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In Search of Perfect Client Service

Why lawyers don't seem to get it

Valorem recognized as Leading Core Firm and Leading Recommended Firm for Manufacturing Industry

Posted in Commentary, General

I am honored to report that “Clients recognize Valorem Law Group for its unparalleled client relationships in the brand new BTI Industry Power Rankings 2017: The Law Firms with the Best Client Relationships in 18 Industries.”  Specifically, “clients rank Valorem Law Group a Leading Core Firm for the Manufacturing Industry, among the top 15% of all law firms,” and “clients also rank Valorem Law Group a Leading Recommended Firm for the Manufacturing industry, in the top 10% of all law firm.

BTI’s report is “based soley on direct, unprompted feedback from over 950 top legal decision makers” at major US and global businesses.

Needless to say, we are deeply appreciative of our clients’ continued support.

Space can make you more creative

Posted in Commentary, General

Not outer space.  No, the point is that the space you meet in, the space you operate in, or the space you interact with people in can make you more creative.  Everyone has been to a conference in a hotel ballroom, right.  Mind-numbing. Plain.  Boring.  The space sucks the very life out of you.  We at Valorem believe space matters.  That’s why we have always had a devoted collaboration space–whiteboards, chairs but no table, stuff to throw at each other.  An environment to make you think better.

Yesterday, Nicole and I spent the day with Matt Homann of Filament.  Matt is a victim of “idea surplus disorder.”  A couple of hours with Matt gives you a notebook full of things to think about, to dream about.  Matt, like us, recognizes that the right space makes the event, the meeting, the brainstorming session.  And he knew that such spaces are rare.  So he created one.  It is the best meeting space I have ever been in.  My words cannot do justice to the space.  Take a look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The space is in St. Louis.  Believe me it IS worth the trip if ideas matter to you.

A real live mythical creature speaks about alternative fees

Posted in Commentary

Utah Business recently published Industry Outlook: Legal, which featured a question about alternative fees.  It appears that Utah is an hourly billing utopia, immune to much of the turmoil firms face in the rest of the country.  This quote, from Darren Reid of Holland & Hart, struck me:

As a litigator, I can tell you that the billable hour is alive and well. We hear about these mythical beasts, these boutique firms that are doing all of these amazing things. They advertise in all of the national magazines and things. I don’t know how they do it. They clearly have different cases than the ones I’m working on. But I can tell you that I’m not putting food on the table unless I’m billing hours. That’s what our clients generally expect. At the margins, maybe there’s some room for innovation. But usually that’s maybe in the patent world or some other kind of niche practice. But as bread and butter commercial litigators, the billable hours drives the engine.

I’ve never been called a mythical beast before, though I have to confess I have been called just a plain old ordinary beast on occassion.  I take exception to the assertion that “they advertise in all of the national magazines.”  Valorem has never run an ad, let alone in a national magazine.  I am not sure of whom Mr. Reid speaks.  I was struck by the “I don’t know how they do it” line.  How, in this day and age, could a partner in any law firm, let alone one as prominent as Holland & Hart, not have insight into what clients demand and how law firms are being forced to respond.  It makes me wonder if Holland & Hart has developed some special formula to keep its realization rates from falling year over year, as has been the case for most law large law firms.  But regardless, if a firm wants to improve, to remain competitive, how can its partners not know these things.

In case there are people from Utah that read this, I just want to make clear that there are a growing number of law firms that do complex litigation of every stripe and variety using alternative fees.  We’re real, not mythical.  We embrace change and innovation not just because clients want us to, but because we need to be better at what we do every day to maintain client relationships.

When it comes to change, there are two categories of people–those who shape it and those who fall behind.

The gap between claimed client service and the truth.

Posted in Client Service

Seth Godin just posted Four Ways to Improve Customer ServiceAs always, Seth’s insights are insightful and thought-provoking.  The four ways are:

  1. Delegate it to your customers. Let them give feedback, good and bad, early and often.
  2. Delegate it to your managers. Build in close monitoring, training and feedback. Have them walk the floor, co-creating with their teams.
  3. Use technology. Monitor digital footprints, sales per square foot, visible customer actions.
  4. Create a culture where peers inspire peers, in which each employee acts like a leader, pushing the culture forward. People like us do things like this. People like us, care.

I think if law firms were self-critical, most would evaluate themselves as failing in each of these categories.  And since many of these firms profess (well, at least say it on their website) to be “client-focused” or something akin, one can only wonder about the gap between what is professed and the truth.

Is your firm filled with open-minded people?

Posted in Client Service, Commentary, Leadership and Management

Pedantic is defined as “narrowly, stodgily, and often ostentatiously learned a pedantic insistence that we follow the rules exactly” and “unimaginative, dull.” You’ll see in a minute why I began with this definition.

I read an interesting article in today’s Chicago Tribune on the signs of greatness in companies.  One of the key signs is that “no one is pedantic.”

For 26 years, [the author has] been involved in multiple organizations and volunteered at many different entities both small and large, and the one thing that seems to kill all progress and creativity is a heaping dose of pedantry. When everyone acts like know everything, when they are slavishly devoted to rules and when they are fussy, finicky, strict and overly fastidious, then nothing good will happen.

When the company is filled with open-minded people who want to learn new things, it becomes a great place.

So, what kind of firm or department do you work in? And even more specifically, what are the new things you’ve learned in the last month? Year?

This trait fits tightly with the need for a culture of continuous improvement.  If you are not improving, you are falling behind.  One easy example–good client service just a few years ago is nothing special today.  You should be able to map your changes and demonstrate why the changes are an improvement.  Can you?

 

Vanilla. Tastes good, but it’s a bad way to market.

Posted in Client Service, Commentary, General, Uncategorized

If you spend any time reading law firm websites, you soon come to one conclusion: all of them were written by the same person.  We know this because all law firms say the same things–best schools, best lawyers, client-focused, great client serviced, alternative fees, focused, collaborative, efficient, blah, blah, blah.  Some websites use more words to say the same thing, some use less. But all use lots of adjectives to modify conclusory statements.  This isn’t marketing.  It is the manifestation of fear–fear that if you say anything real, it will turn someone off.  So, to offend no one, firms create websites that appeal to no one.

We live a world where noise drowns out signal, something I’ve written about previously. (Here, here and here.) If you don’t stand out, consider yourself one of the crowd watching the championship game–no one watching on TV will ever see you.  If you want to stand out, you need to differentiate yourself.

In his post on Gorilla Marketing, Seth Godin describes it this way:

Today, because noise is everywhere, we’re all surrounded by a screaming horde, an open-outcry marketplace of ideas where the race to be heard appears to be the only race that matters. And so subtlety flies out the window, along with a desire to engage for the long haul. Just a troop of gorillas, all arguing over the last remaining banana.

Differntiation is an easy concept to understand, but it is very hard to actually do. Perhaps instead of adjectives and conclusory statement, a better approach might be to explain what you really stand for, and then to offer enough examples to prove it.

If you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.  If you stand for something, believe in it enough to say so.

Law firms lose clients because of poor client service. What do they do about it?

Posted in Client Service, Commentary

Truth be told, nothing.  Well, at least nothing of consequence.  Oh sure, there is the occasional in-house program on client service and websites are edited to talk about the firm’s commitment to client service.  But if you asked 10 lawyers in any given firm what changes the firm has made that are intended to improve client service, the odds of getting the same answer from even 7 of the 10 are pretty remote.

Client service is not about what you say.  It is about what you do.  What is your firm doing to improve client service?  In these days of declining realization and client mobility, you need a compelling answer to this simple question.

A seminar on the cost of 6 minutes

Posted in Commentary, Hourly Rates and Alternatives

Really?  I just received an invitation to a seminar that stresses that the average attorney bills 6 minutes per day less than they did two years ago. Six minutes a day! According to this invitation, that costs firms more than “$12,000 in lost billings per lawyer per year.  If you have 200 associates, that’s $2.4 million.

It appears the legal profession’s addiction to the billable hour has so consumed it that now must have seminars and how to recover 6 minutes a day.  I can’t imagine any better use of time.

If clients ever wonder whether their firms are actually becoming as efficient as they claim, the firms’ concern with six minutes a day provides the answer.

“Our clients don’t want AFAs.”

Posted in Commentary, Hourly Rates and Alternatives

When I have the opportunity to speak, I ask participants and co-presenters about their experiences with alternative fees.  Better than half the time, I am told “my clients don’t want alternative fees.”  I always ask whether the firm has developed different work methods or whether the work methods are the same for both hourly and AFA work.  Always–100% of the time–the answer is that the work methods are the same.

The firms just don’t get it.  AFAs are not simply a different form of billing.  They are the billing format for a different way of working.  Without changing the way you work, you are simply putting a different suit of clothes on hourly billing.

Clients should always ask, and firms must be ready to answer, how the firm’s workflows are different for their AFA and hourly work.  And it is not as simple as saying you staff with fewer people or do less work.  Sometimes, if the fee is structured as a success fee, you use a far more senior staff than you otherwise would.  The fee structure should be designed to drive behaviors and outputs, so consideration must be given to objectives to formulate a proper answer.

The moral of the story is this: firms that offer their clients a choice of hourly billing or the same work and fee amount under a different name, are not offering their clients a useful choice.  The clients know this.  AFAs are not for the weak of heart, and they require significant thought to make them work well.

So clients don’t want AFAs?  When done right, they most certainly do.

The quality of your questions determines the quality of the answers.

Posted in Client Service, Client Surveys and Audits, Commentary

Back in January, I copied a portion of an article that provided a list of questions lawyers should ask themselves. It was an interesting list of questions, but I was struck by how the wording of the questions could cause lawyers to avoid taking a sufficiently critical look at themselves.  I have been unable to locate the original article, so I begin with apologies to the author of what was a very helpful article.  I wanted to take a couple of the questions and rephrase them to help guide lawyers to a more critical introspective look.

Example 1

From the article: “Is your business model focused on the client?

My comment and rewrite:

This question invites “of course” as the answer.  Perhaps if the question was this: In what specific ways is your business model client-focused?  And this as the follow up: What are the 3 most significant ways in which your business model is not client-focused?

Example 2

From the article: “Are you entrepreneurial enough to encourage innovative experimentation?”

My comment and rewrite:

This question likewise invites the “of course” kind of answer.  Perhaps wording the question to ask the lawyer to identify their five most innovative experiments and what define what happened based on the outcome of the experiments, followed by “what more is needed?” will elicit more actionable information.

There were other examples, but the point is the way you frame the questions determines the quality of the answer.