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Maximising Your (Firm's) Potential


It is clear that for a law firm to succeed, it must have good lawyers – this is a necessary condition, but it is no longer sufficient for success. Firms must also be able to attract business (make rain) and manage the business at a profit.

Lawyer, Manager, Rainmaker

Early in every assignment we ask Partners to confidentially score themselves out of 10 as Lawyer, Manager and Rainmaker, and then describe their role and practice. The scores make fascinating reading, and by putting together a firm’s profile we often find that firms are not setting themselves up for success by playing to Partners’ strengths. There is often a hidden assumption that, in the interests of fairness, all Partners should be All-Rounders. We actually find very few true All-rounders (we have only ever had one Partner claim 10/10 on all 3 attributes), but that a firm can succeed by identifying Partners’ strengths and setting their responsibilities and expectations accordingly.

In our view, a Partner can make a worthwhile contribution if they are very good (8/10) at two attributes, or exceptional at one – so long as that becomes their main focus and they do not insist on interfering in the things they themselves recognise are not their strengths.

The Business of Relationships

There is, however, a difference between the requirements of a good lawyer, as compared to those for managers and rainmakers. Legal skills are primarily technical. One definition of a great manager is the ability to get ordinary people to produce extraordinary results – whereas the hallmark of a true Rainmaker is the ability to attract and retain high value clients and sources of business. In each case, there is a process element, but the real key is to maintain business relationships – i.e. to have people skills rather than technical skills. One of our ‘Wilko’s Laws’ is that “You Can Commoditise a Transaction, but You Cannot Commoditise a Relationship”.

Successful business relationships are built on BLT – not a sandwich, but Belief, Liking and Trust.
Belief is about competence – technical skill and organisation – and can be gained through qualifications, demonstration of expertise (which is easier if the other party is knowledgeable), and through third party confirmations. This is one reason why client referrals and testimonials are important.

We get on best with “People Like Us”– this requires the ability to carry on conversations on their terms and in their language. A basic understanding of Neuro-Linguistic programming helps, but listening skills come to the forefront.

Trust implies a confidence that you have their interests at heart, that you will actually do what you say you will do, and that you do not have an agenda that will derail theirs. However, trust is a difficult issue for lawyers – as David Maister outlines in his book Strategy and the Fat Smoker. A lawyer’s professional training is about documenting and eliminating risk and the need for trust. Above all else, trust has to be earned. Third-party confirmation is very important in speeding up the process, but your own track record and ability to communicate is what generates the trust.

Unfortunately, the Performance Measurement systems in many firms work against the development of client relationships (which, after all, determine long term success), focusing instead on short-term chargeable hours, billing and collection. Relationship and value-building conversations with clients and contacts are rarely chargeable – and so are systematically discouraged. Therefore, we often fail to maximise the potential value in our relationships both inside and outside of the firm.

If the relationship (and conversation) is right, many of the financials will come right:

  • You will get more and better clients, and your clients will become your advocates
  • You will get less fee resistance, and fewer queries, complaints and write-downs
  • You will be able to bill more often with confidence, and your bills will be paid – resulting in lower lockup.
  • Your measured performance will get better, and opportunities both for individuals and the firm will present themselves more often

Harness Your Skills - Maximise Your Potential

Maximising potential is about harnessing a range of skills and managing relationships, especially through conversation – things which do not always come naturally to Lawyers, and are rarely the subject of training.

Firms (and partners themselves) need to use the economist’s Law of Comparative Advantage (Wikipedia uses a Lawyer as an example!!) to ensure that Partners do what they are best at and set expectations accordingly. Forget the all-rounder, play to your strengths! Individuals need to identify their own potential and focus on the things at which they can be the best.

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