Posted by: johnocunningham | September 15, 2014

Law Firms Need to “Measure Up” to Competition – Literally

Corporate clients continue to ramp up their legal spending on “alternative providers” while cutting back on budgets for work farmed out to law firms. That is the conclusion drawn from recent studies by BTI Consulting Group and the Association of Corporate Counsel by Wall Street Journal writer Jennifer Smith in WSJ’s September 15 edition.

The Journal cites a BTI study determining that nearly 60 percent of larger companies are keeping more legal work in-house this year while budgeting $40.9 billion on in-house lawyers, a 22 percent increase since 2011.

Corporate clients are also hiring more experienced contract lawyers do crunch work, as needed, rather than paying lofty rates for junior lawyer work done at firms, and they are looking to alternative service companies for discrete tasks such as document review and due diligence, once performed by armies of young top-dollar associates at law firms.

This trend shows no signs of abating, and demonstrates that law firms must show how they are better than their contract provider competition. Of course, that means they must also figure out how to be better and how to measure their superiority.

While firms have long avoided the cumbersome task of mastering process improvement, project management and service measurement, failure to tackle those tasks now will prove to be suicidal in years to come.

Among the many metrics that a forward-looking and competitive law firm should be utilizing are the following:

  • How fast does the firm close transactions of different varieties (average closing times in mergers/acquisitions is down to 60 days now)
  • How often does the firm come in “under budget” on deals
  • What is the frequency of post-closing problems that result in material dollar expenditures (a firm that has close to zero percent can argue that their experienced foresight and proper initial handling of a deal means lower costs on the back-end)
  • What percentage of clients rank their satisfaction for the dollars spent at 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10
  • What percentage of clients say they would recommend this firm to others (and actually do)
  • What percentage of clients say the law firm renders better “value” than alternative providers
  • What percentage of clients say the law firm renders better “value” than other firms

In the corporate world, there is an old saying that “What gets measured, gets done.” If you are not measuring value delivered or satisfaction produced, it is not getting done. If you want to manage it, you better measure it.

Then, you can benefit greatly from communicating the positive results using authentic numbers, instead of guesses and puffing. This has worked well for at least one highly successful and growing Massachusetts accounting firm, which displays on its website the fact that 97 percent of clients surveyed “strongly recommend” the firm to friends and acquaintances. See, for example, the website of Alexander, Aronson & Finning.

Posted by: johnocunningham | September 8, 2014

Best Blog Posts of August: Pose This Power Question To Your Clients

This is my 21st post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” 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 August 2014, I have chosen to highlight three blog posts, giving my first star to Nancy Myrland for her post on “One of the Most Important Questions You Can Ask Your Clients”

The recommended power question is elegantly simple: “What can I do to keep you as a client for the long haul?”

As the author points out, the inspiration for this question came from a CEO who asks the same power question of his employees in an employment-related context.

I would recommend at least one follow-up question for clients: “What can I do to become your service-provider of choice for more of your needs?”

For my readers, I also want to highlight an August post at Adam Smith, Esq. entitled, “Do You Love What You Do?”

This post highlights key findings cited in a Harvard Business Review article based on a performance study of 10,000 military leaders and their divisions. The most intriguing findings to me were about what you can do wrong as a leader to undermine performance.

The study found that the worst steps that leaders can take are the following:

1. Making everything about compensation and profit rather than vision and purpose.

2. Keeping a tight leash on people through micromanagement rather than giving them missions and problems to solve using their own creative judgment.

Finally, there is a third post that I found very useful last month on the subject of what makes a good headline. Larry Bodine’s Law Marketing Blog featured this gem entitled, “The Perfect Headline is Six Words Long.” This post breaks down the components of both good and bad headlines based on readers’ habits in response to headlines.

Posted by: johnocunningham | September 4, 2014

High-Tech Document Discovery: No Longer Optional For Law Firms

We live in an age where we are drowning in electronic data. Litigation holds, as well as preservation and production of data in litigation are fast becoming the number one headache for chief legal counsel in commercial companies. Just one terabyte of data on a server can mean scores of millions of pages to review.

According to a West Publishing report entitled “e-Discovery for Corporate Counsel,” 70 percent or more of the cost of discovery is now attributable solely to human review of documents for responsiveness and privilege. Furthermore, up to 90 percent of costs in any litigation matter can be tied directly to document review and discovery (see also: June 23, 2008 issue of Law Technology News).

These costs are ballooning and form the fastest growing part of most corporate counsel budgets.

As noted in a report by the Journal of the American Society for Information Sciences & Technology, there is also no way that dozens of human reviewers working on so many documents will sort and code them consistently and accurately based on their differing subjective judgments, experience levels, fatigue and other factors.

Thus, the biggest critical difference maker for law firms that want to demonstrate “value and efficiency” in litigation is technological expertise in systems that greatly speed up the e-discovery process and improve its accuracy, resulting in much lower litigation costs and far better litigation management.

Litigation firms and litigation departments can score big points with their clients by technologically solving the problem of sorting through mushroom clouds of data. They can also score more clients by tracking and communicating the reductions in costs and improvement in results from smarter use of technology.

There are numerous systems competing for the attention of litigators, and the purveyors of these systems are constantly offering free seminars on the subject of optimizing the interface of people, process and technology. For just one example, see the upcoming September 16 complimentary Webinar offered by DiscoverReady.

 

(Disclosure: I am not endorsing any one provider of high-speed discovery and document review services, but DiscoverReady is a client for whom I have performed services in the past).

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | September 1, 2014

Nuggets From A Law Firm Hiring Survey

The August/September issue of Today’s General Counsel features some interesting data from a recent survey of in-house lawyers concerning their legal service hiring practices.

Among the interesting nuggets in the survey were the following:

1. The biggest factor in researching prospective law firm hires is the network inside the company with 84 percent of respondents stating that they utilize that.

2. The second biggest factor in researching prospective hires is the network of friends and colleagues outside of the company with nearly 2/3 making use of that.

3. Only five percent consider directories of “best lawyers” or “best firms” (in my experience, even that paltry number may be high).

It was also interesting to note that 89 percent of respondents say that the GC or chief legal officer is the primary person responsible for selection, but in my experience most GCs will pay great deference to the suggestions and opinions of their experienced in-house staff as well.

Not surprisingly, the biggest reason for selecting a firm, by far, was a prior good experience with that firm, proving that nothing sells a service like a positive service experience.

According to the survey, the top three reasons – of many reasons – that law firms get canned are the following:

1. Poor service

2. Inefficient work

3. Billing too much for the service

What was most interesting to me, however, was where outside counsel relationships get developed. The most highly rated source for that development, by a good measure, was through colleagues at a prior place of employment (often a law firm). This illustrates the importance of maintaining excellent relationships with former employees, something many leading firms emphasize through organized alumni programs.

Nearly a third of respondents say they have also developed outside counsel relationships with opposing counsel in a prior transaction, proving that how you conduct yourself on the other side of a deal is very important to your reputation and marketing.

For lots of other data on this subject, check out the article at Today’s General Counsel.

Posted by: johnocunningham | August 22, 2014

Three Social Media Tools for Promoting Your Content

Among journalists and bloggers, I am seeing and hearing a lot of good reviews on three social media tools for expanding influence and outreach, and promoting good content. I have no affiliation of any kind with any of these tools, but the “buzz” about them has inspired me to learn more and share what I know so far.

1. “Buffer” at BufferApp.com is a tool that can be used for managing content releases through multiple social media accounts at one time. It also facilitates statistical analysis of how your content posts are performing.

2. “Buzzstream” at Buzzstream.com is a tool for link-building and relationship building with influencers, such as PR/media pros. You can research who key influencers are in any field, track your touch points (or those of your entire team) with those influencers, build dossiers on influencers in your scope of outreach, and much more.

3. “Muckrack” at Muckrack.com is a tool for those who want to reach journalists and bloggers, as well as journalists and bloggers who want to build a portfolio of their work so that they can be reached by more sources and promoters. You can get instant alerts when journalists or bloggers cite or share your content, you can search for journalists/bloggers covering your professional specialty, you can pitch directly to targets, and more.

These are just three of many fast-growing social media services that can be useful for content promotion. PR pros and in-house communications specialists need to be mastering these kinds of tools now for faster, more effective outreach with better performance analysis and outcomes.

Posted by: johnocunningham | August 15, 2014

Three Tips on How NOT to Sell a Service

Sometimes, the best lessons on how to do something are illustrated most poignantly by examples of how NOT to do it.

Remember the cable customer who simply wanted to terminate his service, and could not get it done? The service rep kept trying to “sell” the customer on renewal when the customer was clearly disinterested. If you have not heard the conversation, you can sample the 8-minute fiasco by clicking on this link.

To be fair, there are many cable/telecom companies other than the one mentioned in the video link that employ people who use overaggressive, obnoxious sales tactics and pay little attention to customers’ expressed desires.

That is one reason why people are racing to “unplug” from overpriced, bundled cable services by converting to free digital TV, cell phones vs. land lines, and mobile broadband for Internet, such as that provided by NetZero.

My own experiences with the sales team for my Internet/phone provider (not the provider mentioned in the link) have inspired me to start looking for these options as well. I already have free TV, and I purchase only the “double-play” service of Internet and phone from my carrier. But I had to purchase a two-year contract to get these services renewed at a reasonable price, and the hoops I jumped through to do it are ridiculous.

A few weeks ago, a sales rep called me, ostensibly to help me find the best opportunity to save money on the services I want. She then relentlessly hammered me on the idea of converting my old double play package to a new triple play package at a higher rate. I had to repeatedly disclaim my interest, and threaten to terminate my service before I could get her to understand that all I wanted was to renew my old double play package at a decent rate. She finally relented, acknowledging that she had no ability to help me renew, but could arrange for me to speak with someone who could do that for me.

Once I got to speak with someone who could actually help me accomplish my goal, I had a fun time trying to pin them down on the actual costs, including taxes and other fees, for my renewal. They agreed to send to me a summary in writing of my renewal costs, and so it came in my email inbox a few days later, showing that I would pay $91.16 per month starting with my “next” bill. That is what I agreed to pay.

But when my next bill arrived, it showed a charge of $106.80. This necessitated another unpleasant experience with yet another service rep, who had a convoluted way of explaining to me that my renewal was not “in time” to get the double play rate, so I would not see that rate until the following monthly bill. When I asked her to tell me what that bill would be, she totaled it up and informed me it would be $96.80, which is more than $60 a year over the written, quoted renewal price.

Since my time is worth more than $60 an hour, I decided not to spend one more hour arguing about this, or trying to locate a service-minded person at a multi-billion dollar corporate entity to resolve the issue.

Nonetheless, within two days they contacted me again. I thought perhaps to apologize for the confusion, but no, they wanted to SELL me a triple-play package once again. I informed the sales rep that I already renewed my double-play, and that I have NO interest in cable TV, and told her that I have asked company reps before to take me off of the triple-play calling list (which never happens).

So, here are my practical tips on how NOT to sell a service:

1. Do NOT hire sales reps to annoy people on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis. Most of us don’t mind an occasional sales pitch. NOBODY I know wants to hear one dozens of times a year, especially from a provider that never asks how they can improve on the service or sales they provide already.

2. Do NOT train sales reps to be relentless in their conversational approach. In sales and in dating, “No means no.” At some point, I truly expect cable customers to seek out restraining orders to stop the sales stalkers from calling, mailing, e-mailing and even arriving at the front door to pitch more sales.

3. Do NOT set up billing cycles that don’t match for all of your services. If the customer pays one monthly fee for all services, but the service dates run from different monthly dates for each bundled service, the ultimate renewal and/or termination process is a nightmare to track (of course, that is not a problem if you want it that way so that people get frustrated, give up, and pay whatever you want to charge them).

And here is one free “DO” tip: Do train people to actually listen to the customer, find out what they want, and then just deliver it to them in the simplest, most transparent way possible. If you do that, customers will be eager to renew, instead of looking for every possible alternative to your services. The cable companies have had very little competition for a long time, and they have acted like it. Now, customers are looking for the shovels needed to bury them, once and for all.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | August 12, 2014

Client Search for Value Takes M&A Work to Smaller Law Firms

It was not so long ago that the largest law firms in the country were the default choice for merger and acquisition work that typically rakes in $43,000 to $272,000 per transaction (figures cited by CounselLink.com).

But The Wall Street Journal reported on Tue. Aug. 5 that 2d tier law firms (with 501 to 750 lawyers) now top the charts with 37 percent of all M&A legal revenue. The Leviathan firms with more than 750 lawyers have dropped their share to just 30 percent, and the regional and local firms of fewer than 500 lawyers now account for 33 percent of revenue (which is 3 percent more than the top tier firms).

Similarly, smaller “mid-sized” firms of 250 to 500 lawyers have nearly doubled their market share of “big ticket litigation” from 2009 to 2013, according to the Journal.

What is behind this trend?

I think it is the persistent and growing search for value. The emphasis, even on “bet the company” matters, is no longer just on results. It is about results at a competitive price.

Thus, law firms need to sharpen their marketing communications, demonstrating to clients and prospects how they are delivering value, as well as results. Firms and individual lawyers need to show how they are using process improvement, project management skills, selected technologies and better training and collaboration to deliver faster, less expensive and higher quality results.

Just saying “we’re the best” does not cut it any more. You have to prove what you promise. Showing how you have cut your average transaction costs, your typical production times and your overall budgets for everything from commoditized work to big-ticket litigation and large-scale transactions is critical.

Tracking and communicating the data is a difference maker for any law firm willing to do it. Corporations do it all the time. Law firms – some – are just now getting it.

This is my 20th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” 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 June 2014, I have chosen to highlight a pair of related blog posts. One is by Tom Kane of Kane Consulting, entitled “Who Gives a Darn If Clients Are Satisfied?”

The other post is by Erik Mazzone on his Law Practice Matters blog, entitled, “Why Your Firm Should Begin Tracking Client Satisfaction Today.”

Mazzone’s post includes a link to a publication and data from Beaton Research and Consulting, demonstrating that client satisfaction measures are early and leading indicators of where your firm is headed, up or down.

Kane’s post also cites an online survey performed by the Remsen Group and Sterling Strategies, revealing that 91 percent of law firm leaders responded that they have “limited or no measures of client satisfaction.” That number is a bit high compared to other reported numbers on more scientific surveys, but those surveys too reveal that only about half of law firms with at least 50 lawyers are doing client surveys of any kind.

This is stunning when you consider that every prized corporate client that every law firm is chasing probably surveys their customers and/or clients AT LEAST annually, if not more often. I worked in-house with three different companies that all surveyed their customers multiple times per year. The management teams in those companies, as in most companies, were extremely concerned with “customer satisfaction measures” all of the time. They were also concerned with what was causing customer satisfaction or defection levels to rise or fall.

As a result, we asked our customers’ questions, such as: Which of our products (or services) do you like better than our competitors? What are we doing better than our competitors? What are we doing not as well as competitors? What products or services are missing from our offerings? How can we improve our service?

The fact that so many law firms are not measuring client satisfaction, much less searching for root causes of client satisfaction measurements, represents a sorry state for the profession, but an amazing opportunity for those firms that want to start acting like their prized corporate clients and imitating their success.

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 30, 2014

Why Attorneys Hate Marketing and What You Can Do About It (update)

I have noticed in recent months that an article I wrote almost exactly two years ago has continued to receive lots of hits and reads online – the article being entitled, “Why Attorneys Hate Marketing and What You Can Do About It.”

Since this piece continues to attract readers, I thought I should provide an update to it, adding one more reason that some lawyers are not enthusiastically enrolling in marketing efforts, despite the fact that they need to do so for survival in an increasingly competitive world.

I am not sure how I overlooked this glaring omission from my first summary, but it can be summarized in one phrase: “Internal Politics.” This is something I hear about only in whispers from people who would never go on the record, but the whispers are prevalent and problematic for law firms.

The problem seems to be a matter of turf and sometimes seniority. Some lawyers don’t like marketing efforts – by OTHERS – because those efforts, if successful, will result in less open turf for hunting down origination fees. Other lawyers, those who are more conflict-averse, don’t want to bump heads with someone over origination credits for new business with a large corporate client that numerous people have contacted over the years. They just don’t want to battle their own teammates.

“I met that contact last year at a conference, and I had him first. I can’t believe you did not tell me you were going after him. I got him primed, I gave him all the info about our firm, and I expect to get the credit. You can’t just go walking all over the place, handing out business cards.” That is about the way that a hypothetical “turf” lecture from an established partner might go.

Associates, in particular, get mixed messages about marketing. On the one hand, the firm’s ostensible leaders – such as the managing partner and the CMO – will encourage all lawyers to be more active in business development and marketing efforts. But on the other hand, some power partners who never have enough turf to pee on will tell those junior lawyers: “You need to focus on serving clients and being the best lawyer you can be at this stage of your career. Business development is something you can focus on when you are a partner.”

Those admonishing senior lawyers purport to be concerned about “learning the craft” but what they are really concerned about is more competition from within. What associates are not told, but should understand is that there are only a few ways to make partner, and developing a book of business is one of them. Partnership is conferred on fewer individuals over time, and that makes it harder and harder to make partner just “by doing good work.”

There are lots of grunts out there who can work long hours, and there is always a next generation that will work harder and put in longer hours. People who make partner will generally make it for economic reasons – they have their own book of business, or they are so loved by clients that they could walk away with them, or their rich uncles sit on the boards of big companies or run the government agencies that regulate corporate clients.

Thus, lawyers have yet another reason to hate marketing, but a more compelling reason to embrace it – survival.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 18, 2014

Best Blog Posts of June: Using Google Analytics

This is my 20th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” 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 June 2014, I have chosen to highlight a blog post by Stephen Fairley at the Rainmaker Blog entitled, “Ten Google Analytics Categories You Need to Review to Judge Your Website’s Performance.”

Fairley’s blog is chock full of useful information on all kinds of topics, and the post I highlighted is my favorite for the month of June because it lays out very simply and succinctly the 10 ways in which you can use a FREE tool – Google Analytics – to find out:

  • who is searching for you;
  • where they are from;
  • what pages they are viewing;
  • how much time they are spending on different pages or posts; and
  • what kind of traffic is being driven to your site via your social media channels.

Very practical and useful info you can find and sort through for free!

My runner-up post of the month came from the “Patrick on Pricing” blog, which offered up some interesting data on trends in law firm pricing. Among the interesting data points:

  • more than 40 percent of firms now get more than 10 percent of their revenue from alternative fee arrangements
  • 100 percent of firms are deriving measurable percentages of revenue from AFAs
  • about 1/4 of revenue in firms with less than 250 lawyers comes from some form of “discounted” billing (apparently firms find it easier to discount than to figure out a fair fixed fee that would be non-discounted)
  • about 1/3 of revenue in firms with more than 250 lawyers comes from some form of “discounted” billing (suggesting that larger firms are under even more pressure to discount their rates than smaller firms)

Check out Patrick on Pricing if you are interested in pricing trends and analysis – good stuff.

 

 

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