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5 posts from August 2008

August 27, 2008

Women Rainmakers…What’s Different, What Isn’t? Part 1

This is Part 1 of an article I published in the August issue of  Of Counsel, the Legal Practice and Management Report

Selling is all about building relationships, and as you may have noticed, the way that women relate to people often differs from the way that men do. So it’s not surprising that, as the number of female decision-makers has increased in both corporations and law firms, there has been a corresponding rise in interest in building on female relationships as a business development strategy.

In 2006, Latham & Watkins organized a group called Women Enriching Business (WEB) to “concentrate on business development issues and opportunities particularly relevant to women.” WEB has extended Latham’s range of networking events beyond the traditional golf courses and baseball games to jewelry stores, florists, and cooking schools.

While Latham partner Erica Steinberger stresses that WEB events are not just for women, she also points out that positioning them can be tricky because “there’s such a fine line between events that appeal to women and events that some may be insulted by. I have one client that I go shopping with to our favorite shoe store. On her last trip to New York, she bought seven pairs, and we had the whole store helping. We had a blast. But I have other female clients who would be offended if I suggested that sort of afternoon. You’ve got to think about who the client is, and what she or he would really enjoy doing.”

Steinberger offers another example of a male client, a managing director at an international investment bank, who loves to cook. Steinberger invited that client and his wife to a one-night course at a cooking school. “You should do this for my firm instead of those big expensive dinners you offer us,” he advised after a few crucial pointers on perfecting ravioli.

A Touch of Class

WEB also recently organized a cocktail reception at an upscale jewelry store near Latham’s Paris office. More than 200 clients, contacts, and lawyers found it an unusually attractive place to meet, chat, and build relationships. With most networking events, only a small percentage of the people who are invited actually attend. In this case, the unusual setting led to a very high percentage of acceptances.

One client was so impressed that she suggested that Latham lawyers meet with a women’s group at her company to discuss the possibility of jointly hosting events. To date, WEB has formed strategic partnerships with more than a dozen groups, including women’s initiatives at consulting firms, the Financial Women’s Association, the National Association of Women Judges, and the National Association of Women Lawyers. There was also a “flavors of fall” cooking demonstration in San Francisco, a flower-arranging event in Chicago, and a jewelry night in London.

In addition, for the past two years Latham has co-sponsored Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women Summit,” an invitation-only event for 300 top female business leaders. Last year’s conference included such panelists as Anne Mulcahy (Chairman and CEO of Xerox), Meg Whitman (President and CEO of eBay), Julia Stewart (Chairman and CEO of IHOP), writer Nora Ephron, and CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl. There were many opportunities for relaxed networking, including spa treatments, “yoga by the sea,” and a tennis clinic conducted by Billie Jean King.

In addition to networking events, WEB has started several programs to provide women attorneys with business development training. The first was a multi-city tour offering a two-hour workshop called “Branding Yourself—Mastering the Style of Success.” More recently, the group has been working with my company coaching key partners to bring in new business more efficiently.

Real Problems, Real Solutions

While many law firms have experimented with women’s initiatives, only a few have had this type of success. When BusinessWeek wrote last year about “What Works in Women’s Networks” (6/18/07, p.58), the article began by noting that most efforts fail. “Corporate women’s networks frequently get a bad rap—for good reason. The groups frequently toil on the fringes, hosting ‘lunch and learns’ and book clubs that rarely provide the skills or exposure women need to rise in the ranks.”

The article cited three key success factors:

1. Tackle real business problems.

2. Get customers in on the act.

3. Bridge the gender divide (that is, get men involved as well).

Latham’s program does all three. It focuses on the real business problem of generating new business; works with customers in its networking events; and invites men to participate, both lawyers and clients.

Next week: the conclusion of this article.

August 20, 2008

How to improve relationships with large clients, Part 2 of 2

Last week’s post described Harris E. Berenson’s ideas on how to develop a new relationship.  After you get in the door, the focus should shift to maximizing and maintaining the relationship with open communication, realistic expectations, and a willingness to learn from each other.

Communication includes understanding the client’s business and their clients.  How are you supposed to do that?  It’s easy, just ask the right questions and work on your listening skills.

Communication is also based on transparency and keeping your clients fully informed.  Clients hate surprises, whether the surprise is in a bill or in the outcome of a particular matter.  If you are open and honest, and let clients know what is coming, they will respect your approach, even in cases where they might have preferred a different result.

Communication also implies that sometimes “you just need to reach out and touch someone and ask ‘How’s business?’”  Berenson recommends sticking to short meetings, phone calls, and emails.  Other clients may prefer to do this over lunch or dinner.  Each person is different, and part of a successful relationship involves learning personal preferences, and even quirks, to make each relationship work more smoothly.  You must understand the level of detail each in-house client prefers, whether it should come by fax, email or phone, and who should get copies.

Every matter should end with a post-mortem, to assess what both sides have learned, and discuss what could be done better the next time to increase mutual satisfaction.

This sounds like hard work, and it is.  But there is a huge reward for getting through the process:  security.  Once a relationship is working, Berenson is highly motivated to keep sending more work.  Switching to another firm simply takes too much time and effort, “like training a puppy which piece of furniture he can and cannot get on.” 

Berenson also noted that lawyers should aim to be perceived as “counselors”, by applying best practices in client service such as:

• being accessible
• responding promptly
• learning the client’s business
• empowering your clients
• communicating clearly and directly
• getting to know clients
• putting clients first
• reducing law firm costs

Ah yes, cost.   Given that Berenson gave his talk at the annual Raindance Conference of the Legal Sales and Service Organization, he focused on sales and service.  But money did creep into the talk more than once, and he did note that business relationships are ultimately “all about the dollars and cents.”

In that Altman Weil survey I mentioned at the beginning of Part 1, chief legal officers at large companies were asked to “Rank the importance of efforts that outside counsel may make to improve the working relationship with your law department.”  Here are their top six factors, in order of importance:

1. Discounted fees
2. Improved responsiveness
3. Improved project staffing
4. Learning our business
5. Billing clarity and predictability
6. Alternative fees

Note that numbers 1, 5, and 6 involve money, and number 3 may too.  These same chief legal officers were also asked:  “For the next three to five years, what is your greatest long-term (over the horizon) concern?”  The number one answer was cost control (28%), and number two was the closely related answer limited resources (14%).

Similarly, when Inside Counsel magazine asked general counsel to identify the most important thing law firms could do to improve relationships, the number one answer (46%) was “reducing costs.” 

Times are tough, and getting tougher.  As Harris E. Berenson put it:  “There are many hungry lawyers out there, trying to take your business.”  On the plus side, their job of getting in is much much harder than your job of staying in.  As long as you remember to maximize and maintain the relationship. 

August 13, 2008

How to improve relationships with large clients, Part 1 of 2

Berenson Given the way the economy is going, this is a great time to improve client relationships.

When Altman Weil surveyed 126 chief legal officers at large companies a few months ago, 48% said that they had fired at least one of their law firms in the last year, or are considering firing them.  They also said that budgets are getting tighter:  26% plan to decrease their use of outside counsel in the coming year.

Many lawyers understand how important this is, but don’t know where to begin.  Harris E. Berenson, Senior Corporate Counsel at Liberty Mutual Insurance Company (and AVP/Chief Counsel of Liberty Mutual Property) recently provided some advice in a talk entitled “Developing, Maximizing and Maintaining the Inside/Outside Counsel Partnership” at the Legal Sales and Service Organization’s Raindance Conference.  (If you'd like to listen to a recording of the speech, click here.) According to Berenson, the most important word in the title of his presentation was partnership.  “At its core, a partnership is nothing more than a relationship.... The concept is simple, but the implementation can be very difficult.” 

He noted that “relationships are built on trust, support, consideration, respect, caring, and mutual responsibility.”  But he also left no doubt about who has the power in this particular relationship:  “Inside counsel can replace you much more easily than you can replace them.”

When he spoke about developing relationships, Berenson described the process of ultimately selecting outside firms (after the research and formal interviewing has been completed) as “simple, arbitrary, and subjective,” and compared it to speed dating.

I’ve written before about how lawyers like to talk too much at “pitch meetings” when they should be listening and “catching instead of pitching.”  Berenson supports this view, and notes that when he brings in law firms for interviews, “the worst thing they can do is to talk about past accomplishments... I already know about that. I want you to interview me.”  If lawyers were not experts on the substance of the law, or lacked adequate experience, they never would have been invited to the meeting in the first place.

The meeting should be a dialog, to help both sides understand what is required for a healthy relationship.  Law firms should be asking about the things they need from the potential client/corporation to assure success, such as access to key inside counsel and reasonable turnaround time.

In turn, Berenson will then ask about things like how the law firm plans to deal with conflicts, and how they will staff each matter.  If you want to compile a cheat sheet of correct answers for an interview like this, Berenson did provide one clue.  If he asks “How do you train your lawyers?” the correct answer is:  “We train them at our own expense.  You won’t see a lawyer’s name on a bill until they are ready to help.”  Liberty Mutual is probably not the only client who has thought: “I don’t want to be paying for $160,000 associates who are just starting out.”

For those who get past the first hurdle and succeed in developing a new relationship, next week’s post will talk about how to maximize and maintain the partnership.

August 12, 2008

Train the Trainer webinar in September

A few months ago, I announced that we were offering the first public Train the Trainer Workshop in the legal marketing profession, to help experienced professionals coach lawyers more efficiently.  But I just realized I've been so busy that I never told you how it turned out.  Very well, thanks. 

The June 5 session was attended by senior business development managers from five large firms with a total of over 6,000 lawyers, and some of them are now planning to send their staff to future sessions and to our coaching certification program. 

So now we've scheduled a Train the Trainer Webinar Workshop on Monday Sept 15 and Wednesday Sept 17, 1-4:15 PM, Eastern time.  To maximize discussion and interaction, this webinar will be limited to four participants. For details, Download TrainTrainerWorkshopAnnounce2008j.pdf.

August 06, 2008

What are the top marketing priorities in a down economy? Part 4

Last week, I reproduced an article by Mark Usellis, CMO at Davis Wright, about how to get more marketing results in a down economy, even when budgets are flat. His answer was built around zero-based budgeting, which Wikipedia describes as “a technique... which reverses the working process of traditional budgeting” by ignoring last year’s spending completely, and justifying every proposed expense for next year strictly on its merits.

When I called Mark to dig into the details of how he accomplishes this, he stressed that “you have to start with a philosophy” and “be clear on what you are trying to accomplish.” If you can “tell a coherent story about what you want to do,” the people around you will understand why some expenses will be approved, and others will not.

In Mark’s case, “I wanted to reallocate our spending portfolio to do less on general visibility and more on relationship development, less on client acquisition and more on loyalty, and less on ‘a rising tide floats all boats’ and more on focusing on the firm’s core strengths.”

When Mark explained this to me, he diplomatically noted that “every firm is different in its goals and philosophy” and stressed that these were just his goals. In my less humble opinion, if you disagree with Mark’s goals, you are probably wrong. For most law firms, the best way to maximize new business while minimizing marketing cost is indeed to focus on relationships, loyalty, core strengths, and providing value.

By squeezing the budgets for sponsorships, directories, and public relations, Mark was able to free up money for a few very targeted business development initiatives, including DWT Pacific, a collaboration with Australian firm PLN Lawyers Sydney to provide legal and business services in the South Pacific (including Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa, the Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Australia). This joint initiative builds on the traditional strengths of the two firms, and on the contacts and skills of several lawyers who had set up the program, along with new lateral David Cohen who joined DWT early this year “after serving 5 1/2 years as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Insular Affairs and two years as the U.S. Representative to the Pacific Community.”

In this context, the most important fact about the DWT Pacific initiative is that it did not require an increase in the marketing budget. All of the money that was needed to start up and maintain this program came from cutting other marketing expenses which were less targeted, and less clearly related to new business. Or, as Mark put it, “We set aside money for ‘move the needle initiatives’ rather than just feeding the boiler.”

So even in a down economy law firms can spend more on the things that matter, simply by cutting back on the things that don’t. The down economy is a dark cloud over all of us these days, but it could have a silver lining, if it forces law firms to spend their marketing budgets more wisely.