Tag Archives: differentiation

INTEGRATION OR DISINTEGRATION, THAT IS THE QUESTION

The objective here is not to be alarmist or suggest that there is a binary choice between life or death, as in Shakespeare’s allusion. It is, however, meant to draw attention to the need for continuous focus on what keeps a professional services firm, and more particularly a partnership, ticking and successful, namely the integration and collective behavior of its partners.

Integration means that partners are working in the same direction towards a shared goal, that that they are aligned in managing their teams and representing the firm and that their capabilities, knowledge, experience and relationships complement each other.

Disintegration is a danger when there are conflicting priorities amongst the partners and divergent opinions about the way business should be conducted and individualistic rather than collective behavior becomes prevalent. The partners or groups of partners become isolated and unhappy and the firm may become a composite of fiefdoms rather than a homogenous unit.

The current reality of disruption with rapid changes in demand and supply chains is challenging leaders and management in the corporate world. In a partnership such challenges are often magnified by the fact that partners consider themselves co-owners of the business, desire to have a say in how business is conducted and wish to share the benefits.

While overseeing the quality of work, client relations, finances, talent, business development and efficient operations, management needs to be attuned to the concerns, motivation and behavior of partners that, untreated, might be detrimental to the achievement of goals in all those areas. Just as a relationship of a married couple needs to be managed so does a partnership, except that in the latter case the marriage counsellor has to deal with multiple people!

Clearly management deals with partner issues on a daily basis and often this means putting out fires and/or spending a great deal of time in managing people’s expectations or explaining why a certain decision makes sense. Issues will always arise but would it not be more efficient to have integration as a permanent item on the agenda knowing that it will require continuous action as the firm grows and changes and as its partners’ careers advance and ambitions change?

Conditions that might indicate the need for greater integration efforts include:

  • partner grievances or departures
  • extensive partner discussions on strategy, structure or processes
  • incompatibility between partners
  • doubts raised by partners about contributions of others
  • reduced partner performance or motivation
  • unsuccessful lateral integration
  • reduced retention rates of attorneys
  • individual v institutional behavior
  • offices or practice groups working autonomously
  • different approaches to service delivery and client management
  • little or no sharing of information
  • “my clients” attitude prevails rather than “our clients”
  • partner compensation system not perceived as fair
  • complaints of excessive centralization or lack of flexibility
  • inconsistent quality of service perceived by clients

These conditions might not have been a common trait but as a firm grows, the partner ranks grow, the number of offices/practices grow and the firm adapts to market conditions, they may develop quickly. If they are not isolated and become a pattern, management needs to evaluate the causes and adopt a remedial action plan.

As suggested earlier, it is preferable that this be done on an ongoing basis taking the temperature of the organization and the status of the partnership on a regular basis and adjusting accordingly – what we might call the integration “agenda”.

The integration agenda should aim to ensure:

a) Partners are “supporting sponsors”

The alignment of partners with the vision and strategy of the firm and their consistent adherence to common and agreed-upon principles is key to leading the firm in the right direction. They should all be supporting sponsors of the firm’s direction and communicate a consistent message in that regard. Partners are largely the face of the firm to clients and its professionals and their behavior weighs heavily on the way the firm is perceived.

b) Strategy drives structure

Whatever the message for integration, if a firm’s structure drives behaviors that are not aligned to that strategy, it will not succeed. As the Harvard Business Review once stated “leaders can no longer afford to follow the common practice of letting structure drive strategy”.

A crude example: if two offices of a firm are organized as two business units with their own local management and the partners in each office are compensated largely based on the results of their own office, a strategy of sharing resources and cross-selling might be prejudiced or, at a minimum, not incentivized.

c) A collaborative environment

Collaboration generates internal synergies (e.g. sharing talent and knowledge) and external benefits (e.g. client development) while allowing partners to feel more connected to each other, reduce their levels of stress (hopefully!) and enjoy more work freedom. Incentives and support for collaboration that reflects a more institutional approach to conducting business are to be encouraged. This is by no means inconsistent with an entrepreneurial approach to business or rewarding individuals for extraordinary performance.

It is not uncommon to find firms consisting of different groups or individuals that are somewhat autonomous, take different approaches to service delivery and client development and work largely in isolation from others (the “composite of fiefdoms” mentioned earlier). This is rarely a pre-meditated or deliberate action but rather derives from different cultures and work habits (resulting from previous experience in other organizations) and behaviors driven by the firm’s governance and partner compensation system (i.e. what is my decision-making authority and how is my compensation determined).

To be an “integrated” firm, a firm that is effective in providing solutions for clients and is efficient in its use of resources, it is imperative to create a unified culture and adopt governance and compensation models that motivate a one firm approach. Consequently, principles that typically underpin integration may be summarized under three headings:

Governance

  • the governance and decision-making structure be clear and understandable
  • the management structure reflects diversity of practices and offices, but with all decisions aligned to the firm’s strategy and to the best interests of the firm as a whole
  • the governance structure reflects the importance of practice and industry groups as natural integrators across offices and jurisdictions
  • authority and policies for decision-making be delegated as appropriate to avoid shackling the organization while allowing for risk mitigation
  • Committees and task forces with appropriate partner representation deal with ongoing issues (e.g. Compensation Committee, Talent Management) and specific projects (e.g. Strategy Review, Remote Working), respectively
  • a partner communication structure that allows partners to be continually informed and feel they are being consulted on issues of relevance to the business

Partner Compensation

  • the compensation system provides clarity on expectations of contributions from partners and aligns compensation with such contributions
  • adopt the right mix of compensation criteria to motivate and reward both behavior that drives the firm strategy (revenues, originations) as well as collaborative behavior that encourages teamwork and partner investment in the growth of the pie, rather than a struggle for a larger share (cross-selling, training initiatives)
  • couple the collection of objective data with subjective inquiries to adequately measure partner contributions and allow for appropriate discretion in applying compensation criteria to promote fair and equitable results
  • consistent partner feedback process

Leadership

  • build and support a culture with a shared mission, joint long-term goals and shared risks and rewards
  • align structure to strategy, clarify roles and responsibilities and enforce accountability
  • promote transparency and open communication and be inclusive
  • build trust and confidence facilitating interaction between partners and creating a healthy dose of interdependence amongst them

Firms can easily lose the focus on integration, an intangible asset, while they are busy dealing with the tangible issues of day to day operations, developing business, serving clients and controlling finances. It is better to manage integration than recover from disintegration.

Leon Sacks is a trusted international executive 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 focused on the Americas, has worked extensively in Latin America and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. Contact: leon@edge-international.com

Why Taking a Broad Approach Drives Optimal Performance

A few years back, I was in England at a time that coincided with a reunion of my high school year. I had left England early in my professional life and thought it would be a great idea to reacquaint myself with school friends, most of whom I had not seen for over 30 years. I was really looking forward to the event and learning what people had done with their lives.

It was a shock when I discovered that the vast majority of my colleagues had lived their lives within a radius of 20 miles of our high school, and seemed to have a pattern of life that had been pre-programmed from the time they started work until the day they planned to retire. My initial reaction was, “How can people live such narrow existences?” but then I realized that I was selfishly pre-judging people based on my own experience of living and working in different countries. However, my initial reaction was also conditioned on observations over the years of the lost opportunities resulting from not thinking more broadly.

The Myopic Associate

I remember vividly dealing with a senior associate of a law firm who was hired to assist with the closure of a bank, where I was interim manager. The initial issues were of a tax nature, but the associate was aware that we also needed to divest of real estate and deal with employment issues, amongst others. We were satisfied with the resolution of the tax issue but, to my amazement, the associate never questioned whether his firm could assist with the other issues, despite the fact that the firm was a large full-service firm. We hired elsewhere.

Business as Usual

I remember discussing with leaders of a law firm’s “trade and commerce” practice group how to grow their practice and increase profitability. I asked them to identify their high-value services. The response was “trade agreements, regulations and commercial transactions” – nothing more than a generic description of what they do and not what generates the most value. After some discussion we discovered that litigation resulting from alleged trade-agreement breaches was where the highest value lay, and where there needed to be more focus.

Conditioned by Habit and Rules

I remember asking the leader of a practice group of a large law firm why the group had many large multinational clients, but those clients were not significant in other practice areas. The answer was that partners of the group were focused on delivery in their own practice area – partially because that is what they were used to, but also because work volume was the main determinant of compensation. Similarly, in another firm, I saw a huge predominance of clients in one industry but the inability to serve those clients outside of one practice area.

These observations illustrate the tendency to follow certain patterns of behavior that have been driven by experience and training and the culture and directives of organizations in which people work. People may be open to thinking and acting more broadly but they also need the motivating drivers – and that responsibility lies with firm management.

In the legal environment, specialization has always been viewed as a key element to success, and often as a competitive differentiator. Clients are looking for resources that have the specific knowledge and experience to resolve problems. However, with the advances of technology and the ability to provide efficient and low-cost solutions to legal needs, particularly those related to standard processes (contracts, registrations, search and discovery, etc.), law firms are addressing changes in their business models and how to leverage their resources to respond to increasingly sophisticated needs of clients.

In his book Range – Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, David Epstein sets out “…how to capture and cultivate the power of breadth, diverse experience, and interdisciplinary exploration, within systems that increasingly demand hyper-specialization…”. Epstein recognizes that specialization is necessary and that when “… facing kind problems, narrow specialization is remarkably efficient.” However, following an analysis of the most successful individuals in multiple fields, he argues that when “facing uncertain environments and wicked problems, breadth of experience is invaluable.” He goes on to say that it empowers those individuals to excel in their fields.

Evidently organizations can and do endeavor to strengthen their bench through strategic hiring and programs of ongoing professional development, involving not just legal skills but also business and people skills. However, the real power of an organization is not in the “range” of each individual but rather in the ability to enable those individuals to work as a team and allow their collective skills and experience to benefit the organization and its clients.

To maximize the range of an organization I suggest that diversity, in the broad sense of the word, be considered, and that it be a key driver in the way the organization is managed. Diversity of capabilities, skills and experience should be considered in the composition of teams to most effectively address the agenda at hand, be it a client matter or an internal project. But it is equally important that diversification be considered when devising and implementing strategy, always visualizing how it can be used to achieve better results. Firms should strive for diversity in professional development to raise capabilities, diversity in approach to business solutions to enhance client service and satisfaction, diversity in performance goals and compensation incentives to drive the right behavior, and diversity in pricing and allocation of resources to maximize profitability.

Valuing diversity pervades everything we do. Yes, specialization is necessary, but cultivating diversity, collaboration and a broader approach drives optimal performance innovation and differentiation.

In subsequent articles I will discuss in more detail how to apply this concept in practice to challenge complacency, individualism and narrow thinking, and to sharpen the edges of your organization and business. In the meantime, I would welcome feedback and especially further examples of lost opportunities and their causes that may be of interest to our readership.

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 has worked extensively in Latin America and is fluent in Portuguese and Spanish.

Differentiation: The Whole Product

Either in the course of my “client experience innovation” work, or in helping groups of partners do a better job finding new clients, I hear the following frustration, “We’re a great law firm! However, as great as we are, we’re no different from other great lawyers at other great law firms who do what we do. Frankly, I find this reality to be really discouraging . . . “.

I largely agree with this lament . . . but only as far as it goes. No doubt it is challenging for a firm and its partners to differentiate themselves in a market at a purely technical level (i.e., based on good lawyering alone); however, corporate consumers of legal work are not just buying “good lawyering” per se – they are often buying much, much more. It is in relation to the “more” that law firms can in fact differentiate themselves.

Commercial legal-services consumers (corporations, in-house lawyers at corporations, business managers who engage outside law firms directly) buy a “whole product” rather than just raw lawyering. For example, they buy a non-technical sensibility that when curveballs emerge during the course of a legal matter, the lawyer-client decisioning about the surprise will be really effective. Or, for example, they often buy benchmarking information you provide about how other clients might assess certain risks and be guided by those insights. They are buying a lot of things outside of “lawyering” that make up the whole product.

An emerging procurement feature in what law firm clients are buying relates to cross-disciplinary integration. Companies want to see all of their providers (lawyer, strategy consultant, business insurance risk consultant, capital markets adviser/investment banker, CPA, etc.) link their insights with other providers outside of their discipline in ways that make sense. For example, litigation lawyers should have a seat at the table when the risk-management consultant quarterbacks the corporate risk-assessment process. Transactional lawyers should play a role in the post-acquisition business-integration process being managed by outside management consultants. Learn who are the other non-law firm advisers to your clients and try to partner with them in this way with “hybrid” insights and solutions.

Certain client types really appreciate the role a law firm can play outside of “lawyering” in helping them do what they do as a business. For example, private equity funds are most challenged by their low-quality (and quantity) deal flow; today they have a hard time finding well priced companies in their focused sector in which to invest. Any law firm that can directly – or indirectly (through the law firm’s clients and other relationships) – enhance a private equity fund’s deal flow will transcend the noise and position itself to be retained.

Law firm clients give law firms credit for being “better” just by being “different”; despite this, law firms do a really bad job of differentiating themselves. Law firms that do try to differentiate do so at a purely technical level (“. . . No. Honest! We’re really, really, really, really . . . technically smarter and better than your existing law firm you’ve used blissfully for the past 25 years . . . “). Clients aren’t generally in the business of generating legal work; rather, they have “jobs to be done” that throw off “legal symptoms.” Learn about all of a prospect’s “jobs to be done” that drag “legal symptoms” along with them, and try to make those jobs easier.

Finally, ask your lawyers the following: Are you a better lawyer by virtue of your being part of our firm than you otherwise would be at a peer firm? If the answer is yes, create an inventory of all of the reasons why such is the case. In so doing, you’ll begin to build an inventory of firm differentiation that your lawyers can use during their outreach with prospects and others in the market.

So, don’t be constrained by the limits imposed by conventional differentiation. Learn about your prospects’ “jobs to be done,” and sell your “whole product”!

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.

Knowing the Enemy – and Setting up Battle Lines

All over the world, the legal profession remains a fragmented sector with a bewildering choice of possible legal advisers facing every client. It is very difficult for law firms to be truly differentiated or set apart from competitors in terms of developing and marketing unique products or services or being or becoming the only show in town. Some firms aim to achieve differentiation through niche specialisms and services or by a sectoral focus but although this can help to make the firm attractive, it does not necessarily make it “differentiated” as distinct from “segmented.”

Segmentation is concerned with where a firm competes in terms of groups of clients, localities and services. A segmented market is one that can be set apart according to the characteristics of clients and their demand. Differentiation is concerned with a firm’s positioning within a market (or market segment) in relation to the service and image characteristics that influence client choice. By locating within a niche or segment, a firm does not necessarily differentiate itself from its competitors within the same segment.

In order to seek or develop meaningful differentiation, law firms must develop a deep understanding of their competitors, and many firms fail even to attempt this, believing instead in the power of their own self-image and perceived market position. Over the years, I have looked at a multitude of strategic and business plans for both law firms and practice groups. What I have noticed is that these plans often fail either to address competitor analysis completely or have simply provided a list of firms that the group considers as its main rivals. Frankly, just naming names is not enough.

The extent to which a firm can differentiate itself from its competition is an important element in achieving competitive advantage. Key differentiation questions faced by every firm include:

  • How do we stand out from the opposition?
  • Why would clients choose us as opposed to other firms?
  • What do we do which is different, cheaper or better than our competitors?
  • How can we demonstrate more value to existing and future clients than our rivals?

Firms need to know both themselves and their competitors to answer those questions and to help gain or maintain any sort of competitive advantage.

There are three key areas of competitor research and analysis that will allow firms to understand its markets and to plan their competitive strategies.

  1. Identify how your rivals are positioned

Positioning is always comparative. Identifying how and in which markets rivals are competing can be a powerful strategic tool, helping the firm to rate other firms relative to itself. One facet of positioning is to be found in the various directories that rank law firms by reputation and skills in key areas.

Positioning can also be seen in the sorts of clients rivals act for, their pricing strategies and what they say about themselves on their websites. It is also worthwhile profiling the business models of competitors to know where and how the firm can compete with them. Are they volume providers, mid-market players or guru-style specialists? How dominant are they? What seems to be their positioning on pricing?

  1. Analyse the resources and capabilities of rival firms

Size is not everything, but I am frequently surprised how little firms know about each other and, in particular, about the size and make-up of their competitors’ teams, the skills that they bring to bear (and their skills gaps), their profitability and even their culture. Most, but not all, of these features can be obtained readily from your own desk.

In addition, clients, referrers, former partners and past employees can also be tapped for knowledge. Client interviews can ask how clients rate competitors and why. Formal tender feedback can also help.

It can also be fruitful to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of rival support teams – you need to be very watchful of firms that are investing strongly in training, knowledge management, systems and process improvements, for example.

The key here is to maximise the benefits from the areas where your firm is stronger than its competitors and to work hard on areas where it is weaker. Equally, if your firm’s business development drive can be focused on areas and offerings where rivals are weak, it makes it difficult for those rivals to respond.

  1. Assess your rivals’ strategic, financial and market goals

Particularly for practice groups, competitors’ levels of activity in their chosen marketplaces can give important clues about their strategies. Growth in numbers, interesting lateral hires and team acquisitions provide evidence of a firm’s confidence in its future and its markets.

Marketing, profile-raising and promotional activities can show anything from complacency (where activity is low) through to aggression and drive (where activity is high). Many firms generate a lot of self-publicity, which can be an excellent source of competitive information. Statements by firm leaders often show what is important to their firms and whether they are driven by financial results or the pursuit of market share.

The current performance of rivals is difficult to assess without insider knowledge, but radical strategic change, accompanied by a change in the firm’s leadership, can indicate that performance levels may be falling.

True Differentiation

A stunning year, a key new hire or a merger may well have given your firm a temporary advantage in the eyes of clients, but other firms will be progressing their strategies as well. What’s more, it is extremely difficult for a law firm to achieve true differentiation; a deep understanding of the intensity, dimension and drivers of competitors is key to success.

Law firms therefore ought to have Sun Tzu’s words from the Art of War committed to memory: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”.

Edge Principal Nick Jarrett-Kerr is one of the leading UK and international advisers to law firms on business issues, strategy, leadership and management. In addition to matters of strategy, Nick has a particular interest in law firm governance, partner compensation, partnership performance criteria and partner development. He regularly leads or facilitates strategy days, retreats, partner conferences, practice group retreats and away days.

Law Firm Differentiation and Delivering A Signature Client Experience

“We insist on excellence”; “We staff matters leanly”; “We understand your business”; “We always put the client first”; etc. These are just a few of the yawning refrains of law firms trying to appear “different” in the marketplace – we all can agree that marketing pablum is not in short supply! The truth is that law firms aren’t very good at understanding (let alone articulating) why they may be very different from their key competitors. And you can’t expect clients to be any more enlightened about real areas of differentiation than are the providers themselves. So what we’re left with is a marketplace of cynical business consumers who believe their law firms are overcharging for an intangible service they view to be no more than a sophisticated commodity. If law firms really are that different, how can they make themselves “more different” or differentiated vis à vis peer firms, and – more importantly – in the eyes of their clients and prospects?

Let’s step back a minute and look at an example outside of law. McKinsey may be the preeminent professional services firm on earth. Despite hiring really accomplished people, their consultants still attribute most of their success to being part of the McKinsey platform and learning “the McKinsey way.” If asked how McKinsey is differentiated in the marketplace, a McKinsey consultant would cite a laundry list of features – “We hire really smart people just like our competitors but we additionally look for five to seven personality traits that we feel help us deliver better consultants to our clients”; or, “All tier I management consultants produce great work product but we feel that our disciplined methodology around putting together a client study is special and produces better insights – we’re a bit dogmatic about our process but we feel clients benefit . . . “; etc. Any McKinsey consultant could point to 10 to 15 other qualities that make the firm and each consultant “special.” More importantly, McKinsey’s clients and the market recognize many of these qualities.

Differentiation only matters and is only appreciated if it confers benefit on the client. Differentiation – if we are to embrace it and care about it at all – should be experienced by your clients both directly and indirectly. If your clients are benefiting from the way you deliver your service but it is not perceptible to them (e.g., professional training in the early years that produces a certain kind of lawyer and a certain kind of work product), then your lawyers need to educate clients and prospects about these less perceptible differentiating elements.

While the commitment to client-experience innovation does not require a firm to perform open heart surgery on itself, it is very much a multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary mission. Among other things, it involves a lot of discovery, research and development, training, packaging/productization, and implementation that can be pretty unnatural for firms. It’s also a marathon, not a sprint. A firm and its practice groups must evolve incrementally yet persistently over a sustained (i.e., multi-year) period of time. As you think about your own firm’s need to differentiate more meaningfully, keep in mind a few of the following thoughts:

This Is Not a “Branding Exercise”

Real differentiation is not just taglines or slogans; rather, it is reflected in a portfolio of processes, managerial methods, recruitment criteria, technology, cultural sensibilities, training, firm structural features, incentives, and other elements that represent the unique ways in which the firm “does business.” These elements have to be operationalized in appropriate ways across the firm – they have to be real, and they can’t be “vaporware.”

You’re Already Doing It

Some of the most differentiating features of a firm or practice group exist right under your very nose. For example, when a small subgroup within your corporate M&A practice group routinely gets its hands dirty with post-acquisition business-integration issues, that expansive approach to M&A work is a unique feature of the M&A group; all M&A lawyers  – and the firm as a whole – can benefit from being known for this approach, and delivering a signature client experience. Think of how many other powerful “best practices” already exist within your four walls which could be inventoried, syndicated, and called on to support a signature client experience!

Innovation Needs to Be Part of Your Culture

Differentiated client experiences are “innovative” client experiences. Firms that are serious about delivering a law firm analogue of “the McKinsey Way” to their clients have to be innovative. Legal innovation today is most powerfully presented in the areas of legaltech, process, alignment, and analytics/decision support. Spend some time thinking about these areas as you build out your own firm’s signature client experience.

“Team of Teams” Rather Than a “Flotilla of Rafts”

Process and integration “win” over individual celebritydom and “artistry.” Yes, clients and prospects need to know you are a firm made up of great individual legal artists – if prospects are already talking to you then they have largely concluded this already. However, in order to leapfrog other law firms that prospects might be considering, you need to do a better job of explaining why your artists become turbocharged through their interconnection and integration with the other lawyers who are part of the same firm platform. Your firm should be a “team of teams” rather than a “flotilla of rafts,” and your lawyers should be able to educate prospects about how structural and cultural incidents of such translate into real, objective value to them.

The above highlights represent just a few of the important elements in a thorough client-experience innovation initiative, which by definition has to be holistic. Take the time to understand all the ways in which your firm and its lawyers are special today; take the time to discover additional client-benefiting innovation elements that you are not yet, but could be, supporting. Do all this – and more – and you’ll be well on your way to creating a “signature client experience,” and as a result, and very different law firm!

Helping Partners Jump Hurdles

Screen Shot 2016-06-27 at 6.09.25 PMJust about every law firm strategic plan requires some degree of business development planning and activities.

For three reasons, however, lawyers often find the related areas of marketing and business development difficult hurdles to jump.

THE PROBLEMS

Doing what we have always done

For decades, lawyers have been able to restrict their marketing strategies and activities to previously successful formulae, unconsciously applied. Successful businesses were built up on the back of the firm’s goodwill and a database of existing clients developed slowly over many years by dint of instinctive marketing, opportunistic activities and haphazard relationship building. In the past, and (for some lucky firms) even now, there has been little need to do anything different, despite the fast-moving and increasingly competitive age in which law firms now find themselves.

The introspection of The Technician

The second issue is that the behavioural patterns endemic in most law firms conflict with a methodical marketing ethos. These behaviours result both from the technical attributes and traits which characterise the good lawyer, and from the ‘chargeable hours’ culture which has developed in law firms in recent years.

After all, most lawyers took up the law in order to practise their chosen technical profession, and doing and concluding a piece of professional work is what they find most interesting. By virtue of both training and inclination, lawyers can be or may become introspective and focused on precedent. And for those who developed their client bases in the dim and distant past, there can sometimes seem to be little incentive to go out and ‘do some marketing’. What is more, the cerebral and analytical traits expected of professionals can militate against taking an entrepreneurial and wider view of life. In short, lawyers are not typically good at picking up the phone and making a cold call, or in following up an identified prospect. Furthermore, if lawyers are rewarded and valued mainly for client work and profitability, the pressure is inexorably applied to the achievement of short-term, chargeable targets and objectives, rather than long term non-chargeable business development activities.

The problem of differentiation

Successful marketing depends, at least in part, on being able to demonstrate that the services on offer are sufficiently attractive to dislodge the competition. The problem is that the services of one law firm or individual lawyer are relatively difficult to differentiate from the services of another.

In the face of these natural barriers, many firms long ago decided to make greater strategic investments in their marketing departments, with the idea of focusing their professionals on the legal work which they clearly like and are best at. Investment may have helped, but the introduction of sophisticated marketing professionals has also provided a cop-out, allowing professionals to abrogate to the specialists their responsibilities to manage their own careers, to build client relationships and to develop pipelines of business

There are three long-term measures to help partners face up to their responsibilities.

THE SOLUTIONS

  1. Catch them young

Competence in Business Development is now seen as a key skill for all lawyers and has become a critically important criterion in assessing promotion prospects and – for partners – their compensation. Hence, exposing young lawyers early to the principles, practice and mindset of developing their own business is easier than trying to teach old dogs new tricks.

  1. Value and reward the rainmakers

It may seem an obvious point but many firms seem still mainly to value personal revenue production. To an extent, good rainmakers will always do well if and so long as their business development efforts result in good revenues for themselves, but one rainmaker recently told me that he was becoming frustrated at the lack of any value or recognition for business brought in by him for others in the firm.

  1. Personal business plans

For a firm to achieve success, the strategic objectives of the firm must cascade down to teams and individuals.  A well drafted personal plan helps to set practical and detailed goals which link with the firm’s objectives, including its plans to develop new business. The existence of written goals and objectives has been shown to improve performance. From my own observations of hundreds of law firms across the world, only a few partners have written objectives in place and even fewer regularly review those objectives. It is widely accepted that professionals who take time to consider their ambitions and to crystallise their plans into written objectives perform better than those who have no written goals.

Unlike trees, plants and animals, law firms do not grow in substance or in size as a natural result of the passage of time but need careful development.  Whilst the best work comes as a result of successful work done for satisfied clients, the last three decades have shown that business development effort has to be made at the levels of firm, practice group and individual in order to help the firm prosper.