General business development issues

Okay you can keep the ‘Legal’ tag; but it’s just Project Management!

I’ve been ‘white-boarding’ legal matters since my days helping out on front-end major projects back in 1996; so the concept of ‘mapping out’ how a transaction might progress, what may be ‘in scope’ and ‘out of scope’, the approximate amount of time the transaction may take and how we are going to resource it are not new to me. In more recent times (largely following the GFC in 2008) the legal industry has formalised my approach of ’white-boarding’ matters to become Legal Project Management. 

While I was never really that sure over the years how Legal Project Management differed from the more general Project Management, I have been assured – on numerous occasions – that there is a difference. When asked how, the most common response I received was that:-

  • Legal Project Management is the discipline of project managing ‘tacit knowledge’ – as ‘knowledge workers’, while
  • Project Management is the discipline of project managing tangible products, e.g., the construction of a hospital.

And until the last month or so I thought that was a pretty good answer.

So what changed?

Well, in the last month and a bit I have attended a collective 5 day (2 day and then a 3 day) course on Project Management Fundamentals run by PM-Partners Group here in Sydney.

The two day Fundamentals (essentially, theory) session was outstanding and broken-down into the following nine (9) modules:

  1. What makes projects succeed (and by implication, fail)
  2. The essential project management philosophy
  3. The project life cycle
  4. Project planning – project definition and scoping
  5. Project planning – creating the WBS & schedule
  6. Project planning – estimating
  7. Project risk
  8. Project execution & control
  9. Project closure

In turn, if you were on a course where you learnt all about: 

  • scope creep
  • the difference between what a risk is and what an issue is (hint, one has happened and the other hasn’t)
  • how to do a business case and a project plan
  • the triangle of scope, cost, time and quality
  • the four dependency types [finish-start; start-start; finish-finish; and start-finish], and
  • you get to work on creating a Work Breakdown Structure and Estimating (Optimistic, Pessimistic and Most Likely – also looking at the Cone of Uncertainty)

Wouldn’t you think you had been on one of the best Legal Project Management training courses around?

Well, that’s exactly what the two day PM-Partners run Project Management Fundamentals course taught me and I have walked away from that course thinking to myself that you can keep the classify ‘Legal’, at the end of the day it’s project management and it’s this type of project management we need to get better at.

My biggest take-out though?

Understanding the difference between a risk and an issue, because anyone doing pricing should get their head around this because it really is as important (and probably goes hand-in-hand with) as what happens with scope creep [helpful extra tip: want to understand scope creep, look up what happens with the formula: n (n – 1) /2].

Get in touch if you want to hear/find out more, otherwise get yourself on a really good PM Fundamentals course because I can guarantee it will pay for itself!

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‘Trusted advisor’ status… …the Holy Grail?

Ever since David Maister published ‘The Trusted Advisor‘ in 2001, it has been the daily pursuit of private practice lawyers to demonstrate that they have attained and retain ‘trusted advisor‘ status with their key clients. As is the case with many cliche phrases used or suggested by law firm marketing teams (like, “what keeps you up at night?”) however, I have often wondered – and vocalised – what being a trusted advisor actually means?

Sure there are many consultants who can (suggest) road-map your way to trusted advisor status. There may even be one or two lawyers out there who can articulate what that actually means. But as I have often been heard to say: “how often do you instruct a personal advisor – such as a lawyer, accountant, financial advisor – that you don’t (at least a little), trust?

My guess is that would happen in very few occasions (in my case I needed a plumber at 11pm and didn’t take too long doing reference checks 🙂 ).

But the interesting take is how in-house lawyers view this phenomenon.

And on the note, I was quietly pleased to see the following post by Richard Given – General Counsel and Company Secretary at 10x Banking – on a LinkedIn thread I was involved in last week:

Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 7.00.07 pm

because Richard sums up my exact concerns/thoughts over the past decade and a half whenever the term “trusted advisor” has been thrown about.

Food for thought at least.

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The difference between value and money

Last week (18.5.2018) Seth Godin published a post on ‘The difference between time and money’. In the post, Seth states:

You can’t save up time. You can’t refuse to spend it. You can’t set it aside.

Either you’re spending your time.

Or your time is spending you.

Very profound. Especially if you work in the legal industry.

At roughly the same time (15.5.2018), the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) named its 2018 Value Champions.

One of the quotes – in the accompanying news reports to the announcement – states that, when considering value, the committee/clients give(s) consideration to: “cutting costs, improving predictability of spend, and improving legal and processing outcomes.

For a long time now our industry has used time as a metric of success and tried to equate value with the cost of that time.

What I hope we can take out of these two completely unrelated posts is this:- cost of service may have something to do with how we value something, but more often than not it has nothing to do with it at all.

So if you are looking to be a client-centric value champion ask yourself everyday:-

‘What am I doing to add value to my clients’ businesses?’

Because that’s surely how you will survive moving forward.

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Is the end of the ‘full service’ law firm nigh?

Quoting from a recently published ‘UK Business Legal Services Market’ report, last week (10 April) the Law Society Gazette (England and Wales) published an interesting article re ‘Demand for business law rising but top-200 go niche as competition intensifies’.

The article reports that:

IRN surveyed the websites of the top 200 law firms to guage how many have created vertical sector teams to advise different industries. Thirteen vertical sectors are listed by over 50 firms, led by real estate (101), financial services and insurance (97), and hospitality, leisure and sport (91). Another 10 sectors reach double figures.

Interestingly going on to state that:

Some vertical sectors are already becoming crowded, the report warns, with the next emergent trend a move to more niche expertise. In health, for example, niche specialties include GPs, independent hospitals and social care.

With the likes of Tim Williams having advocated for a number of years that ‘niche expertise’ is one of the principal ways law firms can survive the future, with the publication and public discussion of this report maybe the time has one again come to ask:

  • what do we mean by the term ‘full service’ law firm?, and
  • is there any negativity moving away from this term.

In response to the first point, personally I have never truly understood what law firms were trying to achieve by claiming to be ‘full service’. Indeed, I’m not sure I can cite a single honest example of a big law firm being ‘full service’ (in Australia, most don’t do Wills & Estates and syndicated bank lending under the same roof).

On the support services side, ‘full service’ always seemed to be something Marketing had come up with in the early 2000s to ensure we had ‘cross selling’ collaboration and were not missing out on any opportunity with the rise of Globalisation.

On the lawyer-side, the term ‘full service’ law firm over the last 20 years seems to have meant that the lawyer could put their hand up to do bankruptcy as well as your latest employment contract (especially when there is little incentive within the firm to refer the work to the ‘true’ expert) – i.e., Jack of all trades, Master of none.

In response to the second point, I believe the article itself clearly answers this question – clients would prefer to deal with subject matter experts.

And therein lies the most interesting twist to this issue today:- it has been the case since I first started out in this business over 20 years ago that if you were considered a ’subject matter expert’, you would do well.

So, taking this all on board my take-out from this post is this:-

moving forward, if you want to be taken seriously, stop promotion your firm as ‘full service’ and start promoting both the firm and its lawyers as the subject matter experts.

Because that’s how we survived the future in the past.

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The Three Noble Horsemen of private practice: ‘Finders, Minders and Grinders’

When I first started working in private practice there what were then commonly known as the Three Noble Horsemen of private practice law firms:- The Finders, The Minders and The Grinders.

The Finders‘ were what we today call ‘rainmakers‘. They went to all the conferences. They were members of the most exclusive golf clubs. They spent hours at some of the finest gyms and clubs. Indeed, there isn’t anywhere they wouldn’t go – often at short notice – if they thought their next big deal was there. On the flip-side, they had also forgotten most of the law they studied at university and hadn’t spent a day on the tools in years.

The Minders‘ were charged with looking after the client once the Finders had brought the client in. They were good lawyers and they had some good/great networking skills, but they weren’t very good at sourcing greenfield opportunities. To that end, they went to conferences and played golf so long as their prized client was at the conference or playing golf that day. Today this group are more commonly known as ‘Client Relationship Partners‘.

The Grinders‘ were academically brilliant lawyers who gave spot on advice. They were the product that the Finders could sell and the bedrock that the Minders could rely on. Mostly introverted and shy however, they neither liked the idea of ‘selling’ themselves nor the thought that they would have to network with clients. The just wanted to be on the tools – lawyers as a profession, not a business.

And, in those days, most firms knew, accepted, and encouraged, that if the firm was going to succeed it needed all of these partner skill-sets. To have Finders without Minders and Grinders was a quick route to failure. As was having Grinders, without Minders and Finders.

They were all interwoven.

Introducing the balance scorecard

And then we introduced the ‘balance scorecard’.

Under the balanced scorecard, in order to maximise your revenue (100 point partner), you needed to be a little of everything – but expert at nothing.

Finders needed to do some minding and, heaven forbid, grinding.

Minders now needed to do some finding and grinding.

And, worst of all, those introverted Grinders now needed to do some finding and minding.

Unsurprisingly, after a short period of time, the Grinders were on their way out. It was just too hard for them to find work and even if they did fluke a new matter, they simply couldn’t keep the client past one or two deals. So, on the basis that “if you cannot beat them, join them” many of the Grinders decided to join the growing ranks of in-house counsel.

More surprisingly, the Finders found themselves in a spot of trouble. They were a heavy cost, and under the new performance structure, they weren’t making any money/profit. Sure they may get the odd referral credit, but they weren’t really doing any of the work and so – in truth – anyone could do what they were doing.

Out of all of them, the Minders were doing the best. But without the Finders to help them find the work and the Grinders to actually do the work, the Minders soon become what we like to call ‘entrepreneurial‘ partners.

And so that is where we are today.

But I do miss the days of the Three Noble Horsemen of private practice:- The Finders, The Minders and The Grinders, and I think any firm looking at its 2025 strategy could do a  lot worse than get a hell of a lot better at its finding and grinding, even if that comes at the cost of some minding.

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Is it time for ‘ARMs’ to replace the ‘RFT’ process?

Last Friday, 2 March 2018, Alex Berry, in the UK’s Legalweek, published ‘The end of panels? Barclays adviser shake-up provides vision of RFP-free client relationship‘.

Berry’s article outlines reaction to Barclays Bank’s announced shift away from the traditional [and largely, IME, procurement-driven] panel review process – in that, by the end of this panel term, in 2021, Barclays will not be re-tendering its panel.

The good news for the current private practice client relationship partner(s) – but probably not the many tender writers out there (including me) – is the news that:

“When the latest panel appointments come to an end in 2021, Barclays will fully move over to the new model, with lengthy panel reviews – and the laborious RFPs they entail – becoming a thing of the past.”

Which, begs the question – “What new model?”

The answer according to Berry is something termed:

‘active relationship management’.

Think about that for a second: ‘active relationship management‘ – then ask yourself: “How that differ from BAU (business as usual) in your firm?”.

Berry’s answer:

‘active relationship management’  – “will give the bank more flexibility to manage the size and composition of the panel, with law firms added and removed from the line-up on an ad hoc basis.”

But hang on a second – ‘Isn’t that what the whole RFT process is?’

Isn’t that what we have been talking about for years, vis-a-vis the whole rationalisation of panels?

It would appear not.

In Barclays Bank’s case:-

“Barclays argues that this model will help it to develop deeper relationships with its long-term advisers, while the bank is also looking to increase its use of alternative fee arrangements and move towards the “redundancy” of the hourly rate.”

Really?

Replacing a legal panel with an ARM structure, with no end term, with the aim of helping the client “develop deeper relationships with its long-term advisers”. I’d second that.

But, “the bank is also looking to increase its use of alternative fee arrangements and move towards the “redundancy” of the hourly rate” – sorry, but wrong platform to have a constructive discussion on this issue.

End result:- likely to be a churn a burn until the next RFT.

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How much do you love your client?

I read an article last week in which Jeffrey Cashdan, a partner at King & Spalding, who represents Coca-Cola, is quoted as saying he had banned all [Coca-Cola] competitor drinks from his home.

Think about that for a second…

…banned all competitor drinks from his home!

That’s a hell of a range. And a hell of a commitment, especially if you have children under the age of 20 running around!

So I started to think:- how many of the products in my home belong to my clients?

And I was pleasantly surprised by the answer – a fair few.

But I was also surprised how many competitor brands were in the house.

So I got to thinking, if we expect loyalty from our clients (whether that’s expertise or brand), how many of us out there are willing to go as far as Jeffrey Cashdan, who would appear to walk the walk when he says:

“I’m all-in for my client,”

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