January 2006

I was absolutely stunned to read this post by Tom Collins, who writes morepartnerincome.  To set the stage, Tom tells this story:

The attorneys were talking about handling e-mail and phone calls.  The partner from the young firm bragged that he made a practice of always responding to e-mail the next day.  His practice was not to read e-mail until the morning after and then to respond to it.   He explained that it avoided interruptions to his work schedule during the day.  It was clear that he considered a next-day treatment to be “very responsive” to his clients.  The partner had given me his direct office phone number.   Since our lunch, I have had the occasion to call the same attorney on several occasions.   I always get his voice message system.  He has never actually answered his direct number.  As with e-mail, he consistently returns my calls the following day.

Tom then asks whether this is really responsive.  Of course he does not, but he wants to know what others think, and I have to take his bait.

How can people who are so out of touch with their clients still have clients to be out of touch with?  Geez, I am afraid to not respond to client inquiries within minutes.  When I am on trial, my secretary runs interference to find out if “later that night” is good enough or should someone else in the office handle the call? And she knows that if its critical, there are lunch and bathroom breaks during trial.  I know my clients like the fact that I respond like this–they tell me and they tell the people who conduct our satisfaction interviews.

But put my insecurities aside and let’s think about this from the client’s perspective (always a good place to start and finish, by the way).  Client Mary is sitting at her desk working away on a project that her CFO wants later that day.  A question comes up and she emails the lawyer referred to in Tom’s post.  She doesn’t write that this is life and death because she knows the lawyer is in his office, having spoken with him earlier in the morning.  All day long she waits for information she needs to complete her report to the CFO.  She waits.  And waits some more.

Still waiting.  The end of the day is approaching.  What is a client to do?  Wait for the lawyer in Tom’s story and she hurts her career by turning a project in late to the CFO.  So she calls somebody else if she can, gets an immediate answer and timely finishes her project.  Who will she call the next time?

Clients call when they do for a reason.  Its their reason and, most of the time, it is an important reason.  You are the SERVICE PROVIDER.  It is your job to honor their reasons.

Think minutes, not hours and certainly not days.  And don’t get me started again on voicemail.  Just check out this earlier post.

Hilarious post by Dan Hull following up on the news that Bill Clinton is eligible to reinstate his law degree. On behalf of his firm, Dan posts this ad:

WANTED: Of counsel for growing Pittsburgh-based boutique business law firm. Must have at least 8 years of highest level federal Exec. Branch experience, world-wide connections, Yale law degree, one year at Oxford, own money and people skills. Must be able to sell anything to anyone. And be originally from Hope, Arkansas. State government experience not required but preferred. United Nations experience also a big plus. You don’t need to re-locate. Happy to set up the office for you. Wherever you want. Harlem or Chappaqua is okay. Or DC. You decide. You can work out of your house. Whatever. NOTE: No previous private law practice experience necessary. Not a problem–no problem at all. Excellent benefits package.

So I start thinking–Bill Clinton and client service.  The possibilities are endless.  But too easy.  So I’ll refrain. But let your mind run wild. 

Four posts today follow up on a conversation among Jim Hassert, Dan Hull and me.  For a summary, see this post.  The issue we discussed was whether the person conducting the satisfaction survey should be associated with the firm.  Jim followed up with some further thoughts today, reaching the conclusion that he was comfortable with his original opinion that someone from the firm should do the interview.  Dan Hull then posted that he was persuaded that Jim and I were right (putting aside for a moment the fact that I stated I no longer was sure that the interviews should be conducted by firm members).  Then Michelle Golden weighed in with a terrific post (even though she ignored my post on the topic!) in which she persuasively argues that the interviews should be conducted by a neutral third party. Dan Hull then threw up his hands!

As I said in my post, I was impressed with BTI Consulting’s data-driven analysis:  “The most interesting things for me where its conclusions that outsiders can more effectively get the client’s real feelings and that the number one question for determining client satisfaction is not a ranking on any kind of scale, but instead whether the client has referred the firm to someone else.” At the moment, my feeling is that the lead should be an outsider, but that a senior partner should be present.  The insider can sense nuance that the outsider may not, and certainly the presence of the senior partner communicates both the importance the firm attaches to the process as well as the value of the client to the firm.  Completely outsourcing the process makes it appear to be a checkbook issue, clearly the wrong impression.

As a final note, I could not agree more strongly with Michelle Golden that these encounters should not be for marketing.  Talk about snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. 

I was just reading the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.  Seems that Mayer Brown, DLA Piper and Latham are joining the growing tide of firms raising the starting salaries of their first year associates to $135,000.  Mark Jungers of Major Lindsey & Africa, a prominent recruiting firm, predicted that Kirkland, Sidley, Winston and McDermott will quickly follow suit.  I would be surprised if any of the top 10 or so Chicago firms hold the line.  The expectation is that there will be $10,000 bumps (in some cases “only” $5,000) to the salaries (or at least annual compensation) of all associates in the firm.

What do these salary increases mean for firms and their clients?  Simple math will tell you that these “bumps” are multi-million dollar hits to the firms bottom lines.  There are, at the end of the day, only two choices.  Do the partners make less (while the associates are making more), or do clients pay more for the same work?  It does not require an advanced degree to know that the partners will not make less.

It is at times like this that the pressure to increase total hours is at its most intense.  Some firms may be forthright and acknowledge that hourly requirements will go up.  Others will do what what I have heard referred to a “manage hours up.”  Other firms will increase rates.  But however it is accomplished, firms will capture this revenue from their clients.  All for the same work.

Has the value to the client increased?  Of course not. 

There has been so much negative buzz lately about value received, hourly rates, paying for associate training, and so forth.  This salary increase will do nothing but increase the economic pressures that drive wedges between clients and some of their lawyers.  Perhaps this will be the event that marks the death knell of the hourly rate.

David Maister, who inspired me with several presentations and inspires me with his books and articles, has joined the blogosphere.  He is blog is called Passion, People and Principles.  He explains the blog name this way:

The title of my blog derives from a comment made by Tom Peters who observed in his blog that “…(it’s) interesting how all these gurus-e.g. Stan Davis, Gary Hamel, David Maister-come to put People & Passion first as they age. Hmmm…”

David certainly qualifies as a thought-leader in the client service and professional service firm management areas.  We are lucky to have him join the medium.

Dan Hull recently posted that “Law Firm Logos are Goofy, Useless, a Waste of Time and Money.”  And then he promised to let us know what he really thinks about logos.  Seriously, Dan drew on a post from Tom Kane who writes the Legal Marketing Blog.  Tom’s post on logos drew on a post by Bruce Allen of Marketing Catalyst.  Tom, in turn, drew on the thoughts of Dave Opton at Six-Figure Learnings  And so on.  All have informed my thinking about logos in specific and branding more generally.

I also have spent considerable time reading and thinking about Michelle Golden’s insights on branding (Golden Practices).

I think I am ready to share my current thinking.  Logos by themselves probably mean very little.  That said, however, logos in the context of a meaningful branding program probably means a great deal.  A recent post by Dan Hull passed along the comments of a third year law student:

He asked a third-year law student in the audience if, based on websites, brochures and materials sent to law student recruits, she could differentiate between the many firms with which she was interviewing. She paused for a long time before answering. Finally, she responded as nicely as she could. “Frankly, based on the materials, all of you seem to be the exactly the same.”

Based on comments like this and the relative ineffectiveness of law firm branding, it would be tempting to conclude that branding doesn’t work.  But as you know, I believe that the world of business is a better source for answers to these “business of law” questions.  Unquestionably, the answer is that bad branding doesn’t work.  Equally true is that good branding is a central factor in the success of the well-branded business.

What makes for good branding?  Well,  this post has gone on too long.  But the “what does it take question” will provide food for a number of future posts.

Larry Bodine summarized Dr. Larry Richard’s presentation at the 2006 Marketing Partner Forum hereDr. Richard is the head of Hildebrandt’s  Leadership & Organization Development Practice Group, which helps law firms and legal departments on people issues.  Since the early 1980’s, he has pioneered the application of psychology and other behavioral sciences to the improvement of leadership and management practices in the legal profession. Based on studies of numerous personality traits in lawyers as well as the general population, Dr. Richard has concluded that only 20% of lawyers are natural rainmakers.  As Larry Bodines summarizes, “ an additional 55% of lawyers can learn to be rainmakers.  ‘They will make efforts to do marketing; so your goal should be to reduce their discomforts,’ [Richard] said.  The remaining 25% are hopeless at marketing and should be ignored.  ‘The trick is to figure out who they are and not to waste time on them,’ [Richard] said.”

Dan Hull picked up on Larry Bodine’s post here.  Dan takes issue with Dr. Richard’s conclusions, writing:

My own sense (not a Hildebrandt study, of course) is that less than 20% of us–10% at most–can really put it together to be rainmakers. But I think that the remaining 90% can be taught to be marketing-oriented in very effective ways for both repeat and new business. Each lawyer can help and no lawyer should be given a pass. The discipline of getting everyone in the firm to be part of your marketing culture and making it stick is the hard part. Very few professional firms I know of have a client-focused or marketing culture. Even when they want it, they won’t do “the work”.

 

I was at Dr. Richard’s presentation, and I have heard him present his data previously.  I also have had a chance to speak with him about it.  I agree with Dan’s sentiment about “the remaining 90%” but have to say, respectfully of course, that I believe that he and Dr. Richard are speaking about slightly different things.  I suspect that when Dan refers to teaching lawyers to be “marketing-oriented”, I suspect he is speaking about activities that go beyond what Larry Richard considers to be marketing.   For example, see this post from Marketing Catalyst discussing the difference between sales and marketing.  Dan’s comments strike me as a discussion of marketing while Larry Richards appears more focused on sales.   Moreover, while I agree with Dan that no lawyer should be given a pass in creating a “client-focused” culture, there is a difference between having a client-focused culture and marketing that culture to prospects.

 

I encourage Dan and everyone else to find a chance to listen to Larry Richard speak.  He presents a huge volume of data in a very humorous way, but at the same time in a way that is compelling.  I, for one, find the data persuasive.