Mid-sized firms and How to Adjust to the "New Normal"

There's been a lot of chatter over the last few years about the "new normal" for law firms, and what that might mean.  Yesterday, I was reading an interesting article at Above the Law, which addressed the idea that the new normal is a lot like the "old normal" (making the boom time an aberrance and not the other way around). 

While that part was enlightening (and I recommend reading the article in full), what I found most useful were the lessons that the author felt we'd learned over the past four years and advice for BigLaw firms in dealing with the new normal.  We all recognize that BigLaw and mid-sized firms are different, but in this case, the advice are very much the same for both. We've been hearing it again and again, so it's definitely time to start making some changes (if you haven't already), to remain competitive. 

 

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Tip for Tuesday - Content Publishing

You may have noticed a lack of posting here lately - I've been waiting for Facebook to roll out their changes before going ahead with additional how-to's. I don't want to be obsolete too quickly! But I will be back this week with a re-cap of our corporate break out session at our recent European Regional Meeting. 

In the meantime, I do have a tip for Tuesday, and it's about publishing content to your website.

Firms, I know many of you have your marketing departments handling this, and there's something I've noticed with the syndicated content I get from our member firms...bunches of articles are published at the same time.  

Now, I know this is easier, but it results in a lack of readership - how do I know that? Because when I see a bunch of articles or blog posts published within a span of a few minutes, I'm less likely to read them. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Since my guess is that these are scheduled uploads for the most part, please make sure to schedule them in a more staggered way.  It will ensure that people pay greater attention to your content!  Since your attorneys are taking the time to develop this content (though admittedly, some of it is press releases and firm news), it's worth making sure that it has the best chance of being read.  Don't irritate your audience by overwhelming them with articles. 

Building Relationships and Trust in a Network of Lawyers, Part III - Guest Post from Barry Camson

Barry Camson is an organization development consultant and trainer who works with organizations to help them be more collaborative and effective. He is a former practicing attorney in Boston. He can be reached at bcamson@aol.com.

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In our first two posts, we discussed some of the pitfalls that befall law firms today, as well as how the ILN network of law firms is managing its members to avoid these same pitfalls. Today, we will look at the ILN’s “secret sauce” and identify how this can be translated to firms, themselves.

Theory of Change

Underlying all of this is the “Theory of Change” of the ILN vis a vis that of the law firms that Maister spoke about. The ILN makes the assumption that trust and relationships will make the network and its members successful in meeting the needs of its members’ clients. The ILN bases its actions on these assumptions. The law firms of 2006 that Maister spoke about believed that skepticism and detachment would make lawyers successful in the courtroom, boardroom and in performing the business of the law firm.

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Building Relationships and Trust in a Network of Lawyers, Part II - Guest Post from Barry Camson

Barry Camson is an organization development consultant and trainer who works with organizations to help them be more collaborative and effective. He is a former practicing attorney in Boston. He can be reached at bcamson@aol.com.

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In the first post, we discussed how the characteristics that may make an attorney an effective advocate for his or her clients can often lead to a less successful law firm environment. Today, we will focus on how the ILN handles things differently in their Network.

ILN Environment

Purpose

The purpose of the ILN drives its actions – to create a trusted group of partners for lawyers who are looking to do business in other jurisdictions. Trust is at the core of the ILN.

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Building Relationships and Trust in a Network of Lawyers, Part I - Guest Post from Barry Camson

Barry Camson is an organization development consultant and trainer who works with organizations to help them be more collaborative and effective. He is a former practicing attorney in Boston. He can be reached at bcamson@aol.com.

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What can the International Lawyers Network (ILN) of law firms contribute to our knowledge of what it takes for law firms to succeed in the 21st century?

 

David Maister in an article in the April 2006 issue of The American Lawyer raises the issue of: “Are Law Firms Manageable.” In that article he delves into the reasons why law firms may not be and why in meeting their contemporary business needs they should be. Maister wonders whether law firms will be able to respond to the need for effective cross-office and cross-disciplinary action in order to meet the needs of clients.

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Effectively Leveraging Social Media as a Business Development & Marketing Tool - An LMA Recap

You may not be surprised to learn that during the 2011 Legal Marketing Association Annual Conference, I attended the session on Effectively Leveraging Social Media as a Business Development & Marketing Tool. And it was definitely a valuable session.  

The panel was moderated by Josh Fruchter, Principal at eLawMarketing, and featured Melanie Green, Director of Business Development & Marketing at Baker Daniels, Andrea Stimmel, Business Development Director, Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle, and Russell Thomas, Director of Media & Public Relations at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice.

The panel began by asking who in the room worked at a firm that was tweeting, had a Facebook page, a LinkedIn profile, or blogs - the majority of the room was in this category.  Law firms lean more towards LinkedIn than Facebook based on the show of hands in the room, though a few of those on Twitter said they felt Facebook had value as well.  

The panel had crowdsourced questions from the attendees in advance of the session through the LMA Conference's LinkedIn group, and the panel was built around this.  

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Social Media - Why Are We Still Afraid of it?

Sometimes, I read someone else's posts and am so inspired by them, I just can't keep my mouth shut.

Such is the case this morning with Nancy Myrland's latest post, "Social Media: It's Time...Embrace it Already!"

As Nancy said:

Social Media are being used by employees of all ages and interests. You can no longer keep these communication tools out of their lives during the work day just as you can’t keep email, telephone and face-to-face communication away from people. These are tools that are here to stay, and will become a large part of every business around you, so it’s time to:

  • Become familiar with them.
  • Frame them.
  • Train people on them.
  • Monitor them.
  • Integrate them in to your business and marketing plans.
  • Then repeat all of these steps regularly.

 

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ILN Membership Enables CFMP to Open a China Desk

Now that I'm back from my vacation, I'm very excited to share with you a piece of news we learned in Singapore - a great ILN success story from our member firm in Italy!

CFMP – Studio Legale Associato has successfully developed an ambitious project to establish its operations in China as well as Italy, by opening a desk office in Shanghai. The project has taken its first steps in connection with this opening by assisting an Italian client in the luxury furniture business that has established a subsidiary in China. The legal assistance for this client was facilitated by the presence in China of ILN member, Jade & Fountain, who have provided the local legal support to optimize the assistance to the client.

More than that, J&F has been a key element in CFMP feeling enough confidence to enlarge its horizons and target a more ample development of inbound and outbound legal business between Italy and China.

"The establishment of a desk office in Shanghai would not have been possible without the added value constituted by having the support of the ILN Chinese member firm of Jade & Fountain, capable of joining our firm in responding with the respective national expertise to the needs of clients and potential clients in China," said Antonello Corrado, partner of the Firm.

The Future of Law Firms


Last week, I wrote a re-cap on a panel I attended at the Legal Marketing Association's Annual Conference on Alternative Fee Arrangements.  The panelists said that the law firms that are "pyramid-shaped," with the larger part of their firms being made up by associates, would have difficulty adapting to the make-up needed to accommodate alternative fees.  They said that those firms that are "diamond-shaped," with the majority of the firm being made up of experienced partners would be more successful, implying that firms may be heading in this direction in the future.

However, during Georgetown's Law Firm Evolution Symposium (whose Twitter stream can be followed here), Jeff Haidet of McKenna Long says that "the pyramid will be replaced with the rocketship, associates hired to perpetuate partnership, more efficiency."  Firms will need to redesign entry level assessment and paths to partnership and leverage different resources, not just high-cost lawyers. 

Howrey's Managing Partner, Bob Ruyak said (also at Georgetown's LFES), that firms need to change almost everything about how they do business, including bringing in non-lawyer professionals, lowering costs, and lowering prices.  He said "The risk of uncertainty has to be shared," and that firms have to change how success and productivity are measures, from revenue per partner to productivity of every resource.  But later, Mari Sako of Oxford said that lawyers mistrust of non-lawyers means that partnerships are reluctant to cede control of work decisions to clients.  Professionals distrust non-professionals' competence and ethics.  So what does this mean for the changing law firm and what future law firms will look like?

What do you see the law firm of the future looking like?

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LMA 2010 - Creating and Implementing a Sales and Business Development Culture in Your Firm

The first session on Friday was another session that delegates were excited for, and the big room was packed.  Moderated by Patrick Fuller, the Managing Account Director at Hubbard One, the presenters included Twitter favorites like Melanie Green, Director of Business Development and Marketing at Baker & Daniels LLP and Tim Corcoran, Senior Consultant at Altman Weil, as well as Robert D. Randolph, Jr., Director of Marketing and Business Development at Bryan Cave LLP and Steven B. Bell, Chief Client Development Officer at Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC. 

Tim started the session by saying that the difference between business development and marketing is that marketing is the tactics to build awareness and identity, while business development is what you're doing to further that relationship.  Steve wondered why there should be a distinction between marketing, business development and sales, saying that "we all want to ring the cash register."  He said that everyone in the room is engaged in the buying process every day, and it's marketing's role to create awareness.  Anyone can take their own lessons from the things that they buy - buying legal services is no different.  Buying is emotional and justifying a purchase is logical, though he clarified that an emotional purchase doesn't mean it's illogical.  He emphasized that companies don't make purchases, individuals do.  So you have to understand the individual.  As we all know, clients buy services from peope they trust, like, are capable, and understand their business.  This isn't an illogical process, but they have to trust you.  Lawyers sometimes think that they can't do this business development "stuff," but it doesn't have to be a close relationship.  They just need to build a relationship of trust.  Lawyers also think that they need to explain their capabilities in the buying process, but most clients are not even considering you if you don't already have the skill set they need. 

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MoFo Law Firm Launches iPhone App - Mistake?

This morning, I was reading about Morrison & Foester's launch of their free iPhone app, the first to be developed by a corporate law firm.  Reviews on this article in The Lawyer seem to be mixed - some think it was an expensive mistake, while others commented that they would be interested in it.  The app, which will have four function areas, will allow users to search MoFo attorney bios, read firm news, find information on the firm's offices and nearby attractions, and even includes a maze game.

What are your thoughts on this?  My initial question was whether they'd interviewed their clients to find out what would be of use to them in an application.  The article says that the app came about after "noticing that the lawyers at the firm used their phones and handheld devices as 'portable offices.'" but doesn't make mention of finding out why their clients would want to use it.  I can see how it would be useful for clients to be able to search attorney bios on the go and perhaps easily locate the firm's address and contact information, but how can the firm make their app relevant to their clients on a longterm basis?

Are any of your firms working on deploying iPhone applications?  Do you think they have any value for clients aside from making a firm appear cutting edge?

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It's not easy being green: LMA looks at what you and your firm can do to help save the planet

On April 2nd, I attended the Legal Marketing Association's breakout session, "Going Green: What You and Your Firm Can Do to Help Save the Planet." Initially, I was not scheduled to attend this session, but I was recruited by Alvidas Jasin, the Director of Business Development at Thompson Hine and the program's presenter. I was not sorry that he'd dragged me into the session, because what followed was an informative, entertaining look at how law firms and individuals can "go green."

Alvidas first determined by a show of hands that three people in the audience had an internally branded green program at their firms, with two of these also branding externally. To start, he gave the group some motivation for "going green," based on Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. Explaining that the earth's average temperature is 59 degrees, compared with -67 on Mars, 333 on Mercury, and 855 on Venus, Alvidas said that the higher temperatures of the other planets can be attributed to their proximity to the sun, but also the density of the planet's atmosphere. In terms of the earth, as carbon dioxide concentrations grow, the atmostphere becomes more dense and traps radiation that was previously able to escape. Because of this, 22 of the hottest years on record have occurred during the last 25 years. Though warming and cooling trends are not uncommon, they normally occur over millions of years, not 50 years. Scientists feel that because of the latest warming trend, there will likely be no snow or ice on the North Pole as soon as 2013 - only four years. On the South Pole, there is 1 1/2 miles of snow and ice, but the increase in temperature is causing chunks of this snow and ice to break off, crash into the ocean and raise sea levels.

Contributing to the increasing levels of CO2 is that 75% of electricity comes from fossil fuel plants and there has been an overall increase in the earth's population. It took 162,000 years to reach 1 billion people on earth. In the following 2000 years, this grew to 6.5 billion people. At this rate, there will be 9.1 billion people on the planet by 2050, when we are struggling to find adequate resources already. In terms of CO2 output, the United States is twice as bad as the next worst offenders, Russia.

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Is the Billable Hour on its way out?

Last week, I read a post commenting on the "End of the Billable Hour," which has become a hotter topic in the legal industry in the current economic situation and in light of Evan R. Chesler's comments in the New York Times. In his post, Tim Marman discusses the idea that the billable hour "rewards inefficiency" and says that he hopes the trend towards flat rate billing will continue. With the current climate and initiatives like the Association of Corporate Counsel's Value Challenge, it seems reasonable that the conversations about this will only continue.

While I agree with Tim's comments, I don't believe flat rates can be arranged for anything other than commodity work, and there are other alternative fee arrangements that can and should be made. During a webinar arranged for our members last Wednesday, Jim Hassett of LegalBizDev mentioned a few besides flat rate billing, including negotiated rates and hybrids, such as hourly rates plus success fees, capped fees with a safety valve, and value-adjusted hourly billing. It seems that it might be easier for mid-size and smaller firms to adjust to offering these types of arrangements than it will be for Big Law.

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