Managing Partners: Capitalize on your firm’s opportunity to enhance your outreach program to clients.*

Why It’s Important

The extremely fragile state of mind of your clients makes this essential for three reasons:

  • It’s the right thing to do. You will help them.
  • The unique opportunity is NOW, when client needs are intense.
  • Your firm’s relationships with your clients will be forever enhanced.

My Research / Hands-On Experience

In my research with individual attorneys and client firms I have learned that:

  • Many attorneys have been reaching out to at least some clients.
  • Some have done an effective job of showing care and concern.
  • Others have been a bit mechanical and missed the opportunity to show caring.
  • Those participating in the outreach can learn a lot from each other by sharing experiences.

Questions to Ask Your Attorneys

(test your attorneys’ client-awareness)

How are your clients doing right now?

What are their situations?

  • Living alone or with a significant other?
  • Kids?
  • Pets?
  • Do they have at-risk friends or relatives?
  • Is any family member or friend sick?

What are they doing to stay sane professionally or personally?

  • Virtual Happy Hours?
  • Virtual lunches?
  • Virtual coffee?
  • Other?

How are they coping with working from home (WFH)?

  • Regular work hours/routine?
  • Sleep – OK, or not so much?
  • Stress – how bad is it and what are they doing to reduce it?

Note: Attorneys who cannot answer these questions are not really in touch with their clients right now.

Ask, “What benefits would accrue to you or your practice group by showing you care about your clients?” (In a facilitated discussion, record these benefits.)

How Do You Do the Outreach?

Have each attorney list some client contacts and referral sources, active or otherwise.

Ask your attorneys to invite several clients a day to communicate.

  • Attorneys should suggest video.
  • They should explain why they’d like to use video.
  • Feedback from others suggests most people prefer video.
  • As a precaution, they should allow clients a choice (phone).

Attorneys should be trained to ask open-ended, big-picture questions, like

  • How are you doing? (Make it clear that you really want to know.)
  • Are there any surprises – things you did not expect WFH?
  • What’s the hardest part about WFH?
  • What’s the best part of WFH?
  • Do you need anything? How can I help?

Encourage your attorneys to:

  • Probe (dig deeper): “What’s that like?”
  • Avoid leading questions, like “It’s not so bad, right?”
  • Use empathy in your answers: “That must be pretty difficult.”

Do Not Sell

The outreach is about showing care, concern and empathy. If you are perceived to be looking for more work you will have reduced your credibility to ZERO.

Tracking the Outreach

  • Ask attorneys to list those to whom they have reached out.
  • Ask attorneys tell you about how each client reacted.
  • Publicize the anecdotes in your team meetings.
  • Give the attorneys who do this well some recognition. Ask them to detail in a team meeting.

Conclusion

Your outreach is a condition precedent to maintaining or enhancing client relationships.

The door to this opportunity is wide open – walk through it.

Do a good job, not a perfect job. (Don’t be the perfectionist who missed the opportunity.)

MAY I HELP YOU? If you would like to have an informal discussion about this topic, please let me know and I’ll set up a video meeting with you (no fee).

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on your outreach to clients or any other matter relating to law firms and their management – during crises or at any other time. Reach me via email.

* This article originally appeared in Edge International Communique (EIC). Each month, EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. In addition to the most recent edition, the EIC site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

 

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: In this year of the COVID-19 pandemic, far too many meetings and conferences are being kicked down the road to new dates that should instead be converted into virtual events. The decision by the American Bar Association to move its annual meeting online is a sign of true leadership. Over the years, the ABA has been criticized for many things, but right now I think they deserve a salute from all of us for leading the way.

THE STORY: Due to the uncertainty regarding the safety of holding major in-person events through the spring and into the summer – especially ones that require travel – the board of governors of the ABA has made the decision to move its annual meeting online. The entire event, originally scheduled to be held in Chicago, is being offered as a complimentary member benefit.

In her announcement of the transition, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez said that “The virtual meeting will offer the highest quality programming with a revised schedule to accommodate members’ home locations and time. Events will include governance and business meetings, CLE Showcase programs, virtual networking opportunities, the General Assembly with the presentation of the ABA Medal, and the House of Delegates.”

The ABA has posted a Q&A for those interested in knowing how the decision to move online was reached. Registration details will be available soon.

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: Will the decision to move the ABA conference online – and to offer it at no charge to members – increase the likelihood of attendance by lawyers in your firm? As always, I am interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to law firms and their management. Reply either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

In most of the cultures on this planet, it is not polite—nor is it easy—to say “no.” In fact, in most cultures, saying “no” is considered inappropriate behaviour. As a result, due to our backgrounds most of us find it very difficult to say “no” when we have to, or when we should, in business or professional situations. However, we do ourselves no justice, nor do we serve our clients well, nor do we serve those with whom we practice well, if we say “yes” to everything.

People who say “yes” and take on too much simply fail to perform to expectation. We are far better off to be selective about what we undertake, but to always perform to expectation.

Saying “No”

In a lecture I attended, Alec Mackenzie, author of the internationally acclaimed book The Time Trap, focused on the art of saying “no.” His is not the only system but it is a good one.

Mackenzie’s approach consists of five steps. The first is to listen carefully in order to understand the request that is being made of you. There is nothing worse than saying “no” to something you do not understand. Paraphrase or provide feedback if necessary, saying for example, “Let me just make sure I understand. You want me to prepare the document by Thursday at noon. Is my understanding correct?” Make sure you have it right.

The second step is to say “no” — politely, but firmly. You will note that you do this before giving any explanation. Your “no” might sound something like this: “No. Candidly, I am not able to produce the document by Thursday at noon.”

Step Three is to offer an explanation — explain why you cannot fulfil the request. Say, “I would be unable to fulfill the other obligations I’ve undertaken and also prepare that document by Thursday. I would have to renege on another promise I made, and I am unable to do that.”

The fourth step is to offer assistance or alternate solutions that will allow the person who made the request to accomplish his or her mission. In this way you will show that you are willing to assist as best you can, even though you are unable to say “yes” to the request. Say, for example, “Would it be of help to you if I looked around to see if there was anyone else available who could help you get that document done on your time frame?” Or, “Is it possible that you could manage the client’s expectations so that I could do that document by Friday instead of by Thursday?”

The fifth and final step is to politely admonish the person who made the request. (This one really threw me for a loop when I first heard it. Admonish? I mean, normally we are talking about a client, or we are talking about someone who may be superior or senior to us in the firm. “Yes,” Mackenzie says. “Admonish.”) Your intent is to give a little bit of corrective feedback that might help the person making the request avoid getting into this kind of situation with you again in future. You say something like, “Gee, I wish I had known about this when you first learned that you might need this document, because at that point in time I might have been able to schedule it in and get this done for you.” Or, “In situations where you think I may be able to help in future, let me know as soon as possible, and I’ll clear the decks and see what I can do to help.”

Those are Alec Mackenzie’s five steps for saying “no.” Given some practice, they can serve you well.

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

This article is derived from actual counseling sessions with managing partners who are operating under tremendous pressure and are doing the best they can to prioritize the the key elements of Remote Working.

Topics:

  • financial viability
  • staff who were mainly office-related – receptionist, etc.
  • protecting existing relationships
  • care of staff and vendors
  • effectiveness at marketing and business development
  • video production (including equipment)
  • quality standards of excellence
  • engendering high satisfaction levels
  • adherence to the firm’s culture and values
  • peak performance of your people
  • analyzing short-term viability of specific practice areas
  • esprit de corps

To achieve these objectives, here is a partial (but growing) list of the kinds of topic we are helping our managing partner clients address.

  • The tone of both internal and external communication (In the name of disseminating information rapidly, there is a high risk of damaging relationships with clients and staff)
  • Technology
    • capacity
    • platforms – technology that allows teams to communicate without email (can NOT help with Citrix but augment with Slack, etc.?)
  • Nature of jobs/responsibilities that do not lend themselves easily to the transition
  • Mindset of people involved – some calm, some afraid, some panicking
  • Home situations
    • space
    • children
    • pets
    • ill family members
  • Suddenly succession issues (or position mapping)
    • replacing those who fall ill
    • capacity to rapidly reassign responsibilities
  • Use of video in communications
    • fundamental video training
    • positive video usage role modeling
    • discouraging negative role modeling
  • Understanding the many advantages of video over “phone calls”
    • positive impact on client relations
    • positive impact on staff morale
    • positive impact on focus and concentration
  • Adding some level of sophistication
    • eye contact
    • sound quality
    • how to encourage a client/co-worker to meet by video
  • Leadership
    • What the managing partner must do effectively
    • Communication plan
      • what must be imparted and how
      • the right tone
      • frequency
      • mode (video live, video recorded, length etc)
    • What the managing partner can not do effectively and what must be delegated to other leaders:
      • practice group leaders
      • industry group leaders
      • client team leaders
      • administration
    • Listening internally and externally. Includes creating survey-fatigue-proof surveys:
      • short and obviously beneficial to survey taker
      • for clients, measuring satisfaction, feeling valued, and ease of dealing with firm virtually
      • for staff, measuring satisfaction, feeling valued, and ease of dealing with firm virtually, sensitivity of firm to special needs of staff
    • Firm personnel training – the 20/20-style training approach is ideal for virtual workers.
      • Topics for all:
        • continuing professional development training
        • identifying the invisible challenges
        • feeling out of the loop
        • how to replace the real coffee break/lunch with a virtual one
        • how to really listen
        • how to demonstrate genuine empathy
        • how to communicate virtually with clients – what is different now
      • Topics for leaders:
        • facilitating virtual meetings
        • ensuring individuals are not being orphaned
        • the frequent (relatively short) check-in (individual/group)
        • getting the tone right (even brilliant people get this wrong)
        • empathizing – the reality of what people are facing
        • maintaining awareness of values
        • (demonstrably) trusting your people
        • teaching your people how to communicate
          • with firm’s people
          • with clients
      • “Dynamic Resilience” required from us at Edge and our clients to overcome unforeseen challenges.
      • How the 20/20-style training approach works (timing not year).

If you would like to have an informal discussion about this topic, please let me know and I’ll set up an initial, without fee, meeting with you.

This article will be supplemented and/or updated based on the evolution of the topic of “remote working” as it evolves with our clients. This article is based on an article posted in the Edge International Communique, April 2020 edition

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on remote working or any other matter relating law firms and their management – during crises or at any other time – either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: My question is this: Thailand  today… where tomorrow? I contend that law firms in the USA, the Commonwealth and other regions cannot afford to be complacent or to ignore announcements such as this by major entities from outside the traditional legal industry, especially the Big 4.

THE STORY: A mid-February post on the KPMG website announced the launch in Thailand of KPMG Legal, an initiative intended to provide “a full range of business law services, such as commercial and corporate law, mergers & acquisitions (M&A) and reorganization, employment law, legal compliance and investigation, and privacy law.”

In the post, KPMG touts the strength of the company’s new division as its ability to combine legal services with its existing accounting and financial operations. Charoen Phosamritlert, CEO of KPMG in Thailand, Myanmar and Laos, says, “At KPMG, we believe in being proactive. We need to be able to identify future trends and upcoming industries in order to be ready with our team of experts to serve our clients. With KPMG Legal and our strong background in various business industries, we will be able to provide our customers with a holistic legal counsel service backed by a team of business-savvy legal advisors.”

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: What risks do the growing number of ventures such as KPMG Legal pose to existing providers of legal services? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: Britain’s largest publicly traded law firm is in acquisition mode, “expanding its legal presence in Poland, Spain and Germany. It even has its sights set on expanding in Canada.” – CBA/ABC National

I worry for the law firms that are not monitoring such changes to our profession.  Even a small committee to keep an eye on things global will act as an early warning system. Get a few people at your firm up into the crow’s nest now. (For an explanation of the Crow’s Nest, see my post “Icebergs and Sea Monsters in Treacherous Legal Seas.“)

THE STORY: As reported in a recent issue of the CBA/ABC National, DWF Law – a major publicly traded law firm in Great Britain – has purchased Mindcrest, a firm based in Chicago that operates primarily out of India, for $18.5 million. Mindcrest is an alternate service provider “which offers low-cost document review and legal process outsourcing.”

The article reports that according to Andrew Leaitherland, DWF’s CEO, “the company sees itself as a disruptor of an overly complacent business.”

We look at legal services as a very slow, reactive marketplace that (provides) a fantastic market opportunity to transform into a more efficient platform to deliver the right services to clients in the right locations and at the right price. – Andrew Leaitherland, CEO, DWF Law

The National article points out that DWF “still provides what it terms as ‘complex’ legal services in areas like litigation and regulatory services using lawyers charging hourly rates. But it sees an opportunity in offering its clients managed services of more routine work that can be handled on an annual contractual basis at a lower cost.”

As legal consultant and former Edge International partner Jordan Furlong points out, unlike the recent purchase of a legal process outsourcing company by EY (Ernst & Young), this is the first significant instance of a law firm undertaking such a purchase. Furlong rightly notes that this marks a turning point in law-firm strategy. All firms, no matter their size or purview, must take notice.

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: As a believer in dashboards, I am excited to see this kind of focused collaboration that aims to enhance the reputation of the legal profession by doing something truly useful for clients. Bravo to those who are creating innovative ways to access meaningful data.

THE STORY: Law.com reports that a consortium made up of Am Law 100 firms, Fortune 500 legal-ops departments, alternate legal service providers and others is working to design “real-time metric dashboards to change how and when legal teams create and use client evaluations.” The initiative was launched by the international law firm Winston & Strawn LLP.

The author of the law.com article, Rhys Dipsham, contends that although evaluation surveys of outside counsel and other benchmark measurements are currently used on a very limited basis, such metrics will soon become a “pivotal” component of how law firms relate to their clients. The consortium launched by Winston & Strawn is a proactive step towards more widespread use of such metrics.

David Cunningham, Winston’s chief information officer and leader of the project, told law.com that “The goal of the project is to provide law firms with real time visibility into metrics that influence their clients’ legal buying decisions, allow them to compare themselves against existing industry benchmarks and give them a more automated way of creating metrics in the first place.”

One of the consortium’s first initiatives concerns diversity – where there is currently far too little data, Cunningham points out – but it is also studying how to provide information to law firms that relates to a range of other non-financial benchmarks, such as time-to-matter completion, that have been shown to influence clients’ decision-making when it comes to choosing law firms.

The scope of the project is truly mind-boggling. Cunningham said that the consortium includes “17 law firms and five corporate legal departments collaboratively designing 15 metrics dashboards, though the amount of participants and dashboards is likely to increase. Those currently active in the effort include representatives from law firms Mayer Brown, King & Spalding, Dentons US, Paul Hastings, and Wilson Sonsini as well as legal ops professionals from Google, Adobe, Oracle and Microsoft, among others.

“Beyond law firms and legal departments, the project also includes legal services companies LawVision and Elevate, industry organization Diversity Lab and legal tech provider Paladin, and Cunningham noted that ‘all are welcome’ in the consortium, including ALSPs and the Big 4. A list of other participants can be found on the project’s website.”

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

 

Screen Capture from ABA Journal

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT: It is all too rare for bar association and law society leaders to speak out when profound courage is required. As a Canadian lawyer, I could not be prouder of President Martinez. Lawyers around the world must stand together to protect the the independence of the justice system. This is not a political issue, even though some would try to make it so. It is an issue as old as the Magna Carta, and every individual’s freedom depends on it. Bravo to President Martinez for words that, in these difficult times, are not only necessary but heroic. I join those who gave her this well deserved ovation.

THE STORY: At the American Bar Association’s 2020 MidYear meeting in Austin, Texas on February 16, ABA President Judy Perry Martinez attracted a standing ovation for her words in support of the independence of the American justice system. If you were not at the meeting, I encourage you to read the account of Martinez’s talk posted on the ABA Journal website, including her powerful call for fair and accessible justice for all.

No one, no one, should interfere with the fair administration of justice. And no one, no one, should have to live in fear for following the law and upholding our Constitution. – ABA President Martinez

I INVITE YOUR FEEDBACK: I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or or directly via email.

Note: This article first appeared in the February, 2020 issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC).*

1. Fighting Zero

In any given moment, there is a competition for a lawyer’s attention between family and clients. A successful lawyer needs to resolve that competition in favour of clients most of the time – but not all of the time.

From a time-management perspective, this competition is like the “urgent versus important” battle that doesn’t seem to go away.

All family matters are important… but only some are urgent. In most cases, those family matters that are both important and urgent can be dealt with, even if it means pushing the substantive legal work to the side at least temporarily. Sometimes there are irreconcilable conflicts where few options exist. When the legal matter cannot be delegated or moved to the side, an important and urgent family matter may suffer. So to be realistic, the lawyer’s family must occasionally sacrifice for the law practice, but that outcome should not become habitual.

The default pattern for many is to rationalize that if the matter is important to the practice, then the family should simply sacrifice. With this approach, if one kept score as to whether the attention of the lawyer went to clients or to family, at the end of some period of time the score might very well be 100% clients, 0% family.

Obviously, zero percent attention to the family is neither healthy nor sustainable, but I suspect it happens more often than any of us would like to believe.

My assertion to lawyers that zero percent is not adequate frequently results in a defensive reaction:

“You just don’t understand! It’s the substantive practice that sustains my family by allowing me to provide for them. They simply have to understand, or neither my practice nor our lifestyle will be tenable.“

This defensive reaction is, in my view, based on a misconception. I am NOT arguing that the family should get a very significant portion of the lawyer’s business day overall. This is not my point. My point is that the lawyer has to be careful to pick and choose where the family priorities must supersede the pressures of the practice.

To put it in numeric terms, I am not suggesting that a lawyer for whom the scores are 100% clients and 0% family should move to 50-50. But I am suggesting that 0% family is not okay, and that even a slight move from 0% is an infinite improvement.

2. Integrating Family and Your Practice

It’s probably not much of a stretch to convince most lawyers that they should attend their child’s school play, season-final game, graduation, or other significant event.

Here are some other thoughts that might help a lawyer avoid zero percent:

  • If you can’t be home for every workday evening meal with your family, then how about making it sacred to do so once per week?
  • If you can’t attend every parent-teacher interview for your child, what about attending 50% of them (or fewer if you’re lucky enough to have a spouse who has the time available to allow you a smaller percentage).
  • Ensure that your calendar integrates the important family obligations with your work obligations. If you don’t want your professional calendar to reveal the elements or nature of personal commitments, use a code, such as “See Calendar A.” While this article is not about technology, you may be able to integrate both your professional calendar and your personal one on your smart phone without giving access to your personal calendar to those in your office.

3. Impact of Professional Life on Home

The challenges to the well-being of those in the legal profession have become epidemic (see Lawyer Well-Being: An Issue We Must Address Right Now).

If I told you a member of the family who worked at a law firm was suffering from: substance abuse and/or depression, what would you say the impact would likely be on the immediate members of the family?

The first line of attack is prevention. If we are past prevention, then it’s time for professional help (see Five Essential Articles: Depression and Substance Abuse among Lawyers).

On an optimistic note, let’s say that you are living a balanced life, not suffering from the wellness issues referenced earlier and are very close in a meaningful way to your family. My advice is to value what you have – and not to risk losing it by taking it for granted. Ensure that your spouse agrees that the balance is working well; if not, work it through – even if professional assistance is required for that process as well. It will be worth it in the long run.

* In Part I of this series), I challenged readers to focus on their practices. In the second segment, I talked relationships with clients. 

Each month, EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. In addition to the most recent edition, the EIC site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

I’d be happy to discuss any of the component pieces of this article in greater depth. I welcome your thoughts and feedback on both Edge International Communique and Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

A recent article at law.com celebrates the number of women who currently hold editor-in-chief positions at law review journals in the USA. “For the first time ever,” writes Karen Sloan, the article’s author, “female law students sit atop of the mastheads of the flagship law reviews at each of the top 16 law schools in the country, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report.” Sloan contrasts this new record with the stats from a 2012 study by New York Law School and Ms JD, when only 29% of editors at the most highly rated law reviews were women.

Sloan points out that the position of editor-in-chief at a law-review journal is a highly coveted position that lawyers are proud to feature on their resumes – particularly since appointments are decided by one’s peers. Sloan indicates that recent changes across the country are likely due in part to the 2012 study highlighting the lack of women in editor-in-chief roles at law reviews, but she believes they also reflect a general increase in women’s participation in all aspects of the legal profession.

She quotes Mellisa Murray, a professor at New York University School of Law, as saying, “It speaks well to the progress that many law schools have made toward cultivating a more hospitable environment for women, people of color, and first-generation law students,” adding, “but credit should not go to law schools alone. The law reviews deserve credit as well.”

I have mixed feelings about this. Historically there have been too few females in key positions in the legal profession and the resulting gender imbalance has not been okay. The question I am struggling with is whether a new imbalance has been created. If so, what can or should be done about it? It will be interesting to see what happens to this situation in the years ahead. The article reports that at least one male is in line to take the reins of a law review next year: Alexander Nabavi-Noori will be editor in chief at the Yale Law Journal in 2020-21.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating law firms and their management, either in the comments section below or directly via email.