Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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Post #928

Lucrative Emerging Industry Micro-Niches I’m Watching

If your firm serves clients in any Industry, get GRANULAR and dig deeper to examine what experience you already have and what opportunities exist to explore numerous, potentially lucrative micro-niches like these:

Health Care – FEMTECH
My research indicates that there are 800+ FemTech companies; tech-enabled, consumer-centric solutions addressing women’s health. FemTech provides a wide range of solutions to improve healthcare for women across a number of female-specific conditions, with estimates for FemTech’s current market size range from $500 million to $1 billion. Forecasts suggest opportunities for double-digit revenue growth.

One very fast growing niche is automated vehicles, developed for both private use as well as being trialed for commercial transit. We now have driverless (and flying) cars, freight trucks, drones, airplanes, boats and so forth. Road regulations, insurance and laws will need to be adapted. There will still be accidents, and therefore, who's liable when self-driving vehicles make a mistake is a question that’s being debated.

Financial Services – BUY NOW, PAY LATER (BNPL)
As the Covid-19 pandemic drove unprecedented levels of e-commerce shopping, “buy now, pay later” (BNPL) — saw a huge boost while credit card balances dropped to their lowest point since 2017.  Currently, BNPL still reflects a small portion of the overall spending on payment cards (including credit, debit, and prepaid cards), an industry that sees roughly $8T in annual spend volume. But BNPL startups — including Affirm, Klarna, and Afterpay — saw record-setting amounts of funding and deals in 2021. This micro-niche is expected to grow 10-15x to top $1T in annual gross merchandise volume by 2025. 

Renewable (Green) Energy – HYDROGEN
Hydrogen is the most abundant material in the universe and produces close to zero greenhouse gas emissions when burnt and is likely to become the de facto clean energy source in long-range, high-usage transportation and stationary markets. Think trucks, ships, planes, forklifts, and data centers. Air Products announced intentions to build a $4.5 billion blue hydrogen production facility in Louisiana while Mitsubishi committed to developing widespread hydrogen infrastructure across the U.S.  Fresno-based Yosemite Clean Energy produces greener hydrogen and natural gas from farm and forest wood waste. 

Augmented reality is a technology with vast potential in a variety of manufacturing-related fields. AR headsets and goggles allow technicians and engineers to overlay schematics and assembly instructions overtop the real world. Consider an automobile at a certain stage of assembly. Assemblers equipped with AR can see detailed, “exploded” views of the car within their field of vision.


Post #927


The Mindset of a Good INDUSTRY FOCUSED Lawyer.

In-depth expertise in your clients' industry inherently attracts more interest in your advice and counsel, but there are some other things to keep in mind.

It's about Providing Total Business Solutions and NOT just Solving Legal Problems.
The best don't just offer advice on legal questions; they are able to connect their expertise and the counsel of their industry focused colleagues to help the client achieve a total turnkey solution. Clients expect you to know your business, but what really matters to them is how much you know theirs. You should be able to articulate specifically how your solutions can help the client achieve the success they are striving for.

Get to Business Solutions of Value, by Digging Deep.
You should be aware of problems your clients face that you can help them with and get involved EARLY in shaping solutions. This is when you can offer some of your most valuable advice. You cannot be shy or reluctant to explore with your client the tangential issues that go beyond the scope of some current legal matter. That would be like a Physician who only treats your headache, but neglects to examine any contributing factors. While you may not want to be viewed as fishing for further work, if you stop advising your client because it is not within the expressed scope of their current need, don’t be surprised if they look for someone to provide more holistic counsel.

Share Your Thinking.
Lawyers are taught how to devise the best remedy to the legal problem, but don't always see the value of sharing the thought process that goes into formulating a proposed course of action. Yet the evidence is clear that a trusted business advisor is valued for their thinking, not just their answers. What does an industry focused mindset entail? It starts with a deep curiosity that leads to a habit of continuous learning. To complement your strong analytical skills, you recognize the need to appropriately frame the problems or opportunities you're trying to provide counsel on, in a broader context than the limits of your expertise.  You are driven to determine not simply what needs to be done from just a legal perspective, but what ultimately needs to be accomplished — with your success defined not by how well you performed, but by the outcomes you help the client achieve.

Give your Clients What They “NEED.”
Some mistake client service as giving clients what they want. That's the order-taker mindset. Trusted Industry focused advisers are more concerned with giving clients what they need. Sometimes, this may involve some persuasion – but persuasion based on deep industry knowledge. You don't help the client achieve success without being willing to push back at times and argue for a better way. It's hard for clients to learn to trust your point of view if you shrink back from it whenever the client is thinking otherwise.

Agree or disagree with my observations?
PLEASE share your experiences.


Post #926


Dealing With Partners - Who Do NOT Want to Play on an Industry Team.

I received the following question from a firm leader: 
When one attempts to organize their firm into a few chosen Industry Teams, how do you handle partners who do not want to work in industry teams or feel neglected because their personal practice doesn’t seem to fit?

The merit of having an industry focus is that it forces firms to concentrate attention on a few selected industries – preferably those in which you have a position of recognized strength. This means that lawyers in other practices can feel left out. How you deal with those partners may determine the success of your commitment to industries.

The initial reaction from any partner who doesn’t feel included is often to withdraw from communication, boycott selective meetings, or even delay performing certain activities. They are attempting to gain credibility for their position by demanding management’s attention. As crass as it may sound, your best approach is to treat them as you would a pouting child. Continue to invite them to participate in firm activities, but don’t offer sympathy. It is important to CONSTANTLY communicate and DEMONSTRATE how the success of any industry group will benefit everyone – in terms of additional referral work and overall profitability. 

At some point you can probably expect some partners to attack the basic logic of focusing on industries. Any assumptions made in the creation of your reorganization, any statistics or financial information may all be challenged. In the extreme, the credibility of those on your Management or Executive Committee may be brought into question. Arguing toe-to-toe rarely works. Your best approach is to express confidence and offer partners the opportunity to review any of the factual information used.  

It is also powerful to share real commentary (questionnaire or video interview feedback) from your firm’s ACTUAL clients, citing the importance of their lawyers having an industry focus.

In some extreme circumstances, practice groups aggrieved by the focus on industry teams may attempt to become obstructive by failing to cooperate and share information, disregarding basic procedures and scheduling conflicting meetings, events and activities. Fortunately, such obstructionism is so extreme that it does not occur very often. When it does, it is usually short-lived. This is because it is so obviously counterproductive for the firm that it fails to gain attention or sympathy for the position of those involved.

In the best of all circumstances, it won’t take long before visible client-sharing occurs between the industry team receiving strategic attention and any practice that is not. This is, of course, what your reorganization was envisioned to create.  

In fairness, I should note that there are firms in which none of these disruptive behaviors occur and everyone realizes that driving the firm to focus on client industries is in everyone’s best interests.


Post #925

Are Your Rates in Keeping with INDUSTRY Standards?

In the typical corporate legal department, matters exceeding $1 million in outside legal spend account for about 61% of the total sent to outside law firms in any given year. A new Wolters Kluwer report showed notable differences in rates paid by different clients – based on that client’s INDUSTRY:

Financial Institutions       $ 620 / hour
Industrials                            566 / hour
Consumer Service               523 / hour 
Health Care                           519 / hour            
Tech and Telecom                513 / hour
Consumer Goods                 430 / hour
Insurance                              229 / hour

That said, I’m always curious as to how much attention is paid to client fee sensitivity.  For example, here are a 
FEW QUESTIONS to ponder when next contemplating fees with your clients:

- What is the business purpose of the engagement? (if the objective is to correct or remediate a problem, the client may be more price sensitive than if the desired outcome is the realization of a gain)

- Where does this engagement fall within the corporate hierarchy? (engagements that have board of directors or c-suite visibility are less price sensitivity)

- How important is it for your client to realize a successful result? (results that have small impact on a client’s profitability tend to be more price sensitive)

- Who’s paying the bill? (matters where the client’s cost is shared by another company or insurance, or are subject to court or agency review tend to be more price sensitive)

- How difficult is it for your client to find a competing firm with the expertise to do this work? (the more SPECIALIZED the matter, the less fee sensitive)

- How well does your client know what other law firms charge for the services being sought? (clients without a point of reference tend to be less fee sensitive)

- How much importance does the client place on having a high name recognition firm and are you such a firm? (price sensitive clients tend not to care about prestige)

- Was the client the first to initiate the conversation about fees? (if the client initiates fee conversations or offers a fee agreement, it is a sure sign of high price sensitivity)
TAKEAWAY: I found these differences in rates paid between Industries quite interesting.  Do you know what they are within your firm?


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: 

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