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6 posts from December 2008

December 31, 2008

Marketing tip of the month: Set aside an hour a day for client service and business development

Have you noticed that times are getting tougher? 

If not, just click on this link for “The Layoff List”.  Last time I checked, this summary of “Employment shifts at The Am Law 200” listed layoffs at 48 large firms. 

Do you want to guess how many of the lawyers who lost their positions were rainmakers with their own solid books of business?  Nobody knows for sure, but my guess is zero, not a single one.  Layoffs affect the lawyers who do legal work, not the rainmakers who bring in the work. 
 
In this economy, there is only one sure way to guarantee security:  to have your own personal list of loyal clients.  And how do you build a list of loyal clients?  You must consistently put time into marketing, week after week after week. 

So that’s my marketing tip for January:  set aside at least an hour a day for client service and business development.

Exactly what should you do with that time?  You can spend today’s hour reviewing this blog for the advice that best fits your practice and personality.  Start with the post entitled:  Why lawyers should ignore good ideas.


 

Special offer to start 2009

Get your marketing off on the right foot for 2009 with this special offer:  Buy a copy of The LegalBizDev Success Kit through the LegalBizDev webpage by February 28 and get two free teleconferences to discuss your 2009 business plan.  In the first call, we will discuss your priorities and action items.  Then, a few weeks later, we will assess your progress and fine tune your approach in a second call. You can benefit from this unique opportunity to get personal advice if you are:

• a lawyer worried about the economy, or
• a legal marketer who wants to increase coaching efficiency, or
• a litigator who can never find enough time for marketing, or
• a lawyer who simply wants to get more results from your marketing time

Just order your LegalBizDev Success Kit by February 28, 2009 and get two teleconferences at no additional charge.

December 24, 2008

My favorite blog posts from 2008

The holidays are a good time of year to step back and get some perspective.  So I just spent some time re-reading what top bloggers wrote in 2008.  Here are a few you won’t want to miss:

From Tom Kane’s Legal Marketing BlogMore on What GCs Look For in Outside Law Firms.  

From Dan Hull’s What About Clients?If you can't steal our clients, you're fired.

From Gerry Riskin’s blog Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices: Bravo Pepe & Hazard for demonstrating what "client driven" really means

From Bruce MacEwen’s blog Adam Smith, Esq.:  Heller Ehrman (1890-2008).

From Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog: Only 3% of Legal Work is Influenced by Directories.

From Amy Campbell’s Web LogLarge Law Firms Getting Serious About Value?  An Introduction to ACC’s Value Challenge. 

And finally, from my own blog, an oldie but a goodie:  The top ten ways for lawyers to increase client satisfaction.  Nothing is more important than increasing client satisfaction, especially now.  If you want more ideas for how to accomplish that, see The LegalBizDev Success Kit.

December 17, 2008

ACC Value Challenge (Part 3): What your competitors are doing

Last week, I wrote about what one law firm is doing to offer more value to their clients in the current economy.  This week I’ll talk about what three other firms are doing, as explained in the ACC Value Challenge Toolkit.

The best way to start lowering costs for your clients is to lower your own costs.  And that begins by systematically managing legal matters.

Eversheds has developed two different project management systems:  one for litigators and the other for transactional matters.  Every associate is required to complete training in how to use the system that applies to their specialty.

RAPID divides litigation cases into five segments:  Review, Analyze, Plan, Implement, and Deliver.  Each segment is budgeted separately, and the results of each step help predict the cost of the next one.  Eversheds reports that RAPID has substantially reduced litigation costs, and that 90% of cases are now settled out of court.

Similarly, DealTrack breaks down each transactional legal matter into four steps for budgeting and managing – Scope, Plan, Execute, and Close.  A single step may be further broken down into sub-steps, and include tasks for both in-house counsel and Eversheds attorneys.

Clients want law firms to be able not only to control costs, but also to avoid surprises and budget overruns.  To help predict the future, Eversheds looks to the past, using another system called ELITE, a database of historical cost information.  Adding all of these systems together allows Eversheds to provide “very reliable cost estimates for any type of legal work.”  (The firm does note, however, that even the best-laid plans do not always work out since “some aspects of litigation matters... are obviously subject to unexpected developments.”)

McKenna Long has taken a different approach to controlling costs.  They’ve established an “Efficiency Task Force” to identify and implement tactics that can save money for clients and for the firm.  Among many other things, the Efficiency Task Force promotes the “use of talented part-time contract attorneys... [to provide services] at an attractive hourly rate,” and “the growing use of non-lawyer professionals to complete non-legal work... at a lesser cost.”

Another important element in providing value is the quality of communication between a firm and its clients.  Ballard Spahr has developed a number of systems to “monitor the relationship to ensure [the] client is receiving value and [the] arrangement is working.”  The first item on their list is “No gatekeepers within the firm – clients can contact any Ballard Spahr lawyer without having to go through the lead relationship partner.”  The relationship partner plays a vital role in managing the overall process by monitoring billing, and tracking progress with all the lawyers who work for a particular client. 

Ballard Spahr also puts its money where its mouth is.  Compensation is based in part on interviews with each partner about who has helped them.  Lawyers earn more if they collaborate effectively, so “the focus is on value to the client rather than on personal billings for the lawyer on point.”

These are just a few of the value initiatives that have been implemented at Eversheds, McKenna Long, and Ballard Spahr.  For more details on these and other firms, see the ACC Value Challenge Toolkit.  And then ask yourself:  if this is what my competitors are doing to increase the value they provide to clients, what should I be doing?

December 10, 2008

ACC Value Challenge (Part 2): Six Sigma at Seyfarth

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge to help law firms give “corporate clients [what they] want and need: value-driven, high-quality legal services that deliver solutions for a reasonable cost.”  The more I learn about this initiative, the more important I think it is.

In this economy, increasing value is one of the most effective ways to protect existing clients and to find new ones, so I’ve been sifting through the online Value Challenge Toolkit to get a better understanding of exactly what large clients are looking for these days.  One of the first documents that caught my eye was on the “Use of tailored Six Sigma methodologies at Seyfarth Shaw.”

When I went to Wikipedia to get the 50,000 foot view of Six Sigma, I learned that more than 2/3 of Fortune 500 companies have used this system to improve quality and reduce costs.  (I thought that it was invented by Jack Welch at GE, but Wikipedia says that Jack was just a famous early adopter.  The process was actually invented by Bill Smith at Motorola, who might want to consider getting a new PR agent).  

Then I went to Seyfarth Shaw’s web page www.seyfarth.com and found a section on “Six Sigma Solutions” which explains how they adopted the system in 2006 to manage “legal costs and budget predictability.” 

It wouldn’t be featured on the web page if it hadn’t worked, and the ACC toolkit report noted that as of September 2008, “more than 75 projects have been completed” and “total fees on certain legal projects reengineered through Six Sigma have been reduced from 13% to up to 50%.”  A booklet entitled “Seyfarth Shaw: Six Sigma Solutions” describes several other benefits, including “elimination of cost variability” and “transparency in the pricing model.”

How did they do it?  Six Sigma is built around sophisticated tools and methodologies that force people to get to the heart of a problem, and figure out how to improve business processes and save money.  For example, at the start of a large matter, in-house lawyers on Six Sigma projects meet with Seyfarth attorneys to “create a ‘process map,’ perhaps literally on a huge piece of drafting paper, that depicts all the steps involved in completing a legal assignment.”  Then they discuss how to “eliminate or modify steps to save time and money.”

Six Sigma is not a process for law firms that want simple solutions or shortcuts.  Seyfarth started with a pilot test training program for 30 lawyers, and found that “The ‘off the shelf’ version of Six Sigma created cultural and logistic problems in the law firm setting.”  So they had to create a “lean” version tailored to law firms.

The Value Challenge report notes that to date 75 lawyers and staff members have been certified as “Six Sigma Green Belts,” which “requires completion of an intensive four month training program, and the successful completion of two Six Sigma projects.”  I’d love to know what that cost.

From my perspective, what’s most interesting is that Seyfarth, a firm with 750 lawyers and 10 offices, has made such a significant investment of time and money to provide clients with greater value at a lower cost.  That’s what your competitors are doing to provide more value to their clients.  What are you doing? 

December 03, 2008

Eight steps to a better business plan (Part 3 of 3)

Step 6 - Coordinate with others.

Coordinating your business plan with other lawyers in your firm will increase your efficiency, and it will increase your chances of followup.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard stories about large firms where two groups of lawyers from the same firm independently went after the same business, without realizing they were competing with their partners.  This is unbelievably inefficient.  And from the client perspective, it creates a terrible first impression. 

Coordinating activity with others can also increase the chances that you will actually follow up.  Trying to develop new business by yourself is a little like buying a NordicTrack as part of a New Year’s resolution to get more exercise.  By February, there’s a good chance that it’s primary use will be to hang up your clothes.

As I noted in my November marketing tip, it is a good idea to schedule regular marketing meetings.  They could be with your entire practice group, a formal business development committee, or just two or three like-minded lawyers. 

Even if you just decide to meet for breakfast once a month to review your to do list, working with a group will provide social support, increase accountability, and lead to steady progress.  The simple fact that you know you have a meeting coming up will help spur you to action.  No one wants to report that they failed to follow up on all their action items.

Step 7 - Track time and activity, every week.

“What gets measured gets done,” according to management guru Tom Peters. So if you are serious about developing new business, you will need a continuing system to measure your time and activity.

If your firm has a time code that fits, tracking business development time in the official system can be useful. But whether you do this on the record or off the record, you should keep a simple list of hours by week out on your desk.  A picture is worth a thousand words, so a graph that compares your weekly goal to the hours you actually put in can go a long way to keeping you on track.

You may be thinking it would be better to track time every month. Great minds think alike: that’s what I said to my first sales coach. What he said to me was: “Doing it once a month makes it too easy to put it off, and to fall behind. Do it every week.”

When it comes to tracking activity, the most important thing is to keep your To Do list up to date.  If you want a more sophisticated tally, you could also measure the number of advances you achieve each week.  I would not recommend tracking new revenue every week.  Save that for your quarterly review.  In the short term you need to reinforce activity by measuring leading indicators of success that you can control.

Step 8 - Review the plan quarterly.

However carefully you develop your marketing plan, it will be wrong.  The only question is: will it be wrong sooner, or will it be wrong later? 

Clients change.  Industries change.  The best strategy for bringing in business this year may be the worst strategy next year.  Therefore, it makes no sense to spend time making a business plan perfect.  It should be made just good enough to spur you to action, and then tested in the real world.

I would recommend stepping back once a quarter to evaluate whether you are on the right track.  And remember that even if you produce no new revenue in a particular quarter, you may still be on the right track.  Business development takes time.  So when you evaluate your plan, ask yourself these questions:

• Are my top clients very very happy?
• Am I meeting enough people who could become clients in the future?
• Are the relationships progressing at a reasonable rate?
• Am I spending an appropriate amount of time on increasing visibility?

If you answer yes to these questions, consider your quarterly review a success, and keep going.  New business will follow.

What you should do today

If you already have a written plan, now is a good time to review it in light of what’s going on in the economy.  Be sure to consider defensive marketing to protect the relationships you already have with clients and referral sources.

If you don’t have a written plan, this would be a great time to write one.  To get started,  many sample formats can be found on the web.  Or see my book Legal Business Development:  A Step by Step Guide for an outline of a “one page business plan” focused on action items.  Or sign up for my webinar “Eight Steps to a Better Business Plan” on December 16 or January 14 and get a copy of “The LegalBizDev Guide to Business Plans,” which includes the proprietary format for our new expanded “two page business plan.”

Whatever format you choose, don’t forget to make a commitment to marketing time every week, whether it’s five hours, or two hours, or even just one hour.  Because the most fundamental law of marketing is simple:  if you spend no time, you will get no results.