What Cardinals’ baseball can teach you about running a law firm

Law firm managementAfter the 2011 season, the St. Louis Cardinals had a big decision to make.  They had to decide whether to sign Albert Pujols to a long-term and expensive contract or ultimately let him walk because: (a) the price was too high when compared to the impact they thought he’d provide for the team based on where he was in his career; and (b) when analyzing the players they couldn’t keep if they allocated all those funds to Pujols.

Many in St. Louis were outraged at the Cardinals for not matching the lucrative offer of the Angels.  The belief of many was that the Cardinals were done.  Without Pujols, many fans literally acted as if they sky was falling.  They believed the Cardinals’ management let the city down.  They didn’t believe management had any clue as to what they were doing.

As some loudly voiced their displeasure, “How could they let a player of that magnitude walk?”  “Didn’t they appreciate what Pujols did?”  “Didn’t they appreciate his hard work and accomplishments?”   Some wondered whether the owners were just “greedy” and protecting themselves at the expense of the fans?  Would the Cardinals ever recover and be a successful franchise again?  To some, they didn’t believe it was possible.  This was the end.  They just let their franchise player go.

Yet, since 2011, the Cardinals have been on a fantastic run without Pujols.  They have been to the World Series and three National League Championships.  Consider as well their record since the departure of Pujols:

  • 2012: 88-74
  • 2013: 97-65
  • 2014: 90-72
  • 2015: 77-43 (as of the date of this blog entry)

The Cardinals have also been able to sign and re-sign a number of players that they likely wouldn’t have been able to sign if they had re-signed Pujols, including Yadier Molina.  Pujols, on the other hand, hasn’t been the same player in Los Angeles as he was in St. Louis.

So, what’s the moral of this story as it relates to law firms?  There are many lessons that law firm owners should take:

First, law firms need to be fiscally responsible, balance their budget and not go into debt in order to keep a star employee that they cannot afford to keep.  While the law firm might well appreciate the past performance of a specific employee, and value what they’ve done, there are some employees a law firm can afford to keep and some employees they simply cannot keep no matter how much they value their past performance.

Second, law firms need to have a deep bench of other employees who are ready to step into leadership positions if and when somebody leaves.  The Cardinals have always done a great job in terms of having players who seem instantly able to step into pressure situations when the time is needed.  In this vein, law firms need to always scout talent well.  While you might have great employees today, you should always be looking to deepen the bench when an excellent candidate arises.  Law firms should also give good employees more and more responsibility as they perform well because nobody ever knows when it might be their time to assume even more responsibility.

Third, while it hurts when you cannot keep an employee or when one decides to leave, the reality of the situation is that life will go on and the firm must move forward.  As the saying goes, we’re all replaceable.  Sure, the law firm appreciates the job that a former employee did and the contribution made.  However, one person leaving does not mean that the law firm cannot continue to thrive without this person.  In some situations, an employee with a different set of traits will arise and actually help move the firm forward in a manner even better than before.  And while many don’t like change, it is simply inevitable like everything in life.

Finally, even when a law firm feels as if they have done everything right and put a good salary and benefit package on the table based on what they can afford (as the Cardinals thought they did with Pujols), some employees are going to leave thinking there are greener pastures.  This is human nature to a great degree.  When this happens, the law firm should simply promote another employee who has worked hard or bring somebody else in and move forward.  The law firm will go on if you are mentally prepared for employees leaving.

If you have any thoughts, feel free to share them below.

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