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Jeff Bezos has many powerful mantras for his business, but this is one of my favorites: It’s always “Day 1” at Amazon.
What he means is that Amazon will never stop being a startup. It’s a message Bezos drilled down on in a recent letter to shareholders (written from a building he works in named “Day 1”), in which he wrote:
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
Bezos and Amazon are famous for focusing on long-term strategies and objectives rather than short-term gain. This mindset is particularly rare in the world of high-beta, venture-backed companies that often prioritize short-term gains over long-term growth. And for quite a while, it’s what frustrated Wall Street. Those concerns have, of course, been allayed as Amazon continues its march toward becoming the world’s most valuable company.
Amazon’s Day 1 mindset is not just a catchy mission statement that gets hung in the conference rooms and pinned to employees’ cubicle walls. It’s baked into Amazon’s culture and manifested through the company’s intense focus on, as Bezos puts it, the “things that will always matter” to customers. For Amazon, those things include selection, price and speed of delivery.
The point is that Amazon doesn’t get distracted and derailed by what’s shiny and new in the marketplace. It doesn’t shift gears on a whim. It moves quickly, but remains focused on its core principles. And it does so with the vitality and urgency of a Day 1 startup.
Law firms would do well to heed Bezos’ call to stay focused on things that “will always matter” to clients. It’s not that innovation isn’t important — it’s vital. But innovation must happen in alignment with, and not at the expense of, what clients consistently value.
Here are a couple of ideas, based on Amazon’s experience, that can help law firms adopt a Day 1 mindset.
Always be client focused. As law firms grow (or in Bezos’ parlance, as they become Day 2 firms), they have a tendency to shift their focus inward, rather than remaining outwardly focused on clients. They begin to obsess more about internal processes than they do about client outcomes. And by “outcomes” I don’t mean a successful verdict, settlement or transaction. Clients can lose a case due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control, but still feel well cared for and satisfied through every step of the engagement.
It’s easy to lose sight of what matters to clients. The firm is often the last to know when a client is unhappy. Even in the face of an objectively successful result, a client can walk away dissatisfied because of poor communication, or a fee that doesn’t reflect the value provided. The client is unhappy and the law firm is confused. That’s because clients are rarely asked what matters to them.
This situation is not unique to the legal industry. As Bezos has said, “Customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great.” And even if you do ask, clients may not tell you. But know this — they always want more.
For example, in his shareholder letter, Bezos wrote, “No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.”
Client obsession starts at the top. The competitive landscape is constantly shifting underfoot, so law firm leaders must build client-first cultures. According to Bezos: “Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.”
What do your clients want, even though they’re not telling you that they want it? The only way to know is to focus obsessively on something that will always matter, and that is driving a client-first mindset throughout every nook, cranny and crevice of your firm.
Peer outside your four corners. From technology, to lean project management principles, to creative pricing strategies, the legal industry almost always lags behind others when it comes to innovation. Successful Day 1 startup companies, on the other hand, are innovation machines that adopt, test and pivot quickly. “Day 1” law firms must do the same.
As Bezos explained, “The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.”
Unfortunately, there are many headwinds that push law firms into Day 2. Conservative cultures, industry norms and decisions by committees make innovation difficult. To find ways to push past these boundaries, peer outside the walls and study the best practices of industries inhabited by Day 1 companies such as Amazon — and then go one step further.
Study is important, but action is paramount. It’s not that law firms lack ideas — after all, the industry is full of smart, creative and accomplished people. It’s that law firms often lack the discipline or leadership to put those ideas into action.
Again, that’s a problem that’s not unique to the legal profession.
To overcome the inertia at Amazon, Bezos implemented a process called “disagree and commit.” It’s based on the idea that not everyone in an organization will agree with a decision, but once a decision is made everyone must rally behind it. No sabotaging, second-guessing or recriminations. All oars pulling in the same direction.
Want to become a Day 1 law firm? Decide. Then commit.
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