The Dumbest Things Law Firms Do

The Smartest and Dumbest Things Law Firms Do


10. Focusing too much on billable time vs. non-billable (or as law-firm guru David Maister so aptly renamed it, “investment” time).

9. Placing too much emphasis on billable hours or billings and origination in compensation.

8. Developing strategies and plans without implementing them.

7. Trying to change the firm without a realistic understanding of the principles of change management, and not changing the firm to keep up with the market and competition.

6. Allowing the attitude of “if it ain`t broke, don`t fix it” to drive the firm. To further clarify this point Ms. Lambreth explained that you can indeed teach old dogs new tricks, but that it is impossible to teach scared dogs new tricks.

5. Not expecting owners to work like owners. How does 3,000 hours per partner grab you? This point got the attention of the lawyers in the room, and a few charts illustrated the point succinctly: the old paradigm of a partner bringing in work and spreading it among a few associates is gone. Owners must implement a better business model (streamlined management, strong practice management, knowledge management, merit-based advancement vs. seniority), align compensation with strategic goals, and allow non-lawyer professionals to do their jobs. Amen!

4. Not letting professionals who are not lawyers play significant roles in the firm. Ms. Lambreth took issue with the familiar and dear-to-our-hearts term “non-lawyers,” noting that defining a position by what you are not is unique to law firms.

3. Not giving enough positive feedback to people and not giving enough critical performance feedback. This issue speaks to the high cost of lawyer turnover -- and how that sometimes unmeasured cost can impact productivity and client service. Ms. Lambreth calculates that each lost associate costs a firm a minimum of $300,000.

2. Not taking advantage of the “brain power” the firm has -- knowledge management and technology.

1. Using the wrong marketing approaches. Marketing has two major components, promotional/communications and service development/delivery. The first incorporates the usual slew of techniques legal marketers have been budgeting for years: collateral materials, advertising, PR, seminars/events, client entertainment and the firm Web site. The second includes research and development of new products, targeting market and practice niches, value-added service offerings, pricing strategies, and client relationship enhancement measures.

The Smartest things Law Firms Do

10. Understanding the monopoly is gone and law firms have to be creating new markets and aggressively promoting their services. Two items: on-line bidding and MDPs.

9. Developing a vision for the future direction of your practice. Requires goals, not just a mission statement.

8. Understanding the value of the work (from a client`s perspective). Be honest about the level of work you`re doing: is it Bet-the-company? Expertise/reputation? Bread and butter? Commodity? What`s the trend in that industry?

7. Developing a strategic plan, including a marketing plan. There are three critical levels of planning: firm wide, by practice group and individual lawyer.

6. Establishing centralized firm management -- not running by democracy or allowing complete autonomy. Lambreth quotes Maister: “Many firms like to refer to themselves as democratic institutions. The reality, however, is that they are not democracies, but anarchies.”

5. Using effective practice management. This results in improved profitability, improved client base, and enhanced morale/retention of lawyers.

4. Leveraging lower value work with people and technology.

3. Going face-to-face with clients to understand their strategy, industry trends and their satisfaction with your services.

2. Doing research and development.

1. Planning for succession in client relationships. A strong client relationship can take three to six years to transfer successfully, so it is wise to implement key relationship plans.

Important role for marketers

Feeling better? There is much work to be done within law firms, and the good news is that legal marketers have important roles to play. Advocating for honest self-assessment, rational expectations, incorporating the voice of the client into strategic planning, researching industry trends and tailoring new services to those markets, the list is long.

The moral of this story? The secret to being a happy, successful law firm marketer lies in focusing your energies on the top ten things your firm does well, and letting someone else worry about the dumb things!


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