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November 28, 2005

Rule Two: The Client Is The Main Event. "The Big Obvious."

Rule Two: The Client is the Main Event.

This one, I think, is more intuitive. Rule One--the November 19 post Represent Only Clients You Like--struck 3 people I received e-mails from as impractical if not counter-intuitive. That's okay, but for now let's keep that as Rule One. Rule Two, that the client is everything, and the main event, makes almost too much sense. We all know that clients pay our fees, give us interesting work, and that we have professional, financial and fiduciary duties to clients. We tell clients they are "everything" to us. But is it true? Is the notion that the client is the main deal chiefly something we eagerly tell our clients (and ourselves) while we pitch for work?

My sense is that lawyers, except on a strictly marketing and PR level, from time to time, and even with the best clients, forget that and won't create what quality improvement guru W. Edwards Deming years ago called a "constancy of purpose" about true service. So Rule Two becomes the obvious "yeah-of-course-our-firm-knows/does that!" rule that may get more lip service than actual delivery in all the details of our work for clients. My question for now is this: If client (or customer) "primacy" were really the organizing principle for everything we do, isn't that in our interest, too? Doesn't that mean that the work is better, law firm staff and attorneys are pulling in the same direction, morale is good, we spend less time and money on marketing, we keep good clients and we attract new ones?

And if we really get it, are really we doing it?

Posted by JD Hull at 09:09 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2005

Another Great Blawg I've Been Missing

Here's another client-centric blawg I missed and now intend to check regularly: Jim Calloway's Law Practice Tips Blog. It's useful, well-written, funny--and it's got attitude. Calloway obviously thinks it's a privilege to practice law. I like his August 22 post on law firm management and time-management in "Basic Management Skills." In fact, I like everything about this blawg.

Posted by JD Hull at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2005

Good News For Corporate Law Boutiques

See "Law Firm National Reach Overated" by Tom Collins in morepartnerincome re: Martindale-Hubbell's annual survey of GCs. Query: To take it a step further, for the 29% of the GCs interviewed who do want a national firm, can't a boutique have a national reach, too?

Posted by JD Hull at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2005

"Bombarding Your Clients with Paper"...Or Falling Trees Need to Be Heard

Chapter K of Jay Foonberg's book, How To Get and Keep Good Clients says that you should do just that: bombard the client with everything in the client's file. While Foonberg talks about "bombarding with paper" in a number of respects, I agree especially on client files.

1. It's the client's file anyway, not yours. You don't own it. And I think that the client is entitled to a copy of it as you create it. I don't mean just letters, contracts and final pleadings. I mean everything. (The only exception is handwritten attorney's notes--and sometimes we send those.) So send everything else. Send copies of e-mails, memos to file, research memoranda, cases, anything typewritten, even if the client complains.

2. In brutally honest moods, I tell associate lawyers, "if the client doesn't see or hear it, you never did it, and it did not occur." Kind of like the tree falling in the woods. If you don't show and tell the client what you are doing, and do that as you are doing it, there's no reason for the client to appreciate you, your work or your firm, or pay your bill.

Posted by JD Hull at 06:29 PM | Comments (0)

Redux: Asking Clients For Work...Or Why Are Lawyers So Shy, Anyway?

People seemed to like the October 30 post on "asking for business"--here it is again:

Over the years this keeps happening. I take a general counsel or non-lawyer executive or CFO of a targeted client to lunch or dinner to ask for work. At some point I briefly say what my firm does and how we can help the client on particular legal issues it has. I ask a few questions. I do a short (very informal) pitch which ends with: "We like [the company] and we'd love to work with you. How can I win/earn your business?"

The client rep laughs and says something like, "That's refreshing--because I can't tell you how many times I have dined, gone to sporting events or played golf with lawyers and they never ask me for my business. Sometimes this goes on for years. I know that's why they are there--but they won't ever get to the point."

"So what's up with that?" he or she continues. "Are lawyers shy or something? Why would I want to hire a law firm not aggressive enough, direct enough or business-oriented enough to just ask for the work?"

Posted by JD Hull at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2005

Can Marketing Be Taught?

I agree with Chicago-based Larry Bodine in his excellent November 5 post that the answer is no. In every law or accounting firm I know, it's mainly pain-in-the-ass trial lawyers with off-the-chart egos or supremely confident deal quarterbacks who are are bringing in the most new clients. Born that way, they are rarer and more valuable than law review editors with personalities.

But, in another sense, virtually everyone--first year associates and any employee--can "market" by keeping work and getting more new work from good existing institutional clients. For my firm, marketing is also this: (a) doing sound work and (b) showing the client representative that you are responsive and care about the work. It's the most productive, and least expensive, marketing we can ever do.

Posted by JD Hull at 08:10 AM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2005

Rainmaking By Associate Lawyers? What!?

I got an instructive comment in response to my October 30 post ("Asking Targeted Clients for Work...Or Why Are Lawyers So Shy, Anyway?"). It's from Chris Abraham, a talented non-lawyer D.C. friend of mine in his early thirties who works for a consulting firm. Chris, who is the kind of guy who will start his own telecom firm some day, commented:

I asked an Associate at a very prestigious firm here in DC if he did any Rain Making for his firm. He told me that Associates were strongly discouraged from doing sales and business development work --and if he were to, he wouldn't be compensated for it. When I bring rain to my firm -- do solid sales -- I get double-digit percentages as an employee. I wonder what the tradition is surrounding the lawyer concept of never wanting to appear needy, greedy, or salesman-like?

This is an old story at law firms--we discourage associate lawyers from developing clients--and it's bad for everybody involved: clients, associates and partners.

When I was an associate lawyer at a larger firm in the 1980's, one of the associates in my class was nearly fired for trying to develop his own clients. (He eventually quit to build his own fossil fuels company.) As an associate, like Chris's friend, I was also told by senior associates that I wouldn't get credit for landing clients. When I became a partner in that firm, I, of course, had no clients. But I was expected to suddenly get them, even though, by that time, I was not "client-oriented" in terms of knowing how to form real relationships with clients. I had some great experiences in my 12 years there, but the firm tended to eat its young.

Unfortunately, many law firms still follow this self-defeating practice despite the fact that associates are key to establishing a client-oriented culture. New associates in the firm Julie McGuire and I started in 1992 in DC and Pittsburgh are: (1) taught that Clients Are Everything, (2) asked to treat existing clients as their own and to deliver services so off-the-chart excellent and personal that they could "steal" (really!) existing clients from our firm if they wanted to (dudes, you are "marketing" while you deliver a service to an existing client--so be that good; we'll fight you for them later if you leave), and (3) told to start finding their own clients now. Oh yeah--if as an associate you develop good clients, and treat them well, you can get paid for that, too.

Posted by JD Hull at 06:23 AM | Comments (0)