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6 posts from January 2014

January 29, 2014

The most successful business development program we’ve seen: The case of Adams and Reese (Part 2 of 4)

Adams and Reese kicked off their business development program at a retreat where I gave a live presentation.  We then followed up with two webinars to the entire firm. My three presentations reviewed the top 10 ways to increase results from your limited marketing time, which are explained in Part 1 of my Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide:

  1. Prioritize relentlessly
  2. Start with current clients
  3. Listen
  4. Plan advances
  5. Follow up
  6. Work with others
  7. Focus on personal strengths
  8. Assess the importance of relationships vs. value
  9. Measure results
  10. Don’t stop

The content was customized to the firm’s needs.

Training of this sort sets the stage and helps lawyers decide whether they are prepared to commit the time necessary to succeed. But to produce an immediate impact on the bottom line, you need one-to-one coaching.

To date, five LegalBizDev principals have served as coaches for Adams and Reese: Tom Kane, Gary Richards, Fred Kinch, Ed Schechter, and Tim Batdorf. All followed the same basic procedure which starts with a one-hour call to discuss the background and goals of each lawyer. We then discuss best practices from other attorneys that relate to each individual’s objectives and we brainstorm initial action items. This is followed by eight additional 30-minute calls to monitor progress, pursue the most promising opportunities, assure efficient follow-up, and reinforce business development skills and long-term habits, including sustainability tactics for after the coaching ends. Throughout the coaching we refer frequently to job aids and templates in our Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide, and after each call we email a list of action items that the lawyer has identified.

While most clients prefer to schedule weekly calls, Adams and Reese felt that calls every other week would work better to allow sufficient time for lawyers to accomplish their action items.

We also provided unlimited email support between calls to help lawyers with the tasks and priorities they’ve identified, such as researching potential clients, drafting emails to reconnect with former colleagues, writing an agenda for a business development meeting, editing PowerPoint presentations to increase their marketing impact, or doing whatever it took to help them bring in new business.

Finally, at the end of every month, we provided a summary report to management that included tables showing how many hours per week each lawyer had devoted to business development, the advances they had achieved, and the dates they had participated in coaching telecons. These monthly reports also documented the details of all of the advances planned and achieved by each lawyer. This level of detail kept Adams and Reese business development staff in the loop so they could assist with ongoing actions and transition to assist lawyers after our coaching ended. The monthly reports and other progress details were also shared with firm management.

Eric Partlow, a Tampa-based litigation partner, explained that “it’s not rocket science or magic. But the ideas I received from my coach were based on studies and research of what works. For example, if I had an event coming up, I would ask my coach for advice. Some events work well in terms of business development and some don’t, I learned. For example, joining numerous committees as marketing opportunities has traditionally been perceived as a good idea, but it’s not always so.” While we should all strive to contribute through our service on committees, when it comes to marketing, there are better ways to maximize your efforts.

Partlow said his coach asked him to focus not so much on creating new business leads as on making the most of the leads he already had.

“Once I was forced, during the coaching process, to examine the relationships I already had, I was surprised about how many could be helpful in developing new business,” Partlow said. “And with them, it’s back to basics. Give a call, send an email, keep yourself in the forefront of their minds. You become an option for them that may not have existed before.”

Partlow said he felt “very encouraged to discover these opportunities. For me, one key insight was overcoming the hesitation to ask for work directly. People consistently overlook the importance of simply asking.”

Like others in the program, Partlow obtained several new matters by reaching out to clients and prospects more frequently. He found the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide to be a quick and reliable resource, including the chapter on “67 ways to get a conversation going.”

Greg Rouchell, a New Orleans-based litigation partner, came to the coaching with far more business development experience than most of the other lawyers, and saw the program as an opportunity to brush up on his skills.

“I focused on organizing all my contacts and keeping track of the times I reached out to them,” says Rouchell. “Instead of email, sometimes a handwritten note is what you need to develop a better professional relationship. After all, most lawyers are competent at what they do. You need that something extra to set you apart, and that is the recipe for success.”

Rouchell says he learned that the “touches” with potential clients can take many forms. For example, around Mardi Gras he sent several clients a king cake from New Orleans.

“My takeaway,” Rouchell said, “is to maintain relationships and not become frustrated. It can easily take months or even years to develop a client. You don’t want to look back 10 years later and say, ‘I should have done this sooner.’

“This coaching process served to remind me of the importance of doing this. You can’t slack off. You just have to make time and do it,” Rouchell concluded.

When Rouchell reached out to one client for whom he had recently settled a case, they asked him about handling a new case in a very specialized area. He explained that it was outside his area of expertise, but that others in the firm could handle it. The client decided to send the matter to the firm because they had developed confidence in Rouchell.

This series was written by Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner.

January 28, 2014

My upcoming Ark Group workshops on Alternative Fees and on Legal Project Management

On March 19, I will be in New York to chair the Ark Group’s Fifth Annual AFA Forum.  There are plenty of conferences about AFAs these days, but the title of this one suggests how it is different:  Sustaining AFAs Through Collaboration and Trust.  Law firms and their clients will talk candidly about how they have negotiated and managed AFAs in a way that has been beneficial and sustainable for both sides.  Participants include in-house counsel from GlaxoSmithKline, Pitney Bowes, Harley-Davidson, and other major corporations, as well as the lawyers they work with at Foley & Lardner, Reed Smith, Greenberg Traurig, McKenna Long & Aldridge, Faegre Baker Daniels, and McCarthy Tetrault.  You can download the agenda and registration form from our web page, or go to Ark’s page for additional information. 

Then, on May 22 in Chicago, I will be chairing an entirely different kind of event entitled the Legal Project Management Showcase & Workshop: Changing Behavior within the Firm.  I conducted this workshop three times in 2013, making it Ark’s most popular program last year.  I wish I could say it was so successful due to my contributions, but the value was in the frank discussions between panelists about what worked and what didn’t when they established LPM programs.  The Chicago panel will include some panelists who appeared on last year’s programs, and some who didn’t, namely:

Sari M. Alamuddin, Partner, Morgan Lewis
Vincent Cordo, Global Director of Client Value, Reed Smith
Stuart J T Dodds, Director of Global Pricing and Legal Project Management, Baker & McKenzie
David Schaefer, Deputy Chair, Loeb & Loeb
Donald R. Ware, Partner, Foley Hoag

I’ll let you know when the brochure for the Chicago workshop becomes available in a few weeks.  In the meantime, if you’d like a preview of how the event will be structured, take a look at the similar workshop I offered last November with a different panel. 

I hope to see you in New York, or Chicago, or both.

For more information on either event, contact Ark’s Peter Franken at pfranken@ark-group.com or (312) 212-1301.

 

January 22, 2014

The most successful business development program we’ve seen: The case of Adams and Reese (Part 1 of 4)

Over the last eight years, we have helped lawyers increase new business throughout the US and around the world. But we are now in the middle of a business development coaching program for Adams and Reese in which the results are off the charts. This four-part case study explains why they were so successful.

The firm has over 300 lawyers in 17 offices throughout the southeast. In 2012, they implemented a new five-year strategic plan that was built around growth. According to Managing Partner Chuck Adams, “We saw a unique opportunity for regional firms like ours, and realized that to take advantage of it we would need to re-focus every lawyer on increasing client satisfaction and re-energize our business development initiatives.”

They conducted a national search for a consulting firm to help, and ultimately hired LegalBizDev to develop and deliver a customized coaching and training program.

Current plans call for at least 50 lawyers to complete coaching over the first two years of the program. This case study focuses on the 26 lawyers who have completed our nine-call coaching program so far.

The average Adams and Reese lawyer finished the program in about five months, although most legal business development takes much longer than that. We usually measure success by reporting “advances” – specific actions that move a new matter forward such as holding a meeting or getting an introduction to a decision maker. This group recorded a total of 1,669 advances, or more than 64 advances per lawyer, far above our averages with other clients.

More importantly, whenever we coach a group of lawyers, inevitably some new business comes in while we are working with them. When it does, we always ask, “Do you think this new business was related to the coaching?” If the lawyer says no, we move on. But if they say yes, we record the details in our monthly reports and make sure that everyone knows that the process is working. The most amazing thing about this group was that they reported a total of 68 new matters before the coaching even ended, or about 2.6 new matters per lawyer. The net value of this new business far exceeded the cost of the training program.

And as business continues to grow for these lawyers after the coaching, the return on investment continues to rise.

To cite just one example of how it worked, consider the case of Deb Oliver, a litigation partner based in Tampa who said her coach emphasized that the most important goal of the training was “accountability to yourself.”

“Client development is largely a game of numbers and of being in the right place at the right time. This just requires persistence,” said Oliver.

“You need to set interim benchmark goals that you can live up to,” she continued. “These can be current clients that you wish to grow, or new clients. My list of existing and potential clients was long, so I learned that the key was to use my contacts list religiously. I needed to schedule a series of calendar appointments to set times to remind these people that I exist.”

Oliver’s task was somewhat complicated by the fact that most of her clients and contacts are not in Tampa. “Sometimes for me, staying in touch involves looking six months out and scheduling trips out of town, just to get in front of people,” Oliver said. “I really had to carve out time and organize that time well. I learned how to develop tools to do this as efficiently as possible.”

Another important lesson Oliver took away was that business development “is very much about listening and understanding a client’s real objectives. Litigation clients can have many goals; you need to understand the particular goals of each individual to fulfill your duties.”

As a result of more actively initiating dialogs about client needs and satisfaction, Deb brought in several new matters which she attributed to the coaching.

In the remaining parts of this series, we’ll provide more details about how the coaching works and all the things that Adams and Reese did right to make this the most successful program we’ve seen to date.

This series was written by Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner.

January 15, 2014

How to deal with difficult clients and situations

This is a guest post from LegalBizDev Principal Gary Richards.

Gary_richards1

When clients are extremely demanding and/or require substantial write-offs, lawyers face difficult choices, especially in the current competitive marketplace.  In many cases, lawyers choose the unhealthy option of simply suffering and complaining.  This short post outlines three healthier alternatives:

  1. Change the situation.
  2. Accept the situation.
  3. Leave the situation.

 

Obviously, all three of these choices involve financial risks which could negatively impact not only the individual lawyer, but also the entire firm.  Therefore, we strongly recommend that the lawyer consult with appropriate colleagues and firm management and obtain their concurrence before taking any action.

Option 1: Change the situation

If the situation is simply not acceptable, then the best first step could be to try to change it.  The simplest and least controversial approaches are the ones that are strictly internal, and do not require discussion with the client, such as applying legal project management to increase efficiency and client satisfaction, or brainstorming with others in your firm regarding steps you or your practice group could take.

If changing the situation requires negotiating with the client to change what they are doing, it is important to recognize that the simple act of talking to a client about how to improve things is not free of risk in the current marketplace, where competing firms are aggressively seeking new clients.  Therefore, the way you pursue this option, or even whether you pursue it, depends on your relationship with the client, and the business objectives of the firm.  There are times when a large client with significant write-offs is far preferable to no client at all.

If you decide to pursue change with the client, you could consider calling in the managing partner or practice group leader to appeal to someone with higher rank at your client than your present contact.  Obviously, however, that step must be taken very cautiously if at all, since escalating the problem could backfire.

If you wish to handle this yourself, you could begin from the script below.  Even if the client does not agree to help, it will provide you with new information regarding how they value the relationship, and your best next steps.

Create a script from this outline

  1. “I need your help re: (State the topic)….
  2. “When (the recent, undesirable event STATE SPECIFICS) occurs…
  3. “The result is (State the undesirable results SPECIFICALLY).
  4. “And my concern about that is (State your negative situation, feelings, predicament, etc.)
  5. “Can you commit to (state the different, better actions you want the listener to take SPECIFICALLY)…..?
  6. “Thanks for agreeing to help me in this way…
  7. “I look forward to our next deal…

Sample script

Note: the narrator in this scenario is an outside lawyer, in a discussion with his/her bank client “Bill” regarding problems with borrowers applying for loans:

  1. Bill, I need your help to avoid so many fee write-offs with your borrowers.  I truly appreciate your business, and want to continue working with you.
  2. But when a borrower like Anycorp, Inc. agrees upfront to reimburse our standard/reasonable/customary fees and yet ends up requiring a substantial write-off…
  3. …The result is that I find myself in a difficult position when our work is done.  In the last year we had to write off over $50,000:   

Client

Loan date

Write-off

Amount

% of fees incurred

White Corp

January 2013

$11,000

10%

Brown, LLC

March

$15,000

13%

Red.com

August

$21,000

20%

Anycorp, Inc.

December

$9,000

18%

TOTAL

$56,000

15%

  1. My concern about that is that I feel like no matter how well I keep you posted, and how good a job I do, I am often not paid in full. That puts me under pressure from my partners, who don’t expect me to work for free.
  2. Can you commit to showing your borrowers my detailed budgets and work assumptions and get them to sign off on each material change in scope before I resume work, a procedure they can agree to in the term sheet?
  3. Thanks, Bill…I really appreciate your strengthening these steps to help manage your borrower’s fee expectations so we can avoid ill will to your bank, and can protect my efforts. I really look forward to our next deal, when we can begin this new approach for our mutual benefit.

Of course, if Bill does not agree to this or some other mutually satisfactory solution, then you must reevaluate the relationship, and whether it is worth the frustration and lost income. For instance, the bank may complain about your work, or just show indifference to anything but low fees keeping their borrower happy. In any case, a business decision will be needed.

Option 2:  Accept the situation.

If you decide you need the work and are not in a position to negotiate a change in what your client is doing, or you try to change the situation and fail, then ask whether there are sufficient reasons to accept the situation such as:

  • We have little chance to replace this loan business with more profitable loan business
  • We have little likelihood of getting more profitable non-loan business of this caliber or size
  • We need these partial payments to cover firm overhead
  • We need this low-realization revenue to keep our people busy

If you decide to accept the situation, keep these reasons in mind to help you cope better the next time a challenging situation occurs.

Option 3:  Leave the Situation  

If it is too costly to accept the situation, and all your efforts to change it fail, then notify the bank client that you will not be able to handle any further loan business from them if it happens again. (According to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.16 DECLINING OR TERMINATING REPRESENTATION (b)… a lawyer may withdraw from representing a client if: (6) the representation will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the lawyer or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by the client.)

These are challenging times which can require tough decisions.  But using any one of three options described above to help make a business decision for the firm is better than the unhealthy alternative of suffering and complaining.

January 08, 2014

Research update: How to gain a competitive advantage

Regular readers of this blog know that for the last few months, I have been interviewing managing partners, chairs, and other senior decision makers at AmLaw 200 firms for our study of Client Value and Law Firm Profitability.  An updated description of our research approach is now on our web page, including a list of the 50 firms that participated in 30-minute in-depth confidential interviews.

Now that the votes are in, we are starting to analyze several hundred pages of typed transcripts.  The complete report will be published in May.

As far as I am concerned, the most interesting question in the study asked participants whether there was an advantage to moving more quickly than competitors to increase client value and to protect profitability with initiatives such as legal project management, knowledge management, hiring pricing directors, and using contract attorneys.

Every respondent said yes, speed matters.  Being lawyers, a third of them carefully qualified their answers to apply only to certain types of clients and situations (such as commodity work), but not a single person in our survey said no.  Here are a few of the more forceful confidential quotes from these senior partners and executives:

I think the market’s going to shake itself out. I think firms that can’t deliver more value will fail.

Lawyers are about as dumb as you could possibly be about understanding how our product is made.  The lawyers who understand how to make it, and the components that go into making it, and can manage that process efficiently are going to be the winners.

I know that the cynical view would be this is just “the flavor of the month.”  But just from a pure business and economics discipline standpoint, it only makes sense that of course they will have a competitive advantage.

I think the firms that are most effective are going to do well, and I don’t think everybody will survive. In the last several years, there have been several firms that went away. And I believe that’s going to continue.

It’s all about differentiation. There are lots of lawyers out there who can do great legal work.  But the real issue is, how do we deliver better value to our clients?

If lawyers think speed is so important, are most moving quickly?  No.  In our sample about half have not started moving at all.

When I asked the question:  “In the last five years, what percent of the lawyers at your firm have started to change the way they practice law to provide more value while maintaining profitability?” the average answer was that 51% have started.  The other 49% are still operating exactly the same way they did in the very different legal marketplace that preceded the great recession of 2008. 

More interesting than the average was the variation between firms.  At one end of the continuum, the lowest reported that only 5% had started, and at the other end, two firms reported 100%.  But the key word here is “started.”  As the managing partner of one firm put it:

I think 100 percent of them have started to change the way they practice, because we make it such a feature in everything we do and everything we talk about that it’s sort of impossible for anybody to be here and not have changed somewhat. I think, however, that the upside is still very high, and very few, have changed enough that they can fully meet client needs. I think probably a few have, but less than 10 percent.

To sum it up:  law firm leaders believe that moving quickly to implement legal project management and related changes will provide a valuable competitive advantage in a very challenging environment.  But most are moving slowly.  Why?

Anyone who has ever worked at a law firm knows the answer.  The very organization of law firm partnerships and committees makes it hard to act quickly on anything.

One of the firms that is most widely recognized as a leader in the “new normal” is Seyfarth Shaw.  In 2012, several years after starting their SeyfarthLean initiative, chairman Steve Poor wrote in the New York Times DealBook:  “Never underestimate the resistance to change from lawyers… The continuous move forward takes persistence and, perhaps, a bit of stubbornness.” 

So far, firms that are making any progress at all have already seen the competitive benefits.  Two years ago I wrote in this blog about the experience of one of the first clients for our LPM just-in-time training program.  She reported that change had been much slower than she had hoped, but it was leading to new business, because “If you move like a turtle but you're racing a bunch of snails, it all works out in the end.”

As legal competition continues to intensify, the pace of change is accelerating and being as fast as a turtle may no longer be enough.  The good news for lawyers is that to succeed in developing new business, you just have to be a little better than your competitors.  A few years ago, most competitors were not even trying to deliver more value or increase efficiency, so they were easy to beat.  The bad news is that law firms have increased the pace, clients are watching, and the competition is getting tougher:   

Clients are getting smarter. They don’t just ask, “Are you doing anything on project management?” They’re asking, “Tell me what you’re doing in project management. Have you hired anybody? Are you training? Are you working with clients on it?” They’re asking much more detailed questions now. And if your answer is yes in general but you can’t provide details, they consider your answer to be no.

As one of our research participants summed it up:

We’re still in the beginning of the process. Some famous economists have talked about disruptive technologies and disruptive business processes. I think there’s a lot of evidence out there that the legal profession is being subjected to those pressures. Five years from now, if I turn out to be wrong, that will be great. But if I’m right, then I have to believe that those firms that adapt more quickly will have a competitive advantage, and the firms that don’t adapt quickly enough will be out of business.

 

January 01, 2014

Tip of the month: Develop a defensive marketing plan for 2014

Exactly what will you do this year to protect your top client relationships?  In the current competitive environment, no client can be taken for granted, no matter how long you have worked for them.  If they are already happy with your service, what could you do to make them even happier? 

 

The first Wednesday of every month is devoted to a short and simple tip to help lawyers increase efficiency, provide greater value to their clients and/or develop new business. For specific ideas to increase satisfaction, see my books the Legal Business Development Quick Reference Guide and the Legal Project Management Quick Reference Guide.