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Post #425 - Monday, November 2, 2009
Questions To Ask Your Most Important Clients
Jim Hassett wrote a great little article posted on Legal OnRamp last week that I responded to. Jim talked about how important listening is to develop stronger relationships and new business.
Not disagreeing with the points made in this excellent article or the three questions identified . . . I will never forget one conversation that I had with a General Counsel who said, "Most of these efforts are defined and managed to serve the firm’s interests. To us they are nothing more than thinly veiled sales campaigns. Someone comes in, asks how their firm is doing and if we dare say okay, they then want to immediately introduce us to some of their other professionals.”
His comments serve as a constant reminder to me that when we interview clients we should probably be sensitive to making sure that the questions we employ demonstrate that we sincerely want to learn about their business, their circumstances, their frustrations, and not just about how they view us.
Some of the questions that I've found helpful in eliciting meaningful information from clients, include:
• Are there any recent uncertainties affecting your business, or changes of any sort that have particularly concerned you in the last few months or so?
• When you’re driving to the office, stuck in traffic, and you’re thinking about the business, what issues are running through your head?
• What are your legal department’s three 'mission critical' objectives for the coming year?
• Are there specific things that outside counsel could be doing to reduce the time that you have to spend in managing their activities?
• Please describe the top three ways you measure outside counsel’s performance?
• As you think about the service that your law firms provide, what could an innovative law firm be doing, that clients like you, may not yet have asked for?
• When you think about the way in which you have observed law firms operate, what could a firm do that would make you go, “wow”?
• What could we be doing that would make your life easier?
• What would we have to do to deserve and earn more of your business and to obtain unbeatable referrals from you?
That said, I would really appreciate hearing from some in-house counsel that have had the experience of being interviewed one-on-one with their outside lawyers - what questions do you find you responded to with enthusiasm, and . . . what have you found to be the stupidest questions you were ever been asked?
Of Related Interest:
> Protecting Your Crown Jewels
> Enhanced Focus On Key Clients Yields Results
Post # 424 – Monday, November 2, 2009
Clients Say The Nicest Things
Having returned from a long trip to Chile last week to culminate my work with one international client, I received the following e-mail for which I am most grateful:
Good morning Patrick. Thank you for helping us advance our strategy sessions in Santiago. All the people I spoke with indicated that your presentation was exceptional. It more than met our expectations and the members are still talking about some of the thought leadership items you suggested.
John E. Wolfgang, Chairman – UHY International
UHY is one of the world’s leading business advisory, consulting and accounting firms, with over 7000 professionals operating across 211 offices in 72 countries.
Post #423 – Monday, November 2, 2009
Dealing With the Economy
In an e-mail I received today from Tom Peters, he says that, “I am constantly asked for strategies / ‘secrets’ for surviving the recession. I try to appear wise and informed — and parade original, sophisticated thoughts. But if you want to know what’s really going through my head . . ."
Here are a few of the clever strategies that Tom shared in his e-mail:
• You dig deep, deeper, deepest—and always bring a good attitude to work.
• You try to forget about “the good old days”—nostalgia is self-destructive (and bores others.)
• You buck yourself up with the thought that “this too shall pass”—but then remind yourself that it might not pass any time soon, and so you re-dedicate yourself to making the absolute best of what you have now.
• You sweat the details as never before.
• You raise to the sky and maintain at all costs the Standards of Excellence by which you unfailingly and unflinchingly evaluate your own performance.
• You learn new tricks of your trade.
• You pass old tricks of the trade on to others—mentoring matters now more than ever.
• You remind yourself that this is not just something to be “gotten through” — it is the Final Exam of Competence, Character and, even if you’re not a boss, Leadership.
• You thank others by the truckload if good things happen — and take the heat yourself if bad things happen.
• You behave kindly, but you don't sugarcoat or hide the truth — humans are startlingly resilient and rumors are the real killers.
• You treat small successes as if they were World Cup victories — and celebrate and commend accordingly.
• You don’t put limits on the budget for flowers — “bright and colorful” works marvels.
• You redouble, re-triple your efforts to “walk in your client’s shoes” (especially if the shoes smell.)
• You leave the blame game at the office door.
• You become a paragon of personal accountability.
• And then you pray.
Post #422 - Saturday, October 31, 2009
Post #421 – Thursday, October 29, 2009
Time To Review Your Strategy
I'm finally back at home base, having worked in 8 countries, across 3 continents during these past two months. What remains consistent across those diverse geographies is that firms everywhere are in need of a new strategy for growth. Firm leaders are recognizing, as they catch their breathe after months of turbulence, that the strategy they were pursuing is unlikely to take them where they need to go. Indeed, conventional approaches to developing strategic plan in law firms – those lengthy protracted internal debates that lead to developing monumental documents detailing the firms direction over the coming three to five-years – seems to now belong to a bygone era.
So, what are leading firms doing today to advance setting their strategic direction? Unsurprisingly, they are holding their current strategic plans in abeyance while they explore how they might need to adapt to trends that portend changes in their fundamental business models, while also figuring out how to navigate their way through a coming period of economic uncertainty.
Put slightly differently, the executive committees of more firms are beginning to engage in an Adaptive Strategy Review – scheduling a couple of days to discuss and explore what new trends, developments and issues (signals) will potentially impact their firm going forward and what actions they need to take NOW! In one of my most recent review sessions our singular agenda topic was: “What will our legal profession look like in the year 2012 and what should we be starting to do now to get to the future first?”
The process for strategic planning has changed. Your strategy needs to be constantly evolving. While the eternal truths – about determining your target markets and how you reach them, what specific practices may be evolving that you need to be in, the value promise that leads clients to choose you, hard-to-copy advantages that help you differentiate your firm; and how your resources are aligned – endure; however, a more dynamic and adaptive approach is now needed. Managing Partners need to be more flexible, resilient and ready to make necessary adjustments and changes.
The approach to law firm strategy taught by business schools, promoted by the big consultancies and practiced by most firms is relentlessly 'left brain' - it's focused almost exclusively on 'the numbers' and data analysis, and on formal, detailed plans, with strategy sessions the exclusive preserve of a few senior partners.
Great strategies aren't the product of rational analysis alone - they emerge when a committed team puts its 'whole mind' to work, approaching strategy making creatively and collaboratively - to stimulate 'strategic intuition' and insight, and build buy-in and belief amongst the teams that must make the strategy happen. Great process isn't just about building the flexibility needed to change direction at the drop of a hat, it's about bringing in 'new voices' and different perspectives into the strategy process - encouraging those who are prepared to challenge the profession’s status quo.
Reinventing the strategy process isn't a 'nice to do', it is a 'must do' - and every real improvement will feed directly through to your firm’s bottom line.
Post #420 – Wednesday, October 14, 2009
The Disruptive But Inevitable Move to Alternative Fees
The past two months have evidenced a four-part series of articles being written on the subject of alternative fee arrangements and co-authored by a Fortune 500 GC (Jeffrey Carr of FMC Technologies), a Managing Partner (Edwin Reeser), a leading practitioner in alternative fee arrangements (Pat Lamb), and a management consultant (yours truly). The first of these articles had over 700 hits for web reads in only a couple of hours following release.
All four of these articles have now been published, many appearing on the front page of the Los Angeles Daily Journal, and all currently appearing on Legal OnRamp.
Download and read – The Disruptive But Inevitable Move to Alternative Fees
This series will now be included as reading materials at the American Lawyer Law Firm Management Forum: The Future of the Business of Law seminar at New York’s Harvard Club on October 27 and 28; as handouts during the Annual Meeting Session on the ACC Value Challenge; and as participant materials in the Ark seminars scheduled in November on law practice management and alternative fee arrangements. These articles are also scheduled to be re-published in the Australasian Law Management Journal.
Post #419 – Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Somewhat Conflicting Views
At Legal Week’s annual European Corporate Counsel Forum, Peter Kurer the retired chairman of Swiss investment bank UBS shared some insightful comments comparing the differences between lawyers and business people:
• Business people are closure-minded. In contrast, lawyers are perfectionists who are happy to delay a process for relatively minute details.
• Business people live on reducing complexity. Lawyers, on the other hand, like to increase it.
• Business people concentrate on opportunities; lawyers on making barriers to opportunities.
• Business people are proactive, defining the agenda. Lawyers react.
• Business people want certainty on the future. Lawyers often can't deliver on that.
• Business people think in cycles; lawyers much less so because we all know our trade is OK in good and bad times.
• Lawyers are extremely rational and value intellectual honesty. Business people think emotion - and emotional intelligence - is important, too.
• Business people build trust. Lawyers are a source of this trust.
• Lawyers are cynical. Business people can't stand cynicism: it hinders the movement of an organization forward.
• Business people think lawyers are boring. By talking and talking, lawyers reinforce this belief.
Post #418 – Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Commercial Real Estate – The Next Calamity
In my article: 'Managing Through A Prolonged Downturn’ written over 14 months ago, I warned . . .
Get ready for the next real estate disaster. The enormous cutback in spending by consumers will reverberate throughout the economy. Thousands of retailers and restaurants that expanded based on debt-aided demand will be going out of business. So, if you are sick of hearing about residential mortgage problems, there is yet another potential real estate crisis on the horizon – in Commercial property.
Well, it’s happening!
Moody's Investors Service says the value of U.S. commercial real estate has fallen from the 2007 peak by an average of 35%, more than the residential property average. At the same time, these landlords' tenants are in trouble and so are their lenders. This stalled ripple effect is starting to accelerate: Tenants are going bust; some move out in the middle of the night; existing tenants demand concessions and others pay lower rent and also consolidate into smaller space. This is the logical outcome when consumer spending disappears and retailers and manufacturers are hurt or disappear.
Meanwhile, reports are that Tarp 2 is being designed to backstop the smaller, regional banks that are more commonly in commercial property lending. The banks that are 30th to 100th in size in the United States have a 12% average exposure to commercial property. There are US$3.7-trillion in outstanding commercial real estate-backed loans. Some US$400-billion will reach maturity by the end of 2009 and accelerate to US$2-trillion in 2010 and 2011.
The worst-case scenario will be that the jobless recovery lasts more than two years, consumer spending remains lackluster and bank losses on these properties trigger another financial crisis.
Post #417 – Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Ethical Leadership Models
I received a flattering note from Professor Neil Hamilton, Professor of Law and Director of the Thomas Hollaran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions. Professor Hamilton has just published his newest research in the University of St. Thomas Law Journal, a lengthy dissertation entitled Ethical Leadership In Professional Life. In this paper Neil analyzes various leadership theories and their effectiveness for the profession.
I am appreciative both for Neil’s kindness in sending me a copy of his published paper, but also for his repeated citing the content contained within First Among Equals as an example of an ‘ethical leadership model most useful for the roles that lawyers assume.’
Post #416 – Tuesday, October 6, 2009
The Latest Issue of International Review Is Available
The Fall 2009 issue of my International Review magazine has been out for a couple of weeks now and has generated a number of unsolicited e-mails:
I loved your last magazine issue.
Bruce Marcus, editor of The Marcus Letter
Our Executive Committee was intrigued by your insightful and inspiring article "It's Time to Think Differently about Law Firm Strategy"
James Hale, ARNALL GOLDEN
Patrick, Just reading thru your International Review, Fall 2009. Wonderful. Excellent. Well done, informative, helpful, insightful. Thank you for sending it along.
Bruce Christensen, WARNER NORCROSS
This issue included a number of articles on law firm management and strategy:
• It's Time To Think Different About Law Firm Strategy
What I’ve learned is that the best performers are taking an entirely different approach to the strategy process and an approach that is based on some fundamentally different principles.
• Passion, People & Principles
Effective management in professional firms requires that you know how to deal with stress, proactively manage underperformers and screen new candidates for their character, not just their talent.
• Keeping Morale Up In A Downturn: Notes From The Lab
The lab was formed to provide pragmatic advice to assist new managing partners with their critical burning issues and help them succeed. Here is one of the latest questions and responses.
• A New Trend In Leasehold Liability
The collateral damage of a single BigLaw firm triggering losses approaching perhaps eight figures will result in serious rethinking of the approach that all building owners take to making lease deals.
• Entering Emerging Markets: Alternatives And Considerations
Asia and other emerging economies are proving attractive destinations for law firms from North America but how you reach that destination has a major impact on the potential benefit.
• Law Firm Leadership Reflections: Practical Advice For The Managing Partner
Excerpted from my blog, here are a selection of short snippets for reflecting on your leadership style, determining what your practice leaders should do and whether you should select your successor.
Meanwhile, my Hong Kong-based partner, Robert Sawhney had a version of his “Entering Emerging Markets” article featured on LawDragon.com. Kudos Bob! Here is a copy of his expanded version.
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