Friday, April 29, 2011

Please, people, let's be civil. Everyone will have a chance to speak.

Peter Slattery's "The time-based billing debate is not a matter of good versus evil" in The Australian. Slattery is the managing partner of a five-office Australian firm, so you might expect that he'd be in favor of the old-school approach to billing clients. But what might appear at first glance to be an apologia of the heavy-handed tactics of hourly billing turns out to be a call for reason and temperance in the billing debate. Sure, it's easy to mock the billable hour as an outdated vestige of a soon-to-be-irrelevant past, just as it's equally easy to discount alternative fees because clients haven't embraced them or because they're very hard to get right or because some clients will abuse them. But that's not going to help the client, is it? Value-billing, the real kind, is probably a little more complicated than "not this" or "not that." We've known all along that there are two sides to the billing story. Slattery's post makes it clear that they're both right. Now what are you going to do?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

You want me to pay for what?!?

Robert Mattern's "Cost Recovery Breeds Client Frustration in New Survey" on According to the law firms Mattern polled as part of his biennial survey on cost recovery practices, "client pushback [on costs] is increasing." This observation isn't particularly new or revealing. Even in good times, clients question the charges that law firms pass along (as well they should). So why read this post? Because whenever you read "client frustration" you should be looking for the opportunity to alleviate that frustration. What are your charge-back policies? What do your clients think of them? Have you ever asked? How much money can the 30% of firms that charge clients for printing documents be recovering for those services? Think they're making less profit than the 70% of firms that don't? Maybe clients would be happier if they weren't paying for printing. Or scanning. Or even telephone calls. How much are happier clients worth? Think they'd agree that less frustration = greater value?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Talking to strangers just got a little easier.

Mary Ellen Sullivan's "Big Ideas for Small Talk" on the Attorney at Work blog. Let's face it: networking is tough. You have to identify the right events, the ones where potential clients and influencers hang out. You have to identify the right people, the ones who might give you work or an introduction or whatever else you might need. And then you have to talk: ask the right questions, listen to the answers, carry on interesting conversations. Sullivan's post will help with you that part. Sure, you'll still have to figure out the who, where, and why. But once you do, these icebreakers (and conversation killers) are bound to ease the pain of striking up a conversation.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Storytelling. It's not just for campfires and kids.

Nick Morgan's "Win by Telling Great Stories with Peter Guber" on his blog Public Words. Unless you're new here, you know that I like posts about telling stories. Stories articulate your value as a lawyer. They communicate your passion, your knowledge, your experience. They help you translate the facts and figures of your work into people and problems and solutions. Most importantly, they give clients a reason to like you, to want to work with you, to trust you with their success, their career, their fears. I didn't know who Peter Guber was before I read this post. And I don't know if I will ever by his book, Tell to WinBut that doesn't mean I didn't learn a lot about telling a good story from this post. Read it, and you will too.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Too big to succeed? A client's take on hiring law firms.

Mark Herrmann's "Inside Straight: Hiring Law Firms or Lawyers?" at Above The Law. Yes, it would be nice to put this question to rest, as Herrmann longingly suggests. But that's probably not going to happen, at least not until law firms realize that their brand isn't their firm, but their people (right Mr Hellerman?). But this post is more than an exploration -- albeit an exhaustive one -- of why clients hire lawyers and not law firms. It's also a gauntlet thrown down at the feet of every firm that seeks to provide comprehensive service across multiple jurisdictions. It's an indictment of the "bigger is better" theory. It's a call for law firms to step up and apply stringent standards of quality across the board (and maybe even the globe). How are you going to respond?

Friday, April 22, 2011

I get help with a list of resources from my friends.

Debra Bruce's "Do Bar Associations Really Benefit Solos?" on the Solo Practice University blog. Don't let the title of this post fool you: Bruce isn't interested in a philosophical discussion of the role Bar Associations should play in helping solos establish and manage their practices. Her objectives are much more practical: identify all of the resources Bar Associations across the country currently make available to solos. And thanks to her friends and fellow lawyers, this post is well on the way to becoming the definitive resource list. Read it, and add your favorite resource to the list.

Another corny headline. Maybe this will make up for it:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Finding your zen. In front of a crowd.

Garr Reynolds' "Dealing with public speaking nerves" on his blog, Presentation Zen. I just discovered this blog (when I read this post) and added it to my RSS feed. You should too. It's clever, funny, and full of practical advice. Like the content of this post. Public speaking is a great way to showcase your expertise, connect with potential clients, get feedback on your ideas, build your brand. But if you're like me, you'd rather be sitting in the dentist's chair than standing at the dais. Reynolds' post just might help you reduce some of that fear and find your presentation zen.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Strategy as it should be.

Bruce MacEwen's "Third in Our Series on Strategy: Bad Strategy" on his blog Adam Smith, Esq. Think you've got strategy? Then you need to read this post, which is easily one of the best pieces on law firm strategy I have read (and I read a lot of 'em). Law firms are notorious for spending time, money, and resources developing strategic plans that do little more than confirm a broad range of unrealistic assumptions, about the market, the firm, the competition, the potential for increased revenue. Not on purpose, mind you. It just happens. Because they fear dissent if everyone doesn't have a voice. Because they think if they want something bad enough it will come true. Because good strategy is hard: it requires making difficult choices, admitting weaknesses, setting unpopular priorities. MacEwen's post can help you break that cycle. If you heed his advice, that is:
"Doing it the hard way-the right way-may be more painful in the short run, but anything else is sure to be far more painful in the long run."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

You can't always give what they want. Not without asking questions, anyway.

Allison Shields' "Do You Know What Your Clients Really Want?" at her Legal Ease Blog. No, it's not the start of a bad lawyer joke. Giving your clients what they want and what they need -- even when the two are in conflict -- is part of the adding value equation. But much of the time you won't know what they really without doing a little digging. Without asking a few questions. Without challenging their answers a little bit. Without understanding their short-, medium-, and long-term objectives. Without articulating what you can realistically provide, and comparing it to the results they hope to achieve. But don't take my word for it. Read the post and draw your own conclusions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Working the crowd. And doing it right.

Whitney Johnson's "Building a Network That Works Takes Work" on her blog at the Harvard Business Review. We've written about networking before, but this post reminds us that there's always more to learn. Networking done right, the way that builds meaningful relationships, the way that makes people want to get to know you better, the way that leads to doors opening and client engagements, doesn't just happen. It takes planning and effort and follow-up. It takes work. This post talks about the work you should be doing to build the network you want. Read it, and start doing it right.

Friday, April 15, 2011

It's a brand new day. Don't you need a brand new strategy?

Joe Altonji's "Thinking about Strategy in a Post-Crisis World" at the Hildebrandt Baker-Robbins blog. Sure, the economy's getting better. But it's not where it was and, says Altonji, probably won't ever get back there again. That means the way you did things in the past is not going to drive your success in the future. So what are you going to do about it?

A good first step: redefine your strategy. Figure out what's important to you, to your partners, to your clients. Develop a plan for making sure you stay relevant. This post will help you get started. But don't read it if you're just looking for answers, for a "one-size-fits-all" strategy that you can tweak to your firm's needs. Because this post only asks the questions. You have to supply the answers. Fortunately, these are the very questions you need to prepare your firm for the brand new day.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The future of law firms: irrelevant?

Jordan Furlong's "Not wanted on the voyage" at What if we staged a revolution, and none of the law firms came? According to Furlong, that is a real possibility. Nobody disputes the fact that change, true change, the kind that requires you to step off the cliff without knowing if there's a ledge below, is hard. Really hard. But what appears to be still up for grabs is whether or not that kind of change is all that necessary. The visionaries certainly think so. The consultants certainly think so. A lot of clients seem to think so. But the law firms? Not so much. Furlong's thoughtful post takes a look at what that means -- for lawyers, law firms, and clients -- and offers some useful advice on avoiding irrelevance.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

This is creative? Innovative? Can't you do better than that?

Julie Kay's "Companies Get Creative to Cut Legal Costs" at Unless you've been living under a rock, you're well aware of the ever-increasing pressure on in-house counsel to reduce legal costs. So the fact that Microsoft and H-P are outsourcing their work to India, using solos instead of BigLaw whenever they can, and negotiating alternative and fixed fee deals isn't particularly newsworthy. So why read this article? Two reasons. First, because there's an interesting discussion of just how important international skills and experience have become to global clients:
"When I started, everything I did ... all the regulatory work ... was centered in Washington,"
[Microsoft Corporate VP and Deputy GC Horacio] Gutierrez said. "Now the centers of power are Asia, Sao Paulo and Moscow. The majority of our revenue comes from outside the United States." 
That drives corporate counsel to hire lawyers who are multilingual and understand the cultural sensitivities of other countries, Gutierrez said.
But more importantly, because if H-P and Microsoft look at outsourcing, solo practitioners, and alternative and fixed fees as "innovative" and "creative," it's clear that they still measure the value of legal services by the cost of those services. Doesn't that leave room for the firm that is truly creative, truly innovative, truly interested in solving their clients' problems, whether they be obtaining patents across the globe, or managing a diverse team of 50 patent lawyers, or demonstrating to corporate that they are getting maximum value from their legal spend? Maybe that could be your firm.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Solving your client's problems. The right way.

Dan Hull's "Cross-Selling: You Folks Really Partners? Or Just Sharing Space?" at What About Paris? Cross-selling isn't up-selling, convincing the client to buy additional services merely because you offer them. It's knowing your client, her legal needs, her business objectives, her pressure points. It's knowing your partners, their strengths, their experience, their weaknesses. It's putting the pieces together to determine if indeed the solution to your client's problem sits in the office down the hall. When done right, cross-selling is introducing one friend with a problem to another with a solution. Isn't that what you do, solve your client's problems?

Some lawyers believe cross-selling is a myth. Not Hull. And he's right: cross-selling isn't a tall tale, it's your job, your duty to your clients and to your partners.

Monday, April 11, 2011

I'm a legal marketer and I endorse this post.

George Wallace's "Blather. Wince. Repeat. [Mutterings on Marketing]" at his blog Declarations and Exclusions. Although this post starts out a little like The Killers (albeit with less mystery), Wallace only admits to the sins of his past to provide context for his rather unique perspective on legal marketing. And when I say "perspective" I really mean "critique." Of legal marketing. Of selling legal services. Of the Legal Marketing Association.

So why is this legal marketer telling you to read it? Because the questions Wallace raises are the ones we all--lawyers and legal marketers alike--should be asking. And answering. For ourselves, our clients, our peers, our colleagues. Is legal marketing "as much about the interests of the marketer as it is about anything else"? Are "[t]ime and resources spent selling legal services" truly "time and resources not spent performing legal services"? Are the two always in conflict? Is it naive to think that lawyers need to know how to sell themselves, their skills, their expertise? Or is it naive to think that they never will? Is the raison d'être of legal marketing really "persuading the prospect that he or she needs and wants what is on offer, regardless of whether what is on offer is actually what the client needs and regardless of whether the proffered service matches, in reality, the appealing description offered by the marketer"?

Read the post. Think about how you're marketing and why. Make it better and everyone wins. Especially the client.

Friday, April 8, 2011

One secret of success? A rock-solid foundation.

Joe Evans' "What Every Business Executive Should Know About Creating a Comprehensive and Executable Strategic Plan – Part 1" at the Vistage Buzz Blog. Strategic planning is one of the pillars of starting and maintaining a successful practice. Yet many lawyers give it only lip service (when they're not ignoring it altogether). If you're in that group, this post is for you. Come to think of it, if you're not in that group, the post is for you, too. In it -- and in the nine other posts in the series -- Evans lays out the "components of a comprehensive business strategic plan and ... a checklist for evaluating strategic planning process effectiveness." Sound useful? It is.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Come together. Right now. Over fees.

"Two Veteran Lawyers Say Now Is the Time for Fixed Fees" by Ben W. Heineman Jr. and William F. Lee in's Corporate Counsel. When a former General Electric GC and the head of WilmerHale get together to tell the world why the time is right for fixed fees, I listen. You should too. Because this piece isn't just a manifesto in favor of fixed fees. It's also a fairly detailed guide on how to make them work for you and for your clients. And when that happens, everybody wins.

To make up for today's corny headline, here's the real deal:

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sorry Santayana: it's the ones who don't heed the lessons of the past that are doomed.

John Hellerman's "5 Marketing Lessons From Howrey’s Graveside" at Law 360. RIP, Howrey. And Brobeck, Thelen, Coudert Brothers, Heller Ehrman. What can we learn from the demise of these almost too successful, too well known, too traditional, too well established to fail law firms? Plenty, if we listen closely enough. Hellerman does, and has written a thoughtful piece on marketing, branding, and products, and how they played a role in Howrey's failure. Can these lessons alone save your firm from collapse? Probably not. But if you're listening, they might just help you make it a little stronger.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Trying to price value? Talk to your clients.

Meredith Hobbs' "In-House, Firm Lawyer Trade Views on Alternative Billing" in's Law Technology News. Lawyers should be talking to their clients about many things: service, value, delivery, skills, etc. But alternative fee arrangements ought to be at the top of that list. Why? AFAs are unknown. They're different. They're daunting. And they are important to clients. Very important. To offer AFAs that make their clients happy, that make their partners happy, that reflect the value of the services they provide, lawyers need to develop arrangements that are win / win for everyone involved. The only way they can get there is by talking to their clients, by understanding what's important for them, by setting goals that reflect the needs of both the firm and the client. Kevin Gallagher and Ronan Doherty had one of those conversations at this ACC Georgia panel discussion. Now it's your turn. Read this post. Talk to your clients. And figure out different ways to price the value you give them. Your clients will thank you.

Monday, April 4, 2011

"It's a very Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest firm." The future of law?

Steven Harper's "The Goldman Model for Big Law" at The AmLaw Daily. Wondering what BigLaw's future looks like? Look no further than Goldman Sachs, says Harper. What would it mean for a firm's culture if Partners could trade future returns for payoff today? If firms were structured on a 1:73 partners to staff ratio? Is this the future of big global law firms? Maybe. According to Harper, some of them might already be there. Either way, it's clearly a direction to which the big firms are trending.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Baby steps to a better practice. Baby steps.

Nora Riva Bergman's "50 Ways to Grow Your Practice in 2011 and Beyond" on her JD Supra page. Most of the time, big change comes from little actions. Like we learned in What about Bob?, it's all about baby steps. You don't need to need to make 20 new contacts a week, just one, week in and week out. You don't need to write five blog posts a week, just a couple, week in and week out. Bergman's presentation is full of little actions you can take, little habits you can form, little changes you can make to grow your practice. They're not all for everyone, but with 50 there's bound to be a few for you.