BLOGS: Custom Client Service Solutions

Friday, June 19, 2009, 8:03 AM

The Secret Sauce - Law Firms, Spaghetti Sauce and Consumer Choice

An influential inside counsel and friend wrote to me this morning to say that Womble Carlyle reminds him of Prego spaghetti sauce.

A puzzling way to start the day, no doubt, until he went on to explain that he had just viewed a short video of "The Tipping Point" and "Blink" author Malcolm Gladwell extolling one of his heroes, Howard Moscowitz.

Moscowitz is a marketing consultant who, among many strokes of genius, transformed the spaghetti sauce industry in the 1980s by helping Prego to understand that consumers want not just one sauce, which at the time was how Ragu had achieved dominance, but many sauces. As a result of Moscowitz's work, today consumers have a universe of spaghetti sauce styles ranging from traditional, to extra chunky, mushroom and garlic, marinara, roasted garlic herb, 3 cheese, Italian sausage and garlic, and scores of others -- each one perfect for some consumer somewhere.

In the video, Gladwell explains that the paternalism of the spaghetti sauce industry in the 1970s led to the notion that there was one perfect sauce, which, he explains ignores the diversity of humanity and the individual tastes of consumers. By "horizontally segmenting" the market (i.e. giving consumers choice), Moscowitz and Prego revolutionized the spaghetti sauce industry, delighted customers and prospererd.

In telling me that Womble Carlyle is like Prego, my inside-counsel colleague is delivering a supreme compliment, for he is contending that Womble Carlyle has listened to and heard the messages of legal services buyers -- messages delivered in earnest of late in the ACC's Value Challenge. With more than 1,400 people -- some lawyers, some businesspeople of other sorts, all devoted to client delight -- we have the capacity to create not just one universal standard of great service, but an infinite number of standards of great service, each tailored to the unique wants and needs of each buyer. In other words, Custom Client Service Solutions.

I consider being compared to Prego a great compliment, and exactly what our firm's leadership has been talking about when they say that the practice of law has been permanently transformed, and that Womble Carlyle will lead the way by becoming truly the law firm of the future.

A shout out to MyShingle.com which is the source of the story that led my inside-counsel colleague to tell me that Womble Carlyle is a Prego-esque law firm.

- Steve Bell

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Thursday, June 18, 2009, 2:29 PM

Real World Value Challenge Example

For the past few months, we have been speaking about Womble Carlyle's support of the Association of Corporate Counsel's Value Challenge initiative and our desire to maintain a leadership position in design of new models of practicing and pricing. As a reminder, the goal of the Value Challenge is to more closely align the price and value of legal services delivered by outside counsel. This blog, Custom Client Service Solutions, is intended to discuss the issues surrounding Value Challenge and how law firms in general, and Womble Carlyle in particular, are responding. Necessarily, much of the Value Challenge discussion to date has been foundational and theoretical, but real-world examples are starting to emerge, including this one from our own stable:

A client faced class action litigation involving massive legal costs—up to $2 million in document production alone. Womble Carlyle attorney Dean Rutley called an in-house contact at the company and recommended the firm's highly leveraged farm-source document review program, as well as the firm's highly technological Case Management Facility as ways to control these document production prices.

Womble Carlyle offered to do the entire document production project for a $850,000 fixed fee, guaranteed. A competing firm proposed an estimated $1.4 million price tag for the same work, with no assurances that the final bill wouldn’t be higher. As part of our pricing scenario, we also recommended, and the client accepted, a $200,000 performance bonus, to be awarded completely at the client’s discretion. These suggestions, gave the company cost-certainty and represent a true partnering with the client. The profit derived from this work will be a function of our expertise in managing it. Better law firm management, of course, is one of the objectives inside counsel wish to achieve as part of the Value Challenge.

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Friday, June 12, 2009, 9:21 AM

Lessons from the Airport. WWGD? (What would Grady do?)

This is not your normal air passenger rant, so buckle your seat belts, replace your tray tables and prepare for takeoff.

On Tuesday just past, eleven and a half hours after arriving at Reagan Airport, and seven and a half hours after buckling myself into a Canada Regional Jet for a 45-minute air journey from DC to Greensboro, the technological miracle of air travel was once again underway. At cruising altitude, a nearly full moon created chiaroscuro cumulus towers – the remnants of mighty storms – as though they were 100-story servings of silver and black cotton candy. To the east, perhaps 50 miles, an indescribable light show was underway as lightning ignited within the mighty, departing storm. Had I not endured the 11 ½ hour horror show, I would not have witnessed this amazing and rare natural extravaganza, and I truly am thankful that I had the opportunity to do so.

A maintenance delay had caused a 1:45 p.m. departure time to slip until 4 p.m., at which point I and 37 other passengers buckled in. By then the inexorable forces of summertime in the Atlantic seaboard had brewed up a wave of thunderstorms extending from Philadelphia southwest at least to Mississippi. Only after the trailing edge of this line of storms had crept eastward past Greensboro did the technological divinity named ATC deign permission to depart.

Perhaps in all the world, only a group of people traveling to the Piedmont Triad of North Carolina could have been as composed and gracious through such an ordeal as were my fellow travelers. With shadows of the Air France disaster in our minds, we all knew that we could not fly a plane not in perfect mechanical condition. And even though the mechanical delay put us into meteorological hell, we also understood we could not take on a 700-mile band of thunderstorms. So, for 7 1/2 hours, a truly amazing flight attendant performed miracles via shadow puppetry, the creation of “fake mimosas” by mixing orange juice and ginger ale, and any other number of ingenious distractions. I think we all understood the problems and – since most of us had no choice but to be in Greensboro in the morning – we all were willing to risk that the plane eventually would depart. And ultimately, at 11:35 p.m., it did, making the flight in about 35, not 45, minutes.

As I witnessed, from 21,000 feet above the earth, the miraculous tableau, I vowed to write about this experience in the context of legal client service, so here goes: During the 7 ½ hours we sat on the plane, the people who were really in charge of “the engagement” – the pilots – communicated with the clients/passengers only a few times, despite passengers imploring the flight attendant to have them say something. Here is the summary of the pilot communications:

1. shortly after boarding, the standard preflight announcement
2. after one hour on board, an announcement, generally, of the weather problem with no prediction as to what it would mean
3. five hours into the ordeal, an announcement of the need for refueling and a restatement of the weather challenge, once again, with no prediction as to the meaning, although at this time the pilot did voice a commitment to “get this plane down to Greensboro”
4. six hours into the ordeal, an announcement that a flight path had been discovered and that the plane would move to the runway.
5. 90 minutes after reaching the runway, a confession that the pilots had not wanted to break the bad news that the flight path had been closed again, along with a statement that the pilots were working hard and begging ATC to create an alternative path.

That’s about it.

How about an hourly report that the unfortunate situation had not changed? How about an explanation of communications with controllers and a summary of attempts to find alternative routes? How about a report on the stalling out of the eastward movement of the weather system? How about an explanation that sometimes, oftentimes, summer storms diminish in the evening hours as the earth’s surface cools? How about an explanation of how late the flight could take off and how late it could land? Even a modicum of communication of this sort could have calmed our nerves and enabled educated decisions on our part about whether to sit it out or demand that a shuttle bus come out to the tarmac and rescue us. Communication would not have changed the facts, but it would have provided a foundation on which we clients could reconcile those facts with our own circumstances.

As a business person in a law firm, I obviously don’t provide legal services to clients, but I do know that many companies and executives are engaged with law firms only when mechanical problems and storms are afoot. As a result of my experience, I think I’m going to remind the lawyers I work most closely about the importance of great communication with people who are under stress. One of the lions and legends at Womble Carlyle, Grady Barnhill, is known as a master at this, and I have heard many stories about how he has intelligently and understandingly communicated with clients and even their spouses and children about upcoming legal ordeals. I know that he has carefully instructed additional generations of litigators in the importance of this point. So, I’ll not be educating -- just reminding -- my lawyer colleagues of lessons that Grady has been teaching for decades: As lawyers steer their planes/engagements through storms, they need to be sure to keep clients/passengers continually apprised of developments – good, bad, or nonexistent. Like the passengers on US Airways Flight 3987, law firm clients will benefit from, and value, a regular stream of explanations from those who are in the front of the plane. We would have preferred a Grady Barnhill in the pilot seat that night.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009, 9:52 AM

Many pathways to greatness for lawyer-salespeople

What are essential characteristics of successful professional services sales people?

That's a question that I, as one of the longest tenured nonlawyer salespeople in the profession, am supposed to help address on the "sales" panel at LSSO Raindance www.legalsales.org/raindance/ later this week. It's also a question that I grapple with frequently in my role as adviser to lawyers, who are both the product and the sales force at law firms.

Other LSSO panelists who also will tackle the issue are Patrick Fuller from Thomson Reuters, Tim Corcoran from Altman Weill and Robert Randolph from Bryan Cave.

Thanks to some brilliant education I have received from The Gallup Organization www.gallup.com/consulting I know there is no one right answer. As Gallup teaches, every person "goes to life" with her or his own individualized array of human strengths. Gallup has identified a total of 34 human strengths, or talents. From a very young age, we come to rely on our top 5 or 10, and we repeatedly and unconsciously put these top talents to work in every aspect of our lives, including sales, if that is the task set before us.

There is, of course, a stereotype of salespeople as gregarious, and, indeed, some of the most outstanding professional services sales people I have known are rich in the Gallup strength WOO -- "winning others over." Other, equally effective sales people are highly reserved, and they, perhaps embued with the Gallup strength known as "deliberative," achieve their sales objectives via thought and careful execution of well-planned steps. Still other great salespeople may have an abundance of the "strategic" strength theme and thus be able to chart many courses, depending on the circumstances and obstacles related to a particular sales objective.

The point here is that there is no one perfect set of attributes for a lawyer or a salesperson. This is an incredibly powerful realization for some of the lawyers I coach, and it empowers and engages them when they learn that making sales will not require them to project a persona that is just not them, rather, sales demands that they operate in their own unique zone of strengths.

However, no matter which strengths a lawyer has, one task is critical: listening. If an individual cannot find within her or his strengths the ability to listen and understand, very few buyers will stick around long enough to make the purchase. After all, the buyers of professional services are much too sophisticated to be "sold" anything. A much more productive approach is to work hard to understand and address THEIR strengths, so that when they get ready to buy, they know where to turn.

For a broader discusssion of Gallup's insights into strengths, check out the website above, or read any of the organization's strengths-oriented writings. One of my favorites, and the one that got me interested in a strengths-based approach to work, is "First Break All The Rules."

- Steve Bell

Monday, June 1, 2009, 8:44 AM

Value at Both Ends: It Ain't Necessarily the Price

Many in the legal blogosphere are aware of the innotive FMC Technologies Litigation Law Value Challenge, which was promoted on Legal OnRamp: http://tinyurl.com/l7vpow. The challenge, whose responses were due yesterday, is well-described on law.com: http://tinyurl.com/q8by2o

Womble Carlyle was one of, no doubt, scores of law firms that that authored a response to FMC Technologies' request for information about that which "truly and substantially distinguishes your firm from other firms in terms of providing value." The exercise caused us to consider again the value-oriented principles that we espouse with our Custom Client Service Solutions. The FMC Technologies RFP and response was one of three recent experiences that have re-awakened me to the manifestation of value in the real world. Here are the others:

During the American Lawyer's Law Firm Business Development Conference on May 20 (http://tinyurl.com/lxhopl), I had the occasion to visit with prospective clients at lunch at Del Fresco's restaurant in midtown Manhattan. With a Rockefeller Center address, Del Fresco's is, you can be sure, on the pricey side, but a waiter named Nathan (he never did mention his last name) made sure our party got a great corner table where we could have a reasonably private conversation, did not get annoyed when our orders were modest (in-house counsel DO notice abject gluttony, after all!), and - in general - took great care of us. Nathan's attentiveness and understanding that we also needed "space" ensured that my partners and I and our guests had a pleasant lunch and, more importantly, a solid conversation. At the end of lunch, Nathan asked for business cards, indicating he wanted to contact us about upcoming offers. I was the only one who actually turned in a business card. This morning, I got a handwritten note from Nathan thanking us for coming to Del Frisco's and indicating he looked forward to seeing us again. High price, high value.

Another value anecdote: As the food-supply maven in our family, I was tasked yesterday with stocking up, so with some trepidation about what could be an unpleasant experience, I drove to the local not-too-many-frills grocery store -- Shopper's Food Warehouse. As I checked out, the cashier (wish I had taken care to get his name), noticed that in between the bulk purchases was evidence of a Sunday afternoon outdoor meal. "Do you enjoy to cook out?" he asked cheerfully, before launching a few other interested-but-not-intrusive questions. The prices for groceries at this store are in my experience a lot lower than at other stores in Fairfax County, and one anticipates a bit of customer-service hardship in exchange for the bargains. My cashier is, I am sure, paid the going rate of grocery store cashiers, which cannot be making him rich. But, as he handed me the receipt and wished me "Have a good barbeque!" he clearly was recognizing me not as another carbon life form behind an overly full grocery cart, but as a human being. Low price, high value.

As I contemplate how best to deliver value to our clients and clients-to-be, I will think about Nathan and the now-anonymous clerk at the discount grocer. As a large and established full-service firm with a diversity of legal and business resources for our clients, Womble Carlyle has the ability to deliver rocket-science law at a high price and high value. We also have the ability to deliver commodity law at a low price and high value. The market needs both....and everything in between. It's up to us to understand with great precision what a particular client needs and wants -- and then deliver it, just as two sellers who recently crossed my path did with me.

-Steve Bell
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