Posted by: johnocunningham | September 19, 2017

Competitive Pressures Intensify for Law Firms – What’s the Solution?

According to Altman Weil’s 2017 “Law Firms in Transition” survey, the biggest economic trends that continue to be key factors in law firm planning and strategy at the executive level are:

  • the slow but persistent long-term downturn in demand for law firm services;
  • the growth in the number of lawyers chasing legal work;
  • the rise of contract lawyers and alternative legal service providers; and
  • the growth in competition from in-house legal staffs at the offices of corporate clients.

A sample of some of the interesting survey results includes the following facts:

  • more than 95 percent of law firm leaders see price competition growing over time
  • more than 79 percent see continued encroachment by alternative service providers
  • more than 84 percent see more use of technology over time to replace human resources in law firms

Furthermore, 65 percent say that demand for services performed by their firms has not returned to pre-recession levels of 2007, and 72 percent say that the pace of change affecting the profession will only speed up over time. (For more interesting findings, see the link to the survey in this blog post above).

What does all this mean for law firms?

Once again, they are not immune from market forces and the laws of supply and demand. I know that a significant number of lawyers feel that the profession is becoming too much of a business, but the fact is that clients are customers and they vote with their feet. Thus, they turn to providers who can give them the most economical solutions to their legal problems, whether those providers are technological, human or hybrid . Furthermore, large corporate clients are wealthy enough to develop their own in-house technologies and legal staffs that are trained and developed to meet their own needs, competing with even the largest of law firms by reeling in work that was once farmed out to them.

For law firms that want to survive and thrive, this means they MUST act more like businesses without abandoning their professional standards. Firms have to figure out how to deliver legal products and services at lower prices to beat the competition while maintaining profit margins. That requires sophisticated process analysis and improvement, technological innovation, and packaging of products and services in ways that encourage more buying.

The creative packaging of products and services is something that few firms are doing, but more surely could. For instance, firms that do trust and estate planning might want to consider doing what one firm has done – selling lifetime “care” packages at fixed prices that include necessary re-planning and re-drafting of legal documents over time as marriage, births, divorces, disabilities, deaths, inheritances and other life events change client circumstances. In that way, a firm can get more money up front, and perhaps continue to collect modest annual subscription fees, all while retaining a client who has “bought in” for less than they would normally pay over a lifetime. Similarly, firms could sell services at volume discounts (which some are doing) or they could give “frequent flier” rewards in the form of free legal services as certain revenue roadmarks are passed over years of loyalty.

One thing is for certain – more innovations will be necessary to attract, retain and build upon clients. If these innovations are not forthcoming, the 65 percent of firms that have experienced dropping demand since 2007 will move from the endangered species list to the museum of extinction.

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Posted by: johnocunningham | September 5, 2017

Best Blog Posts of August: Re-branding; Rainmaking; and Social Media

This is my 57th 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 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.

Reviewing blog posts for the month of August 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following three blog posts, all of which offer short, practical “checklists”:

  1. A post summarizing the laundry list of items that need attention in any re-branding campaign, which appeared on the Clockwork Design Group blog;
  2. A post on the Cordell Parvin blog summarizing the six traits in common among successful legal rainmakers; and
  3. A post about ten benefits to social media engagement for lawyers by Stephen Fairley on the Rainmaker Blog.

Hope you enjoy them and can put at least one bit of practical advice in those posts to good use.

Posted by: johnocunningham | August 30, 2017

Communicating With Juries: What’s New, What’s Working or Not

While jurors discuss the meaning of jury instructions a lot, they still get the meaning wrong at least 17 percent of the time, according to a recent study unveiled at the 2017 ABA Annual Meeting.

An article on the ABA website about how juries think and behave notes that the research shows that the ways to promote better comprehension of jury instructions are to:

  • provide jury instructions for each juror,
  • write “plain language” instructions, and
  • attend to the often complex relationship among different instructions.

Legendary trial advocate Stephen D. Susman has proposed that every juror should get an iPad that would have jury instructions on it, along with a glossary of terms, the cast of characters involved in the case and the relevant case documents.

The times have changed and technology has revolutionized our lives. It is probably time for ancient court-room practices and protocols to evolve as well.

Some of the practices that modern judges and advocates are utilizing to optimize communication with jurors include:

  • expanded voir dire to understand the thinking of the jury pool
  • the encouragement of questions from jurors addressed to witnesses, litigants or judges
  • the use of more video evidence and instruction or explanation
  • the use of shadow juries and focus groups prior to and during trial
  • the use of schematics, flow charts, relationship charts and other tools to explain the inter-related nature of characters and evidence involved in a dispute

In communicating with jurors and other audiences, simplification of complexity and awareness of your audience is critical. Do your communications measure up?

According to an academic study of 12,000 firms in 34 countries, which was recently featured in the Harvard Business Review, firms with strong core management practices are more profitable, grow faster and are less likely to implode.

Firms that shifted from the worst 10 percent in best management processes to the best 10 percent enjoyed 25 percent faster growth and 75 percent greater per-worker productivity.

Among the best management practices are many that have to do with communication. This is not surprising, given that managers spend more than half their time focused on organizational communication. Unfortunately, as at least one study has suggested, managers are most in need of help with their communications skills, with 86 percent of employees asserting that managers think they are good communicators, but only 17 percent saying that managers actually knew how to communicate well. There is a neat little article on this point by Cutting Edge PR.

As a former executive, I was selected by employees to head up a communications task force dedicated to improving communications, and we found numerous opportunities for improvement and came up with a report full of recommendations that were later adopted and confirmed by a considerably more expensive group of outside consultants.

The fact is that improving communication is not accomplished through platitudes and wishful thinking. It takes serious thinking and examination of an organization’s structure and internal inter-personal dynamics. It also often requires individual coaching of some managers who need an outside agent to facilitate their ability to focus on and improve workplace communication.

If you are looking for a place to start when guiding your organization to a better future, focus on optimizing organizational communication. It will ignite the intellectual creativity within your walls, geometrically improve the collaboration, and unleash the passionate energy that employees really want to bring to work but so often hide for fear of standing out.

Posted by: johnocunningham | August 16, 2017

Best Blog Posts of July: Change, Adaptation and Saying “No” Nicely

This is my 56th 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 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.

Reviewing blog posts for the month of July 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following three blog posts:

One other post that I liked was on Susan Duncan’s Rainmaking Oasis blog, entitled “10 WAYS TO MAKE PERSONAL MARKETING AND BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT HABITUAL AND EFFECTIVE.”

Less than one percent of the overwhelming data gathered for business purposes actually gets analyzed, according to a recent piece in Harvard Business Review, entitled “The Business of Artificial Intelligence.”

Thus, it is no surprise that companies are turning to artificial intelligence (“AI”) to analyze that data, improving a wide variety of performance applications. Cognition and problem solving are particularly well-suited to AI. As noted in the article, AI has been used to optimize traffic flow through better timing on traffic signals, to do facial recognition for security purposes, and to improve customer retention and enhance customer purchases.

Given the proven performance capability of AI in a variety of applications, it is only a matter of time before law firms begin to utilize these capacities to improve processes, speed up performance, and connect better with clients and prospects.

Some leading-edge firms are experimenting with AI now, and I expect more will end up partnering with Google, Facebook, IBM or other AI developers to connect more frequently with prospects, sell more services to clients, and do more targeted marketing with higher return on investment. That is happening in other industries and there is no reason it can’t happen in the legal industry.

In the meantime, it is more important than ever to gather data – through one means or another – about what clients like or dislike, what prospects think, what makes clients buy legal services, and what makes them choose one provider over another. As the article points out, data-driven decisions are improving performance in every industry.

The legal industry is more slowly adapting to the age of data-driven business strategies, but that creates opportunity for the early adapters, who are going to enjoy a competitive edge as the data starts guiding them in the right directions.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 19, 2017

GC Clients Sharing Data on Law Firm Performance

The ABA Journal and The American Lawyer have taken notice of an announcement by 25 General Counsel from different companies – clients are dialing up the scrutiny and comparing notes on the quality and results of legal service provided by law firms.

In a short article, the ABA Journal noted that  “the general counsel will share data that includes law firm names, billing rates and arrangements, matter types and reviews of the work by the in-house counsel.”

The American Lawyer actually published the open letter from 25 General Counsel, announcing their plans. The list of signatories includes GCs from well-known companies such as PayPal, Keurig Green Mountain, Petco, Levi Strauss, Molson Coors, MasterCard and Sony Electronics.

In a piece that examined the consequences for the legal industry, the American Lawyer’s Roy Strom said that “one longer-term outcome of the AdvanceLaw project could be to convert a broader swath of corporate clients to new ways of managing outside counsel – skeptical lawyers may be persuaded by the power of data.”

Law firm practitioners would be well-advised to read about these developments and anticipate the future, which is moving in the direction of demand for better project management, continuous process improvement, and use of technology and other tools necessary to optimize service.

 

The ABA Journal is accepting nominations through July 30 for the best law blogs, legal websites  and social media on the internet.

Now would be a good time to click on the nominating page to tell them which legal sites you visit and why.

One of my favorite sites for lawyer rainmakers and legal marketers is the Cordell Parvin Blog.

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 9, 2017

Cybersecurity: A New and Growing Client Concern for Law Firms

As if the practice of law was not hard enough already, it appears that law firms have one more client concern that needs to be addressed, at least with some clients who are worried about cyber-security.

For the first time, I heard this concern raised on a panel of corporate General Counsel at this year’s LSSO RainDance conference.

I suppose it is not surprising, given that there has been a spate of stories in recent years about law firms being targeted for the information held in their archives. It is especially understandable that clients with valuable intellectual property and trade secrets would be careful in selecting outside counsel who can and do protect their cyber-walls.

Business development and marketing pitches may soon address this growing concern, and firms that have invested heavily in data protection technology, protocols and training would certainly do well to incorporate those commitments into client and prospect messaging.

Within one recent week, three big stories on this subject have popped up, including:

  1. An ABA Journal story questioning law firm preparedness
  2. An “Above the Law” story noting that 40 percent of firms don’t even know when an attempted attack has been made
  3. An IT Governance story asserting that 95 percent of law firms are not compliant with their own cyber-security policies

This is my 55th 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 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.

Reviewing blog posts for the month of June 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following three blog posts:

The graphic in Silvia Coulter’s post (the last one above) reminded me of the fact that clients can often be referred by your own employees… or not. I recall one particularly noteworthy instance when a receptionist-friend at a law firm told me she had referred an in-law with a thriving interstate business to another law firm (not her employer). When I asked her why she did not refer the client to her own employer, she chuckled, essentially saying that they had never seen her as anything more than a receptionist. By contrast, the lawyer to whom she made the referral was not only well-known for work in the prospect’s industry, he was always kind and friendly toward my friend. As the GC’s comments to Silvia Coulter demonstrate, good rainmakers are usually good at connecting with all kinds of people.

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