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4 posts from May 2008

May 28, 2008

Matt Sherman’s advice on client development programs

Sherman3 Note:  This week’s post was written by Matt Sherman, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Welsh & Katz, a mid-sized intellectual property firm.  I have never before posted an item written by someone else, but when I saw Matt’s hard-earned wisdom on the Legal Marketing Association’s private listserv, I asked him if I could share his observations with a wider audience.  Matt’s advice on how to develop business with key clients is aimed at legal marketers, but his conclusions have implications for every lawyer.

Recently I was asked by a couple of our attorneys to provide an overview of "lessons learned" related to client development programs.  We run a few teams here and I have run a great many more at another law firm.  Here are a few of the lessons I learned over the years. 

1. If the relationship partner (RP) doesn't want to grow the client, it is near impossible to have success. The RP will fight you every way possible and if the RP is a member of a politically powerful practice group, then it's not even worth the fight.

2. It's important to have selection criteria for your program.  It can help you keep eager but client challenged attorneys (and their clients) out of the program.  Selection criteria can be as simple as

A) Clients must exceed a certain fee revenue, such as $250K.

B) The relationship partner must have a senior level contact at the client (e.g., CEO, CFO, GC, Tax Director, etc.). I don't typically count HR VPs as senior execs, but no reason you can't.

C) The bulk of your work is in at least one strategically important practice area.

3. Limit the program to 20 to 25 clients.

4. Kick out underperforming clients. Sometimes even the best laid plans go kaput, in-house personnel change, markets contract, sub-prime losses mount. Cut your losses and move on.  Annually.

5. It's more important to have an inner-circle than to have a defined client team. Don't try to build the perfect client team.  Instead focus on the inner circle of attorneys serving the client.  As you grow a relationship "team members" will come and go, but the inner circle pretty much stays intact and drives most of your growth.

6. Don’t try to launch a client development program that is “politically correct.”  Too many firms try to placate all practice groups by having “at least a dozen clients from each practice group” in the program.  All this does is water down the program and will make your life hell.  Trust me.  I’ve been through such a program and it was a colossal failure.  I learned a lot about how not to run a client development program.

7. Don’t overwhelm your client development teams with forms.  We all love to cover our tracks in paper, but do so in a client development program and you’ll get nothing more than frustrated RPs who go to the top of the law firm pyramid to complain.  Ouch.  Granted, you will need some basic forms to identify client contacts, new matters, client team members, etc., but one spreadsheet can capture most of these data. 

8. Track ROI on the client development program.  This can be based on revenue growth, growth of work in your strategic practice groups, growth in number of executive relationships established within the client, etc.  We used ROI to determine which teams remained in the program and to toot the program’s horn to management and the larger partnership.  Funny, but the individual RPs didn’t really care to review the ROI reports. They were far more interested in maintaining a good, productive relationship with the client. 

9. Add value to the team(s).  Each team will be slightly different in what it needs from you.   Perhaps the worst thing you can do is provide them a cookie-cutter approach.  Find out what the team needs and then work to deliver it.  For example, some teams operate where the RP has all the institutional knowledge in his/her ol’ bean.  Your best and highest use might be to get a brain-dump and share the information with the larger team.  Some times the RP or the team may not know what they need, but as you move forward, you’ll definitely come up with things.  There are literally hundreds of ways you can add value to the team.  You just have to identify what it is.  And, just so you know where I stand, organizing internal team meetings is not adding value. 

10. The value of internal team meetings is overstated.  Most of the teams I have worked with rarely meet as teams.  The “inner circle” tends to meet or stay in daily contact and instructions are filtered out to the rest of the members.  Efficient?  Maybe.  Effective?  Seems to work.  Ironically, the vast majority of requests for internal team meetings come from PGs/individual attorneys who believe they have expertise to sell to the client or other offices that want to get work from the client.  However, there are particular reasons that certain attorneys and/or offices are kept out of a client’s business.

11. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. (Spock, Star Trek).  If only we could adopt a little Vulcan sensibility to our firms and our client teams.

12. Ready. Fire. Aim.  It's more important to get the program launched than to create the "perfect client development program."  You learn by doing, not by navel gazing.

13. The value of client meetings can never be overstated.  This is how law firms deepen the roots they have sunk into top clients.  You go.  You listen.  You learn about the client’s goals and objectives.  You benefit.  More importantly, so does the client. 

May 22, 2008

Put it on your calendar: Build relationships

Every lawyer understands that developing new business is all about building relationships.  But who’s got time?

Clinton Swan, business development manager for Clyde & Co’s Middle East region, headquartered in Dubai, says that the answer is to plan a targeted group of events and meetings months in advance.  He offered a session on just how to do that in a workshop at the Legal Marketing Association’s 2008 conference in Los Angeles in March.

Part of the session focused on a case study based on Swan’s work with a high end corporate practice at a previous firm in New Zealand.  That group included eight partners, several hard-charging associates, and “the typical assortment of personalities” from “top of market rainmakers” to a few “grumpy guys.”  They had a great reputation with clients, but limited visibility to others.  The group wanted to step up to the next level, but weren’t sure how.  

Swan started by talking to key players about what they wanted, and how they hoped to achieve it – in formal meetings, in the halls, and over drinks.  He quickly identified two “internal champions,” influential lawyers who believed in the importance of this effort, and were willing to put in the time required to make it succeed.

Together, they built target lists of clients and intermediaries who could refer clients, including consulting firms, investment banks, and venture capital groups.  Then they listed seven key characteristics of what ideal relationships should look like, and specific tactics to achieve each. For example, ideally lawyers should be perceived as a reliable and confident source of information, not just about legal matters, but also about the industries they served.  The tactics to achieve this included frequent communication about opportunities, issues, and rumors, and being available to serve as a sounding board.  [For a complete description of all seven characteristics, tactics related to each, and even a fictional practice group calendar, download the handouts from his LMA presentation: Download SwanLMAhandouts.pdf.]

Swan then met with the entire practice group to prioritize the importance of the targets into three categories – called Tier 1, 2, and 3 – and to plan tactics for each.  The number and type of activities for each group were based on their priority.  For example, four events per year were planned for the Tier 1 relationships, while the Tier 3 group had no formal events at all.  But every group – Tier 1, 2, and 3 – got regular mailings, and catch up phone calls at least once a month.

All the action items were then combined into a year long calendar.  Major events were mapped out for the entire year, and the rest of the calendar was reviewed and updated every few months.  At the end of the year, Swan says, the calendar “became a collective group memory... and a useful visual review tool for the group to assess the level of activity over the year and where their efforts had been going.”

In the fictional calendar in Swan’s handouts, January activities included an in-house seminar for a Tier 1 investment bank, participation in an external conference, and mailing an article written by one of the lawyers to all three tiers.  In February, the same in-house seminar was repeated for a different Tier 1 investment bank, a second article was mailed to the entire list, an interview was planned for a local newspaper, and lawyers invited key clients and prospects to accompany them to a comedy festival.

A “relationship coordinator” was appointed to keep track of activities and results for each Tier 1 prospect.  Equally important, each coordinator had a deputy who was assigned to “hound people when they fell behind”

This type of big picture planning for several months at a time simplified tracking accountability and results.  During the planning phase, each lawyer had agreed to participate in certain activities and events.  Over the next several months, it was easy to see who had delivered, and who had not. 

The whole process made lawyers think more strategically about their limited marketing time and focus their energy on the most important relationships.  And consistent follow-up ultimately led to new business.    “Nothing happens overnight,” Swan says, “but with this approach you can see the progress.”

May 14, 2008

How to delegate

My blog is about legal business development.  So why am I writing this week about how to delegate?  Because if you delegate more legal work, you will have more time available for business development.

I started thinking about this a few months ago when several lawyers I coached brought in new business, and then began to back off from marketing.  They were too busy performing the new work.  I’ve done that myself, more than once in my 23 years in business.  It is a natural reaction, but the wrong one. 

I am willing to bet that your firm has a lot more lawyers who can do the work than lawyers who can bring in new work.  So if you prove to yourself and others that you are an effective business developer, it is in your interest and the firm’s to increase the time you spend on marketing, not cut it back.  And the way to do that is to learn to delegate more effectively.

I know there’s a problem:  those other lawyers won’t do as good a job as you will.  Well, you can supervise and teach them until they do.  There may always be very special tasks that you must save for yourself.  But I’m willing to wager that those special tasks represent only 5% or 10% of the time you spend.  The rest can be delegated.  And when you do, clients may actually be happier when their calls get returned more quickly, and they pay less per hour for most of the work.

The most useful book I’ve found on this is Don’t Do, Delegate by James Jenks and John Kelly.  After I bought a copy for one lawyer I was coaching, he got a number of ideas for improving the process, gave his admin a list of all the associates who were working on cases for him, and asked her to routinely schedule a brief meeting with each one, every week.  (If you want to buy the book, it seems to be out of print, but you can get a used copy on Amazon.  If you buy it, turn right to “Delegation dos and don’ts” on page 101.  Then read about controlling results in Chapters 8 and 9).

Here is the book’s most important advice, adapted for lawyers.

Who should you delegate to?
• If you want to save time on a single isolated task, pick people based on skills and experience.
• If you want to save time on a repeating task, pick people who are likely to be available when the task comes up again.  For this type of delegation, accept the fact that the first time you delegate it may take longer than doing it yourself. 

Start with a meeting to discuss:
• Your goal
• How will success be measured?
• What are the standards for performance?
• Deadlines, deliverables, and expected number of hours
• Should you get progress reports and/or meet again before the task is completed?
• Be very clear about whether this person should talk directly to the client, or not.
• Will feedback be provided at the end of the task?
• Ask:  Do you need help or coaching? 
• Ask:  Could this task help you to increase your learning or advance your career?  How?

For large tasks, consider written or verbal progress reports:
• Set dates for interim reports and/or meetings.
• Define the length and agenda of each meeting in advance.
• Review interim partial deliverables.

At the end of the task, offer praise and thanks, and/or useful feedback

Then take all that time you saved by delegating, and go out and get some more new business.

May 07, 2008

What junior associates must know about marketing

It’s that time of year again.  Law school graduates are reporting to their first jobs, and junior associates are moving up a level.  Many have a vague idea that the legal profession is changing, and they should be doing more about marketing.  But what?

In an article on Critical Relationship Building Skills For Associates Arnie Herz argues that in the transition “from backpack to briefcase,” associates must develop new skills.  In law school, he says, “Intelligence is king.”  But in the real world of legal practice, “Relationships are king—healthy and lasting business relationships with clients, partners, team members and opposing counsel.  Intelligence, although necessary, plays a supporting role in making these human connections.”

When Paul Bunge listed Fifteen Rules For Winning as a Junior Associate, his Rule Number One was “be nice to people.”  It starts with the senior lawyers who control your career and your workday.  The customer is always right.  From the perspective of junior associates, the most important customer is the lawyer who supervises your work.  And being nice to other lawyers is just the beginning, Bunge says.  Associates also need to develop strong working relationships with “secretaries, paralegals, clerks, court reporters, bailiffs and other support personnel... you need them more than they need you.”

If people have never been your long suit, buy a copy of Dale Carnegie’s classic, How to Win Friends and Influence People.   I know, the title sounds stupid.  I avoided reading the book until just a few years ago, although I had spent several decades getting a Ph.D. in psychology, teaching courses, and even writing a few psychology textbooks.  But I learned more about people from Carnegie’s book than from all those academic studies combined.   He does not offer magical secrets or brand new insights, and an awful lot of it sounds like common sense.  But the book got me thinking in new ways about my own relationships, by pulling me in with stories, examples, and basic principles. 

I’ve convinced a few lawyers to read it, and some have been equally enthusiastic.  One grizzled senior partner told me, “This book changed my life.”  He was only half kidding. Another said that he keeps it in the table next to his bed for night time reading.  And you can’t beat the price:  I saw a used copy on Amazon for $.08 plus shipping.

For most lawyers, I think Carnegie’s most important advice is:  “Never criticize, condemn, or complain.”  Trying to get people to change by criticizing them is like trying to teach a pig to whistle:  it doesn't work and it annoys the pig.

Other folksy suggestions from Carnegie include: 
• Become genuinely interested in people, and show it.
• Address people by name.
• Encourage others to talk about themselves.
• Learn what other people are interested in, and talk about it. 
• Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely.

Once you’ve applied Carnegie’s ideas to improve relationships in your office, then you can start thinking about the bigger picture of how to some day find your own clients.  Start with my blog post Business development for associates – Eight steps to make the most of your limited time.

You may need to spend a lot of time on my Step 1:  “Review your firm’s policies and expectations for associate marketing.”  Maybe you’ll be lucky and your firm’s policies will be crystal clear, so that you can move quickly to implementing them.  But large law firms have dozens or hundreds of owner-partners.  Some of them will be masters of complexity and ambiguity.  All of them will be good at arguing.  So you may get different policies from different partners.  That’s when you’ll know that you have arrived in the real world.  Good luck.

After you understand what’s expected, go back on Amazon and buy a copy of The Law Firm Associate’s Guide to Personal Marketing and Selling Skills by Catherine Alman MacDonagh and Beth Marie Cuzzone.  (Full disclosure: I am a contributing author.)  When the American Bar Association recently started publishing their “Law Firm Associates Development Series,” this book was the first one they released.  That tells you something about the importance of marketing to associates.

Still want more?  See my list of the Top marketing and sales books for lawyers. 

Or here’s an even better idea:  Forget about reading, and put more time into building relationships. 

While short-term marketing is aimed at the people in your office, long-term marketing involves everyone you know.  Start by keeping in touch with your law school classmates.  In five years, all will have interesting stories, and many of you will be able to do favors for each other.  In twenty-five years, you will collectively be ruling the world, and the favors will get bigger.  As long as you’ve kept in touch.