I’m a big fan of The BTI Consulting Group and their The Mad Clientist blog. Recently, they had a post that discussed turning first year associates into bionic associates; and accordingly make them more productive. They lost me on this one, because the thrust of their message was to teach these associates essential skills such as better (1) listening, (2) writing, (3) anticipation of client needs, and (4) knowledge of clients’ business. I’m not sure why those skills turn associates into artificial (bionic) ones. I’d rather like to think that it would create more effective lawyers and future rainmakers.
Learning these attributes early on could produce great benefits for young lawyers (and their law firm) over the long haul. However, BigLaw isn’t, in the least bit, interested in young associates learning anything except how to crank out hours. Lots of hours. The more the merrier (ah, I mean requirement).
The sad thing is that first year, and second year, and third year, etc. etc. associates are not encouraged to develop the skills to become better business generators for when (or in the more unlikely case) they become an equity partner. In fact, most junior partners I have encountered have absolutely no knowledge on how to develop business. (That’s why I get so many phone calls). It is not a requirement in many firms in order to be elevated to partner. Their elevation is more likely the gratis of a mentor looking after a prodigy; and unlikely to have anything to do with their marketing skills.
Let’s look at these four “bionic” skills and how they can be better benefit all the lawyers in a firm; and provide success for the both the firm and individual lawyers over the long term:
- Listening. Listening to clients will make any lawyer a better service provider by fostering understanding of a client’s problem, concerns and goals; and the ability then to do a better job in meeting those client needs;
- Writing. Forget about law review or brief writing taught in law school. More and more clients are looking for less legalese and a clearer explanation, plainly written so they can better understand what hell is going on with their matter;
- Anticipate client needs. (This may actually be one of the skills that needs to come after the one below) Understand and anticipate the needs of client, rather than just generate more hours, and thus avoid more costly client problems in the future; and
- Research and understand the client’s business. A common complaint (I have heard over my 31 years in legal marketing) is that lawyers do not understand the client’s business (and apparently don’t give a darn), and the client resents having to (re-) educate them when a new matter comes up. The more that lawyers understand a client’s business, the more likely they continue to get work from them, as well as referrals.
The only thing a truly bionic associate will produce IMHO is more hours, burn out, and less chance of being a successful and long term productive lawyer for the benefit of his/her clients. How much more fruitful would it be to train a rainmaker in these skills instead.