Gary Mitchell's Biz/Dev Coaching Blog
Situation: Managing Partner hires me to work with his senior law clerk in helping her to develop business development and marketing skills. Admittedly, this law clerk did not even know what business development was, let alone how and where to start. However she was open to the coaching understanding that it would help her learn new skills and bolster her career.
Approach: Working with her over the course of one year, we created a plan of action helping her to understand where and how to network, build relationships, grow her professional network, host workshops, create her own networking/mastermind group, get published, speak at events, join organizations, get on the board of industry associations etc. During that time, this law clerk was like a sponge, soaking up all my advice and guidance. She reached out in-between coaching calls regularly for feedback. Her progress really started to take flight after she met a few ‘connectors’ at networking events. She then became part of an exclusive networking group that meets monthly. With that experience she started her own networking/mastermind group with a few of her best contacts.
Results: As the year of coaching was winding down, she had already begun to bring in clients to the firm. The remarkable part of this story is that while she was now fully engaged in business development, not only was she now becoming a rainmaker, her dockets were up 20% over the previous year. She is more engaged, more loyal, more productive and more valuable to her firm. And for her, the results mean more fulfillments in her career and increased income.
The Legal A Team is a newly formed alliance of legal marketers who have big firm experience with a focus on small firms and solo practice lawyers. As a Co-Founder, I’m pleased that we can offer the small to mid-sized law firms and solo practice lawyers the same level of expertise usually only found at the big firm level. We have assembled a team of experts who have worked for some of the biggest law firms in North America. We have a complete range of services: business development training, business development coaching, legal marketing and branding strategy, legal public relations, legal social media, and websites.
We know the demands of small-and mid-sized firms are great. An up until now, they haven’t had access to the same resources of larger firms. Finding the right coaching, training, marketing, and PR people for you and your firm while still running your practice and serving the needs of demanding clients is a huge challenge. Enter Legal A Team. Small firm focus. Big firm experience.™
If your firm is like the small firms I’ve worked with, you have a cohesive and happy team. If you follow the advice I’ve shared with you, it will only improve that culture of team and success; which is why you must be relentless when bringing on new talent.
First thing is you must ensure anyone coming on board will be open to business development. Moving forward that should be a part of the staff and lawyer profile you are looking for. This is one way you can ensure your firm will continue to grow.
Another thing to keep in mind is ‘fit’. One of my clients has his law clerks and associates do the initial interview. This gives them the opportunity to see if this person is someone that they would like to work with. After you’ve done such a good job creating a cohesive place to work, the last thing you want to do is upset the apple cart by bringing in a dud.
I can tell you one thing, if you have created a culture where people love to come to work, it won’t be as hard as you think to get more great people. There are a lot of unhappy and unengaged people in the legal industry that would jump at the chance to work for someone they respect, be a part of a team, be a part of growing your firm. And when you are selecting lawyers ask yourself if this is someone you think could become a partner one day? Which leads nicely into the next section.
A general rule of thumb I share with my clients is this. If your time is not focused on doing the work, generating the work, or managing your people and the work, then whatever tasks are taking up your time should be delegated to a non-fee earner. Do the Math. Look at your billable hour rate. Or look at what your time is worth if you work on contingency. Does it really make sense for you to be managing your IT, or Admin? Couldn’t you easily pay someone in the neighborhood of $25-$30 an hour to take over those tasks? Again, if you’re not doing the work, you’re not billing. If you’re not bringing in the work, you’re not growing your firm. And if you’re not managing the people and the work, there is more room for error.
The same goes for every other fee earner at your firm. If your law clerk is busy doing admin, that is non-billable time. You can’t expect your people to realistically hit or surpass their targets if they are engaged in work that is non-billable. You have a lot of money sitting on the table that could easily increase your bottom line. Always make sure your people are doing what is most valuable to your bottom line. Consider out-sourcing part of the lower-level work, or hire someone part-time if there isn’t enough for a full-time position. There is always a solution.
I know this is a real challenge for some of you to balance your own lawyering, with leading your team and rainmaking. There is no one-size fits all formula for how much time you spend on each area. But think about where you are most valuable.
If you are relatively new to growing your firm a good model for your time would look like 50% lawyering, 30% Rainmaking and 20% leading. As you grow, that number should look more like 50% Rainmaking, 30% leading and 20% lawyering. In order to grow you have to leverage your time and allocate it where it will produce maximum results.
You should also be leveraging your people as much as possible. Depending on you and how much of the day-to-day lawyering you want to stick with will determine if that lawyering % gets even lower. That leads me into the next section nicely.
The first step in growing your firm is to engage your entire team, or as many of your staff and lawyers in business development. Engaging your team starts with identifying who on your team, lawyers, law clerks, paralegals, even assistants and receptionists do you think would be open to earning more income while at the same time enjoy being part of growing your firm? If your firm is like most small firms, you have them.
Approach them one-on-one with your idea. Ask them if they would be interested in taking their career to the next level? Get them a copy of this book, it is after-all designed for the individual legal professional to work through on their own or in teams. Or, go one step further and hire a coach to work with them. Point out the opportunities this will mean to them, expanding responsibilities, personal and professional growth, not to mention more income.
Don’t be surprised when some of them jump at the chance. By giving them this opportunity to expand and grow in their career, you are sending a very powerful message to them, that they are appreciated, you have confidence in them, and that you would like to see them succeed beyond what they themselves could have imagined. This builds loyalty and commitment to the firm like nothing else. Don’t be surprised to see that in addition to referrals starting to come in you notice them being more engaged in their work, docketing more, and generally becoming a more valuable resource to your firm.
Not everyone you approach will want to do this, and that’s ok. But do the math; Five or more Rainmakers vs. just you? And this is how you can begin to create a culture of business development and growth, one person at a time. Eventually you can grow your firm based on everyone being engaged in business development. More on that will follow under recruitment.
In a lot of small to mid-sized firms, your best strategy might be to start with your law clerks first. Lawyers are still very sheepish about business development. Help your law clerks succeed, and this might just shame some of your lawyers to get in on the action.
I worked with a senior law clerk of a small firm in Toronto for one year. When we began our work together she didn’t even know what business development was? Before we finished our work together, she had already begun to grow her network extensively, was published and had started to bring in referrals to the firm. By the time we finished she had already brought in enough new work to pay for the coaching program three times over. And that is just the beginning.
A first year associate who had also gone through the coaching program at the same firm, in her second year of practice, it consisted of 75% of her own clients. So this goes to prove, it’s never too early to get your people engaged, and business development shouldn’t be relegated to lawyers only.
Imagine what’s possible if you engage more of your staff and junior lawyers in business development?
As leaders of small firms, it’s really important that you engage, inspire and motivate your people to be the best they can be. Although you are very busy balancing between rain-making, lawyering, and managing your people the more one-to-one time you can have with your people the better. Don’t treat everyone the same, they’re not. Find out what truly motivates each individual on your team. Find out how they would like to contribute to the growth of your firm. Find out what motivates them. There are a lot of negative opinions surrounding the ‘millennial generation’. This is the next generation of talent walking through your door. Not as much attention has been paid to the very positive attributes of these new young lawyers. They like to be a part of a team. So leverage that characteristic to your benefit. Working in teams has not been the way of the past, but it definitely is the way of the future for law firms truly dedicated to offering the very best in service.
The other thing you can do is to help with their own professional development. When you’ve learned a new system that helps you save time, share it with your team. The amount of time that you will collectively save adds to everyone’s productivity. Strive to have systems for everything to make it as easy as possible for duplication and consistency.
Basically it’s simple, if you’re spending time on anything that isn’t generating more work, or working directly on client files, you are wasting money. No income earner at your firm should be doing work that a non-income earner could. It starts with you, but that should be your rule of thumb for all of your people, lawyers and law clerks and anyone else that generates income. It’s simple math. This is a little harder to implement at the larger firms, but I’ve seen it in action at the smaller ones. And I’ve seen a lot of money left on the table when lawyers and law clerks are taking up valuable time doing low-level admin or tech work. If you don’t have adequate support staff, hire them. You’ll save tons of cash which makes you more profitable.
For the last couple of years there has been a lot of talk in the media about disruption in the legal market. I think it’s about time. I will keep this post short and offer you two very insightful references on disruption in the legal market.
The first link is to a six page article in the Globe and Mail
The second link is to a one day conference at Harvard Law School about disruption in the legal market.
These links will both provide you with valuable insights into how the industry is changing.