Monday, March 2, 2015

More Often Than Not, Networking is Unnecessary

Many professionals launch into networking without first considering whether or not meeting new people is necessary. They attend events, collect business cards and strategize on how to build a relationship with their new found target. But is 'networking' really necessary? If you have lived under a rock since birth, it may be. But if you have traveled life's path building friendships, meeting acquaintances and being friendly to peers, you may not need to network. Most professionals do not realize the number of people they already know who can be valuable contributors to their network. Cataloging your current and past associations can reveal a treasure trove of valuable contacts- all of whom share with you some common ground already. So before you decide 'networking' is a key business development strategy, first make sure you don't already know the people you need to know to be successful.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Words to Live By

My dad is a voracious reader. Or was. He still reads a lot but he no longer can recall what it is that he read. He reads almost out of habit. But I inherited that habit. I hope just the reading part.

When my mother offered that I look through his library of several thousand books, to take home any that I like, I was thrilled. Thrilled like a first-time safari adventurer.

It took several hours to hunt through all of his books. Some were out dated. Others not of interest. Some the narrative so long that I knew I would never read them. But a few met my Venn sweet spot where interest, utility and ease of reference intersect.

And in one of those, I found this.

The six most important words:
I admit that I was wrong.

The five most important words:
You did a great job.

The four most important words:
What do you think?

The three most important words:
Could you please....

The two most important words:
Thank you.

The most important word:

The least important word:


Words to live by. Still teaching me. Thanks, Dad.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Finding the Silver Linings in Partner Departures

In 2014, lawyer departures reached another record year, up 7 percent over the prior year to more than 2,700 moves, according to The American Lawyer's 2015 Lateral Report. While nearly 3,000 lateral moves in one year may seem like a lot, it represents only a fraction of the total head count of U.S. law firms. Still, it's a troubling trend that's fraught with challenges for firms and one that is, most likely, just in its infancy.

For the law firm losing an important partner, the notice often comes as a shock. Questions swirl within the firm's leadership as well as among the partnership: Who else will leave? Why are they really leaving? Why didn't we see this coming? Which clients will follow them? Do they know something I don't know about the financial health of this firm? Should I be looking too? In many cases, the impulse is to circle the wagons and ease any concerns.

Take a Step Back

But the departure of a partner can also be a strategic opportunity for law firms. Departures can be good timing to reassess the practice group's strategy, improve communications, demonstrate client focus, provide opportunities to younger talent, improve practice group and firm financials and learn more about how clients value the firm. At their core, partner departures offer a unique opportunity to reassess the firm or practice group. It's a chance to deepen your understanding of the firm's culture and its competitive advantage, and it provides a unique and timely opportunity to communicate this both internally and outside the firm.

Take a Hard Look in the Mirror

The reasons a partner leaves a firm are as varied as the lawyers themselves. Despite what many would have you believe, it's not all about the money. Money is important, to be sure. But compensation is more often a symptom than the cause. Changing law firms is a huge risk for an established practitioner. A move to a new firm more often than not must solve several challenges for the lawyer. It's the job of firm leadership to unravel those motivations regardless of where they may lead. The health of the firm demands that you be objective, dig deep and take the time to understand the lessons to be gleaned from the partner's departure.

Demonstrate Client Focus

Acting quickly and decisively to assure clients of a smooth transition regardless of their decision to stay with the firm or go with the attorney can do wonders for client goodwill. Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about how the client views the firm, the attorneys who have worked with the client, what alternatives the client is considering and their legal needs going forward. These interviews should be conducted by the managing partner of the firm or the practice group leader. The goal here is to convey to the client that the firm is focused on what is best for the client.

Assign a new relationship attorney but choose the succeeding partner carefully. Make sure you understand the client's needs and preferences and select an attorney that will enhance the relationship. Sometimes that can be a younger partner who will reenergize the relationship with better support and servicing.
A partner's departure represents an opening to competitors. Clients who plan on staying with the firm and who know a firm's leadership is listening, attentive and proactive can help protect the firm from poaching attempts by other firms.

Clarify the Firm's Strategic Direction

In some cases, the exit of a partner offers an opportunity to clarify and reinforce the strategic direction of the firm. Sometimes the practices of departing partners are outliers to the firm's core growth strategy. Other times, the practice may lack the bench strength or client base to warrant a reinvestment in the practice. Often times the partner does not take as many clients as they had planned to take, leaving the firm with an opportunity to improve the financials a bit. Conversely, the lawyer's practice may have been focusing on an emerging area of law that represents an important growth opportunity for the firm. In that case, reinvestment makes sense. Regardless, the decisions by firm leadership and how they respond to the departure can help crystallize the strategic direction of the firm.

Culture is the glue that holds a partnership together. An attorney's book of business that can easily be unbolted from the firm is an indicator of at least one underlying problem in the firm's culture. Departures present an opportunity to talk openly about difficult issues such as the lack of cross practice servicing of clients and explore what to do about those challenges. Tolerating territorialism in the firm has very real and damaging cultural and financial implications, as that experience can so aptly demonstrate. Getting to the root causes of this behavior is difficult but essential to the long term health of the organization.

It's hard to find a silver lining in a partner leaving the firm, but an objective look at the situation and asking some tough questions can reveal opportunities for law firm leaders to benefit from an otherwise difficult separation.

New Practice Area? Three Simple Questions That Will Save You From Wasting Time And Money

Emerging legal issues, new legislation, new regulations and new technologies often present sexy new opportunities to form a new practice area. But the time, cost and use of marketing resources to launch a new practice area can be substantial. It can also distract the firm's focus from other, more promising opportunities. As a result, many new practice area initiatives sputter along in name only on the website, never reaching their full potential.

Why is that?

One reason is that the decision on whether to build a new practice capability is rarely subject to a rigorous due diligence process.  Questions with regard to how much opportunity there is, the level of investment required, the ramp up time and learning curve required and other important factors that underpin the success of the initiative rarely get asked, let alone thoroughly answered.

It's hard to douse the enthusiasm of a partner who is motivated to do business development. But constrained time and resources being what they are in most firms, it's important to choose investments in new marketing initiatives carefully. To hedge your bets,  the firm will need to answer three key questions: How will attorneys monetize their knowledge of this issue? Who needs the services? And, how well positioned is the firm to provide the services?

To dig deeper into the practice area's potential and guide the analysis of the market opportunity, follow this line of questioning and gather specific evidence where possible.

1. What is the billing potential of this work?

  •     What are the substantive legal issues in the new practice area?
  •     What are the questions of law that have not yet been addressed?
  •     What is the degree of regulatory oversight related to this issue currently. Is that oversight intensifying or easing?  
  •     How predictable are these issues? Are they fairly routine or are they dynamic and unpredictable?
  •     What other practices in the firm might benefit from or contribute to this new practice area?

2. Who is the target audience for the services?

  •     Which types of businesses and in which industries would the services be needed?
  •     Which existing clients of the firm would have need for this service /expertise?
  •      How strategically important are the issues to the company? What degree of risk do the issues present companies? What opportunities for growth do the issues present companies?

3. How well positioned is the firm to provide the services?

  •     Which other law firms or attorneys provides the advice or service currently?
  •     What areas of the law firm's current practice offering could lend credence to this new practice?
  •     Which lawyers in the firm currently have the experience and knowledge in this area? What substantive legal knowledge needs to be developed or researched?
  •     Which attorneys will dedicate the time to market the new practice area? What is their level of commitment to this project and their ability to dedicate other demands on their time?
  •     How would this practice be marketed and what costs would be associated with marketing this new practice?

While it's tempting to dive into a new practice group to gain an early entry advantage, the haste can make for a waste of valuable resources in the firm. Taking the time to clarify the opportunity will help to articulate the business opportunity clearly and lay the groundwork for a more strategic approach to the market.  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hiring a New Partner Is Just the Start With Laterals

Successful integration of a lateral into a law firm can be measured by new originations, but the number of new clients only tells part of the story. The success of the recruiting process can also be measured by how quickly the lateral assimilates into the culture of the firm and the speed and scope of the marketing and business development issues that were successfully handled. These 'soft' variables depend on a thorough integration plan and diligent execution.

Get Started Early
The sooner the firm begins planning for the lateral's arrival, the better. There is a lot to do and time is needed to plan accordingly. It's important to the firm's brand that marketing materials, website and bio information for the attorney is updated before the announcement is made. Don't wait until a day or two before the announcement to involve marketing. Set up a meeting with the marketing folks and the lateral early on to enable marketing the time to put a strong plan together. This also ensures the lateral has time to collect the materials marketing will need to update the website and other materials.

Plan Accordingly
A lateral integration plan is actually several distinct plans. A well developed 'master' plan includes a public relations plan, an internal communications plan, a marketing plan, a client development plan and a plan for 'on boarding' the new partner including the human resources, operations, training, conflicts and technology issues that need to be addressed. Firms active in lateral recruiting should have a robust template and process in place which can be quickly updated for a new lateral candidate.

The PR plan should identify the media channels and any 'exclusivity deals' which the firm will grant in exchange for prominent coverage. The plan should identify the publications and contact information for reporters who will receive press releases with the main 'talking points' or specific reasons clients will benefit from the combination.

The PR plan should identify and determine responses to any potential negative information which might arise from media coverage of the move. Lastly, don't forget to notify and monitor coverage of the move among the main social media channels, blogs and discussion groups that follow developments in the lateral's practice area.

The marketing and promotional plan should include a list of marketing materials that need to be updated, the authored publications coming with the attorney and the updates needed for the attorney's bio. It should itemize the directory listings, social media sites, award publications and professional associations in which the attorney's profile will need to be updated. The plan should also outline the advertising which will be placed to announce the attorney's move as well as any events or client receptions held in her honor. Lastly, the plan should describe how the clients of the firm will be notified of the new attorney's arrival and who will handle the notification.

The internal communications plan should include how the firm will notify people inside the firm of the lateral's arrival and who will sign the notification. It should also detail the meetings the new partner will be asked to attend as well as outline important firm event dates and the role the new attorney may be asked to play in each event. If appropriate, a plan to inform the firm's network of referral sources, like bankers, accountants and referral networks, along with any strategic alliances or consulting groups, should also be outlined in this section of the plan.

Most importantly, the master integration plan should include a client development and cross servicing plan. The plan should outline the new attorney's clients likely to port over to the firm, the firm's clients with expansion potential and prospective clients who may be attracted to the firm as a result of the combination. Each key client and prospect should have a plan of action with specific strategies for how the introduction will be made.

Bring Value to Your Clients
In most cases clients aren't waiting with bated breath to meet the new partner. A meeting solely to introduce a partner is often seen by clients as unnecessary. So, plan meetings to include other agenda items that provide value to clients. To make a change, clients need a compelling reason to switch providers. That means your introduction of the new partner should be accompanied with a summary of how they have helped similar companies, how they can solve a unique problem for the client or ways in which they can generate greater efficiencies or cost reductions. Finding a value added angle requires research, planning and a heavy dose of objectivity, but the result will be appreciated by clients.

Plan Support for the Long Run
The integration of a lateral's clients can take several months to complete. So integration plans should pay special attention to the period of time after the initial enthusiasm and energy has waned. In particular, create check in or progress reporting deadlines and have two to three people assigned to mentor, guide and troubleshoot for the lateral throughout the plan time frame. The team could include a senior partner with influence in the firm to troubleshoot problems, a partner to act as a mentor and a dedicated marketing support person.

Planning for the integration of a new partner is a series of distinct activities and plans which all must be implemented quickly and seamlessly. In all of these plans, strong and consistent communication is the key to the successful integration of lateral partners.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Hiring Laterals With an Eye on Business Development

The selection of lateral partners has long been the exclusive domain of lawyers. Not only are lawyers best able to evaluate the legal skills and reputation of another attorney, but determining with whom you would like to practice law in a partnership is an intensely personal choice. It's no surprise most firms keep lateral recruiting a lawyer driven and managed process.

But should they?

Innovative law firms are increasingly bringing other disciplines into the lateral recruiting, selection, due diligence and integration processes. In particular, business development professionals are being embedded throughout the process. Firms are using their marketing professionals to assess a candidate's business development acumen, evaluate client portability, pitch the firm more effectively and develop more strategic integration and marketing plans.

"Embedding us early in the process improves the ROI of the lateral because they start their plan the day they begin at the firm and it puts us 25 steps ahead," said David Kaufman, director of regional sales, U.S. and international offices for Nixon Peabody LLP. "It radically improves the integration process."
Business development professionals are also being called on to assess the business development strengths of candidates. Should a lateral's client not port over, firms want assurances that the lateral has the business development skills to build a new book of business.

"Attorneys tend to focus on the legal skill sets of attorneys and how they will fit in to the practice," said Keith Solar, San Diego office managing partner for Buchanan, Ingersoll and Rooney PC. "Our [business development] folks add value to the process by figuring out who really knows how to develop business."
Some firms, unhappy with the results of their lateral recruiting efforts, have even turned to marketing to re-engineer the entire process. That's what Mintz Levin did and the results have exceeded their expectations. Tapped by the firm's managing partner, Amy Fowler, Mintz Levin's chief marketing officer, mapped and examined the process starting from their relationships with recruiting firms and working through to the lateral's integration into the firm.

She found a need to deepen recruiting firm relationships, improve communication with the recruiters and tighten up the interviewing and integration processes. The changes she and Shannon Davis, director of legal recruiting, implemented include a mandatory lateral office tour facilitated by a dedicated business development manager, redesigning the interview process to ensure each attorney has a specific role in the interview and reorganizing the marketing group to better support laterals.

To manage the process, Fowler created a lateral recruiting committee made up of herself, the office managing partners, the firm's chief operating officer, the director of recruiting. The committee oversees every aspect of the process from interviewing and selection to managing any challenges that arise during the integration process.

Asked why the lateral recruiting committee was made up of office heads and not practice group leaders, Fowler's answer revealed the deep understanding she and the firm have gained in supporting lateral integration.
"We have a firm strategic plan and it includes the target list of practice experience we are looking for," she offered. "But the laterals will be working and socializing most closely with the people in their office. Having the buy-in of the office managing partners early on really helps ensure there is support for that lateral in that office. It makes a big difference."

One critical aspect to the recruiting process is the lateral's business and marketing plan, the development of which is also starting earlier in the process. David Salisbury, West Coast director of business development at Mintz Levin, interviews every candidate in the western region to assess the lateral's business development skills and build an individualized marketing plan for each lateral.

"Not only have we become pretty accurate in being able to assess a candidate's business development abilities, but the deep dive we do in our interviews helps us map out an integration and marketing plan that makes the best use of the laterals time during their on-boarding," Salisbury said. "It's on their desk the day they start."
Interestingly, the plan emphasizes the opportunities inside the firm for the lateral versus an emphasis on which clients of the lateral the firm can serve.

"We feel that offering opportunities with our clients for the lateral first builds trust," Fowler said. "We think it helps us start the relationship out on the right foot. It has the added benefit of helping us identify the work that the lateral can do while they are trying to port over their clients."

Several firms acknowledge their business development professionals as assets in selling the firm to laterals. But innovations in lateral recruiting include tapping outside expertise as well. Some firms are turning to outside consultants to re-engineer their recruiting program, solicit a third party's opinion on the portability of the candidate's client book, develop integration plans and hire business development coaches to work with laterals throughout the integration process.

This focus on lateral integration may be having the desired effect for both laterals and law firms. A 2014 Major, Lindsey & Africa survey of lateral partner satisfaction found a strong correlation between integration efforts and lateral satisfaction. Compared to the results of MLA's 1996 survey which found law firms were less than effective in four out of the five areas of integration, lateral partners now view their new firms as having been effective in integrating them along all five measurements of integration.

This column originally ran in The Recorder December 4th, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

General Counsel Panel Notes from the ALM Western Law Firm Marketing Leaders Forum 2014

I've never sat through a boring General Counsel Panel. And this one proved no different. In fact, this might have been the most exciting panel discussion I've witnessed- complete with spunky debates between the audience and the GCs around a  variety of topics including AFAs, diversity and client interviews. Many thanks Molly Miller and ALM for organizing a terrific marketing conference with an outstanding speakers and topics.

General Counsel Panel:

Panel Moderator:            
Molly Miller, Vice President & Publisher, Chief Content Officer, ALM, The Recorder and 

Panel Participants:          
Michelle Fang, General Counsel, Stub Hub, Inc.
MeMe Jacobs Rasmussen, Chief Privacy Officer, Vice President and Associate General Counsel, Adobe Systems incorporated.
Mark Tellini, Senior Vice President and Deputy General Counsel, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.

Q: What do you consider the most valuable attributes of your primary outside counsel?

A. They know my business and where it is headed. They maintain personal relationships and are pleasant and congenial. They demonstrate mutual respect with our in house attorneys. This is really important. You'd be surprised how often this doesn't happen. And of course, they have to be brilliant lawyers. But those are the table stakes to work with us.

Partnership. It's all about being good partners. That means they anticipate our needs and challenges. They present solutions that make the most sense economically for us. They are sensitive to the internal dynamics and politics and work well together with our in-house lawyers. They don't take over a matter and go away only to report back when it's resolved. They "co-manage" the matter with us. They work closely with us. If they don't they probably won't be working with us long.

I agree. They have to understand our business and what others are doing in our industry- how others are handling the issues. They have to understand technology, too. They should be creative about their fees. They need to be practical though. We don't want to hear about some outlandish risk that has little chance of materializing. We don't have time for that nor do we want to pay for this type of 'turn-over-every-stone' type of analysis. Just give it to us straight. They need to be knowledgeable about our business. Training outside lawyers is a huge drain on in house counsel. The more you can get up to speed and understand our business, the better.

Q: RFPs have become a way of life in law firms. What are some ways that law firms can stand out and win your business in this process?

A: RFPs are basically a healthy way to keep outside counsel honest and hungry. The ones that shine in the RFP process are the ones that have thought through the strategy of a case, how to respond to publicity, etc. They give free advice. In fact, we approach the process from the standpoint of getting as much free advice as we can about the issues involved. I assure you, it is always well spent resources or bandwidth.

The interviews are the most important part for me. I listen to how people think about an issue. We had one guy who clearly didn't know our business well enough but I really liked the way he thought. I told my people to find a smaller issue we could give him so we could check him out better. But I couldn't go with him on this issue. He just didn't know enough about the issue or our business. We won't bring anyone in for an interview that we wouldn't hire. So if you get invited, go for it. Knock us out with what you know about us and the issues. And present a solution for us. That's what will win the work. Learn about our business 'off the books'. Don't learn it on our dime. But come in informed and knowledgeable. You can always tell who has done their homework.

I agree. Get to know the case before you come in. Review the briefs, talk to local counsel, offer to provide value to us that we may not get elsewhere. Be creative. And always speak well of the other firms. You never know what relationships are in the room and it just makes you look really bad if you denigrate either your competitors or incumbent counsel.

Q: What kinds of things have firms done wrong?

A: I hate memos. I hate paying for memos. I hate seeing research memos on the bill. I hate large blocks of associate time on memos, especially when I haven't asked for a memo. Get the point? And if the associate is doing the memo and it makes it to the bill because the relationship attorney didn't know he was writing the memo and it is not written off before I see the bill, that makes me even more angry.

I get upset with communications to my boss or my boss' boss. Those communications shouldn't come from you. As the GC I need to manage the message to my business folks. You don't know all that's happening in the company so you can do more damage sometimes than good if you don't run it through me. Trust me I'll give you credit. But I need to know about it before it gets to the business folks.

It's incomprehensible to me that an outside lawyer would talk to the business people without the GC knowing. That's a firing offense. We're 'whisperers' in the company putting context around the issues at hand. It's an important part of what we do.

Unreasonable expenses tick me off. Billing out of proportion to the matter at hand. If I have a simple question, I want a simple answer. If the answer is not simple, I want you to explain to me why it is not before you run off and research a lengthy answer.

Q: How should law firms approach you for more business?

A: Well, nagging for business won't work. It is irritating. You do good work and you'll get more work. Just because you happen to be in town doesn't mean I have to meet with you. Give me a way to decline gracefully. If you want to meet with me, bring me something of value. Tell me something I need to know or should be watching out for. Don't ask to meet to introduce your tax counsel, for instance, just because you're in the neighborhood. Especially when you know perfectly well we're happy with our current tax counsel. Ask if we're interested in meeting him or her and tell us why we should want to meet them. Now, if your guy handles tax issues for others in our industry and has a way for us to change how we're doing something that's useful, then yes, I'll make time to meet.

Q: We saw research indicating more work is moving in house. How do you decide which work to take in house?

A: Basically, when the cost benefit tilts in favor of taking it in-house. But there are other factors. We want to be able to scale up and down quickly or be flexible in handling our case load, so there's more to it than that. But essentially there's a point at which it's simply cheaper to do the work in house.

You can tell the firms that are customer service oriented. Some firms are really arrogant. Cost structure is a 'gating' issue for us. The New York firms have much higher costs, so where we can, we take that in house. But experience is the first consideration. If the expertise is with outside counsel, we keep the work there.

Q: How important is diversity to you in the selection of outside counsel?

A: To be honest, the quality and value of the work is most important. I've had situations in which I was assigned an attorney because the firm thought we prioritized diverse attorneys on our work. We ended up with a bad fit for the matter and that caused more damage.  The attorney simply was not well versed enough in the issue. It was a mistake on the firm's part to put them forward. I want the best you can offer me and secondly I look for diverse candidates for the work.

Q: AFAs have been discussed for some time now and most firms have a handle on fixed budget or project fees. But what has been your experience in shared risk fees? And if you have had success, how were they structured?

A: We haven't had much experience in shared risk fees. One reason is that I got bit by one that my predecessor negotiated and now I am hesitant to negotiate them. The AFA I am referring to included a $1.5 million success fee on a case that was a bet the company case. The problem was that that success fee was not budgeted and pulling $1.5 million from some other place in the budget was really a challenge. I'd rather just pay as I go.

We went through a convergence process and included AFAs as a requirement of the RFP. We saw a few firms drop out as a result but also saw some rather interesting arrangements. One of which was a collared fee arrangement but we haven't tried it yet.

Q: We are seeing the rise of pricing professionals. should these people be in the room at a pitch to you?

 A: The relationship attorney and the subject matter expert should be there. I really don't see the need for a pricing person to be there or the CIO or whomever. But whomever is there, they need to be able to speak intelligently about our business and the matter at hand. 

Q: How do you feel about client alerts and other information sent to you by law firms?

A: These can be a real irritant. I moved from patent law to another area of the law but I still get patent alerts. I wish firms would regularly clean up their distributions lists so I get the info I requested. One firm I work with sends me an e-mail to check which publications I want to continue to receive or whatever. That's fine. It's actually helpful to me.

Some firms just regurgitate information and push it out to us. There's usually not much more in the client alert than what I read in the papers. That can be a real problem. Firms need to get better at intuiting what is important to us and the company. Show us what you know and how it addresses what we need. If you do this, you'll stand out. Believe me!

Q: what about the privacy issues related to these client alerts- like being able to see that you opened the alert, sent it to others, etc. How do you feel about that?

A: Well, privacy is pretty important to our business so I may be a bit partisan on the subject. If you know how things work on the Internet, privacy is really not an issue. I know it creeps some people out to visit a website and then see an ad for that product teed up on your Facebook profile but to be honest, it's really how things are going to be and people should just get used to it. The fact of the matter is, I value my time above my privacy.

Q: What about client interviews? How do you feel about law firms hiring third parties to conduct client satisfaction interviews?

A: Why doesn't the lawyer just ask how they are doing?
Q: I think the idea is that they will get more objective feedback if you are interviewed by someone outside of the firm.

A: I prefer to hear from the lawyer. I guess I understand the rationale but maybe I'm unique, I tell it like it is.

Q: When was the last time a lawyer, off the clock, asked to sit down and find out how they are doing? See? That's the problem. We'd all like to have the open, frank conversations but they just don’t happen.

A: You may be right. I guess it makes sense to me for the firms that are marginal or not doing so well. But if they are performing well, they will know it. I keep giving them work.