February 2010

I just concluded a stay at a Four Seasons Hotel.  When checking out, I was stunned to see two $100 plus charges for phone calls.  When I inquired about the charges, I was told that the first minute of each call is $8 and each subsequent minute was $3.  The rates are not listed on the phone, and it seemed unconscionable that a quality hotel would charge so prohibitively for phone services without making the scale of the charge clear.  I said something to the manager as I was leaving, and the phone charges were cut in half.  

This was a fair outcome, but really disappointed me.  Four Seasons takes tremendous pride in its customer service.  It should know better.

Is there a moral of the story? If so, it is that when the bar is set high and you fall, it looks like a long way.

Courtesy of Dan Hull’s post on this same topic, I was drawn to a post by Scott Edward Walker on Venture Hacks, Top 10 Reasons Why Entrepreneurs Hate Lawyers.  I actually read this post half a dozen times looking for my favorite reason in the list of 10 so I could quote something here.  But all of the reasons are spot on.  And they are in no way limited to entrepreneurs.  So I heartily encourage you to click over and read the entire post.

When I started practicing back in 1982, my firm’s clients were entrepreneurs.  I remember feeling like I was missing something since our clients didn’t have GCs.  They weren’t big institutions.  I felt I was missing out.  Instead, I had to deal directly with CEOs and CFOs.  I learned if you didn’t provide business advice, you had no voice.  I learned the two paragraph rule–whatever you want to say to a CEO better fit in two paragraphs because that was all the time you got.  As I look back, that training was priceless.

These days, in-house law departments are becoming more like small businesses than most can imagine.  They speak the same language.  They are starting to use the same tools as the businesses do.  Law, whether in-house or outside, is a business with a different name.  As a result, the lessons listed by Scott Edward Walker are perfectly applicable in every environment.

POSTSCRIPT:  While Dan Hull runs from start-ups and entrepreneurs, Valorem embraces them.  They bring an excitement and passion to what they do that is infectious.  So Dan, before you turn to run, given them our phone number!

Thanks so much to Lisa Kennelly at Lexblog for a very kind post about this blog in Kevin O’Keefe’s fantastic Real Lawyers Have Blogs. Kevin is a pioneer, perhaps the pioneer in this area, and he was the person who convinced me that I could be a blogger.  In large measure because he surrounds himself with great people like Lisa, I’ve been thrilled to associated with LexBlog for a number of years.  And I’m honored to be mentioned in Kevin’s blog–thank you Lisa!

Continue Reading Thanks to LexBlog for post about moi!


Courtesy of a tweet by Gini Dietrich, CEO of Arment Dietrich, I was directed to Speed, In The Right Direction, a post about lessons to be learned from Apollo Ohno, America’s most decorated winter Olympian.  Ohno had a hugely successful Olympic experience in Turin, and then hit the celebrity circuit.  Blogger Randy Hall picks up the story:

The story was about how Ohno was invited to all of the A-list parties and hottest events, and the velvet ropes were quickly dropped for him at even the most exclusive Hollywood clubs. He had essentially arrived. He was recruited for, and won, Dancing With the Stars and made numerous television appearances that continued to add to his fame and stature among the elite. And then he pushed it all away and decided to compete again.

Ohno recommitted himself to the sport he loved and moved from the red carpet to the training room. He dropped 20 pounds of weight and endured three work outs a day combined with a strict nutritional program that left him able to lift weights twice as heavy as when he began his training program. It’s so easy for us to look at people like Ohno and say that they are different, special somehow, and that things come easier for them because they are gifted in some way. Ohno is the first to admit in interviews that the first workout of the day is difficult to begin and that finishing the third is even more so. Look closer at any of the athletes and you will see that they are just people. But they are people who made a choice to be more.

In an interview with the Seattle Times Ohno said, “When I’m done skating, I guarantee you that I will not look back and remember standing on the podium. ”I’m going to remember these days — being with the team. Training alone, in my basement. Training when everybody else is sleeping. Doing things that nobody else is doing. Digging down. Seeing what kind of character I truly have.”

I love that line–"seeing what kind of character I truly have."  It occurs to me that as I look over my desk and decide what to do for my clients and how to do it, what to search for that will help them solve their problems and make their life easier, I have a choice to make.  We all do.  Service is a choice.  It’s hard work and we can never take time away from our training regimen. 

So, what kind of choices do we make?  What kind of character do we truly have?


Continue Reading Service is a choice. What choices do you make?

I’ve written before about the great value clients can receive when firms work together for the client’s benefit.  But I have not written about this from a fee-sharing standpoint, and I have certainly not written about this as well as my friends Dave Bohrer and Michael Kallus at Confluence Law Partners.  Check out their post Fee Sharing With Foreign Lawyers in their terrific new blog, Flat Fee IP




Continue Reading Fee Sharing is a necessary part of joint venture work

From the January 2010 McKinsey Quarterly:

Even though cost containment remains a high priority, many respondents worry about the sustainability of the cost reductions and are only somewhat confident that their companies are adequately prepared for even bigger cost challenges, which they expect in the coming year. These are among the findings of a survey of 300 operations and other senior executives from around the world.

                                     *             *                *              *

While the results reflect a lingering environment of uncertainty and risk in the short term, they also show that some companies are making important strategic moves in cost reduction—among them, a focus on organizational effectiveness and capability building—to position themselves advantageously for the long haul.

So, if you’re sitting around wonder when the good old days will return, wrap your head around the fact that more of the same is on the way.



Continue Reading A return to the good old days? Dream on.

Courtesy of the inestimable Scott Greenfield, I was referred to a post by self-proclaimed leadership expert, Andrew Hughes.  It appears that Andrew’s leadership expertise comes from being "part of the senior leadership team of a national [Australian] law firm."  As I have said, the odds of the words "leader" and "law firm" appearing in a positive way in the same sentence are remote at best.  Perhaps Andrew is that one-in-billion exception, but I just can’t picture him coaching George Patton, for example, or even George of the jungle, so I share Scott’s amazement with the self-proclaimed part.

Hughes writes of the problems law firms have with the X and Y generations.  Here’s the part that draws Scott Greenfield’s ire, as well as my own:

As illustrated by the ‘problems’ firms are experiencing with X and Y geners, there has been a global values evolution. These generations are less willing to accept the same incursions on their family and social lives in return for rewards in the future. They are also less tolerant of organisations that fail to give them the opportunity to be part of a larger cause, one that exists outside of a profit motive or the meaningless client service guff that is often dished up. (emphasis supplied)

Gee, it is a shame that client service gets in the way of family and social lives.  A damn shame.  My suggestion to the Andrew Hughes disciples?  Do what Andrew did and find another damn profession to work in.

Breathe in.  Deeply.  Breathe out.  Slowly.  Repeat.

Okay, everybody repeat after me:  The law is a service profession.  We practice to serve our clients.  That "client service guff" is the cornerstone of our profession.  Without clients to service, there is no need for our profession. 

Every time I write about someone who fundamentally doesn’t get it, I am shocked and awed.  But after I relax a bit, I am really thankful.  The more people who buy into the lame views of Andrew Hughes and his ilk, the better it is for the Scott Greenfields and Dan Hulls of the world who understand that client service is the relevant scorecard.



Every two weeks, I receive an email from a legal staffing vendor.  Each time I receive it, I deleted it.  Each time I went through that short process, I was annoyed.  Today, I finally unsubscribed.  It is highly unlikely I will ever choose to do business with this company, and the annoying blast emails, which send me information I don’t want at a time I don’t want it, will be one of the principal reasons why.  I have to believe that the company did not intend to trigger this reaction: to the contrary, they probably view these emails as an important part of their marketing.  But I also have to believe that my reaction is not unique.  But I am not writing to tell this story–instead I am wondering what lessons  I should learn about my own marketing efforts.

Here are my top lessons:

1.    As enamored as I am with our story, the prospective client doesn’t care about our story. He or she cares about his or her issues.

2.    Talking about "us" is not useful–it is counterproductive.

3.    Selling solutions is much better than selling pieces with the idea that the client will assemble a solution.

4.   If my goal is to get on someone’s radar screen, my outreach has to be either useful or funny.  Serious and sales-y, not so much.

Now, to put those lessons to work.


Continue Reading Lessons from Blast Emails


My partner just returned from court.  All by his lonesome.  This was a multi-party extravaganza, but one of the parties was represented by 5 attorneys.  Count them–one for each finger.  One for each day of the work week.  How many spoke?  Just one.  To visualize this, raise your hand with all fingers extended.  Then close all your fingers except the middle one (it was the "big shot" who spoke, after all), and you’ll have a good idea of what this firm is saying to its client.


Continue Reading A court hearing with 5 attorneys

As a small firm, we are frequently told that people will buy "The Brand" (read, big firm) for harder matters because The Brand protects the buyer in case something goes wrong.  We generally respond to this by pointing to our own big firm pedigrees, talking about actual trial experience, which most big firm lawyers lack and our willingness to bet on our skills, which most big firms are unwilling to do.

But recent news events allow an even better response.  Toyota.  It’s only turning into one of the biggest recalls in history, threatening the entire company.  So how’s that quality branding working for those car owners now?

Sophisticated buyers need to be more discerning than simply relying on a bought and paid for brand, where good marketing and advertising disguises real shortcomings.