Posted by: johnocunningham | June 26, 2018

What’s Up with Chief Legal Officers

The Association of Corporate Counsel has published its findings from its annual survey of Chief Legal Officers, and the results are informative and relevant to both in-house lawyers and outside law firms who serve them.

A total of 1,275 CLOs in 48 countries provided responses to the survey, which revealed that rapidly evolving regulatory changes are keeping them up at night more than any other issues.  Data breaches and information privacy issues were of the next most concern to CLOs with data breaches having affected one in four respondents directly.

The big news may be that more than half of CLOs are expecting budget increases, instead of cuts, for the first time in many years. But law firms should not pop the champagne corks for outside spending, as most of the increases are being directed at growing in-house staff and resources (and the threat of non-traditional providers of legal solutions has not gone away either). Only one in three CLOs expects to send more work to outside counsel this year and 17 percent actually expect to decrease their outside counsel spending.

Those who are interested can read a free synopsis offered by the ACC, or they can order the full report for $895 for non-ACC members.

Posted by: johnocunningham | June 12, 2018

What Senior Legal Officers At Coveted Clients Are Thinking

At the LSSO RainDance conference in Chicago on June 6, a panel of all-star legal leaders from global companies provided answers to numerous rapid-fire questions about legal sales and service.

The panel included: David Cambria, Global Director of Operations for Law, Compliance, and Government Relations at Archer Daniels Midland Company; Marta Carreira-Slabe, Chief Counsel for Aon Latin America; and Matt Nolan, VP & General Counsel for the Ancra Group of the Heico Companies.

Among the revelations at the panel event were the following:

  • Everyone welcomes free annual on-site visits from valued outside counsel who want to learn more about their business.
  • Law firms are not making positives shifts in service delivery and options fast enough, which has resulted in more business to going to Big Four consulting firms, technology solutions providers, contract lawyers and other alternative service providers.
  • As with past panels, ALL agree that they strongly prefer to like their outside counsel on a personal level, so character and personality counts.
  • ALL agree that they would welcome a conversation with outside counsel on how they can improve, but this conversation is rarely invited by the outside lawyers.
  • ALL agree that outside lawyers need to make much better efforts to understand client businesses and industries, and give advice that is industry-business relevant.
  • The most prominent service issues still cluster around communications, empathy and responsiveness.
  • RFPs and sales pitches can be improved with more focus, fewer pages, some market differentiation, and much more emphasis on “how” superb results are to be delivered, and how they will be business-industry relevant.
  • For the first time in years of panel events, ALL of the participants agreed that they would give a law firm plus points for having gone through a serious process improvement or project management program (preferably both).
  • All panelists agreed that they most often access law firm websites and Internet legal information via their desktops, rather than cellphones or tablets. Desktops continue to be favored by senior legal leaders, perhaps because they spend so much time in the office.
  • It is important for outside counsel not to “speak down” to in-house legal pros, who feel that there are all-too-common underestimations of their expertise, commitment, hours and legal scholarship.
  • Each of the panelists is working on ways to collaborate with their most valued providers on constant ratcheting up of service quality, speed and cost-effectiveness, so if you are not among the firms chosen for dedication to “perpetual improvement” you may not be among the most valued.
  • The panelists must build trust with their own in-house business “clients,” and they do so by listening to their concerns, spending time with them, responding quickly to their concerns when asked, and acting like friends rather than policemen.

These were some of the many insights the panelists shared. If you attended RainDance and would like to add some of your own observations about what was most important to senior legal officers, please feel free to share a post.

Thanks to Marta, David and Matt for their generous sharing of their time and insights !

Posted by: johnocunningham | June 11, 2018

Golden Nuggets from the 2018 RainDance Conference

As always, the Legal Sales and Service Organization hosted a superb gathering of some of the top business minds in the legal services industry on June 6-7 in Chicago, and as always, there were plenty of useful takeaways.

Here are some of the things that stuck in my mind from this year’s RainDance conference:

  • The people at Design Build Legal are using their design-thinking experience gained from working with clients like Nordstrom to help law firms adapt to a fast-changing competitive landscape. With their help, some leading-edge firms are moving from “Here’s what we make – want to buy some?” to “What are your problems? We’ll design and deliver the solutions?” They facilitated a workshop in which audience members built models for solutions to actual problems presented by a senior legal officer at a Fortune 500 company in less than one hour – awesome. You can learn more about them from the Design Build Legal website.
  • Data-masters at Intapp explained how marketing/sales professionals can help their firms to choose the right strategic direction, and get better buy-in from all key partners by focusing on key data that is available in most every firm. Loved a quote they presented by a managing partner: “If we have data [evidence] let’s use that to make decisions. But if all we have is opinions, then let’s go with mine.” Among many data “heuristics” they presented was the “Rule of 3” which says that a client is much more likely to stay and grow with a firm if that client is buying three or more types of services (litigation, corporate, real estate, etc.). They also revealed that clients who seek increasing discounts on bills are likely to jump ship soon if changes in service are not made.
  • Several books were recommended by multiple participants, including Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human,” and Patrick Lencioni’s “The Advantage.”
  • We learned from David Ackert of the Ackert Advisory that tracking data indicates that most prospects don’t become clients until an average of 14 impressions or touches are made (meetings, calls, content consumed, etc.). He also explained how important it is to have clear objectives for every interaction with a prospect prior to meeting or speaking with them. Thus, “winging it” is far less likely to produce a successful “impression” on which to build.
  • We learned from Iris Jones of McNees Law how even summer associates can design and implement a marketing program that successfully lands business from a major client prospect.
  • We learned from successful venture capitalist, Brent Jones, who also won a few Super Bowls as tight end for Joe Montana and Steve Young, that success is more about perspiration than inspiration. Jones wowed the audience with true tales from the football and business worlds that exemplified the importance of making a sustained daily effort, practicing your execution, getting out of your comfort zone, having a sense of humor to make the best of things, and being just plain “likeable.” Brent Jones is one of the best speakers you can have at a group event.

Attendees also learned what is on the minds of senior legal officers who are working in-house at three highly reputable global companies, and I plan to post more about that in the days ahead.

Thanks to the conference organizers for another great event, and thanks to all the attendees who shared some marvelous insights from their firms.


This is my 66th 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 2018, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

Posted by: johnocunningham | May 26, 2018

The State of the Legal Services Market and the Future Outlook

Hildebrandt Consulting and Citi Private Bank released a 2018 “Client Advisory” report earlier this year for law firms and legal service providers, and the report offered up some interesting insights that law firms should consider.

Some of the many insights provided by the report include the following:

  • Revenue growth and profit-per-partner growth are stalled in the 4 to 7 percent per year range, and likely will remain that way given the competitive landscape
  • Law firm demand growth has sputtered ever since the last recession
  • U.S. brand firms have recently started cutting into European market share as firms look to new markets for opportunity
  • Alternative legal service providers and in-house corporate staffs continue to supply a growing share of legal and quasi-legal services that law firms used to provide exclusively
  • Firms are bracing for the artificial intelligence revolution, and developing strategies to invest in or deal with e-discovery predictive coding, mass document review, large scale due diligence for M&A or other purposes, massive contract review and updating projects, and predictive analytics with regard to case outcomes, liability predictions and damages
  • Law firms are dealing with increasing levels of cyber-attack by criminals, developing more sophisticated cyber-defense strategies and buying cyber-insurance
  • Firms are currently looking at certain practice areas for the most growth opportunity, including white collar and regulatory investigations, tax advisory, project finance,and cybersecurity-related work
  • The technology, private equity, health care and life science industries are being eyed most closely for new client development
  • The numbers of professional and administrative staff supporting each lawyer continues to shrink over time as technology increases productivity and client demands drive competitive cost controls
  • The numbers of outsourced staff continues to grow slowly in response to the need for nimble adaptation to constantly volatile client demands
  • Nearly a third of equity partners are 55 or older now, which will necessitate greater succession planning

The report’s authors conclude that law firms can indeed adapt to the rapidly shifting market environment, stating that “We believe that law firms have historically been resilient in the face of changing market conditions and while change has come slowly, the law firm of 20 years ago bears little resemblance to the law firm of today.” If you have not checked it out already, it is worth a read.

Posted by: johnocunningham | May 21, 2018

How Business Clients See “Value”

When I talk to law firms about the importance of providing “value” to clients, some lawyers object to the concept of being a “value” provider because they think it means being a “discounter.”

Then, I explain to them that this concept of “value” is very different from the business client’s concept of value, as the client often sees the greatest value in the most experienced lawyer who charges the highest hourly rate. Why? Because the client says that lawyer can answer a legal question instantly without need of research, offering the added value of practical insights and suggestions born of actual experience.

This is why many clients have started refusing to pay for first year associate time – because they see zero value in those lawyers, even if they are billed out at the cheapest rates. Some clients feel that first year associates are essentially interning on their dime and want the firm to absorb that time as a cost of doing business.

The concept of value – for the client – is really about what you are getting for the money. It is NOT about “getting a discount,” though some people may see that as one form of value.

The fact is that “value” comes in many forms, but it is the one ingredient that more and more business clients say they are looking to find. It is so important to in-house counsel that the ACC (Association of Corporate Counsel) initiated a “value challenge” several years ago, and the organization now gives annual awards for recognition of special value provided to clients.

If you want to figure out what corporate clients mean when they talk about “value,” you might do well to review the 2018 ACC profiles of “value champions.”

This is my 65th 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 2018, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

If you see a great post about professional service marketing, communications or sales, please share it with me. Hope you enjoy these posts.

Posted by: johnocunningham | April 25, 2018

An Overlooked Key to Success: Enforcing Standards of Conduct

Recently, the ABA Journal published an article by Karen Kaplowitz, entitled “Abuse of Power Within Law Firms: The Rainmaker Dilemma.”

This was an excellent piece that summarized the internal struggles that law firms face when contemplating disciplinary action against revenue-generating partners.

Having worked in both law firms and in-house corporate law departments, I see a number of ways in which law firms would do well to imitate their most successful corporate clients (and not the dumb ones that lose money and employees on the way to Chapter 7):

  1. When a power partner is accused of any form of misconduct, there should be a true independent fact-finding investigation and recommendation (would you tell a corporate client to investigate their own wrongdoing and reach their own conclusions without the aid of “outside” counsel?)
  2. Every law firm should have clearly articulated standards for behavioral conduct, preferably in a written “Code of Conduct” and those standards should be most strictly applied to the leaders of the firm – if you don’t enforce standards against the leaders, then nobody believes those standards are real.
  3. At a minimum, any violation of standards should result in progressive counseling, and any repeated violation requires termination. NO exceptions.
  4. Every law firm should go through leadership training at a serious b-school to understand how culture and values – or lack thereof – can make or break both the top line and the bottom line. If you want to deflate and de-energize your entire workforce, just try slapping a power partner on the wrist after they have engaged in bad conduct. You might as well post a sign in the halls that says “Our Firm: love it or leave it as is.” Oh, and if you want to lose clients on a massive scale, try being the subject of a front-page story or just a posting in “Above the Law” on workplace harassment, abuse or wrongdoing. By the way, nearly half the in-house counsel I have surveyed told me they have steered business away from firms after noticing or hearing about workplace abuse.
  5. Every law firm should consider appointing and empowering a well-respected senior officer to be in charge of ethics and conduct, and that officer should join the Ethics Compliance Officers Association or some similar professional organization to study and compare approaches to setting and reaching aspirational goals for behavior. The ethics officer also needs to learn and to communicate the proven economic value of good conduct.

Based on my interviews of some of the most successful managing partners at large firms around the country, I will add that firms would do well to look at the UP side of disciplining or terminating abusive rainmakers or other partners. As an extremely successful managing partner once told me after leading an effort that turned his firm from a sinking ship into a regional powerhouse, “You have to deal with the 800-pound gorillas to be successful, and that includes taking them out if necessary.”

These heavyweight abusers often sap the energy of their partner peers, as well as associates and staff working under them, and that has a huge impact on firm-wide productivity. They also tend to ignore any goals of rules set by others while enforcing their own personal dictates in Draconian fashion. No successful corporation would put up with it for a minute, but somehow professional service firms have let it go for way too long.

Posted by: johnocunningham | April 17, 2018

In-house Counsel Rankings of Law Firms by Industry

“Above The Law” recently published rankings of law firms according to survey metrics supplied by in-house counsel as client-respondents.

Since these rankings are done according to client opinions, they should be of some value and/or concern to law firms, which were scored and ranked according to their service in various industries, including the following:

  • consumer products
  • energy
  • media/entertainment
  • life sciences/health care
  • finance
  • technology

Overall, there were just 25 top tier firms and a little more than 20 in the second tier of scoring.

Ultimately, in the battle for survival, there is no more important metric than client satisfaction, and this is but one example of a survey intended to gauge it. Firms that are not doing their own surveys are not doing what their own top clients do – measuring customer satisfaction every year, if not every quarter.


his is my 64th 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 2018, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

  • A post by Lindsay Griffiths at “Zen and the Art of Legal Networking” entitled: “Success Requires Client Satisfaction.” This is a nice post that cites the work of the Disney organization as an example of constant improvement in customer satisfaction and service scoring;
  • A post by Toby Brown at “3 Geeks and a Law Blog,” which is entitled “The Law Firm COO of the Future.” This post examines the trend in law firm empowerment of COOs as business Sherpas, tacticians and educators essential to progress in an increasingly competitive world.
  • A post by Bruce MacEwen at the Adam Smith blog, entitled “The Use and Abuse of Words.” This post provides a thought-provoking distinction between the way that businesses and law firms look at and speak about profitability, productivity and other concepts.

All of these posts take a good, hard look at critical concepts – client satisfaction, sophisticated business management and descriptive measuring sticks – that affect the direction and competitive strategy and execution of law firms.

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »