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Can 'Best Practices' Be Bad for Your Law Practice?

By William Vogeler, Esq. on November 16, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Before Copernicus published his book 'On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres,' the scientific community traditionally thought that the Earth was the center of the universe.

That's thousands of years of wrong.

So what does that have to do with "best practices" and law practices? Well, maybe the traditional way of doing things is not exactly right.

"Best Practices Backfire"

Freek Vermeulen, author of Breaking Bad Habits: Defy Industry Norms and Reinvigorate Your Business, says too many companies are holding to traditional best practices. Instead, he says they should test their business practices to see if they hold up.

In his book, he describes how such practices evolve and how they fail. An associate professor of strategy and entreprenuership at the London Business School, he recently talked about it on a Harvard Business Review podcast titled "When 'Best Practices' Backfire."

He said best practices usually come from top performers in an industry. As long as they are successful practices, others follow.

"But it might be that 90 percent of the companies that go out of business did this as well, but those companies we do not pay attention to," he said.

Practice Dilemmas

For example, Vermeulen said book publishers started the practice of taking back unsold books from retailers a century ago. It made sense in the 1930's, when the Great Depression put many out of business.

The industry has changed dramatically since then, but the practice survived. Publishers keep up the tradition even though it is economically risky.

Likewise, law firms have trouble breaking from traditions that make less sense over time. The profession was built on the billable hour, for example, but in a competitive marketplace clients are demanding alternatives.

Lawyers have to consider news ways of looking at such things. After all, we are not the center of the universe.

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