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September 30, 2005

Think Globally, Act Globally?--It's a New World for Lawyers, Ready or Not...

Law practices with clients who trade across borders are becoming the norm.

This week about 3000 lawyers are meeting in Prague in the Czech Republic at the annual convention of the International Bar Association. The IBA has members ranging from solos to some of the largest firms in the world. If you have never been to a meeting of lawyers from jurisdictions all over the world, you should do it. The programs (about 260 in Prague this week!) are generally excellent and the contacts attractive. And whether you are already a full-time, experienced international customs and trade lawyer or are a state court litigator who rarely handles matters involving events outside your county, it's time to join an international group. Potential clients from outside the U.S. are all around you. And your U.S. clients may venture into Europe or Asia any day now.

Seven years ago my firm became the Pittsburgh member of the International Business Law Consortium and it forever changed the way we thought about clients, practicing law and marketing. Smaller than the IBA, the IBLC is an alliance of about 70 law and accounting firms, generally under 100 lawyers, in strategically located cities around the world. The firms meet 2 to 3 times a year in member cities -- generally western Europe and North and Latin America. (We just concluded a 3-day meeting in Dresden, Germany.) When and where appropriate, we use the lawyers of other member firms on client projects or outright refer work to other member firms.

If you aren't Baker & McKenzie or Freshfields, it's a good way to have "branch offices" without the liability issues faced by a large firm with branch offices. There are scores of lawyers groups like this worldwide. The trick is (1) to join one with first-rate firms and (2) to have some say as to recruitment of new members.

Why did we join the IBLC group in 1998? Just what did we gain?

Three things:

Outgoing work: the ability to get things done for our North American clients abroad. A number of our clients, traditionally served by much larger firms, like the idea of our being able to find lawyers who we say we know and trust in major commercial capitals of the world. Because the group is small and increasingly intimate, firms getting work from other member firms tend to make the work referred to them a priority and do their best work. There are unspoken but powerful group "sanctions" for mediocre service or dropping the ball in any way.

(2) Incoming work: foreign clients doing business or litigating here in the U.S. The group lets us meet new clients from abroad who don't need or want to use a 300+ lawyer U.S. or international firm to do its U.S. work. If we meet them through our IBLC members, we may become one of a handful of U.S. firms the foreign client even knows about or meets. That's positioning at its best.

(3) "A New Frame of Reference": We have picked up on some differences in folkways -- both major and subtle -- between parties and litigants in deals and ADR forums around the world which, frankly, I am embarrassed we were not adequately attuned to previously. We are learning new things.

Posted by JD Hull at 12:02 PM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2005

My Kind of Blog: Mark Beese's Leadership for Lawyers

Here's a quality contribution to the blawg community. Last week I discovered Mark Beese, the self-described in-house "marketing guy" at Denver-based Holland & Hart. He writes Leadership for Lawyers, and it is my kind of blawg. Mark's site purports to be about lawyers as leaders but goes way beyond that -- it could also be entitled "Lawyers as People".

LFL has great writing, links and resources on what I call the Art of the Client. In particular, two May 16 posts caught my attention. The first discussed the well-known Clients for Life, (J. Sheth, A. Sobel, Simon & Shuster 2000) and the second touted a newer work, How Lawyers Lose Their Way (J. Stefancic, R. Delgado, Duke Press 2005).

Read Clients for Life when you have time. I haven't read the newer book, How Lawyers Lose Their Way, which was published in March of this year. It investigates why our profession breeds burn-outs. This book really interests me -- and I'll buy it -- because my working theory (see my first post) of why client service is poor is that so many of we lawyers hate what we do. If How Lawyers Lose Their Way tells me the reason, I may be able to scrap my blawg and will do so happily!

Posted by JD Hull at 08:00 AM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2005

So, read any good books this summer?

Colleagues back east say I've been in California too long because the business books I talk up seem always to be about "client relationships" and "corporate culture" issues. They lean more to biographies of business leaders or books on management and business strategies. I like those kinds of books, too, but it's true: in my short time here, I've grown to respect the let's-try-this openness of California. The state fairly revels in its role as the nation's main laboratory and clearinghouse for new ideas. They range from the sublime to the hopelessly lame.

However, one issue -- delivering services to a client -- has been a constant coast-to-coast favorite item of discussion under a variety of names for the past 15 years. Usually you see it under the rubric of quality control for companies which mix products with specific services, or under the maxim that all businesses are really service businesses. Even we lawyers will talk about quality service -- although not enough, which is the reason I launched this blog.

The following five books changed the way (big time) I thought about delivering legal services to clients:

Harry Beckwith, Selling The Invisible (Warner Business Books 1997)
Top-drawer legal work alone won't cut it. Even your best client is irrational in much of its behavior. Leave rigid logic at the door.

Jeremy Rifkin, The End of Work (Tarcher/Putnam 1996)
Your client and its world will continue to change.

Richard D. Lewis, When Cultures Collide: Managing Successfully Across Cultures (Nicholas Brealey Pub./London 1999)
Your client or its adversary could be from Germany, Brazil, China or Turkey.

Jay Foonberg, How to Get and Keep Good Clients (Nat’l Academy of Law Ethics & Management, Inc. 1986)
Your client will keep coming back if you use your common sense. Foonberg has that in spades.

Karl Llewellyn, Bramble Bush (Oceana Pub. 1960)
You still have to be a lawyer -- and it's hard.

Let me know if you have books you'd like to add to this list. I would love to know what you are reading and what books you think are good.

Posted by JD Hull at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)