Monthly Archives: June 2014

Don’t Ignore the Opportunities Created by Internal Networking … and Learn to Trust.

For a number of years now there has been a lot of chatter and activity around business networking – including how and whether to make use of social networking tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter. All good – the more networking the better (as long as it is relevant and targeted; lawyers in particular don’t get out enough (possibly in every sense of the phrase!)

However what many firms – both large and small – tend to constantly ignore is the importance and value of networking internally. Doing this effectively can radically improve results by enabling your people to tap into the existing client and contact relationships of others across the firm. To ignore the importance of internal networking means that you are failing to take advantage of the often significant personal connections that already exist within your firm.

Consider how much – both in terms of time and money – you spend on business development (sales and marketing). Again all good (mostly!). But consider also that you probably have a ready-made market for your services on your doorstep; untapped … and already known (personally in some cases) to your colleagues.
To penetrate this market doesn’t demand much of your time and costs little in financial terms.

Neither does it take a great deal of planning, strategizing, or navel gazing to get right – it really is a case of JFDI!

Ask yourself and then your colleagues the simple questions:

“Do we know what services our colleagues are offering … to which clients and sectors … and why they prefer using or working with us over our competitors?”

Before you answer this question – it is important to think about what you really know. Most of us broadly know what litigation is….and employment….and corporate/commercial. Real estate? Yes of course you know what that is. You may even have picked up a few interesting nuances about capital markets, IP or funds.

But what sort of work is your firm actually providing under these headings? Who are the key clients and referrers? In what sectors have your colleagues gained particular experience (or even fame?)

So what is the solution?

Well, there are a few basic ‘behaviours’ that you can undertake and changes that you can implement. For example:

  1. Consider ‘placing’ your lawyers in cross-practice groups (in terms of where they sit in the office) rather than having everyone in a particular discipline sitting together. This has the effect of broadening discussion and leads to people developing a deeper knowledge of what others to (and for whom).
  2. Have regular and informal group discussions at all levels in the firm – have coffee either ‘in’ or ‘out’.
  3. Create hubs within your office that take water-cooler conversations to a new and more comfortable level.

There is a host of things that you can do to create a better internal networking environment and which can be explored outside the word-count of this blog.

Fundamentally, however, it is essential to also generate MUTUAL TRUST with your colleagues in each other’s abilities to handle the new legal work and new relationships that will flow from this increased knowledge and understanding; and to ensure enthusiasm for the more collaborative behaviours I recommend here.

All lawyers need to take responsibility for making the decision to accept that other partners and colleagues are capable of helping their clients. The starting point in creating trust is to ensure that lawyers have an understanding of each other’s personal and professional networks; their achievements and client feedback; their PR and awards; their capabilities and their professional history.

The first step is a willingness – at least in principle – to trust your partners and colleagues. Once that has been achieved, you can start to work on a myriad of techniques and solutions to improve knowledge and create trust within your firm.

If you want to find out more about how to make these changes work effectively in your practice CALL 0161 929 8355 or complete this contact request form.

If you can’t tame your gorilla … take a clean shot!

The Legal GorillaBy Tony Williams – first published in The Lawyer in May 2014.

The legal gorilla usually claims to have a good practice, is one of the highest billers in the firm and likes everyone to know it – and treat him with respect and deference. He is the typical alpha male (and they are almost invariably male).

Additional fee income is hard to find these days so it may be argued that it is business suicide to do anything to upset such a sensitive and endangered species. Indeed, surely everything should be done to encourage them to stay?  To a large extent this view continues, with the incumbent given a steady supply of bananas to keep them contented. The bananas may come in the form of increased remuneration, bonuses, a board position or a leading role in a practice group.

Ego-Getter

However, the key difference between a gorilla and other high performers is that they are primarily selfish and egotistical. They tend to keep their client relationships to themselves and rarely involve other partners or offices with the client.

They tend not to encourage or recruit the most able talent into their team as they wish to remain unchallenged. Indeed, perversely, such individuals are often surprisingly personally insecure.  Accordingly, the best associates and younger partners that work with them face a stark choice of paying homage or moving out of the practice group or, more often, the firm. They then face the wrath of the gorilla for being disloyal “after all he’s done” to advance their careers.

In these circumstances the leadership of a firm faces a dilemma. At one level they do not want clone partners and they do want to instil a high-performance culture. The gorilla is usually a furiously hard worker. But, conversely, they wish to develop, embed and protect the firm’s culture. Accordingly, terms such as effective teamwork, mutual respect, client
teams, meritocracy and the development of associates are liberally sprinkled across the firm’s ‘values statement’.

The gorilla will be a high-biller, but by not involving others in the client relationship may be unprofitable, and by failing to institutionalise and broaden the client relationship is rarely maximising the work the firm could do for the client. By sheer force of personality he may get his protégés promoted to partner, provided they play by his rules.

Others in the firm see this behaviour being tolerated and rewarded and therefore assume that, notwithstanding the values statement, behaving like a gorilla or being a member of their troop is the way to survive and thrive.

Clearly, the leadership can take no action, accept that their values statement is hypocritical junk and keep the gorilla amused so as to safeguard the fee income he produces. The containment strategy may at times be necessary, but it has implications for the culture and development of the firm.

Leaders may confront the gorilla and encourage him to change his ways. Surprisingly, the gorilla in question is often unaware of the negative impact he may be having on those around him. In some cases this may work, especially where the leader is someone he respects. But in many instances the impact is at best temporary.

Then the leader faces a real challenge – push the gorilla out and the other partners get spooked at the loss of a heavy hitter and the related fee income (especially when relatively few firms are well-endowed with culturally aligned major client-winning partners) or encourage the gorilla to go, usually by taking away a few -bananas. But the departure is
usually noisy, with the firm the gorilla moves to claiming a major coup and the headhunters circling for more targets.

Beware wounded gorillas 

Leaders need to carefully prepare the ground before pushing the gorilla out if they are to retain the support of partners. The exit needs to be as quick and clinical as possible. A single shot. A wounded gorilla can be dangerous.

Fortunately, the outcome is usually positive. It may be found that the client was not as in love with the gorilla as was thought. And those in the gorilla’s team, freed from his oppressive behaviour, can flourish.

One senior partner who agonised for ages over a gorilla hunt described the result as “like taking a cork out of a champagne bottle”. The energy it produced, and the recognition that the firm lived its values, more than made up for the loss of the gorilla.

So choose your target carefully and try to tame the gorilla; but if that fails, position yourself carefully, especially with your board and partners, get ready, aim and fire.

First Published in the Lawyer.

The Lawyer

Incentives lacking for partners to implement effective risk management … but do you feel the heat rising?

Boiled Frogs Don't Feel the DangerResults of an extensive survey by Managing Partner reached the “overwhelming” conclusion that “Partners need to take greater responsibility for risk management to better protect their firms.”

A key issue was identified as failure by partners to prioritise firmwide risk management over client work, which comes as no surprise, but has to be addressed; and not enough firms are tailoring remuneration to incentivise lawyers to get risk management right.

The results – due to published by Managing Partner in July and August – show that, for example, the lowest-ranking risks for firms, according to how respondents’ lawyers are currently rewarded, are

  • Pipeline management – just 8%, when this is about keeping a flow of business to keep your business and cash going.
  • Project management – just 11%, when it is critical to ensure that legal and management tasks are completed effectively on time
  • Data Security – less than a quarter at 24%!  So law firms appear not to be concerned enough about safety of client data?

Some of the solutions we use that can help you deal with these areas include:

  • Key account management programmes and client listening to develop and manage consistent flows of work and revenue from existing clients;
  • Personal and business objective management tools to help lawyers manage themselves and focus efforts in the right areas to be successful in their role
  • Project management and collaboration software to enable groups to engage effectively on projects and monitor / prompt progress.
  • Support to make decisions on IT infrastructure (including options to move to a securely hosted data centre) and development of stable technology.

To discuss how any of these solutions might work for you, with no cost or obligation, call 0161 929 8355 or complete this online information request form.