May 2010

When I was a kid playing football, the coach told me to play line.  I was big for my age, so it made sense.  During the season, our starting running back was hurt and coach told me to play running back.  I objected, because I had never done so before.  He looked at me and said, "Son, if you don’t ever challenge yourself, you’ll never be anything more than you are right now."  It was one of those life lessons that has stayed with me.

As I survey the legal landscape, I see a lot of people playing in their comfort zones.  "I don’t want to try value fees because they’re hard."  "I won’t use project management tools because what I do is customized work."  "I can’t commit to a price because I don’t know what the other side will do."  The number of things people say, often times only to themselves, to justify staying in their comfort zones is astounding.

One of my favorite movie lines is from The Shawshank Redemption.  Andy, the character played by Tim Robbins, is telling Red, played by Morgan Freeman, about his dream.  And he ends by saying, "I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really.  Get busy living or get busy dying."  

You can stay in your comfort zone or you can get busy living.  If you fail to choose, you have chosen.

Jeff Carr, the General Counsel of FMC Technologies, loves to quote a comment made to him a while back by Ralph Palumbo of Summit Law Group in Seattle.  Over dinner one night, after more than a glass of wine, Ralph said to Jeff, "you are my most important, least significant client."  Jeff admits that his first thought was that he had been dissed, but then he realized what a great compliment Ralph had paid him.  Ralph’s revenue from FMC Technologies was far less than most other clients, but he recognized that Jeff was a "teaching client."  Among the many things Ralph (and others, like me) have learned from Jeff:

1.  Budgets are everything for General Counsel, so they have to be everything for outside counsel too.

 2.  Use business tools to speak to business persons.  For example, use decision trees.

 3.  Speed of resolution counts for a lot.  The company is not in the business of litigating and litigation is a distraction.

There is so much more that the Company’s outside counsel has learned, earning FMC Technologies the designation of "teaching client."  It’s not about the revenue, its about the value in the lessons Jeff and his team have taught.



Continue Reading Teaching Clients

One of my partners was telling a story to some people we were visiting with at the Inside Counsel SuperConference.  As he said, it was a "classic Pat Lamb meeting" with an e-discovery vendor.  The meeting starts without me and the vendor’s sales people are talking about how great their product is and how much better they are than the bajillion other e-discovery providers.  I walk in, apologize for being late and ask them if they can fix a price for their service.  The response was "yada yada yada."  My follow-up (allegedly) was "we can’t fix a price for our service and bring our client a blackhole on e-discovery.  When you can fix a price, we can talk." And then I left.

I honestly don’t remember the story.  And if true, I really demonstrated bad manners.  But it sounds like me, so I can’t pretend it didn’t happen.  And my message in e-discovery meetings has remained remarkably consistent.

So let me try to more politely pass this message along to e-discovery providers:

"Like lawyers, you are a blackhole to clients.  You suck money out like a new Hoover vacuum cleaner.  It is easier to understand the symbols in a Dan Brown novel than it is to understand your pricing.  Really, you fit into a category with airlines and phone companies when it comes to pricing. You are part of the problem.  Here’s a winning business strategy for you to consider: provide a solution. Oh, I mean something that the client thinks is a solution.  Thank you."


I will be joining Jeff Carr of FMC Technologies, Mary Clark of LexisNexis, and Terry Gavulic of Competitive Advantage on a panel discussing Value Fees and how to make them work.  Follow the entire conference on twitter by searching #ICSC10 (which translates into # Inside Counsel Super Conference 2010).  This is an example of how Twitter can be used to give you highlights of an event you can’t attend but where ideas you’d like to hear will be shared.


Continue Reading Inside Counsel Superconference starts today–Follow on Twitter

Last week inExample Of Really Bad Client Service, I told the story of my colleague’s really bad experience with Bank of America.  Per my custom, I tweeted about my post.  A number of people retweeted my tweet, and eventually one of them included @BofA_Help on the retweet.  @BofA_Help is described as "official Bank of America twitter reps, here to help (sounds like that old joke "we’re from the government and we’re here to help"), listen and learn from our customers."    These folks have tweeted over 9,000 times and they actually tweeted "thank you for letting us know" about the story of the assault by B of A on my colleague’s accounts.

My post included my colleague’s name and our firm name, so any third grader could figure out Lisa’s email address.  I just checked with her, and no one from B of A so much as sent her an email saying there were sorry.  So let me be clear of the B of A twit people–saying you are there to help and listen and learn is different from actually doing those things.  Just like saying you care about your customers is different than, say, actually caring about them.

B of A: swings and misses again.  Lame.


Continue Reading Bank Of America Still Doesn’t Get It

My colleague got married on January 2nd and changed her name from Lisa Castle to Lisa Carter (huge monogram savings).  Now as unique as Lisa is, you can imagine that there are a few Lisa Carters in the world.  Some of them have chosen to bank at Bank of America.  Unlike Lisa Carter of Valorem, one of the other Lisa Carters apparently had a judgment entered against her.  So you can imagine the surprise of Lisa Carter of Valorem when she checked her account balance at Bank of America and saw all zeroes.  Her accounts, both checking and savings, had been frozen in response to a judgment against an unrelated Lisa Carter who also happened to live in Chicago and maintain an account at B of A.  It took Valorem’s Lisa Carter an entire week, countless unfruitful calls to B of A and intervention by one of her colleagues to get to the bottom of the situation.  Even after B of A acknowledged their mistake and restored her funds, they placed yet another unexplained freeze on her accounts thus depriving her of her funds for an additional twenty four hours.

It is hard to imagine a bigger screw up by B of A (ok, that subprime mortgage mess may have been bigger).  Even if you can, this is still a big screw up.  Failure to confirm addresses, social security numbers and other details that would allow them to distinguish the account of people with the same names.  Seem pretty fundamental to sound banking practices.  And yet  they screwed the pooch big time.

So what did Bank of America say to Lisa?  Did they give her a free toaster as they might if she opened a new account?  A week’s worth of free checking?  An APOLOGY (gasp, the horror)?  Nope. Not a thing.  Notta.

Needless to say, Lisa’s money is now earning interest in another financial institution.  I hope that B of A becomes aware of this post and experiences a moment of chagrin.  They won’t, of course, but one can always hope.  In the area of customer service, at least with Bank of America, hope is all there is.



Continue Reading Example of Really Bad Client Service

I was talking about Value Fees to two senior partners from two of the largest and best law firms in the country. Their take was that clients were not interested. This conclusion was based on the fact that they had offered clients “alternative fee proposals” and the clients had not accepted them.

I asked their take on a conversation I had recently with a client where the client complained that the alternative fees being offered to him were higher than he expected to pay under the hourly system if the case had gone to trial. His take? “At least if I go hourly and the case settles early, I won’t have to pay the full fee.” Both of these partners acknowledged that their alternative fee proposals are generated by guessing—generously—the number of hours a matter will require and multiplying that number by the hourly rates of the people who would spend those hours. One acknowledged that addition of a “fudge factor” while the other remained silent on that issue.

Think of proposals like these as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Other than budget certainty (at the highest end, mind you), there is no risk sharing in these kinds of proposals and they make no attempt to reduce the client’s outlay. Proposals like this are alternative fees because they are different than hourly fees (at least in name), but they are not Value Fees.

Value Fees reduce the cost clients would pay if they paid for the service using the hourly system and they provide budget certainty. They do more, too, like relieving in-house counsel of the burden of acting as fee cop and catching the billing “errors” or other problems that crop up in bills and always seem to work in favor of their firm.

I believe the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” is the dominant methodology used by big firms, indeed, most firms to calculate alternative fee proposals. This approach does not serve clients, and clients are right to reject these proposals.   But clients would be foolhardy to ignore the real and significant benefits that can be obtained from those who offer Value Fees.

That is the question posed by Jason Fried in What’s Your Point?, an article in the May 2010 edition of Inc. Fried highlights some great banalities:

One of my favorite phrases in the business world is full service solutions provider (“full service law firm” anyone?). A quick search on Google finds at least 47,000 companies using that one. That’s full service generic. There’s more. Cost effective end-to-end solutions brings you about 95,000 results. Provider of value-added services nets you more than 600,000 matches.

He then asks the perfect question: “Exactly which services are sold as not adding value?”

Why is this important? Fried provides the perfect answer:

When you write like everyone else and sound like everyone else and act like everyone else, you’re saying ‘Our products are like everyone else’s, too.’ Or think of it this way: Would you go to a dinner party and just repeat what the person to the right of you is saying all night long? Would that be interesting to anybody? 

Fried provides some examples of companies that have avoided this sameness. Love them or hate them, but at least they make you have a feeling. I’ll let you track them down. If you care about your website, your collateral writings, you should.

In January, my colleague Hank Turner started a blog, Legal Issues, Business Solutions.  Lots of people start blogs and then lose interest, so I held my tongue (really, my fingers) and didn’t post about it.  I waited to see if Hank would bring the discipline and sharp mind to his blog that he brings to his legal work.  He has, and so it is time to "unveil" Hank’s wonderfully-named blog.  You’ll be happy you checked it out.  For me, I have enjoyed watching Hank discover the differences in the Valorem world and see the lessons in the broader legal world. Great job, my friend, keep it up.