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4 posts from August 2010

August 25, 2010

How to improve pitch meetings

A few months ago, I wrote about “The biggest mistake lawyers make when trying to develop new business": they fail to listen.

As I wrote in that post:

The familiar term “pitch meeting” shows just how pervasive this mistake is.  Most lawyers seem to think that when they meet with prospective clients, their task is to pitch, to hurl, to throw out information.  In fact, any successful sales person will tell you that instead of pitching, you should be catching, listening to what clients have to say.

I had a similar discussion last week with a senior litigator that I am coaching, when we discussed ways to increase new business with a client he’d helped before.  LegalBizDev principal Kirk Forrest is working with me with this client, and took the analogy one step further when he talked about what to do after you listen.

Here’s what Kirk wrote in a follow-up email: 

Forrest09001.  To continue the baseball analogy, yes, it is more about "catching" than "pitching.” But he [the lawyer being coached] gains the advantage by using that information "caught," to throw a series of "strikes" thereafter.  It is the "strikes" thrown which will get him the business.  Having the information but doing nothing with it will not produce results.
2.  For example, at the recent Network of Trial Law Firms seminar I attended, a GC on the panel reiterated my view that lawyers seeking work should show how they will be helpful.  [The lawyer being coached] mentioned that there was a second case filed [with his client]; he wrote the company and merely said, "Let me know if I can help on this." Polite, yes, but it did not give the GC any stated reason to hire him.  A better approach to the GC could have been something like this:

I have given some preliminary thought to the new suit filed against the company. As we did with the last case, we would recommend removing the case to federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia. Depending upon the federal judge we get, would could advise the Court that the case is related to others already pending within the District and ask the Court to transfer the case to Judge Jones' docket. You will recall that we received some favorable discovery rulings from Judge Jones in the XXX matter which were very helpful in getting us to an early and cost effective settlement. Assuming that you want to go this route, after filing an Answer we would seek an early Rule 16 Status Conference to discuss with the Court limiting discovery for now and having the parties focus on the few key issues raised in the Complaint.  As we did previously, we would expect our pleadings to be closely watched by the press, and we can offensively use the pleadings to get our side of the story out. 

Presumably, we would use many, if not all, of the same witnesses as before.  We spent much time working with John Doe in preparing for his deposition and we could pick it up again from there.  Mary Public was a little more difficult but we finally got her focused on why her testimony was critical. We built up a good rapport and credibility with her, which will likely be very helpful.  Tim Smith and Jane Miller, who worked with me on the last case, are available to again provide an experienced team in defending this matter. I will call you tomorrow morning to discuss; however, if you would like to talk sooner, just let me know and I will clear some time on my calendar for us to talk.

3.  The key point is to provide the decision maker with helpful information. Investing some time to study and analyze the complaint is time well spent. At the conference, GCs agreed that even if the lawyer was not hired for this particular matter, all would remember a lawyer who took the time to add value to his communication and who was helpful to the GCs making the key decision of who to hire.
4.   So, yes, catch first.  But then do not waste pitches; throw only strikes.

August 18, 2010

Overcoming resistance to change (Part 3): Raising the urgency level

Last week I wrote about how short-term wins can help to promote change in law firms.

In the book Leading Change, John Kotter also talks about the value of “raising the urgency level,” and even provides a table listing nine ways to do this in the corporate world (p. 44).  While some would not work in the legal world, in my opinion, every law firm leader would be wise to focus on one key item from Kotter’s list: talk to unhappy clients and publicize the results.

I’ve written before about the Lake Wobegon effect, named after Garrison Keilor’s fictional community where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”  Several surveys have shown how this applies to lawyers.  In my favorite, Inside Counsel magazine asked lawyers to grade their overall performance with clients as A, B, C, D, or F.  43% of the lawyers thought they were earning an A.  But when they asked clients the same question, in fact only 17% earned As. In other words, most lawyers significantly overrated their performance.

If lawyers spent more time understanding how clients really feel, they would have a much better chance of protecting client relationships in troubled times and expanding them when things improve.  Not to mention the fact that listening to clients is a powerful technique for generating new business

A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts about how to conduct client satisfaction interviews.  In the current environment, law firm leaders should also be thinking about client dissatisfaction interviews: spending time with clients who have left, or who are in danger of leaving, the firm.

Relationship partners may prefer not to think about the clients who have left.  If they do talk to them, they may try too hard to win work back or be defensive about what went wrong.  Therefore, I believe such interviews would best be conducted by disinterested parties, ideally a very senior partner in the firm, thus showing clients how serious the firm is about understanding any issues.  And then they need to find a way to communicate what they found to others, without embarrassing or annoying the partner who lost the client.  This won’t be easy.

But the potential payoff is understanding how unhappy clients have perceived your service and dealing with any underlying issues before other clients leave.  Partners who continue to deny that the legal world is changing, or who think “our firm is different,” may have their eyes opened by hearing exactly what their own clients are saying about them.

In their discussion of urgency in the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, Chip and Dan Heath quote a Harvard Business School Review paper which argues that “In the absence of a dire threat, employees will keep doing what they’ve always done (p. 119).”  This quote reminded me of Richard Susskind’s comment about law firm conservatism in the book The End of Lawyers: “It is not easy to convince a group of millionaires...that their business model is wrong.” 

But Susskind wrote those words before the economic downturn.  And most law firm leaders believe that even if the economy recovers completely, legal changes are here to stay.  In a recent survey of law firm chairmen and managing partners, only 4% said that the changes to the legal profession in 2009 were “an anomaly.”  69% said that the 2009 economy was “an accelerator of past legal trends,” and the remaining 27% saw 2009 events as “a game changer that has changed the legal profession.” 

If you agree that the legal world has changed forever, maybe this cloud can turn out to have a silver lining.  If you focus clearly on value and on meeting client needs before your competitors do, you could end up expanding your book of business.  As Euripides noted, “There is in the worst of fortune the best of chances for a happy change.”

August 11, 2010

Overcoming resistance to change (Part 2): Short-term wins

Last week I wrote about a simple strategy to promote change: find the feeling.  Sounds great in theory, but exactly how do you do that? 

Of course the answer will depend on your firm’s culture and on the change you are promoting.  Here’s one example: in many of the firms that we talk to these days, the executive committee and senior leadership are interested in applying project management principles to increase client satisfaction and improve marketing.  But they don’t know how to get started because there is little grassroots support for an idea that will require partners to change the way they practice law. 

One tactic we recommend to promote change in our project management workshops and coaching is to focus on short term wins.  Instead of trying to train everyone in the firm, we seek out lawyers who are motivated to change and then help them to find the personal “low hanging fruit” that will prove project management’s benefits to others in the firm.

For example, one AmLaw 100 firm hired us a few weeks ago to coach three influential partners in project management for several months, and then conduct a panel discussion of the results at their annual retreat.  The fact that the evidence will be discussed frankly by partners will make the presentation far more credible than anything an outside consultant could say.  Our goal is to lay the groundwork for short-term wins that are significant enough to trigger an emotional response. 

As John Kotter notes in his book Leading Change:

Real transformation takes time…Most people won’t go on the long march unless they see compelling evidence within six to eighteen months that the journey is producing expected results.  Without short-term wins, too many employees give up or actively join the resistance (p. 11).

LeadingChange Kotter goes on to list many benefits of short-term wins (p. 123), including the fact that they:

• “Provide evidence that sacrifices are worth it
• Reward change agents with a pat on the back
• Help fine-tune vision and strategies
• Undermine cynics and self-serving resisters
• Build momentum”

In our experience, most lawyers will change their behavior IF they are provided with convincing evidence that it is in their own self interest.  If partners that they respect and trust say that an aggressive fixed fee deal became profitable because of the way it was managed, or that a lawyer working on an hourly basis avoided a write off with a difficult client because she used project management tactics, the others will listen.

Next week, we’ll discuss another way to “find the feeling”: raising the urgency level.

August 04, 2010

Overcoming lawyers’ resistance to change (Part 1): Find the feeling

In preparing for an upcoming panel presentation in Chicago (for details, see the end of this post), I’ve been reading and thinking a lot about lawyers and change.  The most useful book I’ve found so far does not mention lawyers at all, but it does review an enormous amount of research. 

The book is called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, and it was written by two brothers: Chip Heath, a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, and Dan Heath, a senior fellow at Duke University.  While they do not offer easy answers, they do suggest many tactics that law firms could apply.  Their central idea is that change requires finding the right balance between three different elements: the rational mind, the emotional mind, and the environment. 

The Heath Brothers outline nine tactics for change, several of which will be described in this series.  (You can download a one-page summary of all nine tactics by signing up at their web page.) This week, I will talk about “Find the feeling.  Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change.  Make people feel something (p.259).”

SwitchbookC When people overemphasize the rational element, the Heath Brothers say, it can lead to wheel spinning, overthinking, and analysis paralysis.  Have you ever seen that in a law firm?

When I talked about this last week with a Director of the Program and Project Management Office for an AmLaw 100 firm, he said that back when he worked as a consultant, they used to worry about fast-moving clients whose approach could be summarized as READY…FIRE…AIM.  But with law firms, his experience can be characterized as READY…AIM…AIM…AIM…AIM…AIM…Wait a minute, why am I holding a gun?

One of the more interesting studies the Heath Brothers cite originally appeared in The Heart of Change by John Kotter, professor emeritus at Harvard Business School, and Dan Cohen, a principal at Deloitte Consulting.  Kotter and Cohen interviewed over 400 people who had been involved in change efforts at 130 companies to understand why some change initiatives had succeeded and others had failed. 

They concluded that the managers who failed used an approach which could be described as ANALYZE-THINK-CHANGE.  They focused on rational arguments, compiled spreadsheets, and developed PowerPoints to show workers all the intellectual reasons why they needed to change.  This type of systematic approach can be effective in a stable and controlled situation, they say, such as when you need to cut your printing costs or reduce your commute time. 

But in most corporate change efforts it does not work because “the parameters aren’t well understood, and the future is fuzzy (Switch, p. 106).”  The term “fuzzy future” certainly applies to law firms that are trying to decide how, or even if, they should respond to what Paul Lippe has called “the new normal.”

In change efforts for complex situations like this, Kotter and Cohen found, successful managers relied on the sequence SEE-FEEL-CHANGE.  Instead of trying to appeal to the rational mind, they focused on making an emotional connection.

The Heath Brothers’ book cites many examples of this approach, including the “Glove Shrine” created by a manager at a large manufacturing company who believed his employer could reduce costs by $1 billion over five years, simply by changing the purchasing process (p. 13).  But in this global behemoth, changing procurement meant that many people would first need to be convinced to change the way they did business.  Instead of focusing on the rational reasons for change, this manager looked for a single compelling example of overspending that could make his case in a way that appealed to the emotional mind.

The manager decided to focus on work gloves, which were used in the company’s factories around the world and purchased in hundreds of locations.  He assigned a summer intern to track down all the different orders for work gloves, and found that the company was purchasing 424 different types.  Worse yet, each purchaser struck his own deals, and as a result exactly the same type of glove sometimes cost $5 at one location, and $17 at another, depending on how well the local purchaser had negotiated.

He could have made this case by compiling a detailed rational report filled with charts and examples.  But instead he asked the intern to get samples of all 424 types of gloves, and put a price tag on each.  Then he created the Glove Shrine by piling them all on an expensive conference table in corporate headquarters.   

As the Heath Brothers summarized the result, “The reaction was visceral.  This is crazy [people thought]…We’ve got to make sure this stops happening…The company changed its purchasing process and saved a great deal of money (p. 13).”  All because a single manager and a summer intern figured out a way to get past analysis paralysis and navel-gazing, and break through to emotion and action.

If you think that making an emotional case for change could help win people over at your firm, the next obvious question is, how do I make that emotional connection?  Ah yes.  Nobody said it would be easy.  But in Part 2 of this series, I will talk about two key tactics: short-term wins and creating a sense of urgency.

Note: My August 16 Chicago panel presentation on this topic is sold out, but I will write in this blog about what I learn from the other panelists: Steve Poor, Chairman of Seyfarth Shaw, Joey Smith, Chairman of Williams Mullen, Tea Hoffmann, Chief Business Development Officer at Baker Donelson, and consultant Patrick McKenna.  The Ark Group is now organizing a second session on the same topic in New York on January 25, 2011.  If you’d like to be notified when the official announcement is released, email Elisabeth Westner.