Focus on Clients: Help Your Clients Make Rain for You

raining in baltimore [repost][This is the third in a series of posts featuring a conversation with Susan Hackett of Legal Executive Leadership focused on deepening client relationships in meaningful (and profitable) ways.]

Prospecting for clients is a project that many lawyers find challenging. The thought of meeting new people and selling business can be daunting for someone who only ever really wanted to be left alone to practice law. For these lawyers everywhere we offer some information and advice that should come as a relief. Rather than making cold calls, there is another much less painful and far more productive method for growing your business. The secret is to help your clients make rain for you.

In our conversation Susan Hackett noted that while attractive websites, insightful conference presentations and pleasant cocktail parties may increase a lawyer’s exposure to prospective clients (and thus certainly are laudable efforts), “new” client work comes from referrals by existing clients. In fact, Susan believes that most of her law department colleagues would say that they award an overwhelming majority of new work primarily on the basis of positive referrals by existing clients. Accordingly, firms that fail to earn referrals are not getting as much new work as possible, in spite of all the other “special sauce” things they might do.  This is advice no law firm can afford to ignore.

Most new business comes through referrals by existing clients.

For the nuts and bolts of how this works, I asked Susan to give us some insight into the process from the client’s perspective.

Some client referrals come in response to a direct inquiry by a prospective client to his or her colleagues asking: `Does anybody have any experience with a firm that does X?’  And some referrals come from the kinds of credentialing that help the retaining inside lawyer discriminate between contestants to choose the winner in a formal or informal RFP-type process.

While several firms may be considered by a client in either of the above scenarios, whether through a formal contest or through the in-house counsel’s network research, a selection from the group of well-qualified finalists usually is made only after a trusted colleague with experience using that firm directs or endorses the client’s decision by saying something like:  `I think they’re the go-to guys/gals for this project – talk to my gal Sally when you call.’  Any way you slice it, new business is predicated on the ability of the prospective client to validate the firm or specific external lawyers with trusted colleagues who currently use their services. Who are those colleagues? Your clients.

To be top of mind with your clients you have to do something more than simply provide the agreed-upon services or send a periodic passive newsletter that can be filed. You have to connect at the place where your expertise and excellent service meets the client’s pressing needs. The only way to ensure you’re hitting that mark consistently is to ask the client regularly`how are we doing?’ and then, most importantly, to act on the feedback and report progress to the client.

A recent LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell survey of in-house counsel in Western Europe reported the following troubling information:

Most respondents were also very happy to participate in feedback programmes conducted by their law firms, although less than half had received an invitation to provide this. However, law firms appear to be even less committed to using customer insights to help strengthen their relationship. Only 28% of survey respondents said that their law firms came back to them to share the results and communicate improvements or changes that would be made as a result of feedback received.

That sounds like an invitation to a meaningful conversation with your clients. Will you accept?

Next in this Focus on Clients series: If You Delight Them, They Will Stay

[Photo Credit: Paul G]


Focus on Clients: Making Rain by Making Conversation

St James's Park In The Rain [This is the second in a series of blog posts featuring a conversation with Susan Hackett of Legal Executive Leadership focused on deepening client relationships in meaningful (and profitable) ways.]

My post on the allure of “that new client smell,” (in which I pushed back on the notion that “new” clients are somehow better than old ones) led to a conversation with Susan in which she explained the issue from her perspective — namely, from the client side:

Being a successful rainmaker is invaluable in a desert. It also is seen as a ticket to success in law firms. But it has limited value in the eyes of the client. In fact, it can have a negative value. Law firms are often perceived as spending incredible amounts of time, energy and resource prospecting for new work, which could suggest to current clients that the efforts of their external counsel to pursue that ‘new car smell’ may be distracting their fullest attention from preventive maintenance of the vehicle responsible for getting the client around.  While partners are off looking for new attribution sources, clients may feel underappreciated, and that could have a devastating impact on work flow going forward.

Rainmaking flows from a steadfast focus on current clients.

As we talked, it became clear that while so much is made of the personal skills and attributes of the individual rainmaker, deeper reflection shows that a highly focused team approach to engaging, understanding and serving clients is key to growing your business. Susan doesn’t pull her punches in advising law firms:

In a shrinking market, before you even think about new business, you better make sure you’re not about to lose current clients first. As convergence trends move more client work to fewer and fewer preferred firms on the client’s roster, there will be a number of firms with long-standing, historically profitable and perfectly productive relationships who will wake up and find that they are one of the 50 firms that will no longer be getting client work as the client moves from 60 portfolio firms to 10 preferred partners.

For every lawyer who has been reluctant to ask the tough questions that initiate conversations that matter with a client, Susan provides some incentive to engage. What’s the nature of the incentive? The promise of clarity in your client relationship that leads to more business. Here’s how it works:

If you’re interested in business development, the people on whom you should be focusing 98% of your time and attention are your current contacts in existing client relationships for they are the keys to not only current revenues, but a great deal of future business.  To help unlock this business, focus on value.

It is imperative for firms to understand their value to their clients and how to both communicate and leverage that value going forward. You can best communicate your value to current and prospective clients by (1) conversing with your clients about what they value (asking questions and listening – not telling them what you think), (2) delivering service in a manner that meets or exceeds their expectations, and then (3) working with them to quantify value you have delivered in ways that can be demonstrated and validated for that client and prospective clients.

Next in this Focus on Clients series:  Helping Your Clients Make Rain for You

[Photo Credit: Garry Knight]



Focus on Clients: Good Client Relationships Require Conversations that Matter

Evening sunlight & conversation, inside the Embassy There are at least two obvious strategies for growth: go wide or go deep. Go wide implies covering as much territory as you can, while go deep suggests mining your current location to extract as much goodness as possible. For many businesses, including law firms, go wide is their first impulse. Doing the hard work of attracting new clients can feel more manageable than doing what feels like the infinitely harder work of truly engaging with an existing client to deepen that relationship in meaningful (and profitable) ways.

I wrote about this phenomenon recently in a post entitled That New Customer Smell. That post led to several delightful and rich conversations with Susan Hackett. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Susan, let me introduce you.  Susan was for 22 years Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC). Among her many accomplishments at ACC was the creation and adoption of the ACC Value Challenge (highlighting the need to link value to the cost of legal services). Susan is now CEO and Chief Legal Officer of Legal Executive Leadership, a management consulting firm that helps clients “find smarter ways to work,” build stronger legal teams and “promote thought leadership and collaboration in their work and workplaces.”

In her many years of close work with corporate counsel around the country Susan has learned a great deal about what law department executives expect from their external counsel. It was that perspective she brought to our initial conversations and agreed to share via this blog in a series we’re calling Focus on Clients. Over the next few days we’ll be posting on this blog highlights from our conversations, which examined how critical it is for external lawyers and their clients to engage in meaningful conversations with each other. Because, as with our personal lives, relationships deepen and grow through shared experience and conversations that matter.

Next in this Focus on Clients series: Making Rain by Making Conversation

[Photo Credit: Velvet Android]


Legal KM Needs Social Contracts

CONTRACT Lawyers draft contracts every day. We know the rules. For a valid contract to exist there must be at a minimum an offer and acceptance, as well as consideration. Law firms and in-house legal departments enter into contracts of this type with new employees all the time and hope that the consideration (i.e., financial compensation) will be sufficient to motivate stellar performance.  Modern psychology indicates that this is a misplaced hope.

In Social Pressure Is a Better Motivator Than Money, Scott Keller says that we need to move “beyond the ‘market contract’ with employees and [forge] a stronger ‘social contract’.” What’s a market contract? It’s that arrangement I described in the first paragraph; the arrangement that assumes that money (plus a few sanctions/remedies) will motivate performance. What’s a social contract? Keep reading.

Scott Keller cites several examples of social contracts:

  • Dan Ariely in Predictably Irrational explains a social contract by first asking you to picture an elaborate meal that your mother has planned and served to you. If after the meal you ask her how much money you owe her, she’ll most likely be taken aback, if not outright offended. On the other hand, if you brought a bottle of wine to dinner, she would be delighted. Why? She wasn’t operating under a market contract that stipulated a fee for services. Rather, she was operating under a social contract with you that allowed the gift of wine as a contribution to the meal.
  • In Freakonomics, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner discuss a daycare center that hoped to cut down on late pick ups by imposing a fee on parents who were late. To their surprise, the number of late pick ups multiplied. Why? Once the penalty was introduced, it became a simple business transaction and parents could discharge their responsibilities by paying the fee. Before the fee, they tried harder not to be late because they didn’t want the responsibility (or resulting guilt) of making their childcare providers late. However, introducing a fee changed the arrangement from a social contact to a market contract. And then it was no longer personal — it was just business.
  • Keller also provides an example from the world of lawyers. He recounts that when the American Association of Retired Persons asked lawyers to provide services to needy retirees at a deeply discounted price of $30 per hour, they declined. Yet when the AARP later asked them to provide those same services for free, those lawyers agreed. Why? On strictly business terms the market contract of $30 made no sense. However, on a no-fee basis, the lawyers recognized the social good inherent in the now purely social contract.

Now consider how things work in traditional knowledge sharing efforts. After years of watching people nag, cajole or bribe knowledge workers to contribute to the KM system, I’ve come to realize that the people who contribute most do it for reasons other than money or negative pressure. First and foremost, they do it because it satisfies an inner drive to learn, to master a subject and to share. Others share out of a sense of community obligation, ensuring that their colleagues have the information necessary to do good work and stay out of trouble. Still others share knowledge to garner recognition as a good citizen, or perhaps even as a subject matter expert.

So how can social contracts help knowledge management efforts in law firms and legal departments? It’s about giving your colleagues the right opportunities to share knowledge, as well as positive reinforcement so that they continue to do the right thing. Here are some suggestions:

  • Be sure to thank each person who makes a contribution. This means more than sending an email that says “Thx.” We’re talking heartfelt, sincere appreciation. It can make all the difference in the world.
  • If you can get the head of your firm or legal department to express thanks as well, that’s even better.
  • Find opportunities to provide public recognition to people who contribute.
  • Collect success stories and share them. This is another form of public recognition. Further, by layering anecdote over anecdote, you can change for the better the conversation within your organization regarding knowledge sharing.
  • If appropriate, focus the knowledge sharing within a team in which existing relationships of trust will reinforce sharing behavior.

The key to this is placing knowledge sharing within a social contract. When that happens, it is more likely that your colleagues will engage and it will be harder for them to walk away. If you can ensure that contributors receive appropriate social compensation, you should be able to create a virtuous circle that leads to even better knowledge sharing.

[Hat tip to Neena Abraham for pointing out Scott Keller’s blog post.]

[Photo Credit: Steve Snodgrass]


Fixing Your KM Focus

Focus My friend Jeff tried an interesting experiment in an effort to deal with a common challenge of advancing years: aging eyes. Instead of purchasing bifocal glasses or a pair of reading glasses that could easily be lost, he decided to put in one eye a contact lens designed for distance vision and, in the other eye, a contact lens designed for near-sighted work. I was startled by what seemed like a lopsided approach, but given that I was not all that many years behind him, I thought it might be prudent to learn more about his experiment.

It turns out that what Jeff was doing was not radical in the least. In fact, this approach has a name: Monovision.  Here’s one description of how and why it works:

We all have a dominant eye as well as a non-dominant eye. … When we look into the distance, we are actually using the vision from the dominant eye more than we are using the non-dominant eye. The non-dominant eye still functions, but the dominant eye sort of takes over. Our brain pays more attention to the visual information received from the dominant eye. So if the non-dominant eye is fitted with a near-powered lens to correct our near vision, our distance vision will not be disturbed that much. Monovision, then, involves wearing a contact lens on the non-dominant eye to correct near vision, and a contact lens on the dominant eye (if needed) to correct distance vision. Monovision works because the brain is tricked into thinking that the contact lens is actually a part of the natural eye.

While the ophthalmologists may not have considered this angle, I do believe there is a KM application of the Monovision approach: when we consider how to set up our knowledge management systems, we should take into account the personal knowledge management needs of individuals as well as the broader needs of that person’s network, communities of practice and organization. Accordingly, you need to use two lenses to accommodate two foci. The near-sighted lens is for work that is close to you. In other words, the work that matters most to the individual. The far-sighted lens is for work that has wider application or that is of interest to others. So for KM to work well,

  • each knowledge worker must keep both foci in mind; and
  • each knowledge system must personalize resources to meet the near-sighted and far-sighted needs of each person and community that relies on that system.

The beauty of keeping your eye on two separate prizes, as it were, is that you end up with a holistic approach to KM that meets individual needs (answering the perennial “what’s in it for me?” question), while also supporting the communities and networks that help your organization thrive. While this sounds simple, I’m not sure how widely it’s been adopted. How many times have you seen systems implemented that were rigid and highly standardized to maximize ease of top-down management while minimizing the ability of individuals to tailor the system to their needs? How many times have you seen skunkworks efforts emerge at a grassroots level solely to meet the needs of individuals who feel under-served by their manager’s view of safe and sanitized KM systems?

Returning to my friend Jeff, do you know how his experiment turned out? He’s now using line-free progressive lenses in a pair of glasses he wears all the time.  I suspect that part of the appeal of progressive lenses is that they let you forget the difference between your near-distance needs and your long-distance needs. The other bonus is that they give “a more youthful appearance.” While that may make sense for a person’s physical vision, I think I’d prefer the Monovision approach to KM — at least from a behind-the-scenes KM planning and support perspective. As far as the end-users are concerned, however, all they should ever experience is the seamlessness of progressive lenses.

The key is finding and fixing your KM focus foci.

[Photo Credit: Mark Hunter]


#ILTA12 in the Rearview Mirror

“Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.”

According to Wikipedia, this warning is required on side-view mirrors for a very practical reason:

while these mirrors’ convexity gives them a useful field of view, it also makes objects appear smaller. Since smaller-appearing objects seem farther away than they actually are, a driver might make a maneuver such as a lane change assuming an adjacent vehicle is a safe distance behind, when in fact it is quite a bit closer.[2] The warning serves as a reminder to the driver of this potential problem.

Admittedly rearview mirrors do not typically present the same challenges as side-view mirrors. Nonetheless, it would be wise to keep the warning in mind as the ILTA 2012 conference slips into the recesses of your memory. With the passage of time, it’s easy to let things fade or blur together. I’d encourage you to make serious efforts to keep that learning fresh and close at hand. In an attempt to slow this inevitable process, I offer some reminders of what we experienced at ILTA12:

  • Innovation at the Intersection. As law firms and law departments become more specialized, it’s tempting to dig deep into your area of expertise and ignore what’s happening around you. In his keynote address, Frans Johansson cautioned us against this blinkered approach. Rather, he encouraged us to seek out ideas from disparate domains of knowledge and then combine them in new and unusual ways. By doing this early and often, you have a better chance of innovating than someone who rejects the opportunities for fresh insight available at the intersection of disciplines.
  • Engagement can Yield Greater Rewards. There are people who prefer to learn by listening. Then there are those that prefer to learn by doing. For the latter group, ILTA12 offered a six-session Alternative Format Track. Each of these sessions had a unique format that had been specifically designed to bring out the best in that session’s topic. Based on the anecdotal feedback received during the conference, these sessions were a huge success. Several participants asked for more sessions like this. From an organizer’s perspective, I couldn’t be happier. I had the pleasure of working with some terrific collaborators to make these sessions a reality. One such collaborator, Toby Brown, went so far as to declare his marvelous alternative format session on AFA negotiations “My Favorite Session at ILTA 12.” That’s high praise indeed!
  • Insecurity about Security. Early in the week it became apparent that one of the hot topics of the conference was legal information security. How hot? It wasn’t unusual for the legal security sessions to be standing room only. Everyone wanted to learn more. To be honest, this wasn’t all together surprising since law firms and clients alike are struggling to find the best way to keep confidential information confidential and out of the hands of hackers. Thankfully, ILTA’s LegalSec Project is designed to help give guidance and support to all the folks who are trying to improve the legal security situation. Given the interest at this year’s conference, I suspect that this topic will feature heavily in next year’s conference offerings.
  • A Little Discomfort can Lead to Insights. In addition to offering alternative format sessions, ILTA offered an Advanced Curriculum Track. These sessions were described by their organizer, John Alber, as being like a “sharp stick in the eye, which is the shortest path to the brain.” I was fortunate to attend several of the ACT sessions and can attest that they caused some discomfort to the people sitting in the audience. As a person involved in law firm knowledge management, some of these sessions were guaranteed to cause discomfort:
  • Innovation Award Recognizes Social Media. On the last night of the conference, the organizers gave the award for Innovative Law Department to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corp for its outstanding work in bringing technology to bear on the practice of law. In particular, the JAG Corps was recognized for launching JAGConnect on milBook, “the Department of Defense’s largest and most successful secure enterprise social network for military and civilian legal practitioners stationed worldwide.” As a longtime proponent of enterprise social tools, I was delighted to see how the JAG Corps was able to leverage social tools to greatly improve knowledge sharing. Further, they are opening this platform up to the other services and inviting colleagues there to join them rather than creating service-specific knowledge silos. This is a great precedent for military and civilian lawyers alike.
  • ILTA is More than a Conference. And it’s more than an organization. After three years on the conference planning committee I can say with certainty that the good folks of ILTA have discovered  a wonderful way to help us help each other. I’ve found the professional staff, members and volunteers to be supportive and cooperative. Even more than that, I’ve come to value greatly their generosity of spirit. In short, being a part of the planning effort has been an amazing experience for me that I hope has resulted in some helpful educational experiences for you.

After the conference, North American attendees had the benefit of the Labor Day holiday and then found themselves back at their offices dealing with the myriad challenges that kept them occupied before their brief time at ILTA 2012. When faced with the press of business, it can be easy to let the rich educational offerings of a conference like this fade from view. However, I’d urge you to resist that. Use the conference recordings and session material downloads to keep the learning fresh, share information with your colleagues or explore new topics. In other words, make sure the objects in your review mirror remain closer than they appear.