Posted by: johnocunningham | April 1, 2014

Best Blogs of March: Legal Services Predictions and Trends

This is my 17th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My BlogRoll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I often peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

For the month of March 2014, I have chosen to highlight a blog post on Amy Campbell’s Web Log, entitled “Legal Services Predictions and Trends for 2014.”

Amy is great at following thought leaders in the fields of legal services and marketing, and she regularly reports on what thought leaders and legal insiders are saying. I think the articles to which she provided links in her post speak for themselves, so I will not attempt to add any analysis here.

But I do also want to highlight a couple of posts this month that merit attention as well.

First, there is a post by Timothy B. Corcoran on his Business of Law Blog about the changing definition of value and what matters most to in-house counsel. He has some nice quotes in here from counsel, and he provides some helpful links as well.

Second, there is a nice post out there on Adam Smith, Esq. about the “Three Leading Indicators of Failure” at law firms. Having interviewed a number of managing partners about the subjects of what makes a law firm successful or not, I would add that the first two points made in the article are likely to be affirmed by many with leadership experience. You can’t let the 800-pound gorillas run the place (and run talented people out of the firm) and you have to develop a market strategy that is grounded in reality and not delusional or wishful thinking.

Those are my picks for great reading this month. Hope you enjoy them.


Posted by: johnocunningham | March 31, 2014

Disruptive Technology: Two-Edged Sword for Small Law Firms

More and more consumer-focused Websites are sprouting up that promise to assist people with legal needs in search of a lawyer.

Avvo,, and other sites that do this have already gained popularity among legal consumers, and now there is a new entry into the field:

This site promises that only trusted, peer-vetted lawyers can respond to requests from legal consumers, and it offers to match potential legal clients and lawyers with specific qualifications for free.

For those lawyers who prefer to do their marketing over the Internet – instead of doing it at seminars, events, and breakfasts, lunches and dinners – this newer wave of technology offers a chance to meet clients without traveling from the safety of an office.

But like any other marketing tool, it takes work to learn how to use it well. Lawyers have to know how to speak to prospective clients over the Internet in a non-intimidating, succinct and friendly way. They also need to know how to give out just enough information to persuade the prospector that a lawyer is needed, but not so much that they are rendering legal advice without even getting compensated. Finally, they need to know how to frame their pitch for themselves as the right fit, and they must do so in a medium that favors brevity and simplicity – two attributes that many lawyers must cultivate.

No one marketing tool is likely to provide even a solo lawyer or small firm with “enough to eat” but disruptive technologies that allow the professional service providers to compete or even bid for the client’s business are likely to be favored by small clients, and it will be hard to ignore these technologies as they gain momentum. (For example, the LendingTree service that allows consumers to pit lenders against each other for business grew revenues by more than 50 percent in Q4 of 2013, continuing its geometric growth progression).

Lawyers who service bread and butter clients in fields such as family law, residential real estate and criminal matters can’t ignore this growing wave.

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 21, 2014

Clients Want to Speak; Some Firms Still Don’t Want to Listen

Too many law firms still are not seeking client feedback “in a systematic or sustained way,” despite the fact that formal client feedback programs are great ways to bolster client relationships and expand existing business.

That is one of the key conclusions of the Hildebrandt Consulting 2014 Client Advisory, according to Joyce Smiley’s March 2014 Verbatim blog post.

This observation about law firm behavior is particularly ironic because customer and client feedback programs are one of the cornerstone building blocks of almost all successful large-scale enterprises that law firms covet as clients.

When I was a General Counsel in both the retail world and the restaurant industry, our executives frequently reviewed formal and extensive surveys of customer attitudes about our businesses, as well as studies of customer buying behaviors with regard to our products and those of our competitors. Furthermore, our boards of directors were informed of those customer attitudes and behaviors at least annually, if not more often.

No public company that I know navigates the sea of competition without setting its compass according to the person who is really in charge of the business – the CUSTOMER.

Nonetheless, significant numbers of law firms who are courting sophisticated, public companies as potential clients still have no systematic way of listening to them.

Any business development activity planned without consideration of the thoughts and behaviors of the client or potential client is purely random, like monkeys throwing darts at a dartboard.

Fear of what the customer or client will say is a poor excuse for avoidance. Not knowing what the customer or client is really thinking is far more costly than the wounding of professional egos of those who serve the client.

Furthermore, contrary to lawyer fears, the vast majority of clients LIKE to be asked about service. I know because I have surveyed them repeatedly over the years, and I was a purchaser of legal services on an international scale. They want to help you improve your service and your business if they like you. If they don’t, then they are about to leave anyway, and they will never even say “good-bye.”

That is why leading-edge law firms and professional service firms of other stripes are instituting formal client surveys and client feedback programs, resulting in better service execution, as well as more productive sales strategies and tactics.

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 14, 2014

What Makes an Exceptional Service Provider?

I always like to look for real-life examples of great service, and shine a spotlight on them, and a recent experience has given me reason to do just that.

In January, I lost a family member who had been terminally ill for some time, and who had opted for hospice care. I got to know the hospice workers over a period of several months, and I was so pleased with their work that I wrote long “thank you” letters to the doctor who recommended them and to the managers of the hospice organization. Our family members also asked that gifts be made to the hospice organization in lieu of flowers.

The service experience our family had might have constituted the single best service experience of my life, and it was certainly the most memorable.

What made their work so moving and so special?

  1. Commitment: It was obvious that these workers were dedicated to what they do and to the individual patient they were serving. They demonstrated this by showing up on time, working hard every minute, and asking the patient every day what else they could do to help. In the final days, they were there for every single minute looking for every single symptom of discomfort that could be alleviated, and they knew just what to do (having obviously been trained extremely well).
  2. Communication and Coordination: These workers knew their service was important not only to the patient, but to the family of the patient as well. Our family was informed on a weekly basis what was happening, our input was welcomed, and our questions were all answered. It was also especially impressive to watch how the team of workers communicated with each other, using technology to enter current reports into patient information files, and conferring with each other to solve problems based on their cumulative working experience.
  3. Going Above and Beyond: The hospice workers never confined their work to narrow “job description” boundaries, but always looked for ways they could do that little something extra every single day. In particular, I remember one worker who found a way to use her 4G-tablet to bring a playlist of music (our family member’s favorite songs) into the bedroom, and we also together found lectures, prayers and homilies that were appropriate to the circumstance and the patient. The experience was absolutely wonderful.

This organization’s team of nurses and aides were so extraordinary that I could not think of one single suggestion I could make for improvement! Yet, the organization sent to our family more than one follow-up survey to ascertain how they were doing and how they could do better. For the first time in my life, I had to say: “Do NOT change one thing you are doing!”

Wouldn’t it be great if every professional service provider inspired that kind of appraisal?


Posted by: johnocunningham | March 10, 2014

Legal Content Marketing: Hot Topic – Cybersecurity

Law firms often have a hard-time choosing hot topics for inclusion in their client alerts and newsletters, in part because there are so many potential topics to choose from in a landscape of constantly shifting laws, regulations and interpretive court decisions.

One of the best ways to select a topic is to look at those subjects about which clients are most concerned, and right now one of the hottest topics among corporate clients is cyber-security. According to the 2014 survey, “What Directors Think,” as published by the New York Stock Exchange Governance Services, as cited in a recent article in Corporate Counsel magazine, corporate directors in particular are increasingly focused on cyber-security.

One of the sources for the report stated that within the last couple of years, cyber-security issues are “absolutely at the forefront of every single board of directors discussion that we have.”

That is hardly surprising, given the number of front-page headlines about mega-companies whose information walls have been breached by hackers and data thieves in recent years, but small and mid-sized companies, doctor’s offices, and mom-and-pop businesses have also suffered from hack-attacks too.

Thus, clients of all sizes have reason to be concerned, and they are all in need of guidance when it comes to evolving state and federal laws on cyber-security, duties to protect data, and obligations to make prompt disclosures and reports in the wake of data breaches.

Law firms should be giving their clients practical and timely guidance on a number of cyber-security topics, including:

  • Any required public company disclosures regarding security risks;
  • Any necessary review of insurance coverages; and
  • Development of a legally sufficient emergency response plan in the event of a cyber-breach.

Firms that quickly seize on hot topics, such as cyber-security, in their content marketing programs, and especially those that do it well, can expect more responses from clients and prospects who likely have legal concerns that these firms can helpfully address.

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 9, 2014

Trends in Law Department Spending

An article  by Lauren Chung in the December-January issue of Today’s General Counsel offered up an interesting summary of findings from the 2013 HBR Law Department Survey, particularly with regard to trends in law department spending.

First, the article noted that legal spending for staff and resources inside of company law departments continues to increase much faster than anemic growth in outside counsel spending, a signal that law departments are continuing to bring more legal work in-house as a cost containment measure.

Second, the article noted an increase in the percentage of respondents using the typical array of methods being used for control of outside counsel spending (such as the use of alternative fee arrangements, project management and budgeting), but it also noted a particularly strong percentage of companies using two newer methods that have grown rapidly in recent years:

  • Pushing law firms to use legal process outsourcing (for projects relating to due diligence, document review, e-discovery, predictive coding and other “assembly line” tasks); and
  • Increasing the use of regional and local boutique firms (a trend noted on this blog just last month).

More than 50 percent of all companies are now actively pushing their outside firms to do more outsourcing of component tasks involved in sizeable litigation or transaction matters, and nearly 50 percent are increasing the use of small to mid-sized local and regional firms to save money on matters appropriate for those firms to handle.

For all law firms, the challenge now is clear. You have to communicate your commitment to keeping costs down, and you have to demonstrate that you can do it by employing process improvement, project management, outsourcing and logistics skills while slashing overhead and extraneous costs that clients do not want to pay for (such as expensive offices lined with leather, mahogany and rare art).

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 5, 2014

Best Blogs of February: Content That Gets Noticed

This is my 16th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My BlogRoll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I often peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

For the month of February, I have chosen for the first time ever to highlight three different posts that are all about producing and distributing content that gets noticed. The three useful and well-written posts I want to share are as follows:

Samantha Collier offers nine specific tips for getting your content to be shared on social media, all of which are practical and functional. The most fundamental of those tips I believe is the cornerstone for all the others – “write compelling content.” As she notes in her post, the content should be “interesting, helpful and different,” and I would add that it must carefully crafted in a way that reaches out to the reader, grabs their attention, and pulls them through the entire piece.

To write that way, you must practice a lot in front of audiences, and take note of what is getting noticed. You must also be ruthless in editing your own work, laying waste to every unnecessary concept, paragraph, word and syllable because readers have no time to waste on meandering to your salient point.

Brooke Ballard’s post also offers good practical tips, and I especially believe in the following suggestions she made:

  • Good conversations are one of the keys to unlocking good content, especially conversations with prospects and clients who are your target audience, and who can tell you what is on their minds, what questions they have and what problems they need to solve.
  • Frequently asked questions raised by clients, prospects and experts in your field are a rich source for potentially compelling content.
  • Giving away some information that people would pay for is always going to attract attention.

Finally, I like Stephen Fairley’s post on reasons why you should hire a professional writer because it is concise and direct. Two of the reasons he offered for seeking out a pro are particularly relevant in my experience: 1. many people are not good writers; and 2. they simply don’t have the time to craft something really compelling.

Lawyers in particular are prone to thinking that they can write for an audience because they constantly draft contracts, legal briefs and scholarly articles. But none of that kind of writing is good practice for creating content that is short, practical and attention-grabbing.

Furthermore, those who bill out at several hundred dollars per hour cannot possibly write as efficiently as a pro who will charge much less than that amount. From a basic economic analysis, it makes sense for the lawyer to focus time on serving clients at $500 per hour and contract the writing or at least the editing to someone who earns a fraction of that amount. The product will be better and it will cost less in the end.

Posted by: johnocunningham | February 27, 2014

Free Websites For Small Firms With Small Budgets

Not so long ago, it was only large firms that had the resources put up first-rate Websites, hiring Web designers, Web hosts, writers, photographers, and a fleet of other professionals to build out a place in cyberspace that had the flash and glitz of a four-star hotel.

Now, there are a host of tools for do-it-yourselfers (DIY’ers) that make constructing a Website relatively simple and intuitive. You can simply pick a template, choose the number of tabs you want on your site and name them, upload photos and other graphics, all with some easy mouse-clicks.

Of course, you have to enter your own text, but even that task is pretty easy with the help of a professional writer or editor (who will charge you far less on an hourly basis than you charge your own clients if you are a lawyer, accountant or other professional consultant).

There are many choices available in the marketplace for DIY’ers that want to construct their own site for free and pay no monthly fees for site hosting or maintenance now.

Two of the more popular tools for constructing professional looking Websites right now are:

I also like WordPress, and that it what I used to build my site, which is a hybrid site that has the features of a blog and a Website. For bloggers, is a very popular favorite.

So there are no more excuses for not constructing a place where people can find you in cyberspace, and there is no reason that your place cannot be every bit as good as a four-star site constructed by a much bigger rival.




Posted by: johnocunningham | February 23, 2014

Client or Customer: Which Would You Rather Be?

Having spent a good bit of my career in the practice of law and in retail companies, I often ask myself: “Is it better to be a client or a customer?”

Professionals may be quick to argue that being a client is much better than being a mere customer, but based on my experience as a provider and as a client and customer, I am not so sure.

Here are the positive and negative points I associate with being a client.


1. A client enjoys the legal protection of “privilege” in connection with certain substantive communications with a professional.

2. A client is owed certain professional and sometimes fiduciary duties (i.e., a professional must disclose and avoid conflicts of interest, etc.).

3. A client can report a professional who fails to fulfill his professional obligations to a professional licensing authority (run by that profession).


1. A client is first “targeted” as a prospect, and then, by many firms, hunted and harvested.

2. A client is “measured” for return on investment by many firms, and prioritized based on “potential.”

3. A client is often treated as if they “belong” to a lawyer or a firm, and jealously guarded as property more than catered to as a person.

On the other hand, here are the positive and negative points I associate with being a customer:


1. A customer is “king.”

2. A customer is “served”…  and must be served quickly to be kept.

3. A customer has a right to be demanding, fickle and value-conscious, and someone who serves a customer knows it.

4. A customer is someone a merchant values, and all merchants compete to give a customer the very best service and value possible.

5. A customer generally is greeted, served promptly, and then asked about their service experience.

6. A customer knows that he or she is “in charge.”

7. A customer has lots of choices in the marketplace, and merchants who serve customers never forget that.


1. A customer enjoys no legally “privileged” relationship with a merchant, and the merchant owes the customer no fiduciary obligation.

2. A customer cannot report a merchant in an unregulated trade to a licensing authority (although a customer can make reports to the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau and a host of other state, federal and voluntary agencies dedicated to commercial fairness).

That is the balance sheet, as I see it, and it makes me think that perhaps professional service firms would be more successful if they treated clients like customers (albeit customers who enjoy certain legally protected forms of privilege and duty).

If you have any observations on being a client vs. being a customer, please feel free to post a comment.

A client is

Posted by: johnocunningham | February 20, 2014

Communications: The Big Three Hot Buttons for Clients

I have interviewed numerous corporate clients about their experiences with professional service firms, and I have been a professional services client, both as a Chief Legal Officer and an individual working with both law firms and accounting firms.

My own experience, like that of other clients, has generally been good, but too often pock-marked by negative service experiences that have nothing to do with the qualifications or learnedness of the service provider.

The single biggest recurring complaint about professional service providers in my experience has to do with their communications skills and habits, or lack thereof. Thus, this blog post is about three simple things lawyers and accountants can do to improve client satisfaction with communication.

Lawyers, accountants and other professional service providers can greatly enhance their client satisfaction ratings and their client loyalty while reducing client defections simply by following three simple rules:

  1. Provide Regular Scheduled Updates on Each Matter. Every client wants to know, at least periodically, what is going on with the matter they delegated to their professional service provider. This is a subject that pops up over and over again in surveys to the point where it has become a cliché to say that clients want regular updates. Thus, I am amazed at how many professionals still have no system in place for insuring that clients get updates by matter on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis (according to client need and preference). It is particularly distressing to see how many practitioners in the fields of litigation and probate are unaware of this. I have concluded that many of these well-meaning professionals just assume that the client accepts that slow-moving courts and statutorily or procedurally mandated filing, notice or discovery periods are status quo and necessitate open-ended time frames for completion. This, of course, is preposterous. Clients do not “accept” unexplained delays for any reason. We want to know when a matter is expected to be completed, what will be done on the matter each month or each quarter (at least) and how progress is aligning with forecasts at the start of the matter. We want to know what you are going to do to push a matter to conclusion as soon as possible, and when you are going to do it, the same as if you were our car mechanic, our roofer, our plumber or any other service provider (all of whom turn complex projects around in a matter of days rather than months or even years).
  2. Respond Promptly to Every Phone Call, E-mail or Text. Again, this seems elementary, but many highly qualified professionals are unable to execute on this basic requirement of client service because they have no system in place for insuring a prompt response. In fact, clients continue to report that too often they have to chase down their service provider to get a response of any kind at all. There is no excuse for this. When I ran a law department, I made it clear to every staff member that we needed to answer our phones at all times (no ducking calls because you are busy), we needed to check our voice-mail and e-mail at least hourly (or have our trusted assistants do that for us when we can’t) and we needed to return ALL inquires the SAME DAY, preferably within the hour. It is acceptable to a client if you just respond with a message that you are tied up in court, in a meeting or in the middle of a massive closing, and will not be able to respond fully to an inquiry until a specified date and time. But what is NOT acceptable is just plain silence. Dead air is an indication that you are either disorganized (you lose or forget your messages), lazy (you don’t even check them regularly), or self-centered (this message is not MY priority right now, so I will just ignore it). No matter what the reason for your failure to reply promptly, it will be fatal to your client relationship if it occurs more than once in a blue moon or if it occurs without apology.
  3. Inform the Client of Any Change that Will Impact the Budget or the Final Bill. This too seems basic. If you drop your car off at the mechanic, and he tells you a repair will cost $200, then you are not going to be at all happy when you go to pick it up and he says, “Oh, we found a few other things, so that is why it took two extra days and, by the way, it is going to cost $500 now.” Somehow, too many professional service providers seem to think they occupy a “higher station” than car mechanics and thus these professional providers expect clients to just trust that they are doing what is fair and reasonable. Sorry, wrong, big fail. The client is paying you far more than the mechanic, and to those whom much is given, much is expected. If a professional provider runs into ANY problem, unexpected complication or delay, they should inform the client immediately, and give the client options for handling the complication as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Again, failure to do so will be death for the client relationship, and I know this from interviewing dozens and dozens of decision-makers.

These three communications tips are not as easy to implement and execute as they might seem. You need to develop a system for 24/7 receiving and monitoring of client communications, you need to develop a system that insures accountability and responsibility for responding to those messages within specified time frames, and you need a system to insure that the expectations are being met (because the client will not necessarily tell you if you are failing – they will just leave).

The good news is that if you can raise your scores on this most basic client expectation, you can greatly enhance your probability of retaining that client and even getting referrals from that client.

It is not about your qualifications. It’s about your level of care and consideration. Nobody knows where their doctor went to school or where the doctor graduated in their class, but patients know whether the doctor answers the phone, returns calls, does or does not listen well, and promptly communicates results of blood tests, x-rays, body scans and other diagnostic tests. It’s about communication and respect.



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