Meaningful New Year’s resolutions

3 01 2011

I know it’s a cliché, but it’s that time of year when all the talk is of resolutions. So take a break from diets, exercise and learning to play the ukulele/starting a salsa class/swimming the channel, and take the next ten minutes to think about some simple  steps you can take over the next 12 months to transform your practice.

The Head of Litigation's resolution to run the 20 miles to work everyday caused concern among the management team

Before I offer some suggestions (you knew that was coming didn’t you!), let me caveat them by saying that while none of the suggestions are rocket science, implementing them regularly will require behaviour change (if of course you are not doing them already), and behaviour change is hard. There is, however, a growing body of research-backed literature on how to establish new behaviour patterns, so help is at hand if you want it.

When I jotted this list of suggestions down, I tried to get a list that built on the piece I wrote at the end of 2010 on value disciplines (which is here) and in the spirit of that piece I hope you find something of value to try, adapt or play with…..

(Really) love your clients

Identify your five best clients. Best might mean different things to different lawyers – maybe they are the organisations you want to work with most (either external clients or departments/subsidiaries if you are inhouse counsel), maybe they are the organisations that provide you with the most revenue and/or profit, perhaps they are the clients which stretch and grow you most. Whatever the reason, make the resolution to really get to know them and their business over the next 12 months. Become intimately acquainted with their challenges. Read around their industries. Understand their job.  Know what their competitors are doing. Anticipate their legal needs before they do. Tailor your service for them. Get to know them as human beings. Make sure that every week, you are doing something like this to deepen and strengthen the relationship. Score the relationship every quarter (if appropriate, ask the client to score it). Ask for nothing extra from the client yet see the benefits unfold with the months of the year.

Investigate how you work

Take a piece of work that you or your team do regularly. It can be a piece of client work (whether in a law firm or in a law department) or a process that supports the work  (administrative, knowledge management, business development). Next put a couple of hours aside, and lock the main participants in a room with a flip chart, some big markers and a stack of post-it notes. First list the key clients for the process (this can be inside or outside the organisation) and then work out what are the key objectives of the process – what is it designed to achieve and what are the best metrics for success. Next draw the process on a large bit of paper. This doesn’t have to be complex – put each step on a separate post-it note, arrange the steps in order (showing decision points and variations if required) and then use the pen to link them up. It might be that this step in itself takes some time, particularly if several people perform the task in different ways. However, don’t spend more than an hour on this step.

Once you have a visual view of the process, think about how you can improve it. Think back to the people you identified as clients of the service – what does “better” feel  like for them? Is it faster? cheaper? in a different place? with fewer errors? in a different format? including different information? Once you have established what better means, work how how the task could be done differently to achieve it. A useful question is “if we were a new organisation looking to do this job optimally for the first time, how would we do it?”.

When you have some ideas for improvements, identify the top three (tip – to rank them think about the impact the change would have versus the ease of implementing it) and then set yourself a timetable for implementation. Aim for one of these two hour workshops a quarter – you could either choose a new task each time, or stick with the same task but look to continuously improve it.

Take a product to market

Now while at first sight this might seem irrelevant for corporate law departments, while the terminology might not seem as appropriate as for a law firm with an external market, the process itself can devliver real value to corporate counsel and their clients. As for law firms – well, some firms are already well practised in product development, while others are dabbling their toes, but if you haven’t thought about it, perhaps this is the resolution for you….

Firstly, start with a particular group of clients you think you can help. Work out what are the characteristics that define this market (is it an internal department, a particular group of colleagues, a set of organisations in a particular vertical, a group of clients or prospects in a particular geographic area etc etc). Then focus on their needs – this is absolutely critical. To be successful I absolutely subscribe to the theory of “outside-in” thinking in the book “Tuned-in”, which stresses the need for a new product to meet a defined market need.

Once you have a target audience for your product (and don’t get stressed out about the word “product”, a service is just fine) and have worked out a need, then work out how you can meet that need and help the clients (be they internal or external). Identifying what is different about your solution from what is already available is a useful step to begin to formulate your value proposition (see previous posts for discussions on this, or even better have a look at Jill Konrath‘s book “selling to big companies”).

The next step is to work out how to build and deliver the service, and validate the financial model behind it. If this sounds intimidating, it doesn’t have to be. At i’s most simplistic, work out the cost (which for lawyers is likely to be largely based around the cost of people’s time, both in developing and then delivering the product) and then work out the revenue (for an inhouse service the benefits may be expressed other than in revenue terms). This is no more complex than the price (see Mark Burton’s great book Pricing with Confidence for help here) multiplied by the amount you think you can sell.

If the business case stacks up, then get it built and out there. If this is the first product you’ve ever developed, my suggestion is to start with a low cost, low visibility offering to allow yourself to learn as you go through the process. There is certainly something to be said for getting to market quickly and then revising a product, rather than getting it perfect and missing the moment (of course the validity of this rule depends on the circumstances).

So what has this done for you? Well, if you’d not taken a product to market before, hopefully you’ve learnt something and will be inspired to learn more and do it again. For newbies or old hands, hopefully in engaging with your target market you have learnt something more about their needs and had dialogue that has created value for all involved. And finally, if you’ve done a good job with your product development, then hopefully the revenue (or other value) from the product is rolling in!

Happy New Year

There are of course lots of other resolutions we could make as members of the legal profession – I’m very interested in others you want to share. Suggestions for this blog are always welcome too, and to sign off this week, let me wish you all a happy, healthy and successful 2011.





The value of discipline (sort of)

28 12 2010

With the New Year approaching, given the title of this post, you may be expecting a post on all he productivity benefits that can flow from self-discipline coupled with some suggestions for New Year’s resolutions. But no. I’m combining the D-word with one of my favourite words, “value”, to bring you a little morsel that I hope you can chew over until 2011.

Bertie was not impressed with his owner, the managing partner's, approach to discipline and didn't think the partners in the law firm would respond well to offers of dog treats

Value Disciplines is a model created by Treacy and Wiersema, and as well as being one of my favourites that I studied at B-school, it is one which I have found really resonates with lawyers and law firm management (their book is called “the discipline of market leaders” and is well worth a read).

In very simplistic terms, the theory asserts that an organisation can succeed in its market place by excelling in one of three “value disciplines” (ideally coupled with also practising the other two value disciplines to the market standard).

The first value discipline is operational excellence.  In their original Harvard Business Review article (available here), they define this as “reliable services at competitive prices delivered with minimal difficulty”. This is an interesting model for law firms, as in my experience few law firms really look to compete on this basis (operational excellence is not simply about having low prices) and indeed as I’ve discussed previously, hourly rate billing has often encouraged inefficiency – arguably the polar opposite of operational excellence.

However, with the emergence of LPOs and the increasing number of law firms hiring Lean Six Sigma specialists, plus of course the imminent entrance in the UK market of alternate business structures, I think operational excellence is a strategy that is going to have increasing relevance to the legal profession, and the bar that represents the market level of operational excellence, is definitely going to rise.

The second value discipline is “product leadership” which is all about getting the leading edge services in the market. Here speed to market is critical, and as we saw with a plethora of Bribery Act offerings in the UK market, both from law firms but also the larger consultancies, some firms do this better than others.

As with operational excellence, I believe the discipline of product leadership is of growing importance to law firms as the market increases in competitive intensity. The struggle to differentiate is recognised and discussed by many management teams in law firms, and having a kit bag full of unique products and services, each with a strong value proposition, is a real asset in this battle.

The third value discipline is “customer intimacy”. Organisations that excel here have strong client relationships and are able to customise products and services to meet their precise needs. Now while this blog has *occasionally* suggested law firms could do more to listen to their clients (hey, I’m only trying to help!), I actually think this is the value discipline that many law firms practice well.

What this means in practice however, is that the benchmark for the industry in this value discipline becomes higher, and the challenge for firms who want to dominate their industry, is how to raise the bar and really become the market leader in client intimacy. One way to think about this is to investigate how far the client intimacy ethos permeates the firm’s entire operating model – in my experience often there are pockets of excellence in a firm, but often other areas where the standards are not so high.

However, one thing to ponder, is that one of the firms that I think does this best of all (a smaller City firm) is also the firm that put together the highly tailored tender response I mentioned in my post a couple of weeks ago on excellent responses to RFPs (requests for proposal)  for legal services. This suggests to me that the firm starts REALLY thinking about the client’s needs before they are even a client of the firm, which I think is a pretty good demonstration of really living that value discipline and the benefit it can bring the firm and its clients.

 

Related posts:

Are you high quality?

The size 0 law firm








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