in-house counsel

#BizDevTip: Always be thinking of ways you can improve how you communicate with your client

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Research shows us that (aside from technical expertise) timely, responsive communications are high up on the list of things clients are looking for from their lawyers. This begs the question: how well do you communicate  with your clients, and what could you be doing to improve the experience?

For example:

  • when a client calls do you answer straight away? If not, do you call them as soon as you can after you are free?
  • when you get an email from your client, how long does it take you to respond? Do you ever respond to tell them you have received the email and are looking into the issue?
  • do you send tip-bits of information you read to clients if you think it might interest them (Saw This And Thought Of You)?
  • do you call your clients on a Friday afternoon to ask them how their week was and what they’ll be doing for the weekend?
  • do you ever tell your clients how they can contact you during holiday season?
  • does your client know your mobile phone number?
  • do you schedule regular meetings with your clients to talk through their work-flow issues and how you might be able to improve your timely and responsive communications with them?

Always remember, you have two ears and one mouth: by listening to your clients you are far more likely to hear their needs and concerns than if you do all the talking.

#BizDevTip: Segment your contacts list to gain greater business development traction

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Two things are pretty certain when dealing with Australian lawyers: First, they only have a ‘master’ CV (rarely tailored for the occasion); and second, they usually only have one contact database.

If this sounds familiar don’t fret, the answer is as simple as undertaking a health check of your current contact database and classifying each of your contacts according to their:

  • industry sector
  • geographic location
  • seniority
  • the strength of the relationship they have with you
  • any known specific and niche area needs they may have, and
  • their preferred method of communication.

You should start this process off by asking yourself:

“What does my contact need to know and how would they prefer I tell them?”

Get an honest answer to that question and you will find that you are much more likely to get engagement and a dialogue going with your contact(s) that should develop into better business leads.

On the other hand, you can keep your contacts bundled up in one database and see how many of them unsubscribe to updates in the near future.

To succeed in the future, law firms need to specialise

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Over the course of the past week I have seen two news items that include comments by prominent industry experts advocating that for law firms to success in the future they will need to specialize.

The first item was a short [1 minute 40] video interview of David Lat (editor of Above the Law) titled More ‘Shakeout’ Coming for Big Law, Says Above the Law Editor in which (the recently married – congratulations David) Lat touches on the issue that for firms to survive going forward, they will need to get much better at the specialization game.

The second item, from the same day (11 September), was an article (‘How future-ready is your law firm?‘) on the Australasian Lawyer website that included comments by Keynote speech presenter Jordan Furlong of Edge International and Tim Williams of Ignition Consulting Group at last week’s ALPMA (Australasian Legal Practice Management Association) Annual Conference on the Gold Coast (at which I was not a participant).

In essence the article promulgates the experts opinion that the “future of law firms will be specialisation, rather than expansion” and that “In reality, clients have changed from wanting to be loyal to a full service firm to shopping around for the best firm suited to a particular project.

Both the article and Lat’s interview video raise an interesting issue and I have to say that while I largely agree with William’s view that:

“Buyers [today] are seeking best in class solutions to their problems. They no longer need to fall back on a generalist firm that they can count on for everything in their hometown.”

it has yet to be fully explained to me why some, but certainly not all, full service firms cannot also claim that they provide “best in class solutions to their clients’ problems”.

The 4 Cs you need to attain “trusted advisor” status

4 Cs of Trust

Following the breakthrough work of David Maister in 2000, gaining The Trusted Advisor status has become the Holy Grail of all private practising lawyers. Not many, however, fully understand what this entails. While many may be able to name one or two elements what follows constitutes the 4 Cs you will need to demonstrate in order to attain “trusted advisor” status with clients and your work colleagues:

 C1 = Credibility: delivering what you promised, when you promised it
 C2 = Competence: having the right expertise and the right track record for the job – and being able to evidence this (as well as being able to say you DON’T have the right expertise to do the job!).
 C1 = Compatibility: being able to work collegiately (as part of a team)
 C2 = Consistency: delivering over a period of time

NB: this post was inspired by a recent post by Rachael Wheatley on PM Forum South West: “The Trusted Advisor is Dead. Long Live The Trusted Advisor

#BizDevTip: Spring clean now for a strong start to 2016

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Spring has officially sprung in Australia (1 September) and so now is the time to do a spring clean of your law firm if you want to give yourself the best chance of making a strong start to 2016.

As a minimum, you should consider shaking out the winter cobwebs with the following housekeeping actions:

  1. Audit your client list  – to see who the best performers have been, who the up and comers are, and who have fallen off a bit.
  2. Review your revenue streams – to see which practices are getting revenue from which clients. Remember, the more practice groups that are getting instructions/revenue from a client, the more likely that client is to be a profitable client.
  3. Review and update your ‘key’ (which should include decision makers as well as supporters) contacts database and update their preferred method of communication (phone, email, chat, Facebook, tweet?).
  4. Hold an off-site firm strategy day that includes a review of market conditions, expected client demands, and how your firm will respond to these.
  5. Segment your client contact database by industry, etc so that clients receive the most appropriate information from you – rather than blasted mailshots.
  6. Start thinking about your FY2017 client listening program – who will you go and visit? Will you be doing this internally or externally?
  7. Start thinking about your FY2017 communication plan.
  8. Review and update your referrer / firm champion list.
  9. Look up what industry events will be taking place in 2016 and see if you need to be attending these.
  10. Consider ways that you can be adding value (via your value added services) to your client relationship that might differentiate you from your competitors.

I cannot guarantee that you and your firm will be star performers in 2016 if you carry out this spring clean, but I can guarantee that 2016 will [at best] be a fairly ordinary year for you and your firm if you don’t action these and more.

Survey: One in four Australian law students are not sure about their future intentions

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We often talk about the lack of opportunities that current Australian law students face when looking for work in what counts as the ‘New Normal’ in the world of legal in  Australia.

It was interesting to read, then, in a recently published survey of the 1,403 law students undertaken on behalf the Women Lawyers’ Association of NSW that:

“One in four law students were not sure about their future intentions, and one in ten intended not to practise as a lawyer.”

Of those students who did intend to practise as a lawyer (61%), only half (both female and male) anticipated working as a solicitor in private practice; while close to one third intend to work as a government lawyer, in-house corporate lawyer or as a barrister.

Those law students who do not intend practising law after graduation said they anticipated working in banking and financial services, government/politics or in corporate strategy.

Interestingly, given the cut backs in this area, one in five law students were proposing to work as a community-based legal service lawyer, with female law students the more likely to be studying law for altruistic reasons; including “having an interest in social justice“.

Less surprisingly, male law students were more likely to cite “a good income that a career in the law offers” and “the prestige and status that a career in the law would bring” as being their main drivers for studying the subject. Which probably proves beyond any reasonable doubt that females are smarter than males!

All in all, I’m not sure the outcome of this survey would have varied dramatically in my days studying law at university 20 years ago. That said, I know that my aspirations – in studying the subject – were to be a lot more like Geoffrey Robertson QC than the partner of a Magic Circle law firm.

As it turns out, I ended up being neither. Which is why survey’s like this are important in reminding us that we probably need to hold off telling law students that it’s all doom and gloom in the world of the “New Normal” and start with actually asking them what they want to do with their lives.

Successful lawyers don’t sell, they educate

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Don’t sell, educate

One of the first pieces of advice I was given when I entered this profession was not to be selling, but to always be educating.

Over the lifetime of my career I’ve found this small bit of advice to be invaluable. Yes, both the audience [from clients to partners] and the content [the law to coaching] of the ‘educating’ has changed over time – which is only natural given the many varying roles I have had in this profession, but by and large the principle has remained.

Given the above, I find it strange that a growing number of consultants have jumped on the bandwagon that “lawyers don’t sell time, they sell value“, when the reality is they sell neither – what they do sell is expertise.

Which is to say: successful lawyers educate their clients on the potential outcomes of a particular activity or inactivity.

In other words, in “A+B = C”, your lawyer should be educating you on what ‘C’ is before you do ‘A+B’ or else advising you how you can get out of the problems that being in ‘C’ is causing you.

As always, ultimately it will be up to you, as the client, to determine whether or not you wish to proceed with your lawyer’s advice; but, in any event, that lawyer is neither selling you ‘time’ nor ‘value’.

Yes, the currency in which the lawyer is getting paid may be determined [at least in part] by time and/or perceived value, but this is not the same as saying the product being sold is time or value.

So, the next time a legal industry consultant tells you not to sell time but rather to be selling value, I would like to suggest that you respond:

“I don’t sell, I educate.”

#BizDevTip: Clients don’t give you work just because they like the sound of your voice on the phone

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Yesterday I read a quote in the Australian Financial Review (AFR) that really resonated with me as a business development coach to law firm partners and senior lawyers.

The quote in question was by Aris Kekedjian – who is Vice-President & Managing Director, Global Business Development/M&A at GE – and was made in relation to the recent divestment of GE Capital and its assets.

What Kekedjian said was this:

“People don’t wire you billions of dollars because they like your voice on the phone.”

Precisely.

Now, just print that quote off and put it next to your phone please.

3 more surveys on the state of the legal market were published this week

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Hot on the heels of a post I posted two weeks ago summarising three reports on the state of the legal market, the last week of August has seen the publication of a further three survey reports.

  1.  The US Survey Report 

The first survey report (Surveys Find Mixed Demand, Moderate Pay for Corporate Counsel) is out of the USA and summarises the findings from a questionnaire sent to 1,300 chief legal officers (CLOs) of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) – who now have a Chapter in Australia.

This ACC survey covered wide ground, including pay rises (3%) and areas of in-house recruiting growth (compliance, contracts and corporate generalists), but probably my favourite take-out was the following two paragraphs:

“Organizations are looking for corporate counsel who can facilitate the business process, according to Peters. Counsel should become familiar with what the company does, take an interest and act as a support, instead of simply focusing on the legalities of whatever is presented to them, she said.

For example, corporate counsel might tour the company’s plant and observe the manufacturing process to better understand how the company works, according to Peters. This might allow the lawyer to help get the product to market quicker. “It behooves the lawyer to be involved and become an integral part of the company. Partnering with the business, you add and keep value,” she said.”

Private practice lawyers could move a lot further along the trusted advisor paradigm just by following that piece of advice.

2.  The UK Survey Report

The second survey report (Mind the Gap: GCs, Firms Wide Apart in Perception)  is actually a one-page infographic [downloadable here] done by the team at Briefing Magazine in the UK and provides further evidence, if ever we needed it, that there is a growing ‘value gap’ in the perception of the relationship between in-house counsel and their outside law firms & law firm managers.

This survey polled 125 GCs, 67% from companies with more than £1.1 Billion in revenue a year and more than 1000 employees, along with 86 managers (NB: Briefing Magazine‘s target readership is law firm leaders and managers) from the top 120 law firms in the UK.

Two take-outs from this survey of note are:

  • on whether the process of buying legal services had moved to the in-house legal team’s procurement department, 80% of in-house GCs said they – and not the procurement department – had the say on who to send legal work to, whereas almost three quarters (74%) of law firms said exactly the opposite (ie, procurement had the say here).
  • on the issue of AFAs (alternative fee arrangements), 76% of law firms believe that in-house GCs want to move away from the billable hour, whereas only 58% of GCs said they do.

Interesting as they are, both of these responses really highlight to me that most law firms out there are not having proper conversations with their clients around how legal services are being procured and, importantly, paid for.

3.  The Australian Survey Report

The third survey report of the week was the most comprehensive.

Authored by Joel Barolsky and published by The Melbourne Law School and Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor, the 2015 Australia: State of the Legal Market report sets out the dominant trends impacting the Australian legal market in 2015 and the key issues likely to influence the market in 2016 and beyond [a copy of which is downloadable here].

As you would imagine, a survey report of this nature (15 pages) packs a punch and there are way too many take-outs to summarises them all here so if you are interested in the finding of this report, but don’t have the time to read the whole thing, I would like to suggest you take a look at Joel’s post on LinkedIn – Key takeouts from major new legal market report – summarising the findings.

For me, it was interesting to see the survey confirm a trend I identified last year in the market, namely that the biggest competition private practising lawyers have these days is actually in-house counsel. I think this is further evidence that private practice lawyers are not doing enough to explain to their in-house counsel the benefits of using outside counsel.

In short, to my mind the conversation should not simply be: “I’m spending $150,000 on external legal each year, I can hire a lawyer and bring this work in-house“. Although I very much fear that is exactly the conversation that is taking place. And when you keep in mind that the two principal areas of concern for in-house counsel are compliance and risk, you’d think this provides external legal with exactly the right platform to have the conversation around why taking work in-house should not be a growing trend.

‘Technology Can Help Lawyers Add Value’

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If you haven’t seen it, SeyfarthLean Consulting LLC  – a wholly subidary of US law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP – Seytlines Changing the Practice of Law blog for the 18th August by Kenneth Grady was on the issue of ‘Lawyers Need an App for That‘.

Overall a really good read, but in my opinion the gem takeout of this post comes under the final paragraph headed “Technology Can Help Lawyers Add Value” and reads:

“As technology noses into the delivery of legal services, lawyers must become more focused on where they add value. Understanding the core human thing, the social experience, is a defining difference. By using technology creatively, such as an app to speed communication on matters in ways that enable continuous improvement, lawyers can facilitate client problem solving and higher quality communication. This type of differentiation will separate lawyers from minute-counters.”

If you forget everything else this week, remember this.