Measuring Law Firm Success

By David Favor

Law Firm Coach Dave Favor

President, Strategic Thinker

Many law firms just measure revenue as an indicator of performance. That metric by itself does not tell you the full story. I once visited a law firm that was celebrating a million dollar settlement. I had to say, that was impressive, but I also had to ask how much was spent to get that million. This put a damper on their celebration, but it is still a valid question. The next day we discussed performance metrics with numbers like return-on-investment, overhead, and burden rates.

Return on investment is the “return” or financial benefit from an action, divided by the cost of that action. The “ROI” for a law firm is not so obvious. My first thought was that it would be the total revenue generated minus the total expenses divided by the expenses. One problem with most law firms is, they make the lawyer’s earnings equal to any leftover profit. This makes the expenses equal to the revenue. My next idea was to assume a zero cost for the lawyer, and that gave me a false view of the true cost. The compromise I came up with was to assign a base salary and make leftover revenue after expenses a bonus. This provided an ROI I could use for trending.

I have found that the number, by itself, is not very meaningful. I can play with the numbers and create any result I want. The best we can do is create a trend using an ROI measure and see if we are doing better. So, is it a good metric or not? I think the trend can be a good indicator. By “trend”, I mean calculating the ROI every month or quarter to see if it is going up or down. As long as the definition of the numbers is consistent you can develop a trend. I like to use a rolling average over a span of two years. When we first look at a law firm, we generally use 30% as a good return on investment. That is a good starting point anyway.

I could see a problem developing. It is relatively easy to discover the revenue, but how do we calculate the dollar amount of the investment that created that revenue? One idea for getting the expense number is to eliminate any expense that did not directly contribute to generating the revenue. The term overhead or burden is usually used to group expenses that are necessary to the continued functioning of the business but cannot be immediately associated with the products/services being offered. Another way to look at this is, any expenses present even if no products or services are sold would be overhead. Expenses like rent, electricity, computer hardware, or licenses. Does that mean it is part of the investment or not? This can quickly turn into an interesting discussion.

Then there are production expenses. For a law firm, we define the salary of the lawyers as production cost. We generally also include the cost of medical records, accident reports, investigators, and depositions. This is an arbitrary decision, so other costs may be bundled into production. For example, you may determine that the cost of the case management system is production cost. It does not affect the measurement much as long as you remain consistent over time because it is the trend that is important.

The burden rate is a ratio or burden cost to production cost. Generally, a burden of greater than 50% will be a red flag, and we will look at expenses to see if we can lower the burden. You would want to keep this low and make sure that the trend is not going up. The tricky part is to agree on what you consider to be overhead. As long as you keep your definitions consistent, you can create a good trend for this number.

Return on Investment, burden rates, and process times can be used to measure internal performance. Eventually, you will develop a well-balanced scorecard tailored to your law firm that can be used to track your performance in several areas. I generally look for 3 to 5 different areas. Client service is usually always there. Internal process measures are often forgotten, and we add them in. So, with the financial metric that completes the three basic measures. Now we can add metrics for staff (retention, development, happiness, etc.), community service, reputation, etc. With a more comprehensive measure of how your business is performing, you can track progress better and prevent surprises.

One of the keys to all of this is a good financial system that can keep track of expense and revenue categories. Once you have that you can drop those numbers into a “bucket,” like overhead. I pull numbers from the financial system into an Excel spreadsheet and calculate any of the metrics I want. What metrics do you like?

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com.

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Don’t Get Distracted!

By David Favor

We are not cool, logical, and efficient decision makers. Instead, we are emotional, reactive, and judgmental processors with biases. The lessons of self-mastery seem to come up all the time in business and personal life. I would always say that I was a logical thinker, but it turns out that my decisions were plagued with emotion and bias, just like everyone else. I have found that no matter how well we think through and document our values, vision, or plans for the day, they can all be overruled by emotions. There is no magic connected to self-mastery. Self-mastery is intended to make you aware of the impact of your emotions and biases.

Our focus this month is on strategic planning and self-mastery; values, vision, and emotions are all active in the first stage of strategic planning, so we must stop to consider each as we plan. While we are talking about strategic planning, it is a good time to mention that there is no magic to that process either. Strategic planning is intended to get you to think through what you want, review what resources you have, and then map all that to the business environment you are in. A strategic plan can be as formal or informal as you are comfortable with.

With all that said, the first step of strategic planning is to discover what is important to you. What are your values, what business principles do you want to adopt? We often use a deck of value cards to establish a starting point when we do strategic planning. The idea is, you list all the values that come to mind and then arrange them by priority. If you have partners or a team, compare the list each has built. The list of values held by each team member may be different, and that is okay. There will be a set of overlapping values that will represent the team, and that will become the values of the business. Before you agree on the makeup of the team, look for values that are not compatible with your set. You need to decide if someone with values outside of your list should be on your team. If the values are different but not in opposition to the main set, that is okay.

Once you define the team and develop your composite list of values, ask the team if they can support this list that will represent the business. If you are in a business association, like a state bar, they will have a list of values that they adopt and expect their members to adopt. Include that list with yours. We are often surprised at the differences we find, even with partners that have been in business together for a while. At this point, the lists tend to merge, and you negotiate what you want the business to reflect. There is no absolute correct list of values, but there will be a list that best fits the culture and audience of your business.

You can do a similar exercise with the vision. Have each partner or team member develop a vision, and then compare what each has developed. You will often get good ideas, and when all the ideas and visions are merged, you will have a good starting point for the business. If the process were followed, the vision would not conflict with any of the values adopted.

We have not started looking at problems to solve yet. For most of our strategic planning sessions, we try to avoid discussion of problems and solutions at this point. A discussion of problems tends to impact the vision and the values being developed. Your vision and values should not be defined based on a specific problem. If you start planning or spending money too early, you can get your team in a bind. You can become a slave to a decision that was made before you understood what you wanted. You create a business plan to support some tool or policy that does not map to your wants.

Once you have a good starting point defined, you can look at things like SWOT (Strengths; Weaknesses; Opportunity; Threats) analysis, prior business performance analysis, and the five W’s (why, what, where, who, and when) study. Having a good starting point tends to keep you on track. There is nothing fixed in any of this, and often changes are made as the team learns more during the analysis phase.

When you have the values, vision, and analysis for the business in hand, you can start to define problems. It is because we are emotional, reactive, and judgmental that we can easily get off the path. Before we know what happened, we are focused on problem resolution and get distracted from the primary goal of implementing a vision.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com.

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What’s the Purpose?

By David Favor

When people feel like they have no purpose in their life, it’s often because they don’t know what’s important to them, or they don’t know what their values are. Well, what about businesses? I have found the same to be true. Based on my research, I found businesses with a defined purpose (other than making money) were more successful than most.

The businesses I worked with that primarily focused on making money usually had only financial metrics and KPIs to measure performance. That seemed natural to me, so why were businesses focused on a more inclusive purpose more successful?

Over time I discovered some clues. If you are focused on money, you work harder to make more. The world around you is against that focus, so you have to work even harder. Eventually, you are working too hard for too little. Often you get such tunnel vision that you do not see what is happening around you. It is a never ending cycle.

Then I looked at businesses focused on a purpose instead of profits. These businesses did not see their efforts as work. They enjoyed being focused on their purpose. Here is what they did:

  1. They developed a vision – what is the desired future?
  2. Now the mission – what are we going to do?
  3. Strategic plan – how are we going to do this?
  4. Goals and metrics – how well are we doing?

Make no mistake: making money is a requirement if you want to stay in business, but for these companies profits were de-prioritized in the mission and the strategic plan. Their focus was on the vision and the purpose; this gave the business much more wiggle room to adapt to the environment in which they participated. Their measure of success included several metrics outside of financials, much like the balanced scorecard idea developed back in the 70’s.

This idea of a vision and a purpose is often foreign to many of the people I talk with. The idea that we were each born with a mission and it is our purpose to find out what it is, is kind of daunting. This, and many other childhood lessons have fallen by the wayside for me. We are on this earth for an undetermined period. During that time we do things, experience opportunities, have failures, and generally keep busy. Some of that busyness is wasted on dumb ideas, and some are very fruitful. A lot of that wasted time for me was sitting on a couch munching on snacks and wondering what the meaning of life was. I would have better spent that time getting up and discovering what feels right.

Instead of waiting for the answer to appear, experiment. What did I enjoy doing or eating? What caused people to say good things about me. My problem is, I feel safe on the couch. Right now, there is something that I am thinking about doing, but I never do it. I have great reasons why I should not do it, but in the end, I stay on the couch eating snacks. Most of the time, my reason is what I think other people will think. If that is how you feel, that is how you will run your company.

Did you find some neat ideas in this blog? What are the exciting ideas you came up with, and how are you implementing them? Let me know by contacting me at dwfavor@catalystgroupinc.com.

For more information on creating a strategic plan that works, contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com.

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Out of Chaos Comes Change

By David Favor

For the last 19 years, we have served as mentors to law firms and other professional practices, transferring knowledge based on current and relevant best business practices. We believe our clients should create a strong vision for themselves both personally and professionally and design a firm that supports that vision. We develop a strong personal relationship with our clients because we want them to be successful. We are about telling our clients the truth and finding ways to create a life they want to live.

Over those years, we learned a lot about the practical application of what we were teaching, which gradually changed our teaching moments. The principles were the same, but the reality of the execution of these principles gradually changed. We recognized that common sense in making decisions to develop plans, coupled with best business practices, was making a difference in the growth and development of our clients. We also learned that most clients would fail if they failed to implement the plan.

We have added some strategic partners to help us in areas we feel are better served by their expertise. We then got together with one of our strategic partners (Dr. Shawn Noble), who does problem-solving and ideation techniques, helping us examine where we want Catalyst to go and how we can fit it in with our vision. We are in the process of reviewing all our seminars, forms, and intellectual property to design a way to let our clients get access to this wealth of information.

The biggest lesson we have learned is while we want to create an effective strategic plan, our clients are often looking for problem-solving when we first meet. In other words, they are searching for a way out of a chaotic situation (or so they think). Once we can get the main issues under control, they are then willing to work with us on a long-term vision with a short-term business plan that allows them to grow. Initially, our clients never think about defining their work and their practice based on values to support decision making. Most of the time there is not a clear set of values or a vision in place. Sometimes there is not even a mission statement in place, just some vague idea of making money. They have a general idea of what “might make them happy” but no clear-cut vision of the future. Most of the time we scramble to fill in the blanks and reach back to find their values, vision, mission, and expectations. Our goal is to help our clients understand that to be successful they need a roadmap.

A good strategy will identify your starting point, consider internal and external factors, estimate investment costs and returns. It must be understandable. It’s got to be realistic, reflecting and anticipating changes in the market. It must describe who’s going to do what by when, and to what effect. It takes time and resources to develop a good strategy.

So how do you develop a first-class strategy? Strategic planning is a process used to define your strategy or direction and make decisions on allocating your resources to pursue this strategy, including capital and people. A good strategy describes how your firm or business can be successful. It’s not a Vision – that’s what describes what you want to become, how you want to look and feel. And it’s not a Mission Statement – that’s what explains why your firm or business exists. A good strategy is that road map you need. First, be clear on where you want to get to and what you want to be. Develop the strategy with your team – use their knowledge and skills and achieve their buy-in. Do your research to understand your market and understand your clients. Be realistic about your strengths and weaknesses. And keep it simple. A well-written strategy will be the basis of all key business decisions. As you go through the strategic planning process, you will define problems that need to be addressed. You will get information from your business analysis, define some conflicts with your values, or identify new skills needed.

Now that you have a better definition of the problems you want to resolve you can start looking at all the methodologies available. Over the years, we have used storyboarding, brainstorming, ideation, root cause analysis, and a few others. Each of these methods has some advantages, but the key to the choice is knowing what the problem is.

Over the remainder of this year, you will find us writing blogs that will give you hints on how to define your life, your business and drive a return on your investment. After all, “What part of profit don’t you get?”

Today’s law firms are more than ever in need of firm management coupled with defined expectations and accountability. Best business practices control profit. You can’t be successful and “wing it”. If your strength is not management and business accountability, then find the right person to work with you.

One of our clients is not big enough to pay for the CEO approach and has used us for oversight. We meet regularly and have a plan for which we hold him accountable. It has been interesting to watch him grow and make his firm stable by learning all the best business practices coupled with the high-performance work culture. It took a strong plan plus commitment on his part to make the firm into what he wants…not what others want.

We are always interested in hearing what our clients or readers want to know. If you have questions, send them to us or tell us what is important to you or where your problem areas are. We have started a monthly newsletter that has free advice, sources, and information. Make sure you go to our website and sign up for our newsletter. (www.catalystway.com or www.lawfirmcoach.com)

The bottom line is, the practice of law is so different than the business management of a law firm. If you are doing both, then you have our deep admiration because this road requires focus and due diligence.

Catalyst Group is a national mentoring company that works with professional practices and small businesses in designing common-sense plans that incorporate profitable business practices with a balanced work life. Contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com for more information.

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Calculated Problem Solving | Developing the Solution

Image by TeroVesalainen from Pixabay

Define the Problem. Develop Solutions. Execute the Plan.

By Dr. Shawn A. Noble 

This is part three of a three-part series on problem solving

As stated before, most organizations do not employ any structured process to handle organizational problems. Although employees are quite capable of putting out fires, they quickly get tired of addressing the same issues and morale suffers.

Instead of only dealing with the fires, it is possible to prevent the fire from ever happening by using the following three-pronged approach.

Defining the Problem

Albert Einstein has been attributed to making the following quote related to having only 1 hour to solve a serious problem, where he said, “I Would Spend 55 Minutes Defining the Problem and then Five Minutes Solving It.” Although we are unlikely to have Einsteinian ability to either define a problem or solve it, the point about the importance of defining the problem is well stated.

Most of the time organizations only have a fuzzy understanding of the actual problem, which often leads to focusing on the wrong problem to solve. This is because it takes times and discipline to surface all the facts and identify those which are the main contributors to the problem.

Until you clearly understand what you are solving, you should not move forward with developing a solution.
How much time do you typically spend dissecting problems within your organization? Do you use a structured approach to deeply understand why things are happening or just get the basics of the problem and then try to solve it?

Developing Solutions

Solving problems should be fun, providing that you have created the right atmosphere to allow for creative solutions. All too often, brainstorming sessions are conducted in methodical step-wise fashion in a stuffy boardroom. Employees’ solutions are quickly shot down (from verbal and non-verbal cues) if they suggest anything radical or outside the norm. Sadly, the usual conclusion is that brainstorming does not yield any worthwhile results and things either quickly return to normal or in many cases get worse.

Do you create the right atmosphere when conducting brainstorming? Do you look for multiple solutions to the problem or just stop at one and try to make it work?

Creating and Executing a Plan

The third step is all about establishing accountability, actions, and timelines. I’ve witnessed too many times where an organization will invest $100K+ to fly in several high-priced executives who spend a couple days working with a consultant to define the problem and create solutions. However, when it comes time to establish the execution plan, those same executives are rushing off to catch their flight or to catch-up on the emails they missed. The hard truth is that without this plan none of the work will get done.

From the start of the meeting, there needs to be an expectation that the meeting will end with a plan that states what tasks need to get done, when will the tasks be done, insights on how the tasks will get done and who owns each task. In addition, there needs to be a governance structure established that helps keep things on track.

Do you typically end your major meetings with a clear plan for execution? Do you have a structure in place that helps to guide accountability for the work to be done?

In close, ask yourself if you are spending more time than you would like extinguishing fires. If so, talk to The Noble Consulting Group about how you can deploy a calculated problem-solving approach to help you get back to doing what you love.

For more information concerning services for law firms by Dr. Shawn Noble please go to www.thenobleconsultinglawfirm.com or contact cheryl@lawfirmcoach.com Law Firm Coach uses the concept of ideation or creative thinking to develop common sense law firms that withstand the test of time.

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Calculated Problem Solving | A Structured Process

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

People and Their Problem Solving Styles

By Dr. Shawn A. Noble 

This is part two of a three-part series on problem solving

When it comes to problem solving, empowering them with decision rights is critical to fixing the problem. And, although it is vital to involve many people in the problem-solving process, it is also important to have clear identification of the person who owns the problem to solve. Yet, there is also an equally important factor that goes beyond the role of the person in the organization, which is the style that a person uses to solve problems.

Style relates to a preferred method of doing something. Just like the choices that we make with clothing, the preference is not permanent nor innate. In other words, problem-solving style is highly influenced by the environment. This is great news as problem-solving styles can be taught to and adapted by employees.

Research has identified the following 4 types of problem-solving styles:

  1. Generators (big picture thinkers)
  2. Conceptualizers (problem definers and ideators)
  3. Optimizers (guide order from chaos)
  4. Executors (get stuff done)

Note, we all are a blend of each of these styles, yet we all demonstrate a stronger preference for at least one of them. Each of the styles has pros and cons, which can create disharmony in organizations, as people favor a certain way to approach a problem. No one style is better than any other; yet, the catch is that all 4 styles are necessary to implement an effectively solution.

Are you aware of the problem-solving style of yourself and your fellow employees? Furthermore, do you understand the strengths and weaknesses of each style and how each style can be effectively activated?

In the third and final part of this blog, we will look at the importance of having a solid process to solve your firm’s problems. Read part 3 now.

For more information concerning services for law firms by Dr. Shawn Noble please go to www.thenobleconsultinglawfirm.com or contact cheryl@lawfirmcoach.com. Law Firm Coach uses the concept of ideation or creative thinking to develop common sense law firms that withstand the test of time.

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Dr. Shawn A. NobleBy Dr. Shawn A Noble

This is part one of a three part series on problem solving

When it comes to your law firm, have you ever asked yourself, “What happened to all the fun I was supposed to be having?” After all, you got into this profession to help others and protect their rights. What could be more noble than that?

Instead of practicing what you love, you likely spend most of your time dealing with things such as: cash flow management, managing employees, creating processes to run the business better, bringing in new technology, keeping existing technology working, time management, delegating tasks, updating strategic and marketing plans, and of course growing the business. This leads us to conclude the understatement of all time…running a business is hard work…but does it need to be this difficult?

The above problems are not exclusive to your law firm or to any business for that matter. Yet, what tends be ineffective is how those problems are solved. Most businesses are focused on the execution of tasks, which means that actions are done quickly in a reactive nature. Rewards and recognition are often given to those who can act efficiently to provide a remedy. While this keeps your practice moving, the result is more long-term organizational stress as only symptoms are addressed and the cause is never fully considered.

To get to the root cause of your organization’s problems a more proactive means of solving the problem needs to be utilized. And for this to happen two things must be considered:

  1. The problem-solving style of the people who are solving the problem
  2. The process being used to solve the problem.

When considering the process, best practices include:

  • Defining the problem
  • Developing solutions
  • Creating and executing a plan

In part two of the series, we will look at the impact that people and their problem solving styles have on solving problems. Read part two now.

For more information concerning services for law firms by Dr. Shawn Noble please go to www.thenobleconsultinglawfirm.com or contact cheryl@lawfirmcoach.com. Law Firm Coach uses the concept of ideation or creative thinking to develop common sense law firms that withstand the test of time.

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Why Employees Leave

Most employees don’t leave jobs. They leave bosses. Employee turnover is costly for law firms. It takes time to post a position, interview candidates, make an offer, train the new hire, and get them settled in. If your firm has frequent turnover, it is worth your time and effort to find out the cause and resolve it. An unstable work force impacts profitability.

Leadership defines the work culture. The culture changes your employees’ perception. Perception creates loyalty. And the clients know the difference between the synergy of a toxic work environment and a positive work environment.

Elements of Leadership

Leadership needs to have three basic core elements:

  1. Vision to see where the firm is going. Employees must understand the firm’s vision and be assigned goals to help achieve that vision.
  2. Character that is authentic and transparent. You cannot just say the words…your employees will see right through you. You must embody the core values of your firm. If you have not defined the core values of your firm, start there.
  3. You must have the ability – and take the time – to engage with all levels of employees within your organization. This includes everyone from your associates to your firm administrator to the file clerk.

Everyone has within them the ability to lead. ‘Natural born leaders’ are a myth. You simply have to decide you want to learn. And the reason you want to learn is to create a profitable, high synergy law firm. A place where employees stay, where the structure is stable, and where clients know that they are getting the best of the best.

Becoming a leader starts with a willingness to change patterns and to gain knowledge. This can be done through mentoring from other leaders, reading books on leadership and/or taking leadership classes. Inaction is the first sign of the lack of leadership in any law firm or, for that matter, in any business. Where does your firm stand?

Ready to lead? Contact Cheryl at cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com to learn more.

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Leadership vs. Management

Too many people we speak with are drowning in the day to day operational details of running their business. Intellectually, most of us understand that to run a successful business, we must have a vision for the future and goals and strategies to achieve that vision. This is especially true if you want to achieve your passion versus deal with minutia. Unfortunately, it is way too easy for us to be pulled away from our vision and into the weeds.

The Difference Between a Leader and a Manager

You probably know the answer to this, but we will tell you again: Leaders have a vision and work to generate excitement and get their teams on board. Managers oversee the details to help the vision come to life.

If you want to have a well-run firm, you must have a well-run management team that understands its roles and responsibilities. This means you must understand what we call their “pain points” and find solutions. If the building is on fire, they don’t want to hear talks of vision.

Stop the Fire Before It Starts

As a law firm owner, there is a bigger problem: How can you find time to assume a leadership role when there are so many problems or concerns that you never seem to resolve them? Your only hope now is to convince the management team that fighting fires is a job for the fire fighters and their job is running a business. Your job is to clearly define the vision of the firm and where you want to go. Being proactive before your building is on fire allows you to grow with stability and safety.

Now, before they soak you with the fire hose, develop a defined plan that clearly sets out the manager roles and the leader roles. Create specific steps and goals. Address the pain points. And become a proactive best business practice firm.

At Catalyst Group we teach management the fine art of best business practices to develop law firm owners into leaders. Contact cheryl@catalystgroupinc.com for more information.

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Relationships matter

By Cheryl J. Leone

Relationships matter

I have worked with small law firms and the mighty big law firms, and one thing is a constant: everyone has a concept of what exceptional client service is. Today it’s more critical than ever for your law firm to provide this level of service. Frankly, it does not always happen.

In strategy sessions with the powers-to-be in a law firm, I love to let them espouse the needs of the client and how the firm meets them. Then I ask them to show me the data that proves they are doing what the client wants. Without fail, the benchmarks for client service are designed by the people who are trying to provide it. I would suggest they design the measures based on their stake in the game. You have to learn to think like your clients or potential clients.

First you must understand today’s legal consumer. Hear this: today’s clients are more knowledgeable than ever before. They do not believe a J. D. degree makes you the expert. Before they even talk to you, they have done some internet research and probably feel they could do your job (sort of like my internet “medical degree” that my doctor insists on ignoring!). When they call your firm, I promise you they already know (or think they know) what needs to be done. They want to give you their opinion on the case. From their perspective, the question then becomes why they should hire you over the firm down the road. You will be hired when the client service they experience with your firm is better than the experience they had with the last firm they contacted.

The secret of extraordinary client service is simple. People want relationships! They don’t care how smart you are, how many cases you handle, how many big verdicts you get (well, maybe some do, but that doesn’t pay the day to day bills), and how much you talk about what you can do. They want you to care about them and their case. They want to believe that you hear them and are on their side.

I love Malcolm Gladwell and his book, Blink. In the book, he explains that we make decisions on things within a few seconds. Most people then take a great deal of time justifying that same decision they instinctively knew at the beginning. All of this is paraphrased of course. That initial impression is critical. The better your firm is at making an extraordinary impression, the faster a prospective client will get on board. If this is true (and I believe it is, as I am the quickest intuitive decision makers you will ever meet), then imagine potential clients making the same quick decision about you. If you only had 10 seconds to impress someone, what would you do?

I am convinced – and will lay my reputation and company on the line – that what people want is a warm, fuzzy and friendly relationship. If they sense that in you from the outset, you just got yourself a new client. In fact, I think today’s society is starved for relationships, and it becomes much more important than we realize.

To have a relationship with someone you have to put yourself out there and have a genuine interest in the client caller. Your clock is ticking as soon as you open your mouth. One of my programs involves an explanation of the Disney experience. At Disney, there are tunnels with doors opening out into the crowds. Before anyone steps through the door, there is a full-length mirror you must stand in front of with a sign that says, “Check your image, check your smile, you are about to go on stage.” In teaching law firm members, I borrow their trick. At each phone is a card that says, “Smile, you are about to go on stage.”

What is the best step you can take at your law firm? Begin a potential relationship by putting your best, friendliest, happiest, most optimistic person on your staff on the front desk. And pay them well. Lawyer Ken Hardison can tell you that I discovered a fabulous potential new hire for him while staying at a hotel. I was surprised how she had the guests laughing and talking to each other during a time when she couldn’t handle the crowd. I told her if she ever needed an office job to give Ken a call; she did and was hired. She turned out to be his best employee ever. She wasn’t very good at ‘office stuff,’ but Ken didn’t care. He paid her well to be herself. Ken would get daily compliments on her. She was a country girl who knew how to make people feel she genuinely cared for them (and she did). I am convinced she made tons of money for the firm by creating relationships for Ken.

Firm members, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, for the most part, don’t know how to be an empath (someone who can intuitively feel and perceive others). That is where training comes in. You get your people to start understanding that relationships with clients or callers are just like relationships outside the firm. You want to provide the WOW factor to everyone, one client at a time. For example, teach your people to talk about the weather (seriously). The phone rings and the caller asks to speak to someone. Your person immediately should establish a personal connection. “Glad you called. I am going to get someone to talk with you now. How are you doing today with this snow?” That prompts a short dialog. Isn’t that much better than saying, “One moment please…”?

Anyone who takes the new caller has to spend the first few minutes chit chatting. I call it the southern lawyer approach – picture your foot up on the fence post while you are talking about the crops. It is never about business those first few minutes. If you do it right, you can feel the caller bonding with you. Share something personal. Use words of understanding as you talk; it sounds corny, but it works. Here is a hint: Talk to the person like you would talk to your grandmother or grandfather. Respectful. Understanding. Caring. Interested.

In the end, it is not about exceptional client service. It is about extraordinary client service. The difference is relationship driven. Want a client service program that works? Here are some ideas:

  1. Test your people! What do they know personally about the client or caller?
  2. Reward relationship conversations. Provide time for firm members to share experiences.
  3. Encourage firm members to share something personal about themselves with others.
  4. Create client awareness areas. If you walk by a client, you are to stop, introduce yourself, ask how they are, AND LISTEN. By the way, forbid personal gossip or shop talk around clients in waiting areas. If you have time to do that, talk to the client.
  5. Stop the waiting game. If clients are waiting to see you or someone in the firm you are very old school. Be mindful of what their needs are, not yours.
  6. Know what you are selling to the client. Is it a financial reward? Revenge? Understanding? Each client is different but, in the end, they want what they want. Learn to deliver.

Back many years ago I saw a lawyer try his heart out on a case with a client that the firm adored. The firm believed in the case and the people. The firm members all interacted with the clients, and they were genuinely liked. Unfortunately, the jury came up with one of those dumb decisions that seem to occur now and then. The firm as a whole was devastated, and you can imagine how the attorney felt. The next morning the client and her husband showed up with homemade baked goods for the entire firm. They wanted the firm to know they didn’t blame them and wanted to show how much it meant to them to have the members of the firm in their lives. And many personal referrals ensued. That, my friends, is relationship marketing.

We mentor and train lawyers and staff in high performance staff attributes. For more information email cjleone@catalystgroupinc.com.

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