How to spot a bad client and knowing when you should fire them

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I’ve long been a fan of Ron Baker’s ‘Baker’s Law: Bad Customers Drive Out Good Customers’. His comment that:

By viewing your firm as an airplane with a fixed amount of seats, you will begin to adapt your capacity to those customers who appreciate—and are willing to pay for—your value proposition.

is spot on.

But it really wasn’t until last week, when I read an article in smallbiztrends.com, that I’d come across a comprehensive checklist of ways to identify those bad customers from the good ones.

The article –  ‘How to Spot Bad Customers – and How to Deal with Them’ – sets out ’10 Ways to Identify a Bad Customer’. They’re great and should be pinned on every lawyers homepage:

  1. They Don’t Pay On-Time (Or Ever)
  2. They Don’t Pay Enough (Or Don’t Want To Pay)
  3. They Have Unclear or Changing Demands
  4. They Want ALL the Attention
  5. They Aren’t Available
  6. They Aren’t Honest
  7. They are Abusive or Threaten Your Staff
  8. They Make Unreasonable Demands
  9. They Complain to Anyone Who Will Listen
  10. They Don’t Listen to You

How many of us can identify with most, if not all of these!?!?

It’s a great post. As is Baker’s. Read them (while noting that there is a 13 year gap between the two posts and not a lot has changed!)!

As always though, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.

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It doesn’t pay to be a loyal customer

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The Chanticleer column in this weekend’s Australian Financial Review is titled ‘It doesn’t pay to be a loyal customer’. The article is a post-Hayne, post several reductions in interest rates, look at bank mortgage rates and analysis undertaken by Matthew Wilson at Evans & Partners that suggests:

“In Australia, the banks enjoy a profit benefit of about $3 billion a year from exploiting the difference in mortgage rates between existing and new customers”.

I’m not going to comment on whether or not that statement is correct/true (although a hunch would suggest it is), but it did make me think that in the professional services (read ‘legal’) sector it absolutely holds true that it doesn’t pay to be a loyal customer/client.

What do I mean by this?

Well when pricing services to new customers/clients – especially in tender situations, law firms are far more willing to:

  • Buy the work to cement the relationship
  • Offer volume discounts
  • Deeply discount on rack-rates
  • Agree to discounted fixed fee arrangements
  • Agree to risk-sharing arrangements

Indeed, more often than not the average billing rate (ABR) and the average realisation rate of a long-term customer/client will be higher than a new client, while lock-up days will be lower.

As Chanticleer says, it really doesn’t pay to be a loyal customer these days!

As always though, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.

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Stress in legal affects more than just lawyers

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I want to start this post by acknowledging how far the discussion around mental health and wellbeing has moved within the Australia legal industry since the death of Tristan Jespon in October 2004. In part I put the moving of this needle down to the work of my good friend Justin Whealing while he was editor of Lawyers Weekly and in part I put this down to the continued work of Jerome Doraisamy, also of Lawyers Weekly and Minds Count (the new name for The Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation). Don’t get me wrong though, there are many many others who have played both active front-line and support roles in ensuring the issue of mental health and wellbeing is taken more seriously in our profession (see RUOKAY Day for example).

That said, while I think all of these initiatives and discussions are fantastic and are standouts that should make us extremely proud of the direction the industry is taking in Australia, almost every single conversation that I have been involved in on this issue has related to the mental health and wellbeing of lawyers – and, more specifically, junior lawyers. So it was great to see a report published earlier this month by fSquared Marketing on the issue of ‘Legal Marketing Mental Wellness’.

The subtitle of this report – ‘Stress in legal affects more than just lawyers’ – sets out the parameters of the journey the reader is about to undertake. And if you are left in any doubt about this, one of the first paragraphs of the Report cuts to the rub of the issue and totally grabs your attention and is also so very true.

It reads:

What about the legal marketing and business development professionals who are tasked with growing firms how is their mental health? They work in the same high-pressure environment as attorneys after all, and often under their direct management. Might the traditional pyramid structure, with equity partners at the peak, lead to stress cascading down the hierarchy to fall on the shoulders of the marketing and BD staff?

As someone who has worked on the front-line for over a decade my response is – ABSOLUTELY!

Taking a look at some of the responses I was particularly saddened, although not overly surprised, by these two graphs:

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both of which were followed up by:

  • When reflecting on their own experiences, 83% of respondents listed their level of stress as at least a 7 on a scale of 1-10. No respondents reported feeling “very little to no stress”.
  • 71% of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I have too much work assigned to me.”
  • 76% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “There is a lack of resources in my department/assigned to marketing.”

And the following two highlighted comments made me sad that I personally am not delivering on my duty to my team and that the industry more generally really needs to address this issue:

“Much of the stress would be alleviated with stronger leadership from firm management, as well as from growing the marketing/business development team.”

“It is unfortunate that law firms segregate mental health awareness between lawyers and non-lawyers. Somehow they feel that staff (with whom they work directly) do not suffer from the same level of stress that the lawyers do.”

As damning as that last statement is – and never underestimate how damning it is, I want to end this post on a positive note, and that is this:

62% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “My team’s ‘wins’ in marketing are celebrated”.

I certainly hope my wonderful team think so!

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*if you are having issues in this area, no matter what firm you are from, never feel shy to reach out. I don’t promise to have the answer (frankly I won’t), but I will try and help you find that answer.

Report: Eight of the biggest challenges law firms associate with rates and pricing

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After a great holiday enjoying the Northern Hemisphere summer – and thereby avoiding some of the cold winter of Sydney – I returned last week to a read about law firm rates and pricing that really caught my attention, the ‘LawVision & Peer Monitor Pricing Survey: The Growing Prominence of Pricing within Law Firms‘.

Predominately North American based, it’s nonetheless an interesting read – with some contentious stuff (see the ‘LawVision Maturity Curve’ for example) – for anyone even remotely interested in following the current trends and traits affecting law firm pricing issues. But what particularly grabbed my attention in this Report was the ‘8 biggest challenges law firms associate with rates and pricing’ (Figure 3):

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And what really, really fascinated me about this list is how few of them actually have anything to do with either rates (if that’s the way you want to do things) or pricing.

As you can see from the list, in desending order they are:

  1. Managing cash leaks across the entire rates lifecycle (discounts, write­downs, write­offs, collections)my comment: neither a rates issue  nor a pricing issue, but a behavioural issue
  2. Educating the lawyers in the firm on pricing principlesmy comment: neither a rates issue  nor a pricing issue, but a training issue
  3. Managing rate discounts requested by clientsmy comment: neither a rates issue  nor a pricing issue, but a behavioural issue (and are we seriously still having this conversation!)
  4. Negotiating with clients about the firm’s value and rate/pricing alignment
  5. Putting in place a disciplined pricing processmy comment: neither a rates issue  nor a pricing issue, but a training issue
  6. Managing profitability – my comment: neither a rates issue  nor a pricing issue, but an accounting issue
  7. Developing alternative fees
  8. Pitching for work generally or through the RFP process – my comment: can someone please let me know what this has to do with either rates or pricing!

Which leaves us with:

  • Negotiating with clients about the firm’s value and rate/pricing alignment, and
  • Developing alternative fees

Both of which, depending where in the buying cycle these conversations are taking place with your customer, could actually have something to do with a rates and pricing discussion.

But seriously, Challenges 4 & 7 of 8, and we wonder why law firms struggle with the concept of pricing and the disconnect between firm and customer.

And if we are really being honest and true to our clients, then even inward looking the #1 issue should not be ‘Managing cash leaks across the entire rates lifecycle (discounts, write¬downs, write-offs, collections)‘ but should rather be: ‘How are we rewarding and incentivising in our staff?‘ – because if the answer to that is ‘utilisation‘, then everything above is relatively meaningless.

As always though, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.

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Game: ‘Questions to ask your deal team about why your customer is happy to pay your fee?’

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Came across the bones of a really interesting game you can play with your deal team at your next after action deal debrief/lessons learnt meeting.
Handout a piece of paper to each of your deal team members and ask them to rank, in order of priority, the top 5 reasons – from the following list – why the customer is happy to pay your fees in full (no discounts/write-offs, etc allowed):
  1. Demonstrated an understanding of the customer’s business/industry throughout the deal
  2. Demonstrated an understanding of relevant law
  3. Responsiveness to customer’s requests – phone/email/meetings
  4. Built good rapport and a trusting relationship during the deal (was in the trenches with the customer)
  5. Used expertise to help save the customer money (either on the deal or fees)
  6. Used Legal Project Management techniques to stay within the deal scope and didn’t allow scope creep without first taking to the customers
  7. Used technology, AI, Legal Process Outsourcing and value adds to make the customer’s life easier during the deal
  8. Offered the customer a great discount
  9. Hourly rate was attractive to the customer
  10. Any other reason(s)

Remember, they can only pick 5. And they need to be in order of priority.

I would love to hear feedback on which five were the most popular chosen.

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Thinking of starting a podcast?

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Over the past week I’ve had three different people inform me that they were starting podcasts and ask me if I would be willing to be interviewed. Honoured as I am by such requests, I did also wonder why such interest in me and podcasts more broadly?

In mulling this over I recalled a recent podcast (5 June 2019, Podcast #227) between Sam Glover and Bob Ambrogi on ‘The State of Legal Blogging & Podcasting‘ on the Lawyerist podcast.  Listening to this again today it struck me how many great tips these two give out (for free) to anyone looking to start a podcast; some of which are (fast forward to 29 minutes into Sam’s talk to really get the best out of these):

  • are podcast a fad or here to stay?
  • has the revenue model for podcasts been worked out?
  • have we really thought through the market penetration issue (more people don’t listen to podcasts than do)?
  • is there too much content already out there? if there is, what are you doing to be a little bit different?
  • how often should you be producing material – daily, weekly, monthly?
  • should you be framing your podcast with music at the start and end?
  • what equipment should you be using?

Taking all that on board and still want to produce a podcast? Then these are three things that Sam and Bob say in their podcast that should also be considered:

  1. it’s more work than you think it is going to be
  2. it’s really tough to build a subscriber base
  3. the right people over lots of people (love this saying)

On that last point, independent of Sam and Bob’s chat, I also heard this week that the average podcast lasts 7 issues.

To help you overcome this, Bob makes a brilliant suggestion in the podcast – if you are attending a conference take your recording equipment with you. And someone who does that really, really well is Ari Kaplan.

I hope you enjoy all the links. Listen to them – they are great (and free!); and, as always, love to hear your thoughts/views/feedback.

Does your firm include client feedback sessions as part of its client agreement?

80% of firms believe they provide a great client experience. Only 8% of clients believe the experience is great.

In last week’s PSM podcast David Lecours (from whom the title this post is taken) and Josh Miles have a great chat about the issue of ‘Client Feedback’.
It’s a brilliant 28 minute chat – with loads of insight and tips and my 5 big take-outs were (in no particular order):
  1. does your firm include client feedback interviews/sessions as part of its engagement letters? – if not, how serious is your firm about this?
  2. clients who rate you between 2 and 3 (out of 5) are the ones you need to speak to the most because they’re the ones who will give you the most honest feedback.
  3. never forget to ask the interviewee: what service do you wish we could offer you that we’re not currently offering you?’, and
  4. what didn’t I ask you today that you’ve been dying for me to ask you?
So that’s 4, where’s number 5?
This comment by Josh Miles:
“even if a client is not having the best experience, just the fact that they have been asked at this point sometimes the flattery or the thought of that makes them develop a little more affinity towards the firm just by virtue of having been identified as someone that their feedback matters.”
Go over and spend 28 minutes of your life listening to a great chat on the most important part of our business – our clients!
As always though, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.