New Actions Blog

Andrew Elowitt on the Legal Talk Network

Featured on the June 12th episode of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance podcast, Andrew Elowitt talks about the skills and qualities of successful (dare we say “champion”) law firm managers such as: handling employee conflicts and frustrations; communicating goals and expectations; setting a positive example; and the challenges of managing superstar employees.

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Leverage Your Marketing Efforts with Referral Sources

Legal marketing experts agree that one of the keys to building a book of business is to create and maintain strong relationships with past, present and potential clients. We are told that attorneys’ marketing efforts should be client-centric, and we should always put clients first. It’s clients, Clients, CLIENTS!

Focusing on clients’ needs and interests is of course sound advice, but attorneys sometimes take this approach too far and too literally. A purely client-centric approach where attorneys only cultivate relationships with prospective clients is counterproductive if it leads them to neglect people who are potentially more important than clients. What? People more important than clients? Who can they be? Is it heresy to think that there may be people more valuable to attorneys than clients?

To learn who these people are, let’s first look at the concept of leverage. Most attorneys are skilled at using leverage even if they’re not familiar with the term. Time is a precious commodity for all attorneys: we constantly ask ourselves if what we are doing is this the best use of our time? If we have a task and can find someone else who can do it better or cheaper, we delegate it. Or at least we should. Delegation is basically having other people do stuff for us. We leverage our time and expertise by using others whose time is either non-billable or billable at a lower rate. By having them complete these tasks, our time becomes available for potentially more remunerative activities.

So how does the concept of leverage play out in the area of marketing? The most obvious way is to use legal secretaries or other office staff for routine administrative tasks. Unless there are compelling or unusual circumstance, attorneys should delegate tasks like updating client lists, making appointments, and sending out collateral materials. In similar fashion, associates and paralegals can be used to prepare articles for newsletters or write first drafts of presentations for clients.

Delegation of administrative tasks seems pretty simple, but can attorneys really delegate the creation and maintenance of personal client relationships? To a surprising degree we can. With the urgency of client matters, few of us have large amounts of time for marketing activities. To make the most of that time, we need to be strategic and selective. We put our energies into relationships with those past, present and prospective clients where there is the greatest likelihood of generating work. But by focusing only on clients, we often overlook far more important relationships – those with connectors and referral sources.

It’s really quite simple math: would you rather use your marketing time to reach out to one person who might become a client; or would you rather invest that limited time in building a relationship with someone who might regularly refer you to three, four or more people who could become clients? Connectors and referral sources do some of the preliminary work of relationship building for you: they identify people who may need and benefit from your legal services, and then they make a warm introduction. It’s still up to you to follow up and cultivate relationships with those people, but a tremendous amount of time and energy is saved. Some may question whether this is technically delegation, but it’s having people do stuff for you, and as such it’s very useful leverage–marketing leverage.

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Professional Service Firm Leadership — Do We Know it When We See It?

What is leadership? No single, commonly accepted definition for leadership exists. It seems as though everyone has a different idea of what it is and when it is or is not being properly exercised. Perhaps our default understanding of leadership is similar to that of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s understanding of pornography in Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964)] when he wrote “… I know it when I see it.” But do we know leadership when we see it?

If you ask a professional who is leading their firm, the chances are they will respond by identifying a managing partner, executive committee member, or partner whose name appears in the firm’s letterhead. This is an understandable response and while it’s likely that some of those professionals may in fact be leaders, it shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion.

Leadership is more than a title, a position, or seniority. Professional service firm leaders come in all shapes, genders and sizes, and leadership can and should be found at all levels of a firm. Firm leadership is also not the exclusive province of professionals: as heretical as the thought may be (at least to the authors of Opinion 642 of the Texas Committee on Professional Ethics), law firm leadership can even be exercised by non-lawyer professionals who have management responsibilities.

Leadership is a topic that has been written about from classical times to the present. According to a quick 2014 search of the website, over 10,000 hardcover, paperback, and e-books on leadership were published in 2013 alone, and that number only includes books written in English! Curiously, only a handful of those books deal with the leadership of professional service firms.

Perhaps that’s a reflection of the fact that global, one-size-fits-all approaches to leadership often fail in professional and law firm settings. Leading and managing a professional service firm is not the same as leading a business that sells goods or non-professional services. Lawyers in particular are an independent and skeptical lot, and not the most docile and trusting followers. Law firm leaders must often play a delicate game of balancing the interests of individual lawyers with those of the firm as a whole.

As numerous as descriptions of leadership may be, several key factors that are mentioned frequently are especially relevant to the challenges of professional service firm leadership. To be effective, firm leaders should:

  1. Set a direction. Articulate a strategic vision for the firm, get buy-in and commitment for it, and make sure that the firm’s structure, culture, and processes are aligned with it.
  2. Develop talent. Help the firm’s individual lawyers become stars, and turn individual stars into a dynamic, high-performing team.
  3. Motivate and inspire loyalty. Create a firm environment where lawyers are engaged, motivated by more than money, and want to do what’s right for the firm.
  4. Be authoritative not authoritarian. Rely on strong and trusting relationships rather than coercion to resolve disputes and foster accountability.
  5. Be the firm’s face. Represent the firm to outside constituents and stakeholders both within and outside of the legal community.
  6. Lead by example. Build trust and avoid hypocrisy by making sure personal actions are consistent with what is desired and expected from all members of the firm.

So do we know professional service firm leadership when we see it? Perhaps you’ve realized that you –like most people – have been thinking of leadership and management as one in the same. Ask yourself, to what degree is each of these six factors being demonstrated in your firm or organization? Further, challenge yourself to think of ways any weak or missing factors could be addressed.

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Heroic vs. Quiet Leadership — Part 2

How do lawyers choose their leaders—or if you read the first part of this blog posting, elect their “kings”? Factors like seniority, community visibility, share of equity, and amount of business originated certainly play a role. And while lawyers may not look for regal qualities (or evidence of watery tarts), if law firms are like other organizations in America today, they will often look for the lawyer among them who has charisma, is extroverted, action-oriented, and a frequent and rapid talker.

Research into group dynamics (wonderfully described in Chapter 2 of Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking)suggests that these are the qualities we look for in our leaders. We generally perceive talkers as smarter than quieter types, and rapid talkers as more capable than those who talk slowly. Although we may find fast and frequent talkers more appealing, research suggests they have no greater insight or intelligence than others. Studies also suggest we have a tendency to follow people who initiate action and are charismatic or dynamic speakers. Based on this, it would seem that all leaders are or should be loquacious extroverts.

Although older studies on personality and leadership showed a correlation between extroversion and leadership, the correlation was modest and the studies were often based on followers’ perceptions of who made a good leader rather than the delivery of actual results. Recent more rigorous research has shown that a quieter, more introverted and less heroic style of leadership is often the better choice in certain organizations or contexts. When followers are passive, extroverted leaders enhance group performance; but when employees are more proactive, introverted leaders are more effective.

Lawyers may be called many things, but they are seldom described as passive employees. They are often hesitant, questioning, and skeptical followers. They require convincing and they want their concerns to be heard if not fully agreed to. Extroverted and talkative law firm leaders may struggle with this and respond by working harder at advocating their position. Quiet and introverted firm leaders on the other hand have less of an interest in dominating group discussions and find it easier to listen to others and implement their suggestions. When this occurs, proactive lawyers feel their interests are being addressed and they are participating in crafting policy and designing solutions. A quiet leadership style is particularly well-suited for law firm environments.

People don’t fit into neatly delineated categories of introverts and extroverts, and neither do law firm leaders. We are all mixtures of both qualities and our degree of extroversion/introversion may change situationally. Heroic and extroverted firm leaders can benefit by shifting gears at times and becoming quieter; and even though quiet leadership is well-suited to law firms, there may also be times when a vocal and dynamic approach is a welcome and useful change

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Heroic vs. Quiet Leadership — Part 1

One of the core dilemmas of leading and managing a law firm is played out in a hysterically funny scene from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” []. In the scene, Arthur, King of the Britons, encounters a couple of peasants digging in a muddy field. (Some will undoubtedly consider this an unintentional allusion to practicing law.)

When Arthur identifies himself as their king, one peasant responds, “I didn’t know we had a king. I thought we were an autonomous collective.” The other later explains that they are at an anarcho–syndicalist commune, and they take turns to act as sort of an executive officer for the week. He continues that all decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special biweekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in the case of more major decisions. (Any resemblance to how many management committees operate is purely coincidental, or is it?)

Growing impatient, Arthur then orders them to be quiet. They ignore his command and question his authority, noting that they didn’t vote for him to be king. In exasperation, he exclaims that he is their king by Divine Providence as evidenced by the Lady of the Lake handing him Excalibur (which is actually a misreading of the Arthurian legend). The first peasant responds, “Well, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!”

It’s a great relief that very few law firm managing partners today claim the right to lead by Divine Providence, although their actions may at times lead us to believe they secretly think otherwise. Lawyers—typically equity partners or shareholders—now elect their “kings.” Yet at the same time, many law firms operate as something like the peasants’ autonomous collective with power and authority so widely shared that making decisions and taking action is a painfully slow process.

Getting law firm leadership right is especially tough because managing partners must balance the interests of individual lawyers (who are often independent, skeptical, vocal, cynical, and in control of their own book of clients) with the interests of the firm as a whole. Some firms do have authoritarian (or is that Arthurian?) leaders, and most lawyers have at one time or another wished there was a law firm “king” who could declare consensus, make a final decision and get things moving; and leave them to what they do and enjoy best—practicing law. By contrast, in smaller firms collective leadership seems to work better, at least in dealing with simple and non-urgent matters.

[Find out what factors come into play when lawyers elect their “kings” by reading the next installment of this blog.]

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Business Development for Litigators

Commercial and general litigators often feel they must work harder and smarter at business development. Their client relationships are often episodic, coming and going with a client’s need for representation. It can be tougher for these lawyers to develop expertise and recognition in a substantive area of the law or within a specific industry or business. As a result, they may struggle when branding themselves, and their business development efforts may be scattershot. Fortunately there’s a relatively simple method by which they can learn to identify target clients and focus their marketing efforts.

Somewhat paradoxically, it begins by having litigators look back in order to look forward. Litigators can start by opening a document (or taking a piece of paper) and making a table with three vertical columns on it. The columns will be labeled: Case/Matter, Nature of Dispute, and Client’s Industry/Business.

  • In the first column they will list the cases (not just trials) they have worked on in the past. Each case or matter will have its own row. How far back they go is up to them.
  • In the second column they will identify the nature of the dispute. For example, was it a partnership dispute, a business tort, or liability for a construction defect?
  • In the third column they will identify their client’s industry or business.

Once they have completed this inventory of past cases, they look for patterns and trends. They ask themselves if:

  • Their work focused on a certain industry or a certain kind of litigation?
  • There are areas of litigation or industries that have been more active than others?
  • It is likely that some of these areas will continue to be active or require more litigation?

They can then highlight the kinds of disputes they would like to handle in the future, and the businesses or industries from which they would like to draw their clients. In a similar fashion, they can cross out the industries and matters they would like to avoid in the future. From this exercise a picture of their target clients and the substantive areas and industries in which they would like to work will emerge.

Litigators can then get active in the trade associations of the specific industries and businesses that they have selected. Clients usually know which are the best organizations to join and meetings to attend for networking. Litigators can share their expertise with members of those organizations, whether by white papers, blog posts, or webinars. They can use their past experience to speak or write on topics that will be useful and valuable to the members of those organizations. In doing this, litigators will avoid taking too narrow of an approach to business development and personal branding.

Some litigators present themselves in a traditional manner as experts in managing and trying cases. While today’s clients respect that expertise, most are interested in avoiding costly litigation then engaging in it. Smart litigators will expand their brand and market themselves broadly as experts in legal risk management as well as litigation management. Although it may seem shortsighted for a litigator to help clients avoid litigation, this approach can actually create stronger client relationships and a more consistent flow of work. By taking more time to get to know prospective and actual clients’ business needs, smart litigators can reposition themselves so they are thought of as trusted advisors, not guns for hire.

Smart litigators can also make a mistake by focusing too narrowly on marketing only their individual services. For solo practitioners there is often no other option, but members of a firm can benefit by originating business for other lawyers in their firm. This in turn makes it easier to team with transactional lawyers in explaining to clients how to proactively deal with legal problems, avoid or minimize litigation, and succeed when litigation is the best option.

Commercial and general litigators can work smarter and overcome whatever business development challenges they may have by first taking a narrow approach in identifying target clients, matters and industries, and then being more collaborative in their marketing efforts. These two steps are keystones for litigators who want a strategic and systematic approach to client development that will save time and get results.

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Creative Lawyer is Not an Oxymoron

Use the phrase “creative lawyer” and many people (including lawyers) will scoff or imagine the worst. Thoughts of novel but spurious legal arguments come to mind, or examples of unethical time keeping and billing practices. At best, people may think of a lawyer’s hobby of painting or playing music. Few people will appreciate that creativity plays a role in successful lawyering and an even larger role in effective leadership and management.

There are aspects of lawyering that are certainly repetitious, routine, and require little creativity. They may be the bane of a new lawyer’s existence, but familiarity with them is necessary before they can be fully understood and mastered. Technology has now made many of these tasks less onerous, time consuming, and costly. With greater experience and responsibility, a lawyer’s need for creativity grows: litigators use creativity when deciding how to address a jury; transactional lawyers use creativity when settling on an approach to negotiating; and mediators use creativity when searching for win-win solutions.

Although lawyers may exhibit creativity in the practice of their craft, it is all to often lacking in the way they lead and manage. This is particularly true in how law firms are responding to the economic, social, and technological changes that make up the “new normal.” (Corporate legal departments seem more adept at dealing with these changes.) Lawyers are typically slow and late adaptors. Whether it’s a new software system, management practice, or strategic direction; they want to know who else has tried it, and how well has it worked for them. Simply put, they don’t want to go first regardless of any benefits and competitive advantage that may bring.

Lawyers’ caution and resistance to innovation is not difficult to understand. When compared to the general population, lawyers have been found to be more skeptical, cynical, pessimistic, autonomous, and risk averse. These are great qualities to have when lawyers are representing clients or protecting the interests of their company. On a daily basis, lawyers manage risk while planning for the worst and hoping for the best. Is it surprising then that they have a tendency to focus on the downside of innovations before exploring their benefits?

The constant demands and frenetic pace of legal practice also sap a lawyer’s ability to think deeply, creatively, and strategically. For most lawyers, client matters take precedence over management and leadership activities. But there are several things lawyers can do to cultivate their creativity.

1. Recognize the limitations of the lawyer mindset. Appreciate that many of your lawyering skills and attitudes (no matter how well they work for you when practicing) are detrimental to activities like brainstorming, big picture thinking, and relationship building. Learn to shift gears and leave those skills behind for a while – they will be there waiting for you when you need them again. Try thinking and approaching problems like an entrepreneur or even as an artist.

2. Make and protect time in your calendar. It’s virtually impossible to think creatively while being constantly interrupted. Schedule regular times for creative and strategic thinking. After you have made an appointment with yourself, respect and protect it. Resist the urge to cancel or interrupt it because a client has just called. Close your door, have your admin or phone service hold your calls, and turn off all devices that let you know you have just received an email or text. It’s also a good idea to leave a few hours of “white space” in your calendar each week for creative activities and thinking.

3. Do your creative thinking outside of the office. Our environments affect our thinking. It’s simply easier to let go of the lawyer mindset when you are out of the lawyer environment. For some lawyers, moving to a conference room for an hour is all it takes. Other lawyers need to leave the office altogether in order to resist the constant interruptions of calls, clients, and colleagues.

4. Let your brain reboot. Many people get their best insights and ideas when showering or taking a walk. A lot of the work of creativity is done when we are not purposefully and analytically thinking about things. It’s not just okay – it’s actually useful – to stop and let ideas percolate down through your consciousness. New perspectives and solutions emerge from taking these breaks.

5. Don’t go it alone. Creative and strategic thinking doesn’t have to be a solo activity. In fact, creativity is often enhanced when people collaborate. Ideas can be exchanged and developed at a much faster pace. And there is the benefit of having many rather than one set of eyes. At the same time, lawyers must be on guard that they don’t reflexively rush into critiquing one another’s ideas and stifling curiosity and creativity.

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New Year’s Resolutions For The New Normal: 8 Ways To Make Your Business Development Efforts More Successful

Welcome to 2015!

With the start of each New Year, many Americans make resolutions. Studies have shown that by the time February rolls around, only 64% of them will still be working on those resolutions. If 2015 is like prior years, that number will continue to drop and by December only 8% will have stuck with their New Year’s resolutions. There are many reasons why the success rate of New Year’s resolutions is so dismally low. Caught up in the excitement of the New Year (or perhaps recovering from it), people often make unrealistic or ambiguous goals, ignore the need for an actual plan, and have no one supporting or holding them accountable.

The difficulty people have in keeping New Year’s resolutions is an extreme example of a general phenomenon: people are usually much better and more enthusiastic at making goals than they are at actually achieving them. Making changes can be tricky and frustrating, and sustaining those changes can be even more difficult. This holds true for lawyers as well as people in general. But when it comes to making New Year’s resolutions about business development, lawyers can’t afford to be impulsive and simplistic. Too much is at stake. Few, if any, lawyers have the luxury of investing time, money and energy in business development efforts that only stand a one-in-twelve chance of succeeding. Lawyers must be strategic and systematic for their business development efforts to dramatically improve those odds.

So what can be done to help lawyers keep their New Year’s resolutions and do a better job of meeting their 2015 business development goals? Here are eight practical suggestions that will keep lawyers on track and yield results.

1. Look back to move forward. It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to make progress in attaining business development goals is to first look backwards. Lawyers should begin by revisiting their prior year’s goals and marketing efforts. They should ask themselves what worked, what didn’t, and where improvement or changes are needed. They should look for any patterns or trends in their efforts, and ask themselves if last year’s goals still valid in the fast changing marketplace for legal services? Taking the time to consider these questions will give lawyers a head start on fine-tuning their efforts.

2. Have fewer goals but better ones. Achievement oriented people like lawyers often make the mistake of setting and working on too many goals at the same time. Having eight goals isn’t twice as good as having four. It is far better to concentrate on a few goals that will have great impact, than on several goals that can diffuse a lawyer’s focus and efforts. With too many goals, people also have a tendency to work on the few that are easiest or most within their comfort zones. Doing so often results in slower and less meaningful progress.

3. Use smart technology. Technology can be a great tool or a great burden. How a lawyer uses it makes all the difference, and high tech isn’t necessarily the best choice for all situations and all lawyers. A statement commonly attributed to Albert Einstein is a good guideline: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” For example, when used properly client relationship management (CRM) software systems can be tremendously helpful in tracking lawyers’ efforts and letting them know when it is time to follow up with a prospect or referral source. But some CRM systems (especially those designed for large sales organizations) are more powerful and complex than lawyers typically need. The time invested in learning how to use them far outweighs whatever additional features they may include. They’re an example of technology overkill. Lower tech and simpler CRM systems (including paper, file, and tickler systems) can be easier to use, just as effective, and far cheaper.

4. Add some enjoyment to client development. Why shouldn’t business development activities be fun? Face-to-face business development activities are a great opportunity to get out of the office and away from the phone and computer. Interacting with people can be a refreshing and relaxing change of pace. Client development is about building, maintaining and sharing relationships; and when those relationships are enjoyable, lawyers are far more likely to pursue them. It’s not hard to work on one’s goals when that work is inherently fun and energizing. On the other hand, if mixing with clients and referral sources is not enjoyable, working with different clients or engaging in less social activities like writing may be a better idea.

5. Have at least one outside-the-box idea for marketing … and do it! Lawyers are known for being risk-averse. It’s an excellent quality to have when representing clients, but it can be quite limiting when it comes to thinking of innovative and creative ways to attract clients. Lawyers should make a commitment this year to having at least one outside-the-box idea for marketing. Why is this important? It gives them license to shake up their thinking, use their imagination, and see new opportunities. It also helps to get them out of the habit of doing what’s tried and true, but not necessarily very effective.

6. Don’t go it alone! Personality studies have shown that lawyers tend to be more autonomous than most people. This can be a real disadvantage when it comes to making and sustaining changes. It is much easier to achieve goals with the help of another person. When lawyers are accountable to another person – whether that person is a colleague, mentor, or coach – they follow through and achieve to a much higher degree. The simple act of articulating one’s goals and action items is in itself very powerful. Making a date to talk or work with a person is also an excellent way of staying on track and scheduling client development activities.

7. Learn from others and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Few law schools address the topic of law practice management, and even fewer even mention marketing and client development. So it’s understandable that some lawyers get the message that these are not important parts of legal practice. When reality finally hits, they must make up for lost time and learn these valuable skills on the fly while fully committed to practicing law. Fortunately there are many excellent books, articles, and websites that provide insightful advice about how to find clients and sustain mutually beneficial relationships. But as useful as these resources may be, lawyers need to overcome their tendency towards autonomy and go beyond merely soaking up knowledge. Doing so is like trying to learn how to play golf or tennis from reading a book. This is especially true with relationship-based skills like marketing and client development. It’s important for lawyers to engage others and ask for their help. Some firms and bar associations offer marketing workshops on an ongoing basis, and assistance from a skilled and certified marketing coach who is familiar with the legal profession will save lawyers time, money, and angst.

8. Schedule your marketing efforts and protect that time in your calendar. Taking a systematic approach to business development means regularly and consistently engaging in those activities. There’s no way around that. This means that lawyers must build time into their calendars for those activities. Few lawyers feel that they have sufficient time for client work, let alone administrative and business development matters. And although they may have the best of intentions when it comes to business development, the honest reality is that they often make those activities a second or third priority when other matters arise. The best way to avoid this is for lawyers to schedule business development time in their calendar. They need to make an appointment with themselves or with someone else, and then the harder part—they must keep those appointments! These appointments can be made on a regular recurring basis (e.g., at the beginning of each day, at the end of each Wednesday, of on the 15th of each month), or with an eye towards spending a certain amount of hours per week or month on marketing regardless of where they fall on the calendar. Regularly scheduling time for business development is the best way of developing habits that are foundation for success. And even though rescheduling or canceling may be tempting, they should be avoided.

One final and critical piece of advice: don’t wait until 2016 to review and assess business development efforts. Waiting twelve months to make New Year’s resolutions is a mistake. Following the above suggestions will give lawyers a competitive edge, but it won’t help them make timelier midcourse corrections. Reviewing marketing efforts on a quarterly or more frequent basis helps lawyers refine their skills, stay focused, and get results.

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Collaborate to Innovate

In an excellent conversation with columnist Erik L. Mazzone, legal industry experts Bruce MacEwen and Jordan Furlong discussed the many challenges law firms have faced since 2008, and the need for innovation throughout the profession. [“The Innovation Imperative: Adapt or Die?” Law Practice. July/August 2013. Vol. 39 No. 4] The main change they identified is the shift in relative market power from firms to their clients. In simple terms, this shift means it’s now a buyers’ market for clients: they are increasingly able to insist that their lawyers be cheaper, better, more diverse, and more responsive. They are now far less likely to stick with long-established law firm relationships when more efficient alternatives exist.

Inefficiencies in many firms’ business practices have become apparent as they have attempted to respond to new and existing clients’ demands. Firms are discovering that they must do a better job of pricing their services, optimizing and systematizing their workflow, managing their resources and overhead, and communicating with their clients and the general public. In short, they must innovate and become more business-like.

Firms have begun addressing these issues. Many are testing alternative and value-based pricing methods that are a better fit for a specific client’s situation. They are expanding their use of contract and staff attorneys to keep costs down. Project management and process improvement are starting to receive greater attention in the legal profession. Firms are increasingly relying on technology for competitive intelligence, marketing (social media), internal operations, and discovery. With increased and more reliable connectivity, firms are taking a serious look at their infrastructure, and now outsourcing or establishing captive operations centers. Back-office and repetitive administrative functions are no longer being performed by employees working at expensive locations; co-location is becoming less necessary and desirable.

Furlong and MacEwen emphasized that innovative thinking and risk-taking will be needed as firms continue to adapt to these new market conditions, but also expressed concern that lawyers as a group may have difficulty in adopting this mindset because of their tendency to be skeptical and risk averse. They agreed that a new style of law firm leadership must evolve that encourages innovation and supports lawyers taking risks. They stopped short, however, in describing what that leadership style would look like.

Leadership is of critical importance in these times of uncertainty and rapid change. As law firms struggle to adapt and innovate, it’s not enough for their leaders to merely “steer the ship.” They must take an active role in “setting the course” and communicating the firm’s vision, direction, and strategy. At the same time, they must develop a firm culture that embraces and rewards risk-taking. A collaborative style of leadership is best suited to meet these challenges.

Lawyers at all levels are now being called upon more frequently to collaborate, whether it’s within their firm, with their clients, with outside vendors and service providers, or with other law firms. As legal matters have grown more complex and firms have grown in size and geographic scope, the need for collaboration has become greater. Although the image of the lawyer as the rugged individualist may persist, these days lawyers more frequently act as members of a team—and not necessarily as the leader of that team.

Although lawyers’ responsibilities have not entirely changed, their role on legal teams has. They are less frequently the captain of a ship with full authority and control. They’ve shifted to a more facilitative leadership role like that of a coach or orchestra conductor trying to get the best and most harmonious performance from all of their players. Their leadership skills will consequently need to change to embrace this new, more facilitative role.

First and foremost, collaborative leaders need to connect people and ideas from outside their law firm to those inside it. This means encouraging the firm’s lawyers to fully understand their clients’ business models, operations, and challenges, rather than looking at matters solely from a narrow legal perspective. Firm leaders will need to model collaborative behavior to show others how to leverage diverse talent and become inclusive, yet not get stuck in endless meetings or delay reconciling multiple proposals or points of view. These facilitation skills will become more important for law firm leaders as co-location decreases and the use of outsourcing and virtual teams grow.

Collaborative leadership is already practiced to some degree in firms where equity is widely held and authority is vested in numerous individuals and committees. Few managing partners and firm chairs exercise the kind of autocratic, command-and-control style of leadership that is found in traditional hierarchical organizations. Effective law firm leadership is instead based on relationships; most firm leaders serve at the pleasure of their fellow partners or shareholders, and work hard to build consensus and achieve buy-in for their ideas. Such collaboration in the governance and management of firms is a good start, but it is not a substitute for broader collaboration and shared decision making with people both inside and outside the firm.

Many people wrongly assume that consensus and collaborative leadership are the same. Although building consensus is a valuable aspect of collaboration, over-reliance on consensus can result in unproductive meetings and decisional paralysis. Collaborative leaders—even though they may not be at the top of a hierarchy—assume a strong role in directing teams and have clear responsibility and authority to make final decisions. They encourage robust and productive debate, but know when to end it, make a decision, and move to implementation. This is necessary when firms must innovate, make timely decisions, and nimbly adjust to changes in market and economic conditions.

It’s not enough for law firm leaders to model collaborative behavior; they must also make sure that it becomes an integral part of their firm’s culture. They should insist that all members of the firm (lawyers, executives, and staff) have joint responsibilities beyond their individual goals, and that their compensation depend on meeting these collective as well as individual goals. Doing this will not only motivate members of the firm, but also minimize firm politics, power struggles, and individual agendas.

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The Inner Game of Marketing

When lawyers try to learn and master business development skills, they often discover that their old habits of thought and behavior are the biggest obstacles to their success.  Their beliefs and attitudes—particularly when unspoken and outside of their awareness—can be a greater hindrance than a lack of information, time, or money.

This discovery seldom occurs immediately.  Only after lawyers’ marketing efforts have floundered or failed do they begin to wonder why they have so much difficulty initiating or sustaining their business development activities.  When this happens, some lawyers develop an attitude of resignation and dismiss their marketing underachievement as a lack of personal willpower or time.  Others may conclude that the problem isn’t with them, but rather with their plan of attack.  They read books on business development and go to marketing workshops earnestly hoping that the next one will be the panacea that unlocks the door to more and better clients.

A few recognize that the problem isn’t “out there” but rather “in here.”  They get curious and make time for self-reflection before once again taking action.  If they avoid traps like self-criticism and blaming others, they learn which of their tacit beliefs and attitudes is holding them back.  They begin to recognize that some mindsets must be abandoned and some mindsets must be embraced before they unlock their marketing potential.  In other words, they start to pay attention to their inner game.

Although each lawyer is different, some attitudes and beliefs are widely shared.  Here are six common mindsets—three to let go of and three to embrace—that play a pivotal role in turning lawyers into marketers.

Three mindsets that derail lawyers’ marketing results:

1.  Marketers are born not made.  When lawyers believe they lack the innate personality or social skills needed to become effective marketers, all they are doing is engaging in an unfortunate act of creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.  This limiting kind of thinking is often tied to the belief that there is only one way to be a good marketer.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  There is no one best style:  different specialties, niches, and cultures call for different styles.  The most effective marketers develop a style that reflects their unique personalities, values, interests, and needs.

2. All that’s necessary is to recreate past marketing successes.  In today’s rapidly changing marketplace for legal service, past successes can be a hindrance if lawyers slavishly cling to them.  All too often they think, “If my marketing efforts worked well before, they’re bound to work now.  All I need to do is spend more time and money on them.”   Sometimes this mindset works; other times it’s wasteful.  Lawyers should also ask, “Just how relevant and useful will my past successes be in the current marketplace?”  Stubbornly believing that past efforts are “good enough” prevents lawyers from recognizing new business development opportunities and learning new more useful skills.

3.  Once I understand what marketing entails, I will be able to do it.  Learning how to market legal services differs greatly from the kind of learning that lawyers experience in school.  While law school emphasizes acquiring and analyzing information, the key to learning how to market is practice rather than study.  Marketing legal services consists of building new relationships, seeing new possibilities, and taking new actions.  All of these activities depend more on skill development than information acquisition and analysis.  Lawyers must move beyond being knowledgeable about business development to actually being able to do it.  Skill at marketing can no sooner be learned from an article than skill at playing tennis.  A book can teach readers about tennis—strategies, techniques, history, or mechanics—but until they pick up a racket and practice, their skills will never develop. 

Three mindsets that improve lawyers’ marketing results:

1.  Emotions are an integral part of practicing marketing skills.  Marketing legal services is about building relationships, and there’s simply no way to connect and build relationships without emotions being involved.  The emotional context of marketing conversations is often more important than the text of what is said.  Lawyers may speak all of the “right” words (think of a telemarketer with a script), but if they ignore creating rapport with their prospective clients, their words are wasted.  It’s not a matter of polished presentations; it’s about relatedness and authenticity, two qualities without which prospective clients will find it nearly impossible to know, like, and trust a lawyer.  Paying attention to emotions is also critical when lawyers try to identify the styles of marketing that fit them best. 

2.  Business development is a top priority, even when flush with work and clients.  Paying attention to time (e.g., deadlines, filing dates, billable hours) is of course an integral part of lawyering.   But over time many lawyers begin to confuse what is urgent with what is important.  They become so accustomed to fire fighting and reacting to clients’ crises that they leave little time for long-term practice building.   Business development activities end up deferred or done on a time-available basis, especially when lawyers are busy.  This stop-and-go approach to marketing often leads to peaks and valleys in revenue and longer “dry spells.”  Lawyers should shift to a mindset that instead embraces marketing as a top priority, so that time for marketing is not found, it is created and protected.  In practical terms, this means scheduling regular calendar items and setting tangible goals for business development activities (e.g., between 8:00 and 9:00am every Monday or a total of three hours every week).  More important, lawyers must resist the urge to cancel or reschedule these activities for the sake of convenience.

 3.  A systematic and strategic plan is necessary for best results.  One of the most effective tools in overcoming the time trap described above is a written and detailed marketing plan.  Even the best marketing skills are ineffectual when they’re not used in a systematic and methodical manner.  Marketing is not a hit-or-miss proposition.  It requires a sustained effort to build on-going mutually beneficial relationships.  The image of the rainmaker as a great hunter bringing all manner of beasts back to the cave is prehistoric.  Marketing is more like farming an orchard:  it requires constant nurturing, care, and pruning for efforts to bear fruit.   Lawyers should also be strategic: they need to identify the type of work they’re looking for and the types of clients that are most likely to need those services.   From there, they can begin to develop a network to find those prospective clients.  Randomly calling and following leads can waste lawyers’ time and easily leads to discouragement.  A formal marketing plan and relationship system are invaluable in tracking lawyers’ efforts and determining what’s useful, what’s not, and what to do next. 

Asking for help leads to faster marketing results   

Letting go of the first three mindsets and embracing the second three will go far in helping make lawyers become better and more active marketers.  But another obstacle can stand in their way.  Many lawyers refuse to admit to themselves that they need help.  They assume that marketing is something they should already know, even though the chances are there has been little if anything in their legal education that has prepared them to develop business. Lawyers fare better when they acknowledge that they’ve been provided with few opportunities to learn marketing, and that their ignorance is no predictor of their future ability and success.   

Learning how to market can be an exciting and satisfying endeavor for lawyers, and there’s no reason they should undertake it alone.  Business development coaches provide the kind of guidance and feedback that lawyers need to master and new skills.  A coach’s on-going support is of great benefit in helping lawyers crafting a workable business development plan and then monitoring their progress in implementing it.  When lawyers are armed with the right mindset to develop their marketing efforts and the assistance of an experienced coach, they will reap the benefits of more and better clients and fewer periods of down time in their practices.

 [This post also appeared as the July 2013 business development blog post of Threshold Advisors.]

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