BLOGS: Custom Client Service Solutions

Wednesday, November 4, 2009, 4:38 PM

I don't get the Value Index "fuss"

So, as part of its Value Challenge the Association of Corporate counsel launches a Value Index wherein inside counsel give a one-star to five-star evaluation of outside counsel on six criteria:

-Understands Objectives/Expectations
-Legal Expertise
-Efficiency/Process Management
-Responsiveness/Communication
-Predictable Cost/Budgeting Skills
-Results Delivered/Execution

The individual evaluations will be available to ACC members, but not to law firms. Rather, the ACC will share aggregated information with law firms once a critical mass of evaluations are in place to make them statistically meaningful. It is this "secrecy" element that seems to be raising all the hackles among outside law firms and many of their consultants.

Thus, a vigorous (and unproductive) debate has emerged about the validity of the Value Index, its methodology, its fairness, etc. sounds like a lot of whining to me. Everyone in every law firm everywhere should have known for a long time now that inside counsel vigorously and sometimes brutally share information about outside counsel in list-servs and other media. I am glad that the ACC has decided to channel their commentary in six consistent evaluation categories. Knowing exactly how they will be judged, law firms should, it seems to me, quit complaining and get to work on activities that will measurable improve performance in all of them. Look at the categories, folks. As service organizations, law firms should have doing this stuff with or without the Value Index. Let's move on.


- Steve

Tuesday, November 3, 2009, 11:12 AM

Helping Law Firms Be More Efficient

A recent article in law360.com points to Womble Carlyle's innovation of creating the profession's first sales department eight years ago. The article mentions the fact that buyers of legal services must know and have relationships the lawyers who will serve them. I totally agree. In every sale on which I've assisted, our lawyer always has played the leading role in the sale. But, in my experience, nonlawyer sales forces greatly enhance the efficiency of law firms by handling many of the tasks of sales that do not necessarily require the personal attention of the lawyer -- targeting, initiating contact with inside counsel to arrange meetings, preparing focused research, co-conducting interviews, guiding follow-up of meetings, and helping lawyers maintain and advance relationships after initial meetings. Often, clients and potential clients develop relationships with nonlawyer salespeople (who add value by bringing an additional set of business skills) AND the lawyers who ultimately will handle the legal work. It is not mutually exclusive, and in fact it most often is mutually productive for both types of relationships to co-exist. This sharing of tasks during often-lengthy and complex sales cycles allows lawyers to concentrate most of their time on the most important sales tool of all -- great lawyering and great client service!

- Steve

Thursday, October 1, 2009, 12:21 PM

Thoughts on FMC Technologies' Litigation Law Value Challenge

After an innovative "non-competition" to support the legal needs of FMC Technologies, Womble Carlyle was one of 6 firms empaneled as part of the company's Litigation Law Value Challenge.

The highly public "non-competiton" was initiated through the vision of FMCTI's Chief Legal Officer Jeff Carr and his team as part of the company's leadership in the Association of Corporate Counsel's Value Challenge, a now-familiar effort for inside and outside counsel to drive new, value-focused business modeling. The words, below, comprise comments that I originally posted on Legal OnRamp -- a forum for more than 10,000 individual thought-leaders in the legal services arena:

"Thanks to the team at FMC Technologies for materially advancing the Value discussion over the course of the spring, summer, fall and into the future. Naturally, Womble Carlyle is gratified to be in the position it is so that the work can continue. Aside from the Litigation Law Value Challenge at FMC Technologies, some thoughts about the pathway ahead:

A colleague of mine at Womble Carlyle is working with a panel of in-house counsel for a Value Challenge session at the upcoming ACC Annual Meeting in Boston. Until 6 months ago himself a Chief Legal Officer at a publicly traded company, he is struck by the intensity (one might say, ferocity) of efforts on the part of in-house counsel to drive improvements -- a.k.a. (r)evolution -- on the part of law firms.

I'm one voice, but I think that the stars are aligned for this to happen. I've said it before, and I repeat it now: Buyers of legal services always have been in charge. Now, they know it and are claiming their birthright.

Also coming clearly into focus -- new-model law firms. As one who works in a fairly large law firm (550 or so lawyers), I have observed that mid-sized firms typically have focused their competitive instincts primarily if not exclusively on the highly successful and profitable large law firms (i.e. New York firms, International firms, etc.) The market now presents a wake up call in the form of nimble, new-age providers whose voices are increasingly prominent. Some of us know that, to the extent we once did so, we no longer can view the competitive landscape only through the windshield. Increasingly, we need to be watching out the back window, not to mention the side ones and the moon roof. These new-model organizations, in conjunction with in-house leaders, also are responsible for accelerating the pace of change/improvement.

Long ago in my career, at Price Waterhouse before the combination with Coopers & Lybrand, the firm would agonize when it failed to win a competition to become statutory auditor. "How could they not select THE blue-chip audit?" the partners would agonize. The answer, sometimes at least, was simple: The potential customer did not want (nor want to pay for) a blue-chip audit when another approach would suffice and be more economically feasible. Customers knew what the auditors did not: the blue-chip level of effort was not always commensurate with the need. In other words, the provider just didn't "get" the need in all of its detail and relief. One size did not fit all. Clearly there were times when only blue-chip would suffice. But not always, and maybe not even most of the time.

One other point: FMC Technologies' operation of the Litigation Law Value Challenge on Legal OnRamp and Twitter has driven us to a new level. As one whose favorite album -- Rubber Soul -- was on a vinyl LP, having another LBR (legitimate business reason) to get in touch with my digital self makes the transition a bit less painful."

- Steve

Wednesday, September 2, 2009, 8:22 AM

What's Important Now

What's important to buyers of legal services? Well....lots. In a long career of dissecting the attributes of law firms through the lens of buyers, Michael Rynowecer, President of BTI Consulting, speaks to17 attributes, ranging from "meets technical specifications" to "quality offerings" to "breadth of services." But of these 17, Rynowecer says, the four that truly create client allegiance are:
  • Commitment to help
  • Provides value for the dollar
  • Client focus, and
  • Understands the client's business

September marks the advent of a new business season. As we enter this season, all providers of legal services need to consider -- at every intersection with clients -- how they are delivering on these clearly stated client needs/wants. Addressing them robustly and fiercely is how lawyers and law firms not only deliver distincitive legal services but also create value and totally engaged clients.

Monday, August 31, 2009, 4:32 PM

Can we talk? Questions that need to be asked.....and answered

As Joan Rivers used to say: "Can we talk?"

Amidst the madness of 2009, clarity is in order. Much needed in the chaos is total understanding between the buyers of legal services and those who provide them. But how often do we really get to "ground truth?" The title of of Susan Scott's outstanding book tells us what we need now: "Fierce Conversations." See www.fierceinc.com/index.php?page=reviews

My colleague, Pam Rothenberg, managing member of Womble Carlyle's Washington, DC office has created a list of questions that we hope will propel us. It'll take courage to have fierce conversations using questions like these, but what do we have to lose?

How are we doing in terms of the service we provide for you? Are the current projects we are doing with you just okay or WOW? Or, are we doing a half-baked job? Are we listening to your concerns? Do you “love us”…or merely “like us”…or, heaven forbid, “dislike us’?”

Is the service we provide, the result we achieve for you worth paying for? If so, why? If not, why not – how can we make it right, and then improve?

What is your impression about how our firm is perceived generally by buyers of legal services?

We have known you for awhile and would like to earn the right to provide you with a greater scope of legal services. Is there something holding you back from working with us? What specifically might we bring to the table in terms of substantive expertise or approach to legal service delivery (such as creative pricing, more effective client service teams or greater investment in you on an off-the-clock basis) that would incent you to buy more legal services from us? Is there any insurmountable obstacle that prevents you from working with us or expanding your work with us?

To what extent do you feel you can be safe if you buy legal services from us? In other words, have we established a basis for your trust? Do you feel secure in making a buying decision in favor of us? If so, what specifically influences you to do so? If not, what holds you back? How can we more earn more of your trust?

When you are facing a high impact problem personally or for your business, how can we best play a role in serving you and helping you to solve that problem?

When you realize that you are going to turn outside for assistance, what is your thought process as you consider law firms? To what extent am I and this firm on your list of firms to consider? What can I/we do to be at the top of your mind when a legal need arises?

How comfortable would you feel in calling me/us for help with ANY challenge you face, focusing here on needs that distinctly are NOT legal in nature?

What is the best means for us to engage with you to develop an ongoing understanding of your business and the challenges you face? How do we get our head in your game in the least intrusive manner for you (i.e., hanging out in your office; weekly meetings/call; offsite monthly meetings)?

We are driven to provide you extraordinary legal services. Our goal is to always give you a “WOW” experience. We want you to feel comfortable saying that you “can’t imagine a world without your firm?” What would that world specifically look like to you? How do we customize our service delivery to you so that it has the greatest impact and is the most responsive to your needs? What other law firms provide you with this “WOW” experience and what specifically are they doing to have this impact on you?

How do you think that the law firm industry is changing? How do you think it should change? How can we change to better serve you?

What type of investments can we be making in you and our relationship with you that would be most valuable to you? How can we best demonstrate to you that we cherish you?

The answers to these questions are the foundation for true Custom Client Service Solutions.

Can we talk?

New PWC commercial says a lot about what needs to happen in these turbulent times. Listen to our clients. Now more than ever. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tr71wJXdzpQ

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Friday, July 10, 2009, 1:57 PM

Great Questions

As one who has studied the teachings of Mark Maraia and as one who tries to help lawyers advance their careers, I can't help but admire the list of client questions that Mark proposes in his new book, Relationships Are Everything: http://www.markmaraia.com/rae_home.htm

- What do you like about how we handled that last deal/lawsuit/project?

- Is there anything you want us to do differently next time?

- How easy is it to do business with our firm?

- If a colleague of yours called asking for a reference, what would you say to him or her about us?

- Who from the team would you like to see more of or less of?

- How well are we doing at keeping up with your business and industry?

- During the past year, what's one of the most impressive things you've seen an outside professional do for you or your company?

These are the right questions. Beyond all the clutter of dicussions about alternative pricing, alternative business models, etc., these questions get down to the preeminent question of the day in the profession: "What is Value?"

- Steve Bell
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