Teaming As A Business Model

Author Richard Solomon is a conflicts and crisis management lawyer with 50 years of experience in business development, antitrust and franchise law, management counseling and dispute resolution including trials and crisis management.

Much has been written for many decades about the “theory of the firm”. Unfortunately, very little of it is useful today. The “firm”, once a venerable amalgam of the right sort, eventually became the vehicle for the wrong sort, which was then called a syndicate or a conspiracy. Many who would never have been allowed through the door of a “firm” were passing themselves off as a firm, using descriptions that, for reasons of propriety – now called political correctness – will not be elucidated here.

The firm is a snooty euphemism for the “company”. Company is for use by lesser beings who are “in business”, while “firm” is among some still thought of as a group of professionals of this or that discipline. By now you are probably where my own mind is – that this is just so much bullshit. To me the definition and classification of entities may be useful for biologists, but in business and the so called professions it is vestigial uselessness. What one is matters not. How one does, however, is central to the appreciation of success.

The line between professions and businesses is now blurred in so many instances. So many with an education in one discipline now are engaged in other activities.

Why am I interested in this discussion? It interested me many years ago in the context of trying to establish a business in another country, and exactly just how one should approach doing that. I had a good teacher from which I learned that teaming is all about the functional quality of the connection. One does not wander about in a strange land without a guide if one is not very aware of the way life works there.

I didn’t give much thought to teaming for many years until a watershed life experience caused me to re-evaluate what I was doing and to try to reconfigure how I should do it starting again from scratch. Looking at the available resources, I recognized that the Internet had presented me with an astounding opportunity – the virtual firm/company.

By this time I had shared many major projects with law firms all over the US. Every time I called one of them offering to include them in some capacity in a case in which I was lead counsel, I was received with warmest greetings. I never called one looking for anything from them, but I can imagine what that greeting might have been like. Yes, I am a cynic. Lawyers are what lawyers are. Have you ever seen one reach for a bar tab? It occurred to me that the warmth of reception when one is bringing opportunity may be used to create an organization in which one may marshal as much or as little force and resources as may be needed without having to “possess” them on a semi permanent basis. You don’t need a dozen lawyers on your payroll, causing anxiety about what exposure one of them might bring to you through error, and about having to feed them while they essentially work on new business that you alone provide like worker bees. Those who maintained a large inventory of worker bees in suits were always thrilled when some project of mine contributed to their ravenous overhead.

Teaming with others allowed me to do what in another configuration would require me to house and feed several other lawyers plus staff. Teaming removed all these often less useful “assets” from my burden. In theory I could match the resources of any very large law firm without anything more than my own nominal overhead. In practice it worked perfectly for many years (21 to be exact) with nary a glitch. A solo lawyer or a group of but a few, teaming with others, can handle any matter, anywhere, without limitation as to range of competence or licensure. Not only are other law firms readily available to anyone with a sufficiently decent reputation, but financial firms, accountants, experts of any discipline all wait on the vine ripe for harvest as needed.

My teaming model enjoys preferential treatment because I never ask to a referral fee or other consideration. The other team members keep 100 % of their normal revenue stream. Kickbacks and “referral fees” qualitatively lessen the flavor of relationships. Some would say that I am not a very good business person because such commissions are expected. Not demanding compensation serves my interest in top quality and preference. No client of mine will ever hear from any other person that they are paying me for the privilege of working on his case. If that is bad business, so be it. My client gets treated just as they would treat their own client. That is my benchmark. Business teaming involves revenue sharing, but that is another matter.

Done properly, the financial performance of law practice far exceeds the quality of the “law firm”. I don’t have to have three or four people on every phone call so that they can bill 20 minutes. My overhead is 20 % of that of a “normal” firm. Most people who think of leaving a firm they have been with for several years are only looking for another job. The few who are capable of creating their own “firm” should seriously consider the virtual firm. Its operating and financial parameters are compelling. Teaming is perfect for interdisciplinary efforts. We can team with any business model, person, industry, in any country. The right team can manage as well as represent both as counsel and business representative. In our instance, we understand marketing plans, sales programs and budgets, field services needs and methods plus accountancy and accountability.

Every company with sales under $ 100,000,000 should look at teaming as the way to project itself into foreign markets. It is faster and much more economical.

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