Years ago, seeking to address an RFP (request for proposal) of a large prospective client, I assembled a team of skilled specialists. I was flattered that they all said “yes” to joining me, knowing only me and the prospective client. None of us, individually, could have met the client’s needs. We trusted one another enough to work together and arrange the details of compensation, etc. at a later date. But, I never gave a thought to how our team would be managed for peak performance.
In the current issue of Harvard Business Review, the author suggests that “…many critical tasks are performed by teams created on the fly, but lack of stability can hinder their performance…It’s one thing to make yourself more efficient, quite another to make a team more efficient, and still another when that team’s membership is in constant flux…
To some degree, technology and pricing policies are creating practices of “teams on the fly” as well as “unbundled services.” With short-term teams assembled on the fly becoming increasingly common, the authors set out to investigate how fluid teams can work better.
Going from one generation to another in the 1980s when I was asked to be the law firm’s Chief Operating Officer was difficult enough … and dysfunctional if seen from a 50,000 foot level. But, today, with four generations in the same workspace and literally competing for the same jobs/clients, many conflicts and sparks emerge that wouldn’t otherwise. It’s a wonder that law firms continue to grow in such an environment … of course, such growth does provide “hiding” space to some extent for conflict. See “Bad for the Brand” author, Jonathan Fitzgerald, for a prescient understanding.
From 2000 to 2007, over 42,000 legal malpractice lawsuits were reported to liability (malpractice) insurers, according to the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Lawyers Professional Liability. This committee segregated 21 root causes of negligence across all practice areas.
Only one such root cause accounted for over 10% of the total claims. “… This root cause is failure to know or apply the law…” This accounts for 11.3% of the total. As one pundit said, that’s an easy one to correct by “…sticking to your knitting…” Handle only matters you are competent to handle, even if the client’s money is on the table, tempting you.
Malpractice actions otherwise can be categorized as time – based issues, such as failing to calendar dates, failing to follow up on looming deadlines and failing to react appropriately to the calendar. These three together account for 17% of the total.
“Conflicts of interest,” amounts only to 5.3% of the claims in the ABA study. However, Rules of Professional Conduct 3–300 and 3-310 provide a larger trap for the unwary, whether at the beginning of a case or mid-stream.
“Collection policies” is a major speed bump for lawyers. Insurance companies and law schools will urge strongly that a lawyer never sue for unpaid fees because the following day, the same lawyer will be sued for negligence. There are a several ways to address this, including doing good work, regularly reviewing your accounts receivable to be sure the client pays under the terms of his or her signed engagement agreement and conducting a peer review of one’s own work before following through with a collection complaint. Failure to pay is seldom because of absence of funds; it is a symbol of dissatisfaction with the lawyer and the process of communication (or lack thereof) … and this must be addressed promptly.
Failure to act from fear of one’s own imperfections merely gives strength to one’s client and encourages the client to violate the agreement and the reason to be connected with the lawyer.
The practice of law is a business and must be operated under good business principles. Failure to do so creates tension and conflict between the client and lawyer at the time each needs the other the most.
Two changes are about to occur in the lives of “want to be lawyers.”
First, to appease their conscience, the Board of Trustees of the California State Bar considers requiring law students to take on one more obligation before graduating, 50 hours of free or low-cost legal services for the “needy” within a year of passing the bar examination. What is the issue? Is it to address the concern that so many people cannot afford to hire an attorney? Or is it to provide additional and needed training for newly minted lawyers?
If it is the latter, law schools to be accredited by either the state or the American Bar Association should include the client representation process in the curriculum before granting the degree. If it is the former, all lawyers should be required to provide “legal aid” or low-cost services or a percentage of their gross revenue to legal aid organizations.
If either of these alternatives were implemented, two powerful entities would rebel. Law schools with their prestigious alumni would howl; and all lawyers would consider a percentage of their gross revenue to be an additional tax and anathema.
The second change is the reduction of California’s three-day bar examination to two days. Whether the complaint is that three days is more arduous than two days, which it is, or whether the more than $800,000 savings to the Bar is the motivation is not clear. Somehow, it just does not seem that saving money is of major concern to the “powers that be.” It is also clear that educating its members – attorneys – is also not a major concern. Over 70 percent of the annual State Bar budget is directed toward the disciplinary system. Of the matters within that system, over 50 percent relate to management issues. Educating lawyers to be more effective in managing their business and dealing with their clients (unrelated to theft of client trust funds) would result in a significant reduction of expenses to the Bar, and increase more effective service to clients and, oh perhaps even a reduction of annual dues to lawyers.
But then, LawBiz® has been whistling in the wind about this issue for decades.
“Marketing” is no longer only for the rarefied equity partner. Quinn Emanuel, a major law firm, announced it will require Associates and Of Counsel attorneys to actively participate in at least one marketing effort during the year.
There is skepticism among marketing personnel, and even lawyers, how effective such a requirement will be. It would appear, however, that any focus on “marketing” even if not directly related to the current activity of the associate would sensitize the associate to “new business” opportunities that cross the path of every professional regularly. While the approach of this law firm is unique, it addresses the query registered by one associate years ago to the managing partner of one of my clients: what can the associate do to expedite the path to partnership? The response of that managing partner was, “… Just do good work…”
In today’s competitive environment, that response is no longer adequate. Doing “good work” is no longer sufficient. While the law is a “profession” and good work is required, the law is also a “business” and marketing/selling is the first step to attaining new clients and increased revenue. “Making a better mousetrap” is no longer sufficient in a competitive world. Even a quality law firm must get its message to its prospective client base.
A New York consulting firm recently conducted a survey and found that eight of the top 10 companies that no longer provided extraordinary support for their products and services for technology companies. Companies like Samsung, Apple and others apparently are appealing to a younger audience that is not accustomed to having handholding as an element of value.
Dunkin’ Donuts was one company that was more traditional and not technology based. Apple, while no longer enabling you to make an appointment at their “Genius Bar” online nevertheless still had a service component by opening more stores in more cities with more personnel to help those with operational issues. Apple found that the Genius Bar is better left for hardware and software glitches; other issues can be addressed by the consumer taking a class in either their store or their phone provider. But, Apple did not forsake its consumer who needed technical assistance.
Nothing replaces human contact, even for the youngest generation. A very astute technology company called “www.gethuman.com” build some of the gap for older folks by finding phone numbers of the very same companies who seek to hide their presence from consumers.
Companies, even technology companies, must realize that customer service is a marathon, not a sprint. Consumers, myself included, recently have left Samsung and purchased the new Apple iPhone 6. Why? because Samsung refused to connect with their consumer to solve the consumer’s issues. Apple does. And while Samsung’s commercials suggest that Apple 6+ is nearly a copy, it is a “copy” that works and carries with it a service component.
Achieving success in business—including, of course, the business of law—is an art. The artist (lawyer) must create a scene on a canvas (atmosphere) that draws in clients, making clients want to immerse themselves in that canvas.
Last night, I was talking with a friend and venting about the paperwork requiring signatures in order for us to complete the process of buying a house. Between the escrow company and lender, it seemed as though there had to have been pounds of paper, quite a few of which required a notarized signature. My friend commented that it took only a few pieces of paper with a simple signature—no notary—to buy and drive off in a Lamborghini or other fancy car. In contrast, a house can’t be moved. One would think that the lender and the seller would be more worried about the car than the house.
How have such signatory processes been formulated? More importantly, is the buyer made to feel like an honored and respected participant or, rather, like someone who is not trustworthy?
Although this metaphor is not totally applicable to the business of law and the lawyer-client relationship, the fact is that the lawyer must make his/her client feel honored and comfortable. The lawyer must make the client feel that the law office and the lawyer’s services are like an art museum surrounding the client with masterpieces that the client will willingly return to again and again.
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Nationally recognized law firm strategist and best-selling author of practical guides to profit, Ed Poll, helps attorneys and law firms:
Bring in new business
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