Posted by: johnocunningham | October 27, 2018

Relationships Take Time

In a number of talks I have had with law firm partners about business development and marketing, I have been asked if there is any way to “short cut” through all of the suggested investment of time in building and expanding profitable relationships. My short answer has always been “no” and I have cited research and analysis on the number of “impressions” it takes to make a sale and the number of contacts it takes – on average – to recruit a new customer or get new business from an existing one. The parallel I draw is to making new friends.

Now, there is some scientific research on just how long it takes to build trust and common ground sufficient to form the basis for a friendship.  Recent research from the University of Kansas demonstrates that it takes – on average – about 50 hours of socializing to move from acquaintance to casual friend, and 200 hours to cement a “close” friendship. If an average social interaction is two hours in length, that constitutes 25 social interactions to make a “casual” friend and 100 interactions to form a “close” friendship.

So why would we think that the time it takes to move business from one trusted professional to a new trusted professional would take any less time? The decision to include a professional service provider in your inner circle of advisors in whom you trust carries far greater implications than the decision to add a new friend to your retinue of trusted associates.

That’s why professional service providers need to invest significant time in building new relationships or expanding existing ones. There is no substitute or short cut for developing trust and close affiliations.


This is my 70th 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 2018, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

Posted by: johnocunningham | September 17, 2018

Legal Service Summits: A Building Trend ?

In recent years, I have talked to a growing number of GCs at large companies who have instituted some kind of annual summit meeting among all of their key legal service providers. Now, the GC at MasterCard is making an empirical case that such summits deliver measurable improvements in work quality, responsiveness and solutions. But the big payoff for law firms is that favorably impressed GCs are much more likely to recommend the providers to others.

So just what is a summit? The article from the above-provided link defines a summit as a “one- or two-day meeting for key outside counsel from several firms to bond with inside lawyers, learn from business clients, discuss strategy and be recognized for strong performance.” That is pretty consistent with the way that other GCs have described it to me.

As a GC, I always made use of face-to-face meetings with key providers at least once a year, if not more often, in order to achieve the same objectives. By holding such meetings with all of the key providers in the room, I think GCs and the law firms gain some “extras” such as:

  • A commitment to preparedness for important messaging and communication about realistic expectations, deliverables, efficiencies and more.
  • A chance to compare notes and brainstorm about ways to better serve the corporate client by working together as a team.
  • A sense of healthy competition combined with healthy team-work between and among the service providers (including the in-house providers).

The legal services world will continue to change over time, and the pace of change will accelerate, just as it has in all other industries. Those who are prepared to meet the challenges and brave the unknown will win more clients. Those who are not will go extinct.

This is my 69th 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 August 2018, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

  • A fun and informative post at the DIY Marketers blog entitled, “Do Dolphins Eat Cats?” which is all about the value of market research.
  • A challenge to law firms that offers empirically-tested value on the importance of asking, “Who’s in Your Competitive Set?”
  • A good practical post by Deb Scaringi on useful marketing steps that anyone can take this fall.
Posted by: johnocunningham | August 24, 2018

CFOs: Key Corporate Client Contacts

There is probably no officer in the C-suite that the CEO relies on more than the CFO, who is also frequently the longest tenured person in the suite (CMOs and CLOs get regularly churned, and CIOs get laterally recruited for big bucks).

So it is important for any professional service provider to develop a good relationship with the CFO, who often oversees many functions, including sometimes the legal function, HR function, insurance and loss prevention functions.

To get a good snapshot of what is on the minds of CFOs, you can check out 2017 CFO Survey Report published by AAF-CPAs. Among the key findings about the primary challenges of meeting CEO expectations and goals:

  • The biggest challenge is having the right people and talent
  • The second biggest challenge is a “lack of meaningful metrics” (note to law firms – you need to spend more time on metrics – it is the language of the CEO and the CFO)
  • Only 5 percent of respondents cite “regulatory issues” as a primary challenge.


Posted by: johnocunningham | August 17, 2018

Mock Juries and Focus Groups

For some years now, leading trial advocates have told me how much they value the input from mock juries and focus groups composed of people likely to be demographically representative of actual juries. For a long time, I have also participated in focus groups for marketing purposes, and I have seen how powerful they can be in terms of providing valuable feedback for improving products, services and marketing.

But only recently have I had the chance to participate in a mock jury, and it was an eye-opening experience. Based on what I learned, I would have to agree with the trial expert who told me: “If you are not using focus groups or mock juries in your major cases now, you are flying blind.” He went so far as to say that “it is borderline malpractice to ignore these tools.”

Here is a sampling of just some of the many things I learned from my experience as a mock juror listening to a medical malpractice case:

  • Group dynamics can make people shift their opinions in unexpected ways, and people really do grapple with coming to a consensus even though many start out with strongly held opinions that seem inflexible.
  • The conduct of an attorney in cross-examining a witness will be closely scrutinized, and can affect his client’s case, particularly if the lawyer is perceived to be hard on a witness (and I would add that male lawyers should tread very carefully with women witnesses, even if the women are professionals in competitive fields).
  • Factual and scientific details can be very hard to remember, even for the smartest jurors, who can end up debating what someone actually said, so it makes sense to ask the judge to allow jurors to take notes – they really do help with recall.
  • It is amazing how many jurors will totally dismiss the testimony of experts because they are perceived as nothing more than paid shills – lawyers should spend some time developing not just the credibility of an expert, but the reasons – beyond financial – that the experts are showing up to offer testimony.
  • Jurors can come up with truly pitiful damage assessments for “pain and suffering” without death, so lawyers have to develop this testimony carefully, being careful to neither under-develop the evidence nor gild the lilly… I heard several mock jurors come up with estimates of zero to $50,000 for the pain and suffering of a person who had multiple surgeries, major life disruptions and a lifetime of residual pain and discomfort (even when we were told to assume the total accuracy of the plaintiff’s testimony).
  • Jurors can decide that someone is completely unbelievable based on one statement, so lawyers must tell their witnesses to be 100 percent accurate. In this case, jurors dismissed much of the testimony of someone who made just one factual allegation that seemed very unlikely to the panel under the circumstances.
  • Jurors can decide that someone is unbelievable based on demeanor evidence, noting when someone shifts in their seat, fails to make eye contact, or just seems perturbed at questioning, so witnesses have to be well-prepped before they take the stand.
  • Jurors will grant an incredible amount of deference to learned doctors, and give even greater credence to the decisions of a team of doctors, so any advocate trying to prove that a team decision about patient care was wrong had better be prepared to show how team decisions were made and could go wrong due to group-think, lack of participation, deference to the treating doctor, or whatever the cause.
  • At least one juror noted that “to whom much is given, much is expected,” leading them to conclude that the doctor was paid to be right, and should be accountable for any failed result… this person’s candidly expressed belief caused others to speak up about the doctor possibly being wrong, shifting the initial group dynamic a bit from the initial deference to the doctor’s training.
  • When a doctor refers to a patient consent form as “paperwork,” it can be offensive to some jurors. I think jurors likely want to believe that their consent to surgery is taken extremely seriously.
  • On the other hand, the fact that a written consent is routinely sought just minutes before surgery, often when the first mention of serious or fatal consequences arises, does not seem to bother many people simply because “that is the way it is always done”… the medical profession has created for itself almost a standard of practice in treating consent to treatment as perfunctory.
  • Lawyers who want jurors to listen carefully to the evidence should do everything in their power to make sure that proceedings start and stop on schedule… I saw first-hand how anxious and even angry some people can be about the perception of having their time wasted just sitting and waiting for things to get going.


This is my 68th 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 2018, I have chosen to highlight the following blog posts:

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 30, 2018

How to Impress Your Corporate Client

Earlier this month, I noticed a published interview with the Chief Legal Officer for DHL Supply Chain Americas, Mark A. Smolik, and thought it was worth sharing with readers who might like to hear some of his perspectives on:

  • What a law firm has to do to impress the GC
  • How in-house lawyers avoid being perceived as “naysayers” and
  • the CLO’s top goals and areas of focus

Smolik’s views are generally consistent with those I have heard from other GCs I have interviewed this year. His focus on offering pragmatic legal advice in plain English and simplifying complexity (rather than making the simple complex) is part of a long-term theme for business clients who are frustrated with overly technical and academic answers to basic questions. This also illustrates the importance of being able to communicate what you know in the language of the client.


Posted by: johnocunningham | July 15, 2018

To Law Firms: It’s Good To Be Different

Renowned consulting firm, Altman & Weil has published some succinct and informative pieces about law firm differentiation in the legal services marketplace. They are publicly available and worthwhile reading for law firms.

The first piece I would recommend is one that shows graphically: 1. how firm leaders at different size firms assess their own attempts at differentiation; and 2. the relationship between perceived differentiation in the marketplace and success in growing demand.

The second piece is one that spells out the dimensions of law firm differentiation and many of the possible ways to differentiate legal services.

In a third piece, Altman Weil’s Eric Seeger has also supplied some simple exercises for attempting to communicate differentiation.

Of course, the potential for differentiation is only limited by imagination. I know of professional service firms and individual professionals that differentiate in ways not explicitly spelled out in these pieces, such as:

  • by offering promises of well-defined call-back or response times
  • by offering 24/7 phone service answering
  • by communicating specific credentials associated with process improvement, project management and other systemic training that business clients value in order to show a total package of skills that demonstrates a systemic commitment to perpetual improvements in efficiency, quality and speed
  • by measuring client satisfaction scores and sharing those scores publicly
  • by communicating quantitative measurements of experience in specific areas that other firms don’t even keep, much less share publicly

The first step in being “different” though is cultivating the will to be different.

Posted by: johnocunningham | July 12, 2018

The Lawyer Bots Are Coming, The Lawyer Bots Are Coming…

Lawyers continue to see encroachments on their turf by technology providers, who have now created “lawyer-bots” that fight parking tickets, contest property taxes and perform other tasks in a faster and more cost-efficient fashion than human lawyers.

This is just the latest in a series of technological encroachments into areas such as document review, contract analyses, legal research, economic damage assessments, and generation of basic wills, powers of attorney and other legal documents.

Law firms now have to distinguish themselves not only from human competitors, but electronic ones as well. They have to figure out what they do better or best, and communicate that effectively. They also have to look to the future, stake out the turf they know they can capture or defend, and take a little risk by innovating cost-effective, convenient and high-speed solutions before someone else beats them to the punch.

Individual lawyers need to figure out how their human experience connecting with, dealing with and collaborating with other humans can add value for a client in ways that technologies cannot, or in ways that help drive the technologies in the right direction for the greater benefit of clients. When it comes to machines, if you can’t beat ’em, you can at least supervise them and train them.

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