I grew up playing team sports. I believe that experience taught me a lot about winning, losing, practicing, working as a team and more.
I enjoy coaching many lawyers who play sports. Many are still playing. Recently I had a coaching session in Toronto with an IP litigator David Tait. We talked about Rugby and a case he recently tried. I saw a connection and asked him to share it with you. Here are David’s thoughts:
You wouldn’t think being a patent litigator at McCarthy Tétrault in Toronto and playing rugby as a forward for the Bay Street RFC have much in common, would you? I didn’t. But, during one of our coaching sessions, Cordell asked me to think about what makes playing rugby and trying cases similar.
Our team (affectionately called the “Pigs”) is made up of lawyers, bankers and other downtown professionals. The team recently went on its first tour. Destination: the Caymans. Opponent: the IRB-ranked Cayman national side.
Unfortunately, I was scheduled to complete the damages phase of a long patent trial and would miss the trip. Fortunately, the trial ended early. I have the sunburn (and bruises) to prove it.
So, given that inspiration, here are the top five ways I can think of litigating like a rugby player – like a gentleman playing a hooligan’s game:
- Never underestimate the home field advantage. (Trying cases away from home is a challenge).
- Referees (judges) differ on their interpretation of the laws. Play to the referee, else you’ll might end up in the sin bin (and remember, your interpretation of the laws are not as important as theirs.)
- It is a battle of attrition. You may lose a scrum or lineout, but you can still win the match. (You may lose the motion or a witness may hurt you, but you still can win.)
- It’s also a game of positioning – think 2 or 3 phases ahead. (Great trial lawyers are always thinking ahead.)
- Leave it all on the pitch; don’t take it to the pub. (Leave it in the courtroom.)
That is a hard question to ask clients who always have an opinion on how things should be done, and a hard question to ask your more senior colleague who is working on project with you. They will typically say yes, but watch their body language. Unless you are a great team, they will be defensive about their idea.
I thought of this recently. I know two lawyers that for this blog I will call “Yin” and “Yang.” (Check the active link to understand why I chose those names.)
Yin is a young, top notch equity partner I coached two years ago when he was an income partner. Yang is a young, income partner. I am coaching her now. They are working on an extremely complex project for a very demanding client who expects things to be turned around immediately, over night and over weekends. They are a great team for this project.
Why are they a great team? Here are my thoughts:
- Having worked with both of them, I know they are both highly motivated and driven to do the best work possible.
- Like Yin and Yang, they have different strengths that compliment each other.
- Their focus is on helping the client succeed with the project.
- They are both working really hard, but also finding ways to relax and recharge their batteries.
- They are not trying to hog credit for ideas.
- Most importantly, during their work on the challenging project they have developed a lot of respect for each other and are open to hearing each other’s ideas without becoming defensive about their ideas.
I know from experience it is not easy building a great team. It is not easy to be a senior lawyer and realize the younger lawyer working for you has a better idea. In my own practice, as soon as I was able to overcome needing to be “always right,” the quality of work of the team I built around me increased dramatically.
Who is the first person a visitor sees when they enter your office? Believe it or not, that person sets the tone for the rest of the visit. Your clients will either feel special or they will feel nothing.
I would like to share a story with you. Years ago I was coaching lawyers at McMillan Law Firm in Toronto. One day I arrived for coaching. It turned out that on that morning the firm was sponsoring two events at the same time with several people attending each event.
After I arrived, I watched June Ellis greet each person, take their coat and escort them to the correct event. June is the supervisor of client events at McMillan and a real pro. I am not sure any of those who attended remember what was in the firm program, but I bet they remember how June made them feel.
June has a way of making each person who visits her firm think they are the most important person who has ever walked into the firm lobby. She is the ultimate professional, but more importantly she conveys how much she cares. I thought about that each time I went down the elevator at the McMillan offices. Because she was upbeat, I was upbeat.
Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezo could have been talking about June when he said:
We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.
In my current work I go to many law firms both in the US and in Canada. I have been blessed to meet some truly outstanding receptionists. I do not want to list all the ones I love, so if I am working with your firm, share this with your receptionists. Like June, they greet me with a smile and make me feel part of the firm family.
Your clients assume your lawyers know their business, but they make no assumptions about how they will be treated. So, yes, the person who greets your visitors just might be the most important person in your office. Let him, or more likely her, know it.
Finally, you might share this interesting blog: The 12 Most Important Ways to Let People Know They Matter.
Just curious: Do your clients recommend your firm to other businesses in their industry? Your firm and others know that client service is the key to to getting clients to recommend your firm. The problem as I see it, is that law firms “over promise” and “under deliver.”
Does your firm webpage promise to “add value” for clients and claim that firm is “client focused?”
I have seen those phrases on law firm websites for many years. But, most law firms do not convey what those phrases mean. Also, many law firms fall short on implementing these ideas.
Here is a question for you: When was the last time your firm discussed how you could provide “extraordinary” service to your clients?
I have a second question: When was the last time your firm rewarded a lawyer or professional staff member for providing “extraordinary” service?
I recently gave it some thought and wanted to share my ideas with you.
Value Adding Strategies
Some value adding strategies are not new. Some might simply say adding value means “going the extra mile.” But, even that phrase is ambiguous.
- Understand client needs.
- Anticipate your clients needs before they know they have a need.
- Create content clients value and give it away. (I spent a lifetime creating guides and doing in-house workshops for clients.)
- Treat each client, no matter how large or small, like it is the most important firm client.
- Provide top quality as perceived by the clients by understanding their business and needs. (Subscribe to their business publications.)
- Provide superior and timely service. (Price is less of an object when service exceeds expectations.)
- Extraordinary responsiveness. (Clients want the work done right away.)
- When appropriate introduce your clients to other clients with whom they can do business.
- Read what your clients are reading.
- Belong to the organizations your clients belong to.
- Meet frequently with your clients at their place of business. (Don’t always charge the client for these meetings.)
- Figure out what your clients like and don’t like.
- Ask your clients how your firm could serve them better.
- Look for new and innovative ways to serve your clients.
- Treat your client representative like a partner.
- Make sure your younger lawyers learn about the clients for whom they are working.
If you want more of my thoughts, check out my Client Service iBook on Slideshare or you can download it to your iPad from iTunes.
If you read my iBook you will find many Ritz Carlton stories. Did you know that each Ritz Carlton employee participates in a 15-20 minute meeting each day before their shift to talk about customer service.
I wonder what would happen if a law firm held a meeting each day to talk about client service? Somehow, I think clients would notice a difference, and so would your lawyers and staff.
A year ago I was introduced to a young, smart, corporate lawyer in a well-known national law firm. When I met him, I could not help but notice his shoes were not shined and actually had scuff marks. His shoes looked like the one on the left in the photo.
His un-shined shoes made an impression on me that will take a long time to go away. It is the first thing I think about when his name comes to my mind. I wonder if potential clients and referral sources also notice his shoes. If so, he will be forever “branded” as a business lawyer who does not dress like one.
I don’t like the word “brand” to describe lawyers. Yet, we each have a brand. It is what our clients, referral sources, contacts, adversaries and colleagues in our office say about us. What do those folks say about you?
Recently I read the Forbes article by Lisa Quast: Build A Personal Brand, Not Just A Career. I was fascinated by the discussion of Marissa Mayer, Yahoo’s new CEO.
As Google’s 20th employee and first woman engineer, she is a ‘brand.’ Marissa Mayer is the woman that made Google successful.
That is definitely a brand. I urge you to read the entire article and discuss some of the ideas with your colleagues.
When I was building my law practice I wanted my potential clients to think I was:
- The preeminent transportation construction lawyer in the US
- Construction business savvy
- Trusted advisor
- Focused on helping contractors
I never called that a “brand” but it was. For 25 years I wrote a column for Roads and Bridges magazine titled “Law: The Contractor’s Side.” The title of the column itself “branded” me as a contractor’s lawyer.
What do you want your clients to think about you? What is the best way to show them your brand?
As you know I have been regularly posting poetry I like. I have invited readers to send me poems that particularly inspire them. Here is one a reader sent to me, and yes those are the Blue Ridge Mountains taken from a deck in Roanoke, Virginia:
A Creed to Live By
Don’t undermine your worth
by comparing yourself with others.
It is because we are different
that each of us is special.
Don’t set your goals by what
other people deem important.
Only you know what is best for you.
Don’t take for granted the things closest to your heart.
Cling to them as you would your life,
for without them life is meaningless.
Don’t let your life slip through your fingers
by living in the past or for the future,
By living your life one day at a time,
You will live all the days of your life.
Don’t give up when you still have something to give
nothing is really over until the moment you stop trying.
Don’t be afraid to admit that you are less then perfect.
It is a fragile thread that binds each of us to each other.
Don’t be afraid to encounter risks.
It is by taking chances that we learn how to be brave.
Don’t shut love out of your life by saying it impossible to find.
The quickest way to receive love is to give love;
The fastest way to lose love is to hold it too tightly;
And the best way to keep love is to give it wings.
Don’t dismiss your dreams.
To be without dreams is to be without hope;
to be without hope is to be without purpose.
Don’t run through life so fast
that you forget not only where you have been
but also where you are going.
Life is not a race,
but a journey to be savored each step of the way.
— Nancye Sims
I especially like the idea about life being a journey to be savored each step along the way. I came home last night after spending several days in Toronto. On Tuesday night after I arrived, my friend took me to dinner at Giancarlo Trattoria, in Little Italy. I spent Wednesday and Thursday coaching a group of highly motivated lawyers. On Thursday morning I had breakfast with two lawyers I coached in 2005. Finally, after landing at DFW, I had a romantic dinner with Nancy. So, I loved the journey this week.
I recently met PJ Dunn when he visited my office. We hit it off right away and enjoyed telling each other stories. At one point in his career, PJ sold advertising to law firms for the Dallas Business Journal. He knows how to sell without coming across as a salesman.
As soon as I met PJ, I knew he could share some valuable tips that you can implement. I asked him to do a guest blog and I hope this is the first of a series. After you read this, if you have a topic you would like for PJ to address here, please let me know.
The door opens to the elevator. You step off and grab the brass handle to the all glass door. You are now in the office of a potential dream client and you are on time. Kudos! However, your stomach is in knots, your nerves are tense like the muscles on an Olympic runner who is in the blocks waiting for the sound of the gun.
You swallow intensely and then the thought hits you. I didn’t go to law school to be a salesman. True enough, however you now have to compete with all the other three or four name law firms in town who pretty much have comparable skills to yours, and frighteningly perhaps more.
In the sales world I am a card carrying eighteen year veteran. Many days did old man experience teach me some valuable lessons that I still keep close to the vest today. My favorite one (which addresses the scenario described above) is the concept of “setting the table.”
Here are some thoughts: Imagine you have first time guests coming over for dinner. Notice how you ‘set the table’ so as to make everything comfortable, handy, and without complication.
You not only have clean and interesting plate ware on hand, but also napkins and a drink reservoir filled to capacity so that no one has to get up once you engage in the meal. All the tools you will need to eat the meal are at arm’s reach.
A gracious host will even ask if the temperature in the room is preferred. All of this takes place to insure that the dining experience at your home is a comfortable and natural event.
When you are engaging in a natural event there is no need to be nervous, tense, or anxious. You are the most influential version of yourself, in part because you are doing something that is natural to you. But, you might think the analogy breaks down since you are going to the client’s office, and not the other way around.
As valid as this point is, it is also a valid point that you can still have the ‘set the table’ mentality no matter whose turf you are on. Think about how you can ‘set the table’ when you visit a potential client.
How would you ‘set the table’ at your clients office? Consider the five components of ‘setting the table’ from a business based scenario.
- Get the client to relax, ( Be aware of how they are projecting, smile, speak in clear tones, be mindful of your body language, be humble )
- Establish the agenda and get to it, ( ask if it is okay to get started, let them know you are equally interested in being a good steward of time )
- Seek the clients input early and often, ( it’s a must to understand your clients issue as they experience it )
- What obstacles might we face? ( the client knows their in-house politics better than you, help them think through it with you there )
- Now what? ( Once everyone is in agreement that the discussion has been fruitful, indicate that you are ready for their commitment )
The sure fire way to get rid of knotted stomachs and anxious behavior is to remove the variables that cause them. Fear of the unknown doesn’t bother the mature seller because ‘setting the table’ helps keep him or her not only in control but in a natural friendly way.
Lawyers I coach frequently ask me what clients want in tough economic times. It is a great question. I sometimes respond: “in the current economy clients want better results and service and they want to pay less for it.” There is some truth in my response given that companies are trying desperately to reduce their outside legal costs.
Clearly clients want the results they expect you to get, but that is the minimum of what they expect. One lawyer I coach shared with me that one of his clients wanted templates of legal documents so they could do some of the work in-house themselves.
Another lawyer I coach mentioned that clients want us to focus on:
- Helping them save money on their outside legal cost.
- Accountability-meaning they want us to meet or exceed any commitments we make and want no surprises from us. This means we must timely advise them of any changes when they occur.
I have been thinking about what clients want for a long time. To the list above, I would add that inside counsel want us to listen more effectively, want us to see things they do not have time to see and want us to help them do their job and look good in front of their management.
They also want us to help make their job easier. During a coaching session, a lawyer I coached asked what he could do to make his in-house lawyer’s job less stressful. After listening, I suggested that he create an extranet site for his largest client’s assistant general counsel. The site enabled his client contact to keep up with what was going on in each of the matters he was handling for her company on a 24/7 basis.
What do your clients and client representatives really want? If you don’t know you might simply ask: What can I do to help make your job less stressful?
Do you have a plan to expand relationships with existing clients? Going back a long time, lawyers and law firms have called existing clients the “low hanging fruit.” So, do you have any “low-hanging fruit plan?”
Years ago Seth Godin posted a blog titled: The magic of low-hanging fruit.It is worth reading again now several years later.
I have done many presentations for law firms at their retreats on Expanding Relationships with Existing Clients. You can check out one of my retreat presentations: Cross-Serving. In that presentation, I share that the starting point of doing it effectively is to know your clients. In 2013 it is easier than ever before using the internet. But, it is also more important than ever before to get up from your desk and go visit your clients-on your nickel.
I tried to visit my clients offices or construction projects regularly. I wanted to always be in the loop and also be at the top of their mind if a problem occurred. I believe my clients appreciated my visits and so will yours.
I love this Oprah Winfrey quote:
I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.
Take a minute. Think about 5 years from now, 10 years from now. Describe what would be your dream law practice. What kind of work are you doing? Who are your clients? I did that in 1978 at a point where I was just doing the work other lawyers handed me.
I realized that my future and happiness practicing law depended on me creating a compelling future-something that would energize me even during the most difficult times.
Many years ago in the early 90s I read Anthony Robbins book: Awaken the Giant Within. I got many ideas from the book that I have used personally and suggest you consider reading it. Here is a photo of my copy.
If you only have time to read one chapter, read: The Magnificent Obsession-Creating a Compelling Future. In that chapter, Robbins describes many lawyers I know:
Many people (lawyers I know) in life know what (career and client development activities) they should do, but they never do it. The reason is that they’re lacking the drive that only a compelling future can provide.
Later Robbins says:
You’re not lazy! You just have impotent goals!
Describe your compelling future. If, it is indeed, compelling, then you will have the motivation you need to go after it.