Peter Lando, Partner, Lando & Anastasi, LLP
Could you please share a bit about yourself, your background, and the journey that has led you to become an entrepreneur? What makes your perspective unique on the subject of leadership and navigating uncertainty?
I am an intellectual property lawyer, practicing for more than 30 years. I began my career as a chemical engineer for a large international chemical manufacturing company, went to school for an MBA, and then earned my JD. I soon realized that the disciplines that piqued my interest early on – technology, business, and law – intersect within the realm of intellectual property, and that led me to where I am today.
My background enables me to do what I enjoy most as an IP attorney – to not only understand the underlying technology behind an innovation, but also to have an understanding of the context for it. In addition, I have an appreciation for and how these innovations might be used to advance the business of my clients and, hopefully, to improve local communities and make the world a better place. Our law firm, Lando & Anastasi LLP, is an entrepreneurial firm that has grown from the mere notion that the practice of law itself could be improved, into a multi-million-dollar business. We have adopted an approach to the practice of law that allows our team the flexibility to not only hone and excel at their legal skills, but also to develop as well-rounded people. This helps to keep our team fresh and able to really prioritize and partner with our clients, instead of just thinking about the time clock during their interactions. We help our clients achieve their business objectives by providing innovative solutions for protecting, monetizing, and expanding upon their intellectual property assets.
By design, we have adhered to a clear set of principles: placing our clients’ business goals at the forefront; focusing on technologies that drive innovation and growth; and collaborating across practices to produce creative approaches to complex IP issues. We opened our firm 20 years ago, as the country was just beginning to emerge out of widespread economic anxiety. Managing our growth for more than 20 years, through diverse economic cycles and a pandemic, all while maintaining our core values, has been challenging at times. We continually seek new and creative ways to “manage our firm forward,” to avoid becoming like the law firms we left to form our own. One way we do this, for example, is to encourage all partners to take active roles in running the business side of the firm. While this is not necessarily how law firms operate conventionally, I am proud that my colleagues and I have established this tradition at L&A.
You and your business have presumably faced some interesting challenges and changes over the years. Can you describe a key moment when you felt uncertainty was at its peak?
Looking back over the past 20 years, three distinct periods come to mind as providing interesting challenges: the firm’s opening in 2003; the financial crisis of 2007-08; and, of course, the recent Covid pandemic. Each brought unique challenges to the firm during its time: starting a new model for a law firm that ran counter to the accepted approach brought some uncertainty that clients would follow and grow with us; the deep recession hurt many of our clients and the markets they compete in, and the anxiety that followed led to some uncertainly regarding an expected recovery; and the recent public health crisis led to an even deeper economic uncertainty that resulted in many business closures, and law firms were no different. In fact, several firms chose to implement pay cuts, furloughs, and staff reductions during the pandemic, but we are quite proud that L&A did not do so. We were quick to recognize that this would add another layer of stress to that which our employees were already experiencing at that time. In each situation we maintained open and consistent communication with all of our constituencies, both inside and outside of the firm. This required listening to the feedback we received, providing regular updates and announcements to clients and employees, and most importantly, ensuring that our communications were delivered with empathy.
We have always strived to recognize the holistic value of all of our contributors – not just their financial contributions based on hours billed and fees received -- but also the experience, judgment, skills, and knowledge they provide to our team and our clients. Not only throughout the pandemic, but through all of these challenges, and others, we have reaffirmed our commitment to retaining all of our employees, as we are keenly aware of how our business decisions affect our colleagues – particularly those with families to support. In essence, we always endeavor to recognize the dignity of our team and those we serve. We value their efforts and strive to create a culture of respect for one another, a shared vision of excellence, and an appreciation for the work we do and for whom we do it.
From your experience, what are the core principles or values that guide a leader during uncertain times?
There are several key attributes that I believe have guided my journey in leadership: vision, and the ability to communicate that vision in such a way that you become able to meet people where they are; strong integrity and the ability to maintain it consistently, which is necessary to be able to lead others; effective communication skills to articulate your message clearly and to inspire and encourage others; adaptability and resilience, because leaders can learn from prior experiences (and, through self-reflection, grow past failure and improve); humility to recognize that you did not get here only through your own efforts – there was help along the way, and it is your calling to help those in every corner of the organization to grow; and, of course, empathy, to understand others and their needs (particularly in challenging times), before wanting to be understood by them.
Starting with and sharing a vision that is principled and well understood, and being able to communicate that vision to others – while remaining flexible and open to input – have helped us to make critical decisions over the years. We have been resilient through challenging times when clients have been acquired, colleagues have moved away, and more broadly through economic swings and social unrest. Of those listed above, I personally have found empathy to be one of the most important attributes -- missing among most lawyers, by the way. Practicing empathy helps me to “sit in the chairs” of whomever I am communicating with, and to actively listen to and share their story, their hopes and their goals.
How do you cultivate a culture of resilience and adaptability within your team? Can you share a practical example where this culture made a significant difference?
I think a culture of resilience and adaptability (and other important principles) can be created by consistent leadership, by doing what you ask of others, and by staying in touch with your colleagues, on not only professional, but personal levels, too. Being genuine and showing that you care are key.
Many aspiring leaders struggle with the fear of failure, especially when the path ahead is unclear. What strategies or mental frameworks have you developed to overcome this fear and embrace uncertainty as an opportunity?
I am less concerned with fear of failure at this point in my career. I have come to truly recognize that much of what we worry about is false – it’s never quite as bad (or as good) as we believe. I can also attest that uncertainty can bring with it opportunities, especially if, like the pandemic, others are experiencing the same uncertainty. More generally, if your vision is sound and you have experienced success on some levels, then you can overcome whatever obstacles appear. For example, the uncertainty brought by the post-pandemic workplace and the necessary technological adaptations that we have invested in, have opened up opportunities for us to hire from expanded talent pools, including employees from other states and those who prefer a remote work model.
In your opinion, what are the most common mistakes leaders make during uncertain times? Can you offer a real-life example where recognizing and avoiding such a mistake led to success?
In uncertain times I have observed over-reaction by leaders in our field. Some law firms, particularly larger firms, overreact and follow one another in responding to the market, such as with increases in staff and associate salaries and billing rates. During economic dips they also follow each other, with deferred partner pay, cutting expenses, and head count. These decisions are oftentimes short-sighted and negatively impact individuals and families. I have seen this cycle play out many times over the years and it was particularly noticeable during the periods that I referenced earlier. By staying the course with a longer view, and truly recognizing the value of all contributors, we have been able to hire and retain talent even during periods of economic downturns and other challenging times.
Looking towards the future, how do you plan to continue evolving your leadership style to meet new uncertainties and challenges? What advice would you give to others looking to do the same?
Looking forward, my hope is to share leadership roles with more partners, to expand upon our vision, and to grow a next generation of leaders that recognize our obligations to our clients and each other. We will always appreciate what we do and for whom we do it, but it is the confidence that clients place in us, and the role we play in the creative process that builds upon and protects ideas and innovations, establishes businesses and contributes meaningfully to the economy and to sustaining our employees and their families. There will always be new uncertainties and challenges, and as we encounter them it will always be important to be consistent, recognize the power of community, and to be authentic and reassuring with each other.
You've clearly demonstrated a willingness to learn and grow through experience. Are there any books, mentors, or resources that have particularly influenced your leadership style? How would you recommend others to approach their leadership development journey?
Of course, there are several books, mentors, and resources that have influenced me over the years – too many to reference here, but one is The Art of Possibility, by Roz and Ben Zander. This book affirmed in me a sense that our vision for what a law firm could be was possible!
I would recommend others, particularly those in a service industry, to read and remember Tolstoy’s short story The Three Questions, which are: what is the most important time; who is the most important person; and what is the most important thing to do. These questions (and the answers) are a great start toward developing a leadership style that can navigate well through the obstacles of uncertainty.