The latest Bellwether report from LexisNexis (The Art of Success: Why Independent Law Firms are Thriving) was published earlier this week.
As always, the Report is an interesting read (and I look forward to the next two publications later this year), but what caught my attention in this particular Report was the following definition of “success“:
Most independent law firms see success as a trinity of three important elements:
the quality of their expertise,
solid commercial logic,
commitment to treating staff and clients with respect.
Going on to say:
Being a ‘good’ lawyer isn’t just about knowing your law or being a skilled craftsman. It’s about understanding how to apply the law to serve your client’s business and personal needs. It’s also about exercising common sense. Having excellent people skills is as important as being commercially savvy.
Hands up, I have to say I wholly agree with all of the above (but I would add a few others).
But, “Most independent law firms see success” – I doubt that’s completely accurate, at least from an Australian law firm perspective.
My experience has been that most Australian law firms, independent or not, see success as a financial metric. And it doesn’t really matter how you reach that financial metric.
But wouldn’t it be a wonderful step in the right direction if we all printed out and used the above definition of success…
Last week I read the following paragraph over on BTI Consulting’s The MadClientist page:
Clients’ overarching needs don’t change every day. But, they do change every 18 to 24 months—like clockwork. The law firms who really want the business will be in dialogue with their clients about their plans for the year, will have in-depth and pointed client feedback, will be planning for the next year with their clients, and hopefully have helped on-board clients’ attorneys over the last 3 years.
and it made me wonder – how many firms looking to acquire (as opposed to just retain) clients have such a forward thinking strategy?
Not many would be my guess.
Casey Sullivan of Bloomberg Law‘s Big Law Business posted an interview transcript with PayPal’s Louise Pentland overnight [Australia time]. Overall this is a pretty good interview transcript, but there was one response in particular that Pentland makes that I wanted to bring to your attention. When asked by the team at BLB:
We’ve seen the general counsel role shift into more of a chief legal officer role that interfaces more seamlessly with the business side. Can you speak to that shift?
As an in-house lawyer, the best you can get is when you’re integrated with the business team and you’re part of the team making it happen.
I think with PayPal, it was different. It was almost like a law firm inside the company. People didn’t go to the business team meetings. They weren’t on the leadership teams. It was a very strange structure in many ways. People weren’t assigned or aligned by business initiatives. It’s a team of 200 people, so it’s not a small team. I immediately aligned people with their primary responsibility, dedicated to their teams and the businesses they supported. It was so welcome; businesses were crying out for it.
It’s easy for lawyers to sit in the background and say, ‘Here’s the risk, you decide.’ Then you think about how to litigate. But that resulted in what was sometimes, in the worst case, people were lawyer-shopping because they didn’t like an answer. There was no accountability.
(my underlining for emphasis)
It’s that last paragraph in particular that really resonated with me, and one which I think private practice lawyers accustomed to providing non-commercial but legally factual advice to clients should take heed of.
As long-term readers of this blog will know, I’m not adverse to looking outside the world of law for ideas on how we might better position ourselves to attract and win new work. These same reader will also likely know that I have a very amateur interest in photography.
Combining these two was an article on diyphotography.net last week (4 April 2017) by Enzo dal Verme titled ‘How to encourage potential clients to work with you’, in which Enzo lays out 11 ways photographers can better market themselves to win work from potential new clients.
I really like Enzo’s suggestions and think that all but one would work well in the business development arsenal of any law firm. For that reason, I thought I give a high-level overview of Enzo’s 11 suggestions here:
- Have something unique to offer.
- Identify your potential clients.
- Be a specialist.
- Double check what you have to offer.
- Make sure you have what it takes to prove that you could really be valuable to them.
- Find a quick and impactful way to get your message across.
- Follow up.
- Be reliable, precise, professional.
- Don’t be pushy!
- Be creative.
- Ideally, you let your clients find you, you don’t go looking for them.
I’ll leave you to guess which one of the 11 items above I don’t agree with. In the meantime, take the time out to read Lenzo’s post in full – I guarantee you you won’t regret it.
Ask nearly every lawyer you know whether or not they are “responsive” and to a T they will say “yes”. Most will likely back this up by saying they respond to emails within 24 hours and phone calls within 3 hours. Great stuff, but very reactive.
But does how a law firm see ‘being responsive’ equate with how in-house lawyers view their law firms ‘being responsive’? More importantly, can a law firm be proactively responsive?
A partial answer to this question was provided by Bupa’s legal chief Penny Dudley in an interview she gave to Legal Week yesterday (4 March 2017) – Bupa legal chief Penny Dudley on stepping up, what she looks for in a law firm and Brexit challenges -when asked the question:
What do you look for in an external adviser?
she replied, in part…
…I am obviously very keen on a firm’s responsiveness; even up to the point of anticipating things for us.
Wait, “anticipating things” for you – that’s not responsive! Or, is it…?
If you’re anything like me, then you’re expected to attend way too many internal meetings each day/week. I don’t say this to brag, most of the time I’m not needed and I offer no value being at the meeting. In these situations my presence at the meeting is actually an “opportunity cost”;- I could be far more productive being somewhere else.
If this resonates with you, then you may like a concept I read in a blog by Michael Mankins (‘Collaboration Overload Is a Symptom of a Deeper Organizational Problem’) on Harvard Business Review yesterday called ‘setting a zero-based time budget‘.
In Mankins’ own words, this involves:
Set a zero-based time budget. One discipline that we have seen work to reduce the number of unnecessary meetings is to create a fixed meeting time bank in which all new meetings are funded out of the current bank. To start, determine the total amount of time currently dedicated to meetings by level in your organization. Then place a ceiling on that total. Now, for every new meeting an executive requests to schedule, ask (or require) him or her to remove some other meeting of equivalent (or greater) time. At the very least, this approach will highlight the total time devoted to meetings in your company. Over time, it may enable your organization to lower the ceiling and liberate countless hours of unproductive time.
Administrative nightmare and probably unworkable in a partnership structure – but I LOVE the idea!
I can but dream…
Earlier today Kiron D. Bondale posted ‘Avoid Gold-plating Through Agile Delivery‘ on the PM Hut site.
There’s a lot to like about Kiron’s post, and many things in it really resonated with me from a business development perspective, but what I really want to share with you though is this brilliant piece of commentary by Kiron:
“As it is with jewelry, on projects gold-plating is all form with no substance. The increase in costs is rarely justified by the value provided by superficial “bling”.
It could be an analyst adding in requirements which they came up with on their own without ensuring that those are actually required, a developer who introduces a code change or feature they believe is useful without checking with others or a quality control specialist who decides to test above and beyond approved test plans.
Don’t get me wrong – the intentions are usually good and I’ve yet to encounter an instance of gold-plating which was done maliciously. But it doesn’t matter – gold-plating is work creep.”
and ask: “Does any of this sound familiar to you?”
Because I’m guessing that if you are being honest with yourself, it does. And trust me, there’s no quicker death nail in a client relationship than scope creep.