Gary Mitchell's Biz/Dev Coaching Blog
Going beyond business development and your ability to generate work, there are a couple of considerations you should think about if you’re looking to get on or speed up the ‘Partner Track’. The first consideration is to learn how to play well with others. Here I am referring to everyone with whom you come into contact on a daily basis; your assistant, paralegals, IT professionals, receptionists, firm management, marketing, library services, etc. Go out of your way to treat these people with the utmost respect and watch how in turn they will over perform and deliver for you. You will not become successful in your career without their support. So when they go out of their way for you, acknowledge their efforts. Take them out to lunch from time to time. Ask them how they would like to contribute. Find out how you can help them achieve their career goals by first understanding what they are. Treat them as you do your clients. In other words get to know them as much as possible.
Giving back to the firm
By this I am referring to what can you do outside your practice to provide value to your firm. Consider answering these questions as a place to start:
- What committees can you be on and contribute to?
- Are their opportunities for you to mentor a summer or articling student, or even an associate more junior then you?
- What can you do outside the walls of your firm in the community to better position your firm?
Follow this advice and you are more likely to become a partner at your firm.
Due out September 24, 2014 from Carswell is my second book aimed at helping lawyers and law firms grow. In this edition I take you through my proprietary methodology TST™, Targeted, Strategic and Tactical. Working with Lawyers these past nine years I developed systems and processes allowing you to get more clients with less time invested. When you become more targeted, strategic and tactical in your approaches, you will see better results.
There are two editions, one for lawyers at large firms, and one for lawyers in small firms. The small firm edition includes an entire chapter aimed at law firm leaders wishing to grow the firm. It includes:
- Becoming more effective as a leader
- Balancing Lawyering, leading, and rainmaking
- Engaging your entire team in business development
- Compensation models to reward your people and incentivise them to achieve
- Succession planning
If you are looking to grow your firm or practice, this book is a must read. You can pre-order it online from Carswell. Just follow this link. http://www.carswell.com//product-search/?qa=prod&qt=Raindance
I am very pleased to chair Raindance: The Business Development Bootcamp for Lawyers, a webinar to air September 24th. Working closely with the conference organizers at The Commons Institute, we’ve put together a stellar group of presenters including legal practitioners and legal marketers who are leading innovation in today’s marketplace. From Law Clerk, Cris Lam who will share what she did to grow her network and bring in clients to her firm; to Bobbi-Ann Wallace, a fourth year M&A Lawyer who will share her approach to business development, and Kris Bonn, a Managing Partner will share how he continued to make rain, lead the firm, manage his people, engage his team in business development and grow his firm. We also have Jana Schilder, my Co-Founder at The Legal A Team, who will cover the value of media relations in growing your firm, and Susan Van Dyke of Van Dyke Marketing and Communications, who will cover off effectively using Social Media.
In addition to the amazing content we will cover, each participant of this webinar will receive a copy of my 2nd book, “Raindance 2: A Blueprint for Growing Your Practice, Small Firm addition”, and a one-hour coaching session with me to follow the conference. If you are looking to grow your practice or firm, this webinar cannot be missed. GO to http://thecommonsinstitute.com/rain.html and sign up today. Early-bird pricing is still in effect. I look forward to working with you to grow your firm.
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.
Another important consideration in becoming more targeted is whether ‘to niche or not to niche’. I mean becoming highly specialized in a certain area. There are certainly pro’s and con’s to creating a niche practice. If you do carve out a niche practice area it will allow you to target your audience more effectively. In becoming an expert in your field you will fully understand the needs of your audience. That’s a plus. The downside sometimes to having a niche practice is your audience will be smaller. There won’t be as many potential clients for you. So if you are going to niche, you’d better do a very good job of building your profile and becoming known at the ‘go-to-lawyer’ in this field.
If you stay broad in your focus, the upside will be that you will have a larger pool of clients to draw from. But I see several downsides. First, it is virtually impossible to market yourself and your services effectively over several markets. You won’t have the time to be everywhere at once. Depending on your practice area, by staying broadly focused it’s harder to become known as the go-to for every area you are practicing in. Consider what you really enjoy and what you’re good at. If there are complementary practice areas that go hand-in-hand and you enjoy all of them, maybe it makes sense for you to stay broadly focused.
I have always been a strong advocate for developing your talent. As a coach I’ve seen first-hand the incredible return on investing in your people can bring, not only in revenues, but also in higher employee engagement and loyalty. The next thing to think about is how to compensate your people and stimulate even more growth for your firm.
Working with a small firm owner, together we created a firm-wide compensation package. It includes individual billing targets (yes this firm uses the billable hour). But when the lawyer or law clerk gets close to the target, the first bonus kicks in. Upon reaching the target, a second bonus is added. And finally, when they exceed the billing targets, one last bonus. That is a real incentive to meet and exceed the targets.
But now it gets interesting. The real money is in the business development each law clerk and associate engages in. Now the average file at this firm generates about 50-60k. So we set up the bonus structure as follows. From 0-50k each person brings in collected billings, they get a 5% bonus. From 50-100k, they get a 10% bonus. And 100k + they get a 15% bonus. This Managing Partner wanted to really incentivize, so if they bring in over 150k in revenue, they get 15% on the entire amount. That is going to generate growth.
We did discuss one potential outcome. That is if the law clerk, who was already bringing in business before this compensation model was put in place just focused on business development and dropped her billing targets but generated 1m in revenue, what then? Be careful what you wish for. You change her role. She becomes a rainmaker and you compensate her generously and go out and find another law clerk to fill her place. Pretty cool if that happens.
You’ve likely heard the loosely translated definition of insanity, ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. Well I can certainly point to a lot of insanity in the legal industry right now. We are seeing an unprecedented disruption in the legal industry, and disruption is here to stay and in fact will only increase. Heenan was the first and there are likely others to follow. Lawyers at firms at all levels, shapes and sizes are experiencing more turbulence than we’ve ever seen before.
There are so many things wrong with the typical law firm business model. Starting with the billable hour, compensation models, lack of talent development, partners not pushing work down to associates, too many committees, not fully leveraging the skills and experience of your C-level professionals (you know, the ones who went to school to learn how to run a business), like you went to school to learn how to become a lawyer? Yes, I know I’m being a little harsh. But this is crazy. Your clients know it. Some of your junior lawyers know it. And your management knows it. This is not the time to wait to see what the other guys do. It’s time to do things differently and break out of the pack. If you don’t you’re not only foolish, you could be insane.
Change or die is an expression that’s been around a long time in the business world. Well legal industry, get used to the expression and live by it. Moving forward things will not look like it did pre-recession. Your clients will not continue to pay over-exorbitant fees. They will look for better value and be open to using non-traditional sources for their legal work. They will demand more. The insulation so to speak, is over.
If you are one of those lawyers that continues to think nothing will change, I ask you, what was your second career choice? You may need to revert to it and sooner than later. In Canada if we want to see the future of legal services, all we have to do is look south of the border and even overseas.
But this also presents abundant opportunities for those lawyers and law firms who are open to doing things differently. Go and speak with your clients before they come to you. Find out exactly what they need from you. How you can better accommodate them? What different models do you or your firm need to create?
Change or die. It’s only doom and gloom if you don’t take hede.
Work with your clients from the very beginning and set up realistic expectations. Never promise anything you can’t deliver. It’s better so say no, then to say yes and not get it done. Walk them through the variables and educate them on the process as much as possible. They will really appreciate it. Remember, you’ve done this a million times. This could be their first time going through the process. Depending on the nature of the file or the work you are doing for them, they could be going through a very tough time. Don’t underestimate the discomfort they may feel, the level of uncertainty. This isn’t about your ‘lawyer’ skills. This is about your ‘people’ skills and level of service which will go a long way in separating you from your competition and providing more potential referrals.