Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post #924

Cross-Selling: The Ever-Persistent Wet Dream Strategy

Let me be emphatic – Cross-selling does NOT work!  Nevertheless, last week I happened upon another of these articles entitled ‘This is your Secret Weapon for Cross Selling.” And I was particularly struck when reading the last Thomson Reuters Law Firm Business Leaders Report, which asked: "What steps is your firm most likely to take to improve performance and strategy?" (with 24 choices). 

The resounding #1choice  – by 87% of firm leaders – INCREASE Cross Selling!

Time for a confession. Many decades back I developed the first video-based training program to teach lawyers client relations and business development skills, ultimately used by over 300 firms globally. The program was called Rainmaking® and one of the 14 modules covered Cross-Selling. But in researching the results we discovered that while it helped lawyers acquire the conversational skill (what do I say and especially if my client poses an objection) there were all kinds of non-skill related impediments, like:
- What do I do if you screw up my relationship or the client likes you more?
- How do I protect my clients if we part company and I leave the firm?
- How do I adequately describe what you do and what value you deliver?
- What financial compensation is in this for me?
- And with very few exceptions, most clients don’t like hearing sales pitches from their lawyers about anything, particularly unrequested services. As one GC expressed it, “My lawyer comes in, asks how their firm is doing and then wants to immediately introduce me to some other partner and tell me about their newest service offering.” 

Perhaps the most prominent reason cross selling doesn't work is the lack of true client focus. When you approach the issue motivated by self-interest, you're unlikely to have many productive conversations. Don't you think they can detect what's really driving your interest in the subject?

Meanwhile, this same Thomson Reuters Law Firm Business Leaders Report asked: Where is your anticipated growth going to come from in 2022 – and then listed traditional 23 Practice Areas. They did NOT think in terms of INDUSTRIES!  As one Big4 Partner said to me, “Accountants focus on industries which is client centered. Lawyers focus on practices, which is self-centered." In a proper industry group you have various practice disciplines all working together.

So my advice for cracking the code on cross-selling – Pursue an industry group focused approach which allows:
- you to just naturally explore deep discussions into the client’s broader and larger challenges to view the client’s situation more holistically; and learn about the critical issues, the people involved, and how decisions get made; and allows
- the client to see how your various areas of expertise connect to one another with little explanation; and match how that client is thinking about their business issues.

Now is that so hard?

Post #923 


You Thought You Displayed Thought Leadership - Think Again!

An intriguing research study clearly shows that senior corporate executives want thought leadership . . . tailored to their needs, and in particular they want it tailored to their INDUSTRY. From a survey of over 500 senior executives compiled by the insightful Grist ( team, 91% RESPONDED that "thought leadership is either critical or important to their decision-making when appointing an advisor."

These executives immediately review the industry specializations, service offerings and capabilities of the professional services firm creating the thought leadership. Given a choice, 71% PREFER an INDUSTRY FOCUS, which has massive implications. For example, if you were to examine any law firm’s website that identifies “Thought Leadership” you are likely to find a sub-listing of Publications, Blogs, Videos, Events, Webinars and Podcasts; but nowhere would you find industry break-down specifics. It’s all just one hodge-podge that prospects and clients are expected to sort through. Yeah right!

Not surprisingly, Grist’s research found that senior executives across 10 different industries DIFFERED in what they were looking for. By way of example, the Automotive executives were more focused on the short-term and value the views of their customers; while in Banking, emerging trends are more important when evaluating the expertise of advisors. Those in the Telecom industry value forward thinking less than all other industries, but opinions more; and in Manufacturing an edge over competitors is more important than best practices. 

Overall, the most valued qualities in thought leadership today are forward thinking, action-oriented and fresh thinking (see attached illustration). The top reasons these senior executives consume thought leadership are to enable them to make better decisions; evaluate the expertise and insight of potential advisors; help them understand best practice; gain a competitive edge; and keep informed of emerging trends.

> PRESCRIPTIVE ACTION: to be perceived as a valuable thought leader you need to create original, fresh content that inspires and educates. One of your most powerful strategies is to instigate proprietary research involving members of the industry you are most interested in influencing. Do that by developing and distributing a formal survey or by initiating interviews with members of a particular targeted industry (or industry micro-niche). Your goal is to solicit C-Suite opinions, learn about their critical issues, and identify specific pain points. The results can then be used to draft thought leadership content offering new insights and fresh thinking, which you can overlay with your industry team’s own remedial approaches, deep expertise and unique point of view.



Post #922 

Synthetic Biology May Disrupt Your Client’s Industry.

What would you say to one of your best clients when they ask, “What do you know about synthetic biology?”  I’ll bet shrugging your shoulders isn’t going to cut it.

At a fundamental level, synthetic biology (or syn-bio) is the synthesis of complex, biologically based systems, which display functions that do not exist in nature. According to Meagan Lizarazo, at iGEM, a non-profit foundation advancing syn-bio innovation, it is a $40 billion industry.

For an insightful perspective one could turn to Dr. Alison McLennan, author of 'Regulation of Synthetic Biology.' Alison explores the interplay between regulation and emerging technologies in the context of syn-bio, a field that has already yielded biofuels and medicines made with designer micro-organisms. For law firms this field offers opportunities to help clients in intellectual property; environmental; regulatory; risk assessment; biosafety and biosecurity among other areas. For clients, such legal challenges related to biotechnology will be unfamiliar, and strategies relied upon by traditional biotechnology companies may not be a good fit.

Synthetic Biology represents what I have come to label a TECH-DRIVEN HYBRID in that it can be a technology disruptor to many conventional industries such that if you are serving clients in a particular industry, you do not want to be the attorney who is asked “What do you know about Synthetic Biology?” and not have an answer. According to the Boston Consulting Group, “CEOs the world over must come to grips with this fascinating technology right away, especially since business and science have tended to operate in separate spheres UNTIL NOW.”

Here are some brief examples where the application of engineering principles to biology via manipulation of DNA are already having an impact:
• Industrial Chemicals – engineering bacteria to produce paints / adhesives / cleaners
• BioFuels – new renewable energy sources from microbes
• Bio-Leaching – extract metals from underground deposits using microorganisms
• Software – more efficiently designed DNA sequencing (e.g. CRISPR editing)
• AgriBusiness – enzymes to improve crop yields / pest resistance
• Consumer Products – manufacturing bacteria capable of producing collagen which is then bundled to produce a leather hide
• Synthetic Meats – with over 70 companies experiencing rapid growth
• Food and Drink – production of synthetic wine without grapes
• HealthCare – discovery of new pharmaceuticals, treatment diagnostics

This particular micro-niche even has its own annual international forum for experts engaged in syn-bio research, commercialization, investment and policymaking. SynBiTech 2022 will be held this June in London, focused on key opportunities and challenges for building a multibillion-dollar industry. The previous event included over 60 presenters … not a single lawyer at the podium — a true sign of this still being an “emerging” micro-niche opportunity.

Post #921

How Integrated Are You in Your Client’s Industry?

I have learned from some of the best rainmakers that the most fertile ground for building their practice within any given industry is through active trade association membership. That assertion should be obvious to anyone interested in developing a Go-To presence within a given industry, but I rarely see evidence of action. In fact, when I inquire as to which industry or trade associations the members of any industry group are active within, I will rarely elicit more than one association name and that association is usually the prized possession of one of the most senior partners in the group – “so it’s taken.”

This assumes that any given industry will only have one association representing industry participants. But as I outlined in a previous article on how industries splinter into numerous sub-industries (GET GRANULAR), there may indeed be a larger number of sub-industry groupings. The attached Ag and Food Industry illustration is one example showing 22 sub-industries groups comprising over 57 various trade groups.

Let’s remember just a few of the BENEFITS from being active in any Industry Organization:
can enhance your professional reputation as evidenced by your investment of time and energy in being actively involved;
offers opportunities to work with members on projects that increase your profile and exposure;
offers a framework to connect with C-Suite decision-makers;
provides a sounding board for identifying and exploring common problems that you can help with;
helps you understand the internal dynamics and language of the industry, and develop your skills through participating in industry-specific educational events;
keeps you informed of emerging trends – how the industry is growing and changing.

Meanwhile, here are some PRESCRIPTIVE ACTIONS to consider taking:
• Identify a significant problem, from the latest regulatory hurdle to disruptive consumer expectations, of great concern to member companies.
• Author and provide industry members with a prescriptive White Paper or Case Study to position yourself as a thought leader on the specific issue. 
(The association may have a listserv or email directory of members that share an interest in this chosen topic.)
• Inquire of the association whether they would host, and also participate and contribute content to, a Webinar for member firms to detail action plans and answer member’s questions to help address this issue.
• Compile a target list of members and their particular issues as your best prospects.  Explore offering in-house presentations for this group at one of their C-suite meetings or perhaps via webinar (or both).
• Consider engaging in joint marketing with one of the association’s other (non-competing) professional service member firms, that also has interests in serving this particular industry.

SO, get out there and get involved in these many Industry Associations!


Post #920

Should Lawyers Have an Ethical Obligation To Be Efficient?


I happened upon a insightful post on Artificial Lawyer posing a similar question:


What if lawyers had an ethical obligation to be efficient, and that failing to work as efficiently as ‘reasonably possible’ could lead to disbarment and/or financial penalties? One thing is for certain, market change would be hugely accelerated.”


This was followed by a lengthy discussion on what is meant by being efficient and what would an efficiency rule look like and how technology might be involved.


As you might well expect if you have read any of my rants about this obsession with efficiency rather than effectiveness, I could not contain myself.  So I posted the following:


“Ask a group of partners to (anonymous poll) respond to this question: "What percentage of your work could you delegate to a junior to do, given that the junior was trained to do the work with quality?" Now prepared to be shocked by the answer. I have personally done this at retreats dozens of times and the average is about 70%!

Now STOP the bullshit about Efficiency and just impose a non-negotiable rule: "Any client matter that COULD be delegated, MUST be delegated - or your billable numbers will be stripped out of your personal column.”


Now I can report that there are a couple of firms that I’m aware of that have imposed this policy knowing that anything short of being this specific about the required behavior will only be gamed by smart lawyers.


Could a firm implementing and promoting such a policy win the favor of clients and meaningfully differentiate themselves?  

What do you think? 

Post #919 


Going The Next Step: Multidisciplinary Industry Teams

(this is an excerpt from my new book – Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant)


Many, if not most, of the complex situations for which clients employ professional firms are inherently multidisciplinary. For example, if I am going to build a new commercial real estate park, I am likely to need expert advice on law, finance, tax, economics, engineering, environmental considerations and a whole host of additional disciplines. 

Meanwhile, according to a report by LexisNexis Legal & Professional, the Big Four accounting firms are cornering the market on solutions, rather than advice. 

“Our strategy is very much rooted in the needs of the client to be offered solutions and not just advice,” says Emily Foges, Lead Partner for Legal Managed Services at Deloitte. “The vision for Deloitte Legal has always been that you bring together high-quality legal advice with legal management consulting, legal managed services and legal technology. This way you can provide a complete end-to-end service to the client and achieve the outcomes they are looking for, not just give them advice on those outcomes.” 

Over the course of working with the leader and members of a number of Industry Groups wherein we are discussing and exploring the team’s future growth strategies, amongst a deliberate sequence of questions that I’ve posed, includes this one . . . 


May I invite you to read the remainder of this article in the newly released issue of Legal Business World starting on page 38     PDF: 

Post #918


My Newest Book 


“Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant”  

I am pleased to report a total online readership of just over 12,000 in the three weeks since it was released, according to metrics just reported to me from Legal Business World.

Post #917


Professor Gabe Teninbaum in Today’s Lawtomatic Newsletter 

graciously commented:


Patrick McKenna has a terrific new book. 

There are two things I especially liked about it: first, he's been helping law firms become more effective and efficient for a long while, and he shares several anecdotes in the book that support his theories.

Second, it's actionable: there are concrete steps that anyone can take once they've read it.

Post #916 


How Industry Specialization Can Help Firms Get Ahead

Aebra Coe at Law360 kindly interviewed me on the release of my new book, encouraging law firms to more aggressively approach an industry sector-focused strategy . . .

In the book, titled "Industry Specialization: Making Competitors Irrelevant," McKenna points to the virtues of organizing a law firm by industry group as opposed to practice area and lays out how firms can do so.

According to McKenna, most law firms fall short when it comes to industry specialization.

"For too many of these firms any pretense of having a real industry focus is simply a list of industries displayed on their website, without any recognition that perhaps the clients can discern the difference," McKenna said in an interview with Law360 Pulse on the new book.

Here, McKenna shares his thoughts on how to best approach industry specialization as a law firm and how to market that expertise to clients. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Post #915 – January 26, 2022

Will More Law Firms Follow This Example?


Reed Smith, in looking to add perspectives from outside of the legal industry to guide its strategic thinking, just appointed three business executives to a special independent advisory board.  Apparently this board will work with the global managing partner and the rest of the firm’s senior management team.

In a discussion with American Lawyer’s Dan Packell, I reported that while this may sound “unprecedented” within the legal profession, it is quite common amongst the larger accounting firms. In fact my research indicates that those broad industry groupings most likely to engage in having a formal Advisory Board include Professional Services - 41%; Industrial and Resources – 19%; and Health and Life Sciences – 11%; 
with some 90% reporting a positive impact.

Meanwhile, it’s reported that a number of law firms, particularly in the U.K., have begun bringing on individual independent directors, who are not lawyers, to join their boards.  In published comments, I suggested that the addition of outside advisers would likely help law firms expand their “cognitive diversity” and that the next step for Reed Smith  would be to transition this group, after the board becomes comfortable, making them a natural part of their monthly meetings. Then we’re talking about a significant achievement.” 

So what do you think?  Do we have some more law firms who are ready to join in making this kind of an innovative move?

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