Posted by: johnocunningham | August 24, 2016

The Role of Trust and Competence in Forming Relationships

In her most recent book, “Presence,” Harvard Business School professor Amy Cuddy says that people quickly surmise two things about a new acquaintance:

  • Can I trust this person?
  • Can I respect this person?

Cuddy explains that the latter question translates to, essentially, “Do I believe this person is competent at what they do?”

Her findings, based on 15 years of studying common interactions with the help of other highly-qualified psychologists,  suggest that the primal question in our brains is the first one: “Can I trust this person?” She also concludes that professionals often focus too much on displaying competence and strength before trustworthiness, which can actually hinder the development of trust.

For those who are selling professional services, there is a lesson in this study. Try to connect with another person on a human level when you try to make a business connection. There are lots of competent professionals, but among them, there are fewer who can establish a link of trust with a prospective client based on shared values, experiences, or other subjective criteria.

In my own study of corporate clients, I have found that trustworthiness is almost always consciously articulated as a threshold concern, and there is a fear of those who open a first acquaintance talking all about their professional accolades. Displaying competence is critical to the formation of a new relationship, but it is secondary to proving you can be trusted.

Sales professionals have long known this, and indeed that is the reason for their maxim: “No trust means no sale.”


Posted by: johnocunningham | August 16, 2016

Communications: Spotting the Frauds

Security professionals are warning of an uptick in cyber phishing attacks aimed at senior executives and other high level targets within businesses and professional service organizations that serve them.

So-called “whaling” schemes involve cyber criminals sending business emails that are well-crafted and appear to be sent from a legitimate business authority, or even from an internal colleague.  The content sometimes appears to come from upper management, often tricking financial staff into making wire transfers to bank accounts controlled by thieves. Other schemes involve alleged legal subpoenas to obtain critical information and other fishing expeditions. Business email compromises have affected as many as 7,000 US businesses in the past two years, according to the FBI, resulting in some $740 million in losses.

The key to avoiding these fast-growing risks is security awareness training for employees, adequate internal control processes on release of funds and sensitive information, and regularly updated technology controls. Several accounting and consulting firms, as well as security consulting firms can provide valuable assistance in these areas.
Posted by: johnocunningham | August 8, 2016

What Makes a Workplace Work: Communications Are Key

A couple of articles that recently popped up on my social networks have given me cause to think about how critical communications are to workplace productivity and stability.

On the positive side, I noticed a Harvard Business Review article, based on surveys of hundreds of successful executives, which highlighted the six virtues most commonly seen by executives as critical to success. The article, entitled, “Creating the Best Workplace on Earth,” discussed the importance of the following virtues:

  1. Letting People Be Authentically Themselves
  2. Unleashing Information Flow
  3. Magnifying People’s Strengths
  4. Standing for More than Shareholder Value/Profit
  5. Showing How Daily Work Makes Sense and Makes a Difference
  6. Articulating Rules/Policies that People Can Believe In

It is interesting to note that 2/3 of those virtues are very dependent on communication.

  1. Unleashing information flow necessitates an understanding of how information is shared organizationally, how it can be better shared, and who needs to share it with whom.
  2. Standing for more than shareholder value at an organizational level requires the ability to find and articulate a meaningful driver and motivator for employees that is part and parcel of the organization’s mission and values
  3. Showing how daily work makes sense and makes a difference at an individual level similarly requires the ability to listen to and understand workers while describing the function and importance of their individual roles in a way that connects them meaningfully to the organization’s mission and objectives
  4. Articulating rules and policies that people can believe in is also dependent on the ability to develop and communicate rules in a way that workers will enthusiastically support while helping to police themselves for the good of all, as well as the organization

On the other hand, a negative view of what NOT to do can be found in a recent publication at Above the Law, which was entitled, “Three Factors that Make Law Firms So Toxic.” This article stressed the factors found as critical by Law360, which are:

  1. Inconsistent feedback, yet another communication issue
  2. Lack of opportunity for growth
  3. Lack of openness and transparency, which often stems from or is symptomatic of a lack of communication

It is pretty clear that both organizational productivity and failure are dependent in large part on communication issues. If you want to communicate well, you might want to invest in a professional who can help you achieve that critical objective in order to be more productive and more stable as well.

Posted by: johnocunningham | August 2, 2016

Best of July 2016 Blogs: Content Creation, Networks, and Innovation

This is my 44th 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 2016, I have chosen to highlight the following:

  1. A post by Stephen Fairley on the Rainmaker Blog entitled, “How Google Defines Quality Content,” which gives a good snapshot of some key considerations in Google’s proprietary analytics for quality measurement. You can find other pronouncements on the subject by Google’s Matt Cutts on YouTube and other media sites.
  2. A post by Craig Brown on the LawVision blog entitled, “Why Your Strongest Contacts Are Not Always Your Best Contacts,” which illustrates the importance of cultivating so-called “weak links” to circles of people that you don’t typically enter. The idea behind cultivating weak links is not to be randomly entering new groups, but strategically looking at those which might dovetail with your clients and prospects for enhanced client development opportunities. The research that has been done on this subject at Harvard Business School is very detailed and convincing for those who might want to Google it.
  3. A post by D. Casey Flaherty on the Three Geeks and a Law Blog entitled, “Law Firm Partners, If It Ain’t Broke…,” which provides a heady discussion about the current competitive landscape in the legal services industry, the challenges ahead, and the necessity and likelihood of innovation and change (from within or from outside the legal profession).

I liked these posts because they all provide valuable insights into topics that are relevant to professional service providers (especially lawyers) who need to improve their content marketing, their networking, and their entire approach to client service and innovation.


Posted by: johnocunningham | July 26, 2016

“Do-It-Yourself” Social Media Marketing

There is no excuse for not having a social media marketing plan and strategy now. Even the smallest of firms with no social media “experts” has someone at the management level who is capable of quickly learning the basics about social media, which is composed of technology platforms that are designed for intuitive use, sharing and learning.

If you don’t know where to get started or how, just check out “The Fundamentals of Social Media Marketing” at the Hootesuite Academy, which can guide you through such topics as:

  • The basics of social media:
  • Optimizing social media profiles;
  • Social media strategies;
  • Content marketing;
  • Social advertising; and
  • Growing an online community.

There are plenty of additional online resources, and most social media platforms have help guides and/or FAQs that you can utilize. So get your “social” on, start having more fun, and raking in more revenue, using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr and other free or low-cost apps.

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 19, 2016

Three Things Anyone Can Do To Cultivate Clients

Over the years, I have interviewed many successful rainmakers and law firm clients about what works and what doesn’t in client development.

Based on what I have learned about cultivating a client or a prospective client, here are just three quick and easy tips to follow for client development:

  1. You can improve relationships with a client or prospect by introducing them, when appropriate, to other high-quality service providers and experts with industry-relevant experience and reputation.
  2. You can periodically send industry relevant data to them, along with well-researched and well-written articles on subjects of possible interest or concern.
  3. You can offer free training or legal talks on trending subjects, offering potential solutions to some of their problems and practical steps for implementation.

These are just a few ways you can bolster a business relationship. If you want to know more, I can provide a lunch-hour program on what works and what doesn’t in client service and development, based on interviews of hundreds of actual clients and numerous successful practitioners.

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 17, 2016

Client Communications: Duties After the Representation Ends

I recently reviewed an article on the subject of ethical considerations and professional obligations involved in law firm decisions to close or destroy old files containing communications and important information related to client matters. This article presented numerous issues that inspired me to research the topic and write a blog post of my own.

Lawyers have a special relationship with clients that is more than commercial, and therefore, requires careful consideration with regard to any decision that involves client communications. But the lines of professional responsibility with respect to retention or destruction of client materials is not so clear. In fact, the various state bar associations do not even agree on whether it is the lawyer or the client who owns the client files.

Some states have provided some degree of clarity by rule, while others have done so only by a stream of ethical opinions that touch upon issues involving disposition of client files.

The model rules and opinions of the ABA seem to offer some guidance to the states as follows:

  1. Unless a client consents, a lawyer or firm should not destroy any items that clearly belong to the client, by rule or by contract.
  2. A lawyer should be careful not to destroy information that may still be necessary or useful in the assertion or defense of a client’s position in a matter for which the applicable statutory period of limitations has not expired.
  3. A lawyer should take care to preserve accurate and complete records regarding receipt and disbursement of funds indefinitely.
  4. In disposing of any file or communications, a lawyer must take special care to protect client confidentiality, privilege or property rights.
  5. A lawyer should preserve an index or identification of files that have been destroyed or discarded.

Some states do impose a minimum period of time for which client files and communications must be preserved, some states impose special obligations with respect to signed original contracts or key documents, and some states allow for lawyers and clients – to some extent – to make their own agreements with respect to preservation, destruction or possession of client communications and documents.

In any event, lawyers are wise to check the professional rules of their own jurisdictions, as well as the opinions of their state ethics offices. They should also carefully draft their file retention policies and publish them to clients in all retainer contracts. Firms should also take a uniform and considered approach to when and how client data, documents and communications will be turned over to the client or destroyed.

This is my 43rd 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 2016, I have chosen to highlight the following:

  1. A post by Stephen Fairley on The Rainmaker Blog entitled “The Four Truths Every Attorney Needs to Know About Referrals,” which explains the importance of constant contact and outreach, and points out that 75 percent of legal service referrals come from non-lawyers.
  2. A post by Silvia Coulter on the LawVision blog entitled “Law Firm Revenue Growth: Business and Market Intelligence Keeps Client Teams Moving Forward,” which offers eight practical intelligence-gathering tips that can help lawyers to develop their marketing strategies.
  3. A post by Sue-Ella Prodonovich on the Prodonovich Advisory blog entitled “Seven Things Professionals Can Learn from Creatives” based on her visit to the Moogfest gathering of “artists, futurist thinkers, inventors, entrepreneurs, designers, engineers, scientists, and musicians.”

If you have suggestions for great blogs to follow or great blog posts, feel free to share in comments.

Posted by: johnocunningham | June 23, 2016

Market Share Growth for Some Law Firms, Bad News for Others

Sophisticated corporate clients are sharpening their focus on legal service efficiency and return on investment, creating opportunities for proactive law firms that are using technology, knowledge management, process improvement and project management to cut the total cost of legal products and services.

The 8th annual Altman Weil “Law Firms in Transition” survey, which included responses from chairmen and managing partners at 356 U.S. law firms with 50 or more lawyers, demonstrated that indeed proactive firms are benefiting from their ability to change with the times, while other firms are increasingly being abandoned by clients.

Firms that are proactively initiating conversations with clients about alternative fee arrangements and ways to control costs are faring best, with 84 percent of those firms reporting that their growing number of non-hourly projects are at least as profitable as their hourly projects. Overall, 65 percent of law firms are still seeing profit per partner increases, partly driven by higher rates. But in this highly competitive environment, close to one quarter of all firms saw decreasing profits per partner, and nearly half of those firms lost more than 4 percent on the bottom line.

The message should be clear by now – clients are searching for both performance and value. Firms that don’t make the cut are in trouble. That does not have to mean that firms must drop their hourly rates to survive, but they do have to figure out a way to deliver legal products and services more efficiently, giving them an opportunity to actually raise hourly rates if they can figure out how to spend fewer hours on delivery by using technology, knowledge management, process improvement and project management.

For law firms that are using these tools to deliver more efficiently, meaning faster response times and lower total costs, there is a huge opportunity developing. These firms can win market share by measuring, summarizing and communicating their improvements in turnaround times and bottom line delivery costs.

The other firms who are ignoring the marketplace push for efficiency will find themselves among the 68 percent who are losing business to corporate law departments or the 82 percent that see erosion caused by non-traditional service providers who are finding ways to compete for less.

A few of the other tid-bits from the Altman Weil survey include the following:

  • More than half of firms are using part-time lawyers and contract lawyers to deliver at lower costs (a trend that I suspect is very client-driven, based on what I hear from the staffing industry)
  • More than half of firms are now using knowledge management programs and technology tools to lower costs
  • More than two-thirds of all firms are developing data on the cost of services sold so that they can better analyze and control costs while also improving fixed fee forecasting and proposals (and most of those firms have hired pricing directors or staff equivalents to help with pricing and cost analysis)

An executive summary of the “2016 Law Firms in Transition Survey” is worthwhile reading for those in law firms who are trying to stay on the leading edge of competition for clients.



Posted by: johnocunningham | June 13, 2016

Law Firms Using More Data Analytics To Enhance Client Development

According to a 2015 law firm survey that appeared in LegalTech News, 64 percent of law firm chief information officers indicate that their firms are now using “data analytics software” or “big data tools” to learn more about clients and prospects, and/or to focus on business development efforts that work.

That figure is trending upward, and demonstrates that law firms are devoting more attention and resources in support of a scientific approach to client development.

There are many ways to use “big data” to enhance business development, but here are just a handful of  ways that law firms can make use of data digging and analytics:

  1. To find out what kinds of content clients and prospects are reading and where they are getting it;
  2. To find out what kinds of business and legal issues clients and prospects are concerned with most;
  3. To research and leverage all of the untapped connections the law firm may have to clients and prospects through lawyers and staff alike;
  4. To determine who opens law firm newsletters and emails, who unsubscribes and why they do so;
  5. To analyze the effectiveness of various business development efforts in terms of results vs. dollars invested.

For a look at how other marketing experts leverage the use of “big data” as part of their marketing strategies, check out this NG Data article by Angela Stringfellow.

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