Dan Merkle, chairman and CEO, Lexipol LLC

Dan Merkle, Lexipol LLC

FINALIST – Life Sciences & Public Service

Dan Merkle

chairman and CEO

Lexipol LLC

 In the late 1990s, Dan Merkle began to realize that California’s 600 law enforcement agencies each had different ways of doing business.

There were a mind-boggling number of differences in these agencies’ policies regarding vehicle pursuit, use of force, harassment, dealing with informants and other areas.

While these agencies were all working under the same state and federal laws, there was no standardization of best practices, so each agency adopted its own approach to law enforcement.

The lack of consistency led to confusion when more than one agency was involved with vehicle pursuits, natural disasters and similar situations, and that confusion created safety concerns for the public and for public safety personnel.

Merkle’s launched his company, Lexipol LLC, in 2003 to address these inconsistencies. With total capital funding of $100, the company has grown into a multinational company with more than 1,300 public safety agencies as subscribers.

Ninety-five percent of the police agencies in California now use Lexipol’s online Knowledge Management System, which includes law enforcement standardization and training programs, and the company has exceeded 30 percent growth for each of the last five years, all without infusions of outside capital.

Utilizing cutting-edge computer technology, Lexipol has become the nation’s largest network of law enforcement agencies sharing state-specific policy information.

During the past year, Lexipol has begun applying its verified collaboration process to jail operations and to fire service agencies.

The company was recently chosen to assist in the reorganization of the troubled New Orleans Police Department.

And in the coming year, Lexipol will begin providing its system to 911 emergency dispatch operations.

HOW TO REACH: Lexipol LLC, www.lexipol.com

How Stephen Smith used humility to show his true intentions at Greenberg Glusker

Stephen Smith, managing partner, Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP

Stephen Smith is an ambitious guy. He turned that ambition into great success as an attorney at Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP. But as he prepared for his new role as the law firm’s managing partner, he was concerned that the ambition everyone knew he had might come back to hurt him.

“I was a young up-and-coming whippersnapper at the firm who had had a lot of personal success and a growing book of business,” Smith says. “I was concerned that people would view my political success within the firm as being related to my own self interests.”

Smith wanted the people who now worked for him to understand that his ascendance to managing partner was not a hostile takeover. Rather, it was the next step in his journey to help the 160-employee firm, and everyone who worked there, be as successful as they could be.

“I felt like I needed to do various things and communicate various things to demonstrate to people that, ‘Listen, if I’m taking this job as managing partner, I’m doing it because I love the firm and I love the people,’” Smith says.

“I had to demonstrate to people at all levels, from our kitchen staff and runners all the way up to the senior-most partners with the biggest books of business, that I was doing this to help make the firm better and stronger. I wasn’t doing it to feather my own nest.”

The wisdom of Smith’s effort to be a selfless leader was only bolstered when he asked people what they liked most about Norm Levine, the man he was replacing as managing partner.

“No one ever thought that Norm put his own interests above the interests of the firm,” Smith says. “They all said that whether they agreed with Norm about an issue or disagreed, he was always acting in good faith to do what he thought was best for the firm. I just remember being struck by that. It’s also the thing I’ve liked about Norm. I just felt like that’s the one characteristic I need to make sure I’m emulating completely.”

Be mindful of your image

Smith needed to take as many opportunities as he could to show his eagerness to help his employees shine. One way was his approach to origination credit. In law firms, this is a term used for recognizing a person who management believes is responsible for bringing in a new client.

“You get paid for that because that’s probably the most important thing you can do as a lawyer because it allows the firm to exist,” Smith says. “We have to have clients and most people think that’s the hardest thing to do.”

The concept of giving someone credit for generating business is not unique to law firms. It happens in businesses of all types. And what became clear to Smith was that as the person at the top of his organization, he couldn’t be the one basking in the credit of generating new business.

“I started becoming incredibly liberal about sharing credit,” Smith says. “As managing partner, I’ve said to other members of the management committee, I would rather not get any origination credit on any new clients I bring into the firm because I want other lawyers to get that credit or the firm to get that credit so that people understand that my job is not to make my own book of business bigger. My job is to make the firm bigger.”

To that end, Smith didn’t stop at deflecting credit to his employees. He wanted to clearly show that he was working just as hard as they were, if not harder, to help them earn even more victories.

“You can only lead a group of people, especially in a democracy like a law partnership, by being credible at all times,” Smith says. “One of the things you have to do to demonstrate you are working as hard as anyone else is you have to be visible to them. You need to know your people. They need to know you. You need to be responsive to them. You have to think about what they care about.”

When Smith is out meeting with his people, he does it honestly and without an agenda or script.

“It’s not like I schedule a meeting and say, ‘I’m going to talk to you about your personal life for the next 15 minutes,’” Smith says. “I talk to people in all kinds of different settings.”

His goal is to demonstrate in as many ways as possible that he is on the side of his people and that he truly is working to make them look better. That only comes through building strong relationships.

“You have to really know them personally,” Smith says. “You have to know what is going on in their lives. For example, if someone has come in late to work for two or three days in a row. You don’t want to jump to the assumption that someone is being lazy. You want to know that the guy went to the University of Texas with his daughter to walk her around the campus because she was considering going there. Otherwise, you might jump to the wrong conclusion.”

Smith makes it a point to attend the firm’s traditional Friday drinks session in the attorney dining room as often as he can, along with other social gatherings that take place.

“It’s honest and it’s not something for show,” Smith says. “To be frank, I think in large part, it’s the reason I am managing partner. People have seen me behave that way and care that way ever since I was a first-year lawyer here.”

Be willing to hear criticism

Smith spends a lot of time thinking about ways to demonstrate to his people that he is there to help them achieve success. He is also the firm’s managing partner, a fact which his people need to be aware of when they think of him.

“It is my job to lead the firm,” Smith says. “I’m the person who is supposed to stand up at partner meetings and tell people, ‘This is what I think we should do and here’s why.’”

Effective leadership is all about using the time spent talking to people to gather data and information that will then help you make better decisions for your organization. Sometimes, that means you’ll be criticized.

If you’re not OK with that, you’ve got a problem.

“The thing I like most about my relationship with the associates is they have no hesitation telling me when they think I’m doing something wrong,” Smith says. “I think that is incredibly valuable. They have told me sometimes that I have done stuff wrong. A number of times, they have convinced me that they were right and I was wrong.”

Smith flashes back to an instance three years ago during the recession when the firm was going to make pay cuts with the hope of avoiding layoffs.

“The associates and partners told me that they thought I was wrong,” Smith says. “And I concluded that I was wrong and they were right and the decision was undone a few months later. I cite that all the time as an example of how glad I am that people told me I was wrong. So I have to be willing to encourage people to tell me that and then I have to be willing to do something about it. But you can’t just get up and say that to people. You have to prove that day in and day out.”

Ideally, you create a forum where criticism can be offered in a constructive setting. Otherwise, it could get personal and that’s not good for anybody.

“We have what we call an associate committee where we have representatives that meet with the management committee,” Smith says. “Their job is to be the representative of their constituency, which is the associates. I used to be on the associate committee back when I was an associate.

“We encourage the associate committee to speak very frankly. We do not retaliate against them when they do so. If they say something critical of management, we’ve never once done anything to retaliate. We have a reputation internally as being fair on that. But that comes only with a long history of proving it.”

In other words, you can’t create a committee from scratch and expect to get instant feedback about what you’re doing wrong. Especially if you’ve tried it before, but got defensive when someone was critical of you and said something like, ‘No more negative comments.’

If you can summon the strength to take a little heat, you’ll earn valuable respect and have a better company at the end of the day.

“It’s more important for the managing partner to say, ‘OK, what does that criticism mean?’” Smith says. “What are we going to do to make it better or solve that problem? That’s the difference between just being a partner or a person with an opinion, which is perfectly valid, and being the leader of the group. The leader of the group says, ‘OK, I acknowledge there is a problem. How do we solve it?’”

Lead with consistency

As you’re building stronger bonds with your people and engaging them in what you’re doing, you need to take caution that you don’t show any sense of favoritism for one group over another.

You’ve got to approach relationships with consistency in mind so that when the time comes to make difficult decision, people won’t see anything unfair about how those decisions were made.

“It goes to credibility,” Smith says. “I am fine informing people of something that is unpleasant, whether it’s a termination or cutting something in a budget or whether it’s refusing to spend money on something somebody wants me to spend money on.

“I’m comfortable doing that as long as I’ve been consistent in my messages prior to that point in time. What is unfair and what makes it incredibly difficult is if you have not been consistent. The people you are leading are usually pretty smart and they will know if you are selling them something that isn’t true immediately.”

To drive his point home, Smith refers, with a chuckle, to his “stupid little analogy about my boat.”

He compares an organization to a boat with all the people, including the leader, serving as rowers on the boat. And in order for the boat to keep moving, everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction.

“So when I have something critical to say about someone, it usually has to do with the direction they are rowing being off kilter,” Smith says. “If it’s completely backwards, then they are usually going to be terminated. By the way, that’s at any level. That includes partners because it’s about being consistent.

“If I’m going to have any credibility among my directors or if I’m going to have any credibility among the associates, I have to be consistent with the partners. And although the partners are obviously the bosses and obviously more powerful in one sense, I, as managing partner, try very hard to be consistent in the way I treat people at all the different levels.”

So as Smith continues to learn about his people and what is needed to help the law firm succeed, he’ll also continue to be conscious of his image with his employees.

“You’re being judged as the leader of the firm and the firm itself,” Smith says. “Everything you say and everything you do is going to be seen through that lens. So you have to comport yourself, whether it’s the way you dress or the way you speak to people or how hard you work, whether you are here in the morning before people or in the evening after people, you have to remember all of those things about being a role model for the people you’re leading. I want everybody to know I’m rowing the boat harder than anybody.”

How to reach: Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP, (310) 553-3610 or www.greenbergglusker.com

The Smith File

Stephen Smith, managing partner, Greenberg Glusker Fields Claman & Machtinger LLP

Born: Gainesville, Fla.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, economics, Rice University; law degree, University of Texas at Austin

What was your very first job?

Bresler’s 33 Flavors Ice Cream in San Antonio. To this day, I’m not an ice cream lover because if you work in an ice cream shop long enough, the smell of ice cream starts to rub you the wrong way.

Who has been most influential on your life?

Both my parents, but if I had to pick one, my mom. I have some characteristics of my mom and some of my dad. But overall my mom wins. My mom did it through words, whereas my dad did it through behavior. My mom was much more communicative with me. She was the person I always talked to and argued with. I knew I was going to be a lawyer probably from the age of 13. That’s really because my mom and I used to always debate every issue.

Favorite book: “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The way Atticus Finch has to deal with that case is incredibly accurate. And it shows that it does not always work.

Whom would you like to sit down and talk to and why?

President Abraham Lincoln. He’s a combination of political genius, while at the same time being incredibly principled. George Washington is definitely second. I’ve read a bunch about both of them. They were the real deal. The reason I give Lincoln a little bit of the nod is simply because he was trying to lead a group of people, a country, that was totally trying to rip itself apart.

Blogospheric pressure: Watch your step with CEO blogs

A growing number of business executives are taking to blogging, and with good reason. The benefits of well-executed CEO blogs are significant and vast. But blogging from the C-suite has plenty of pitfalls, too, particularly legal ones. So it’s essential to plan strategically to make sure your digital journal exploits the power of the form while avoiding the legal traps associated with executive-penned blogs.

“There are obviously terrific benefits to be gained from executive blogging,” says Tim Van Dyck, a partner in the Boston-based law firm Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP. “More and more CEOs are part of the Google generation and, therefore, feel more comfortable about blogging than, certainly, people in my generation do.

“The executive blog is a wonderful egalitarian method of communication,” adds Van Dyck, who chairs Edwards Wildman’s labor and employment group. “It can be a very powerful marketing tool. It can be a very effective means to recruit employees and to communicate and organize knowledge. It’s a great way to share information with clients and vendors. And it’s also a wonderful opportunity to put a human face on a company and to offer an exclusive look at the inner workings and culture of a company that traditional media can’t parallel.”

Nancy Flynn, executive director of the ePolicy Institute and author of several books on corporate blogging and social media, concurs, noting that blogs “can be a great way for C-level executives to communicate with customers, prospects, potential employees, decision-makers, the general public and the media.”

Watch for potholes

Those are a few of the benefits CEOs can realize for their companies by blogging. But those potential benefits are surrounded by serious hazards, says Flynn, whose books include “Blog Rules” and “The Social Media Handbook.”

“CEO blogging opens the organization up to a broad range of potentially costly risks, including workplace lawsuits, regulatory fines, lost productivity, public relations nightmares, security breaches and mismanaged business records,” she says. “Any time any employee or executive, right up through the CEO ranks, blogs on behalf of the organization, you really have to take a strategic approach to that blog, and you have to adhere to your organization’s blog policy, your content rules, your ‘netiquette’ guidelines and all of your other employment policies, including harassment and discrimination, code of conduct, and on and on.

“Long story short, you have to be mindful of the fact that content creates risk, so the easiest way to control electronic risk is to control your content,” Flynn says.

So what’s the best way to control that content? According to Van Dyck, having a corporate blogging policy is a must — and not merely having such a policy in place but steadfastly enforcing it.

“The company’s blogging policy needs to be clear and unambiguous in terms of explaining what kinds of blogging are appropriate and what kinds of blogging are inappropriate,” Van Dyck says. “And that policy needs to be enforced uniformly so that all employees, including executives, are subject to it. Particularly with respect to executives, who come into daily contact with proprietary insider information. The company should identify a gatekeeper, such as an in-house counsel, who reviews any executive blogging material before it’s posted. In other words, there needs to be a filter before it goes out.

“Obviously, both the executive and the company need to make clear that the blog is being monitored by the company,” Van Dyck says. “The executive, I think, needs to make sure that whatever is being blogged about is not subject to misinterpretation. Even something as innocuous as an executive saying, ‘Something big’s going to happen with the company,’ is a potential minefield. That could be construed as the company going public or the company being bought or entering into a new product line. And all of those things really need to be kept confidential.”

The corporate blogging policy should extend beyond the executive who is writing the blog. Comments appended to blogs by readers have to be monitored, as well, Flynn says.

“If CEO bloggers are going to allow third parties to comment on their blog, then you want to post a policy on your blog — your community blogging guidelines — to let those third parties know that, ‘Yes, you’re welcome to post your comments on our blog in response to our CEO’s posts, but here are the rules — here’s what’s allowed, here’s what’s not allowed.’ And you want to, either through technology or through a human set of eyes, monitor those comments,” Flynn says. “You definitely want to review those comments before they go online. Because you don’t want something posted that is unlawful or uncivil or a poor reflection on your company.”

Vet, vet, vet

Another must for executive bloggers, in order to avoid falling into one of the many legal traps associated with the form, is to have all blog posts reviewed by a legal expert before they’re launched into cyberspace.

“I know that the blogosphere doesn’t like to hear this, but I think having blog posts vetted before they’re published is a great idea,” Flynn says. “It’s something that I recommend to all of my clients. Here’s why: You wouldn’t publish your organization’s annual report without having it reviewed by your marketing department and your legal department. You need to think in terms of your blog posts as reflections on your company. And that content in those blog posts is as fraught with potential risks as any other kind of literature your company puts out.

“Just because blogging is electronic doesn’t mean that you can play fast and loose with the language,” Flynn says. “It is a more casual way of communicating, but in spite of its casual nature, it’s still fraught with real potential problems. So I do think it’s a good idea to have legal take a look at blog posts, particularly if it’s the CEO, because the CEO is the last person who you want to be making a gaffe and creating potential problems for your company.”

Van Dyck agrees about the importance of having executives’ blog entries vetted before they’re posted.

“I think that’s a very good idea,” he says. “At least with respect to posts that are authored by high-ranking executives. It gives the executives more protection, and it gives the company greater protection. There’s no downside to having those posts vetted by, if not in-house legal counsel, at least somebody who is aware of and knows what to look for in terms of the risks.”

The trend toward mobile blogging makes preliminary legal review of blog posts even more crucial.

“Technorati recently reported that 25 percent of bloggers are now engaged in mobile blogging,” Flynn says. “So if your CEO uses a smartphone or a tablet to post to your corporate blog, chances are, in that kind of circumstance, the writer might be inclined to take some shortcuts. You might be working a little faster and abbreviating language and maybe not taking as much time to reflect on whether this is really what you want to say or how you want to say it or whether this is something that’s really appropriate to put in the blog or whether this could get us into any trouble. So that’s another reason why I think it’s a good idea to have legal vet those blog posts.”

Keep secrets secret

What’s the most horrible thing an executive blogger can do when he or she writes a blog? What are the worst kinds of messes to avoid stepping in? According to Van Dyck, one of the most egregious errors a CEO can make is to slip up and reveal a trade secret or a similar type of proprietary company information.

“I think the greatest risk is the inadvertent disclosure of confidential and trade secret information,” Van Dyck says. “As we all know, high-ranking executives come into daily contact with company trade secrets and proprietary information. And the advent of executive blogging has dramatically affected who can communicate with whom, when, how, why, and where. Blogging’s availability means that executives can now transform their previously informal personal communications into a published, public document. And that’s a capability that is very much at odds with trade secret laws’ reliance on limited communication.

“In my view, executive blogging has significantly enhanced the likelihood of catastrophic disclosures of trade secrets and other proprietary information, so I think that’s probably the most significant risk associated with executive blogging.”

Van Dyck notes that he’s had firsthand experience with this type of circumstance.

“I had a situation where we represented a company who wound up using information that had been posted on a competitor’s blog,” he says. “The other side came back and explained that it was confidential. And we had a wonderful defense to that, because the information had been disseminated to the public by way of a blog.”

Flynn agrees that it’s critical for executives not bring up anything remotely related to proprietary company information in a blog.

“You have to keep your company secrets close to your vest,” Flynn says. “You want to be real careful that you don’t disclose confidential company information. You don’t want to reveal your secret recipe or expose your trade secrets or talk about your business partners’ trade secrets. Because once the secret’s out there, it’s no longer a secret.”

Flynn points out that it’s also crucial to make sure CEOs’ blog posts don’t violate any regulatory rules.

“Let’s say you do business in the financial services world,” she says. “Let’s say you’re publicly traded. You definitely don’t want to jump the gun and publish any posts related to sales or revenue in advance of the SEC’s specific guidelines on when that information should be released and how it should be released.

“Similarly, if you’re in the health care arena, if you were to post any content that violated HIPAA — if you revealed confidential protected health information related to a patient — you could be in trouble,” Flynn says. “At the end of the day, you really have to look at your blog the same way you should be looking at your e-mail, and make sure you’re adhering to the law and to regulatory rules and to your own organizational guidelines.”

Ultimately, when executives write blogs, they become the online face of their companies, so they had better keep their game face on.

“What C-level and executives and all executives need to bear in mind is that a business blog is different from a personal blog in that it is a reflection of your individual professionalism, it is a reflection of your organization’s corporate credibility, and it does present the organization with a lot of potential risk,” Flynn says.

If the CEO blogger commits a serious misstep, Flynn says, “It’s not the CEO who’s going to be sued, it’s the whole organization.”

HOW TO REACH: Edwards Wildman Palmer LLP, www.edwardswildman.com; ePolicy Institute, www.epolicyinstitute.com

Special Report Legal: Karen Lefton

Karen Lefton, Partner, Brouse McDowell LPA

Two points that CEO bloggers should keep foremost in mind are, first, never underestimate how many different groups of people may read what you write, and second, despite the blog form’s outwardly ephemeral nature, everything you post is almost certain to be permanently accessible online, whether you want it to be or not.

Below are three tips for executive bloggers compiled by Karen Lefton, a partner with Brouse McDowell LPA.

Write for your customers, but know that competitors are reading.

Be particularly careful not to disclose confidential information, trade secrets, business plans — sensitive information not known to the public. There is a tendency to blog from the comfort of your home after a long day at work. Don’t. This is not the time for a fireside chat. A blog must be written with the same thought and care as a speech to your Chamber of Commerce. More people may see it.

Write for your supporters, but know that detractors are reading.

Be careful with your facts. For every fact that can be checked, there is a former (disgruntled?) employee who will check it. When things are not black or white, he will take issue with your shade of gray. Avoid references to age, race, gender, ethnicity. What difference does it make that your new marketing manager is “young”? His creativity and enthusiasm matter. His youth does not (except, of course, to the over-40 manager that he replaced.)

Write for today, but know that your words will live forever.

A blog can be like a bad penny. It will keep on turning up. Be prepared for anything you’ve ever written or taped — a blog, annual report, speech, interview, legal brief — to be accessible on the Internet. As search engines continue to improve, it will be easier to connect your name and title with postings by you or about you. Maximize the benefit by controlling your message. Minimize the detriment by treating all your communication as though it will last forever. It will. And if you’re ever involved in litigation, it will be printed out in large type on a big screen for the world to see — again.

Karen C. Lefton is a partner with Brouse McDowell’s labor and employment practice group, mainly representing businesses. She has a special interest in media law, particularly defamation, invasion of privacy and Internet issues.

Special Report Legal: Lori Clary

Lori Clary, Attorney, McDonald Hopkins LLC

The legal hazards that executive bloggers must steer through are many. Here are four of them, compiled by Lori Clary, an attorney with McDonald Hopkins LLC.

  • Blurring the line between personal and professional: As an executive, you’re the face of your company. When you post something online, it’s inevitable that what you say will be associated with and — in many cases  — attributed to your company. As a result, it’s important that your blogging persona be just as deliberate and professional as you are on a day-to-day work basis. Anything less could result in a stray posting becoming Exhibit A in litigation against the company. If your blog is intended to express your personal opinions and viewpoints, make sure your readers know that and take care to ensure that your personal blog doesn’t negatively reflect on your ability to serve as an executive with your company.
  • Inadvertently disclosing  confidential or trade-secret information: You know your company better than anyone  — and that’s a good thing. Just be sure to post only nonconfidential, nonproprietary public information on your blog. Jumping the gun even a little bit could result in your company’s competitive edge being diminished or worse (think blown deals, SEC investigations, diminished business value, employment termination and lawsuits, to name just a few unsavory complications). If you have any doubt about whether a piece of information is for public consumption, that information isn’t appropriate blogging fodder.
  • Running afoul of the FTC’s product endorsement rules: As an executive blogger, you always want to present your company’s products and services in the best possible light. The Federal Trade Commission, however, has very definite requirements for product and service endorsements that appear in blogs and other social media outlets. At a minimum, you need to be sure your readers understand your relationship to the company so they can gauge for themselves how much weight to give your opinion.
  • Failing to seek legal guidance: Executive blogging can be a powerful way to raise your company’s profile, build excitement for products and services, and interact with your customer base. To reap the benefits, though, you must manage the risks. Trusted legal advisers can help, so be sure to involve them before problems occur.

Lori A. Clary is an attorney with McDonald Hopkins LLC. Her focus is labor and employment counseling and litigation.

David T. Brown – You don’t have to be lonely

David T. Brown, chair of the management committee, Much Shelist

It’s lonely at the top. At some point or another, virtually every business leader has quietly muttered these words. And why not? When virtually everyone in your organization is looking to you for direction and inspiration, where do you turn for support and advice?

In some cases, an experienced board of directors can serve as an effective sounding board. You may also have former mentors and teachers to whom you can turn for professional guidance.

You may face a situation, however, when these advisers are unavailable. It may be inappropriate to seek out their advice or they may lack the necessary knowledge or training to provide you with assistance. Or, you may have spent so much time growing the business that you haven’t had an opportunity to build a parallel executive-support structure. In such cases, must you go it alone?

Not necessarily. A peer roundtable or similar group of like-minded individuals may be just the resource you need. Whether formal or informal, such organizations of fellow executives are often created to provide ongoing business and career guidance to their members. Some are started by individuals, while others are formed under the auspices of trade or industry associations. Many are part of larger umbrella groups such as the Young Presidents’ Organization, the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and Vistage International.

Peer roundtables provide a supportive environment that allows members to air professional issues as well as issues that can be more sensitive. Members can also frame and explore specific problems or concerns, improve communication and leadership skills and build networks of friends and professional connections. 

Virtually all effective peer round tables share certain characteristics that are essential for success.

Tap into experience

There is nothing like belonging to a small, closely knit group of peers who share your leadership challenges and can offer constructive advice and when needed, empathy. In many instances, roundtable members are all dealing with and addressing similar issues. However, some may have more experience than others and may be able to offer either their own tried-and-true solutions or an affirmation of your chosen approach to a problem.    

Set the ground rules

Whether in the form of written guidelines or a “gentlemen’s agreement,” any peer roundtable must establish and abide by rules that are clearly understood by all members. These can be as simple as showing up to meetings on time, taking turns developing an agenda or following established protocols for sharing information. Whatever the case, members must consistently adhere to the group’s policies in order for the roundtable to be successful.

Respect confidentiality

Over a period of time, members of successful peer roundtables build a level of mutual trust that allows them to talk candidly about sensitive business issues. While it is never acceptable to divulge specific information about pricing, clients or other sensitive issues and confidentiality is preserved at all costs, it is an environment where you can safely discuss internal management issues that all senior executives face while knowing that the details you share will go no further than the group.  

Be involved

After the markets took a serious turn at the end of 2008, my own roundtable of midsize law firm leaders got together in January 2009 for an analysis of economic conditions and a look at what the future might hold for our firms and the legal industry overall. We openly shared with each other our recent experiences and even our fears about the future.  Then we got down to the business of helping each other develop both short- and long-term strategies for weathering the storm. It is fair to say that we leaned on each other more than usual during that period, and it was important that we felt comfortable talking openly with each other about the issues we faced. 

Joining or even creating your own roundtable that embodies these characteristics can help you navigate some of your most difficult professional challenges. Likewise, it can serve as a springboard into some of your greatest successes. In any case, you should never underestimate the power of peer insights. Despite the old saying, it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top.

David T. Brown is chair of the management committee at Chicago-based law firm Much Shelist. He is an experienced business lawyer who serves the firm’s clients as a legal and business counselor in a wide range of matters. Brown can be reached at (312) 521-2754 or [email protected]

How Raquel Rodriguez develops a team to grow McDonald Hopkins in a new market

Raquel Rodriguez, managing member of the Miami office, McDonald Hopkins LLC

Raquel “Rocky” Rodriguez was physically starting a new Miami law office from scratch. She didn’t have a team of employees. She didn’t have an actual office yet. From a support standpoint, however, she had a stacked deck.

Joining McDonald Hopkins LLC as its newest managing member in 2011, Rodriquez had the rich culture and resources of a firm with an 80-year history of client service success.

“So it really was very much of a start-up operation, except that I had a really good solid team supporting me all the way,” Rodriguez says.

Smart Business spoke with Rodriguez about the keys to entering a new market, starting with finding and developing a strong team of employees.

Use your network to find talent

One is to let people know that we are here through selective marketing, through interacting in the community, getting the word out, introducing the firm. The other is using my personal contacts to recruit the kinds of lawyers that we are looking for. We identify the practice areas we need, the client type, the personality set and either directly approach those lawyers or through my contacts identify who those lawyers are and then use those relationships to reach them.

Seek complementary skill sets

The biggest leadership challenge when you are expanding a firm or growing an office is being able to identify in potential [hires] the kinds of qualities that you want to reinforce in your firm while also adding capabilities that fill whatever gaps you may have.

You have to recognize that you have weaknesses because nobody is perfect, and nobody has every skill that they need for every job. Then you need to surround yourself with people who have the skills that you are lacking to compensate for them, which means that you have to be very self assure and confident rather than worried about people showing you up. You succeed by other people around you succeeding.

When you are interviewing associates or other staff as well as partners, you like to know that they have succeeded at, what they have done and know what their track record has been. You want to know that they are hard working and that they are not just going to coast. You want to look for indicia of people who always demand more from themselves.

Use interviews to find cultural matches

You work very hard at hiring people who contribute to the culture and who like the particular culture of the firm. Every firm evolves as it gets larger, but there are certain core principles in terms of how people relate to each other and the way that the firm serves its clients that cannot be compromised.

I like to know why they are speaking with us. What is it about their situation that they would like to improve on and what are their long-term personal and professional goals? I like to know about what they do in their free time when they are not being a lawyer. I like to know what their approach is to clients and practicing law.

Take charge

You have to be a friendly and approachable person, but you also have to recognize that there are boundaries, particularly in the workplace. You are not there to be everybody’s best friend. You are there to lead them and help them succeed.

A critical trait is to be able to communicate your vision, your goals and your expectations very clearly. If you don’t communicate clearly, people will assume that they know what you want, and you may not get what you are expecting.

You set clear goals. You agree on timelines and then you follow up on a regular basis to make sure that you are on track.

Do your part

If people do not see you contributing the effort, they are going to feel like you are unfairly dumping work on them. It doesn’t mean that you have to spend every waking hour in the office or constantly connected, because I do think that it’s important to unplug every once in a while so that you can do your strategic thinking. It does mean that you have to be willing to take on the hard work that you are asking other people to do.

How to reach: McDonald Hopkins LLC, www.mcdonaldhopkins.com or (305) 704-3990

Company Facts: McDonald Hopkins LLC

Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio

Size: more than 130 attorneys in six strategic locations, including Chicago, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, West Palm Beach and Miami

About: The company has an 80-year track record of counseling clients as a business advisory and advocacy law firm

Al Reis is the model for Weltman, Weinberg & Reis employees to get involved

Allen J. Reis

Allen J. Reis, managing partner, Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co. LPA

Medical Mutual 2011 Pillar Award
for Community Service — Columbus
SHARE Award

As part of the mission of Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co. LPA, employees maintain a strong commitment to helping communities ― those nearby and those in need around the world. And Managing Partner Allen J. Reis sees to it that employees are invited to step up to the plate.

WWR supports organizations such as the global agencies such as the March of Dimes and the United Way, and area groups including the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, YWCA Family Center, Marching Miles for Miracle Kids and Pelotonia. The company believes in the fact that we are all global citizens ― answering the call of those in distressed communities, helping others to help themselves and creating legacies of hope for future generations.

Corporatewide, WWR contributed nearly $90,000 directly to support numerous organizations last year. In addition, the company last year donated $50,000 to Pelotonia, a community of bike riders and volunteers working to support cancer research.

Reis inspires employees to get involved and make a difference. Rarely one to say no when asked for philanthropic support, he characteristically does much more than contribute financially. He lends his time, leadership and resources to a variety of charitable agencies.

For instance, as part of one local client’s meal hosting programs held by the YWCA Family Center, Reis volunteered his time and motivated other WWR employees to join in. He enjoyed the program and decided WWR should begin a similar one of its own. WWR now hosts meals every other month at the YWCA funded by employee “casual day” donations and staffed by volunteers from the local office staff.

When the Mid-Ohio Foodbank built a new facility near the firm’s Grove City office, Reis saw it as an opportunity to develop a community partnership between the food bank and WWR. Every month, 15 volunteers assist the food bank with sorting and packaging of food.

By leading by example, Reis sets himself as a model for employees through his commitment and dedication to community service, which then filters down throughout the company.

How to reach: Weltman, Weinberg & Reis Co. LPA, (614) 228-7272 or www.weltman.com

Survive the recession by controlling the controllable

Jeff Heintz, managing partner, Brouse McDowell LPA

Jeff Heintz isn’t bragging when he says the legal firm where he is managing partner, Brouse McDowell LPA, made it through the recent recession without missing a beat ― it’s a matter of fact that the firm only had a few scratches.

“We did OK because we stuck to what we did best; I think our reputation served us well,” he says.

Once Heintz realized that the 92-year-old company’s brand was the best weapon in his arsenal to fight the recession, he instilled a way of thinking to bolster that premise for the 120 employees.

“We adopted the philosophy that we are going to control the kinds of things we can control,” he says.

The first premise pertains to the quality of work, an obvious aspect that can be controlled.

“If you work hard, and you have high character, and you behave in a manner that is befitting of things like ‘A Lawyer’s Creed’ and ‘A Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals,’ good things are going to happen to you,” Heintz says.

“If you develop skills that enable you to help your client as a technician and develop the feelings that enable you to discern how best to direct your client, whether or not a particular strategy has short-term or long-term benefit, then you can become a trusted adviser,” he says.

“There’s no better feeling in the world than being a trusted adviser, somebody who works hard, develops a business and builds it into something grand, and it is the centerpiece of that person’s life and perhaps that person’s family,” he says.

Place a high premium on community involvement, and feel an obligation to give back to the extent you can by participating and furthering the efforts of nonprofits and volunteering because it is the right thing to do.

“It also gives your people an outlet other than just coming in and putting on their miner’s helmet and cracking away at work. It keeps them fresh, focused and gives them some perspective.”

Dedication to clients can also be controlled.

“We’ve had relationships with clients that go back decades,” he says. “We’ve been through tough times with clients and we’ve been there for them. This time it was tough times for everybody.”

With a relationship that has developed trust and understanding over the years, there are often mutual benefits.

“You and your clients benefit from the strength and depth of your relationships because businesses across the board were facing issues that they never faced before, having to consider choices that they never considered before, and I think it is a considerable comfort to them to know that when they would pick up the phone to call their advisers, it’s a number that they have been calling for 30 or 40 years.”

One of the tools that may serve you in being open with clients is what Heintz calls the “sneaky direct approach.”

“You just sit down with them, and you tell them the truth,” he says. “You let them know even if you can’t lay out for them chapter and verse what will happen, you lay down for them as best you can your belief about what will happen and what steps you are taking to control what can happen. I think people tend to react well to that.”

Another factor to control is the seriousness with which responsibilities are taken.

“Take that commitment of trust very, very seriously,” Heintz says. “One of your first thoughts should be how is this going to benefit your client ― not how much money can you make, not how quickly can you get this job done, not how much personal goodwill can you get from this.”

As a final matter, protect yourself as best as you can against the things you can’t control.

“Ignore a lot of the chatter for things that happen at the federal level ― the preoccupation with the recent Washington gridlock, for example ― as difficult as it is,” Heintz says.

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com

Availability is king

It’s been said that no matter recession or economic growth, your ability to succeed in business is only limited by your availability to your customers.

Jeff Heintz, managing partner of Brouse McDowell LPA, believes in that. In fact, he has his home phone number on his business card.

“If you make your clients know that you are available to them pretty much 24/7, they appreciate the commitment and are very conscientious how they use it,” he says.

Likewise, cascade that premise of availability throughout your staff, from top to bottom.

“If you are accessible, that’s a talisman of your commitment to your clients,” Heintz says.

“Don’t tell them, ‘You need to get a hold of me between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday because I’m not going to look at my mail over the weekend, and I’m not going to answer my phone.’

“Not everything’s an emergency, and there are people out there that live their lives at general quarters ― and everything’s an emergency ―but there are emergencies out there, particularly as we increasingly get to a global economy where it may be 7 p.m. on Friday night in Akron, Ohio, but 9 a.m. elsewhere on the globe where people are at work when you are at play. But most people use their best judgment, and they have the ability to discern between what’s an emergency and what’s not.”

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com

Jeff Heintz led Brouse McDowell through the recession

Jeff Heintz, managing partner, Brouse McDowell LPA

Jeff Heintz isn’t bragging when he says the legal firm where he is managing partner, Brouse McDowell LPA, made it through the recent recession without missing a beat ― it’s a matter of fact that the firm only had a few scratches.

“We did OK because we stuck to what we did best; I think our reputation served us well,” he says.

Once Heintz realized that the 92-year-old company’s brand was the best weapon in his arsenal to fight the recession, he instilled a way of thinking to bolster that premise for the 120 employees.

“We adopted the philosophy that we are going to control the kinds of things we can control,” he says.

The first premise pertains to the quality of work, an obvious aspect that can be controlled.

“If you work hard, and you have high character, and you behave in a manner that is befitting of things like ‘A Lawyer’s Creed’ and ‘A Lawyer’s Aspirational Ideals,’ good things are going to happen to you,” Heintz says.

“If you develop skills that enable you to help your client as a technician and develop the feelings that enable you to discern how best to direct your client, whether or not a particular strategy has short-term or long-term benefit, then you can become a trusted adviser,” he says.

“There’s no better feeling in the world than being a trusted adviser, somebody who works hard, develops a business and builds it into something grand, and it is the centerpiece of that person’s life and perhaps that person’s family,” he says.

Place a high premium on community involvement, and feel an obligation to give back to the extent you can by participating and furthering the efforts of nonprofits and volunteering because it is the right thing to do.

“It also gives your people an outlet other than just coming in and putting on their miner’s helmet and cracking away at work. It keeps them fresh, focused and gives them some perspective.”

Dedication to clients can also be controlled.

“We’ve had relationships with clients that go back decades,” he says. “We’ve been through tough times with clients and we’ve been there for them. This time it was tough times for everybody.”

With a relationship that has developed trust and understanding over the years, there are often mutual benefits.

“You and your clients benefit from the strength and depth of your relationships because businesses across the board were facing issues that they never faced before, having to consider choices that they never considered before, and I think it is a considerable comfort to them to know that when they would pick up the phone to call their advisers, it’s a number that they have been calling for 30 or 40 years.”

One of the tools that may serve you in being open with clients is what Heintz calls the “sneaky direct approach.”

“You just sit down with them, and you tell them the truth,” he says. “You let them know even if you can’t lay out for them chapter and verse what will happen, you lay down for them as best you can your belief about what will happen and what steps you are taking to control what can happen. I think people tend to react well to that.”

Another factor to control is the seriousness with which responsibilities are taken.

“Take that commitment of trust very, very seriously,” Heintz says. “One of your first thoughts should be how is this going to benefit your client ― not how much money can you make, not how quickly can you get this job done, not how much personal goodwill can you get from this.”

As a final matter, protect yourself as best as you can against the things you can’t control.

“Ignore a lot of the chatter for things that happen at the federal level ― the preoccupation with the recent Washington gridlock, for example ― as difficult as it is,” Heintz says.

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com

Availability is king

It’s been said that no matter recession or economic growth, your ability to succeed in business is only limited by your availability to your customers.

Jeff Heintz, managing partner of Brouse McDowell LPA, believes in that. In fact, he has his home phone number on his business card.

“If you make your clients know that you are available to them pretty much 24/7, they appreciate the commitment and are very conscientious how they use it,” he says.

Likewise, cascade that premise of availability throughout your staff, from top to bottom.

“If you are accessible, that’s a talisman of your commitment to your clients,” Heintz says.

“Don’t tell them, ‘You need to get a hold of me between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on Monday through Friday because I’m not going to look at my mail over the weekend, and I’m not going to answer my phone.’

“Not everything’s an emergency, and there are people out there that live their lives at general quarters ― and everything’s an emergency ―but there are emergencies out there, particularly as we increasingly get to a global economy where it may be 7 p.m. on Friday night in Akron, Ohio, but 9 a.m. elsewhere on the globe where people are at work when you are at play. But most people use their best judgment, and they have the ability to discern between what’s an emergency and what’s not.”

How to reach: Brouse McDowell LPA, (330) 535-5711 or www.brouse.com