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LawVision Insights

Graduation Day – A Lesson from Steve Jobs

Posted in Coaching

My son graduated from college two weeks ago.  As I listened to the commencement speech, I was reminded of an article, which heralded the best commencement speech, ever by the late Steve Jobs.  I looked it up and re-read his Stanford University commencement speech from 2005.. It’s definitely worth a few minutes of your time.  His first of three stories, connecting the dots, reads:

“I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: “We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?” They said: “Of course.” My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example: Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

A great reminder that not all of our ideas or endeavors pay off, but the experience can someday be invaluable.

Why Can’t We Ever Seem to Get Anywhere?

Posted in Governance and Management, Leadership Development, Strategic Planning and Implementation

A few weeks ago, I raised a critical issue for law firm leaders (Getting it Done…or Not) – actually accomplishing your strategy!  Considering the time and energy required to develop strategy, it seems surprising that so many firms fail to accomplish their key strategic goals.  Furthermore, many that are accomplished are far more limited “operational” or “tactical” changes masquerading as strategy (aka, the “easy stuff”).  The latter, while beneficial, will likely not change the strategic position or capability of the firm by their self.

What gets in the way of implementation?  In our experience, we see a variety of problems, often with multiple related issues impeding in each situation.   While different, these issues tend to fall into a few general categories:

1) Flawed Strategic “Plans.”  Sometimes a strategic plan is simply un-implementable – for example, a plan to rapidly convert a litigation firm with a strong insurance defense brand into a corporate transactional player.  Other times, the failure to separate planning from strategy results in plans with little or no buy in or support.  An example of the latter might be any one of the numerous “strategic plans” created that focus on having all the partners rededicate themselves to working harder and marketing more, with no clarity around the core strategic challenges the firm faces or the linkage between the expected actions and addressing those challenges.

During the process, look for any of the following “red flags” to warn you about issues at the strategy-setting stage that greatly diminish your odds of successful implementation:

  • Failure to define the problem: What is (or are) the key issue(s) the firm’s strategy seeks to address? Do all the key stakeholders understand and agree on the issue(s)?
  • “Everyone gets a trophy” strategy:  Is the plan designed primarily to avoid marginalizing anyone?  Are all practices “core?”  Has the firm articulated concrete choices concerning future direction?  Or can everyone view it as enshrining the status quo, at least at the practice level?
  • Goal multiplication:  How many enterprise-level core goals does the strategy set out?  If the answer is more than a few, there is little chance of success.
  • “Make a Wish” strategy:  Is your strategy based in reality?  Is there an implementable plan that can actually move the firm from where it is (do you know where that is?) to where you want it to be?

2) Unaligned Organizations.  For many firms, the organizational structure itself presents obstacles to strategic change.  For example:

  • Status quo oriented compensation systems.  It is often said, “you get what you pay for.”  Law firms, for the most part, pay for current performance, with implicit rewards for risk adverse and/or selfish behaviors.
  • Weak accountability structures.  Do the people expected to make change happen have the necessary authority?  Do those being held accountable recognize the authority?
  • Culture.   As we have noted in other contexts, culture is one of the biggest impediments to change in any law firm.  Too often, culture is trotted out as an excuse for not making necessary, but painful, changes.
  • Resource shortfalls.  Even if the strategy makes sense, do you have the capital (human and monetary) needed to make it happen?
  • Decision-making clarity – If practice leaders are charged with implementing a strategy but office Managing Partners can veto hires or staff moves, implementation will grind to a halt.

3) Implementation Process Shortfalls.  Does your firm have a systematic, and workable, approach or process for driving execution?  Is that process pushed down to every level of the organization?  Even if it does, sometimes the process itself is flawed by:

  • Too many goals.  If individuals or teams are responsible for pursuing multiple goals, chances are none of them will be accomplished.
  • Lack of ownership.  Do the people responsible for achieving goals own the goal?  Do they have the freedom to set the actions needed to achieve it?  Are they accountable for their performance?
  • No metrics.  Do you know what success looks like?  Can you measure it?  Does everyone understand the metrics and the score?  Is the team winning or losing?

The Day Job.   A far bigger obstacle to success than most firm leaders understand is the twin day-to-day challenges of keeping the firm running and attending to the clients.   Sean Covey, Jim Huling and Chris McChesney in their excellent book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution,call this the “whirlwind.”  Successful lawyers – the ones who can do the most in a firm to advance the firm’s strategic objectives – are busy people.  On average they may spend 1700 hours a year on direct client work, and hundreds more on marketing, client relations, lawyer training and development, and managing the operations of the firm.  This workload doesn’t leave much time for “achieving strategic goals.” The best one could probably hope for is, maybe, a couple of hundred hours a year from your best people (and that could be pushing it!)  Harnessing that time and using it to implement a strategy requires discipline and leadership.

The are other challenges to strategy implementation, of course, but most or all of them are likely to fall within the categories discussed above.  Over the next few months, we will explore each of these, focusing on the critical issue of actually getting something done.

 

Are You There Law Firm? It’s Me, Client.

Posted in Governance and Management, Leadership Development, Strategic Planning and Implementation

During a recent visit, a new Managing Partner asked me a seemingly simple question: “How has what you hear from clients changed in the past decade?” My initial thought was to respond “dramatically.” Yet I paused. “Clients are saying virtually the same thing as they were saying 10 years ago. Sure, their priorities have ebbed and flowed, but the overall message is virtually the same. The difference is,” I told her, “law firms are listening.”

The truth is, some law firms are listening. Somewhere between 35% and 48% of law firms, depending on source, do almost nothing to systematically gather client input. Another group of up to a third fails to act on or institute change as a result of client feedback. Which leaves just 1 in 5 law firms, approximately, who effectively incorporate client feedback into their business decisions.

In light of my colleague, Joe Altonji’s recent post on Getting it Done…or Not, I am dedicating this post to exploring the top obstacles to bringing the client’s voice into the strategic conversation.

  1. “We did a survey a few years ago – we didn’t learn anything”  One of our favorite sayings in the research industry is “our biggest competitor is bad research.” Rather than interpreting 100% glowing client reviews, a botched experience or staid results as a useless endeavor, recognize it for what it is: poor quality. Just as legal skills can differ from one attorney to the next, so too can the skills of those (internal or external) designated to lead client feedback programs. Well-executed client research will deliver results – a boost in satisfaction, an increase in business opportunities and/or invaluable strategic insights. In the past year, 1 in 3 clients has dropped at least one law firm, most often for price or poor service. Take a cue from clients on this one – if you are not happy with the service delivered, move on and find an alternative provider who will exceed your expectations.
  2. “Our attorneys won’t let us”  Admittedly, this one irks me more than most. While it is true that clients hire attorneys, they do so only if the law firm meets their standards. Hence the concept that an individual truly owns a client relationship is faulty – and proven so time and again by the storied challenges of lateral hires. Underpinnings aside, if this is the challenge you face, my suggestion is to start with the willing. Invest in building trust and demonstrating the value of client feedback through isolated instances. The initial payback may be slower to emerge, but over time a proven track record in expanding relationships, mitigating challenges and creating new opportunity will speak for itself.
  3.  “Our Chair or Managing Partner visits clients”  Congratulations – your firm is making a dedicated investment in clients. In-person leadership visits are one of three key facets to a world-class client feedback program. They demonstrate your commitment and the value you place on client relationships. Typically, the role of the leadership visit is to build rapport and establish trust. Often these meetings lead to uncovering new opportunity with the client and sometimes to the unveiling of a service issue. Rarely, however, do these visits yield a firm-wide perspective on overall performance or strategic direction. In fact, having in-depth conversations with a dozen or half dozen clients a year may even skew leadership’s perceptions – and increase the risk of making major decisions based on the opinions of a small handful of (albeit important) individuals. To ensure your firm is getting the complete picture, reach out to a greater number of clients in a short time frame, professionally analyze the feedback and commit to acting on the results and recommendations.
  4. “We don’t have the resources”  If you are not investing in your client relationships, who is? Study after study quantifies the value of existing client relationships, and in an industry such as ours where every decision to work with one law firm takes dollars directly from another, these figures are magnified. Whether it is the fact that acquiring a new client costs 7 to 10 times more than retaining an existing client, or the more optimistic outlook that a 5% increase in client retention can yield a 25% to 95% boost in profit, the financial benefits – and your firm’s ROI – are clear. Though perhaps the more relevant reason to invest in strategic client engagement comes in my closing anecdote.

During a recent strategic planning project, our interviews with firm leadership indicated a clear concern about the firm’s future. Shareholders young and old lamented the fact that the young partners lacked the ability to originate business. They wanted solutions. A redesigned compensation system and a coaching program seemed to fit the bill and they were eager to get started. Then we talked to the firm’s clients.

The needs and demands of the clients’ growing businesses were expanding, yet the majority of this growth was coming in new geographic regions and in the diversification of the clients’ businesses. The firm’s own client base was evolving in a way that could potentially leave them in the lurch, regardless of their ability to develop business. This insight enabled us to reframe our discussions, leading the firm to a different conclusion and placing them in a much stronger position for the future. Can you imagine the alternative?

Law Firm Business Development: The Importance of Building Rapport

Posted in Business Development, Coaching

As we say all the time, “Business Development is Relationship Development.” If this is true (and we believe that it is), those of us who are interested in developing new business should reflect upon relationship development best practices for guidance. This post focuses solely on one key aspect of relationship development that is often overlooked-rapport building. Rapport building is a critical first step in relationship development. Establishing and building good rapport leads to trust. Trust leads to having more open discussions, which in turn, leads to making a connection, which leads to deeper relationships and so on. The importance of building rapport in business development certainly isn’t a new concept as demonstrated by the following;

The farmer, it appears, must not be approached too abruptly. If you are to get his money you must break the news to him gently. You should first talk about horses, soil, and market conditions. This conversation will show that you are interested in things close to him and likewise give you a chance to study his temperament and to learn his likes and dislikes…

Clarence Darrow, The American Mercury, “Salesmanship,” 1925

Clarence Darrow is generally regarded as one of the greatest criminal defense lawyers in American history.  He clearly understood that effective rapport building is critical to the development of meaningful relationships. However, for various reasons, I’ve noticed that many lawyers simply want to “cut to the chase” and forego the investment in building rapport. For some, it’s of little surprise considering the following excerpt from a Litigation News article published by The American Bar Association, addressed to litigators in the context of starting their cross-examination of a witness:

Avoid spending the first minute introducing yourself, asking the witness to speak up if a question is unclear, or exchanging pleasantries. This is wasted time.

Clearly, these teachings are at odds with what I’m suggesting here related to relationship and business development. It’s important for litigators to remember that relationship development isn’t a direct- or cross-examination of a witness; it’s developing commonality, mutual understanding, exchanging of ideas, and trust…with people. These people can be clients, potential clients, referral sources, colleagues, members of the marketing team, etc. Starting with a good foundation by building rapport will result in more meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships; business or otherwise.

I offer the following as some fundamental principles to keep in mind as you think about building rapport:

  • Demonstrate empathy, warmth, respect and genuineness
  • Replace your agenda with their agenda (It’s not about you. Really.)
  • Mirror the tone of the other person’s voice, the rate at which they speak, etc.
  • Pay attention to non-verbal communication and react to it
  • Use words that you notice they use and do your best to speak their language

Still not sure where to start? Try asking about where someone grew up, how many children they have, their favorite sports team, etc. If you are genuinely interested in the other person and helping them to be successful, the right words will come and the relationship will develop. As the relationship develops, so will the business.

Do any of you have any suggestions on rapport-building best practices that you or your lawyers have used that you’d like to share?

 

Merging to Fill Leadership Voids

Posted in Governance and Management, Strategic Planning and Implementation

In March, I wrote about the Less Than Strategic Reasons for Merger Discussions that we are seeing within the many ongoing merger evaluations.  During my travels and work subsequent to developing that initial list, which was intended to be all-inclusive, I have seen another one of the un-strategic rationales with sufficient consistency to merit moving it from the “B” list to the “A” list.

Here is the addendum – Some leaders have reached the painful conclusion that the future leaders, client relationship Partners, and/or business developers needed for their firms’ long-term viability are simply not within their firms right now.  The cupboard is bare and cannot be restocked within a reasonable period of time…if ever.

This situation is most likely in two types of firms:

  • One where the business is driven by a relatively small group of aging stars who surrounded themselves with “Service” Partners through the years in order to get the work done; or
  • One where there are no stars and the firm’s once-strong institutional client base or market position has withered – often due to client consolidation and/or the encroachment of new competitors

Given the pride with which these firms speak of their legal skills and their Partners’ abilities to act as business advisors to clients, how can a partnership of talented and smart professionals (lawyers; accountants; consultants) reach a state where the resources needed for long-term success are simply not available?

Most Partnerships have, within their ranks, a fairly common set of role players/Partner types – none of which are supportive of long-term leadership planning.  These characters include Partners who are a) hypocritical with respect to their advice to clients (“do as I say…but not as my firm does”), b) unaware of the myriad complexities associated with leading a Partnership or a key client relationship (“anyone here can do it…in fact, we should just rotate people through these positions”), c) lost in a sense of blissful entitlement (“my turn as leader [of the firm or a client relationship] is coming…I’ve paid my dues and waited patiently”), d) self-made and therefore unrealistic with respect to others’ abilities to self-make (“no one developed me…I figured it out on my own and so can they”), and e) spoiled and completely self-unaware (“while I have always been taken care of for many years, I could start leading or developing business.  I simply haven’t had to yet”).

Common across all of these roles, per our parenthetical “quotes”, is an internally-focused perspective that steadily and consistently moves the firm toward a position of no options with respect to the future.  It takes many years, if not decades, of these behaviors and attitudes to get to this point but it cannot be undone once achieved – absent a radical change.

We have seen a few partnerships go into the market or their alumni ranks and recruit leaders into the firm.  This is a very challenging move because many self-unaware Partners feel “stepped-over”.  Most firms cannot or will adopt this solution and are better served by recognizing and acting upon this situation.  Does your firm fit this profile?  Are you headed toward a leadership stalemate…and an un-strategic yet necessary merger? 

 

Why Law Firm Capacity Is So Important for Business Development and What to Do About It

Posted in Business Development, Coaching

Helping lawyers bring in more clients is often an exercise in removing obstacles.  Here’s something I hear often: “If I get a new big client, I won’t be able to service it.”

In general, capacity is still up at most law firms — there are more lawyers than there is work to keep them busy.  Most analysts devote much of their annual reporting to arguments against growth.  (Here are two examples: Thomson Reuters 2014 Report on the State of the Legal Market and Hildebrandt Consulting and Citibank Client Advisory from last year; see Part One Section Two “Excess Capacity Squeezes Margins.”)

So if billable hours are down and capacity is up, how is it that lawyers complain that they are too busy and don’t have enough help?  The problem lies in pockets of low capacity for very specialized practices.

Let me give you an example.  This week I had a coaching session with a lawyer at the top of her game.  She has a very specialized practice doing complex joint ventures, property acquisitions and financings in an area that requires specific industry knowledge.  She has a nice book of business from leading players in the industry.  The firm values her knowledge and client base and sees an opportunity to broaden the practice to include other, similar clients and expand to related areas.  As I walked her though a game plan and shared some initial ideas about how to increase her book of business, I could see she was uncomfortable.  We had a conversation that went something like this:

“I sense some discomfort. What is on your mind?”

“Well this all looks great, but ….”

“Yes?”

“Well if I do everything you tell me to do, and I get a new client, I’m not sure I can handle the extra workload — I’m terrified that I won’t be able to deliver.”

“Can’t you get help from others at the firm?  Surely not everyone is at capacity in this market.”

“No one else does this kind of work for this type of client.  I am the only one.  I have only one associate, and she has more than she can handle as well.”

“Aren’t there any other associates or partners who could help?”

“We actually have fewer associates than we did several years ago.  The firm keeps staff size much leaner than they did in the past, and it would take a new associate at least a year to get up to speed on the unique nuances of this industry.”

This is not a unique problem.  I hear it from lawyers at many different firms.  “If I bring it in, I won’t be able to service it.”  Bringing in a client when structure and staffing are not in place is a real administrative, managerial and ethical problem.  However, the problem is even deeper than that, because just knowing that landing the next big one can create those issues causes lawyers to pull back from fully committing to business development.  Those who are already disinclined to jump into business development with both feet may even use capacity issues to justify staying on the sidelines.  This can be especially devastating if the lawyer, like my client this week, has developed an excellent reputation but can’t engage.  Potential that is not leveraged leaves money on the table.  Often firms, in an effort to control costs and diminish unused capacity, exacerbate the problem by refusing to arrange assistance until work actually appears.  With a year or longer ramp-up time for some specialty practices, this creates a chicken-and-egg problem. “We’ll get you an associate when your work is at a level that justifies it.”  Is this is met with “I can’t go out and get new work until I know we can handle the workload once I bring it in.”

This is a thorny issue that requires open communication and a willingness to work together, but it’s not insurmountable.  Here are a few things you can do if you lie awake at night fretting that you’ll land a big client you can’t service:

1.     Communicate your goals to the firm.  Let management know your plans for building your practice.  Show them concrete goals and your plans for fulfilling them.  Give them the roadmap you’ve laid out for your success and the precise place on that roadmap where you’ll need to be ramping up staff size to assist you.

2.     Start now.  In some ways worrying about whether you can handle all the work you’ll bring in is like refusing to date because you don’t have time to plan a wedding — the payoff is still a long way away.  Bringing in new work takes a long time.  Capacity problems may have worked themselves out by the time you actually bring someone in.  There is plenty to keep you busy until then.  Start laying the groundwork now — build relationships, become known in your target markets and stay in touch.

3.     Communicate your progress to the firm.  As you hit milestones with prospects, make sure the firm and those in charge of hiring decisions know that you are closer to bringing a new client onboard.  Thoughtful leaders realize the prospect of new clients involves both the risk of not being able to properly service them and the risk of missing the opportunity.  At some point someone has to make a reasonable bet that more work in a particular area is evolving and put resources in place to cover it.  They can’t do that if you are not in constant communication with them about how opportunities are progressing.

4.     Delegate non-specialized work.  What elements of your practice can be delegated to others?  Even in the most specialized of practices there are some more general elements that can be handed to another capable lawyer.  Think about your entire practice and matters that are more general.  Can these matters be handled by someone with a more general skill set?

5.     Maintain a good conflicts network.  As a last resort, if you really just can’t find the capacity at your own firm, use the firms you depend on for conflicts to help you cover the load.  Use people you trust and who you know will reciprocate.  You may also be surprised when you bring up this option, how quickly you get movement from those who were previously opposed to making new hires.

6.     Be transparent.  Be open, up-front and honest with clients and prospects about your situation regarding capacity, as you discuss plans to bring them on as clients.  The last thing you want is a false expectation that a certain amount of work can be performed when it can’t.  Deception about capacity may get you one new matter from a prospect, but it won’t get you the next one.  You may also find that transparency about your capacity may create even more demand.  Like an out-of-stock toy at Christmas time, perceived scarcity creates demand.

 

 

Getting it done…or Not

Posted in Leadership Development, Strategic Planning and Implementation

I recently had the pleasure of watching my son’s team compete in the Sandhurst military competition at West Point.  This annual event features nearly 60 teams – one from each West Point cadet company along with teams from the other U.S. service academies, leading ROTC programs, and the national service and officer academies of allied and other nations around the world.  These young men and women come together to compete in a grueling, 30-hour test of military skills, endurance, teamwork, leadership and execution.   The participants spend months in preparation, above and beyond the normal demands of academics and other day-to-day responsibilities, without which even completing the event would be doubtful.  All the teams did finish, a testament to their collective and individual will and dedication.

As I watched these future leaders execute tasks most of us never contemplate, much less try, I couldn’t help but marvel at the focus they brought to something that really mattered to them.  At the same time, I couldn’t help thinking about how many law firms routinely fail to do the same thing – execute on the things they believe (and know) really matter to them.  How many firms over the years have developed intricate “strategic plans” only to see them gather dust on the shelves? How many big initiatives have died on the vine, as the responsible partners (and others) remained immersed in the day-to-day demands of their practice?  Why do some firms seem to move forward consistently, while others lag behind?

Many firms today have an execution “problem.”  Sure, they get their clients’ work done, generally on time and within budget, but when it comes to their own strategic initiatives the results tend to differ.  Some never even find out if their strategy is a good one or not – because it isn’t implemented.  Sometimes, of course, the fault lies with the strategy itself, but at least as often the failure comes in the execution stage.  As we all know, there are any number of reasons for execution failure, but if you are not going to execute, there is little reason to plan.

It’s often been suggested that you should never let a good crisis go to waste.  Not surprisingly, most firms find execution easier when they are in a fight for their lives.  Once that ends, or for the firms that haven’t fallen into crisis, execution becomes surprisingly difficult.  Some firms execute well.  We’ve written often recently about the current “winners and losers” legal environment.  It should not be a surprise if we suggest that winning relates to execution.

Over the next few months we will focus more on strategic execution.  As an industry, we need to build a much greater capacity to achieve our goals.  Just like those young current and soon-to-be military officers executing at Sandhurst, the legal industry needs to learn to get it done.

 

Mind the Gap: The Marketing and Business Development Chief

Posted in Business Development, Coaching

During a recent marketing audit project with a firm, I had a conversation with one of the firm’s more influential partners.  When I asked him about the Marketing and Business Development team he said, “You can put away your paper with the questions on it and I will tell you one thing.”  He continued, “they need to take their own advice—they are a great group of people but they don’t listen to their own advice.”  We went on to have a great conversation and, admittedly, his musings were funny but sobering at the same time.  Our LawVision team has conducted a good number of marketing and BD audits over the past few years and we generally hear about the same types of issues.  So, the following quick sketch is a high level guide to all the Directors and CMOs who may want to avoid unplanned career moves:

  • Take initiative to present your plans for the success of your team.  Show how you will help them to be successful business development and marketing professionals through professional development and mentoring.  Firm leadership is always aware of leaders who are not supportive or who do not help their team members to be successful.
  • Don’t be a “credit hog.” Give credit to team members when they have good ideas, have completed a project that went well or have made someone else look good.
  • Conduct a survey (yes, ask your “clients” for feedback). Connect with key stakeholders, practice chairs, office heads to gain valuable feedback about you and your team. Like you advise the partners, check in with clients—go talk with them!
  • Conduct “post matter reviews” with partners to gain input about specific team members’ performance on a project.
  • Be proactive in suggesting next steps for the firm to take—they may not be as far ahead in vision land as you, but suggesting some strategic ideas for the future and then revisiting them periodically will keep you in good stead with the firm leaders.  Be patient, persistent and proactive.
  • Provide the lawyers with an opportunity to provide input, showcase their successes on the firm Intranet or through an internal firm newsletter.  Build support in little ways around the firm.

Mind the gaps!

 

 

Silvia Coulter is Chair of the Business Development Practice at LawVision Group LLC and may be reached at 617-697-4869 or scoulter@lawvisiongroup.com

 

 

 

The Client-Focused Business Model: Myth or Reality

Posted in Coaching, Go To Market Strategies and Analysis, Leadership Development, Strategic Planning and Implementation

In my last blog post, Why Client Service is Not a One-Size-Fits-All Proposition, I discussed the dramatic shifts in client thinking and how uniquely tailored approaches to service delivery are entering the world of law firms. The last paragraph posed a challenge: how to deliver optimal service to clients who may want many different things. There is no single business model (especially in today’s law firms) which allows for one firm to keep all clients happy. And – hold onto your seats – nor should there be. Instead, the key to deliver a truly unique differentiated experience is to define your core – and to be better at it than any other competitor in the market. Then, you can grow and expand in ways you may have never thought possible.

A few weeks ago at the Legal Marketing Association annual conference, I had the pleasure of hearing Kat Cole, President of Cinnabon, deliver a presentation on leadership and driving innovation. Throughout her program she frequently harkened back to a single word: indulgence. As part of virtually every management decision, including product launches, strategic alliances and brand extensions, she sought to answer the question – will the indulgence our customers have for our sweet, addictive pastry translate to indulgence for (fill in the blank). (As it turns out, when you fill in the blank with vodka, it does, she shared.)

With this seemingly simple question, Kat Cole and Cinnabon encapsulated their core differentiator – the single characteristic which connected them to their customers. She described counterintuitive strategies, such as shrinking to grow, and counterintuitive synergies, such as a partnership with on-the-surface competitor Pillsbury, that built upon that core yet stretched traditional ways of doing business to drive success. In short, she led her company to embrace change and business models which were varied, sometimes innovative, occasionally counterintuitive – but always directly motivated by a single client-focused theme: indulgence.

Today’s law firms find themselves similarly situated. Their growth stymied by market pressures and the path forward unclear. Yet virtually none have defined their core connection to clients as succinctly and singularly as Kat Cole and Cinnabon. And let’s face it – it’s not easy. Defining and embracing a core inevitably means directing focus away from other pieces (and potentially clients) that got you to where you are today.

The age of being the law firm that can deliver everything to everyone is long gone. In its place is client demand for an increasingly tailored experience. The law firms quickest to define and embrace their core will thrive in the coming years. Here are a few examples of client-focused approaches – and the associated business models that best support them:

Client Priority

Business Model Characteristics

Value

process improvement and project management; leverage; routine; efficiencies

Innovation

smart minds and new ideas; brainstorming; not conducive to billable hour model; creativity and “space”; non-hierarchal; less structured; e.g., IPNav

Preventative Law

seasoned, experienced lawyers; practical business savvy; understanding of operational and/or financial risk; e.g., Duane Morris’ DNA

Proactive Law

opportunity-oriented; big picture visionaries; well-connected movers and shakers; e.g., Google and Samsung license-sharing agreement

Virtual Law

technology-driven solutions; e.g., Perkins Coie start-up kit

Now that your creative juices are flowing – what is it going to take for your firm to define – and embrace – its core differentiator? 1) Talk to your clients; 2) Candidly self-assess your strengths; and 3) make the difficult decisions. Once again channeling Kat Cole: “If not you, who? If not now, when?”

 

Lessons from “The Profit”

Posted in Business Development, Coaching

Have you seen CNBC’s show The Profit?  If not, I highly recommend you take in an episode or two.  Marcus Lemonis is an investor from Chicago who invests in and then promptly fixes failing businesses.

On last night’s episode, much to my surprise, a business in my old Orange County neighborhood was featured (for those who haven’t seen the show, this isn’t a good thing).   Anyway, Amazing Grapes, a high end wine store turned wine bar was completely focused on selling low margin, high end wines.  After a few short days of investigation, Marcus “The Profit” determined that only 10% of the revenues were derived from the highest margin sales (the wine bar) and 90% of the revenues from the dismal retail wine sales.  He quickly reconfigured the entire 1,800-foot space to maximize the high margin business.  Revenues quickly doubled and the business was saved.  Couldn’t one or all of the smart business owners have figured that out?  Apparently not.   As the show proves, many smart businesses owners can’t seem to see the forest through the trees.

Lessons law firm leaders can learn from The Profit:

1)    Don’t be afraid to fundamentally change or shift the business model – Marcus is not emotionally attached to the business model.  Every episode I’ve seen, Marcus assesses the current state of the business and quickly makes fundamental changes to the business model.  His rational is simple; what you’re doing now clearly is not working.

2)    Don’t be afraid to throw out or immediately sell existing assets - Regardless of what an owner has spent, Marcus will sell or discard non-productive assets.  If the current state of a past investment doesn’t produce, sell it and move on (property, people, technology, etc.)

3)    Focus on maximizing the high margin business and reducing or eliminating the low margin business - Sometimes the core business has low margins.  Develop a strategy for creating complimentary services where margins are much higher, then maximize the volume of higher margin work.

What would Marcus say if your firm was featured on the show?