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In Search of Perfect Client Service

Why lawyers don't seem to get it

Declining number of lawyers in NYC. Where is work going?

Posted in Commentary, General

The New York Law Journal reports that the number of lawyers in the top 100 firms in New York City has declined yet again.

The number of attorneys employed full time by the largest private law offices in New York continues to decline, a trend that began with the 2008 financial crisis, according to data gathered for the New York Law Journal’s annual NYLJ 100 survey. Hiring is up, however, among regional and out-of-state firms….

Among these 100 law offices, 53 saw a net loss of New York attorneys from 2012 to 2013; two saw no change and 43 had a net gain. (Year-to-year changes in two firms’ head count could not be calculated due to mergers.)
The amount of work clients need to have performed certainly has not declined in total since 2008.  Does this mean work is going elsewhere?  That firms are becoming significantly more efficient in how they handle work?  Both?  Neither?
I would love to see data on this point, but my guess is that work is being moved to lower cost providers and some measure of the work is being handled by LPOs.  Just a hunch.

Words of Client Service Wisdom from Mad Men’s Don Draper

Posted in Client Service

I ran across an infographic in Inc. that captured my attention—16 Brilliant Marketing Quotes from Don Draper.  As a fan of the show, how could I not read the quotes? As I read them, I couldn’t help wonder if the lines from the show were also written for lawyers. Some seem to be.  Others, not so much.

“The day you sign a client is the day you start losing one.”

You certainly need this mindset if you are going to create a long-term client relationship.  If nothing else, fear of losing a client should cause you to be certain your service quality and work quality are the very best you can offer.  Fear of loss can be a powerful motivator.

Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

The antidote to anticipation is execution.

Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary.

And this is as it should be.  As a service provider, the focus has to be on tomorrow.  We have a sign posted in our office that says “If we haven’t exceeded our client’s wildest dreams today, someone else will tomorrow.”  Businesses look forward.  We need to as well.

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.

In some respects, this is the essence of the New Normal.  The conversation created by OldLaw is now supplemented by the New Normal, referred to by Mike Ayotte as “BetterLaw” and “NewLaw”.

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness.  And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It is freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that you are doing is okay. You are okay.

Happiness. Freedom from fear. Reassurance.  These words scream client service.  They are not the only words that do so, but they are on the right track.

It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna last, but you know it doesn’t end well. You’ve gotta move forward as soon as you can figure out what that means.”

In his famous address to a Stanford graduating class, Steve Jobs said much the same thing. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living some else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.

If you meet a client’s real need, you can succeed.

We’re gonna sit at our desks typing while the walls fall down around us. Because we’re the least important, most important thing there is.

People want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.

You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex.  They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

What you call love was invented by guys like me…to sell nylons.

It wasn’t a lie, it was ineptitude with insufficient cover.

Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strikes’ … is toasted.

These six really add nothing to the New Normal, BetterLaw dialog. They reflect enormous cynicism, and that is an anathema to the New Normal.

But what is happiness, it’s a moment before you need more happiness.

The same is true for providing client satisfaction.  You cannot be static in a changing world.

Change is neither good or bad, it simply is.

Amen, Don. People who resist will lose out, some sooner, some later, but those who resist will lose.  This is a truth proven through the history of human-kind. Those who embrace change can ride the wave.

And lastly….

Nostalgia: it’s delicate, but potent….In Greek, nostaligia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

This factor explains why change is hard, why it takes not just great effort, but great effort over an extended period of time.  It is the difference between running a mile and running a marathon.

Ten ideas for better depositions

Posted in Commentary, General

 

I recently became involved in a case where all the depositions had already been taken.  The opposing lawyers were partners in a very large, very well-known law firm.  And my predecessors on the case came from a firm with a recognizable name.  The case was pending in Federal Court, so the depositions were all limited to 7 hours.  While reviewing the depositions for use at trial, I marveled at the amount of time spent on things that were of no interest to the trial as well as some other quirks that struck me as pointless.  So I started keeping a list, which I shared with my partner, Mark Sayre.  Mark added a few of his own pet peeves, and together we created this list of 10 “Don’t Do These Things At Depositions.”

  1. The instruction “if you answer my question, I will presume you understand it,” is absurd and pointless.  Think about it in this light—have you ever heard anyone say that before examining a witness in a trial?  No?  There’s a reason. No one cares what the examiner presumes.  Really.  No one.
  2. Objecting based on “assumes facts not in evidence” is really silly.  Depositions occur during the discovery phase of a case when nothing is in evidence.  Silly objections like this are why objections except as to form are not required to be made in a deposition.
  3. Objecting “lack of foundation” to foundational questions reveals ignorance about the nature of questions.  “Did you call Mary Smith?” is a foundational question.  A foundation question is one that assumes a fact—“what happened at the meeting?” assumes both that a meeting occurred and that the witness attended it.
  4. Objecting to “lack of time frame” when the word “ever” is used or implied reflects a hearing problem (get it checked) or a failure to listen.  “Ever” is a time frame that no lawyer should need to have explained.  It means from the dawn of history until the moment of the question.
  5.  The objection “hearsay” doesn’t matter in a deposition.  It’s called d-i-s-c-o-v-e-r-y.
  6. “Move to strike the answer as non-responsive” is just a time waster.  There is no judge to rule on the motion and saying neither preserves it nor puts it into a queue for decision.
  7. Questioners who spend time asking about educational background and job history generally are wasting time, particularly when the witness is a fact witness and the facts are not about the ability of the witness to do what he or she did.
  8. Depositions are not memory tests. That said, asking questions like “do you remember what you said earlier in this deposition?” should invite “no” as a response. A well-prepared witness can say “not precisely—can I have my prior statement read back to me?”  It wastes the examiner’s time.
  9. Pronouns and adjectives rarely enhance the clarity of any communication. Yet they seem to be the norm in depositions. 
  10. Failing to establish the necessary foundation to admit documents.  If you want to be able to use a document at trial, remove any doubt about its admissibility by asking the right questions.

 There, I’ve stopped at ten.  There are always more  “lessons to be learned” but I’ll stop here.

Partners can no longer claim to be victims

Posted in Commentary

The principal victims of this phenomenon have been those lawyers who become trapped in the culture of short-termism. That culture is especially rampant among the prestigious big firms, where, as a group, lawyers are the unhappiest.

Steven J. Harper

Victims. The word conveys a sense of passiveness-something happened to a person.  And for a while, that was an apt description for the lawyers who became casualties of the Great Reset back in 2008.  Nothing like the Great Reset had happened before, so without history to act as a guide, it is hard to view those whose careers were ruined or set back as anything other than victims.

No more.  When things happen because of informed and knowing choices, however calculated the risk of the choice made, the person who may suffer is not a victim.  To characterize such a person as a victim demeans the real victims around us.  It is 2014, now more than five years after the Great Reset.  While bad things are still happening in the profession around us, it is not as if there has not been plenty of warning and plenty of time and reason to study the situation, become informed and make well thought out, reasoned and studied decisions about your career.

If you choose to live in a culture of short-termism, great. Fantastic.  But if things go to hell in a handbasket in your firm, don’t expect sympathy, even if you did not contribute to the firm’s downfall, even if you played by the rules.

Lawyers are smart people.  Our clients come to us when they have problems and they expect us to investigate those problems, determine the truth and counsel them on how to act in light of the accumulated evidence and the likely outcomes.  It never ceases to amaze me how people who have, or at least claim to have, such superlative investigative skills can fail to exercise them in their own situation.

Whether people accept short-termism because they think it intelligent to do so, or whether they are simply to afraid to change their world until the doors hit them on the ass as they leave their office for the last time, the outcome is a chosen one.  So if this happens to you, you are not a victim.  Your secretary is a victim.  The copy room guy?  Victim.  Associates? Less a victim than the others but still a bit of a victim. You, on the other hand, may be a coward, a fool, a bad gambler, or just damned unlucky, but you are not a victim.

10 Value Questions Inside Counsel Should Be Asking Themselves

Posted in Commentary, Hourly Rates and Alternatives

1.   Has your management mandated (or gently suggested) that you reduce your spend on litigation? Would it be a good career move if you achieved a reduction in total spend?

2.   Do your law firms spend more than the established budget?

3.   In 2013, were you unpleasantly surprised by a bill you received from litigation counsel?

4.   Do your cases have long cycles times? Do your cases tend to settle close to trial?

5.  Do your outside counsel leave no stone unturned without clearing that approach first?

6.   Do you (or your staff) have to spend time policing bills from your outside lawyers?

7.   Do you pay your outside firms the same amount whether they achieve your objectives or not?

8.   Did your outside firms raise their hourly rates for 2014?  Did they provide added value to justify the increases?

9.   Can you point to specific steps your outside counsel are taking to be more efficient in how they handle your cases?

10.  Do your volume discounts result in actual savings on total spend?

If you answer some or all of questions 1 through 8 with a “yes” or questions 9-10 with a “no,” you really should be exploring value fees.  When done right, such fees may help you reduce your spend by 30% or more.

 

Now this is a mission statement

Posted in Commentary, General

Everybody wants the next great thing. Even us.

So we are a music store, who became an airline, who became a soft drink company, who became over 200 different businesses all over the planet united by one simple common thought:

We want to do what’s never been done before.

We want to create stuff that’s valuable. And honest. And is worth making in the first place.

We want to have fun while we’re doing it.

And we want our competitors to find us really , completely irritating.

Yeah, what he said.

Kaye Scholer’s clients need to check their bills

Posted in Client Service, Hourly Rates and Alternatives

Another law firm has motivated its associates to spend more time rather than less getting their work done.  Kaye Scholer is paying upwards of $20,000 in additional bonuses to those who exceed 2,200 hours per year.  The firm’s managing partner said this:

At Kaye Scholer, we strongly believe in rewarding our lawyers who not only meet, but regularly exceed, expectations. Every year there are some associates whose performance is truly outstanding, sacrificing from their personal lives to serve our firm and clients. We think it only appropriate that those associates receive a little extra at bonus time, which is why we instituted the two-tier bonus system four years ago, and continued it this year.

Let me offer an interpretation for their clients.

We haven’t figured out how to do work other than on an hourly basis, so we need lots more hours for the firm’s partners to take home their millions.  So to squeeze out those hours from our clients, we’ll motivate our associates to spend more time on their matters.  So even though our clients would benefit from a focus on efficiency and outcomes, that doesn’t help us–the partners–so we’ll just ignore that and keep doing what we’ve doing.

Kaye Scholer is, of course, not the only firm to use this approach.  But they are public about it.  I think most firms try to stay under the radar on this because the approach disfavors the firm’s cleints.  By now, though, most clients that directly or indirectly support this approach are doing so knowingly and willingly, and there is nothing wrong with clients that want to overpay.

Some still doubt value of client satisfaction interviews

Posted in Client Surveys and Audits

I am flabbergasted.  I just opened up my first email this morning. It is from Joyce Smiley at JKS Company, and she sends a periodic report, also published online, Verbatim, What Clients Say. The lead paragraph states:

In a recent phone conversation with the name partner of a law firm, he claimed to be “skeptical” of conducting client satisfaction interviews. He compared the project to “going to the doctor for an unpleasant test” and would prefer to “put it off.”

The first thing that comes to my mind is the weekly ESPN segment, C’mon Man!  Really?  Such neanderthal views in 2013?

Llet’s start with the very basics.  Your clients have views of your firm.  They do–honestly.  Your choice is to learn those views or not.  The arguments in favor of not knowing are:

Okay, so there are no good arguments.  There aren’t really any bad arguments either.  So how about the arguments in favor of conducting client satisfaction interviews?

  1. Clients like them.  A lot.
  2. They strengthen relationships, because talking about what can be done to improve relationships is what adults do.
  3. They identify weaknesses in your organization.  Did you know that your star associate antagonizes the client’s staff?  Maybe that is something you should know.
  4. They identify issues of concern on the client’s side.  Did you know your client was becoming frustrated with the uncertainty in billing amounts and had tried a fixed fee firm–and liked it?  Did you know your client had given work to an LPO and was happy with the outcome and thrilled with the cost?

There are many more reasons.  But as I have said before, the existence of people like the name partner in Joyce Smiley’s post only makes life better for those who conduct such satisfaction surveys.  Meanwhile, that partner is back in his office with his quill pen, rotary phone….

Valorem named again to BTI Client Service A-Team

Posted in Client Service

Chicago, IL-November 19, 2013 

For the third consecutive year, Valorem Law Group has been named to BTI Consulting Group’s Client Service A-Team.  Valorem was recognized in the Client Focus, Providing Value for the Dollar, Commitment to Help, Keeps Clients Informed, Handles Problems and Deals with Unexpected Changes categories. The results were reported in BTI’s Client Service A-Team report issued today.

            BTI’s report is based on corporate counsel’s unprompted feedback during extensive interview.  According to the Report, the Client Focus category recognizes Valorem’s “ability to deliver on [its] client’s targeted outcome,” usually an outcome driven by “business goals, budget constraints and client risk tolerance.”  The Commitment to Help category reflects clients’ subjective judgment about a firm’s “emotional and financial investment in the relationship. Clients look for law firms whose commitment exceeds their own and who solve a problem instead of bill hours.”  The Provides Value for the Dollar category recognizes firms that “communicate their value to clients by showing money saved, increased revenue streams, faster time to market and time saved, by documenting better outcomes. These same firms offer timely budget updates and scope changes.”

            “Valorem is thrilled to be recognized in BTI’s report,” said firm co-founder Patrick Lamb.  “It is especially gratifying that our recognition is based on unsolicited input from our clients,” Lamb said.  “The report states that the categories in which we were recognized are ones clients consider among the most important but also most scarce among  practitioners,” added co-founder Nicole Auerbach.  “Since we place extraordinary emphasis on client service, we are pleased that our efforts have resonated with our clients,” added Auerbach.

           

About Valorem Law Group

Valorem Law Group is a business litigation firm with offices in Chicago and Silicon Valley. It was founded by BigLaw firm refugees who believe clients are entitled to budget certainty, extraordinary client service and to an unsurpassed commitment to help clients deal with cost pressures. Valorem is so committed to these goals that each invoice contains its unique Value Adjustment Line, which allows clients to change the payment due if they don’t believe they have received extraordinary value.

For more information visit www.valoremlaw.com or contact Patrick Lamb at 312-676-5460. Find Valorem on Facebook at “Valorem Law Group.”

Nicole Auerbach wonders why inside counsel aren’t changing faster

Posted in Uncategorized

Valorem Law Group’s Nicole Auerbach spends a lot of time talking to inside counsel.  She has seen many who are leading major changes in their law departments, taking advantage of “the New Normal” to achieve unimagined savings for their companies.  She also has met her fair share of inside lawyers who are handling things today the way they have for so many yestedays.  It is this latter group of inside counsel who got Nicole wondering why more inside counsel are not demanding more change from their outside counsel.  Check out Nicole’s post in Corporate Counsel Connect.  And you can follow Nicole’s musings on Twitter @ValoremNic.