Archive for October, 2010

You Can’t Shrink Your Way to Growth

Author: Debra Baker
October 20, 2010

It’s been another tough year for law firms as demand for legal services continues to wane. The instinct to cut costs and wait out the storm remains strong, but for many firms there is precious little room to maneuver.

Instead of retracting, start thinking about how you are going to position yourself for 2011.

Here are three questions you should ask to start that analysis:

1) Where are the opportunities? Understand what is going on in your market and identify where the highest demand for work will be over the next 12 to 36 months.

2) What are your firm’s strengths? Look at your skill set. Where are your firm’s sweet spots and how can you leverage them for more business?

3) Where is the overlay between what your firm does well and where the needs are?

With this simple analysis, you can begin the discussion about the types of investments you need to make to better align your strengths with market needs.

There is no such thing as shrinking your way to growth, so it is time to start planning for what you plan to do in 2011 to meet your goals.

I am privileged to be working with the San Diego County Public Law Library as they plan a major renovation of their main library. They launched a campaign this week called Rebuilt. Reinvented. Reinvigorated. The campaign is to raise awareness about their plans to better serve the legal community and the general public.

The changes include conference rooms and technology areas that will make it possible for lawyers to use the library as a satellite law office. They include creating new public spaces that will bring together legal organizations and community groups to better serve the public. They are revisiting their membership program to ensure they are providing value to their patrons. They are even developing a virtual community that will make legal information accessible beyond the physical walls of the library.

Why are they doing this? Because the needs of their patrons and the way legal information is delivered has changed. The San Diego Law Library understands that if they don’t find new ways to add value to their “clients,” they risk extinction.

Law firms should take notice. Instead of clinging to the old ways of doing business, they need to find new ways to add value to their clients and improve the way they deliver their services.

These changes are not easy. Some traditional services may have to go away. The professionals working there have to develop new skill sets. There is a risk that it may not work.

But what is so impressive to me is that the staff and the board are willing to take the chance to make the library a more relevant and vital part of the community. They may not have all the answers, but they recognize that the status quo is not good enough.

I found an old email this morning that references a 2009 McKinsey Executive Insight report about challenges facing corporations coming out of the economic crisis. I no longer have a link to the year-old report, but the excerpt from the email reads:

“Companies need to integrate marketing and sales function into the day-to-day operations of the organization and apply the same rigor to defining commercial processes and systems that they have long applied to manufacturing and other operational processes and systems. This “commercial transformation” can take many forms and involves 1) a concerted, multi-year effort to substantially upgrade the effectiveness of a company’s marketing and sales processes, including aligning top management around a forceful transformation theme; 2) driving performance improvement programs around 2-3 carefully selected commercial levers and striving to lead the industry on these levers; and 3) embedding the change through a comprehensive commercial operating system, comprising not only processes and tools, but also IT systems and performance management.”

If you filter through the jargon and are not put off by words like “commercialization,” “operational processes”and “sales,” there are some salient points from which law firms could benefit, particularly those that have made a heavy investment in marketing but are not sure they are getting the results they want.

First, law firm management and their marketing departments need to be directly aligned. Many firms still fail to give marketing a seat at the executive committee and make the much needed connection between strategic growth and market position.

Second, the old adage, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” remains true. Law firm marketers need benchmarks around which they can measure their success. Real process needs to be put in place to evaluate return on investment.

Finally, IT and marketing can no longer work independently. Technology needs to be an integrated into law firm marketing strategies. There are far too many law firm marketing directors out treat technology like a “project” that can be checked off on a things to do list. Technology is a part of doing business. Combined with the right people and processes, it is a tactic for raising awareness, a tool for developing credibility and the centralized resource for tracking results.

This is not to suggests that law firms need to undergo a “commercial transformation” at the expense of professionalism. But the economy has changed and the drivers for legal services are different today. Firms need to take a disciplined approach to the way the do business in addition to the legal work they provide clients. They cannot afford reactive marketing where there is a constant state of motion and very little measurable progress.

Drive Change Management with Decision-Making Clarity

Author: Debra Baker
October 3, 2010

I’m calling last week the week of pain – growing pains. On the same day, I had calls from colleagues at three different clients. All wanted to bend my ear about struggles they were having trying to implement new initiatives.

Strategic direction wasn’t the challenge. All three clients have virtually universal support for their end goals. Budget wasn’t even a problem. Sure, money is always a factor, but in all three of these cases, funding for the projects was available. It wasn’t even a question of timing. Again, in all cases, key stakeholders agreed that it was now or never.

The challenge is change management. It seems no matter how much agreement there is about the need to change people continue to struggle to break the status quo.

This is particularly tough for law firms. If for no other reason than the partnership structure itself, law firms struggle with change more than any other organization I know.

The same week I was having these discussions with clients, I had the privilege of attending the LA Legal Marketing Association Chapter’s annual continuing marketing education program. (My company, Legal Vertical Strategies, was a sponsor).

There, Henry Givray, Chairman and CEO of SmithBucklin, spoke on the topic of leadership and, specifically, the importance of transparency in decision making. The framework he uses to communicate decisions is simple:

1)      I’ve made a decision and this is what it is.

2)      I’m leaning toward a decision but want your input.

3)      This decision is open to debate and I welcome your opinion.

This allows the team to respond accordingly.

1)      Yes, I agree.

2)      I don’t agree, but I can live with it.

3)      I don’t agree, and I cannot live with it.

On its face, decision-making clarity and change management seem distinct topics. Yet adapted, Givray’s framework provides a formula law firm leaders can use to drive change in their organization.

There are decisions that require extensive debate among partnerships. What are our goals? What are the principles we all agree are non-negotiable in achieving those goals? Who do we trust to lead us toward accomplishing those goals?

These are important questions. Once the debate is closed and those decisions have been made, however, firm leadership needs to be able to move on and make decisions on behalf of the firm without debating every step.

Firm leaders need to be clear about how they are making their decisions. Some decisions will be open to debate. Others will not. So long as there is clarity about what type of decision it is, the partners will retain their individual right to agree or not.

Individual partners can then make their own decisions. Can they agree and, if not, can they live with it? If they cannot live with it, the individual partner needs to have an honest conversation with himself or herself as to whether they are in the right place.

Law firm leaders can and should try to help partners who disagree and don’t feel they can live with the decision. You don’t want to lose good partners because they are struggling with change. Good leaders need to provide the guidance and will support. But that is a conversation distinct from decision making.