Apparently not too many firms according to an online “Leadership Matters” survey (a collaboration of TheRemsenGroup and Sterling Strategies) reported on the Managing Partner Forum this week. The survey sought data on individual lawyer contributions to their firms in the areas of financials, client satisfaction, people development, and firm processes/procedures.
What particularly caught my attention was what 56 law firm leaders reported regarding client satisfaction; to wit:
“91% have ‘limited’ or ‘no’ measurements of client satisfaction.”
Ouch! The danger relating to that statistic should be self-evident.
Further, as it so happens, a post this week on Law Practice Matters blog by Erik Mazzone talked about why law firms should track client satisfaction. It cited an article by the Australian Beaton Research + Consulting firm, which reports (based on 10 years of data, according to Mazzone) that like the proverbial canary in a coal mine, client satisfaction is “a leading indicator for the rising or declining fortunes of the law firm.”
It really doesn’t take a flash of brilliance to figure out that dissatisfied clients are the death knell for any law firm. Clients may not even complain, they’ll just take a hike. Is there really any need for a firm to be convinced that it should undertake immediately an effort to determine if there key clients (especially) are satisfied?
Mazzone suggests two survey tools (Net Promoter Score and SurveyMonkey) that can help obtain client feedback. Personally, I prefer in-person or telephone satisfaction surveys over written or online ones. The feedback is better, more detailed and more reliable. (See an earlier post of mine on suggestions on how to do that.)
Every law firm better give a darn whether their clients are satisfied – by asking them and not relying on the billing partner’s say so – or they might just regret it.
Often clients don’t actually fire law firms, they just walk away. Sometimes lawyers don’t even know it. The client simply gives work to another firm
I ran across a post that spells out numerous reasons law firms get fired on Mike O’Horo’s RainmakerVT site by Pam Woldow, and the telltale signals you should recognize.
Some of the common reasons include:
- too many surprises
- exceeding budgets
- excessive lawyering and fees
- lack of appreciation for client’s internal deadlines
- indifferent communication and poor responsiveness to client needs
- not understanding the clients business or industry
- lack of fresh ideas or approaches to matters
So, what are some of the signals indicating your firm is in trouble:
- Slowdown in new client matters with lame client excuses;
- Your firm is one of several firms asked to respond to a client RFP;
- Challenges to the firm’s work product and processes, and invoices or some trivial issue;
- Unusual delays in clients returning calls or emails, or a break down altogether in client communications; and
- Your client contact blames higher-ups for whatever has become an issue in the relationship.
If you recognize any of the symptoms above, you need to change the situation ASAP, especially with key clients. That means contact, contact, contact containing continual (and meaningful) communication [okay, okay, a bit much on the alliteration]. The important point is you do not want to get fired by an important client for your failure to recognize what things could bring it about.
There is an interesting discussion going on over on LinkedIn’s CMO Forum initiated by Heather Suttie about investing in yourself instead of legal directories. One paragraph that caught my eye:
“Last October—repeating themselves for the sixth year in a row—a panel of General Counsel at a Toronto Legal Marketing Association event said directories are not used to make decisions about whom to approach or hire, and that some of the best lawyers are not found in directories.”
I was prepared to concur after reading Suttie’s post, since I believe most people, especially corporate counsel mostly hire outside law firms through referrals and online sources.
Two years ago, I wrote a post on this blog about not wasting your firm’s money on yellow pages. Sure some people still have no computer and may use them to find a lawyer; but I hold that as a general rule they’re expensive and a waste. I still believe so.
Were I to argue that legal directories are a waste of money too, I’d be wrong apparently. After Bob Weiss disagreed with Suttie’s premise, I did some research myself. A simple search on Google uncovered a summary of a 2011 survey by The BTI Consulting Group, commissioned by LexisNexis, about the Role of Legal Directories and Online Lawyer Profiles. Since a BTI survey is a more credible indicator than a panel of in-house counsel at an LMA conference or two, I quickly scolded myself on my initial, instinctive reaction (Well, I didn’t scold toooooo much).
So, what did the survey show? That Martindale-Hubbell and LinkedIn have an important role to play in the hiring of outside counsel, specifically:
- “77.1% of in-house counsel and staff use a legal directory or online lawyer profile to validate the credentials of a referral
- “Absence from a legal directory hinders up to 51.4% of clients from hiring a law firm…
- “LinkedIn and Martindale-Hubbell are the most frequently used resources overall, for any reason…”
I still believe that yellow pages are a waste of money. Legal Directories?…not so much.
If you get work from other lawyers, you need to market L2L just like you would B2B or in any other manner. I work with lawyers whose source of business – whether litigation, appellate practice, PI, or other niche practices –depends in part on referrals from other lawyers. It is often their life blood for legal work.
If other lawyers are a meaningful source of legal work for your practice, you need to focus your business development activities with them in mind, as you would with any other of your prospects. Sally Schmidt’s recent post on Attorney at Work provides helpful tips on marketing lawyer-to-lawyer:
- Identify your lawyer-targets. Quite simply, they are the lawyers who don’t do what you do. They could even be lawyers in your firm (yes, look at marketing your service to your partners), or toward other firms that don’t provide your legal services;
- Educate them about your practice. Let other lawyers know that their clients might be at risk, and how you might help them. Find ways to not only educate the other lawyers, who could refer work, about your practice; but offer ways to educate their clients as well;
- Network with lawyers. Just like clients hire lawyers they know, like and trust, lawyers who would refer their clients to you are no different. So, build relationships with other lawyers by networking where they hang out – at bar meetings (specifically committees/sections not full of competitors), and entertain at lunch or in other settings; and
- Add value to their practice and clients. This tip runs with educating your audience:
- Look for opportunities to write for their blog, journal, newsletter or other venues;
- Pull together a brief but informative piece about your practice for others to give to their clients; and
- Offer to consult with their clients at no charge.
Remember, risks are involved for lawyers to refer you to their clients. It is vital that you build solid relationships so they will know, like and trust that you will take VERY good care of THEIR clients.
Why not? Rainmakers never stop networking. Yeah, I know, its family time, and they should be your priority. No question about it.
However, vacation time doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t take advantage of networking opportunities that present themselves – on an airplane, at the beach, or yes, standing in line at a restaurant.
And, if such opportunities occur, it would be silly not to take advantage . Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has 40 networking tips she posted on Attorney at Work this month I commend to your summer reading list.
A few of her tips I particularly like include:
- Develop an effective elevator (or standing-in-line) speech or two, depending on your different target audiences (P.S. don’t start with “I’m a lawyer”;
- Listen twice as much as you talk (remember the old saying that that is why we have two ears and only one mouth);
- Ask smart, open-ended questions so you can learn more about the other person. Don’t waste time talking about yourself (you already know everything there is to know there);
- Be selective about what networking events you attend (i.e., go where your preferred clients and prospects hang out); and
- Smile and show genuine interest.
There’s more good stuff in Tarlton’s post, so do take a look. Networking needs to become a habit anywhere you are.
We’ve all had clients we would like to fire, but may not have had the nerve or want to lose the revenue. I remember a story told at a conference I attended about the small law firm that spent hours at its weekend retreat discussing firing a client that provided 25% of their revenues. Many of the firm lawyers were frustrated in dealing with this client’s people, who could be very unpleasant, demanding or just plain obnoxious. Once the partners agreed on ridding themselves of the client, they spent, according to the story, two hours arguing over who would have the privilege of actually firing the client.
There may be a better way to deal with problematic clients.
According to an article by my colleague at LegalBizDev, Gary Richards, which appeared in the May issue of the UK Law Society’s “Managing for Success,” he suggests three options in dealing with an annoying or slow paying client:
- Change the situation. Either internally without involving the client or, if necessary to do so, then negotiate at the appropriate level to avoid offending your contacts and exasperating the problem. The five steps he mentions should help you with this option.
- Accept the situation. If your firm needs or wants the work irrespective of the feelings toward the client contacts, consider one of four reasons mentioned by Richards as “sufficient reasons to accept things as they stand.”
- Leave the situation. If neither of the efforts above prove fruitful, then let the client know that you will not be in a position to take on additional work, “if the issue occurs again.” Richards agrees this one is a tough choice, but may be the best one under the circumstances.
So, if you have difficult clients, Richards’ article is a must read.
Okay, maybe now is not possible or realistic. But, ASAP should be your mantra. Especially for clients, but really everyone. Yes, that means even those you do not want to speak with.
Monday’s meditation from 365 Marketing Meditations: Daily Lessons For Marketing & Communications Professionals, by Larry Smith and Richard Levick of Levick Strategic Communications, has a simple mandate:
“Return all calls (the) same day, period. Exceptions are as follows: None.”
There’s the story about the annoying client who called all the time, so the lawyer didn’t call her back. After a number of attempts to reach her lawyer, she gave up and called another firm about her cousin who had just been run over by a Coca Cola truck that ran a red light.
Another story was related by a lawyer I heard speak at a conference. He said he never goes to sleep at night without returning every call from that day. Even at 9:00 p.m. He said he usually doesn’t have the client’s file at home, but he extends the courtesy of telling the client what time in the next day or two in which he would get back to the client with more information. He said his clients loved it, and I believed him.
True story: my doctor returned from vacation and called me at six p.m. on a Saturday night to give me the favorable results of blood work done in his absence. NOW that was amazing!!! Of course, my blood pressure went through the roof due to his unexpected call, but you can be assured that I became a hell of a referral source for his budding practice.
If you really cannot return a call or email promptly, empower someone to do so on your behalf. They can let the person know when you will connect. If you want to grow your practice, always follow this simple, common sense tactic. Return calls ASAP!
When flat or fixed fees started to be bantered about in the last few years, partners in several of my firms said: “Won’t work for litigation, since it is too unpredictable.” Well, welcome to the new world.
A recent article by Catherine Ho that appeared on The Washington Post’s “Capital Business” raised the question about the death of the billable hour. She pointed out that five years ago only 28% of law firms “believed that non-hourly billing would be a permanent change in the legal industry.” That is according to the Altman Weil’s “2013 Law Firms in Transition” flash survey. In 2013, that percentage had grown to 80%. Amazing, even though there are those (yours truly being one of many) who believed that it was a definite trend just waiting to be fully realized.
Ho also pointed out how some large firms – Holland & Knight and McDermott Will & Emery – “have even ditched the billable hour model altogether for entire teams of people.”
What is the point? you may ask. The point is that offering fixed fees is smart marketing. Firms that do will have an advantage over law firms that don’t. Those that won’t offer fixed fees may just be sending a message to potential clients that includes: (1) we may not have enough experience in the practice area to predict how a case is likely to proceed, (2) don’t have a history of similar cases so we don’t know how much it will cost, and (3) are not willing to share in the risk.
So, law firms that are prepared to offer alternative fees, including fixed fees, have a jump on the competition IMHO.
I’m serious! The world has changed. In my 27 years as a legal marketer and in-house in several firms, I have never seen the situation more serious in terms of lawyers being de-equitized or flat-out fired for not bringing in business. Back in the nineties I was with law firms that quietly – very quietly – would advise partners to leave because they were not pulling their weight in terms of bringing in work.
That was the inspiration behind a post I did in the first month of this blog in January 2005. My post “Rainmakers Don’t Get Fired” discussed a messy firing of a partner at then named Sidley Austin Brown & Wood. As I pointed out then, I had not seen a rainmaker who developed significant business for themselves or other lawyers in a firm ever be let go.
And it is no different today. But, more and more lawyers will be let go in today’s tough, competitive legal world. The reason is simple. Clients are more demanding and less willing to pay whatever a firm wants to charge. Accordingly, there is and will continue to be much smaller pies to share, and too many partners do not want to “sell” or don’t know how. In the the “good ole days” most lawyers didn’t have to market, because their plates were usually pretty full, especially in BigLaw firms. So, not to worry. Things will be fine.
With the definite move to outsourcing specific work to smaller or foreign firms, and to the use of high quality, mid-size regional firms, it is only going to get worse for the non-producers in any size firm. It is time partners woke up to the need to develop business NOW!
Further, if your firm has a marketing department, don’t fool yourself into thinking that they will (or should) solve the problem. Developing business (selling) is primarily up to the individual lawyer. The marketing/business development staff is there to assist, guide and otherwise support the lawyers’ efforts.
Fellow legal marketing coach, Mike O’Horo had an interesting article last week about how lawyers avoid selling in favor of the latest marketing fad, which, of course, they hope means they won’t have to personally sell.
Well, folks. That ain’t going to cut it. More and more partners will get fired, if they do not get involved in serious business development efforts directly. Planning to do it won’t work alone. If you haven’t been developing business all along, you will need a coach to help you IMHO. He/she could be an internal coach (if you are lucky enough to have one in-house) or an external one that you feel comfortable working with. Because chances are you won’t pull it off by yourself.
Bottom line: time to start developing business or looking for a new job.