As appeared on LinkedIn on May 2, 2023. In December, Southwest Airlines canceled 60% of its flights in two days, leading to one of the most costly episodes in airline history.
Southwest had one particular vulnerability that other businesses, like law firms, face every day. They had outdated internal systems. In Southwest’s case, they needed updated software to help schedule flight crews.
I’m not a technology expert, but this felt like an allegory for me on many levels.
Why is Southwest’s problem a lesson for law firms?
1. Law firms generally don’t lead the charge in investing in “unseen” technology. Programs such as ERMs and CRMs are vital to the operations of marketing and other business departments but are rarely seen first-hand by clients.
The ol’ CRM system that only has 40% of the firm’s contacts is “good enough” for now, even though potential business leaks through the cracks daily.
2. Law firms often don’t have plans in place for significant crises because, again, these are unseen problems.
It’s the rusty sump pump problem. Why buy a new one if the old one isn’t quite yet broken? After all, no one will see it. Those who endure flooding (count me in for Hurricane Ida) know its importance, but we only learn it after a disaster.
3. We know that partners will leave law firms and marketers will switch jobs, but do we invest in serious succession and training programs for the next generations? While it doesn’t seem like a current problem, it is a tomorrow one. With an uptick in lateral moves this year, according to ALM‘s annual laterals report, we’ve seen more partners leaving. Is the only option to replace them with even more laterals versus growing a new generation within the firm?
So what can we do?
✏ Look at your processes and find the problems and the fault lines. Fix those issues by implementing better systems and procedures.
✏ Invest in your systems, whether marketing, finance, or human resources. Even if your clients may never see the inner workings of these areas, they are impacted. Having suitable systems in place leads to saving time and money, and avoiding potential crises. Get advice from your CMO CIO, and CFO, and listen closely.
✏ Do tabletop crisis exercises. Think about what-ifs before they become what happened. Even if you don’t plan to master everything that can go wrong, you can get important essentials in place.
✏ Train, train and train. It will help with retention, morale and growing the skill set of your future professionals. Support those in your firm who are active members and take advantage of learning in their professional organizations.
The lesson for me is to think about what doesn’t work well, and fix it…and if you are in a flood zone, always have a working sump pump.