Firm Leadership

Rants, Raves, Rebuttals, Reflections, Revelations & Ruminations

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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?

Post #914 – January 20, 2022

Do You Know the Biggest Mistake Many Firms are Making Today? 

Today, more than ever, prospects are searching for subject matter experts and trusted advisors to help solve their problems. So, for you to be successful, it takes focus, specialization, recognition and authority to stand-out in an overcrowded, highly competitive legal market with risk-avoiding, impatient buyers who can find numerous alternative providers in short order (and I’ll show you the research evidence).

In other words, you need to have a deep understanding of the critical business challenges, speak the language and have experience in solving the pain points of your targeted clients – most effectively by way of having first-hand industry knowledge. 


- the 12 best diagnostic questions to evaluate whether you have a genuine industry focus;
- steps to take to form a new industry group; 
- the best ways to have your people explore any industry’s revenue and growth potential;
- 7 steps to take to make your industry group efforts worthwhile;
- common failings that clients observe and discuss amongst themselves;
- 4 different kinds of meetings capable of producing high performance with your industry group; 
- 12 actions to position yourselves as recognized industry thought leaders; 
- 10 actions to effectively monitor industry trends;
- what to do if a chosen industry initiative falters;
- how to utilize sales professionals in representing your industry team to the marketplace; 
- how to develop a truly multidisciplinary industry team;
AND so much more (17 Chapters / 290 Pages)

Here is what a couple of this eBook’s initial reviewers had to say: 

Your content is absolutely on point and reflects much of our experience over the past 8 years after we aligned our firm into industry business units (with full P&L responsibility).
- Paul Eberle, Chief Executive – HUSCH BLACKWELL LLP 

The tone and directness really appealed to me. “Do this, don’t do that. Think about this, don’t forget that” is exactly what is needed and can only come from years and years and the many firms you have seen succeed or fail. No shortcuts, no magic wands but a logical, sustained and committed approach – is what’s called for. 
- Gillian Ward, Global Chief Marketing Officer – BRYAN CAVE LEIGHTON PAISNER 

Can Make A Meaningful Difference to Your Firm’s Competitive Position. 

Post # 913 – January 17, 2022

The Big Four Are COMING For You; So When Are We Going To Learn?


Ernest & Young’s EY Law has just laid out some ambitious growth plans for its legal business. It declared that they are aiming to add up to 800 lawyers over the coming 3 years. And upon what are they going to base that growth on, you might ask. Philip Goodstone, head of EY Law, in an interview said, “a “big differentiator” for the firm would be its FOCUS ON INDUSTRIES, including the financial services, energy, renewables including ESG, automotive and manufacturing. And from Alan Murphy who heads EY Law Ireland, comes the observation, “I think the Big Four are capable of being very strong competitors to the traditional law firm model, because I think what the Big Four have to offer makes sense to clients.”


What makes sense to clients?  That clients should actually favor firms that demonstrate industry expertise?  Does he not think that his major law firm competitors are not already well entrenched in having an industry focus? Oh, that’s right . . . I guess most really aren’t.


This news should serve to raise significant concerns amongst law firms everywhere about the plans of such powerful market players; but that said, are they even paying attention and if they are, do they understand the strategic approach of these firms focusing on client industries?


One of the major problems is that law firms and lawyers do NOT understand the intricacies of industries. As but one example, The Legal 500 is seeking submissions for its US Ranking of law firm practice and industry groups. The purpose of these rankings is “to help in-house lawyers and legal teams find the right advisors.” Amongst the list of Industries in which you can enter your firm to be considered include “Environmental” and “Native American Law.” Important areas of practice to be sure, but are these really industries and especially when you cannot help but add “Law” to the title? Then their categorizations go on to include “Media, Technology and Telecoms” . . . all lumped together as one industry? Digging deeper you can find “Cyber Law” (there is that “Law” term creeping in again) and “Fintech” included under this heading. 


Meanwhile, following from over 5,000 interviews with top legal decision-makers, my good friend, Michael Rynowecer of the BTI Consulting Group reports that “Understanding Your Client’s Industry is the SINGLE BIGGEST DIFFERENTIATOR among law firms.” 


INDUSTRY BECOMES HIGHLY RELEVANT as it becomes a proxy for understanding many aspects of your client’s business – such as: industry terminology; kinds of products and services offered; industry specific revenue sources and revenue recognition issues; common contractual terms; industry specific laws and regulations; typical business practices; types of talent employed; technologies used; and supply chain structure and practices.


So WHEN Are We Ever Going To Learn?

Post # 912 - January 13, 2022

Alterity ADR Appointment

Alterity ADR is excited to announce the addition of Patrick J. McKenna to our esteemed Advisory Board. As an internationally recognized author, strategist, lecturer, and advisor, Patrick brings a unique perspective to the Advisory Board. With decades of experience in law firm management and marketing, Patrick’s knowledge and expertise will be a valuable addition.

"I am honored to be included as a member of Alterity's esteemed advisory board, especially because I strongly support and believe in Marcie Dickson’s quest to provide a needed service focused on bringing diversity and transparency to dispute resolution."

Read our announcement here:

Post #911 – January 10, 2022

6 GOALS We All Need to Obsess Over.


May I invite you to join me, in giving some thought to -- What am I going to do to . . . 


- Raise my visibility?

And I guess that prompts some related questions: What am I doing to ensure that I get asked to appear at conferences and gatherings of the top people in my chosen field or industry? And, what am I doing to stand out from the common herd?


- Create new intellectual property that will be of value to clients?

One needs to always do a critical assessment of how much of your fee revenue emanates from services that you did not provide five years ago. In other words, are you building your marketable skills or simply doing the same old shtick for your clients and expecting them to pay higher fees for the privilege. 


- Be regarded as THE thought leader in my field? 

When times were hectic the busyness of business trumped everything, but this may be the perfect time to invest in some long delayed, self-development. Is there some CLE that you’ve been putting off registering for or some article that you haven’t had the chance to write?


- Provide new ways for clients to retain and apply my expertise?

Turn your rough notes into a speech, your speech into a booklet, your booklet into a workshop. Offer to facilitate one of your client’s meetings. Make yourself so indispensable that you’re irresistible.

YOU need to become a magnet of YOUR expertise.


- Expand my client base?

Find three ways to do something that will contribute to your client’s business – help them improve their revenue, perform more efficiently or reduce their risks. That changes the question from “Should we do business?” to “How can I best add value?”


- Contribute time to helping others?

The more you help others, the more you’re helped. This is a great time to offer pro bono services, contribute to charities, and provide others with counsel and support.  


NOW is the right moment to block out some time to look forward to jump-start your 2022. You can certainly do this alone, but I’d love for you to do this with your team. As we head into our third year of Covid, perhaps it’s time to get the team together and embrace a new way of thinking: We don’t know what will happen next, or how long this will last, and it does NOT matter. We will get through it, step by step, day by day, by coming together and dealing with what’s in front of us.


The best predictor of future success is action. Let’s do one thing every week. It doesn’t matter how small those actions are. Doing something—doing ANYTHING—is always so much more important than just talking about it. Together, we just might discover a better way – and a more innovative way – a BOLDER way FORWARD. 

Post #910 – January 6, 2022

Let’s Kick Ass in 2022


I have always found that those firm leaders least surprised by the future are continually exploring today’s issues and the various factors that could shape and disrupt how their firms are currently operating. To do this effectively, your cherished assumptions, those long-held ideas and beliefs that have served you well, may need to be retired.  Here are some things to think about:



- What emerging unmet clients needs could provide the foundation for entirely new service offerings?

- What is a game-changing opportunity that could create much more value than we have delivered in the past?

- How could we partner with the resources of some complimentary third party to address a broader range of client needs?

- How can we transition from providing commoditized to cutting-edge services to differentiate our offerings?

- How could we harness technology and leverage data to deliver more value and deepen relationships and trust with clients?



- Always exhibit a desire (and track record) for investing in the future.

- Drive INDUSTRY specialization, the undisputed method to provide client distinctiveness and value.

- Transition from a the conventional ‘solving legal problems’ model to a providing ‘total business solutions’ model.

- Address underperforming partners on a timely basis.

- Ensure that some portion of non-billable time is spent by each partner in building their marketable skills.

- Grow for strategic purposes (getting better business) not simply for volume (getting more business).

- Create a firm-first (our clients vs. my clients) culture.

- Help partners and staff realize that quality work doesn’t necessarily mean quality service.



- Do not declare that intrapreneurial growth is important unless you put resources, metrics and objectives in place to support it.

- Do not encourage people to contribute ideas, engage in brainstorming and other activities unless there is a concrete effort to implement the best ideas, otherwise you demotivate people.

- Do not complain that partners are risk averse only to then blame someone for trying something that did not work.

- Do not appoint a Chief Strategy Officer and think that you have solved your firm’s growth challenges. 

- Do not waste time on flashy gimmicks to encourage innovation but rather focus on eliminating the barriers which are impeding your firm’s innovation efforts.

- Do not tell your partners to be more intrapreneurial but then keep them so busy doing commoditized billable work that they have no time for experimentation.

- Do not miss the opportunity to celebrate success and praise the intrapreneurs within your firm.

Post #909 – January 3, 2022

The Most Lucrative Growth Is Industry Focused: 

But ONLY If You Get Granular

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


We all know intuitively that we need to have our firm grow but the subject of growth can be a tricky topic such that it becomes important to have an informed perspective on how to think about it.  Growth creates healthy practices, strong firms, opens up opportunities, excites and attracts good lateral talent, and rewards partners.  But do we really know how to achieve it?


One approach is to pay attention to which clients you pursue and particularly when you look at clients through an industry lens.  I would argue that in order to truly identify growth opportunities you need to drill well below the traditional industry level.  And I would suggest that those few firms that have focused at all on developing Industry Practices invariably miss-the-boat when they position themselves at too high a level to establish themselves in a manner that really attracts the better potential clients.  


And why does this happen?  Because, and I am not going to blow smoke at you here – law firms and lawyers do NOT understand the intricacies of Industries.


As but one example. even some of the Legal Media that I would expect to know better, have me shaking my head.  The Legal 500 is seeking submissions for its US Ranking of law firm practice and industry groups.  The purpose of these rankings is “to help in-house lawyers and legal teams find the right advisors.”  Amongst the list of Industries in which you can enter your firm to be considered include “Environmental” and “Native American Law.”  Important areas of practice to be sure, but are these really industries and especially when you cannot help but add “Law” to the title?  Then their categorizations go on to include “Media, Technology and Telecoms” . . . all lumped together as one industry?  Digging deeper you can find “Cyber Law” (there is that “Law” term creeping in again) and “Fintech” included under this heading.  


Little wonder when it comes to understanding industries, that some of our law firms seem confused!


You are welcome to read the remainder of this article in the latest issue of Legal Business World page 38: 



Post #909 – December 16, 2021

REVISITING: Making A Shockingly Unimpressive Impact


Further to last Thursday’s post, I’ve now been in touch with the Editor of the magazine in question and done some sleuthing. You will remember I posted about 4 elite firm leaders, who in individual published interviews were asked about how they differentiated their firm and their answers lacked much real substance. I did not identify the firms because it was not my intent to embarrass.

What surprised me with that post, was some marketing professionals trying to either rationalize that this was probably some obscure publication or suggest that a law firm leader should not be interested in being profiled in any CEO publication.

So, I’ve now discovered that these leaders interfaced directly with the Magazine Editor who informed me in writing that when working with any firm leader . . . "we would send the proposed questions to you and work with you on the areas of focus for your profile. The questions may be answered in writing and we will send a final PDF back for review and approval prior to publication."  
From what I could discern these firm leaders are definitely authoring, reviewing and approving their own material with the intent of getting it in front of Corporate CEOs.

Nevertheless, from one reader I was told “Given all that is on the agendas of the leaders of elite law firms I find it hard to believe that they would do anything with this request, but forward it to one of their able CMOs who would supervise the drafting of the response.” 
Are we talking about one of those $1m salaried CMOs?

I also heard, “As to whether CEOs read these interviews, I have NO reason to believe they do.”  
Maybe not.  But I’ve now been informed by the Editor that “we distribute 10,000 copies in addition to the digital version and we have an exclusive distribution platform reaching C-suite executives and private jet travelers."

Still can’t believe a firm leader would be interested in having their interview published to connect with CEOs? 
REALITY TIME: I've now discerned that this is really a PAY-To-PLAY exercise!
We have elite firm leaders each investing $10K+ to have a two-page glossy interview published . . . that no one is going to read? 

Meanwhile, the distinguished, former Editor of a major legal publication asked if I might disclose the names of these firms.  
My response: “Now if someone who has covered our industry for over 15 years, resides in NYC, and knows these firms better than most anyone I can think of, cannot decipher one firm leader's answer from another - I guess that says it all, doesn't it?

To those Firm Leaders or CMOs reading this: 
It could be highly productive to formulate a MEANINGFUL answer to this Editor’s initial question (which was really all this posting was meant to highlight): 
“How do you define your difference and what sets your firm apart in the industry?”

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