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February 12, 2014

The most successful business development program we’ve seen: The case of Adams and Reese (Part 3 of 4)

In the first two parts of this series, we described a business development coaching process we have refined over the years, which has helped lawyers at many firms to:

  • Bring in new business from current clients
  • Increase the client retention rate
  • Find new clients
  • Focus limited marketing time and scarce resources on the activities that are most likely to lead to new engagements
  • Undertake business development activities that they want to accomplish, within a weekly time commitment that they agree to
  • Develop skills and habits which continue to pay off after the program ends

Adams and Reese, a 330-lawyer firm with 17 offices, took the success of our business development coaching to extraordinary heights. The average lawyer brought in 2.6 new matters before the coaching even ended, and many more after the program was over.

Why was the business development coaching so successful at Adams and Reese?

Because their management did everything right. They were so focused on the program that they even helped us invent a few new steps.

Whenever any law firm asks us to define the single most important factor in success, we always say the same thing: give us the right lawyers to coach – people who are motivated to succeed and committed to devoting time to business development week after week.

If they have never brought in a single new matter before, we will show them how it is done and establish habits that will work for a life time. If they are already top rainmakers, that’s even better, because we will help them become more successful. Experienced rainmakers are our absolute favorite candidates, because they produce the largest results in the shortest period of time. A 5% boost in a rainmaker’s book of business will generate far more revenue than a 100% increase for a novice.

But this advice comes with a caveat. In our experience, great legal rainmakers come in two categories. The first group is perfectly satisfied with the way they do things and have no interest in talking to consultants. Our approach with this group is to get out of their way and pray for their health, since they are helping to generate the revenue that pays for everything else.

The second group may be skeptical about whether consultants can help, but they are always looking for new ideas to get an edge. These are our absolute favorite candidates, because a very small adjustment in their tactics can produce a large and immediate return.

Over the years, all of our clients have taken this advice seriously, but none as seriously as Adams and Reese. Their most promising coaching candidates were selected based on input from the executive committee, practice group leaders, and their business development team. Each was then offered the program on the condition that she or he commit at least three hours per week to business development for the duration of the program, and that actual business development hours would be tracked and reported to management. (Interestingly, to date the lawyers in the program have actually averaged more than double what they were asked to promise: 6.4 hours per week on business development.)

After Adams and Reese had the list of candidates in hand, they did something we had never seen before: Managing Partner Chuck Adams and Chief Marketing Officer Ann Wallace jointly scheduled a meeting or telecon with each and every candidate to discuss their goals and confirm their commitment. In a few cases, lawyers who had previously said that they could devote the required three hours per week to the program re-considered when they were reminded of the firm’s investment in the program and the significance of their participation. Several postponed the coaching to a later date after cross-questioning revealed that this was simply not the right time for them. These candidates were replaced by others who could and did make a firm commitment.

When we first started coaching lawyers, we always began programs like this with a group meeting in which people shared their goals and established a foundation for group support and achievement. But we found this could delay program start by months, because it was so hard to get a group of lawyers to find a single time when they could all meet. So we have dropped the group meetings, and at firms where we just work with one lawyer at a time, start coaching whenever they are ready to begin.

Adams and Reese liked the initial meeting idea, so we went back to that format, and they made sure that the lawyers showed up. Inevitably, in a few cases lawyers were unable to come due to last minute client demands. A separate meeting was held with each of them later to kick off the program.

As the program proceeded, management carefully monitored the progress reports and issued a series of internal announcements congratulating people who had brought in new business.

Adams and Reese also added an innovation at the end of the coaching. Part of what we do in the last few coaching sessions is talk about establishing systems to assure sustainability, such as working with the firm’s business development staff to maintain the activity monitoring that is so important to success. They took it one step further.

In the view of CMO Ann Wallace, this was absolutely critical:

We did not want to run a program that succeeded once and then faded away. We wanted to make sure that we integrate these new habits into our day-to-day business. Therefore, when each lawyer’s program ended, I arranged a telecon in which the coach ‘handed off’ the lawyer to the business development manager they normally worked with. They discussed what worked in the coaching, what hadn’t, and devised joint strategies to sustain success, one lawyer at a time.

This series was written by Jim Hassett and Jonathan Groner.

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