Posted by: johnocunningham | May 5, 2016

Law Firms: What You Can Learn From Your Clients’ Tech Budgets

If you want to know what kinds of technology capabilities your clients expect you to master, check out how the clients spend their own tech budgets.

A graphic in April’s Legal Tech News shows that corporate clients are spending big money first and foremost on knowledge management systems that help to store, categorize, analyze and retrieve institutional knowledge gleaned over many years by various professionals in a corporate legal department. These systems help every individual in the law department to have the benefit of the collective knowledge of all individuals currently or previously working within the department.

Clients are also spending considerable sums on:

  • Legal analytics;
  • Legal project management; and
  • Governance and compliance systems.

Law firms would do well to invest in those capabilities as well, not only to be on par with their largest corporate clients in terms of technological capability, but to service the small and mid-sized clients who are looking for those capabilities but may not yet have them in-house.

Citing a white paper by Mitratech called “Catching the Wave,” Legal Tech News stated that law departments are now spending approximately $1.5 billion on technology annually with the potential to increase that level of spending to $6.5 billion within five years.

This is my 41st 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 April, I have chosen to highlight the following:

  1. A post on the Cordell Parvin blog entitled “Three Days That Changed My Career Forever.” In this post, Cordell provides three short, concrete examples of exceptional opportunities that came his way because of extra-curricular activities outside of the office.
  2. A post on the LawVision INSIGHTS blog by Craig Brown about “How to Ask for Work.” Craig does a nice job of explaining, from the client’s point of view, all of the predicates leading up to “the ask” which make the final step so much easier.
  3. A post by Lindsay Griffiths on her Zen and the Art of Legal Networking blog, entitled, “Video Isn’t Just for Hollywood… It’s for Lawyers Too.” Lindsay gives some good tips for making a successful video, including elements of style, length, script and other elements.


Posted by: johnocunningham | April 26, 2016

Law Firm Communications At Risk

During the first quarter of this year, the FBI reportedly warned large commercial law firms that they are targets for cyber-hackers, who are gaining access to “insider” information about clients in order to trade on it or to misuse it to gain access to accounts.

Then in April, a report on JD Supra noted that nearly 50 large firms had confirmed being victimized by hackers and thieves.

Here is a roundup of some published tips on protocol and procedures that can help keep hackers locked out:

  1. A 2014 article from Law Practice Today
  2. A 2016 article from Law Practice Today on Security Audits
  3. Recent security tips from DLA Piper Publications
  4. A 12-step guide to cybersecurity for law firms from
  5. Seven cybersecurity tips recently published by Above the Law

Law firms can also look to their largest clients who have dealt with hacking attempts for practical guidance on how to tighten security through the use of security experts, audits and protocols for information management and storage.

Internally, firms have to send clear, constant and consistent messaging to employees and contractors about the importance of following protocols and procedures established to protect firm clients.

Posted by: johnocunningham | April 23, 2016

How Can I Share on Twitter? Let Me Count the Ways.

I have been asked by legal practitioners who are new to the Twitter-sphere just what they have to share that is worth reading?

Here are five simple ideas for content sharing that do not take a lot of time or effort:

  1. Follow people who are leaders in your field and simply re-tweet the excellent content that they are posting. This is a form of “content curation” where you filter through the stuff that is out there, and pass along only what you think is worthy of sharing.
  2. Follow people who are leaders in the industries occupied by your best clients, and re-tweet the best content they are sharing. You will learn something about your clients’ industries (something clients regularly say they wish their lawyers would do more) and you will have a chance to connect with someone who is an expert in that industry.
  3. Post a short comment about a recent paper you wrote or a presentation you made, and incorporate a link to that content (but make sure the content is worthy of sharing and edited for reading by a general audience).
  4. Post a note about a hot law-related news story, and add a link to your unique analysis on your blog or website.
  5. If you see a truly outstanding piece in one of your firm newsletters or client alerts, post a note about it with a link to the story to call greater attention to it.

Those are just a handful of ideas to get you started. Once you start sharing, you will think of plenty of new ideas, and you might even have fun doing it !

Posted by: johnocunningham | April 12, 2016

What Will Bring Your Law Firm Down?

Legal consulting firm, Altman Weil, just published a short article on “Existential Threats to Law Firms,” suggesting that the greatest threats to law firm survival are most commonly:

  • Long-term bank debt
  • Expiring leases
  • Unfunded retirement obligations
  • Guarantees to lateral partners  and
  • Lack of leadership succession planning.

I think we could sum up four of those five bullets this way: “Don’t over-borrow, overspend or lose your office lease.” That seems pretty obvious to me.

But there are plenty of other dangers that are more subtle, and harder to quantify, but just as real. In my own observations of firms that have fallen in recent decades, I would add the following existential dangers to my list:

  • Lack of cohesive cultural values and common goals (which leads to poor retention at all levels)
  • Lack of training and development of younger lawyers (which leads to not only poor associate retention, but eventually poor lawyering and poor client retention)
  • Rapid growth through mergers without adequate planning, infrastructure accommodations and cultural integration (look at all the firms that grew too fast and then crumbled overnight)
  • A bad senior management team driven more by ego than forward-looking vision (which coincidentally causes the demise of many business clients too)
  • Too many 800-lb gorillas (this was a danger highlighted for me by a hugely successful managing partner who turned around a flailing firm)
  • Failure to adapt to changing client demands and keep pace with competitors (I think we can all recall some firms that tried to live off of their reputation while going stale)

The fact is that law firms, like it or not, are both professional entities and business operations. Just like commercial businesses, they need to consider and act upon the advice of experts in business management, process improvement, marketing, technology, finance and other disciplines to survive. Those that are incorporating other critical disciplines into their culture and operations are generally thriving. Those that are failing to do so, or failing to do so adequately, are the walking dead.

This is my 40th 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 March 2016, I have chosen to highlight the following:

  1. A post by Deb Scaringi offering tips on “Working the Room.” Nobody does it with more grace and charm, and few people have cultivated the kind of good will and professional network that Deb Scaringi has. Deb offers eight useful and practical tips that you should consider in advance of your next conference, seminar or professional-social event.
  2. A post by Sue-Ella Prodonovich offering eight examples of times when clients will be receptive to pitches from your firm. I would add that these are eight occasions when you really need to be pitching in order to cement or grow your relationship because they are times when your competitors may be pitching too!
  3. A post by James Cranston on the LawVision INSIGHTS blog, entitled “Is It Time for Marketing and Business Development Courses in Law School?” The author notes that some law schools are finally taking notice of the need for training with a practical, real world value in addition to the academic exercise of learning to think like a lawyer, and he has some links to other articles on the subject. Hurray, for Boston’s own Catherine MacDonagh, who has persuaded two local schools to institute business training for law students. (See Catherine’s Legal Lean Sigma website here . )

Sadly, I think many law schools still reject the notion of instituting any courses on the business or marketing of legal practice, and I know that I have pitched schools on this subject without so much as a reply to my inquiries. One of my law school professor friends told me that many key decision-makers in law schools still don’t like the idea of teaching someone how to profit from practice because it is so unseemly compared to purely academic analysis of case law. Kind of ironic, considering what schools are charging for tuition.

Posted by: johnocunningham | March 23, 2016

Key Leadership Competencies Center on Communications

According to a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, two of the top three competencies of effective leadership involve communications skills.

The article by Dr. Sunnie Giles, entitled, “The Most Important Leadership Competencies,” was based on a survey of nearly 200 recognized leaders at 30 global organizations, and these leaders ranked the three most important aspects of leadership as follows:

  1. Setting high ethical and moral standards
  2. Communicating goals and objectives with loose guidelines and direction
  3. Communicating expectations clearly

Participants rated seven other aspects of leadership, but the top three were the only ones to receive substantially more than half the votes as “key competencies of leadership.”

The sixth rated competency – communicating often and openly – also focused on the communication traits of good leadership.

If you want to lead your department, division or organization effectively, you must sharpen your communication habits, as well as your skills.

Develop a communications plan to insure that you:

  1. Set goals and objectives with loose guidelines and direction
  2. Communicate often and openly
  3. Review your communications with objective professional input to insure that stated expectations are crystal clear



Posted by: johnocunningham | March 18, 2016

What Clients Expect

A recent blog post by estate planning and elder law expert, Harry Margolis, neatly summarizes “Five Things You Should Expect from Your Attorney,” and it is fairly consistent with the expectations that actual clients express when surveyed about their legal service concerns.

It is interesting to note that three of the five expectations relate to communications:

  • Listening skills;
  • Clarity of communications; and
  • Responsiveness.

Listening. Over the years, I have interviewed numerous in-house lawyers, general counsel and even CEOs who say that listening skills are a critical differentiator for them, and many study the behavior of outside counsel in pitch presentations and other interactions to see if they are top-flight listeners. Among CEOs it is not uncommon to hear a remark to this effect: “If someone has 10 minutes to visit with me, that is a lot, and they better spend at least five of those minutes listening to my concerns.”

Clarity. Another remark that I often hear in one form or another from clients is this: “I am not hiring a lawyer to tell me how complicated something is. I am hiring them to make the complicated simple.” These clients want a lawyer who can, as Denzell Washington said in the movie “Philadelphia,” just “explain something to me like I’m a six-year old child.” No client has ever told me they wanted to hear more statutory or regulatory citations in an explanation, and no client has ever told me they were disappointed in a research memo because it did not have enough weight.  Many, many clients have told me that they were disappointed in lawyers whose explanations were “as clear as mud.” So take the time to distill something long into something short and simple before you meet with a client.

Responsiveness. Large corporate clients have become so insistent on responsiveness that the vast majority of their outside counsel have really “gotten it” in recent years. Law firm partners generally return calls, or have someone on staff return calls to clients the same day that they call, and some even set targets of just an hour or two for a response time. But lawyers who serve consumers and smaller clients often still struggle with developing processes and project management skills that facilitate rapid responsiveness.  Thus, many smaller clients still don’t get how a profession survives with a “we’ll get to it when we can” approach, and many others are still filing grievances when the service gets really bad (one of the leading precipitants of grievances filed against lawyers is communications-based issues, mostly relating to responsiveness).

The good news for lawyers is that they can win over a lot of clients by just executing well on these basic expectations, which don’t require any complex training or advanced degrees !



Posted by: johnocunningham | March 8, 2016

More Communication Needed on Lawyer Health Issues

The Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association released a landmark study on February 3, 2016 about mental health concerns and substance abuse in the legal profession.

As demonstrated by the study, the profession has a growing problem, which deserves more attention. In light of the study’s findings, law firms may want to encourage more sensitive and effective communications about coping with the pressures of the profession, and they might consider greater and more effective use of lawyer/employee assistance programs.

Here are just some of the findings that merit attention:

  • 28 percent of licensed working attorneys admit to struggling with some level of depression (and 46 percent have suffered depression episodes during their career);
  • 21 percent admit to problem drinking (but the figure is 23 percent in law firms, and it is a whopping 31 percent for junior associates);
  • 19 percent struggle with anxiety issues, with 16 percent using sedatives, sleep medications or other prescription drugs to deal with anxiety;
  • 11 percent have had suicidal thoughts during their legal career, and 8 percent have suffered panic attacks or panic disorders.

The study’s authors noted that lawyers are entrusted with high stakes matters by their clients, who also place very high expectations on them. Since many of those matters are confidential, it is hard or impossible for lawyers to talk to an understanding friend or companion about their professional challenges. The authors also noted that lawyers often work in “harshly judgmental and highly competitive environments,” such as the traditional law firm pyramid structures that create an “up or out” mentality and allow for very few partners to be selected from many associates.

As one of the authors noted, younger lawyers are especially stressed because they are dealing with record amounts of student loan debt and a shrinking number of job opportunities and partnerships at firms.

This is my 39th 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 February 2016, I have chosen to highlight the following :

  1. A thought-provoking post on Adam Smith, Esq. entitled “How the Mighty Fall,” which questions whether big law firms – as an industry – are going through the five stages of decline from once-mighty status, as described by Stanford business professor and author James Collins. If true, it is possible that most firms are still stuck in the denial stage of the decline of “big law”.
  2. A post by Gerry Riskin about a “virtual legal assistant” known as KIM (knowledge, information, and meaning), a technological cousin of IBM Einstein, that is now helping GCs in Canada to instantaneously manage, filter and analyze knowledge in contracts and other legal documents on command. It is interesting that sales of the product are targeted only at GCs, presumably because market research showed no interest among law firms (still in denial).
  3. A post by Craig Brown at LawVision, which provides a wonderful anecdote about the power of story in sales. Based on Craig’s post, I am wondering if more firms should be telling stories – short but inspiring and compelling stories – to demonstrate what they have to sell. Might be better than sharing lists of awards or self-laudatory hyperbole (as one client said to me, “when a firm tells me they are ‘best in breed’ I think of them as dogs.”
  4. A post by Bonnie Kittle on the Clockwork Design Group blog, which is entitled, “Where to Find Great Stock Photos.” The Clockwork blog always has great practical, useful tips on design and content.

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