Tag Archives: client relationships

A Talent Take on Law Firm Rankings

The first quarter brings us rapturous reports of revenues, rankings and profits per partner from the U.S. legal press.  American Lawyer Top 100 rankings are announced.  Headlines like “30% Profit Increase at Firm Despite Pandemic” appear.  And “rumored expensive deals” for lateral partners get favorable attention for the acquiring firm.  This drumbeat from the legal press about “top firms” is supposedly a proxy for excellence in law firms, law practices and excellent individual talent.  But are these the best measures to help a client or a job-hunting professional decide to choose a “top” firm?

How did we get here?

 The U.S. legal business is unlike that in any other nation because it voluntarily offers up its financial numbers to The American Lawyer and other data aggregators who will publish (for profit) comparison tables that are principally focused on revenues, lawyer numbers and profits.  There is no S.E.C., no regulatory body and no external shareholders asking for these data.  You can’t get these numbers on law firms in Canada, Brazil or France.  But it has become a “given” to discuss U.S. firm rankings as a proxy for excellence.

Some Alternative Measurements to Consider

 The Client Perspective

It is true that some clients will choose a high revenue large firm because of its perceived excellence or AmLaw ranking.  But that is often because the corporate counsel answers to a Board or executive that wants “the best” external legal talent.  This provides a buffer if the legal strategy goes south.  But why would a client choose the most profitable firm?  That seems like a proxy for over-paying your lawyers, not necessarily excellence.  Clients do value personal connections to lawyers who have demonstrated their talents and provide both value and excellent service.  For that reason, it is often assumed that an excellent lateral partner hire will bring their clients with them.  There is no ranking for “How many loyal clients-per-partner do you have?”

The Associate, Partner or Professional Hiring Candidate Perspective

It is doubtful that prospective hires make their decisions based on external rankings.  True, a top student or mid-level associate might use rankings to create a pool of potential firms.  However, they will put greater weight on their future co-workers, career advancement, training and business development opportunities when making a final choice.

Internal Talent Ranking Numbers

Most of these internal numbers are not available, because they are not shared or consistently reported.  Yet, if a firm wanted to persuade clients and prospective hires of their excellence, value and a “best fit” for a lasting relationship, these are some numbers they might promote:

  • Associate retention rates at years 2, 5 and 8
  • Associate retention per practice group
  • Professional position promotion opportunities per year
  • Acceptance rates from the ten law schools where the firm most often competes for talent
  • Percentage of budget spent on talent, CLE, training and mentoring (of administrative budget) and year-over-year changes over 5 to 10 years
  • Average and high/low of partner hours per year recorded for training and mentoring
  • Lateral hires incoming (partners and associates) per year, last 5 years
  • Departures of laterals who were with the firm less than 5 years (compared to laterals who “stick” longer than 5 years)
  • Diversity hire increases/decreases over 5 years

External Rankings

External rankings turn on surveys and perceptions of employees.  When taken annually or every two years, these can show that a firm is on a rise or a downslope where employee satisfaction is concerned.  Two measures that get a lot of attention from those who work in recruiting and professional development are:

  • The AmLaw Mid-Levels rankings
  • Fortune 100 Best Places to Work (annual, covers all companies).

These rankings are more likely to be seen by clients, since firms will promote the rankings in their websites and newsletters.  The 2020 rankings will reveal satisfaction with early handling of the pandemic.  In the AmLaw Mid-Levels survey for 2020, O’Melveny & Myers was the top ranked.  When compared to all companies and professional services firms, it is tougher to place in the Fortune 100.  Yet Alston Bird, the first law firm to break into those rankings, is a perennial top 100 choice of employees.  Perkins Coie was the highest ranked law firm in 2020 and 2021.  Only 3 or 4 law firms make the Fortune 100 every year.  Orrick regularly ranks well in the Fortune 100 and appears in the top 75 of the AmLaw survey.

Conclusion

 Whether you are a client looking for excellent lawyers or a jobseeker looking for a great place to work, the much-touted rankings for revenues and profits may be the wrong proxy for excellence.  Excellence may be better measured by how much investment a law firm makes in its people, how long they remain at the firm, and how the employees, from first hire to longer career paths, rank the firm.  A law firm that is not ranked highly in revenues and profits might turn instead to showing how they excel on internal measures of career development and external rankings by employees.  There’s a unique competitive advantage if your measurements make your firm a talent magnet.

David Cruickshank, Principal, assists firms with building a strategy and excellent service around talent. 

 

Integrating Merged Law Firms: How to Create Truly Disruptive Value

The legal industry enjoys a long history of bolting together two newly combined law firms, or practice groups from two newly merged firms; best practices here are well established at least as it relates to the basics (e.g., identify redundant processes, mesh together technology platforms, create instances for intentional “mingling” to break down barriers, have leadership sell the benefits of the new normal loudly and often, get the marketing dept to come up with a coherent brand, define an existing client x-selling process, etc.). But what more can be done beyond the basics to really make a law firm combination “sing”? Is it possible to create a combined law firm experience from which lawyers simply do not want to leave . . . ever? Can a combined firm deliver disruptive value that clients would never expect to consume from law firms?

I encourage firms to use “signature experience” methods to create the secret sauce here. Derived  from “client experience innovation” approaches, “signature experience” methods can transform a successfully integrated firm into a firm that delivers a special experience to its internal lawyers and team members, and as a result of such, confers unique and disruptive value on clients. In this regard, McKinsey is “different” from AT Kearney (not to pick on AT Kearney!), and Goldman Sachs is “different” from Credit Suisse (not to pick on Credit Suisse!).

In previous writings on “signature experience” I’ve exemplified what “signature experience” transformations can look like. However, I’ve purposely avoided walking through the structure of what a “signature experience” integration project would look like as those mechanics tend to be less intellectually interesting and less foundational. Merged firms that are successfully integrated have a rich portfolio of processes to support the “1+1=3” work streams, and the “signature experience” integration project structure below is a great example of such.

I break down a “signature experience” integration project into five phases:

Focus & Mobilize

  • Review strategy, practice development, marketing materials, as well as any client research; conduct individual interviews with leaders
  • Create a working team to dedicate 1/4+ time to the project (2-3 people) over about four months; create a steering team to participate in key workshops
  • Deliverable(s): Document a project plan

Outcomes Model

  • Conduct additional concentrated intake in areas of special focus (e.g., shoring up a flagging industry sector effort that represents substantial long term opportunity)
  • Hold working sessions to clarify desired outcomes and prioritize client behaviors
  • Translate the outcomes into specific revenue/profit growth objectives, and build alignment on the outcomes
  • Deliverable(s): Description of business outcomes

Truth About Today

  • Review client-facing processes, services, and other exposures; conduct client and employee interviews
  • Identify gaps and opportunities associated with desired outcomes; identify “low hanging fruit” quick wins
  • Deliverable(s): i) Truth About Today summary and implications; ii) Summary of top client interviews

Vision & Design

  • Define end-to-end experience vision aligned with desired outcomes
  • Develop description of initial experience enhancements and service improvements
  • Describe process, structure, employee experience and technology implications
  • Deliverable(s): Document the above

 Roadmap

  • Develop roadmap for acting on initial experience innovations, as well as the iterative design, refinement, testing, and creation of new experiences
  • Deliverable(s): i) Roadmap of initial experience innovations, and process to support development of new experience innovations; ii) Playbook

The above framing does not reflect a lot of project detail, or descriptions of all of the working team sessions, steering team sessions, and other standing meetings along the way. What I hope the above does accomplish is provide you with a concrete sense of what a journey would look like to build a unitary firm using “signature experience” methods!

Edge Principal Mike White, an expert in the field of law-firm growth, works with firms and practice groups in two primary areas: client experience innovation & differentiation, and strategic planning for growth. He also advises firms on business-development skills training/planning/coaching, law-firm succession planning, lateral-partner integration, and partner-compensation restructuring.

Virtual Coffee Breaks

Reaching out to clients and colleagues while working remotely can seem awkward, especially if there is no apparent reason for doing so.  The value of connecting during this time is in preserving and enhancing relationships by showing genuine care.

The most effective way to do a “virtual coffee break” is one person (be it client or colleague) at a time.

I suggest you consider these steps:

  1. Make a list of coffee candidates NOW before this idea slips away… put a few names down… if only two or three individuals come to mind, that’s fine — it’s enough to get started… add more as they occur to you. Candidates might include clients (past and present), referral sources, colleagues (who you may not be interacting with as much as usual because you/they are working from home), as well as any other individuals who are important to you professionally.  Personal friends and family are important too but they go on a different list.
  2. Choose a person from your list. Don’t procrastinate – just do it!
  3. Text or email suggesting a 10-15-minute virtual coffee break.
  4. Your communication might be something like: “Matthew/Elizabeth, I hope you are well. It has been a while since we last spoke… I’d like to catch up over a virtual coffee if that sounds good to you. Would Wednesday at 3pm or Thursday at 11am work better for you? (Feel free to tell me if we need other options). Have a wonderful day.”
  5. Assuming an affirmative response, send a Zoom (or Microsoft Team) invitation.
  6. At the virtual coffee break, really have a beverage at hand (coffee, tea, water…).
  7. Ask how she/he is doing and be an attentive listener. Do not allow the conversation to deflect to yourself right away. Be gracious, but still persistent with caring and curiosity. Find out how your coffee break companion is REALLY doing. Also – an important note – be sure to use your judgement to not over-reach.
  8. After the call, make a note or two. You will be glad to remember details two months later when you circle back to check in again.
  9. Throw a reminder into your calendar to touch base again after what you consider to be a reasonable period of time.

This is so simple that you might just discount the idea and not do it.  That would be a mistake.

Shoot me a note if you would like to set up a virtual coffee break with me — I can show you some strong anecdotal evidence as to why these “virtual coffee breaks” are so powerful.

Gerry Riskin, B. Com, LLB, P. Admin, is an internationally recognized lawyer, author and management consultant and a founder of Edge International.

 

How to Keep a New – and Prized – Client

Getting the relationship right with a new client can often be difficult.  The difficulty of getting it right is accentuated with a major new client, with a large team of lawyers working with multiple stakeholders on the client-side, often layered through the client’s internal hierarchy.

This short article explores a tried and tested way to increase the likelihood of a smooth-running client relationship – through a facilitated ‘Norming’ Workshop, aimed at getting the relationship going on the right footing, or at strengthening an existing relationship.

In 2009, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer (Freshfields) was appointed as the official law firm for the London 2012 Olympics, having won the role in a tender process organised by the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (LOCOG).  The firm provided an agreed quantum of services for free as part of a sponsorship agreement.  Several Freshfields lawyers were provided on secondment to LOCOG and in addition Freshfields provided legal advice as an external counsel to LOCOG’s specialised team of lawyers.

This was an important and high profile piece of work and both Freshfields and LOCOG were anxious to get the relationship right.  Early on in the relationship, LOCOG’s General Counsel decided with the Freshfields’ relationship partner to bring the two teams of lawyers together in a workshop facilitated by external consultants (of which I was one), so as to give the relationship the best chance of functioning at an optimal level.

It is well-established that new teams – including groups brought together as ‘one’ team – go through a staged process often described as forming, storming, norming and performing.  Not all teams make it to the third or fourth stages of this process. Some get stuck in ‘storming’ mode, i.e. dysfunctionality. This is obviously disastrous for optimal working outcomes.

Another challenge of bringing two groups together is the risk of those groups operating as silos – when this is the case each group operates as an autonomous silo or bubble and members of the other group are viewed as ‘out’ group members rather than members of the ‘in’ group or team.   This is similarly poor for optimal working outcomes.

Why a facilitated ‘Norming’ Workshop?

The main advantages to your firm are:

 

  • Each group gets to know each other from the start of the relationship. Or if the relationship is already underway, the two groups get to know each other better.

 

  • The workshop can be used to create a better understanding of respective personalities and working styles. For example a simple exercise can be done profiling the styles of group members and a basic mapping of communication preferences and working styles can be developed.

 

  • Any particular preferences (likes or dislikes) can be worked through before the relationship gets going – or, if the relationship is underway, likes or dislikes can be surfaced and discussed. Do team members prefer to communicate primarily by email? At what point do they prefer verbal communication, either face-to-face or by video or phone?  How does the client like to receive advice?  – short bullet points, lengthier advice with a short summary etc.

 

  • If the relationship has already been running for a while, are there any particular bugbears? Is either side doing something that bothers the other side?  This can apply either way – the law firm can be doing something that annoys the client or vice-versa.  It is better that bugbears are named and dealt with than allowed to fester.

 

  • The workshop is also an opportunity for those at different layers in the law firm and client hierarchies to get to know each other. These informal links can prove invaluable in nurturing a truly strong relationship between law firm and client.

 

In the case of the Freshfields / LOCOG engagement, it was particularly important to get the relationship right, with the looming deadline of the 2012 Olympic Games – and very limited room to correct if anything went wrong along the way.

 

Some additional – and less obvious – advantages:

 

  • Offering a ‘Norming’ Workshop or introductory session can be a real differentiator that adds value to the law firm pitch when trying to win a mandate or panel appointment as part of a competitive tendering process. A new relationship usually kicks off without this type of process, which from experience is valuable to, and valued by, the client.

 

  • The ‘Norming’ Workshop is an opportunity for the law firm to learn additional ways in which it can add value to the client and thereby improve the relationship. The pitch meeting might have provided a glimpse into additional ways to add value, but a facilitated session provides a fuller opportunity to get to know the client better, in a constructive, facilitated, environment.

 

Getting the ‘Norming’ Workshop right requires careful planning and coordination between the law firm and its client:

 

  • The external consultant will be able to guide the law firm – usually the relevant relationship partner – as to how to position the proposed ‘Norming’ Workshop in the most positive and constructive way.

 

  • It is also important that the workshop is positioned constructively internally within the law firm – some members of the team may be concerned that the workshop will expose them or – if the relationship is already underway – surface negative feedback and in fact undermine the relationship. With the right internal positioning these concerns can easily be allayed.

 

  • It is important to establish good dialogue between key representatives from the law firm and the client so that the design of the workshop meets the respective needs of each side. For example in a recent ‘Norming Workshop’ the law firm proposed a session around personality profiling but the external client (a government department) felt that it was too early in the relationship to do this and that the exercise might backfire.  The client wanted to spend more of the workshop on wellbeing issues, as a gentler way to launch the relationship.  Feedback from key stakeholders post workshop was that this was received well by each of the respective teams.

 

  • The design of the workshop may need to go through several iterations. Some issues to consider are:

 

  • Length of workshop – half a day or longer? Is this a deep dive or a very gentle introduction of the respective teams to each other?

 

  • Content of workshop – substantive content? Team profiling / individual profiling?  Balance between large group ‘plenary’ discussion, ‘learning’, discussion in small groups, discussion in pairs.

 

  • Speakers? – is it helpful to have an input from an external speaker, e.g. someone who is an inspirational role model? At a recent workshop the law firm wanted to profile its commitment to diversity and brought in a para athlete sponsored by the firm who was able to talk about overcoming adversity, resilience and the importance of maintaining focus on challenging goals.

The key to all of the above is to assemble a small working team to plan the workshop – this should consist of the external consultant or consultants and key stakeholders from both law firm and client (usually no more than one or two from each).

For further information or to discuss the issues in this article, please contact Jonathan Middleburgh at Middleburgh@edge-international.com or on +44(0)7973 836343
Edge Principal Jonathan Middleburgh consults on senior human capital issues and coaches senior legal talent in both law firms and legal departments. A former practicing lawyer who is also trained as an organisational psychologist, Jonathan has a wide range of experience helping law firms and legal departments to develop their senior legal talent so as to maximise business outcomes.

Clients and Partners – Social Distancing and the Circle of Trust

The building of rapport and trust is difficult enough in a benign environment but has become much more challenging in an era of lockdown and social distancing. At the best of times, law firms are low-trust environments – as some years ago, a commentator described them. Of course, we have to trust our partners, especially when it comes to professionalism, ethics, and matters of integrity, but lawyers tend to leave their personal feelings at home and erect around themselves boundaries of autonomy and detachment. This is often evidenced by closed office doors, and a stand-offish aura.

This sort of detachment can also spill over into client relationships. The much-vaunted “trusted adviser” status assumes a level of rapport, closeness and concord that lawyers can find difficult to achieve, especially as they have had the need for objectivity drilled into them from an early age. Put another way, there are huge emotional barriers in the way, both of allowing other people into our inner circles of trust and of us entering theirs. This is true as much with internal relationships as external ones, and has become even more difficult in times of lockdown where some professionals have relished being left alone to carry on with their work uninterrupted by any form of human contact.

Even where the professional longs to develop closer relationships with clients, both remote working and the advent of greater commoditisation through technology create obstacles. This was true before lockdown – where, after winning a new client, the initial excitement of getting to know the client often seemed to run out and internal energy resources quickly depleted, especially in the face of client push-back against a greater degree of friendliness. The same is true in developing closer colleague relationships. Breaking through these barriers to achieve greater rapport, closeness and trust can be a bit like a marathon runner “hitting the wall”. This is often the case when trying for trusted adviser status in client relationships.

There are three tools we can put in place that allow us to break though the wall and gain (or regain) close and more trusting relationships both with our colleagues and our clients even despite social distancing and periods of remote working. These are the three “Es” of Equilibrium, Energy and – possibly most important of all – the sadly overlooked value of Empathy.

  1. Equilibrium: Changing our ways and approaches can be tricky and requires a consistent rebalancing effort in order to maintain or recover our equilibrium. Homeostasis refers to the ability of a firm and the individuals within it to achieve optimal states of equilibrium by rebalancing internal and external turbulences in whatever ways are possible. The current coronavirus crisis makes attaining a steady state of homeostasis a vital imperative. Like living systems, organisations in normal times experience gradual, incremental types of change as they grow, mature or decline. Impacting on this, however, are the more disruptive changes that technology and new business models have brought to the legal services sector that need the organisation to reorient and adapt to achieve some measure of equilibrium. Additionally, coronavirus has or will introduce environmental changes so great that they are beyond the limits within which the usual homeostatic mechanisms can easily cope. To face this, the organisation as a system has to transform itself into another form that is more suitable to the new environment. Coronavirus gives firms the opportunity (and requirement) to implement homeostatic changes including working at home, the adoption of new technological resources and the redesign of business processes. It is clear that change that is necessary is the need to flex social and relational attitudes and conduct to adapt to more remote and more technological ways of working, whilst at the same time enabling the development of rapport and trust with far less face-to-face interaction. What is more, members of all professional service firms are finding they have to adapt and change behaviours as well, in order to maintain their own equilibrium. There are huge benefits to this.
    • Firms are finding that some meetings work better through live streaming, as opposed to travelling some distance to attend face to face.
    • Technologically inept professionals are having to learn to harness technology.
    • Video calls are proving much more effective than voice calls and email and give the opportunity to build rapport.
    • Junior professionals are relishing the trust placed in them as they are given more responsibility to arrange their working day and adopt self-discipline to enable better home working.
    • Face-to-face interactions (albeit socially distanced) are becoming better valued as restrictions are eased.
  2. Energy: Most lawyers and professionals are highly goal oriented and can easily become discouraged if their efforts fail to achieve quick results, or can become bored if they are required to carry out tasks that do not seem to be outcome-oriented. Some activities can even be hastily discarded on the basis that they are a waste of time. Hence, overtures of friendship or rapport-building to clients or colleagues can quickly run out of steam if they meet initial resistance. The importance of building or maintaining relationships can be ignored during times of remote working. Like the runner hitting the proverbial wall, the adaptive and fit professional needs persistence and oxygen to win through, rather than give up or turn to more immediately satisfying goal-related efforts. It is a challenge to stay connected with clients and colleagues from a distant setting, and an even greater challenge to improve relationships and break into their circle of trust. Here the old marketing “seven times seven” motto (that a message has to be repeated seven times in seven different ways) holds true for developing relationships as much as for winning new clients. Taking relationships for granted is never a good idea. The truth is that relationships – like fitness – atrophy over time unless renewal efforts are made. It takes energy to maintain the commitment to clients and colleagues. More importantly, remote video-conferencing meetings are proving to be extremely taxing. Most meetings even on a one-to-open basis run out of energy after a much shorter time than meetings in the flesh, and so the need to build reserves of resilience and vigour – like training to be an athlete – requires time and effort.
  3. Empathy can be defined as understanding how another person feels, fuelled by a curiosity to find out what it is like to be the other. It can foster the ability to understand what it is like to be your client or partner and to align with their agenda and their feelings. But it does require work in getting to know your client or colleague at a deeper level, including what type of personality they are, how they react to change and turbulence, what their typical anxieties and worries might be, what drives or motivates them and what makes them sad, depressed or angry. In short, it requires the professional to stand in the shoes of his colleague or client and to get to grips with how they see the world in very different ways than how the professional sees the world. The surprising news is that empathy can be developed remotely, as the predominant skill in building empathy is careful and active listening and this can almost as easily be done by video call as by meeting face to face. It has to be remembered that honest and open communication is an act of the will, not of personality. Sometimes the greatest difficulty is making an effort to listen to the other person and to detect what they might be feeling. This degree of empathy requires hard work and a conscious decision to show an interest. After all, communication is always hard work and although a face-to-face video meeting is better than no meeting at all, nevertheless the full range of perceptive skills, the reading of body language, the fullness of eye contact and the ability to read subtle clues to gauge levels of interest and engagement become much more challenging.

If we knew that the world would normalise within weeks, it might be possible to put relationship-building on hold, but there is a growing sense that communications in the business world have changed for good. Doing nothing to develop and maintain relationships is not an option. Social distancing and remotely conducted relationship building are not easy but these three tools fit together to bring about a better solution than complete inactivity. Furthermore, the absence of travel time and the reduction in prosaic and circular meetings gives lawyers and other professionals more time – albeit remotely – to connect and reconnect. A new equilibrium or homeostasis can be achieved to build relationships through empathy with people in respect of whom professionals have either lost contact or where the association has reached only an outer circle of mutual affinity that is far outside the ideal circle of trust.

Client Remote Working Outreach — Managing Partner Checklist

Managing Partners: Capitalize on your firm’s opportunity to enhance your outreach program to clients.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT

The extremely fragile state of mind of your clients makes this essential for three reasons:

  • It’s the right thing to do. You will help them.
  • The unique opportunity is NOW, when client needs are intense.
  • Your firm’s relationships with your clients will be forever enhanced.

MY RESEARCH – HANDS-ON EXPERIENCE

In my research with individual attorneys and client firms I have learned that:

  • Many attorneys have been reaching out to at least some clients.
  • Some have done an effective job of showing care and concern.
  • Others have been a bit mechanical and missed the opportunity to show caring.
  • Those participating in the outreach can learn a lot from each other by sharing experiences.

QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR ATTORNEYS

(test your attorneys’ client-awareness)

How are your clients doing right now?

What are their situations?

  • Living alone or with a significant other?
  • Kids?
  • Pets?
  • Do they have at-risk friends or relatives?
  • Is any family member or friend sick?

What are they doing to stay sane professionally or personally?

  • Virtual Happy Hours?
  • Virtual lunches?
  • Virtual coffee?
  • Other?

How are they coping with working from home (WFH)?

  • Regular work hours/routine?
  • Sleep – OK, or not so much?
  • Stress – how bad is it and what are they doing to reduce it?

Note: Attorneys who cannot answer these questions are not really in touch with their clients right now.

“What benefits would accrue to you or your practice group by showing you care about your clients?” (In a facilitated discussion, record these benefits.)

HOW DO YOU DO THE OUTREACH?

Have each attorney list some client contacts and referral sources, active or otherwise.

Ask your attorneys to invite several clients a day to communicate.

  • Attorneys should suggest video.
  • They should explain why they’d like to use video.
  • Feedback from others suggests most people prefer video.
  • As a precaution, they should allow clients a choice (phone).

Attorneys should be trained to ask open-ended big picture questions, like

  • How are you doing? (Make it clear that you really want to know.)
  • Are there any surprises – things you did not expect WFH?
  • What’s the hardest part about WFH?
  • What’s the best part of WFH?
  • Do you need anything? How can I help?

Encourage your attorneys to:

  • Probe (dig deeper): “What’s that like?”
  • Avoid leading questions, like “It’s not so bad, right?”
  • Use empathy in your answers: “That must be pretty difficult.”

DO NOT SELL

The outreach is about showing care, concern and empathy. If you are perceived to be looking for more work you will have reduced your credibility to ZERO.

TRACKING THE OUTREACH

  • Ask attorneys to list those to whom they have reached out.
  • Ask attorneys tell you about how each client reacted.
  • Publicize the anecdotes in your team meetings.
  • Give the attorneys who do this well some recognition. Ask them to detail in a team meeting.

CONCLUSION

Your outreach is a condition precedent to maintaining or enhancing client relationships.

The door to this opportunity is wide open – walk through it.

Do a good job, not a perfect job. (Don’t be the perfectionist who missed the opportunity.)

MAY I HELP YOU? If you would like to have an informal discussion about this topic, please let me know and I’ll set up a video meeting with you (no fee).

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on your outreach to clients or any other matter relating to law firms and their management – during crises or at any other time. Reach me via email.

Law Firm Resilience in a Crisis: Part Three – Commercial and Client Resilience

by Yarman Vachha, Leon Sacks and Chris Bull

The “Law Firm Resilience in a Crisis” series

This short paper is the third in our series addressing law firm responses to crisis. The underlying theme unifying all of these pieces is the need to balance fast-tracked, short-term decisions and actions with an emphasis on medium-term recovery and resilience. Having begun with an examination of financial resilience in part one, and then turned to operational resilience in part two, we are now focusing on commercial and client resilience.

All three pieces on Law Firm Resilience in a Crisis have been gathered together in one place on our website: You may wish to bookmark that tab for easy reference.

Commercial and Client Resilience

As the three Edge International authors of this paper are based in Europe, Asia and the Americas respectively, we aim to synthesise our experience and observations of different legal markets that are also at slightly different points in the evolving Covid-19 crisis. As with the previous papers, we wanted to foreground practical actions that law firm leaders can use in their firms. In this case we have posed and responded to ten core questions many firms are asking themselves as they grapple with a uniquely challenging crisis; we want the paper to serve as a quick self-assessment checklist. Our ten questions fall under three themes: client relationships, business development in a digital and virtual world, and commercial strategies.

Resilience and Client Relationships

  1. How are you supporting your clients?

This will be one of multiple places where you read someone preach the message that, in times like these, you have to put clients first. But what does that mean in a practical sense? In our view, the critical challenge is that clients need to see how you are supporting them through what will be as tough a period – probably tougher – for many of them as it will be for you. The future loyalty of your clients as the economy recovers will be dependent on how you behaved during the crisis. That involves investigating and understanding the biggest issues and concerns your client has, and tailoring your communications, offers of assistance, updates and terms and conditions to those issues and concerns. They should be specific for your largest, most important clients and as tailored as you can make them to groups of clients in sectors, regions, etc. Your support might include some leeway on pricing, billing or collections, although that should obviously be carefully considered in the light of your own financial position.

  1. Are you getting through to your clients?

The latest Covid-19 crisis has yielded a barrage of the kind of broadcasting updates and generic statements from a range of companies that we have become used to around any economic or legislative event (including, early on, a stream of bland reassurances that it was ‘business as usual at Firm X’) – except on an even bigger scale. This blizzard of ‘noise’ on social media and coming into Inboxes is impossible to navigate or consume. Your clients want, based on your insight gained from (1) above, personalized, tailored and value-adding communications. Calls are great and many clients are much easier to get hold of right now. Emails or messages should stand out, and personalization (i.e., coming from a name they know, not a corporate or marketing mailbox) is key to getting that done.

  1. Which services and practices are you promoting?

For almost all firms, there needs to be a rapid re-prioritizing of which practice areas and services should be marketed and highlighted to clients. Within the space of a month, the markets have flipped; in many cases, that has meant a sudden drop in corporate and real estate transactions, a boom in interest in labour and restructuring law, a refocus onto different clauses in commercial contracts, and a spike in wills and estates work. The exact pattern differs between jurisdictions and firms. At the same time, corporate legal departments will be trying to keep their own teams busy, and restricting further the flow of certain types of work out to external counsel. The overall rule holds true, though: firms need to pivot to ensure clients are presented with the firm’s credentials in areas they may not have used in the past. Client-relationship partners will often need to communicate the services of practice areas they don’t work in and know less about. Cross-firm collaboration at this point is critical.

Resilient business development in a digital and virtual world

  1. Have you rewritten your marketing and business development plan?

If not, you need to to so, and quickly. Much of the activity you had planned – events, networking, secondments, training programs – has been blown out of the water by lockdown. It will probably take a long time for this kind of ‘business as usual,’ in-person marketing to regain its full effectiveness, assuming it ever does. For many firms, you will be looking to cut costs for a period and marketing will be in your sights. However, cut too far and you risk competitors getting close to your clients and your firm becoming invisible at a critical time. We recommend that you review and rewrite the plan you had, probably reducing overall spending but re-prioritizing ruthlessly. Ensure those practices that are most buoyant in this economy get profile and are highly visible online and in your communications. Rank higher the investments of time and money that can provide a faster payback period and short-term return on investment. In particular, ensure that your digital impact is really effective – at a time when the only way for prospects and clients to stay informed is digital, you have to be at the top of your game.

  1. What are your partners and lawyers doing with their time?

OK, in a crisis situation many senior lawyers will be very busy; their particular practice area may be booming, they may be covering for furloughed colleagues, they may be asked to step up as part of your emergency team. In the Covid-19 lockdown, most lawyers, however, are working from home and have reduced levels of new work, no travel time eating into their day and no in-person networking duties. We talked about personalized, regular contact with clients above, and that is where a chunk of this available time should be redeployed: video calls, ‘virtual coffees’ (or drinks, later in the day – we have seen some nice Zoom ‘home bar’ backgrounds!), quick check-in messages on social media. In addition, this is the time to fully engage your senior lawyers, some of whom haven’t really embraced or become comfortable online before now, in posting and sharing their insights on social platforms and in articles. Quality and tone are important; do ensure you have enough marketing resources to edit, coordinate and help promote these efforts.

  1. Is your digital delivery of client services good enough?

For most firms in the current crisis digital delivery of legal services to clients will, by now, be in place and working. A few months back many law firms would not have responded ‘Yes’ if asked whether their interaction with clients was almost entirely digital but, right now (including via Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp et al), almost all would. However, clients will not be tolerant for lots of glitchy, taped-together digital processes; in their dealings with other professionals and service providers they will be exposed to some very slick models indeed. Soon, they will expect you to be just as good. And this is one thing extremely unlikely to revert when we return from lockdown – streamlined, painless, reliable and ideally paperless legal services will be a badge of a quality law firm. So, we suggest you continue to evolve and develop your digital services over the coming months. Do not assume you should scrape through to the time when you can get back to everyone in an office with piles of paper and clients happy to travel distances to come and visit.

  1. How does a new client find you?

This is critical for private client work, but still a big factor for B2B services; in a world which is now even more reliant on internet searches, social media and online directories and recommendations, you need to be very certain how visible your firm is in these media. Does your online presence and Google ranking do justice to the quality and expertise of each of your practices – most especially those which you need to drive the firm’s performance over the next year? If not, this needs fixing; many firms will acknowledge that they haven’t paid as much attention to their search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click (PPC) and social media performance as they could have until now.

Commercial strategies for resilience

  1. Do you have the commercial data you need to make quick decisions in a crisis?

This is a major area of research and development for us at Edge International, and we believe there is a case for most firms reviewing and overhauling their production of management information (MI) without the catalyst of a crisis. But a crisis certainly exacerbates this issue, especially one where we have such high levels of uncertainty, a very sudden stalling in key markets and the breakdown of in-person collaboration and supervision. Providing real-time information feeds to partners, team and department leaders and leadership are incredibly important, but also structured and packaged MI on a weekly, rather than the conventional monthly, frequency could be critical. We emphasized the need to track cash metrics obsessively in our first paper, but equally important is the tracking of pipeline and new activity: weekly trend reports that show how proposals/quotations, new matters and time recorded are progressing are critical to providing the firm with the lead indicators it needs to plan its next steps.

  1. Do you need to provide free or discounted advice?

This is too big a question to answer in one paragraph of a short paper, but it is one that would definitely make the ‘Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions’ from law firm partners right now. Many existing clients and potential new clients have short, urgent questions in the current crisis; typically, these are about providing latest updates on government crisis support or on one legal issue, and sometimes they involve a bit of interpretation. Clients are often cash-strapped, laying off staff and cutting costs. So there is understandable pressure on lawyers to provide a quick piece of free-of-charge advice. This is easiest to justify in the case of loyal, ongoing clients who are continuing to provide instructions – it is a statement of support from the firm in return. For new clients, it could help lure in more substantive new work, but we encourage firms to find ways to link the provision of this initial advice beyond simple information updates to some commitment by the client. This could be in the form of a new advisory retainer service that will run through for a fixed period, with some initial free or discounted hours.

  1. Should you ask for money upfront for new work?

Some readers will respond by saying ‘we already do’ and where you have managed to embed this practice universally, well done! For most firms, such requests are harder to achieve but we do believe it is a sensible practice to apply wherever you can in a crisis and recessionary period, where many clients face an uncertain immediate future and firms themselves need to manage their cash positions with great care. For existing clients, do ask them to pay outstanding invoices before you begin a new piece of work. And where you feel it is necessary to offer debtors deferrals or instalments of their outstanding invoices, do ensure you link this action specifically to your support for clients during this difficult period.

Our final checklist point brings us neatly back to the first question: How do you demonstrate that you are all about supporting your clients through this crisis? That is the right point to wrap up Part 3 of the series. We hope you have found this article valuable and that it gets used and shared in your firm.

We are really interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences, and we are ready to discuss other ways in which we can help in this challenging period. Do feel free to contact us – our details are below.

This article was written by the following Edge International principals:

Chris Bull is a strategy, operations and change consultant who has established himself as one of the leading advisors to legal businesses in the dynamic and innovative UK market, as well as working in the US and internationally. He has built a reputation as a legal market pioneer and innovator, having worked for all four of the Big Four accounting/consulting firms, been one of the first partner-level chief operating officers at a law firm and overseen some of the largest global legal process outsourcing deals at ALSP Integreon. Europe: chris@edge-international.com

Yarman J. Vachha is based in Singapore with four decades of experience in the professional services industry globally. He has run global legal business across Asia, Australia and the Middle East. He is a subject-matter expert in improving profitability, operations, remuneration structures and governance within law firms. Asia: yarman@edge-international.com

Leon Sacks is a trusted international executive of 30 years’ experience, noted for growing revenues and managing transformation projects for professional service firms in the management consulting and legal industries. He is based in Miami and consults principally to the Americas region. He has worked extensively in Latin America and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. Americas: leon@edge-international.com

 

Business Development: An Introduction to the 2-4-8 Model, Revenue Gaps, and the Relationship Bell Curve

The 2-4-8 Model

This model compares revenue against time allocation, helping us to make informed decisions around clients, productivity and sustainability.

Identify each of your clients in descending order by revenue ($) or profit margin (%). Place each client into the grid below, inserting your highest value client at number one and so on. You can continue down to 16 or 32 or 64 should you wish to.

Now consider the respective relationships in your grid and the amount of time you and your business spends servicing each client – for example:

  • Client No. 1 generates 20% of revenue and takes up 5% of time;
  • Client No. 7 generates 3% of revenue and takes up 20% of time.

Do we spend enough time with those clients that we should, and too much time with those that we shouldn’t?

Now consider the revenue over the past three years. Is the revenue for each client trending up, down, or no change?

Do you have the capability to increase your share of wallet with Client No. 7? If yes, work out a plan. If no, this client may not be financially sustainable in the long term and you need to consider your options.

Revenue Gaps

This approach uses the three-year 2-4-8 analysis to project out future revenues. Use a grid chart to identify gaps in your revenue.

In the example above, March has no projected revenue; therefore, based on the Relationship Bell Curve concept (see below), we should have looked for opportunities to close the gap 6 to 12 months ago!

The Relationship Bell Curve

We live in an environment where everything operates at speed. We want everything and we want it now.

But effective relationships take time to develop, and to build successful, profitable relationships you must embrace long-term thinking vs short-term thinking!

It takes on average, around 6 to 12 months to develop a relationship (70%). In some instances it may happen a lot quicker (15%) and, in other cases, it may take a lot longer (15%).

Mahatma Ghandi said “The future depends on what you do in the present”.

Make sure that you are working on your relationships well in advance!

 

 

Build Conversational Momentum to Set the Table for the Pitch

To their credit, lawyers are results-oriented professionals. When we practice our craft, we think in terms of objectives, and the activities necessary along the way to achieve those goals. Clients pay for results and lawyers want to deliver on those expected results. Generally speaking, this is a great bias to have as a professional services provider – and as a lawyer. However, such a bias can muck up the business-development process.

I often find that many of my clients think very “digitally” about relationship-cultivating conversations: the discussion toggles between personal-rapport building (“So, how are the spouse and kids?”) and the ultimate “ask” (“So, how about giving me a shot at working on one of your matters; try me out . . . you’ll like it!”).

Relationship cultivation is not a process that operates at two ends of a continuum but rather is iterative, cumulative, and permission-based. It requires one to manage toward a series of tactical conversational and (often information-gathering) goals that fall well short of the ultimate goal of getting retained to do work; it is a process that – if done right – sets the table for the culminating “retention ask” without making that “ask” while you are setting that table.

In developing relationships, it takes time to get to a point where you can pitch prospects on why they should hire you. When you do get to that point, the message is pretty simple: Articulate your value proposition – i.e., answer these questions: “Why are you good? ” “Why are you different? ” “What problem will you help me solve?”  “Why will we get unique business value from working with you?” However, setting the table for that discussion during the relationship-building and information-gathering phase requires you to use a different form of conversational currency; the “value proposition” isn’t relevant yet.

There are lots of reasons why persons of consequence might want to spend time in meeting with you while you’re gathering your intelligence, building a history and establishing a relationship. Below is a list of some reasons you can use to secure the next meeting:

  • Mentoring – business peers love to serve as mentors; you can say to them, “As an outside lawyer I’m trying to get smarter about how sophisticated law departments manage the legal function and corporate risk; you’re smart about those issues and I’d love to pick your brain over coffee to get the benefit of your managerial knowledge . . “;
  • Information – prospects are usually quite willing to offer up information on their company if you’re genuinely interested in the business; this is a good conversational space to occupy as you build the relationship before you ask for sponsorship into others or to affect a retention decision;
  • Networking – all professionals think about how they should build out their network; whole conversations can be consumed with a discussion about mutual relationship brokerage;
  • Humility – people love to spend time with humble professionals. You get a lot of credit for not puffing about your capabilities. Stick to the limited mission (information, mentoring, learning about the prospect’s company, taking a market survey of the in-house law department function, etc.);
  • Therapeutic/cathartic/”me-ism” – sometimes people just want to get something off their chests, and they relish the opportunity to sit in front of someone and eat up all of the airtime talking about the good, the bad . . . Give these people that experience and they will reward you with future meetings as you ask for information, for sponsorship into others, and perhaps ultimately, to be hired;
  • Sweat equity – referral sources will start to think of you differently if they see you helping them advance their own agendas. Put together a set of joint activities that will help you get in front of prospects of interest to both of you – that’s an equity builder. Connectors who are beneficiaries of your thinking, planning, and sweat equity to make your collaboration mutually fruitful will reciprocate and extend themselves for you; they will open their own relationship base of introductions up to you;
  • Respect for the introducer – prospects who meet you through a warm introduction generally want to make the introducer happy – they generally will take the first meeting on that basis alone, even if the meeting’s purpose is relatively non-specific.

Use the above concepts to link together your interactions over time and generate conversational momentum. This momentum sets the table for your pivot to “the pitch.”

Here is an example of multi-discussion sequence with a new prospect. Notice how every conversation builds from the other, thereby creating the desired momentum:

Conversation #1 – Rapport build; establish connection; gain general industry or functional knowledge

Conversation #2 – Anecdotal survey about industry or function; benchmarking and best practices discussion

Conversation #3 – Areas of responsibility – matter types, etc.; professional pain points and areas of movement; learn about relationship-brokerage opportunities

Conversation #4 – Propose introductions; deliver value add; pre-close proposition

Conversation #5 – Pre-close and share expectations

 

Business Development: Strategic Client Relationship Management

2-FortinaRemember the old adage “The Client is King”? Put more baldly, the reason your business remains in existence is because you have clients. To lose sight of this carries the risk of losing clients. You know that the world you operate in is highly competitive and aggressive. You also know clients are (mostly) sophisticated buyers of legal services with high expectations and demands. The better you know your clients, the better the relationship – and therefore the less chance your clients will look elsewhere. It is well understood that it costs more to discover and develop new relationships than it does to look after existing ones. In addition, you do not need to have new clients to grow your business; you could quite possibly grow your share of their wallet by extending your service offering to your current clients through effective cross selling.

It is assumed that your firm has a clear plan and strategy which encompasses strategic client-relationship management, namely:

  • You have a clear and well communicated Firm Strategic Plan, Business Plan and Operational Plans that are understood in all parts of your firm (HR, IT, Finance, Secretarial & Administration, Reception and all Legal Staff);
  • The Strategic Plan includes: Vision, Values, Purpose, Mission, Key Success Factors, Key Strategic Objectives; Practice Objectives; Goals and Actions;
  • You have identified your Ideal Client.

With this in mind there are many business development aspects to take into consideration when looking after existing clients. It is important that you align all business development activities to your firm’s overarching strategic plan – so the day-to-day activities feed into the business plan, which feeds into the strategic plan. If they do not, ask yourself this: What is the purpose of these business development activities?

Client relationship management should be your number one business development activity. How well you do it may have long term impacts on your relationships and therefore the success of your firm. Here are a few questions which will help you work out how well you know your clients and explore the type of relationship you want with them.

In regard to your client:

  • Do you know your client’s strategy?
  • Do you know what significant business issues your client is facing?

And what about you?

  • Do you make it your business to understand what is special and unique about your client?
  • Do you care about your client?
  • Do you offer a clear explanation of what you are doing for them and why?
  • Do you keep your client sufficiently informed on progress?
  • Do you make sure that you are accessible and available when your client needs you?
  • Do you keep your promises on deadlines and targets?
  • Do you keep within your scope parameters?
  • Do you make your clients feel like they are important to you?
  • Do you make an attempt to be interested and helpful beyond the particulars of the tasks?
  • Are you consistent in all your communications and interactions with your client?

In regard to the relationship:

  • What type of relationship is it and how would you rank it out of 10 (1 low; 10 high)?
  • What are you doing to maintain, build and / or enhance it?
  • Who is / are the key contact points for the client? Do they like them? Do they know they can change their contact?
  • What is your current position with your clients – panel appointment or transaction / commoditised / project based work?
  • Where do you want to position your firm – preferred supplier, trusted advisor role?
  • Have you completed a client plan and identified measurable goals?
  • What is the total annual spend on your services by the client? What percentage do you get? Can you improve on this?
  • Do you have the right people on your client service team?
  • Who are your competitors and in what areas?
  • Have you done any client listening lately? Health checks, debriefs, client conversations? Do you have a 12-month client listening plan? What regular relationship meetings do you have with the client?
  • Getting closer to the client – Have you developed a relationship matrix: i.e., who are the people you need to know and service within the client’s business?
  • Do you have single or multiple relationships with key contacts – looking across the firm and the client?

Conclusion

The wonderful Dale Carnegie said, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” The same goes for business relationships. Get interested in your clients – invest time, effort and energy into your relationships!