Monthly Archives: March 2014

Ignore USP’s…..Focus on the Tie-Breaker Question!

Create something just a little differentThere hardly seems to be a day that goes by that doesn’t see a law firm partner assert that “we need to focus on our USPs” [Unique Selling Points for those of you who have been spared the finer details] and then sit back in a self-assured manner as if he/she has just made the point of the century.

This is particularly true when a firm is pitching for work from a major or decent sized client and includes formal tender processes as well as less formal opportunities to pitch for work.

So, USP’s; what are they … NOT?  Well let’s start with the assumption that the key part is the ‘U’ – ‘unique’ – a unique selling point.  How many law firms have a unique selling point?  What is your firm’s unique selling point?  Tricky isn’t it? – especially if we take out all of the old contenders such as,

  • Partner led
  • Less expensive than the magic circle
  • Friendly
  • Better IT than anyone else
  • … etc

None of which are remotely unique and all of which are used by people inside law firms (partners and internal business development teams alike) to convince themselves that they have found that USP.

The point is that you don’t have a USP and you aren’t going to get one any time soon – so time to move on and try to figure out what you can do to win that pitch.

This brings us to the tie-breaker – often referred to in pitches by law firms as the “Added Value.”  If you aren’t careful, your added value can go the same way as the USP; a list of fairly dull add-ons that, at best, are no different from anyone else.  At worst, the client doesn’t even want them anyway.

As you read the rest of this article – think of the firm acting for a pub/restaurant chain who offered to ‘sponsor’ the taxi trips home for late night staff – what a justifier…what a tie breaker!!

In the USA – from where I am writing this blog – the tie-breaker is sometimes referred to as ‘the justifier’.  This is a useful term as it gives a good clue to what you need to achieve.  You need to add something to your pitch which not only gives you the tie-breaking edge over your competitors.  It should also allow the buyer – not the organisation, but the individual or small team within the organisation who is responsible for the buying decision (often referred to by law firms as the one “with the gift of instructions”) – to justify the buying decision by demonstrating to his/her own people (usually the boss) that he/she has not only made the right decision but has also won something of value for the organisation from their current or future lawyers.

So what sorts of things are we talking about? 

Well of course it will be different for each prospective client – the point is that we are trying to get away from a pre-defined list; not create a new one.   There are however means by which you can get the prospective client to do the work for you.  For example, engagement during the pitch process is vital. Ask the client questions like “What keeps you awake at night?”; “What are the worst things about Monday mornings?”; “What are their top 3 priorities?” etc (if you have time in the process it may even be worth creating an electronic questionnaire/survey using a tool such as Survey Monkey).

Then try to find solutions and offer them as part of your added value, tie-breaker, or justifier.  Remember – they don’t need to be ‘legal’ solutions – they can be anything.

Darren Francis

Improving Legal Process – More stories from the field from BLP and others

Mark GreenhouseTwo stories I thought you might like to be aware of that demonstrate how law firms are increasingly getting focused on improving processes, aiming to deliver better value to clients:

Legal Talk Network – Talking Legal Evolution – Innovations’ Pace In the Legal Industry – this one is from the States and reviews a number of the recent legal conferences that have taken place.  From about 9 mins 30 secs in there is a good conversation about Legal Process Management, Mapping & Improvement, how it affects larger firms and will permeate down to small firms.  It is a podcast so you’ll need speakers turned up/headphones on.

BLP Integrates Key Elements of City Law Firm Innovation – this story talks about the opening of an office in Manchester, to develop a shared service hub and the introduction of a number of services including Legal Process Improvement.  It mentions that the team at BLP have mapped 60 workflows and are offering to do the same for clients.

Also – remember we posted this on Addleshaw Goddard and Clifford Chance while back too, so there is a clear trend in this direction.

We can help you get your people on the right track to tackle processes in your practice, where radical improvements are very possible; so if you want to know more, please contact me here >>

Mark Greenhouse

Does client listening work for lawyers?

Just had a call from a partner in a law firm we did client listening for some time back; he was en route back from meeting a new prospect for the first time.

He tells me:  “They want us to do just what clients told you they wanted – get involved deeper in the business with them … a strategic partnership … we’ve agreed to send in our employment guys to check them out for starters … just what they wanted.”

It made these lawyers think differently from the off and made it easier to engage their team to work differently, in a way that added value to their services for the client.

That works for me and is just one of the many different ways in which client listening generates new business and new opportunities.

To find out more, call me on 0161 929 8355.

Allan Carton

What’s all the panic about “end of life” on Windows XP & Microsoft Office 2003? Time to do something about it now.

Less than 30 days to go …

On April 8, 2014, Microsoft will end support for the decade-old Windows XP. Support of Microsoft Office 2003 will also be ending on the same date.

As a result, you’re probably starting to get approaches from IT providers who are keen to take away your old Windows XP machines and replace them with shiny new Windows 7 or Windows 8 models. But what does ‘ending’ support for Windows XP actually mean?  You haven’t asked for support from Microsoft in the last 10 years of using Windows XP?

Ending support means that Microsoft is no longer going to release security updates for the Windows XP operating system. Let’s be clear on this – your PCs won’t stop running at midnight on 8th April. They will still continue to work as they have done for the past decade. But slowly, and surely, over time, they’ll become more vulnerable to attack.

And there’s more … it’s not just this vulnerability to viruses, worms, trojans, ransomware and other nasties written to disrupt, infect or steal from users on Windows XP that you need to worry about. It’s about how other businesses – your customers – see the risk that you are exposing them to by failing to keep up to date.

There are still over 500 million computers running windows XP in the wild and SMEs are particularly vulnerable as they often lack the IT budget, infrastructure and people to run an ‘all-at-once’ upgrade on this scale.

Good IT and financial management means spreading foreseeable costs and labour for system upgrades over longer time periods and then there shouldn’t be any ‘panic’.  As a supplier (and all businesses are a supplier of something as they have customers) you will be increasingly asked to provide details of your computer systems when you tender or send proposals. Disaster recovery, backups and security are becoming more and more important as business to business customers become increasingly risk averse and demanding.

For Microsoft’s take on this, check out this video …


However – if you currently use XP or Office 2003 – for independent advice on your best steps from here in relation to both Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003, contact me for a confidential, no obligation discussion about your particular circumstances.

Frank Manning

Snapshot of the Current UK Economy from leading economist, Dr John Ashcroft

Dr John AshcroftFrom Dr John Ashcroft – Chief Executive of pro.manchester, a Director of Marketing Manchester, member of the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Council and the AGMA Business Leadership Council. Also economics adviser to Duff & Phelps , the international and investment banking services specialist and authors the Duff & Phelps monthly financial updates.

It will be some months yet before interest rates begin to rise. Our current assumption is that rates will begin to rise in the second quarter of 2015.

40% of respondents in the latest Bank of England/GfK Inflation survey expect rates to rise over the next twelve months. No worries for the future apparently. Once on the rise, over 70% expect rates to be less than 3% in five years time. So much for the madness of crowds.

Clearly the general public have a much better grasp of the latest simulations of the “equilibrium real interest rate associated with a neutral monetary policy over the medium term” than is generally assumed. They must have been listening to the speech by David Miles last month.

Asked about the current rate of inflation, the median answer was 3.5% down from 4.4% in November. Excellent. So much for the madness and the wisdom of crowds.

This week the February Markit/CIPS UK PMI® surveys were released. The strong upswing in the UK manufacturing sector continued in February. Output and new business continued to rise at above-trend rates. The leading index at 56.9 was up from a revised reading of 56.6 in January.

In construction, the pace of expansion continued to rise sharply. The leading index scored 62.6 in February, down from a 77-month high of 64.6 in January. Still a very strong performance.

In the service sector, output continues to expand strongly in the month. The headline Business Activity Index recorded 58.2 during February, little changed on January’s 58.3 and indicative of a sharp rise in activity on a monthly basis.

Overall, output in construction, manufacturing and services suggest the economy continues to recover across the board at a very strong rate. The latest NIESR GDP tracker suggest growth increased by 3.5% in January. The Bank of England expects growth of over 3.5% in the first quarter. For the year as a whole, the consensus forecast is for growth of 2.7% this year.

We await the details of the latest GM Chamber of Commerce survey before raising our estimates of growth this year. The GDP(O) model is signalling growth of 3% for the year as a whole. The survey data will be a little more tempered, I suspect.

In the UK and the USA, growth is accelerating and the job market is “tightening”. The pay round will become more difficult by the end of the year. Earnings are set to increase significantly as critical job levels are breached by early 2015. Household incomes are set to improve and the recovery in spending will continue. There will be no “rebalancing”, whatever that ever meant.

Growth up, unemployment down, inflation down and borrowing heading in the right direction. Just the trade figures will continue to disappoint. If growth hits 3% this year, disappointment could turn to shock and alarm. Then all forward rate bets will be off.

Sign up for John’s excellent, readily digestible weekly “Saturday Economist” newsletter and more here.

Significant Changes in the Legal Market coming through.

MergerThe stats quoted in this article from the SRA – where they express their concern about the risks involved as firms go through the transition (which we can help you to minimise and address) demonstrate the impact of commercial and regulatory changes that are re-shaping your market and your competition:

  • The proportion of firms remaining as sole practitioners in 2013 was 29%, down from 41% in 2006.  That’s a big change from a position that has actually remained fairly static until the last 12 months.
  • The top-10 conveyancing firms increased from 5.3% to 10.3% between 2010 and 2012, which is highly significant now that the property market has taken off again; but well organised more widely based practices, with good people management, processes, sales and client relationship skills are doing well now, as there’s (sometimes more than) enough work around.  The challenge is to get these components of the business right.
  • 42% of the top-50 firms considering a merger to be very or fairly likely by 2016.

The Article:  Merger rush presents new risks, say SRA

Are you doing enough to make the most of the opportunities here?  And can we help?

Allan Carton