Where is the Training?

In Altman Weil‘s 2017 survey on “Law Firms in Transition” which could be renamed, “Law Firms in Stagnation,” 386 law firms submitted data that depicts a sad state of business development in the legal industry. As I read the survey, from my particular perspective as a business developer, I had one recurring question: Where is the training?

In the survey of 386 law firms, 88% said they have “chronically underperforming lawyers,” and of that 88%, 82% identified “weak business development skills” as a key factor.

Forty-five percent rated their partners’ awareness of the challenges in the legal market as low. And at least 11 firms reported that their partners’ “willingness to change” was 0 on a scale of 0-10.

Although the question wasn’t specifically asked, none of the firms reported that they were taking specific steps to train any of their lawyers in business development.

Seventy percent of respondents reported that they had invested more in (undefined) business development, but only 29% say it has helped. Sadly, this is no surprise. It is still common for law firms to allocate resources to marketing and business development, but grossly underutilize those assets.

Lawyers routinely get trained in how to use the tools in the firm – the telephones, email, document management, time & billing, Westlaw – all resources they can’t get through the day without. Yet, training on how to cultivate clients – the lifeblood of the firm – is absent. Even firms with full-service marketing departments often make training voluntary.

One reason this disconnect exists is because leadership is not able to define what business development is, or they define it too narrowly. A good law firm business development program has multiple, integrated components – starting with high-level staff that has a “seat at the table.” Training, and access to good competitive intelligence, is crucial to a good program. Competitive intelligence gives clear understanding of what competing law firms are doing and what’s trending on the client side. Armed with this kind of knowledge, lawyers begin to understand that they are operating in a marketplace.

noun  mar·ket·place \ˈmär-kət-ˌplās\

the economic system through which different companies compete with each other to sell their products

Lawyers who cling to the idea that the mere mention of the firm name carries enough prestige to get hired and continue engagements are lagging behind. This antiquated attitude is self defeating, as if recognizing and responding to competition turns the learned profession into a meager occupation. Hence the recrimination, “You are running this law firm like a business!”

The resistance to thinking like a business illustrates the paradox of lawyers’ attitudes as, alas, most of their clients are involved in business, at least in some way. The ostrich-like response to market pressures does not serve a law firm or its clients. When I hear, “I didn’t go to law school to become a salesman,” or “I don’t want to engage in shameless marketing,” I know that’s a cop-out that comes from a place of fear. The only way to conquer that fear is to acknowledge it and provide the tools and training to overcome it.

In the business models of most law firms, the cost of establishing a comprehensive business development system is relatively low, but the cost of not doing so is extremely high. Passivity in this area is not sustainable. Training in the business development system should go hand-in-hand with training in any other law firm system. To practice law is to develop legal skills throughout a career. Developing business requires career-long practice as well.

There are abundant resources law firms can avail themselves of to train lawyers to generate business, serve clients and contribute to the bottom line. Dialing lawyers in to modern business practices is imperative if firms want to thrive.

Other fun facts from the survey:

  • 18.2% said “We don’t want to use data because it’s potentially controversial or divisive.”
  • 15.7% said “We don’t know how to use the data effectively in management decisions.”
  • 8.5% said “We don’t produce any profitability data.”

Step One: Start Now

There are lots of reasons lawyers should have a strategic business plan.

Here are three: 1) It will formalize ideas and concepts, 2) It will keep you focused, and 3) It will help you establish timelines.

Effective strategic plans are less about form and more about substance, and they must include the future vision for the firm. Development of realistic, achievable business plans ensure successful outcomes.

But where do I start? 

The best place to start is to evaluate where you are now. How are you positioned in the market? How do your clients see you? What are your strengths and weaknesses, and what threats and opportunities are emerging in the marketplace?

Typically, a business plan is created with sequential steps that build toward measurable goals. A business plan also needs the participation of most everyone; it cannot be completed without the buy-in of colleagues and leadership. Hiring an experienced coach to guide you through your plan development and execution will help ensure positive outcomes.

Coaching for individual lawyers, practices and firm leadership isn’t new, but it has become much more mainstream as law firms realize the business case for supporting active marketing. Coaches help with:

  • Goal Setting
  • Client Development
  • Effective Marketing
  • Strategic Planning
  • Facilitating firm strategic planning retreats.
  • Working with practice leaders to develop plans for their groups.
  • Conducting evaluation and planning sessions that produce written plans.

Successful law firms have come to recognize the value of business development planning for individuals and groups. A consultant gives firms the predictability of solid plans and timelines for a flat fee. Outsourcing marketing and business development planning for a flat fee is efficient and ideal for law firms that want to maintain focus on the bottom line.

To Lawyers Yearning for Work-Life Balance: Build a Book of Business

A recent post from our strategic partner Mantra Legal’s Find Your Mantra Blog:

It takes a lot of time and a significant amount of effort. But of all of your work-related activities, there is nothing that leads to greater work-life balance then developing client relationships that you are responsible for growing and maintaining.

Do you want to have a say in the direction of your firm? Build a book of business. Do you want to hire the people you want and need? Build a book of business. Do you want to have the freedom to leave and go to a firm that is more aligned with your values? Build a book of business.

And, if you want to have the freedom and flexibility to work when, where and how you want, the best thing you can do to make that happen is to build a book of business.

For lawyers, marketing and business development is a thoughtful mix of reputation building and relationship building. In your early years, it is weighted toward the former. In addition to excelling at your substantive competency, you need to engage in activities beyond your client work to build your reputation among potential clients and colleagues. You also need to begin to develop relationships – within your own firm and in the industries and communities in which you practice. Over time, reputation intact, your focus shifts to developing and nurturing the relationships you have formed over time, building a referral base and finding ways to make relationships deeper.

It is true that the time when reputation and relationship building are needed the most often coincides with the years when your family is young and growing. It is not easy. And it is true that successful rainmakers spend 200, 400 or more hours per year engaged in marketing and business development activities. With careful planning, scheduling and strategic thinking about which activities deliver the highest value, these hours are the best investment you can make professionally.

The forty extra billable hours you need? Yes, they will get you the bigger bonus. The big case you won or complicated deal you closed? Yes, they will be celebrated. And, in a couple of years, they will be another example or your work on your representative matter list.

But the client base you personally developed? If you have served then well, met their needs and exceeded their expectations, they are your greatest asset. And sustaining and nurturing that asset is the best way to ensure that you do, in fact, have a life in balance.

Mantra Legal Consulting is a strategic partner of Mell Consulting, LLC. Mantra Legal Consulting owner, Marci Taylor is a strategy, marketing and management consultant for professional services firms and high-growth companies. She can be reached via at mtaylor@mantrapartner.com.

Time – You Can’t Get It Back

Time. It’s the only thing (most) lawyers can bill for. Yet, many law firms overlook the value of time in the mind of the client. A great post from BTI Consulting’s Mad Clientist Blog explains this in terms we can all understand. As the blog points out, “…wasting clients’ time is an especially potent villain in destroying value.”

“…clients can rejigger budgets and apply more price pressure to future work to try to manage their overall budget. Not so with their time.”

Some common complaints that clients have about law firms:

  • Slow Ramp Up
  • Incomprehensible Invoices
  • Errors and Mistakes
  • Poor Internal and External Communication

“If you think you don’t have the time to tell your clients what you are doing and why you are doing it—think of the only person in your life with less time than you—your client.

Attorneys vs Accountants: Who is Winning The Content Battle?

Marci Taylor’s recent post on Find Your Mantra Blog:

A New Study by Infinite Spada Considers ROI
on Law Firm Content

Content strategy remains a leading strategy in legal marketing, and many law firms continue to generate content at a rate that, at times, seems comparable to legal publishers. Professionals generate content to (1) demonstrate thought leadership in their area of expertise and (2) stay top of mind with clients and potential clients as a leader in the area of expertise.

With all of the investment in content generation, in the millions of dollars in lawyer time for many firms, what is the return on investment? A recent study by Infinite Spada indicates that ROI for law firm content is definitely not what it should be.

shutterstock_310037273The study, “Attorneys vs Accountants: Who is Winning The Content Battle? A Comparison Study of Content Success in the Legal and Accounting Industries,” notes that while lawyers and firms are great at creating content, lawyers are lagging far behind their counterparts in accounting in content amplification. In other words, accountants are much better in making sure their content is actually seen– which is the point of the exercise! The study, done in partnership with content intelligence firm Buzz Sumo, focused on shares of content across social media channels and found that accounting firms outperformed law firms across all of the leading social platforms – LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and GooglePlus.

The study provides specific strategies and tactics on how to increase the number of content shares. It demonstrates that using infographics, video, photos, original research and co-produced content greatly increases the likelihood that your content will be shared.

Infinite Spada also provides data on the impact of content length on the likelihood of shares. Interestingly, while in other industries, longer content pieces receive a greater number of shares, for legal and accounting firms, shorter content pieces were shared more often. This is great data to help convince lawyers that every blog post, alert or article need not be a legal treatise. In fact, shorter articles that concisely convey the point and demonstrate some analysis on the part of the author will have a bigger payoff.  To read the study, click here.

Staying in Touch — Systematically

My Simple Rules

Rule #3: Stay in Touch

Reading BTI Consulting’s recent Mad Clientist Blog post 8 Habits of Highly-Profitable Firms,  the second habit jumped out at me:

“Engage in a continuing dialogue with clients about their business even when, and especially if, there are no active matters.”

What does this mean for smaller firms?

shutterstock_99379946It means that, even though you may not have a firm- or practice-level system for client outreach, you should still stay in touch. Each and every lawyer in any size firm should have a mapped out plan as to how and when they make contact with clients and prospects.   A deliberate plan, documented on your calendar, not your to-do list, is the best guide to keep you on track with regular outreach. Client service should be your mantra. On the first of every month, review and populate your calendar. Have a back-up option as well, so if the article you had planned to send them didn’t get published (or even written), you can take them out lunch or a game. The key to hits is number of times at bat.

Outsourcing Legal Marketing Functions: Small Firms Look Out And Plug In

My Simple Rules

Rule #2: Small Firms Should Look Out and Plug In.

With attention to managing overhead in the post-recession marketplace, small and mid-size firms are embracing innovative ways to achieve the benefits of comprehensive marketing programs without costly staff additions. One smart move is outsourcing. In the past, smaller firms often made the mistake of shortchanging themselves by hiring one or two mid- or entry-level marketing professionals and expecting them to have the full range of skills needed to support the full gamut of firm marketing and business development needs. Successful firms have come to recognize the value of a strong marketing infrastructure and are making strategic investments in higher-level staff and experienced consultants.

shutterstock_241675813Small and mid-size law firm leaders assert that their primary need is growth–i.e. developing new business. Assembling the right team to support partners in expansion of their business means hiring executive-level professionals for firm administrative roles. Law firms that have separated themselves from the pack have raised the bar in terms of hiring seasoned administrators. Hiring knowledgeable marketing professionals is part of raising that bar, but can be cost prohibitive.

Everyone knows better than to hire a commercial real estate lawyer to draft a custody agreement. Administrators, like lawyers, are not interchangeable either. An excellent event planner, for example, is not likely to be the best person to design your firm’s web site. As enticing as it may be, re-purposing existing staff is not always the best route.

“The effectiveness of outsourcing marketing functions is ideal for businesses that want to maintain focus on the bottom line without distractions. Outsourcing also allows for the predictability of solid timetables.”

When talking to law firm leaders, I often hear the refrain: “We know we need some help but we don’t know for what exactly.” Well, you don’t have to–at least not at first.  One clear path is to engage an independent consultant to conduct a marketing needs assessment. A formal needs assessment will help with priority setting. Perhaps the firm needs to focus solely on marketing–i.e. branding, web site, media relations, speeches, blogs and social media and social events. Or maybe the firm needs more client and prospect development coaching–i.e. business development training, competitive intelligence, pitch preparation, and client teams.

Some firms have already identified needs and established priorities, but know they lack adequate staff. Small and mid-sized firms often hire outside professionals who specialize in specific areas. Hiring a consultant for a discrete project can introduce partners to the concept and benefits of marketing professionals without the risk and cost that comes with creating a full-time position. While some consultants have diverse backgrounds, most have specific skills and strengths. Law firms can test the waters by hiring a consultant for a specific mission. Outsourcing can also relieve firm leadership of tremendous burden. Consultants offer flexible services and fees. They also bring flexibility to their clients in the form of testing or piloting programs. For example, do you need:

a coaching program?

an expert on social media?

an expert on event planning?

to start a blog?

If the answer to any of the above is “yes,” and you don’t know where to start, seek an experienced consultant who will be dedicated to the project. Tapping in to expertise without ramp-up time makes good sense.

Consultants are:

  • Plugged in to law firm technology and resources
  • Plugged in to legal industry news
  • Plugged in to competitors
  • Plugged in to buyers

Consultants need:

  • No training
  • No daily supervision
  • No politics

When internal resources are scarce or in-house employees have specific expertise, but lack the full range of desired experience, law firms look to outsource. Law firms have long outsourced many functions, from the mail room to travel services. However, outsourcing is no longer restricted to “back office” tasks. Employing a fully-staffed, in-house marketing team can be costly in terms of compensation, overhead and supervisor’s time. Outsourcing marketing roles can reduce overhead costs while the firm embarks on new territory.


With all this technology, why are face-to-face encounters so important?

My Simple Rules

Rule #1: Showing up is 80% of the battle.

Nothing can take the place of face-to-face meetings. It’s true that “staying connected” is crucial and most easily done through online communications. The next method is the telephone. Those who know how to use it, and use voice mail effectively, get much more done. Picking up the phone is more meaningful than sending an email. We’ve all done business with people who send emails or replies simply to log the “response” on the score card. We all know the “Hi, it’s me. I have a quick question for you. Can you give me a call when you get a chance?” If the question is so quick, why didn’t you just state it? I could already have the answer for you by now.

The simple truth is being in another person’s presence puts loyalty into play. Energy is carried with physical presence. Being in the same room with your counterpart provides opportunity to make impressions on the four other senses (aside from hearing). Standing in plain sight helps your colleague or prospect more clearly understand what you are trying to convey. You have a far better chance to persuade if you can tap into all of their five senses.

shutterstock_241650730In this age, you will distinguish yourself by simply showing up when so few people make the effort. If you do show up, do it on time, don’t bury your face in your phone, and don’t leave early. Such behavior sends out cues that whoever is emailing you is more important than the person in front of you, or you’d rather be somewhere else – which may be true – but there is no reason to sabotage the effort you just made to get into the room. Be present in the moment.

Reliance on email diminishes the engagement of each person in the group. Studies on the subject of email have been conducted for years. “…collaborative projects suffer when workers doubt colleagues will do their share, creating a sense of injustice that leads them to shirk their own responsibilities,” says University of Illinois Professor Gregory Northcraft. In the article summarizing his 2010 research, “Relying Too Much on Email is Bad for Business” in The News Bureau, Professor Northcraft discusses how

“…high-tech communication strips away the personal interaction needed to breed trust, a key ingredient in getting workers to pull together and carry their share of the load.”

He recommends that businesses take steps to balance communications modes and trust building amongst employees so that no one feels they can avoid ownership for the mission. The ongoing research and news, embraced by LinkedIn PulseForbes.com and TIME, all point in the same direction. But we didn’t need a business leadership expert to tell us that email ping-pong can be annoying can be considered lazy. And let’s face it, with or without Candy Crush, no one is listening on conference calls.

It’s truer today more than ever that genuine interest comes from personal encounters – especially for professionals in client service trying to maintain relationships and cultivate prospects. Professor Northcraft says “Physical contact has a half life.” Translated into client relationships, that means if you haven’t seen your best referral source in six months, it behooves you pick up the phone today and set up lunch. Companies may be creating a culture that is actually bad for their business, but that doesn’t mean you have to engage in behaviors that are bad for your career.

buffetMarketing yourself needs to be part or your daily routine. All of the components of marketing and business development work together. Limiting yourself to one-sided activities, while ignoring people won’t work. Trust me, meeting with contacts, going to lunches and attending receptions moves your career way farther, way faster. You don’t even have to call it “networking” anymore. If you would rather have a root canal than socialize the old fashioned way, you should use a good coach or mentor. Formal coaching programs are available and informal mentors can be found. Accidental mentors are all around you. Seek one out. Personal encounters mean interaction, interaction leads to connection, and connection means business.

  1. Be honest with your coach or mentor about your apprehension.
  2. Seek out a colleague in the office who can join you in a buddy system approach.
  3. Rehearsing helps and having a partner to run your lines makes a world of difference.

Showing up is 80% of the battle.


I am thrilled to announce the launch of Mell Consulting LLC.

After tours of duty in a public company, a nonprofit, and several law firms, I am tackling the last frontier — my own business.

I offer programs designed for professional service firms seeking business development coaching and marketing advice. I can bring services to your firm for minimal cost and disruption with maximum benefits. You can take advantage of the personal attention and low overhead. I understand that resources of smaller organizations are often limited and managing the costs has never been a bigger priority.

Six Core Services
• Coaching in Client Relations
• Leadership Training
• Social Media Coaching for Firms and Individuals
• Client Satisfaction Programs
• Client Meeting Planning and Execution
• Internal Meetings and Communications

I am fortunate to have had broad a range of experience in varied segments of the legal and business community and I have developed a large network of contacts along the way. I am bringing this experience to the table for a variety of firms — legal, accounting, financial advisory and nonprofit.

Advantages of Hiring Mell Consulting
• Flexibility
• Predictability
• Reliability

I will bring the essential skills to bear for your organization without the pressure of day-to-day supervision. You will get results without sacrificing time, dollars and complications.

Thank you for reading this.

New Year’s Resolution for 2015: Start my own business – Check!

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