Posted by: johnocunningham | June 30, 2017

Recent Survey Issues Clarion Calls to Lawyers

Law firm leaders are concerned with but not always reacting to a wide array of competitive threats that continue to grow in the legal service sector. That is one of the big takeaways I see in the 2017 Law Firms in Transition survey by legal consulting firm Altman Weil, which lawyers would be well-advised to read.

Some of the particularly noteworthy survey findings include:

  • Law firms are changing in reaction to the shifting marketplace, but not as quickly as they should
  • 62 percent of firms say non-equity partners are not busy enough with work
  • More than half of laterals are not meeting expectations for bringing in new business
  • Firms are using contract lawyers to meet bumps in demand or to help clients control legal costs, and old-fashioned stigmas about the use of contract lawyers are nearly extinct
  • Two-thirds of firms say they are losing work to growing in-house law departments, and 19 percent report losing business to non-law firm providers (I would add that the real figure would be much higher if firms had an accurate and comprehensive way of tracking this, since alternative providers, such as legal service tech providers, are growing exponentially)
  • 39 percent of respondents say they have made significant changes in pricing strategy, while another 17 percent are considering doing so (I would note that the growth in hiring of “pricing directors” is a clear indication of this trend)
  • Only 7.5 percent of firms have started to make some use of artificial intelligence resources (a very thin percentage compared to other industries)

The total picture that emerges from the report is, in my opinion, one that should have law firm partners seriously examining the business of legal service delivery. It is critical for firms to be at the top of their game in process development and improvement, project management, technological innovation, marketing, service and awareness of their clients’ preferences and concerns.



Posted by: johnocunningham | June 27, 2017

Professional Service Communications: The Art of the Apology

For professional service providers, there is perhaps no more challenging form of communication than the apology for something missed or done incorrectly.

As Lee Taft noted in his article, “A Toll on Lawyers,” published in the June 2017 edition of the Texas Bar Journal, doctors, lawyers and other professional service providers are often perfectionists, and “when a perfectionist makes a mistake, he or she feels guilt and fear.” Adding to the challenge of making an apology, clients and others who deal with professional service providers often expect them to be beyond reproach and always at the top of their game.

But all professionals are human, and nobody gets everything right.

So when something goes wrong, and it may or may not have been partly the result of your own professional oversight or misstep, how do you make an apology that sounds sincere and human without making an admission of liability? Or should you even try to do so?

As Taft pointed out in his article, and has been written on this blog, the power of a well-worded apology is immense. It can not only salvage a business or professional relationship and avert a lawsuit, it can help the perfectionist to avoid a scenario where a feeling of “guilt morphs into shame, and shame turns into isolation.” This is not a small consideration for lawyers at a time when (according to one study) 61 percent have concerns about anxiety and 21 percent admit to being problem drinkers (or substance abusers).

What further complicates matters is the law regarding apologies and admissions, which varies by jurisdiction. In some states, apologies are not admissible as evidence, but in others they may be admissible if they constitute admissions of fault.

If a professional attempts to walk the tightrope between apology and admission of liability, according to Taft, he or she can make matters worse, as so-called “partial apologies” that come without expression of any kind of responsibility have been shown to be worse than making no apology at all in the eyes of those to whom an apology is made.

So how does a lawyer express an apology for a bad outcome when he or she may be at least partially at fault, though liability and damage may be unclear?

Consider the hypothetical case of a lawyer who represents the buyer of a business, and fails to list certain assets in a schedule of acquisition, resulting in lack of clear title to the assets and possibly a dispute if the seller refuses to convey the assets because they were not explicitly made part of the deal. It might not be solely the lawyer’s fault, especially if the buyer’s and seller’s business representatives failed to make clear what the scope of their deal included, perhaps because of a mad rush to get things done. But in the hypothetical, the lawyer still feels he or she failed to get the parties to a clear “meeting of the minds” in writing.

In such a case, the lawyer might consider making a truthful statement of remorse, acknowledging some responsibility as part of the business team, promising to figure out what went wrong and fix it so that it does not happen again, and inviting an attempt at salvaging the relationship. Depending on the other facts involved and the applicable law, the counselor might say something like the following:

“I am so sorry that we failed to insure that you achieved all of your business objectives in this deal. I know how much of your life you put into your business, and you have my word that we will figure out how this happened and design a process to insure that it never happens again to you or any other client. We take great pride in assuring that all of our clients’ objectives are met, and so this outcome feels like a terrible defeat for us. Can we please preserve our valued relationship by offering to share the pain of this loss, perhaps for starters, by writing off the time we spent on due diligence related to X oversight, and working with you to figure out how we can all do better in the future?”

If the apology is sincere and well-received, it could quite possibly salvage the relationship, or at least avoid the unpleasant prospect of any angry client resorting to another lawyer to bring suit for damages. Law firms would do well to consider this approach at a time when firms are more frequently being sued by clients, and public sentiment is gaining for laws that require full disclosure of mistakes by professionals.

Earlier this month, Forbes magazine contributor, Mark Cohen, a lawyer with a distinguished 40-years of practice under his belt, penned an article entitled, “Are Law Firms Becoming Obsolete?”

Cohen contended that “the traditional partnership model was designed for the practice of law, not the delivery of legal services,” adding that “a growing body of evidence points to advancing obsolescence of the incumbent partnership model.” In particular, he cited findings from the 2017 Georgetown Legal Report, which found that corporate legal buyers are directing more work away from large law firms. Ordinary legal consumers are also turning more frequently to non-traditional vehicles of legal service delivery, such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer.

The article pointed out that corporate clients are not necessarily dismissing law firms, but are “disaggregating” tasks once handled entirely by firms. They are outsourcing litigation discovery tasks, hiring contract lawyers to meet temporary surges in demand, and using technology to accomplish contract reviews and other discreet items on their “to do” lists. Thus, firms are still surviving, but they are increasingly forced to de-equitize partners, reduce staff, and cut costs to preserve the Holy Grail of profits-per-partner.

Cohen argued that the law firm partnership model was designed for the benefit of partners, and not for clients, so it is not equipped to meet new and accelerating demands for technological innovation, efficiency and value.

His most searing commentary included the following assertions about law firms:

  • (1) they face growing client dissatisfaction and have failed to address it;
  • (2) they have insufficient knowledge of the client’s business;
  • (3) they have high, unpredictable costs;
  • (4) they have an economic model that is inefficient and fails to assess appropriate value per task from the client perspective;
  • (5) they too often fail to deploy technology to streamline operations and provide enterprise solutions;
  • (6) they have an absence of process improvement and project management;
  • (7) they have a transactional approach to client matters rather than one that provides enterprise solutions; and
  • (8) they are too often guilty of poor customer service.

Actually, I think law firms are listening to clients more now than they ever have, though improvements are still needed. Firms are also innovating, as previously cited on this blog. 

But the clarion call is getting louder for changes in legal service delivery, and firms that are answering the call will only benefit by communicating to the marketplace about the value they deliver to clients, the innovations they are using to improve service and cost, and the technological tools and methodologies they are employing to stay ahead of the competition.

If firms cannot constantly refine and improve on legal service costs and delivery times, there will be a natural increase in the flow of investment capital into artificial intelligence solutions and other technology vehicles for legal service that will ultimately prove out Cohen’s thesis.

Law firms must not only communicate the client-driven imperative for change internally, they must demonstrate and communicate to the marketplace how they are answering the call for change, and leading the way in legal service delivery innovation.

Posted by: johnocunningham | June 9, 2017

Coolest New Tool for Creating a Business Development Pipeline

There were a lot of great presentations on the state of the art and the future of legal service delivery and legal marketing at the 2017 LSSO RainDance conference, but one of the coolest demonstrations on a piece of practical and simple technology was by David Ackert of Practice Pipeline.

David saw a need in law firms and created a simple software program to solve it. He recognized that 73 percent of law firms have some kind of CRM (client relationship management) software, but less than 5 percent of lawyers are actually using it. He figured out that lawyers don’t use it because the interface is too complex, or the data entry takes too much time, or there is simply no system to prompt them what to do.

So he hired a programmer and crafted his own tailor-made solution for law firm users. David’s system is so simple it is genius. It depicts colored tiles for each client, prospect or referral source for each lawyer, and it offers up prompts for BD activities corresponding to each tile. Thus, a lawyer using the system is easily prompted to invite someone to coffee or lunch, send them articles or birthday notes, visit them for sales presentations or invite them to events, and more.

Then the system scores your BD activity – by volume and recency – and it compares your score to other lawyers in the firm (so you know if you are falling behind or keeping pace with your peers). It also prompts you to prepare for or follow up on activities you have scheduled. A green tile means you have more than a week to prepare for a BD activity with a given contact, a yellow tile means you are coming due, and a red tile means you are on or have missed a deadline.

The system also allows lawyers to see what others in the firm are doing with the same clients, targets or referral sources, so as to improve collaboration, and it gives you a chance to see which BD activities and which lawyers are getting return on activity investment.

As a result of this simplicity, utilization rates for this system are 75 percent, which is more than 70 percent better than typical CRM programs alone.

For a nice video overview of this system, check out this YouTube video. 

This is my 54th 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 May 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts related to blogging, content marketing and story-telling:

Finally, I want to also give a shout out to Sue Ella Prodonovich for her blog post on “Seven Things Your Associates Would Change About Your Firm” because she has highlighted some things that corporate clients have pointed to, as well as associates, about the need for better and faster training, development and apprenticeship of associate lawyers.

Too many legal service sales pitches are about the law firm and not the client.

That is just one of the insights learned from the voices of the clients at the LSSO RainDance conference in Dallas on May 9-10.

More than one presenter spoke about the value of client surveys and what can be learned from listening to clients, who are almost always willing to give candid and helpful feedback when asked.

We learned from one survey why sales pitches most often fail with clients. Here are some of the biggest reasons:

  1. The lawyers offered no reason “why” to hire them rather than the competition (there was no “value proposition”)
  2. The lawyers spent too much time on a sales pitch rather than a service pitch (if you got into the room, the client already assessed your competence, so start talking about and demonstrating your commitment to service)
  3. The lawyers talked too much about their competence without focusing on their relevance (for clients, the relevance is all about the client’s industry and particular business, and legal service capacity must be demonstrated within that context… or as one client put it, “competence is about the lawyer, relevance is about the client”)
  4. There was no “chemistry” with the lawyers (this means basically, the client simply did not like you… sales are about trust, and trust is very much about being likeable)
  5. “We wanted a firm that is already where we are headed,” which means a firm that is in the future, already ahead of the competition, already mastering new technologies, already executing on diversity initiatives and other futuristic directions

This last bit of feedback is something new, which indicates a growing concern with staying ahead of the pace of change. The first four reasons for sales pitch failures are within the scope of more traditional, longstanding feedback from clients.

Lawyers have enough to do just to master their practices, but now they also have to master the art of communicating their mastery and relevance to clients, who are increasingly picky about the company they keep. According to a recent survey of Fortune 1,000 companies by the reputable BTI Consulting Group, the average company utilized a total of just 37 law firms last year, down more than 30 percent from a total of 54 in 2012, as clients consolidate more work into the hands of the most trusted and highest graded performers on their outside counsel rosters.

Some other client feedback that presenters offered at the LSSO RainDance conference included the following:

  • Clients generally prefer dialogue-driven sales meetings to passive PowerPoint presentations;
  • Most clients like “high-touch and low-tech” meetings with outside consultants
  • Clients often say they want to hire someone who reflects their own personalities, which may mean someone “scrappy and entrepreneurial” if the client is a start-up or fast-growing enterprise
  • Many clients say they would like to see lawyers act more like consultants, offering insights on what others are doing, looking to the future, and offering up a plan to keep pace with or beat the competition

Audience members also learned the well-established value of doing good client surveys, which can:

  • Identify service problems before they result in client defections;
  • Make the client feel valued and respected (IF their feedback is heard and acted upon);
  • Identify new business opportunities when clients speak about what is most important to them and their futures; and
  • Solidify existing solid relationships.


At the LSSO RainDance conference in Dallas, TX on May 10, a panel of all-star legal leaders provided answers to numerous rapid-fire questions about legal sales and service.

The panel included: Audrey Rubin, VP and COO of the Aon Global law department; Telisa Webb-Schelin, CLO, Executive VP and Corporate Secretary for TIER REIT, Inc.; Allen Walker, Executive VP and GC for Heritage Health Solutions; and David Wheeler, GC for BBA Aviation’s aftermarket service businesses.

Four out of four, or 100 percent of General Counsel agreed that:

  1. They would be favorably impressed with any lawyer who offered free annual visits solely to learn more about the client’s business;
  2. Super Lawyer status is irrelevant to them;
  3. They strongly prefer to like the lawyers they hire (as people, not just as professionals)
  4. They would welcome a conversation with an outside firm about how they are doing and how they can improve
  5. They prefer legal service surveys that are done with a human rather than on a form
  6. Each of them regularly reads one or more law firm newsletters or client alerts
  7. Either they or their finance teams have audited law firm invoices for adherence to hiring instructions
  8. All of them strongly consider the voice of other trusted counsel in selecting a new lawyer in a new area, particularly the voice of other in-house counsel
  9. Industry knowledge and understanding are more important hiring factors than Chambers rankings or hourly rates
  10. Getting to their desk quickly with a client alert is important because they get lots of them and won’t read the ones that come late on any given subject
  11. They all want to know about any bad news relating to a law firm BEFORE it hits the newspapers
  12. All would like to see industry specific experience on a lawyer’s website profile

With respect to other issues:

  1. Three of four stated that they would not pay for 1st year associate time for some or all matters
  2. Two stated that they MUST like the lawyer they hire
  3. Two of four speak with outside lawyers about improving if necessary, but two are more inclined to just stop using lawyers who fail to measure up
  4. Three of four don’t care about the length of law firm website and collateral materials – they just want the material to contain what is relevant to them in a way that is easy to find
  5. Three of four think law firm brochures and leave-behinds offer little or no value
  6. Firms get fired for being slow on service, moving forward on a key decision without authority, and missing agreed deadlines
  7. RFPs and sales pitches could benefit from the inclusion of good and relevant references or testimonials, as well as better demonstration of business/industry understanding
  8. Some of the law firm publications that got called out favorably included the Baker McKenzie International Trade Compliance Update, and general corporate client alerts from Jones Day, Weil Gotshal and Arnold & Porter.
  9. With regard to non-legal service providers, they called out providers that cater to and recognize their personalized needs and preferences, being particularly respectful of their time and not repeatedly trying to “upsell” them on things they don’t want or need.
  10. Two usually access firm websites and firm info via their desktops at work and two access such info across multiple devices in roughly equal time shares
  11. Three of four would like to see more quantification of lawyer experience on lawyer profiles (numbers of cases, size of matters handled, etc.)
  12. Three of four use some sort of technology solutions to replace or cut legal professional staffing/time on projects when they can
  13. Individual preferences of the legal leaders included predelictions for…  a. early litigation case assessments, b. shorter legal memos with clear recommendations on course of action, c. the use of executive summaries with longer memos, d. the issuance of more prompt and regular invoices that clearly identify the matter and client, e. providing annual reports to a client on what a firm has done for the client and the firm’s relationship with the client, f. improving diversity on service teams at both the associate and partnership levels, and g. respecting the fact that corporate internal decision-making can take time necessitating presentation of key information well before legal deadlines.

The panelists covered a lot of other ground, some of which will be summarized in future posts.

Posted by: johnocunningham | May 22, 2017

What’s New in Legal Service Innovation?

Law firms and corporate law departments are finally taking calculated risks to become innovation leaders in the increasingly competitive field of legal service delivery, and some of those risks are paying off in a big way.

That is what Professor Gabe Teninbaum, the Director of the Institute on Law Practice Technology and Innovation at Suffolk University Law School, told an audience of global firms and consultants at the 2017 LSSO RainDance Conference in Dallas on May 10.

Some of the innovations that he highlighted include:

  1. A 2,500 square foot “innovation laboratory” that Reed Smith has opened as a space dedicated to bringing firm professionals together to develop innovative ideas for the benefit of clients. Alex Smith in London has become the firm’s innovation leader after a stint as “innovation manager” at LexisNexis. The firm also has “innovation hubs” in London and New York that are dedicated to hatching practical ideas pertinent to: a. new and developing areas of law (such as law and regulation related to drones or self-driving cars); b. new ways of delivering legal services to clients in ways they favor; and c. methods of streamlining legal processes for faster and less expensive legal service delivery.
  2. CS Disco, the fastest growing e-discovery technology, which was initially developed at a litigation boutique in Houston that does a lot of IP litigation. More than 400 firms and 50 of the AmLaw 200 use this lawyer-developed technology now.
  3. The Founders Workbench, pioneered by Boston’s Goodwin Procter, a legal resource that helps fledgling entrepreneurs to get started in the formation, operation, hiring, and growing of their businesses.
  4. Littler Mendelson has hired a data director with MIT Sloan School experience to help the firm utilize “big data” to serve its clients better, following up on its CaseSmart system for better HR  and case management.
  5. Bryan Cave has launched TechX, an incubator to foster the testing and mastery of new legal technologies, utilizing among other things, free one-year tech trials where tech providers allow the firms and its clients to get used to various state of the art technologies with the help of some coaching.
  6. The General Electric law department has created a kind of in-house “Yelp” for lawyers, which allows lawyers to rate and rank law firms and lawyers as service providers, sharing information about particular types of cases and results.
  7. Verizon’s law department undertook process improvement training and applied it to their contracts approval process, streamlining the time for approvals and improving the consistency of the contracts, resulting in an estimated savings of more than $20 million per year.
  8. Liberty Mutual and Fidelity Investments have brought IDEO-type “design thinking” into their legal operations, constantly focusing on the development of systems that are easier and better for corporate clients to use when interfacing with the law departments.
  9. Kia, the Korean carmaker, has a legal department which now tests the software skills of outside lawyers and firm professionals, providing them with “up-training” as necessary to improve speed and results before Kia takes an engagement with a firm.
  10. Baker Hostetler is now using ROSS, a form of artificial intelligence derived from IBM’s Watson, to sift through thousands of legal documents and public records to pluck out helpful information pertinent to every aspect of a piece of litigation (initially, they are focusing on bankruptcy cases).

Teninbaum says that leading-edge firms are just starting to hire Chief Innovation Officers and directors in charge of surveying what the competition is doing to win the battle for clients, just like corporate clients have done for a long time now.

Looks like there are more changes coming, and a lot of excitement on the horizon for law firms.

Posted by: johnocunningham | May 2, 2017

Best of April Blog Posts: From the Client/Customer Perspective

This is my 53rd 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 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts related to the importance of focusing on the client’s perspective to achieve lasting success:

I also liked a post about lessons learned from the United Airlines “forced removal” fiasco by Nancy Myrland on her Myrland Marketing blog. Her well-written post was entitled, “United Airlines: Principle over People and Profits, Was it Worth it?”

Posted by: johnocunningham | April 24, 2017

Real Lawyers With Really Good Blogs

I get asked periodically: “What do you think are good examples of blogs written by reputable lawyers?”

Well, here are three examples I favor:

  • The Margolis & Bloom “Planning for Life” blog features regular posts, content that is useful to both clients and practitioners, and well-written pieces that are easy to digest.  Plus, Harry Margolis is truly the “Dean of Elder Law” and a highly reputable estate planning lawyer.
  • The Employer Handbook is a blog by Eric Meyer, a Philadelphia lawyer with a sense of humor, a conversational writing style, and a knack for finding something new and interesting to write about in employment law almost every day.
  • The Venable LLP “All About Advertising Law” blog, which features frequent posts about the law of advertising and marketing, a field that I love and one that offers lots of interesting real-life stories. Again, it is informative and NOT boring !

So, there you have it. Three good examples of blogs that offer regularly published content that is worth taking the time to read (and it does not take much time because it is well-written and well-condensed rather than long, boring and tedious).

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