First off my rant: Seriously. Could LMA have given this program the smallest room available? Strategy with Jennifer Manton, Nat Slavin, and Wendy Bernero. Come on … learn your audience all ready.

Here we go:

In the past, law firms did everything, now we need to focus.

If you’re not strategizing, you have put yourself in a disadvantage in the marketplace. This is our new normal. The good ol’ days are not coming back. The client is the general contractor and you are the sub-contractor. Time to rightsize your thought process. Continue Reading #LMA18: Strategy-Are you a talent, service firm? or a hybrid?

 

Okay, let’s begin with the rooms size. Who would have thought so many people would want to participate in a deep dive program on strategic planning lead by this group ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Let’s begin with the why? Why is strategic planning so popular again?

What’s the difference between strategy and strategic planning?

Kim: A strategy allows you to know the firm’s priorities so you can allocate the firm’s resources (money, time, people)

Mike: It allows you to find a common vocabulary, and improve understanding and collaboration

Clinton: With more than 100,000 books on strategy on the market, you need to double down on one, for your firm

You need to put it down on paper, because is where concensus comes into play . So, if you don’t have it in writing, you don’t have a strategy or a strategic plan.

Your strategic plan needs to be dynamic to take into account outside events/competitive landscape (new firm into the marketplace, recession hits, technology change).

WHY do firms implement strategic plans?

Kim: growth. You can’t grow without a strategy.

Clinton’s methodology for strategy:

The Role of the CMO leading the process

The considerations

Shoes
Jonathan Fitzgarrald and me headed to Phoenix LMA

I get asked this question a lot these days, “What’s it like to fill Jonathan Fitzgarrald’s shoes?”

I just reply back honestly, “I don’t know. I brought my own.” “Filling the shoes,” so to speak, of another person is challenging. Filling the shoes of half your dog & pony show can be daunting. Like myself prior to joining this firm, Jonathan was in his position for nearly eight years. He had seen through a culture change and shift. He saw through the passing of the baton from one generation of law firm leaders to the next. He was witness as the old guard of rainmakers retired, and the new guard took root. The firm Jonathan left is much different than the firm he joined. And I am now having my own unique experience. I will get to witness the firm I joined on February 23, 2015, evolve into something different. I will hopefully have the ability to influence and help shape things where I can. But that’s not what this blog post is about. So what is this post about? I suppose my first 90 days (yes, it’s been 90 days), the things that I have noticed, and things that I would share with anyone walking into a new position. Continue Reading What’s it like to fill Jonathan Fitzgarrald’s shoes? Lessons from my first 90 days.

Strategic PlanningA way too short, but link-bait worthy titled article, is making its way into the conversation of legal marketers this week about law firms and strategic planning.

In fact, I am certain that Rita McGrath‘s article in the HBR Blog Network, Creative Destruction Visits the Legal Profession, is sure to be a topic of conversation and buzz at this week’s Marketing Partner Forum (follow along on Twitter at #MPF2013), as well it should be.

We’re chatting about it in my Legal Marketers Extraordinaire group on Facebook (A private group I started. PM me via The Legal Watercooler‘s Facebook page if you want to join).

In many ways I have to agree with Ms. McGrath’s initial paragraph:

Some years ago, I had the rather thankless task of directing a program on strategy for law firms. It was thankless in part because about half the participants didn’t think law firms needed a strategy. They figured if you were smart, served your clients well and worked hard that things would be fine, as they historically often have. Just keep billing those hours! The other half might have been open to the idea that law firms needed a strategy, but completely opposed to having anything other than a consensus-built, senior partner-friendly mechanism for making strategic choices, which almost by definition is doomed to fail. Tough decisions such as which clients to serve and which not; which partners are creating value and which are not; and where to focus in terms of practice expertise and geography are nearly impossible to make by committee.

Over the years, I have been in those meetings. I have sat in on those calls. I have worked to build strategic plans, only to see them fully ignored. Or, better yet, fail because those who did not buy-in picked up their toys and went to another sandbox to play.

Here’s my (short) take on Ms. McGrath’s article from our conversation on the LME group:

Of course she had a less-than-receptive audience. And, speaking with my peers, it’s still not the most receptive audience. Definitely getting better. Still room for lots of improvement.

The good new is that the concepts and implementation of true strategy can be found in large, small, regional firms (but not all). It’s no longer the purview of a few “forward thinking” firms.

And, for the firms that do invest the time, energy, money, and emotional capital to prepare a strategic plan, how well it is carried out, and how many barriers are faced, is still open to debate.

So why is this buzz-worthy considering Ms. McGrath’s experience took place “some years ago”?

Because it is still true today in too many firms.

Yes, there are some firms — mega, large, small, regional, boutique — that really get it and are operating at a highly strategic level. But how many of those firms were driven to this change by the recession? How many will willingly slide back into complacency now that things are looking up again?

And not to mention the rest of the firms that either fell apart during the recession, or squeaked their way through it. They continue to operate as usual, even though the world has completely changed.

I believe that one of the reasons that strategy is so hard to implement in a law firm is because of the emotional investment it requires.

We’re not selling widgets or cans of soda. We’re selling services provided by people. Those people are friends and partners. In many firms, these partners grew up together, joining the firms as summer associates 20 some odd years ago. It’s hard to challenge assumptions and make changes when you are that emotionally invested.

Let’s face it. They just don’t teach this shit in law school. They don’t teach that one day you might be the chairman of a multi-billion dollar operation. Hell, even the most modest of firms are multi-million dollar operations.

One of the roadblocks to strategy, I have found, is that at the end of the day, with all the good advice given and shared, we, as legal marketers and outside consultants, are not shareholders or partners. We are not the owners of the business. We are not personal friends.

We can be impartial because we are not emotionally invested in these people. We’re there to do a job.

If they do not take our advice, or seek our counsel, there is nothing we really can do about it. Sure, we have a seat at the table. But how loud is our voice?

I’ve been doing this legal marketing thing for 15 years now. The industry has changed completely in so many ways. But in other ways it really hasn’t changed too much.

We are still relationship driven, but how we create and manage those relationships is different.

Technology and innovations have changed, but they are still supporting the core of what we do: providing a service.

Lawyers are still skeptical. Clients still hire on the theory of know, like, and trust. We’re still herding cats.

And I am still the Pollyanna out there. I believe if we are moving the ball forward, even at a micro pace, we are making progress. And, readers, we are making progress.

Maybe not to the outside world, but in the inner world of legal marketing, we have made leaps and bounds of change. And we still have so much more to accomplish.

I hope that Ms. McGrath’s article continues to be a beacon of conversation. As it is a conversation I know we are having behind closed doors, in the lobbies during industry conferences, on private Facebook message threads and groups, and hopefully around the conference room table in our boardrooms.

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Kevin O’Keefe asked a great question today on his blog:  Does a lawyer need to blog to make effective use of social media?

Is it prudent for a lawyer or law firm rely on third parties to maintain and protect their brand? A brand as a professional service provider that labels you as a trusted and reliable authority in a niche area of the law. I’m not sure that’s a responsible course of action.

In addition to the inherent difficulties of establishing yourself as a thought leader and an expert through Twitter, Facebook, and the like, what if those services decline in popularity or go away? Unlikely, but law firms approaching social media worry about things of lesser risk.

What if your brand is hitched to some third party social media tool when that happens? What happens to all of the content you shared? At best, no one is one looking at the content anymore if there is a decline in popularity in the social media tool you used. At worst, your content is gone.

If a lawyer is really going to network through the Internet and engage their target audience through social media, don’t they need to blog?

Obviously, I think that there is profound value in blogging for individual attorneys.

In a crowded marketplace, whether it is within an AMLAW 100 firm, or a popular practice area, blogging can help establish your presence, brand, and credibility.

I constantly encourage younger associates to blog as it can help establish their points of knowledge, and fill out those empty looking bios.

A blog, in my opinion, can be a key point of differentiation between you and your competitor.

I also like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook for their ability to expand your reach to new contacts (current and potential customers/clients), build relationships with referral sources and influencers, and its use as a distribution channel for content.

I, however, hadn’t thought about the “risks” involved in hitching your brand to a third party application until reading this post. But Kevin’s right.  There will always be the next Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. However, your blog is your own. You are not dependent on a third party application for your positioning and branding.

So, to answer Kevin’s questions. Is it necessary to blog to make effective use of social media? As an overall strategic component, I’m going to have to vote “yes.”

Great question, Kevin.

What say you??

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The question of the day over at AmLaw Daily is “How essential is a CMO?” For those of us who have worked for, under, or near a CMO the answer is “depends.”

An essential CMO is a forward thinking, strategic person who will be able to balance the needs of the partnership at a 40,000 foot level, while inspiring the tactical members of the team. An essential CMO will build and develop relationships across the firm, with partners, administrative professionals, and the marketing staff.

A non-essential CMO will bury him or herself away in a window office, or “visiting” the outlying offices, and will never be seen as a contributing member of the team. His or her fingerprints will not be found on a proposal, client alert, client initiative or mid-level partner training. This non-essential CMO will be heard, via e-mail and conference calls, barking out orders, throwing team members under the proverbial bus, but will never been seen.

A non-essential CMO will hire sub-standard marketing professionals and drive divides between the current marketing team, in the effort to prove their worth to the partnership. They will become more concerned about their annual PowerPoint presentation at the partner retreat, where they can show a jump in the firm’s rankings for X, Y or Z, rather than the day-to-day operations and health of the firm. They will measure marketing and business development efforts to make themselves look good, but not necessarily to the enrichment of the firm.

On the other hand, an essential CMO will surround themselves with high-level, competent managers and directors. They will allow these team members to shine and build relationships within the firm. They will back their team, and they will provide direction and inspiration.

An essential CMO will not follow the “trends” in the industry, or the “leading” consultancies, as the end-all, be-all of the marketing strategy for the firm (re-branding, CRM, etc), but will take a hard look at the industry, the economy, the competition, and they will adjust the firm’s sails in response.

An essential CMO will challenge assumptions, and be heard, because they have the respect of not only the partnership, but their peers and their team.

A non-essential CMO will be more concerned about their perceived “equality” with the partners, while an essential CMO won’t really care, just as long as the job gets done.

And, whether or not you call this person a Chief, a Director or Manager, the essential CMO is a person who builds his or her credibility by doing a good job, every day, not by taking credit for work, or results, over which they have no control.

If a little role-playing can spice up a marriage, can it do some good for a dying AmLaw 200 firm?

That’s the premise of a FutureFirm (pdf),

a game of strategy, skill, and endurance. The goal of the game is to craft a new law-firm business model that provides the best odds of your firm surviving and thriving 20 years into the future.

For those of us interested in Scenario Planning, this “game’s” real-world implications can lead to real solutions:

To add urgency to this climate, the weekend began with Anthony Kearns, the Australian lawyer, offering an amusing but sharply focused description of the American big firm landscape. Here’s what he sees:

1. The big firm bubble is about to burst. Choose your pin: angry clients; the exodus of talented people from the practice of law; the competition for associates that firms can’t afford; the increased competition for business between and among the firms.
2. The prevalence of bigger and stronger in-house departments.
3. The presence of three generations in the law firm workplace.
4. The global financial crisis, which has broken the old relationships.
5. The utter failure of firms to differentiate themselves to clients or recruits. (And, I might add, to themselves.)

The areas of convergence, while not shocking, confirm the areas of concern that I, along with many of my peers, have been discussing:

  1. Associates – from salaries, to training, to billable hour requirements and more
  2. Clients – from alternative fee arrangements, to client service and relationships, to loyalty
  3. Partners – from commitment to the firm, to partnership structures

And as there is no singular problem which will lead to the dissolution of a law firm, there can be no singular solution we can point to as a panacea or cure.

Mauer School of Law professor William Henderson will publish a complete and detailed report of the exercise, and I, for one, will be excited to read it.

The marketing umbrella is broad, providing shelter to a diverse group of functions, including: PR, business development, competitive research and analysis, strategic planning, client services, not to mention MarComm, and the list goes on. Throw into the mix some new technology, a new managing partner, offices in 8 different time zones, a merger (or lay-offs), budget constraints, diverging departmental needs and not enough resources, and that’s a day in the life of the law firm CMO.
And yet, every law firm I know of is challenged by the role of the CMO and how best to balance the tactical v. strategic aspects of the job. The turnover continues, at a loss to not only the firm’s finances, but to its overall culture. Not to mention the toll on the the marketing department and personnel. Oh, and did I mention the client?

As a provoker of conversation, I’d like to bring to our collective attention Liz Pava’s article that was posted in today’s Law.com Newswire, How to Get the Most From Today’s CMO.

I thought the article was superb in framing the law firm culture/dynamic, along with the challenges faced by CMOs. Liz rightly points out that firms need to strike the balance between the functionality of the CMOs position, and the strategic leader he or she needs to be:

“The more clearly firms can articulate the balance in the CMO role between 1) head of an administrative/support function, and 2) strategic adviser helping to frame and then direct execution of growth strategies through the marketing department and its resources, the more likely the firm will align the right skill sets to the job and benefit accordingly.”

There’s a lot in the article, and I encourage everyone to read it through, but I wanted more at the end than what follows:

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

“The current war for and high cost of CMO talent, in conjunction with an increasingly challenging marketplace, is driving law firms to rethink what they need, and can get, from CMOs and other resources to help them succeed. New approaches are in the works. For example, firms have tapped director-level marketers to take on more “builder” and “steward” operations to free up the CMO for additional strategy work. And new, nonpartner positions for director of strategic planning and chief marketing strategy and business development officer are being created, with Cravath and Orrick two recent examples, respectively.

“There is no one right job description, title, reporting structure or pay scale for today’s law firm’s head marketer. What matters most is that the responsibilities for the various elements in the marketing mix are aligned with authority, all are clear as to who in the firm is accountable for what, and the structure facilitates forward movement as defined and measured by the particular firm.”

What are the possible solutions?? And, what can we do to move the ball forward on this today? While Cravath and Orrick are going the way of freeing up the CMO to focus on strategy, Drinker Biddle and Buchanan Ingersoll are doing the opposite, foregoing a CMO (at this time).

So Coolerites, what does happen next? How do we influence up, provoke change, or nudge our firms to that sweet spot of distinguishing between the task/operations function of the CMO, and the strategic advisor? I have heard from several firms that are just plain tired of the turn-over of their CMOs to the point that they just don’t know what to do next. So, what can we do to increase the tenure of CMOs? How can we participate in the conversation of solutions?

(cross posted, in part, at the Legal Marketing Association Listserv)

While so much of the gossipsphere is devoted to the Cadwalader layoffs, I can’t help but be mesmerized by what’s going on over at Akin Gump.

We keep hearing about groups of partners leaving; Twenty-one in the past month alone. And now this article comes to us from the Legal Times: “Akin Gump Restructuring to Increase Profits.” I’ve pulled a few quotes to make my point:

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld‘s chairman says that while some recent partner departures have been unexpected, the firm is committed to a restructuring plan aimed at increasing profits and giving its New York office more clout in deciding the firm’s direction.

The changes haven’t sat well with everyone. Over the past month at least 21 partners have departed or said they will leave.

(skip)

The changes at Akin Gump are part of a drive to increase profitability. The firm was 29th on this year’s Am Law 100, reporting firmwide gross revenue of $752.5 million — a 3.5 percent increase from last year. But profits per partner fell, dropping nearly 7 percent to slightly more than $1.2 million. That puts it below many players in the key New York market, including players like Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe ($1.66 million) and White & Case ($1.67 million). Increasing that number would make it easier for the firm to attract laterals and keep talent there.

(Emphasis added)

My comments below are to be taken generically as Akin Gump is not the first firm to adopt this strategy of transitioning power and profits to a New York-focused model. My points are:

  • Does this strategy benefit the client? Or is it being driven solely by the need to increase revenue and PPEP?
  • At what price are firms willing to pay for the benefits of implementing this type of strategy?
  • How willing are these firms to lose long-term partners and clients for the sake of this strategy?
  • While this strategy will “attract laterals and keep talent” in New York, what about the other offices? Can they sustain the hourly rates necessary to hit these numbers?
  • Is this strategy sustainable over time?
  • As a GC or CLO, how happy would your board be to read the headline: “(Insert name of your firm) Restructuring to Increase Profits.”

Look, we’re in business to make money, otherwise we’d all be working for a non-profit somewhere and traveling via public transportation (I’m in L.A.). My concern is that the “product” of our business is a service. Legal Services. I just find in this ever more addictive pursuit of the AmLaw 100 ranking of your choice, we are losing sight of the client and of the service.

After I posted The AmLaw 100 is Crack for Attorneys I received the following comment from an in-house counsel:

I’d like to see just one law firm merger justified on the basis of a reduction in costs to the clients — as opposed to increased hourly rates and hubris-induced rapture from climbing the Amlaw 100 ladder.

I’d also like to see the same for a law firm strategy.

Having put in my dues at big law, I have to say I prefer the culture and work at small or mid-sized firms. With the rumors swirling about possible mega-firm mergers (Heller & Baker, Pillsbury & Nixon Peabody), I have to wonder what mergers like these are trying accomplish? Are they looking to save their firms, á la the Heller rumors? Or expand into new markets, as was leaked to Above the Law in regards to Nixon?

[A] few weeks ago there was a firm-wide videoconference with the new [Nixon Peabody] managing partner Dick Langan. He said the goal was to double the size of the firm within five years; we all left saying the only possible way to go from 700 attorneys to 1500 in that short amount of time was a merger. He talked a lot about increasing our international presence, and specifically mentioned Paris and also South America.

As any firm begins their strategic planning process, bigger (footprint, headcount, revenue, PPEP) is always on the table. Seth Godin’s blog post this morning, “Should small businesses whine?” got me thinking if smaller can be the better approach. He believes that “Small is a weapon, not an excuse.”

If your small company can’t deliver a better experience (in areas people care about) than a big one, why on Earth should someone do business with you? I’m not saying you must have faster service, a bigger website, lower prices and twenty-four hour a day phone support. I’m saying that for some of your customers, you have to be monstrously, demonstrably, better.

The web is a great equalizer. A tiny business can have a better website than a huge one. A tiny business can do better customer support than a big one. A tiny business can write a better newsletter than a big one. Maybe not for everyone, but everyone is for the big companies. The passionate minority is happy to embrace the small company. As long as they focus and don’t whine about it.

Getting back to mega-firm mergers:

Does bigger translate into better customer service? Usually not. In fact, chaos usually ensues for months after a merger. Accounting systems don’t mix. End-users have a difficult time adapting to the new systems. Lots of turnover of staff and attorneys as everyone tries to figure out their new place in the pecking order, if they have one. Moaning and groaning that “that’s not they way we always did it.” Clients are always well aware of the chaos, leaving them vulnerable to your competition.

Will a 1700 attorney law firm better serve their clients than a 700 attorney law firm? Not necessarily. One merger motivator is the allure of adding new practice experiences or greater depth to your current portfolio. My experience is that after a merger, and without intervention by the business development department, most attorneys continue to just work with the same attorneys with whom they always worked. There might be some cross-over, mavericks who get it, but it is a slow process to change habits and culture. Once the allure of the merger wears off, everyone reverts back to their status quo. This is true with lateral hires as well, whether individuals or groups.

Can an 80 attorney firm, or a virtual law firm, provide a better client experience? Absolutely. There is a rise of smaller firms offering better service, responding to client requests for “alternative billing arrangements,” all the while attracting great talent and maintaining a healthy profit. It might not be the $2 million we see at some mega firms, but the attorneys are still living the good life. In addition, there are new firms springing up every day, such as Virtual Law Firm, brought to us by Craig Johnson of Venture Law Group fame, that are thinking outside the lawyer box. These new firms are more in tune with current technology and trends, looking for ways to motivate the Gen-X partners and Gen-Y associates.