Every law firm I have advised has really smart lawyers with great ideas about improving the business and moving their firms to the next level of profitability and performance. Discussions with firm leaders reveal no shortage of creative ideas and sound business strategies. So what prevents more firms from moving their practices to the next level? I have found that the most common barrier to greater success and more profit is that firms often lack what I have come to call the “Will to Act.”
Law firms often struggle with maintaining the type of high-performing marketing and business development group that can support demanding lawyers in a very competitive environment, while at the same time creating a rewarding career model for the professionals on the marketing and business development team. In working with law firms that are seeking to improve performance and job satisfaction for their marketing/business development group, I have developed suggestions for simple things that can be done to ensure greater success and stronger teams to support the marketing and business development functions. My advice stresses the need for the team to organize and collaborate effectively in order to add value and provide the kind of concierge service to the firm’s lawyers that the lawyers want and expect. These expectations are based on service models that the lawyers in turn must provide to firm clients. The following list is not exhaustive. The suggestions focus on some of the issues identified when I was a managing partner that, if addressed, will boost team performance and inspire confidence and teamwork in the firm. Here are some of the things that should be considered.
Recommending that law firms seek client feedback has become so commonplace and widespread in the industry that the advice is almost clichéd. That being said, it continues to surprise me that many law firms do not take advantage of the opportunity to seek routine, reliable input from the consumers of their services. In my experience as a law firm leader and consultant, asking clients to provide candid comments about the services that a law firm provides can be essential to developing successful strategies as well as deepening relationships. In almost every other service industry where expensive, expert services are provided, there is a premium placed on the consumer’s views about the state of the relationship and the value received for the money spent.
I start from the premise, reinforced by 20 years in large law firm management, that only by developing a collaborative culture can law firms realize their full economic potential by expanding client relationships. Law firms often are plagued by deeply embedded behaviors that create silos of service in a firm. These practice silos act as barriers to fully developing deeper client relationships. Most law firm leaders understand that the easiest path to success in creating more legal work is to devise the means to tap into existing clients to introduce new product lines and talent.
Several commentators have recently published research on the benefits of collaboration in fully maximizing client relationships in law firms. After 40 years of legal practice, 20 of which were spent in the upper management of one of the world’s largest law firms, I have reached some conclusions about forces that can act as a barrier to effectively collaborating to broaden and deepen client relationships, and consequently to maximizing the economic benefit from firm clients. Lest one conclude that I am not following my own advice on the benefits of collaboration, allow me to explain that some of my observations have been informed not only by personal observation but also by leading focus groups of law firm partners and subsequent interviews with the leaders of some of the largest law firms in the world.