Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Asking the Right Question

Posted in Law Firm Communications, Law Firm Leadership

BeautifulQuestionIn a recent Harvard Business Review blog post, journalist Warren Berger discusses the importance to effective leadership of asking the right questions – with the emphasis on the word “right.”

How you question is critical,” says Berger. “Questions can be great for engaging and motivating people, but they can just as easily be used to confront or blame, and can shift the mood from positive to negative.”

By way of example, Berger  – author of A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas – offers five common questions that can get discussions off on the wrong foot. For example, he points out that “Haven’t we tried this already?” can “come off as condescending or even defeatist.” Instead he suggests changes to wording that focus on the positive rather than the negative (e.g., “If we tried this now, what would be different this time?”).

I believe that Berger’s suggestions are of benefit to law firm leaders as well as corporate leaders, and I encourage you to take a look at this article. As always, I welcome your feedback on this or any other subject related to law-firm management, either via the comments section, or directly by email.

“Competitive Intelligence” and the Practice of Law

Posted in Law Firm Advertising, Law Firm Management, Law Firm Security, Law Firm Strategy, Law Firm Technology

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 8.56.30 AMThe Legal Intelligencer has launched a series of articles that focus on “competitive intelligence” in the context of legal practice.

The term “competitive intelligence” refers to the ways in which one company makes itself aware of what other companies in the same field (i.e., its “competitors”) are doing. This may include tracking their business practices, assessing their client bases and fields of practice, monitoring their promotion and marketing initiatives, and other tactics.

The first installment in The Intelligencer series points out that competitive intelligence among law firms is still in a “relatively nascent stage” and that even those firms that are using it in one form or another don’t necessarily agree on what the term means when applied to legal practice — or what it entails.

The article’s author, Gina Passarella, says that while such initiatives are today often undertaken only for specific purposes, such as pitching a prospective client, some law-firm consultants believe that ultimately “the goal is to reach the strategy stage in which competitive intelligence analysts are assisting firm management in making long-range decisions such as mergers and office openings.”

Passarella quotes Jasmine Trillos-Decarie, director of marketing and business development at the Boston-based law firm Foley Hoag, who predicts that as growing a client base increasingly means attracting work from other firms, law-firm approaches to competitive intelligence will become more and more refined. However, she hopes that the practice will not degenerate to include the “take down” tactics that occur elsewhere in corporate America.

The title of the article in The Legal Intelligencer – “Competitive Intelligence: Spy Games or Market Research?” – could itself lead to some interesting discussion.

What are your thoughts on this subject? Let me know in the comments section below, or directly via email.


Where Evolutionary Technology Meets Your Legal Practice

Posted in Law Firm Diversity, Law Firm Innovation, Law Firm Leadership, Law Firm Marketing, Law Firm Strategy

RoboticImageAt first blush, you might ask what a bionic arm catching objects in mid-flight has to do with the practice of law. I assert: “Everything.”

Who are the lawyers who represent these evolutionary products? Clearly, there will be lots of intellectual property involved, but I say that the list goes on.

Here are just three legal areas that could relate to technological advances:

  • Lobbying: Just like Google trying to get approval to put its driverless cars on the road, legislation may be required for many applications of a robotic arm.
  • Liability: If these arms replace humans in various situations, what if they miss? What if someone is injured?
  • Labor and Employment: What if these arms are going to replace workers who are the subject of a collective agreement?

Somebody in your law firm needs to be thinking about how the evolution of technology is going to impact both existing and prospective clients – and the practice of law. Most firms will ignore this, leaving the spoils for the forward-thinking firms who get their hands (human ones – not robotic ones) around all this and leave their competitors in the dust.

I invite your thoughts on this and all topics relating to the practice of law, either through the comments section or directly by email.

E Is for Effort

Posted in Law Firm Design, Law Firm Human Resources, Law Firm Leadership, Law Firm Management, Law Firm Training

FriedIn a May 2014 article for Inc. (Magazine), Jason Fried warns would-be employees that simply submitting a well constructed resume detailing impressive credentials is not the best way to get a job with his company.

Fried, who is is the co-founder and president of 37signals, a company that builds web-based productivity tools such as Basecamp, says one of the major attributes he is looking for in prospective employees is their ability to invest effort in their work, and he believes that he can tell from the moment of initial contact from hopeful prospects whether they have what it takes in that area or not.

In “The One Trait That Guarantees a Good Hire,” Fried cites what may sound like an over-the-top example of going beyond the resume: the person who built an entire website just to show his or her suitability to fill the job Fried had on offer. It is not necessary to go quite that far, he suggests: he gives positive feedback to such initiatives as customizing resumes and cover letters to show particular suitability to the position for which the application is being made.

He says that people who really want to work with him “… don’t speak in generalities about what makes them great. They speak specifically about how they would be a great addition to Basecamp.”

Considering “effort” (or even “extra effort”) among hiring criteria is a step that could benefit not only applicants but also employers, no matter what the field.

Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter by commenting below or directly via my email.


How “Niche” Can You Get?

Posted in Law Firm Client Service, Law Firm Diversity, Law Firm Management, Law Firm Marketing, Law Firm Strategy

In recent years, boutique and even mid-sized firms have begun to offer increasingly specialized ranges iStock_000017359643Smallof legal services. One notable example in this regard was recently the subject of an article in The Philadelphia Business Journal.

Helbraun Levey & O’Donoghue was established in Manhattan in 2005 to meet the specific needs of one industry and one industry only: bars and restaurants. The firm’s areas of specialization include small- to medium-sized enterprises that require leases and contracts, licenses, and assistance with litigation. With six lawyers and a growing reputation based primarily on word of mouth, the success of Helbraun Levey and O’Donoghue in New York prompted the firm to open a second office in Philadelphia.

It has been recognized for many years that legal specialization can attract new clients and expand a firm’s range of services to existing clients. There are two major categories of legal specialty: focusing on particular legal areas, such as tax law or intellectual property, and offering legal services to specific industries and disciplines, such as oil and gas, or real-estate development.

As the challenges increase to traditional methods of legal practice, we are seeing increasingly creative forms of legal focus. A 2009 issue of CBA Practice Link cited new areas of specialty that include “cottage law” and “elder law.” The viability of niche firms like Helbraun, Levey and O’Donoghue demonstrates that the possibilities for specialization are limited by only the imagination.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter, either by leaving a comment on this post or by contacting me directly by email.


Rethinking the Definition of “Law Firm”

Posted in Law Firm Innovation

Last fall, a 150-year-old British corporate services provider and legal publishing company transformed itself into a licensed law firm thanks to permissive UK legislation. Jordan’s Ltd. successfully applied for an Alternative Business Structure license from the Solicitors Regulation Authority, allowing the company to add a corporate law division to its ongoing range of services in support of UK businesses.

Jordan’s Corporate Law launched with seven lawyers in addition to the company’s existing corporate governance staff. In an article in the U.K. publication Legal Futures, Debbie Farman – head of the new corporate law division – said that the move was a “natural progression” for Jordan’s. She said that the company will offer “non-contentious” legal advice relating to corporate and commercial law, corporate governance and compliance outsourcing.

Although both Ms. Farman and in an earlier article that also appeared in Legal Futures – Jordan’s divisional director Paul Townsend have insisted that the intention is not to compete with existing law-firm clients, the question remains: if traditional businesses are going to morph into licensed law firms, what business processes, pricing policies, innovations and other strategies will they introduce for the benefit of traditional law-firm clients?  Will they create a competitive edge that yesterday’s law firms will be unable to touch?

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter, either through the comments section below, or directly via my email.

Management Meets Engagement: Putting Your Strategies to Work

Posted in Law Firm Management

Doug Sundheim recently published an article in The Harvard Business Review on a subject of relevance to anyone involved in organizational management – whether in the field of law or any other discipline. His focus is “the chasm between strategy and execution.”

Sundheim points out a truth familiar to anyone who has ever tried to implement a plan that involves actual human beings: strategizing is “elegant,” a “clean and sophisticated process,” while “execution is a minefield.” When the two operations are carried out by separate branches of the same organization, even the best strategies are usually doomed to failure.

Sundheim suggests that addressing the problems that are sure to arise when logic hits reality requires “street smarts and muscle.” He says that cooperation between the strategists and the executors is essential: they must work as a team, rather than separately. He sets out mindsets for both groups that will facilitate their ability to work together and to get things done.

“Closing the Chasm Between Strategy and Execution” makes interesting reading. I highly recommend it.

Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter by commenting below or directly via my email.


Should You Ban PowerPoint from your Meetings?

Posted in Law Firm Communications

According to a recent article in Philanthropy Daily, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos has banished PowerPoint presentations from meetings of his staff.

Instead he requires speakers to prepare six-page summaries of what they want to say. His meetings begin with quiet periods, during which other meeting attendees read the summaries. In a 2012 interview with Charlie Rose, Bezos explained his position by saying, “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.”

The author of the Philanthrophy Daily article, Jacqueline Pfeffer Merrill, suggests that PowerPoint causes many presenters to spend more time thinking about the placement of bullets and the choice of fonts than about forming strong explanations of the concepts and perspectives they want to communicate.

She points out that “More than a decade ago, it was estimated that thirty million PowerPoint presentations were given each day—the number must be much higher today. Just think of how many millions of hours are spent every day sitting through truly terrible PowerPoint presentations.”

Comments on her article reveal a mixed reaction. While many responders agreed with her, complaining about the terrible presentations they have seen, one said, “Bezos makes the epic logical fail of thinking that because something is abused, it is inherently evil.”

What do you think? Would banning PowerPoint and other graphics-based presentations from your meetings solve more problems than it causes? I invite your opinions on this or any other topic, either directly through my email or in the comments section below.

Seven Keys to Retaining Your Clients

Posted in Law Firm Client Service

(Note: The positive feedback I received on an article I wrote about client retention for the most recent issue of Edge International Communique (EIC)* led me to believe that perhaps the readers of this blog might be interested as well. I am therefore republishing it here.)

This article could equally well be called, “How to prevent your competitors from stealing your clients.” It’s not that other lawyers lack ethics, values and courtesy, it’s just that as practices diminish, revenues have to be obtained somewhere to support the firm and its employees.

The bottom line is that others may have your clients in their cross-hairs.

So what are you supposed to do about this? Here are seven suggestions:

  1. Over-communicate with your clients. This means, for example, learning about their businesses and their personal lives in some depth, managing their expectations, quoting fees or special fee arrangements, keeping them up to date so they never have to wonder about the status of their matters.
  2. Get a retainer up front. Your clients know they have to pay you. They would rather manage the cash flow than get a surprise at the end of six months. If you feel awkward asking for money, relax: that comes from your socialization. When you summon the courage to allow the client to provide retainers, you’ll be surprised to learn that most won’t mind and some will even appreciate it. (Your receivables will thank you and your write-offs will give you a standing ovation.)
  3. Project effort. This means opening the curtain that conceals what you’re actually doing for your clients. (Lawyers don’t intentionally conceal their work: what they are doing just seems so natural to them that they don’t see the point in telling the clients all the steps involved.) On highly complex matters, give clients a one-page executive briefing that lays out the nature of the steps that are involved, and tell them you will report if their matter varies from this protocol.
  4. Master the art of imperfection. You were likely so bullied in law school and by the lawyers with whom you practiced in your early career that you think you must have the right answer or somehow you are not worthy. The truth is that your job is to know how to find the answer or to make a great guess … not to always be right. So when your client asks a question you don’t know the answer to, confess that you need to do some more digging; perhaps even admit the fallibility of your recommendation.
  5. Treat your colleagues and staff with exemplary respect. It is not charming or humorous when you put each other down, especially a member of the support team. This is the way insecure and cowardly people act, and is not the impression you want to give. On the contrary, showing profound respect for your colleagues and team will enhance the confidence your client has both in you and in those with whom you work.
  6. Let your clients know that you think about them between matters. I have it on good authority (first-hand research) that clients think that lawyers are reasonably attentive during the course of an ongoing matter, but that they forget that their clients exist between matters. Set up a Google Alert or some other means of watching the progress of your clients, whether individual or business. Congratulate them on achievements or express concerns about setbacks. You might even remember personal occasions if appropriate. Distinguish yourself from the stereotype of lawyers: make it clear that you care about your clients beyond the revenue you generate from them.
  7. Manage your practice. A disdain for technology and efficiency is not charming at all anymore. Your clients expect and deserve prompt and efficient service and as mentioned in Point 3, above, they expect to see evidence of it. Relationships are still extremely important but not sufficient to overcome unreliable service. There are still some lawyers who suffer from the self-deception that quality speaks for itself. It does not. It must be projected. Worse, slow or unreliable communications imply terrible quality. 

I welcome your feedback regarding client retention or any other matter, either through the comments section below or directly, via my email.

* Edge International Communique is published once each month and features articles by Edge International partners from around the world on a variety of issues relating to law-office management and governance. You can subscribe to EIC here.