What can a corporate legal department or a law firm learn from this crazy company?

How are we connecting the Zappos story & the Legal Industry?

I have become an Audible junkie 12 months ago, Amazon’s audio book company and app. I have taken my paper book vice and turned it into a habitual use of ear and mind candy. My non social behavior is now eclipsed with headphones. My library contains nearly 40 books already, and I have listened to over half of them this year. My most recent book, Delivering Happiness, is the truly heroic and transparent story of Zappos and CEO Tony Hsieh‘s leadership.
As I watch the legal industry experience their most historical moments in the past century, I cannot help but wonder what drives law firms these days. From being an American Lawyer or National Law Journal reader, it appears that for some law firms profits per partner, personal gain or ego is what propels a law firm forward. Other firms are driven by client demand and direction.

What if a law firm was driven by a purpose and core values like Zappos?

I am inspired by Tony Hseih’s leadership at Zappos where a corporate culture of core values created a truly thriving organization. Back in 2003, Tony decided to make Zappos’ central focus “the Customer” and deliver a Wow customer service experience. Though they had a $1 billion goal by 2010, their decisions were not governed by personal gain or purely boosting profitability but rather based on a set of core values and their unique culture. They reached their financial 2 years early but they base every decision made on their core values or protecting their core values.
What is Zappos core values?
1. Deliver through Wow Service
2. Embrace and Drive Change
3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
4. Be Adventurous, Creative and Open-Minded
5. Pursue Growth and Learning
6. Build Open and Honest Relationships with Communication
7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
8. Do More with Less
9. Be Passionate and Determined
10. Be Humble
These statements may seem casual, but during my time listening to this story and book they mean real business to Zappos. This company hires and fires according to them. They incorporate these values in every aspect of their culture. Their intent is for Zappos to be family. To exceed the customer’s expectations, they daily exercise these values. The humility that comes from their C-suite is impressive. Their genuineness and determination to make the customer first over short-term profit upset their investors and board some much that they in essence bought them out (more like they joined Amazon.com). Amazon.com’s exchange of stock transaction did more than simply create shared values and greatly enhanced Zappos technology.
Because of these values and to make customers first, it has led them to be a leader in the retail industry and a force for change. Change meaning in relationship to, of course, the customer but also the vendor and employee.
Some examples of change:

  • Call Center Perspective. Call centers and their employees were usually under paid and under budgeted because customer service was not considered their top priority. Zappos decided to reverse this. They made their call center their top priority. Their goals was making customers happy and wow’ed. Instead of measuring minimized call times for efficiency, Zappos instead gave kudos to their call center team for establishing relationship and making people “feel” good.
  • Customer Service accessible. Most retail companies made it almost impossible for their customers to contact them or at least find their customer service page. Usually customers find the page it only provides a web form to submit an e-mail. If there is a phone number, there are dozens of hoops or automation to reach a living person. Zappos eliminated the difficult and placed their phone front and center. They encouraged if not urged their customers to give them a call. And people were wowed.
  • Vendor relationships. The retailer – vendor relationships are noted with win – lose arrangements and bitter negotiations. By vendors, I mean fulfillment and manufacturing. For Zappos though, they wanted to change that and treat their vendors with such love, genuine appreciation and favorable negotiations. They have been known to throw impressive and true to their core values – Vendor Parties. To say they have changed the Retails Industry’s perspective regarding vendors is an understatement.
  • Employee Happiness – For Zappos, their strategy and focus is longterm. Their customer first approach with their values allows them to create their Pipeline. By pipeline, this means their ability to recruit a steady supply of potential employees. Pipeline for most professionals refer to potential revenue yet Zappos refers to the future supply of fantastic employees as important. For these candidates they have a several year training process which includes a university like approach to instilling their values and approach to business. Employees are empowered to make decisions based on the core values. They also decide what happiness means to themself. If they want to make more money they can grow and master 20 skill sets. These skills are required at certain levels of responsibility and pay within Zappos.

Ultimately, Zappos is after a legacy of happiness and creating a force of change among corporate culture.
Consider their Happiness Movement website.
Also consider another article on law firm culture and its impact on their brand.
What can a law firm learn from a company like Zappos?

  1. You do not have to be like all the rest. You can create what you want and have a higher purpose than personal gain.
  2. There is a wonderful invitation to re-evaluate how legal services and all the associated relationships are viewed.
  3. A law firm can be a happy place.

If I may there’s one law firm I have found to be different than all the rest. (I was not paid to say these things by the way.)
JonesDay is truly a unique law firm among all other AML100 and AML200 law firms. They are one firm. They are not a combination of loosely held affiliated law firms called a swiss verein. They truly have every office and practice group integrated globally. Attorneys at JonesDay work in markets and with practice group team members all over the world. You will find they have one focus: Their clients. They have one budget and its the firm’s. They are focused on one thing: Delivering top talent and service for their clients needs. They are managed by business leaders rather than a meritocracy. They are collegial; meaning they care for one another and do not simply lay off for PPP leverage. They are one partnership. They are a team and are required to work as a team.Silos do not exist at JonesDay nor do Eat-What-You-Kill-Sharp-Elbows. JonesDay do not shop for books of business. They look for the best talent for their clients. Their compensation system is closed and their avoid much of the political strife that many law firms suffer. Their associates are paid market or higher. Their partners only leave when greener grass EWYK law firm pulls them because it fits more of their personality and values.
I would say this. JonesDay is the closest law firm I know emulating a Zappos like approach to business.
Another law firm written about recently was Duval & Stachenfeld by Bruce Stachenfeld and his article on Above the Law “Reinventing the Law Business: A ‘Profits Per Partner’ Emanicpation Plan.
I appreciate his core mission “attract, train and retain talent” to keep a strong talented team of real estate lawyers in Manhattan. He addresses several points plaguing law firms: PPP metric manipulation, lateral movement, and corporate culture messaging.


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