybody Else,” which includes all the corporate law firms playing in lower-tier leagues.

Yet, as Jae Um pointed out during her visit to my Law Firms class, “it’s a mistake to extend the soccer metaphor to all 300 US/UK law firms that are doing significant amounts of corporate legal work.”  Jae explains that Premier and Championship League firms have some combination of practice areas (type, quality, depth), sector focus, and geographic footprint that enable them to attract price-insensitive work from the world’s largest and wealthiest clients. See Part II (332) (discussing market power of these firms).

Jae continues, “The 250+ firms outside the Premier and Championship leagues are playing a different sport.”
Continue Reading Learning about law firms, Part III: Innovation at “Everybody Else” firms (335)


The jobs of being a leader within any law firm should come labeled with a clear warning: This job could seriously change you and how you behave within your firm!


Over the past two decades, I have had the privilege, through my research, interviews, and hands-on consulting to peek behind the veil surrounding the challenges of becoming a NEW Firm Chair (or whatever title best signifies your firm’s leader).

From candid discussions about the stress involved in looking like you know what you are doing and the huge time demands imposed by your partner’s requests to feeling disorientated by the scale and scope of the mandate, many professionals quietly struggle with the various pressures that accompany their term in office.  In fact, I’ve discovered that the great majority of leaders, in any position of responsibility, are at their most vulnerable early in their tenure.
Continue Reading Agile leadership: navigating the double bind (334)

Source:Legal Innovation After Reform: Evidence from Regulatory Change,” Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession (Sept 2022) at 18, Figure 1.

In the long run, however, it’s all about the data.  Initial findings from Utah and Arizona reform efforts.


[Editor’s note:  For today’s feature post, we are pleased to welcome Lucy Ricca and Graham Ambrose, two of the authors of the recently published Stanford Law report on the legal regulatory changes taking place in Utah and Arizona. Prior to becoming Director of Policy and Programs at the Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession, Lucy Ricca was the founding Executive Director of the Office of Legal Services Innovation (the regulatory office overseeing the Utah sandbox). In addition, she remains a member of the Office’s Executive Committee.  Graham Ambrose is currently a 2L at Stanford Law and a 2022-23 Civil Justice Fellow at the Rhode Center. wdh]


The year 2020, known to most for global pandemic shutdowns, also heralded leaps and bounds in legal regulatory reforms.  Utah and Arizona approved extraordinary changes to the regulation of legal practice. Both states loosened the bans on nonlawyer ownership of legal practices and the practice of law by nonlawyers.  Further, the Conference of Chief Justices issued a resolution urging states to consider regulatory innovations regarding the delivery of legal services, and the ABA approved a limited resolution encouraging consideration of regulatory innovation.  Even Justice Neil Gorsuch weighed in with his support for regulatory innovation.

This year, on the other hand, has been more challenging. 
Continue Reading The high highs and low lows of legal regulatory reform (333)


Stable, transparent, not very complicated, reasonably profitable, and often quite collegial. It also has flaws.


As noted in Part I (330) of this “learning about law firms” series, it’s taken nearly two decades in the trenches, including many years doing applied work with law firms, for a very confusing and counterintuitive insight to come into focus:  Most large firms are not “firms” in the sense of conventional business theory.  Instead, they are a confederation of individual partners building and running leveraged practices in various complementary and adjacent legal specialties.

In today’s essay (Part II), I’ll add a second counterintuitive insight:  For the most part, lawyers pay little or no financial price for organizing themselves as a confederation rather than a firm.  Even in the event of spectacular collapse, as was the case with Dewey, Brobeck, Heller, Howrey, Thelen, and many other large firms, see ALM Staff, “30 Years of Law Firm Collapses: An Annotated Timeline,” Law.com, Oct 29, 2019, there’s always a large cadre of competitor firms looking to give the partners (and their fee-generating practices) a new home.  In most cases, what provides financial security and certainty to an equity partner is seldom the quality of firm-level strategy, or the ability of firm leadership to execute, but instead the health and vitality of their own practice.

This is what distinguishes law firms from conventional businesses. Like Legos blocks, individual law practices can be removed from one law firm and snapped onto another. 
Continue Reading Learning about law firms, Part II: Why confederation is our default model (332)