Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Early Warning Signs of a Rainmaker

In a word, Aaron was gawky. Not in a bad way. Just in a way that said ‘work in progress.’ A slim, be speckled, quiet and shy person, he didn’t make much of an impression in a room full of sharp elbowed, ivy league associates. My first impression, and the impression most of us had of him, was that he was a really nice guy. Probably smart as a whip too, but quiet and unassuming. Aaron had the promise of being a really fine ‘service partner’. But he would never be a rainmaker.

Or would he?

Law firms today struggle to identify the associates who have the potential to be big business generators. With strained resources and tightened partnership entrance requirements, firms are becoming more selective in their associate training investments. Often late in the associate's careers, senior associates with ‘promise’ are shuttled into training programs in the hopes that they can be taught to develop business. And, too often, that training doesn’t work.

One reason may be in how law firms define a ‘promising associate.’ The traditional view is that a lawyer’s promise as a potential rainmaker can be found in the quality of their work, their productivity, how well they work with others in the group, their firm citizenship and their client service abilities. All of these traits are critically important qualities of an exceptional lawyer. But they take time to assess and, frankly, they are lousy predictors of whether a lawyer will turn into a top business generator. The question becomes, ‘are there ways to predict business generation success early in a lawyer’s career’?  

A better early warning system

The earlier firms can identify talent for business development, the more time they have to cultivate that talent. Business development skills take time to develop the same way lawyering skills take time to develop. Neither comes overnight. Firms need a better early warning system to identify attorneys with the characteristics and inherent abilities to generate work. Interestingly, we can look to professional sports for answers in how to do this.

For a long time, recruiters in professional sports evaluated draft picks based exclusively on their statistics- or, the athlete’s historic physical performance. Size, quickness, field goals, defensive play and similar measures were the best predictors of athletes capable of playing in the ‘big leagues’. But these characteristics weren't always the most accurate predictors. Some did well in college but failed in the Pro’s. Others were moderately good in college and became superstars in the Pro’s. There was another level of analysis that was needed. Frustrated with the hit and miss nature of their selections, some recruiters began to look beyond the physical qualities and more at the psychological qualities of the athletes. And what they found was that ‘heart’ was a much better predictor of an athlete’s success in the big leagues than was their physical characteristics.

The qualities that comprise an athlete’s ‘heart’ or grit are surprisingly applicable to the legal industry. In looking for those diamonds in the rough, there are several characteristics which can be observed in associates over a short period of time and early on in their career that are strong predictors of future success in business development and in the firm. These qualities are selflessness; desire to succeed; willingness to persevere; receptivity to being coached; and dedication to their practice.  

Time and again, I’ve seen associates like Aaron grow into highly productive rainmakers not on the talent of their legal abilities (although that can’t be lacking) but on the magnetism of their personalities and the drive in their character. They have a reserved confidence and respectful determination that propels their success. They are very often not the best or brightest in their class but they almost always are the ones that work the hardest. They are optimistic and selfless givers and never seem to give up. You can see signs throughout their past of how they’ve overcome obstacles, persevered where others might not and reinvented themselves to accomplish their goals. They are inspiring individuals and people naturally gravitate toward them.

So, if you want an early warning system to find the top talent in your firm I suggest you look for good lawyers in your firm with grit, heart and perseverance. Look for the ones who are ‘Aarons.’ Those will be your future rainmakers.



Monday, July 7, 2014

Laterals That Leave Teams May Have Lower Success Rates

Sergio Martinez* was an exceptional international tax practitioner. He was not only a brilliant lawyer, but he had developed a personal following and book of regular business that totaled several million dollars and stretched to the far corners of the United States and Latin America. His clients were some of the wealthiest people in the world and they loved and trusted Sergio. But Sergio wanted to leave his current law firm.
Sergio and his team had become disgruntled with their firm’s leadership. Among other issues, the firm had set upon a new strategic direction which didn’t include a tax practice. Sergio wanted a better, more sustainable platform for him and his team of three attorneys, two paralegals, two associates and one secretary. They weren’t being kicked out. But Sergio saw the writing on the wall.
Sergio met partners from the new firm quite by accident. But it became quickly evident that the combination would be a marriage made in heaven. A flurry of interviews, negotiations, due diligence and plans ensued. Everyone involved on both sides of the transaction wanted Sergio and his team to make the move.  
Except one.
Sergio explained it to me this way. ‘The man I have admired my whole career, the man who taught me the most important aspects of this business, feels he is too old to make the move. He will retire in two years and thinks he would lose his clients if he made the move now. The rest of the team wants to move. But I cannot make the move without him.’ The older attorney was Sergio’s mentor. And he couldn’t leave without him any more than a mother could flee a burning house without her child. The whole team stood to make a lot more money. Loyalty to one man didn’t seem to fully explain missing this opportunity for the group. I couldn’t help wonder whether something more was going on here.
After several discussions with Sergio to explore every possible angle that might change his mind, I came to the conclusion that Sergio intuitively recognized something that few others had: the value of his team was not just in their collective clients but it was in each other. They were better together as a team than they were split apart. Even the loss of just one team member would cause irreparable damage to the group. And so keeping the team together was of utmost importance. The deal would have to wait for two years until the mentor retired.
Sergio was smart. Intuitively he understood that the team was more valuable than any one of its parts, including himself. That’s counterintuitive in a world that believes rainmakers need only their rolodex and files to be successful at any address.
The fact is the team often contributes more to the success of an individual than the individual’s own knowledge and capabilities contribute. It turns out there’s evidence to suggest the presence of the team may as much as double that individual’s chance of success in  a new platform – a lesson that law firms negotiating the volatile lateral partner recruiting market may want to pay particularly close attention to.
Research studying cardiac surgery performed by the same doctor at multiple hospitals showed that the familiarity with a team was the single highest determinant that avoided deaths during surgery. The doctors were equally knowledgeable in how to operate on a heart. It was only their familiarity with the nurses and staff that made the difference that reduced deaths during surgery. And research into the portability of investment manager’s knowledge and investing success also showed a direct correlation with the familiarity with their peers and support people in how well they duplicated the success in a new firm. Similar to rainmakers in the legal industry, the investment advisors brought their clients, knowledge and skills over to a new firm but only maintained the same success rate as they had in their previous firm when they ported over the previous firm’s team as well.
Law firms have aggressively moved to increase the ratio of secretaries-to-attorneys in order to reduce costs. And they have aggressively managed work flow to reduce idle time that was inevitable when paralegals and associates were assigned to a single partner. But this trend may erode the effectiveness of these teams and it surely constrains a lateral’s ability to duplicate his or her success in a new firm when they are unable to bring their secretaries, paralegals and associate’s with them.
It makes sense. By reducing the disruption to a client by taking the familiar resources and institutional knowledge with them to the new firm, the likelihood a client would move its work increases. Faced with training a new attorney but keeping a familiar team versus keeping an attorney and retraining a team, clients are more likely to choose the easier path and substitute the attorney with one from the incumbent firm. It may not be the position the lateral intended to put their client in. But that’s the choice forced upon clients when the team is left behind. If that lateral doesn’t have valuable institutional knowledge of the client, isn’t doing strategically important work for that client, or lacks a deep personal relationship with the client, the decision to move becomes much more difficult for the client. And many choose the lesser of the two evils and simply stay put.  

*The story of Sergio is fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people or situations is purely coincidental.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

UK Style Third Party Due Diligence May Be Key to Improving Lateral Success

A 2013 study reports that only 28% of law firms say their lateral hires met their expectations for results. Another study covering a seven-year period showed lateral partner failure rates of 32%. And then there’s the churn. One study found that 20% of laterals leave within the first year and 50% are gone within five years.

Despite the weak results, 98% of managing partners report lateral recruiting as a primary growth strategy for their firms. And they are spending big money- an estimated $600,000 to $1.5 million on average in the first year for each lateral partner they bring on board when lost billable time, recruiting fees and other costs are totaled.

Why aren’t laterals more successful?

It may be that U.S. firms don’t conduct a rigorous enough due diligence protocol on lateral candidates. The research suggests that internal assessments don’t delve deep enough into a potential lateral’s client relationships nor cover a broad enough scope of the various qualities that contribute to a lateral’s success in a new platform. Whether that’s because they don’t know the questions to ask or don’t want to ‘depose’ a potential new partner, the due diligence process clearly is not working well.

Another theory may be that lawyers suffer, like every other profession, from the ‘cobbler’s shoeless kids’ syndrome or what is technically called the ‘domain dominance’ effect- the challenge many professionals have of applying their knowledge, skills and capabilities to their own situation. The condition is perplexing but very real. So real that the concept has become embedded in our culture: Police officers who are more violent at home than the civilian population; financial advisors who don’t follow their own investment advice; physician’s with poor health habits; marriage counselors whose marriages are more fragile than their clients; the preacher whose kids are the wildest in the congregation. It may be that the client portability aspects of the lateral due diligence may best be performed outside of the firm.

Interestingly, this is exactly the practice of most UK law firms who routinely use outside, non-recruiting agency consultants to perform the due diligence on prospective candidates. In the UK, 50% of law firms use an outside consultant to review and assess the book of business and develop an estimate of the work expected to come with the lateral. Throughout Europe, the number is closer to 70%.

According to the UK firms, outside due diligence consultants add a deeper level of objectivity to the business case for a lateral candidate. They don’t share the biases that in-firm attorneys may have about their own firm and practice strengths and, as such, provide more realistic projections of the work and clients that will come with the lateral. They can more effectively explore the incentives and motivations key clients have in moving with the attorney beyond lower rates or larger platform opportunities. And the UK consultants perform a broader assessment and explore the candidate’s management style, their business development capabilities, their business and industry acumen, even how well they treat colleagues and staff, among other important characteristics.

Most importantly, independent due diligence providers are adept at ‘once removed’ client assessments. That is, they are very good at assessing the likelihood of clients porting over to the new firm without the benefit of actually speaking to those clients- although many UK firms and candidates opt to allow for confidential client interviews which are conducted in a way that protects the identities of those involved. They assess the strategic importance of the work the attorney performs for each of the key clients and the ease with which those clients could switch their work to another attorney.

Behind closed doors, law firm leaders recognize that the failure rate of senior lateral hires is a problem.  But so far, their skepticism hasn’t translated into a more thorough and objective approach to due diligence and a greater scrutiny of a candidate’s client portability claims. That will likely change though as pricing and competitive pressures force law firm leaders to examine the risks and costs of failed or marginally performing lateral hires more carefully. California law firms may be wise to adopt the practice of their UK peers and begin to incorporate the use of independent due diligence in their lateral recruiting processes.
Want an objective opinion on your next lateral hire? Call Group Dewey Consulting at 502-693-4731.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Creating Gravitational Pull. How The Very Best Rainmakers Attract Clients

Over more than 20 years of observing, coaching and researching the most successful sales professionals, sales programs and techniques, I believe I have found six characteristics common among the most successful rainmakers. They share competencies and disciplines which appear to attract client inquiries. In combination, these six factors generate what I call a ‘gravitational pull’ of clients to a rainmaker’s practice. As such, they rarely have to ‘sell’ their services. The work comes to them because, I believe, they consistently apply these six highly-developed disciplines and competencies in their practice.

Clearly there are other factors at play that influence a client’s selection of a lawyer. And, equally understandable, not every rainmaker will exhibit every quality fully throughout his or her career or in every interaction. But these six components were the most commonly observed among legal professionals who had a long track record of above average performance.

Following are the observed competencies high performing service professionals use to create gravitational pull. 

  1. They develop ‘T-Shaped Knowledge.’ The term ‘T-Shape Professional’ originated in the engineering industry to describe professionals who are knowledgeable in a broad area of topics (the horizontal bar of the ‘T’) but deeply knowledgeable in one narrow area of expertise (the vertical bar of the ‘T’). For lawyers, my research indicates that this T-Shaped knowledge includes at least three general types of knowledge on the horizontal axis:  broad knowledge of business, (specifically basic financial, operational, human resource and marketing knowledge); broad knowledge of legal operations and technology (such as e-Discovery, knowledge management, industry trends, process improvement, legal project management, etc.); and broad knowledge of the general legal practice area in which the attorney works (that is, what we normally expect of a competent practitioner). The vertical axis represents one to two areas of deep specialization, that is, a unique or exceptionally deep understanding of a specific issue, law, industry, business practice or circumstance that sets the attorney’s experience apart from more generalist practitioners. They don’t have to be the only one with this specialized knowledge- though deep specialization with few competitors is certainly a worthy goal. But they do need to be among the very few with the specialized training, knowledge or experience. Promoting this vertical knowledge niche becomes the magnet that attracts new inquiries, prospects, and media interviews, and which fuels the referral process.
  2. They build ‘Trusted Servant’ relationships. They form close emotional bonds with these clients and engage them with a selfless focus on the needs and wants of the client that generates loyalty to that attorney. They are authentic in their commitment to their clients and often are willing to take short term losses for opportunities to embed more deeply in the client’s business. They work hard to become critically involved, trusted partners to their clients by studying the client’s business and its competitors; by expanding their relationships beyond the legal department; and by learning the operational, financial and human capital requirements of the business and sharing this knowledge broadly both within the law firm and with the client. This integration into the business of their clients makes them strategically important to the business and extremely difficult to substitute with another skilled attorney. It also fuels the referral process.
  3. They perform ‘random acts of kindness’. They are, essentially, selfless yet smart givers. And, importantly, they give without the expectation of reciprocity. They circulate through their business relationships probing and listening for ways to connect people, to do favors for people, and to share their knowledge and insights. They don’t worry about giving away free legal advice or charging for a ‘lawyer letter.’ They make themselves a one-stop resource for solutions to problems, both professional and personal. These ‘givers’ listen much more than they talk. They are noticeably focused, inquisitive and attentive in conversations. This discipline is at the core of attraction, and it is driving force of new inquiries and expanded relationships. See the recent book by Adam Grant, Give and Take, Why Helping Others Drives Our Success for a fascinating look at how ‘givers, takers and matchers’ network and build success.
  4. They maintain a valuable network of contacts and resources. They pay close attention to who they know, who knows what, and who they need to know to add valuable connections to their contact network. They prioritize these contacts and carefully manage their relationship building efforts. It’s difficult to tell where their professional relationships end and their personal relationships begin. They surround themselves with like-minded professionals in every part of their lives. For those in their contact network that fall outside of this orbit, they keep a current inventory of the skills, knowledge and relationships of the remaining contacts in their network, and connect and refer these people in a way that constantly adds value to all those touched by their network.
  5. They plan and execute daily. They have a plan and work some aspect of that plan every day. They make business development as much a part of their daily routine as their first cup of coffee. They keep their plans simple and achievable. It may not always be written, but it is clear their strategies for creating value for others. They understand the marketing tools that work best for them and incorporate those tools into their daily routine. They understand that success is the result of the frequency and repetition of their efforts, not the size or splashiness of the effort. They follow up consistently and have a bias for action. The consistency of this effort is what drives market awareness and reputation.
  6. They have an attitude of positivity and compassion. Attitude is everything. And nowhere is that more evident than in the attitudes common among highly successful rainmakers. They are empathetic, compassionate, optimistic and forgiving- making them highly approachable. They often have a great sense of humor and seem to truly enjoy their lives and work. And most importantly, they tend to eschew hierarchy and status, and treat everyone as equal and valuable.

There is no silver bullet. Building a rainmaker’s gravitational pull takes time. These are not easy competencies and disciplines to incorporate into your daily routine. You cannot fake compassion or feign positivity. The key to these competencies are in the authenticity of them. You cannot simply ‘talk the talk.’ To be a rainmaker with gravitational pull, you must learn to ‘walk the walk’ and walk it every day.

Making these changes takes tremendous effort and focus. They require a deep personal commitment and continuous self-awareness and self-improvement. But for those willing to take the journey, the payoff is not just in greater performance, but more importantly in greater happiness, deeper career fulfillment, heightened peer respect and more interesting relationships- all benefits reported by the rainmakers I have had the intense pleasure to observe and coach.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

What the NBA Can Teach Us About Lateral Recruiting

Is there such a thing as having too much talent? This is the perennial question facing the owners of big-time sports franchises—and it’s an interesting question for today’s hyper competitive lateral market. Does adding more and more talent add up to ever better law firm performance?

It turns out more talent improves team performance, but only to a point.

As Wray Herbert writes in a recent column on the Association of Psychological Science website,

“Surprisingly, this question has never been studied in a rigorous, scientific way—until now. A team of psychological scientists—headed up by Roderick Swaab of INSEAD—decided to explore the possibility of a too-much-talent effect—the notion that at some point adding one more superstar actually becomes detrimental to the team. They reasoned that internal jostling for team dominance would eventually undermine the coordination needed for team performance. They ran a series of experiments to test this idea, including one that focused on the NBA.

Swaab and colleagues looked at the regular season play of all NBA teams over a decade, from 2002 to 2012.  They computed individual talent, and team talent, by using the so-called Estimated Wins Added, or EWA, formula, which estimates the victories that any given player adds over and above what a replacement player would contribute. They had access to comprehensive play-by-play data from all the games, which they examined to tally team coordination—an amalgam of total assists, field goal percentage, and defensive rebounds. Team performance was simply winning percentage at the end of each season.

Then they crunched all the data together, with interesting results. Increasing talent was linked to better team performance—but only to a point. After that critical point, the benefit of more talent decreased and eventually turned negative. What’s more, it was clearly the diminished team coordination that hurt performance. That is, too much star talent undermined the selflessness that leads to team excellence. Or as sports analysts say, not enough basketballs."

Lessons from the Miami Heat’s four to one loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals may well be instructive for law firm leaders. Take care not to upset the delicate balance of your firm’s practice teams lest too much talent leads to too few basketballs.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lateral Partner Integration. Keep Existing Firm Clients Top of Mind

In the excitement to bring a large book of business with shiny new clients into the firm, the benefit and value to the firm’s existing clients often takes a back seat. Don’t let it. Your primary concern should be the clients that ‘brought you to this dance’. If a lateral doesn’t improve the service and value you deliver to your existing clients, there should be a big question mark on why you are proceeding down this path. The best lateral acquisitions are like great mergers: one plus one should equal three.
And there’s a second, more practical reason to keep existing clients in mind. Clients don’t jump to new firms instantly. The process takes time. Focusing on the work that the lateral can do in the interim period is an important part of the success of many acquisitions. If you can’t make that case, look harder. It’s the first step to assure lateral success. Plus, partners stepping up to offer introductions to their clients will give you a sense of the trust they have in that candidate’s abilities as well as give you a sense of the energy your partners have for making the acquisition a success.
Lateral partner due diligence is critical to the success of any law firm's recruiting efforts. Learn how lateral due diligence reports can inform compensation discussions, partnership votes and lateral integration plans by contacting Eric@groupdeweyconsulting.com

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to Predict Client Portability

The most difficult aspect of lateral recruiting is predicting which clients will likely come over to the new firm. Apparently, firms haven’t cracked the code. A recent survey[1] found that only 28% of firms report that their lateral hiring efforts have resulted in ‘satisfactory returns’. In other words, 70% of laterals provide unsatisfactory returns.

Clearly, the industry needs better methods for predicting how much business will move with an attorney.

As obvious as this is, we sometimes forget that it is the client’s decision whether or not to move to a new firm. It’s a hassle to change law firms. Assuming the new firm meets the basic criteria clients have for selecting a law firm (i.e. the new firm has the right platform, is affordable, has the experience, reputation, etc.) there must be a compelling reason to move.

Studies on motivation show that the fear of losing something is a much more powerful motivation than the prospect of gaining something. As attractive as a firm may be, clients follow attorneys based on the fear of losing their trusted advisor. One key to predicting whether a client will move with the attorney therefore rests in the firm’s ability to gauge the level of trust their clients have in them.

Most people think of trust as a binary issue: you either trust someone or you don’t. In fact, there are various degrees of trust. The levels range from trust based on reputation (I have heard about this person and she has a good reputation) to trust based on competence (I have worked with this person and she is a competent practitioner) to trust based on intellectual candor (she is intellectually sharp and gives me objective advice) to the highest order of trust, trust based on an emotional connection (she demonstrates that she truly cares about me and my success). Clients can easily find other competent attorneys. But as the level of trust rises, the likelihood of the company moving their work with the attorney also rises. Therefore, the intensity of that trust is best indicator of whether the client will head to the new firm.

Assessing the intensity of trust in the relationship requires a deeper, more exhaustive dive into that attorney’s relationships with their clients. In my experience many recruiting attorneys are uncomfortable prying too deeply or appearing to question the integrity of the candidate’s claims. More simply don’t delve into the nature of the client relationships.

That’s a mistake.

Determining the nature of the client relationship from a distance is difficult. There are no hard and fast rules and certainly, no sure bets. But a line of questioning can help you paint a picture of the depth of the relationships prospective laterals have with their clients. The questions should reveal evidence of the durability and depth of the relationships to determine which level of trust exists between the attorney and each of their key clients. For instance, in your discussions, you should ask how each key client relationship started and how long ago. A law school class mate is better evidence of portability than working on a matter for another attorney. The first demonstrates shared experiences and a relationship that has stood the test of time. The latter may be a relationship based solely on the convenience of the candidate’s expertise- not a very sticky quality.

In determining the presence of a trusted advisor relationship, ask what the attorney knows about each client’s business and the other people in that company. Trusted advisors are often introduced to others in the company, are knowledgeable about areas beyond the legal department and often know the company’s key executives. Often attorneys are asked for their non-legal area advice on the company’s challenges and issues. Ask about the nature of the advice that the attorney gives to each company. It sheds light on the trust present in the relationship. Additionally, ask about the non-work related activities or interests of the contacts at the company. Relationships that are emotionally connected often evolve to include sharing mutual interests and social activities and introductions to family members- very sticky qualities indeed.

The more evidence revealed of a trusting relationship, the better. A single instance of attending a ball game together is not sufficiently compelling evidence. A pattern of social activities is much better. The same is true when investigating the instances in which the attorney’s advice was sought by the client. Was this legal advice or business advice? More deep trusting relationships often expand beyond the original areas of expertise and non-legal advice is often sought relatively frequently.

Law firms are well advised to use the services of an objective third party to perform the due diligence on partner candidates. Analysis performed by ‘legal placement support services’ such as Group Dewey Consulting are more objective and, as such, carry greater credibility than the same due diligence process performed by recruiting firms or even the in-house recruiting committee. Lateral due diligence reports are valuable tools to inform compensation discussions, partnership votes and the marketing and integration plans for new lateral partners.  

Interested in a better methodology for assessing the moveable business of a prospective Partner candidate? Contact Eric at eric@groupdeweyconsulting.com

[1] Major Lindsey & Africa, 2013 Lateral Partner Satisfaction Survey