Wednesday, May 4, 2016

5 Things I Learned at the In-House Counsel Panel at #LMA16

Last month I attended the Legal Marketing Association annual meeting, two days of presentations on how lawyers and firms can better market their services and grow their practices. The highlight of the conference was the in-house panel, which this year featured Vince Cordo, Global Sourcing Officer at Shell, Matt Fawcett, General Counsel of NetApp, and Paul Drummond, Senior Legal Counsel at AT&T. Elizabeth Duffy of research firm Acritas led the discussion.
Here's what I learned: 
1. Value matters. 
Although the panelists agreed that there was no one, standard, definition of "value," they all made it clear that they look to their outside lawyers to bring some form of value to the relationship, such as helping the company meet certain financial objectives, moving the stock price, efficiently resolving problems, anticipating legal issues, and more. The challenge for firms then becomes figuring out how each individual clients defines "value," and providing that.
2. Feedback matters. 
The in-house panelists all agreed that they wished their lawyers did more surveys. They felt firms miss out on an important opportunity to improve the relationship, to learn what their clients don't like and stop doing it, when they don't seek out more feedback from clients. What's more, they made it clear that have things to say – about delivery of service, about skill sets, about how we can make them happy – that they not telling us simply because we don't ask. 
"We don't hire lawyers. We hire law firms."
3. Teamwork matters. 
This was perhaps the most surprising thing to hear, because the idea that clients hire firms, not individual lawyers, flies in the face of what we've been told about the importance of personal relationships in the legal industry. It's important to note that their point was not that they do not expect strong rapport between the in-house and outside counsel; rather, that they give work to firms based on bench strength, on the breadth and scope of skills, on creating and maintaining an environment where everyone contributes and gets credit for their work. 
4. Fees matter. 
Although Paul Drummond told the audience that efficiency is often more important than price, going as far as to say that price is "irrelevant [and] independent of expertise, quality," and other factors, the panelists made it clear that cost continues to be a factor in evaluating the performance of outside counsel. And it was equally clear that the companies on the panel are pushing back harder on certain types of fees to restore balance, to move from a place where legal costs are based on the law firm's perception of value rather than that of the client.  
"Law firms call them 'alternative fee arrangements.' We call them 'appropriate fee arrangements'"
5. Metrics matter. 
The panelists made it clear that clients – now more than ever – are using metrics and data to drive efficiencies and cost-savings. They're all looking at a broad range of data points when evaluating law firm performance, trend that appears to be here to stay. The good news is that they're not shy about telling law firms what they're doing: all you need to do is ask. The better news is, according to Matt Fawcett, the competition hasn't started asking yet…
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So what can you learn from the in-house panelists at this year's LMA conference? That your client is probably more than happy to tell you how you can make her happy. You just need to ask.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

3 Reasons Why Every Lawyer Should Study JD Supra's Readers' Choice Awards

JD Supra just published their inaugural Readers’ Choice awards, featuring top authors and top content across 26 categories in 2015. The accompanying report provides critical insight into who’s reading what – and in which industry – that every lawyer should know. Some observations:
Clients Read What They Need To Know
First, the awards make clear that the “secret” of leading authors on JD Supra is to give the people what they want. These authors are writing about the issues relevant to the companies they want to reach. That may seem self-evident, but it’s not. Because it means you have to step away from your perspective as advisor, as someone who knows what her clients SHOULD be worrying about, and step into the shoes of those clients trying to understand a hundred different and diverse legal issues all at once. Of course you can (and should) write about issues you think your potential clients need to know. But if you’re not analyzing the developments they think are important, you’re not going to gain the credibility that will lead them to take your word for it.
This is particularly important because the issues keeping your clients up at night may not always be the ones you think. A top concern of Silicon Valley, according to the report? Immigration. Of insurance companies? Cybersecurity and data breaches. Of businesses in the broadcast media industry? Employer liability. And of course you may already know this (200 lawyers writing on JD Supra did…), but the point is the same: you’ve got to drill down and figure out what’s important to the people you’re writing for, if you want them to read your work.
Content Marketing Works
Second, the reader analysis done by the folks at JD Supra demonstrates that content marketing is working: industry insiders really do read the legal analysis and insight that you post online. A quick look at the “notable readers” makes that clear: people from Chevron, Johnson & Johnson,, Time Warner Cable, Wells Fargo, Cisco, Microsoft, Texas Instruments, Bank of America, Office Depot, Medtronic, etc., are going to the Internet for guidance on understanding and responding to the legal and business issues they face every day.
Less Is Definitely Not More
And finally, while it may seem obvious, the awards really drive home the point that you shouldn’t ignore a topic because you’ve already written about wage and hour law, or because your competitors have covered data breaches in the insurance industry, or because there’s nothing more to say about the Affordable Care Act. Your job – like every other lawyer – is to demonstrate expertise on the subjects that matter to your clients. A single article does not do that: you must write about the topics you know again and again and again. People are going to read your work when they need it, so your job is to make sure that when they are trying to understand an issue, your analysis is available to them. You do this the way almost every author in these awards did it: by turning up again and again and writing what matters to your readers and clients.
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First published on JD Supra

Thursday, December 17, 2015

3 (More) Ways to Jumpstart Your BD in 2016

Want to do better in 2016? Give your business development a boost. Here are three ways:
1. Talk To Your Colleagues. 
Although you pass each other in the hallway 12 times a day, how often do you stop and talk business development with your fellow lawyers? Why not set aside one lunch per month to get together with one or two of them and talk business development? It doesn't have to be formal, you don't need to bring your BD plan as reference, you don't have to justify what you did or didn't do last month. You just have to talk about clients and opportunities and ways you might be able to get new work. 
2. Drop Your Clients a Line. 
You know it's true: most of the correspondence you send clients is about work – status updates, compliance questions, filing deadlines, and the like. But it doesn't have to always be that way. What if you made an effort, again once a month, to find one article or blog post that one of your top clients will find interesting? Perhaps it's an article about their alma mater, or a ground-breaking development in their industry, or even news from their home town that you can forward along with a "this made me think of you" cover note.  They'll appreciate it.
3. Make an introduction. 
No matter how long you've been practicing, you probably know several people who would benefit from knowing each other. Perhaps your accountant and your biggest client both like to sky dive. Or maybe two clients in complementary industries went to the same college but have never met. Whatever the connection, what if you made the effort to figure out who would gain from an introduction and then put them together? Wouldn't your contacts appreciate it if you made three or four introductions over the next 12 months? 
Make 2016 a great year.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

3 Questions As You Rewrite Your BD Plan for 2016

The end of the year is always a good time to take a hard look at your business development efforts of the last 12 months: what worked and what didn't, where you want to spend your time and effort next year, etc. If you're going through that exercise – and you should be – here are three questions you should ask yourself:
  1. What do I like to do? No, I'm not talking about horseshoes or hang-gliding (though there are no doubt many lawyers who have turned these and similar interests into BD tactics). Instead, you need to figure out what you enjoy, what you're most comfortable doing, and what you don't like, so that you can shape your BD efforts accordingly. Put another way: if you're more at home in front of the keyboard than in front of a crowd, you probably should put public speaking lower on your list than starting a blog. Because you're not going to actively engage in BD activities you don't like to do.
  2. What makes me special? Obviously, you wouldn't be a successful lawyer if you didn't bring something special to the table. Something tangible for your clients. Something that makes you stand out, that makes them continue to give you work. Once you figure out what that is – you might even consider asking one or two of them – you can start figuring out a way to exploit that strength, to determine who will be most interested, to articulate that which sets you apart from the competition.
  3. What is the market telling me? Staying on top of trends in the market – what regulators are doing in your key clients' industries, what's going on in China, how the presidential election is likely to change the way your clients do business – is essential at all times. But as you're trying to figure out where your biggest opportunities will lie in the coming year, you should be paying closer attention. A good place to start is BTI's recent Mad Clientist blog post reporting on a survey of more than 300 General Counsel on the areas in which they plan to spend their legal services dollars in 2016.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

7 Ways To Make In-House Lawyers Happy

Earlier this week, I attended a Legal Marketing Association Ohio conference, "Perfect Your Pitch," featuring six in-house lawyers:
  • James D. Campbell, Senior Counsel – Litigation and Claims, Big Lots!
  • Ria Farrell Schalnat, General Counsel and Director of Intellectual Property, Vora Ventures
  • Mark G. Stall, General Counsel, Escort Inc. and Cobra Electronics Corporation
  • Peter Jurs, Vice President and Legal Counsel, Fifth Third Bank
  • Robert Horner, Vice President, Corporate Governance and Secretary, Nationwide
  • Fred Stein, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Redbox
The group shared useful insight into what we should be doing to make them happier and get more work. Some observations (in no particular order):
  1. In-house lawyers want meaningful relationships with outside counsel. For the in-house people who sat on the panel, it's all about the relationship. They won't give work to people they don't know, people they just met, people who haven't spent the time and effort to get to know them and their company. One panelist said that two years is the minimum amount of time necessary for a relationship to develop into work for the outside lawyer, and that ten years is probably more realistic. That might be a bit extreme, but the point is that they want to work with people they know and like, so the better your relationship, the more opportunities you will see.
  2. They like free stuff. All of the in-house lawyers were in agreement that they appreciated lawyers who give them free stuff: forms and checklists, ideas and suggestions, introductions to potential customers, etc. Doing so demonstrates that you care, that you're willing to invest in the relationship, that you're the kind of lawyer they'll want to have on their team. It gives you a chance to "audition" for more work and, most importantly, it opens the door to reciprocity: additional work, referrals, and the like. It was clear that most of the in-house lawyers who spoke have to operate on limited budgets with fewer people than they need, so becoming a "knowledge source" is a great way to stand out as you help your clients get smarter and do their jobs better.
  3. They require transparency. All of the panelists talked about the importance of transparency at one point or another. A pet peeve was outside counsel who blew through a budget without telling anyone, instead sending a bill for twice the amount. That isn't to say that firms must stick to expected costs for unpredictable work (think litigation), but rather that they want their lawyers to keep them in the loop when fees start to exceed the budget. They recognized that it's not an easy phone call to make, but were clear that it absolutely had to be made for the relationship to continue and grow.
  4. In-house counsel is always interviewing other lawyers. Like all of you, in-house lawyers attend seminars, conferences, social events, and the like. They talk regularly to other providers, and they meet people they like and want to work with. That's a given. For you, it means always taking that extra step, making your clients happy, asking them what they want and then delivering it. But it also means that you're only as good as your last piece of work, and that your client relationships are always at risk.
  5. They're struggling to please their own clients. Several times during the day each of the panelists referenced his or her own clients: the CEOs, executives, Boards, etc., to whom they all report. Those clients are just as demanding as yours and, as one speaker pointed out, the risks are much greater for the in-house lawyer who doesn't make her clients happy. Another said (and said again) that he wants his outside lawyers to ask him how those clients are doing every time they're on the phone together. The bottom line? Knowing who your clients report to and how they're being evaluated can make or break a relationship.
  6. They're tired of Alternative Fee Arrangements. "Alternative fees are a race to the bottom where associates are getting squeezed." That's a direct quote from one of the panelists, who said that getting work "on time, on spec, and on budget" was better than an alternative billing arrangement. It's not that they're wedded to the billable hour, but rather that they have learned that AFAs do not always mean lower costs – or greater efficiency – so they are understandably skeptical when outside lawyers pitch alternative fees. We should instead be creative in developing billing agreements that are win-win and that allow both sides to benefit from technology and other delivery improvements.
  7. They don't like staleness. From the panelists' perspective, outside counsel should always be improving the delivery of legal services, the relationship, the quality of work. One in-house lawyer called it CQI: Continuous Quality Improvement, and said that he liked lawyers who kept the relationship dynamic.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

While you were sleeping, redux. The world keeps getting smaller.

The rapid march of BigLaw globalization continues. Most of the activity is, understandably, focused on China, the "fastest growing legal market in the world."
What are you waiting for?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Go West, young man. And East. And North. And South.

What's BigLaw doing in this "down" economy? Getting bigger. Looking for opportunities to add greater value. Opening offices, merging, forming alliances. Gobalizing:
What do these firms (and others) know that you don't? They read the same news, see the same signs, talk to the same clients and bankers and accountants. Are they getting secret information? Playing insider baseball? Or are they just taking a longer-term view of the crisis, the evolution of the global practice of law, the opportunities to survive and succeed in what promises to be a radically different future?

Maybe it's time you started looking beyond your borders. Go west, east, north and south. It's a big world, full of big opportunities.
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