Talking Points

    These are ideas, issues, topics or whatever else they're called that relate to your law firm's future and that come up, or can be brought up in conversation.

    Planning is not optional, the only option is how you plan.

    The polar opposite of planning is not the absence of planning but dissolution of your practice. The simple intent to have a professional future means that some sort of planning will occur. This can be affirmative planning or planning by default. The latter is what occurs when you leave your future to your market or your competitors.

    "We're keeping our options open."

    "Keeping our options open" indicates planning by default. ("Keeping your options open" is a tautology, a statement that is always true. We all have the option of quitting the practice of law and doing something else. That's not the point.) "Keeping your options open" is code for having insufficient information, lack of confidence in the information you have, uncertainty about your vision, or the inability to make a decision.

    "We have a good reputation."

    This statement is often used as a defense to a suggestion that implies change. It is a "set up declaration", i.e. one that is hard to disagree with due to its ambiguity (see below) and the social consequences of disagreement. It is usually followed by a corollary to the first rule of bicycle maintenance: if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Thus the suggestion that a firm consider some practice development planning is ill advised because, "we have a good reputation" and tinkering with it portends more risk than benefit.

    This statement has two elements of pious fraud and foggy thinking. The pious fraud is in the words "we" and "good". "Good" denotes the value judgment of a position on a continuum - "bad-average-good", "good-better-best" or whatever. The foggy thinking is shown by the question, "reputation for what?"

    The "reputation" defense is addressed by discussions that address:

    a) "Good" compared to whom,

    b) What is the reputation of our principle competitors,

    c) Reputation for what? examples:

    If our reputation is for honesty, is this the most important choice
    criteria for the clients we want in the future,

    If our reputation is for professional expertise, is this in an area of
    practice where we will face stiff competition in the future,

    If our reputation is for (fill in the blank), is this an area of
    practice where future clients will acquire legal services in
    an area that we can provide profitably.

    d) Is our reputation changing with our market,

    (example: if we have a reputation for quality insurance defense
    services and our insurance company clients decide to move some
    of their work "in house" will we compare favorably enough to bill
    more than the costs of in house counsel?)

    e) Who do we have this reputation with,

    f) Will we have the same clients in a few years,

    g) How will our reputation hold up in the face of our competitors
    marketing efforts targeted at the potential clients we would like
    to serve,

    h) What is the relation between our reputation and what the clients
    we want are looking for.

    It is not that "reputation" is not important, it is that it is not specific. The fact that reputation is important means that it must be understood thoroughly and tended carefully.

    Billable Hours

    The billable hour is the economic foundation of many firms and it maybe too "sacred" to tinker with. The point to make when planning discussions come around to solving the firm's problems by increasing the number of billable hours is that this is the measure of your time, not your value. Your value, almost never measured by the amount of time you spend on a task, is a conclusion in the mind of the client.

    You can make a cogent argument that billable hours should never be used in non-adversarial matters. When you're playing a zero-sum game, you can always blame the other guy and thus have the client accept the amount of your time as an indicator of your value. You don't need this web site to know where that issue is going.

    What is important when planning discussions come around to billable hours is to talk about client perceptions and value judgments.

    Cutting to the chase, getting to the bottom line, etc.

    Most of us are "results" oriented, we don't care much about the process by which the results are obtained. This is true with law practice development as well, even when the practice being developed has invested in it the professional life's work of the participants.

    Don't fall into this trap. When someone says to you, especially if that person is above you on the law firm food chain, "get to the bottom line" it is not likely a power transfer. Nor is it a demonstration of the faith they have in you. Law practice development is a process-oriented phenomena, not a conclusion phenomena.

    Presuming the process does not involve hiring or firing, and putting aside the issue of the substantive areas of practice, it is about human relationships.

    Advertising

    No matter what you say, they respond "advertising". Any phrase that has the word "market" in it means "advertising". (and "research" always means looking up case law.) Any suggestion that the firm examine how it communicates its availability to benefit potential clients by the legal services it provides means "advertising". Any reference to practice development means "advertising". This makes the conversation tough because, as we all know, "advertising" is unprofessional slime. This "advertising on the brain" symptomatology indicates an aversion to change and an unwillingness to replace presumptions with facts.

    You can develop a wonderful practice without the back of the phone book or dancing Itos on TV. No question about it. But the stodgiest senior partner has always advertised his brains out, he or she just didn't call it that. While a skunk by any other name etc., there is a trap in arguing this point. Advertising, whatever its form, is always the last part of a practice development plan, if it is part of the plan at all. To argue about advertising in any context before the firm's practice development plan is established and the necessary facts gathered and analyzed is premature at best.

    Isn't (Practice Development Planning, Clientcentric sm research, etc.) a lot of work to prove the obvious? or

    Isn't (market research) a lot of work to anticipate the inevitable?

    The answer is "yes" only in a non-competitive or unchanging environment.

    These questions are usually raised by those who have faith that "tradition" predicts the future. They frequently put forward such commencts as "There will always be a need for what we do" or "If we concentrate on doing quality legal work, clients will continue to find us." If reliance on tradition is the stumbling block, examine the changes that have occurred in the professional niche your firm occupies.

    Another way to address these objections to planning and research is to discuss the time value of knowledge. In a competitive market what you know is made valuable by when you know it in relationship to your competitors.

    Practical pointer...Having competitively advantageous information before your competitors is of little value until you have the administrative and management systems in place to use the information to your benefit.

    Corporate Client Satisfaction

    There is a tendency for the management of law firms that do the bulk of their work for "corporate" clients to think that the concept of client satisfaction is some sort of emotional state existing in those who receive personal legal services in such areas of the law as divorce. Client satisfaction is both intellectual and emotional at the same time and is equally operational in corporate clients as in those who receive services impacting them personally. Satisfaction is the result of the client's legal service experience measured by their expectations. Whether your firm is hired by a claims manager, the owner of a small business or the board of directors of a publicly traded concern, the expereince/expectation equation will always be operating.

    It is a common presumption that the satisfaction of corporate clients is based on standards of judgment more akin to that of the attorney that the non corporate client.

    "We don't need a facilitator, we get along just fine."

    • The facilitator's job is not to make it happen but to make it happen effectively, on budget and on schedule.
    • "Facilitate" means to make easy, not to rock the boat. All All firms adapt to changes in practice environment and market. Those changes always come from within the firm. The facilitator's job is to make the process easier, smoother and faster.
    • Most firms, especially small firms have one or two dominant personalities among the managing attorneys. They are dominant for a variety of reasons, most of which are valid and valuable. Here, the facilitator's job is the break the "If you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got" cycle.
    • With one or two dominant personalities, the less dominant tend to listen rather than talk. Their insights into the matter at hand, which will be different solely because they are less dominant, will not be shared. Imagine the loss to the firm when the insights second rank client personnel share with second rank firm personnel also get shared with first rank client personnel but don't get shared with the leadership of the firm.

    Please call, mail, or e-mail with your comments or for more information.



Advocates Management, Inc.
1332 South 26th Street
Manitowoc, WI 54220
Voice: (877) ADVOCATES (toll free)
Fax: (920) 684-4414
E-mail: info@advocatesnetwork.com


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