Harness Dickey CEO Raymond Millien spoke to Ari Kaplan, founder of Ari Kaplan Advisors and host of the Reinventing Professionals podcast, about law firm leadership and how to add more value to clients in the COVID era.
Ari Kaplan: Tell us about your background and your new role at Harness Dickey.
Ray Millien: I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and my parents are from Haiti. I went to Columbia for engineering, majored in computer science, and started my career programming for General Electric in their aerospace division. After coding for 10 hours a day on a government project, I decided to listen to the nuns—I went to 12 years of Catholic school—who always told me that since I liked to argue, that I should become a lawyer. I went to GW Law School, and the rest is history. After working in private practice and in-house, I now find myself in suburban Detroit as the CEO of a 100-year-old IP boutique.
Ari Kaplan: In what ways can outside counsel provide more value to their in-house colleagues?
Ray Millien: Outside counsel can provide more value since they traditionally operate in firefighter mode. If a client has a problem, they call outside counsel in order to solve the problem and put out the fire. Once the fire is out, however, outside counsel turns the truck around and heads back to the fire station. Today, in order to add more value, lawyers need to go from being firefighters to being fire wardens. Outside counsel has to work with clients on how to prevent those fires and figure out what infrastructure, information and data analysis can be put into place to avoid them. That’s how lawyers can provide more value—not just by providing discrete legal services to put out fires but by guiding in-house colleagues to prevent the fires from happening beforehand and helping those clients grow financially.
Ari Kaplan: Are there elements of leadership required to drive change in law firms today that were not necessary when you were practicing at a law firm?
Ray Millien: Definitely. Technology and mental health. First, as a result of our remote environment, personnel expect more value from leadership, which not only involves leading people but also making sure that they have the necessary tools, resources, data and information to make their jobs easier. Second, because we’re in a remote environment, leaders have to be more aware of the mental health of their employees. At the end of day, you don’t lead an organization, you lead people, and it is critical to make them feel that they’re doing a job that’s needed, which makes them feel wanted and appreciated. Leaders must create a good mental space for them to work.