Posted by: johnocunningham | December 26, 2017

What Law Firms Need – Now More than Ever

In 2017, law firm revenues made reasonably healthy gains for the first time in years, and yet there was a rebound in the number of firms fading from existence, as competitive pressures forced more mergers and more disruptions that led to firms just blowing up.

According to a recent article in the New York Law Journal, headhunter raids and partner disagreements were key factors in a shifting law firm landscape this year as several well-known firm names disappeared from view or announced that they will be closing their doors, including New York’s Chadbourne & Parke, San Francisco’s Sedgwick, and the U.K.’s King & Wood.

The global phenomenon is not a short-term blip, as noted by literally hundreds of legal consultants and trade press observers. At a time when many law firms are held together by nothing more than a common desire to make more money, it is too easy for competitors to pick partners off, and it is too common for partners to fight – over the money that is getting harder to earn. As a successful senior partner once said to me, “if the only reason a partner comes to a firm is for more money, then they will eventually leave – for more money.”

Going into 2018, every law firm needs the following more than ever:

  • A long-term vision and mission
  • Both short-term and long-term strategic plans to achieve the stated mission
  • A culture built around the long-term vision and a group of committed leaders bound together by it
  • Cultural “glue” made of shared values that binds both lawyers and clients together
  • A well-developed understanding of the legal marketplace and the competitors in it
  • A well-developed plan for marketing and communications to clients, prospects and referral sources

Practicing law is harder than ever. But the future need not be depressing or bleak. A firm with well-chosen goals, a carefully crafted strategy for achieving them, and the right people matched to a consciously developed culture can thrive. Such a firm can even be a thrilling and energetic place to work.

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2018 !


Posted by: johnocunningham | December 21, 2017

The Power of Marketing, Branding and Story

This is a great time of year to take note of the power of marketing, branding and story just by examining the history of traditions invented by marketers.

A small sampling from the link above includes:

  1. Rudolph the reindeer, started by Montgomery Ward to draw people (families with kids) into their stores.
  2. Black Friday, started by retailers, to sell more products at the busiest retail season of the year.
  3. Wedding registries, created by Marshall Fields to facilitate organized and effective gift buying for newlyweds.

So what’s your story? Who are the leading characters in the story? And how does your story connect with consumers of your services and products?

Some tips on legal storytelling on “Attorney at Work“…   and some good examples of telling stories by case study below:

This is my 60th 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 November 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

  1. A nice article by Craig Brown on the LawVision blog, entitled “How to Meet a New Prospect Without Cold Calling.”
  2. A timely and topical post by Sue-Ella Prodonovich on her Prodonovich Advisory, entitled “How to Make the Most of the Christmas Networking Period.”
  3. A post about the importance of knowing and shaping what clients think about you, which was posted by Cordell Parvin on his blog under the title “What Would Your Clients Say About You?”

I also liked reading the thought-provoking post on Adam Smith, Esq. entitled “The End of Leverage?” This piece cites both data and trends that leveraged law firms should consider in charting their futures.

Posted by: johnocunningham | November 22, 2017

Chief Legal Officers Tell Where They’re Headed

The 2017 edition of the Chief Legal Officer Survey was recently published by legal consulting firm, Altman Weil, which summarized 280 responses from 21% of the 1,332 corporate law departments invited to participate.

Among the key survey findings were the following:

  • Nearly 60 percent of the largest law departments (those with 50 or more lawyers) are cutting their total legal spending (part of a continuing trend)
  • Overall, more legal departments plan to increase legal spending on outside counsel in 2018 (first time since 2007)
  • Outsourcing to non-law-firm vendors is reportedly the management tactic that results in the greatest gains in efficiency and cost control, but this tactic is still used very selectively

The second bullet is good news for outside counsel, but the positive reversal of a ten-year trend in lowering outside counsel budgets is much more popular with smaller law departments, according to the survey.

The third bullet is the one for law firms to heed. While outsourcing to non-law-firm vendors, such as accounting firms and contract lawyers, is still a tactic of limited use, it is not likely to stay that way for long. Corporate law departments are very good at driving costs down over time, and they will figure out more ways to make use of non-law-firm vendors, particularly autonomous and semi-autonomous technology providers who handle discovery reviews.

For law firms, it is more important than ever to map out a competitive strategy, stake out the turf that can be defended, attack the ground that can be taken back, and look for new fields that can prove fruitful.

For those who are interested, I recommend reading Altman Weil’s entire 2017 survey.

Posted by: johnocunningham | November 16, 2017

Crisis and Failure: Opportunities for Change

History offers an abundant number of illustrations that crisis is an opportunity for positive change and growth.

After the Great Depression, the Securities Exchange Commission and Securities Acts empowered regulators to clean up stock market fraud and mandate full and timely disclosures to investors. The intense study of the collapse also paved the way for greater understanding of the economic effects of monetary policy, tax policy and government subsidies.

IBM has successfully reinvented itself a number of times over the years, dating back to the 19th century, when its primary products were punch cards and time-keeping systems. Each time the company charted a new course to maintain its relevance and position of industrial leadership, it was spurred forward by the dwindling utility and profitability of a prior generation of products or services. Thus, it has brought us over the years magnetic storage tape, electronic typewriters, digital calculators, data processing machines, hard disk drives, mainframes, super-computers, and now quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

When Teddy Roosevelt lost his mother and wife within a period of 24 hours in 1884, he wrote in his diary that “the light has gone out of my life.” He then went west to the Badlands, became a Dakota cowboy, and eventually led efforts to organize ranchers’ efforts stop overgrazing and other practices that hurt the land they depended upon. His work resulted in the formation of the Little Missouri Stockmen’s Association. He was also compelled to coordinate conservation efforts and was able to form the Boone and Crocket Club, whose primary goal was the conservation of large game animals and their habitats. After a bad winter wiped out his herd of cattle, Roosevelt returned to the East with a renewed vigor and a sense of public purpose that eventually vaulted him to the presidency in 1901.

It makes sense that governments, commercial enterprises, and individuals take their greatest leaps forward after crisis or failure. That is when we are most receptive to challenging what we have known, when we are most open to learning from others, and most convinced that the old ways and familiar places can not be relied upon forever. Inertia is the tendency of a body at rest to stay at rest, and forward motion often takes a catalyst which rudely tells us that we’re doing isn’t working.

For law firms, the last recession and the increasing competition from in-house law departments, contract lawyers, technology providers, accounting firms and non-traditional outsourcing have all provided a rude and disruptive spur to competitive and collaborative innovation. For those firms who are taking new approaches and adopting new methods and tools to deliver legal services that are faster, more relevant, and more cost-effective, there is a great story to tell… and a great opportunity for a leap forward. For those who are still pining for the good old days, there’s not much of a future.

On the subject of turning crisis into opportunity, check out this post by the Brookings Institute.

For more about the new legal service models, check out this story at Thomson Reuters.


This is my 59th 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 October 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

  1. A post about the emerging sophistication in networking referrals by Lindsay Griffiths on the “Zen and the Art of Legal Networking” blog. The post is entitled “Driving Collaboration: Beyond the Traditional Referral for Mid-sized Firms.”
  2. A timely post by Mandy Edwards on her ME Marketing Services blog entitled “Five Ingredients for a Successful Holiday Media Campaign.”
  3. A post by David Ackert on the Ackert Advisory blog entitled “The Key to Networking is Quality over Quantity.” This post features a link to a free download on targeted business development, which is designed to help lawyers focus their marketing energy and avoid random acts of marketing.
  4. A post by Ivana Taylor at DIY Marketers entitled “Six Things You Should Know About Email Marketing.
  5. A thought-provoking post by Bruce MacEwen on the Adam Smith blog simply entitled “Tenerife” after the location of the greatest commercial aviation disaster in history. The author looks at lessons learned from that accident about catastrophic failures caused by organizations that culturally stifle the act of asking questions of their leaders.

If you have a favorite blog or blog post, feel free to mention it to me. Happy reading !

Posted by: johnocunningham | October 23, 2017

Law Firms In Need of Strategy NOW

As if law firms did not have enough competition from in-house law departments, contract lawyers, tech solutions and alternative providers, they now have to be concerned with the Big Four accounting and consulting firms, who are not only raiding law firms for talent, but leveraging their well-established CFO and C-suite connections for large chunks of corporate legal business related to litigation damages expertise, legal management systems, merger and acquisition work, due diligence, e-discovery, cyber-security, and other profitable areas of work.

Firms now need a strategy for beating back all of these encroaching competitors, and that strategy will need to be comprehensive, accounting for human talent, process improvement, and technology. A winning strategy will also need to focus on reshaping law firm cultures to be more focused on innovation and leading, instead of following marketplace trends, as suggested by Randi Mayes in a recent ABA Journal piece. 

Leadership and management can no longer be what firms attend to when time allows between law practice priorities. At some point, firms might even have to hire full-time professional managers who are empowered to make decisions that bind the partners and position them for sustainable future success.

If your firm already has a strategy and systems that deliver more value to clients than your competitors, you need to communicate it to the marketplace now with the help of a qualified legal communications professional.

Posted by: johnocunningham | October 13, 2017

Best Blog Posts in September: Client Development

This is my 58th 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 September 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following three blog posts, all of which relate to client development:

  1. A post by Cordell Parvin on his blog entitled, “Getting Unstuck on Asking Potential Clients for Business
  2. A post by Craig Brown on the LawVision blog entitled, “How to Coach Your Lawyers to be Rainmakers from the Inside
  3. A post by  Sue-Ella Prodonovich on her blog entitled, “Want the best feedback? Here are 7 reasons to ask the clients who like you first

These three writers often deliver sound, practical advice in simple language that is easy to understand. A tip of the hat to each of them for their work in September.

Posted by: johnocunningham | September 28, 2017

Data Mining and Analytics for Lawyers

Every large corporate client that every business law firm is chasing has turned to data mining and analytics to get an edge on understanding their customers, anticipating trends, predicting sales for new products and making a host of key business decisions.

Now lawyers are starting to follow the lead of their clients, utilizing tools such as Lex Machina, Bloomberg Law Litigation Analytics and other data analyzers to accomplish the following:

  • Predict the damages that a judge or jury will award in a particular type of case brought in a particular venue;
  • Compare pricing and other metrics within a local or regional market among law firms to position a marketing strategy or win a competitive edge in that market;
  • Do peer performance bench-marking against other firms;
  • Predict what the market will bear for certain types of intellectual property licensing; and
  • Make assessments or decisions related to any publicly or commercially available data sets.

For legal teams that are already making use of these tools, there is a huge opportunity to grow connections with clients and prospects by communicating about these technological capabilities and inviting others to join in the discussion about how to improve client outcomes and costs by making better use of data analytics.


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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