Two ideas for lawyer retreats

by Adrian Dayton

This past week I’ve been up in the air, feeling much like George Clooney in the movie by the same name. I started my week in New York, woke up Tuesday in London where I spoke to a law firm, went to sleep that night in Davos, Switzerland spending the next two days speaking at the Globalaw European Summit on Marketing and Innovation. Late Thursday night I arrived back to Buffalo completing my whirlwind tour. While I was overseas I gleaned some unique insights.

First: lawyers find marketing themselves to be very difficult.

In one exercise I asked the lawyers to create their own Twitter bio in just three sentences. They had to share (1) who they helped (2) why they were exceptional and (3) what made them human/interesting. For a profession that bills hundreds of dollars an hour to write, you would think this would be a pretty straightforward exercise, but it wasn’t. Comments from the lawyers included, “this is really hard.” “I’ve never had to do anything like this before,” and “Can I have more time?” (they were given 15 minutes.)

Lawyers need to learn how to talk about themselves in an strategic way. “I’m a corporate lawyer” just isn’t good enough. Its lousy in fact. We can do better. What unique results do you get for your clients? Who do you help solve major business problems? How are you going to make people remember you after a brief conversation? These are questions that are worth spending a substantial amount of time thinking about, and it is pretty obvious in talking to most lawyers that this is time they haven’t allocated appropriately.

Second: lawyers find innovation more difficult than marketing.

In the second day I facilitated a session on disruptive innovation. We talked about Clayton Christensen’s book The Innovator’s Dilemma and how difficult it is for large intrenched companies to innovate in ways that often undercuts their current business model and may even alienate their existing customers. Yet, some companies like IBM found a way to do it, while others like Kodak crashed and burned.

We challenged each group to come put a new business idea for a law firm using disruptive innovation. They had three rules: (1) leverage technology in this new business. (2) come in at a lower price point that the market average and (3) tell us how much you will charge. Some of the lawyers jumped at the exercise and quickly began planning out this new business complete with a  catchy name and a strategy for acquiring the first clients. Other tables argued until the very last minute between a few different competing ideas. This seemed a fitting analogy for the way firms in general respond to innovation, some firms get it while others will never wrap their heads around it. This whole idea of decreasing the per customer revenue is just too much for some.

After a week on the road, I had to take some time off from my blog, but I’m glad to be back. I’d love to hear any comments others have on innovation at law firms. What firms seem to do it right, and how to they break out of the mold? What other activities have you done at your law firm retreats? I’m always looking for unique ideas.

Written by:

Adrian Dayton

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