guild workman.jpeg

During a breakout discussion (artfully facilitated by Tim Corcoran) at the 2011 Marketing Partner Forum regarding Industry-Focused Sales and Marketing, I made a comment that matched today’s title. 

Yesterday, I stumbled across an identically-titled Harvard Business Review article by Paul Leinwand and Cesare Mainardi, in which they offered this same admonishment to corporations.

Within the quoted section that follows, I’ve added, in [bracketed italics], equivalent law firm titles. The analogy to law firms is uncanny.

When guilds were originally established in the Middle Ages, their primary purpose was to build and protect the economic value of skills and knowledge. Craftsmen [lawyers] allied themselves to essentially create firewalls around their primary competitive offering in the market. These inward-looking [practice] groups were able to impose discipline on their practice: enforcing standards, mentoring and training new entrants, and refining and building on old expertise to create new more valuable knowledge.

Today, the guild mentality persists within companies [law firms], where functions [practice groups] such as marketing, sales, finance, IT, human resources and R&D [litigation, IP, corporate, etc.] all have their own area of special expertise. Like a guild, each of these departments [practice groups] looks to become world-class at what it does. Each has its own set of mandates to fulfill and each has a very plausible internal rationale for asserting its primacy.

However, this guild mentality often creates debilitating incoherence within the larger company [law firm]. These individual functions [practices] end up competing against each other—for funding, for the time and attention of senior executives, and for the most talented people. Each initiative claims it is critical to the success of the organization, yet their competition puts that very success in jeopardy.

Functional [practice group] leaders in business today are not really like the masters of a professional carpentry, masonry, or glass working guild, whose sphere of knowledge was primarily limited to the methods of their own craft.

Instead, today’s [law firm] leaders must identify and build on a distinct set of capabilities that are core to the entire company’s [firm’s] success—a set of capabilities to which all departments [practice groups] contribute their specialized knowledge. With all functional [practice group] leaders focused on supporting these cross-company [firm] capabilities, the siloed guild mentality fades away. Working together, functional [practice] groups become an elite, multi-faceted cadre of specialists working cohesively to build, refine and extend the three to six key capabilities that provide competitive advantage.

I’ve argued that law firms’ product-centricity is the legacy of 20+ years of a seller’s market, i.e., demand for skilled lawyers exceeding perceived supply (within market tiers, anyway). In the buyer’s market that lawyers face now—and will for the rest of their careers—having a great (legal service) product elicits a “Lucky me; yet another great lawyer at my door” response from buyers.

Industry knowledge is the only glue that can tie together all the legal service product silos with a fabric of relevance. Without it, your legal knowledge lacks context, and you’re asking buyers to bear too high a burden of recognizing your relevance.

Mike O'Horo


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