Archive for June, 2010

Normalizing Disruptive Technologies

Author: Debra Baker
June 30, 2010

Until I went to work for an electronic discovery company a few years ago, I never understood the concept of disruptive technology in the legal profession. It never occurred to me that lawyers would perceive as a negative something that has the potential to improve the way they do business.

Coming from a background in law firm client relationship management, I saw—and still see—an opportunity for law firms to adopt electronic discovery on a firmwide (“enterprise”) basis and use their ability to streamline document review as a client service strategy.

For a host of reasons, that didn’t happen. Instead, corporate legal departments saw how discovery technologies could provide them with more control over their documents and help them better manage outside counsel.

That’s not because general counsel are any more innovative than their law firm counterparts. Most GCs, if given a choice, would focus on the legal issues their company faces and ignore operational issues altogether. But corporate counsels don’t have a choice. They receive outside pressure to cut costs from the C-level suite and their boards. Technology is a normalization factor.

Law firm partners don’t have the benefit of that outside party looking in and applying pressure. It’s not that they don’t know the benefits technology has to offer. They just lack sufficient pressure to take the proactive steps. The sense of urgency hasn’t been there. They perceive the technology as disruptive.

Whether it is a document review platform, time-and-billing software or any other piece of technology, law firms need to start viewing technology the way their clients do.

Here are a few suggestions:

Incorporate technology into your client development strategy. When a client announces they are implementing a new piece of technology, find out why. Use the announcement as an opportunity to get client feedback. Ask why they chose the product; why they chose to bring it in house; whether the technology is part of a broader strategy and what that strategy is.

Ask for a seat at the table. If your client has a technology committee, ask if you can participate. It will give you the opportunity to better understand your client and the issues their executive or legal team faces. It will also give you an opportunity to provide value back to your firm.

Stop playing defense. If you think your client is making the wrong decision about their use of technology, play offense. Develop your firm’s technology value proposition and ask for an opportunity to demonstrate how you and your firm can do it better. There is not a GC in the world who wouldn’t listen to that conversation.

To me normalizing disruptive technology is as much about client relationship management as it is about matter management. There are only upsides for law firms in being part of that change.

It’s A Dog’s Life: The Art of Discipline

Author: Debra Baker
June 25, 2010

Everything I know about business, I learned from my dog Star

My husband and I are both in training. Steve is running the Chicago Marathon with hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon next April. I’m running in the America’s Finest City half marathon here in San Diego with the hopes of … finishing.

Star is my training partner, at least on days when I have short easy runs. She’s not much of a pace dog. When she runs with me, she sets my pace back about two minutes per mile. Nevertheless, she offers me what I need most: Discipline.

Star as Task Master

No matter how I feel in the morning, Star is there to get me going. If I try to roll over, she licks my face until I eventually get out of bed. If I try to grab a cup of coffee and crawl back into bed, she starts chasing her tail, barking incessantly. Star can’t be ignored. Without her, I would probably skip half my morning runs.

Star understands discipline is the key to achieving a goal, whether it is a long race or attracting new clients. All the natural talent, planning and genuine desire to build business will not make you successful unless you execute on your plan in a consistent and ongoing way.

Business development is much the same way. There is seldom instant gratification. It takes time to build a foundation that will yield a return on your investment. Sometimes you wonder if your efforts are making any difference at all.

That said, once you reach that first milestone, it easy easy to look back and see how all the time and effort put in along the way ultimately paid off.

Last weekend, I ran for 100 minutes, probably the furthest I’ve ever run in my life. I didn’t go far enough to finish a half marathon, but I did reach double digit mileage numbers for the first time. It was also the first time I could feel my efforts starting to pay off. I have Star to thank for that.

So think of Star the next time you don’t feel like going to a networking event, delay asking a client for feedback or can’t bear the thought of writing another article. She always keeps me going. Maybe she’ll help you too.

I’m heading up to Legal Tech West in Los Angeles today. Shows like these always remind me of the importance technology plays in demonstrating value to clients.

Legal technology tradeshows tend to be full of vendors and law firm IT staff. There is a lot of knowledge in these rooms. Too often, however, the crowds are singing to the converted rather than reaching the partners in management positions with decision-making authority. Lawyers who do attend often do so passively, securing their CLE credits and hitting the tradeshow floor to find the latest giveaway to take home to their five-year-old.

My partner Cathy Kenton just finished an article targeted toward our legal vendor clients called, “5 Last Minute Tradeshow Success Tips for Legal Vendors.” The article was focused on how legal vendors can maximize their return on investment when exhibiting at trade shows.

It strikes me that lawyers could use some tips on how to maximize their time at tradeshows as well, so here are three simple approaches I recommend for the lawyers heading to Legal Tech or any other show featuring legal technologies.

1. Have a plan. Know your firm’s business strategy and the types of technologies you use or are considering in order to achieve their goals. Once you know what you are trying to accomplish, you will be in a better position to evaluate what vendors at the show have to offer.
2. Bring a friend who understands the end game. In my experience, there is often a gap in knowledge between what lawyers want to accomplish and what technology does. As a result, the technology ends up frustrating. Walk the tradeshow floor with your CIO or a vendor-agnostic advisor who can help you connect the dots. For example, I like to walk the floor with my clients. I learn from their conversations with the vendors and am often able to help them consider ways to leverage technology that they have not considered before. It’s a win-win for both of us.
3. It’s not all about the next new thing. Most firms have invested significant amounts of money in legal technologies but few know how to leverage all the bells and whistles to get the best value for your money. Visit with vendors whose technology you own. Come armed with specific things you are trying to accomplish and ask them for best practices they’ve learned from their other clients.

Technology tradeshows like Legal Tech give attorney leaders the opportunity to step out of the day-to-day and start considering long-term opportunities to leverage technology to achieve business goals.

Star Loves Legal Marketing

Meet Star

My dog Star is a 90-lb lab who stands close to five-feet tall when fully erect.

That’s typically how you’ll find her if you visit my house. She likes to stand with her front paws on the porch wall, so she can seek out a neighbor or passerby. We always know when she’s found someone willing to show her some attention because her tail starts beating like a rapidly ticking metronome.

Star is not a brain surgeon, but she has a lot she could teach about business development. The truth is, when it comes to building relationships, Star is… well…  a star. For this reason, I’m dedicating my Friday “lite” postings to the business lessons that Star has mastered.

It’s a Dog’s Life: The Art of Networking

For many lawyers, and people in general (myself included), the hardest part of relationship development can be starting the relationship, particularly if you don’t have someone who can make an introduction. If this is the case for you, Star might be able to help.

Star’s 7-step approach toward first meetings typically goes something like this:

1. Star sees target.

2. Star jumps on target.

3. Star licks face of target.

4. Star retreats to all fours.

5. Target pets Star on head.

6. Star rolls on back.

7. Target rubs Star’s belly.

With that, the relationship is set in place. While Star could certainly benefit from some refinement in technique–she has been known to knock down a neighbor or two–she has the fundamentals mastered. I think there is something we all can learn from her when networking: Always Smile. Be approachable (see paragraph 2, tail wagging technique). Don’t be afraid to make the first move.

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Taking the First Steps Toward Value-Based Billing

Author: Debra Baker
June 16, 2010

At the center of the discussion about building a value-based law firm is the topic of fee arrangements, specifically the desire to move away from hourly based billing toward alternative fee arrangements.

Although firms seem to be taking baby steps toward “value-based” billing models, it is clear –with apologies to Mark Twain—that reports of the death of the billable hour are an exaggeration.

It seems even well-intended parties on both sides struggle to turn a philosophical interest in value-based billing into an actionable arrangement upon which both sides can agree.

The ACC’s Susan Hackett, in response to my June 9 post on Legal OnRamp called  “Alternative Billing Baby Steps,” noted, “I’d love to see both firms and departments defining value upfront in more ways than on an hourly basis, and doing the hard work of planning and executing the staffing and work models that deliver value as it’s defined by the client and leveraged by the firm. I would rather see value structures that make the hourly business model in firms obsolete.”

Susan is right in that real change won’t happen until there is a commitment at the firm and client level. The challenge, of course, is that this is hard work that impacts staffing, compensation, technology infrastructure, business processes, recruiting, professional development and more. That’s a lot of change for any organization, let alone a partnership-structured law firm.

To start moving in this direction, value-based billing needs to be integral part of a law firm strategic plan and integrated into a broader client relationship management program. Only then will law firms prioritize value-based billing and be able to create an actionable strategy to start moving toward the end game.

I propose three simple steps to get started. They are not new or particularly revolutionary. They also aren’t hard, but few firms are doing them in a way that is moving them toward the result they want to achieve.

1. Listen to your clients. Identify the general counsel that are looking for institutional change in billing.

2. Define the end game. What is specific, ultimate goal for the law firm and the client?

3. Create an actionable plan that will allow you to move toward this goal in an incremental way.

By starting with the end, both sides know what success looks like. And, it will keep firm’s from mistaking baby steps for the end game.

The Birth of Law Firm Transitions

Author: Debra Baker
June 11, 2010

In 2007 I left my position as firmwide marketing director at Heller Ehrman. At the time I certainly knew the firm was in trouble, but I never once believed the challenges it faced would be insurmountable.

I feel like Pollyanna saying this now, but I believed in Heller’s core values, in the integrity of the partnership. At the end of the day, I thought that would be enough to turn the firm around. Lest anyone say differently, it was a good firm made up of high-quality people.

Heller’s unfortunate legacy likely will be how its implosion served as the first tremor of a seismic shift across the legal industry. In the three years since leaving, I’ve watched from the sidelines as Heller closed its doors. I saw other law firms around the country struggle to stay afloat. I’ve witnessed the layoffs of thousands of lawyers and professional staff during the toughest economy of my lifetime.

Leaving Heller also gave me a new perspective on the legal industry, enabling me to regain the objectivity I once prided myself on in my first career as a legal journalist. Based on my own experience, as well as in conversations with partners, knowledge managers and marketing executives from law firms and legal departments around the country, several themes emerge:

1. Inefficiencies are rampant throughout all functions of law firms. Silos across firms result in duplicative efforts among individual lawyers, offices and practice groups.

2. Corporations are more sophisticated buyers of legal services than they have ever been in the past. As evidenced by initiatives such as the ACC Value Challenge, clients are leveraging their buying power by demanding more from their outside counsel.

3. Disruptive technologies will force law firms to change their business model.  In-house lawyers understand this, but law firms are late to the game.

Even today the economy shoulders most of the blame for the struggling legal market. But for law firms, the financial crisis is merely symbolic of Dorothy pulling back the curtain on a weak wizard trying to keep his reign over a kingdom transforming before his eyes. The wizard behind this curtain is a business model that promotes inefficiency, fears innovation, and denies a client base demanding service levels few firms are able to meet.

To be sure, exceptions exist for every rule. A number of firms do address these challenges head on, but it is a slow process.

For all these reasons, Law Firm Transitions was born. My company, Legal Vertical Strategies, believes value-driven legal service models are the future for law firms.

As a principal at LVS, I have the unique opportunity of working with both buyers and sellers of legal services—law firms and legal vendors.

I plan to draw upon that experience to help drive the needed dialogue to define and implement these changes. Along the way, we’ll talk about best practices for driving revenue and growing client relationships.

I certainly don’t have all the answers and hope you will join the conversation to share your thoughts and advice as well.