You Will Have It in the MorningGerry Riskin
I am often asked to submit a proposal which will describe how my team and I might approach a problem and what our services might cost. The person requesting the proposal often intends to share it with others inside their firm.
The question is, when should the proposal arrive on their desk (metaphorically speaking)?
In this article, I make the argument that you should do what our late partner, Ed Wesemann, would do. He would have that proposal delivered to the person requesting it by the next day.
I’m sure you have many arguments to support the notion that it will take you a lot more than one day to respond to a request with elegance. However, you would not have convinced Ed that any of those arguments would hold water.
I still remember conversations with some of Ed’s clients who would recount that they were “blown away” by the speed with which Ed would get a proposal to them.
Here are just a few benefits of proceeding with haste:
- You will still remember the conversation(s) that led up to the request (as opposed to trying to piece together horrible notes two weeks later).
- Your client will be impressed by the priority you attached to responding and speculate that you might attach the same priority to doing the work. (If it takes you two weeks to get a response to a request for proposal how long will it take you to do the work?)
- Your recipient will receive your proposal while the same conversations are fresh in their mind.
Ed frequently recited the popular saying, “Do not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
He would argue that we were delusional to think that a proposal that took us weeks to write would somehow be so far superior to what we could put together right now that it would somehow impress the prospective client and win the day. Wrong.
You know 95% today of what you will know in two weeks regarding the proposal you are writing. If there is a gaping hole in your knowledge, you can pick up the phone to a colleague or other resource and get the information you need promptly.
The truth is, many of us want to procrastinate. . . . It is more comfortable than doing the task now because:
- We want to do it perfectly
- We want to succeed in being chosen
- We want to be impressive and maintain or enhance our brand
Ed had virtual staff that could proofread proposals before they were delivered – but that proofreading would be done overnight, not over a few days.
The most compelling reason you should learn from the wisdom of Ed Wesemann is that he was consistently the top rainmaker in our global consultancy and had the best score at being chosen to proceed to do the work that was proposed in his responses.
Ed was a winner. We who worked with him for so many years have the enduring benefit of having his philosophies and wisdom well ingrained in our memories. We aspire to come close to his level of accomplishment. . . and through this article, I know he would be proud to share this framework with you, and for you to benefit from it as well.
So next time you are asked to submit a proposal, say what Ed would have said: “You will have it in the morning.”
Helping Partners Jump HurdlesNick Jarrett-Kerr
Just 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.
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.
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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
Superstar or Renegade? Keeping Toxic Lawyers Out of Your PartnershipJordan Furlong
“Superstar employees are the obsession of the corporate world,” a recent article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) begins. “They’re highly sought after, given the most attention and the best opportunities, generously rewarded, and expressly reassured after setbacks.”
Does this remind you of any members of your law firm’s equity partner class? Especially those recruited laterally from other firms?
This elite class of workers is “highly sought after” for good reason. These superstars can be four times as productive as average workers, the HBR suggests, and can generate as much as 80% of a business’s profits while also attracting other star employees. Given this sort of payoff, it’s little wonder law firms are constantly trying to poach key rainmakers from rivals at any price.
But the HBR article goes on to identify a kind of “evil twin” to the superstar employee: the toxic worker. “These are talented and productive people who engage in behavior that is harmful to an organization…. [A]voiding such people can save companies even more money than finding and retaining superstars.” In fact, a toxic employee can cost a company more than twice as much money as a superstar generates.
Here’s the problem for law firms: superstar lawyers and toxic lawyers tend to share many of the same characteristics.
The HBR article, citing a Harvard Business School study, identified four characteristics shared by toxic workers: “Overconfident, self-centered, productive, and rule-following employees were more likely to be toxic workers.” Powerful lawyers tick off those first three boxes almost immediately. The fourth, which means inflexibility concerning the application of rules, is frequently on display among lawyers. Other characteristics of “bad guys” in the office include charisma, curiosity, and high self-esteem. A quick look around your partnership table for all these characteristics should give you immediate cause for concern.
Virtually every major law firm actively recruits high-powered lawyers who possess the features of a potentially toxic worker. And for every toxic partner your firm inadvertently recruits, it cancels out the positive effect of more than two genuine superstars.
Law firms can take two steps to reduce their risk here. The first is to deepen and broaden the background checks of potential lateral recruits. Look well beyond their book of business; find out everything you can about what this person is really like. Ask yourself why this person is even looking around for new opportunities: is it that they’ve worn out their welcome at their current firm? Is this their first lateral move, and if not, why is that?
Don’t just interview the lawyer’s old friends and favoured clients, either. Their glowing reviews will simply strengthen your own confirmation bias: you want to hear good things, so you choose the sources likeliest to provide them. Actively seek out people who have complaints, grudges, or scars from working with this person, and consider this contrary evidence carefully. Be adamant that you will recruit only good corporate citizens into your partnership, and that your due diligence in this respect will be exemplary.
Despite a firm’s best efforts to spot bad apples, however, some will inevitably slip through. In fact, the truly lethal ones will be the toughest to spot, diabolically practiced as they are in the art of telling you what you want to hear. So the second tactic you can employ is to reduce your firm’s vulnerability to the emergence of a toxic partner.
Exercise greater vigilance over this person upon their arrival, quietly monitoring them for signs of antisocial conduct. This is not impolite behaviour towards a guest: it is the strict application of a probationary period of scrutiny to a stranger in your midst. Watch closely for warning signs in the first several months of the person’s tenure, and don’t hesitate to pull the plug on a lateral hiring experiment that is clearly going wrong.
As well, insist upon integrating their new client teams with veterans from your firm, especially professional staff who can lay down links with these new clients to your firm’s systems and processes. Do not permit the new partner to set their own rules or evade the firm’s existing practices: bad things will happen if a foreign culture is allowed to implant itself into your firm’s ecosystem.
Really, the best way to lower the risk of recruiting toxic employees is to reduce the impact that any one individual can have, positive or negative, on your firm. Enhance your firm’s client service infrastructure through the systematization of legal work production and delivery. Undertake the difficult but necessary job of shifting the ownership of client relationships from individual partners to the institutional firm.
Toxic employees can derail your law firm in a hurry. Take whatever steps you can to keep them from ever boarding the train in the first place.