There’s no rush

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Happy New Year.

No doubt, you’ve reflected on what you might want to do or achieve this year — and that’s good to the extent that you find peace with who you are but not if you go chasing another array of dazzlingly-stupid goals — but you’ll quickly discover that this year has all the hallmarks of 2015.

Same place.

Same time.

Same … everything.

Like last year, I’ve no goals for this year but I do have a desire to close the gap, just a tad, on the divided life and to find time to go deeper on some of the projects that have been in my mind for a long time.

But I’m in no rush for if that becomes my modus operandi, as it has done in the past, I know that I’ll miss out on so much that life has to offer in living in the now, finding time to hear people into speech and contemplating the real purpose of my life.

I suspect, to my fast-paced, former twentysomething, this sounds drab — aka boring(!) — but it suits me quite nicely, particularly as I no longer feel I’ve anything to prove or acquire to make my life even partially whole.

One last thing. However you see the world, remember you are only a very small component of something immense and magnificent. If you find yourself getting caught in the play (which is all part of the human condition), my advice is step outside (metaphorically or literally) and go for a walk, taking great gulps of air along the way. Trust me, you’ll quickly realise how lucky you are.


Perhaps I should just write

I know, I’ve not been here for ages.

The problem is, I’ve already got too many sites, and it’s a wonder to know where to post let alone what to write.

If you are following me on this site, it would be good to know what you’re interested in.

For me, I’m moving into new areas — particularly how social technologies can be used for the greater good of humanity and living a more spiritual life devoid of material reward (or much less of it).

Anyhow, let’s see how things unfold.

10 (Ten) Reasons why all Lawyers should Blog

Yes, I know this subject has been done to death but I am convinced that there are many people in the legal profession who know next to nothing about blogging, let alone have any inclination to start a blog.

I hope that whoever gets to read this post will think carefully about the process and why all lawyers should immediately start a blog.

If, having read the post, you think there are other reasons, then I would very much like to hear from you in the comments section.

  1. It gives you the best possible opportunity of being found in your target market. If you do a search for your name or your specialist area on Google or Bing (or even YouTube) you will be surprised how little, ordinarily, there is about you. Your profile on your firm’s website might appear or you LinkedIn profile (if you are doing something with it) but very often it will be like searching for a needle in Haystack. If you want to go a bit deeper use the Google Adwords Keywords tool which will show you how many searches have been made against your name in the last month both domestically and internationally. Of course, if you have a common name it may not in fact be you that comes up. Just imagine a situation where, by writing a blog on a fairly regular basis, you might just find someone finding you or something about you.
  2. It is free. Yes it is. I don’t buy the time argument. You have the ability, even if you firm doesn’t have a CMS behind its site to support a WordPress blog or the like, to start your own blog on TypePad, WordPress, Blogger or Posterous.
  3. It provides you with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP). How many lawyers can say that they maintain their own free publishing platform where a client or referrer can check you out? If you use video then so much the better.
  4. It is easy(ish). If you are disciplined enough to bill then blogging once a week, as a minimum, should be no different. You just need to make time for it over the course of the week. There is always something going on in the legal world or your life to provide you with the material to feed your blogging engine.
  5. It will, over time, make you a better lawyer. There is no doubt that having to apply the mental discipline to create original content will force you to understand your audience and what makes them tick in instructing you.
  6. It gets results. What sort of results is entirely a matter for you. If need inspiration then there is no shortage of material out there. I would start with a search on Technorati or Google blogs in your chosen area. I would also consider your competitor websites and see if they have a blog, how often they blog and the sort of comments (if any) they get.
  7. It is your legacy. Subject to your backing up the material or saving it to disc, what you write will be no different to creating a book. You will have something you can look back on with pride.
  8. It gives you a platform to grow your practice and create another stream of income. If you want to there is no reason why you could not consider creating a members only site, producing content that has to be paid for or using the platform to sell a book of yours. Just think of it like a website.
  9. It gives more meaning to what you are doing. When all you do all day long is slog it out with someone on the other side, it is easy to forget why you went into law. As I have said repeatedly, you become numbed by the process and if you were anything like me, you felt, in the end, that you were working on a production line. Blogging gives you an outlet to distil you best thinking.
  10. It keeps you from going mad. Law is stressful, and you need to understand it and why you decided to commit such a large part of your life to becoming, I assume, a partner. Absent meaning you might as well have pursued you real calling whatever that was. For a lot of people they won’t be comfortable pouring out their soul to an undeserving audience, but, as a process, even if you don’t decide to publish the blog post, you will be able to provide an outlet to your frustration.

For me, had I known what I know now, then I would have been leading the charge at my last 2 firms for every partner, associate and lawyer to go grab a blog and have a go. Of course, very few people would have taken up the cudgels and engaged, but for those few that did engage they would have found something quite spiritual about the process.

~ Julian Summerhayes ~

How to Rapidly Grow Your Profits: Think Cross-Functional Excellence

Yes, you have heard it countless times before – at least I hope – but how many of you are working on developing the most radical, mind-boggling, cross-functional programme that your firm has ever seen? Arguably, right now, this issue is more pressing than anything else. You can enshrine it in the credo: It is far better to market to existing clients than to chase your sorry tail looking for new – “OMG not another lawyer trying to sell me” – clients.

Cross-functional excellence has the power to literally explode your client base and start delivering supreme, bottom-line growth. No BS.

One easy exercise to consider, whether your cohort of clients is (largely) private or corporate (or some other shade in between), is to enquire internally how many service lines they have bought since they first instructed the firm. My guess is that the majority will be on the bottom rung: one service line or at best two. You should be aiming with the lifetime client to assess their complete needs and to sell every conceivable line that you can.

This is not some grand, take over the world plan, but rather you should see it as acting (completely) in the client’s best interests. Let’s face apart from losing out commercially, do you really want to see the client go off and instruct someone else when they could just have easily instructed your firm who would have done just as good a job or, more likely, a better job than your competitor, given, at the very least, your intimate knowledge of the client’s affairs.

There are many reasons why cross-functional excellence is not made of supreme importance but, chief amongst those, is the breaking down of barriers that go towards the lack of trust.

You have heard about the Ultimate Question framed by Fred Reichheld: “Would you recommend the firm to a friend?” but that could just as easily be couched in terms: “Would you recommend this client to one of your colleagues?”

In my experience the answer to this question is seldom straightforward, but the reality is that most lawyers never actually believe that even their most illustrious colleagues will do as good a job as them. If anything, the majority are forced into doing something that they do not truly believe to be the right thing. Now, of course, there are exceptions to the rule but things don’t happen as often as you think.

The trust issue, internally, can be broken down into a number of layers:


There is no point assembling everyone from all the relevant departments and delivering a message from on high that henceforth everyone needs to give greater attention to cross-selling, if the trust issue is not first of all addressed. This brings into relief the point of yesterday’s post on straight talk. You need to get past the hurdle of going to speak to someone who may take a very dim view of a more junior fee earner impliedLY criticising their work. You will need to handle the situation very carefully and with a heightened sense of doing the right think.

But if you can crack the trust issue then you will move well beyond the talkers (for the sake of it) to the doers. And more than that if everyone plays by the same rules then you will start to see many more introductions made between departments and a much more collegiate feel to the firm.

There will no longer be the slip of the tongue comments referring to this client as “my client” and each client will be viewed in the round.

The firm will want to undertake some filtration process so that not every client is considered suitable to grow with the firm or to be cross-sold. You may want to ditch some clients, the alternative being that they will be OK for transaction work but they are unlikely to have the potential to grow in the long term.  There are no absolutes here but statistically it stands to reason that the more service lines that the client buys from you, the more unlikely it is that they will go elsewhere.

As an aside it would be a good idea to have some minimum service standards so that whichever part of the firm is dealing with the client, they will see no difference in how they are treated.

If you do succeed in breaking down the trust issue – no mean task – then agree a programme that involves:

  • a sharing of information on each client relationship;
  • how the introduction from one fee earner will be made to the next;
  • how you will organise yourselves internally – will you have regular meetings?
  • are you comfortable with the scope of the retainer? You don’t want to get into a nasty, drag down dispute where the client sues you for not giving general advice and you then seek to rely on the scope of your retainer;
  • Are you going to reward staff if they do make a cross-functional sale?
  • Are you content that you have the skills to service the client’s professional needs (think about financial advice) or do you need to collaborate with a competitor?
  • Will you offer the client a new fees arrangement if they do decide to put all their business with the firm? It would be as well to consider this from the off before you start trying to up sell.

The critical issue of cross-functional excellence is that you are trying to make your life easier. Why keep banging your head against a brick wall when it comes to identifying new work when it potentially lies at your feet? If you haven’t noticed this is the way that the larger firms continue to structure their business.

Now is time to seize the moment. See the future with less competition but with more of your current work under one roof.

Straight Talk your Way to Change (of some sort)

Far too much time in professional practice is spent looking at fees, billable hours and work in progress. I am not sure now if it was Peter Drucker who coined the immortal expression “What can be measured can be managed” but that is entirely apposite to law firms.

But when it comes to soft systems – people principally (and to a lesser extent information systems) – most partners work on the basis of management by abdication. In addition, and despite the risk issues, they feel they can afford to keep things at arms length on the basis that leaving someone to sink or swim is a way of providing a benchmark of success but too often it only serves to demotivate or demoralise.

For me the sine qua non of professional practice both within and outwith is … trust – trust in your people. Charlie Green and David Maister have written extensively on this fundamental area.

But one issue that I think could be addressed now is the issue of straight talk. This is dealt with in Stephen M R Covey’s, Speed of Trust under the 1st behaviour of the second Wave of Trust. As he says:

“”Talk straight” is honesty in action. It is based on the principles of integrity, honesty, and straightforwardness.”

Of course straight talk can be taken too far and is sometimes used as mask for cruelty, rudeness or a lack of thoughtfulness. But a lot of the issues that remain to be dealt with in law firms – under-performance of partners, profitability and the right people doing the right work – is just not being addressed as quickly or as meaningfully as it might otherwise be. In a sense this is perfectly understandable given the fragility of the economy; and no doubt those in charge will not want to rock the boat, particularly if in doing so there might be a domino effect.

You can picture it now: the partner who is challenged on his or her department’s profitability who in a fit of pique threatens to leave the firm and take their clients and/or their team with them.

But we all know that this is storing up problems for the future and things will be even worse if under-performance or a poor attitude has been tolerated in the tough times.

Most of the time the reason why people don’t like addressing issues in a straightforward manner is for fear of the consequences, and no doubt that means weighing up the pros and the cons. However, the need to develop this area, if a firm is going to embrace and progress change, should be considered a priority.

Whilst of course there is no easy answer to this conundrum, perhaps one way to address it is to make it clear that the atmosphere of suspicion, mis-trust and a ‘them’ and ‘us’ culture has to change if the firm is to grow sustainably.

Consideration could be given to saying that each party will be able to talk in confidence and invite constructive feedback on the nature and tone of what is being said. Now I accept that this sounds weak but like all soft issues there are no cut and dried solutions but rather a need to change the status quo gradually, thoughtfully and with tact. It is not sufficient to skirt round the issues and spin should be banned. But don’t be under any illusion when someone is tackled on an area which they know exists but has been overtly avoided for such a long time it will usually result in an extreme reaction. You have been warned. You also need to keep the conversation from straying into your or their autobiography, meaning that a lot of the old wounds are likely to be reopened.

Perhaps one way to address this is also to tie in the mode of communication. Too much of what we say, the non-verbal communication, has been completely lost with the over reliance on emails. Even telephone calls seem to be a rare occurrence. And it is certainly as well not to make a big issue of it. “Can we meet up for a chat” or more threatening still “We need to have a chat” is hardly likely to put the person at ease and produce the best outcome. Lawyers being lawyers will simply be primed for the worst.

In the long run if this area can be tackled and significant improvement made it will transform a culture that may previously have resisted change to one that encourages it.

Professional practice, perhaps because of the label, may fall back on the notion of “If it ain’t broke, why fix it” but we all know that that is simply wrong. The profession needs to modernise and whilst technology, outsourcing, efficiencies and a focus on value based billing are all important they will count for nothing if: (a) you cannot have an open conversation with your people about the need for change; (b) you are not trusted and your word is meaningless, particularly around job security; and (c) change will be harder to bring about or bring about in the time scale that you would like to see.

Next time you are tempted to avoid a subject area stop yourself and ask the question: “What is the worst thing that could happen?” Yes your mind might move to a doomsday scenario but the contra position has to be that those on the other side will not be so secure as you think and will or at least should recognise that without change the firm will simply not grow and that means going backwards. How quickly will not be determined just by the economy but more so by the emergence of other brands or business models coming into the market.

On a final point perhaps one of the reasons why straight talk is not part of the culture of legal practice is because of the lack of leadership. Can you imagine any of the great leaders being as indecisive as is often the case? My own experience is that by and large the most accomplished leaders that I worked under were the ones that I respected most for having the ability not to sugar coat, say it like it was and be clear in their point of view without being rude or nasty. I may not have liked what they had to say but I would much rather have heard it from them than some half-baked message being delivered from on high.

5 Common Mistakes Law Firms Make with Marketing

Many law firms talk endlessly about marketing as if it were the Holy Grail of business development, but as I said in my previous post, marketing is simply a substitute for a uremarkable product/service.

If law firms really want to get good at this, then they need to be much more thoughtful about the process.

Here is my Top 5 Mistakes to avoid:

1. Stop talking and start doing

The bumbling decision-making process you have set up nearly always conspires against you. Lawyers love to debate the semantics. In my world, he who hesitates has lost.

For some reason law firms think that what they are embarking on is novel, special or different to their competitors when in reality there are very few initiatives that have not been done before. You need to accept that the hardest part of any marketing exercise is to simply make things happen.

Start doing more stuff.

2. No Consistency

It doesn’t matter what department you work in, there is no consistency and it feels like the firm is lurching from one thing to another, without a clue where they are headed. A piece of advertorial here, a press release here, a newsletter there and another bit of sponsorship that is forced upon you by someone who really should know better than to ring up on the hoof and tell you that everyone else is doing it, so therefore you must be doing it. Nonsense.

Marketing is intrinsic to a firm’s success and priority number 1 right now is superpleasing your existing and loyal clients rather than going on a hunt for newbies all the time. How many firms I wonder have undertaken a systematic exercise in making sure they know who their best clients are, working out a remarkable way of keeping them secure and then looking back at the orphans – those clients who have been allowed to sit on a database with no contact – to see how many of those might still be willing to instruct the firm?

One of the issues for lawyers, unlike, say, the financial services sector, is that they seem to think that once the file is closed, so is the possibility of the client being marketed to. Don’t adopt this mindset. Assume all clients are lifetime clients.

3. No Marketing or Business Development Plan

If you have one, how many times a year do you review it. Once, twice or possibly once a week? Umm.

Any plan is there to assist you and not to tick a box for compliance reasons. It is a living, breathing document and is there to guide, inform and importantly to make sure you are spending time on the right things.

As a very simply exercise, I would looked at the Pareto principle – the 80/20 rule – and make sure that your efforts are initially focused on the 20% and cross-selling as many of my firm’s service lines as possible.

Business plans previously may have been forced on people from above but one tip, I would try to ensure going forward that everyone is bought into your proposal. Ideally they should have the ability to make suggestions or even rewrite it. In that way you are far more likely to find that people are committed to making things work.

4. Stop treating marketing as an afterthought

Firms don’t treat business development and marketing seriously enough. No matter what, billing and recording time takes priority. It doesn’t matter how much priority it is supposedly given with novel charging codes, when the chips are down marketing always plays second and sometimes third fiddle. But this is ludicrous. If the fee earners haven’t got time to do it, then who is supposed to do it? And this impacts on the consistency point. Stop ~ Start ~ Stop ~ Start.

5. No measurement

Any small business, which is ostensibly what most law firms are, would want to know the ROI for a media campaign etc. but law firms seem content to work on the smoke and mirrors principle. Sometimes it comes down to the fact that as the firm has always done something they should carry on with it.

But the reality is that if you were going to spend, say, £10,000 on a new website or £10,000 on paid advertising wouldn’t you want to know how much you had got in return?

If you were to employ a direct sales person, then you would give them a target and expect them to meet it. Presumably you would have worked out how much profit you would have made.

This analogy is no different to any marketing effort even if some areas are harder to measure than others.

If all this seems too much then don’t be surprised if the results are equally unrewarding.

I simply don’t believe that happenstance rules and firms don’t want to work systematically and profitably on their marketing efforts. But the truth of it is that unless you are consistent and persistent with your efforts then you will fail.

Next time you hold a meeting make sure you don’t let any of these overwhelm the process and you work on driving the results to the bottom line.

The future for law firms Is … [ Your gift]?

Hardly a day goes by without the latest piece of news forecasting the demise of the profession. Well, may be it’s not quite that cataclysmic, but there isn’t a whole bunch of good news out there.

But, in a sense, this is also symptomatic of the legal profession and, indeed, the way a lot of businesses are run – they are reactive to the things around them.

Look at Nokia, once a model of innovation, now effectively admitting that the development of their operating system has failed before it even got going, and having to get into bed with Microsoft to inject life into the brand.

Up to now firms have been able to rely upon the lack of competition as a reason not to innovate or change their business model. But with the opening up of the market and the technological changes that are taking place, it won’t be long before even the most loyal clients will start to wonder if they are getting best value or the process can’t be improved. You only have to look at the way our shopping habits have changed over the last 30 years to realise that clients will almost always look to buy on price or efficiency, even though it is debatable whether they have got best value. Of course, we all like to talk about the “customer experience” but the reality is that most clients will not pay for it.

Let’s face it if you were starting up a legal practice right now would you select the same people, business model and pricing options? No, then why are you allowing your firm to operate in this way without considering radical change?

In reality the only way that firms can control the future is by inventing it. But how many, right now, are looking at their clients in a different way and looking to provide a service that is so remarkable so as to nullify or ameliorate the likelihood of their market being stolen by a competitor?

Next time you have a meeting, try to put yourself in the position of the client and ask the question:

How can we ensure that the client is so WOWed by the experience that they tell all their friends, relatives and acquaintances?

Customer satisfaction means just that: providing more in value than you take in payment. That doesn’t mean offering a cheap service. It means offering a service that is uncompromising and where firms do not live up to their clients’ expectations they stand for something whatever that means.

More time needs to be spent working on the edges, the parts of the firm that differentiate you from the competition. What is the fastest service you can provide? What is the most expensive service you can provide? What is the most accessible form of service?

This is not thinking outside of the box. No, it is a question of working at the very limits of your firm’s current capability.

This time round, the timetable of change ushered in by The Legal Services Act, outsourcing and different business models is sure to catch a lot of firms off guard. There will be many partners right now who have decided to adopt a wait and see approach on the basis that they can reengineer something later on. But when the provider has deeper pockets and more sophisticated systems that will be very difficult. They will innovate at a far quicker rate than most firms can live with.

Your strategy right now should be focused on seeing the future – but the future for your firm and from a client-centric perspective. Don’t let others dictate what you do. You must control your destiny. It will be those firms that are able to drive through the fastest change that are likely to stay the course and see the biggest wins. For the rest they may just find that by the time they have worked out what is going on it is too late to make the changes sufficient to keep the practice alive.