LMA 2019 hit it out of the ballpark this year. With over 1,500 attendees and 150 speakers, everyone came together in Atlanta, Georgia to learn how to improve their business skills, discover the latest technologies, grow revenues and network with peers and vendors from around the world.
With recognizable names like Jennifer Dulsky, head of Groups & Community at Facebook as the conference keynote speaker, Mark Smolik, general counsel and chief compliance officer at DHL Supply Chain Americas, Alexia J. Maas, senior vice president, general counsel from Volvo Financial Services and William Barnette, associate general counsel at The Home Depot, the conference received a lot of exposure but it also delivered many valuable lessons.
The most resounding takeaway—the world is moving at an ever-increasing pace and law firms must embrace new ways of doing business if they are to succeed and thrive.
General Counsel Panel—Find a Way to Change With Me
The GC panel dubbed as “An Inside View: General Counsel Perspectives on the Use of Alternative Legal Service Providers and Artificial Intelligence” is always a big draw.
With a straight-forward approach, Smolik with DHL told the audience that the average cost of a senior member of his in-house legal team is $174 an hour. “I can’t afford to pay you $800 an hour or invest in the technology that you can invest in to serve multiple clients,” he said. “You don’t need to invite me to a golf tournament that I’m helping to pay for. Instead, provide me with the latest updates and technologies that make life easier. If you want to remain competitive, you have to find a way to change with me.”
Smolik touted that he was not only hired because he is a good lawyer, he was hired because he can talk with people at all levels in nonlegalese. He advised the audience to go back and encourage lawyers to publish valuable information for the lay audience.
Smolik gave an example about a firm that pitched him when a major suit was filed against Ohio-based DHL in federal court. They provided a two-page analysis of the case—covering the judge, opposing counsel, a proposed strategy and a budget. The document was drafted by a young associate several years ago and Smolik still works with them today.
Maas from Volvo Financial Services mentioned they are embracing legal tech disrupters to help with legal compliance. They have developed an innovation lab and invited several companies to help them push their business. Additionally, Maas said that law firms can help by providing rapid executive guidance to better manage risk and make sharp decisions.
Barnette from The Home Depot talked about reducing costs and delivering budget certainty internally. A few years ago the company implemented fixed fee retainer programs with additional measures across a wide array of matters and the Association of Corporate Council has recognized the company for its innovative pricing.
All general counsel agreed that they hire lawyers not law firms and that it’s all about their relationships and knowledge not their board positions and accolades.
“You’re failing to recognize that the company behind us is run by entrepreneurs, and they’re expecting us to act that way, and we’re expecting you to act that way,” Smolik said.
Law firms need to recognize that this is a new era. Competition is fierce, legal buyers are sophisticated and looking for the firms that can partner in innovation but also share in risk. Law firms need to make sure they are asking their clients, “what do you value” and deliver on that answer.
Flunking Client Service
In a panel titled, “The Next Big Thing—Service Metamorphosis Driving Performance Improvement!” we heard from Deborah McMurray, CEO + strategy architect of Content Pilot, Melanie Green, chief client development officer at Faegre Baker Daniels, Terra M. Liddell, chief marketing officer at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner and Douglas B. Tumminello, a partner with Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie.
“Client service has been talked about for over 30 years and our industry deserves an F!” said McMurray.
In a survey conducted by Altman Weil, law firms were asked why they are not doing more to challenge the way they deliver legal services: 59.1 percent said no one asked. Big lesson folks! Don’t wait for someone to ask & take their work away from you: 69 percent of partners admitted they resist change. Another big lesson! Change is the only thing that is constant—we need to embrace it.
Without change, you will not survive!
The speakers looked at top-notch client service leaders like Nordstrom, Disney and Uber. What they found was that client service leaders experienced:
37 percent higher revenue growth;
48 percent higher profits; and
1 percent higher client retention.
We also learned that at Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, the firm has a three-year rotation program for the leaders at the top—from managing partner to chairs and practice group leaders. Succession planning is enforced so that everyone is able to lead and succeed. The firm’s top 200 clients:
58 percent have been around for 10 years; and
42 percent have been around for 20 years.
Their lawyers meet in service groups on a monthly basis to talk about how to grow clients. They discuss potential conflicts, what other opportunities are there and always work together to plan for emerging trends.
At Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie, the firm has recognized the importance of client service and they have invested in a dedicated client service partner. The firm conducts regular extensive client interviews, develops client service standards and invests in journey mapping where attorneys and business professionals look at all the matters and all of the touch points with clients.
Faegre Baker Daniels has a dedicated client service partner and client service team. They have divided clients between managers to service clients much like an IT help desk called “The Marketing Request Center.”
CRM Is Still a Headache
Customer-relationship management (CRM) issues continue to plague all law firms. In a session called “How to Turn CRM Into an Insights Engine,” it was reported that only 5 percent of lawyers use their firm’s CRM for business and client development purposes—a missed opportunity that needs to change! The advice was to start thinking about CRM with serious inside-out mindsets by integrating with all firm and client workflow and life-cycle data (pre-build with intakes, conflicts, pricing, time, billing and experience). Additional advice was to create touch points around the firm so that everyone moves the same direction and helps attorneys make informed decisions. Turning your CRM into an engine—don’t just produce reports but also analyze and pass on the right information to help the person in power act.
Spark the Change
Finally, Dulsky, who is the head of Groups & Community at Facebook (a product used by more than 1.4 billion people to create and engage in communities that matter to them) and author of Wall Street Journal bestseller “Purposeful: Are You a Manager or a Movement Starter?” said that it does not matter if you are a startup, a law firm, a Fortune 500 company, an intern or a CEO. Anyone can make modifications and spark change at any level and this should be highly encouraged and rewarded in firms who want to grow and push boundaries to provide top-notch client service. Dulski explained that you have to work together in groups (different levels, gender and ethnicity to gain a different perspective) and create a clear vision, inspire supporters, persuade decision-makers, navigate criticism and more. She explained that if you want a stronger company, you must build stronger teams and allow them to be creative. Becoming more in tune with your audience is critical.
So what can the legal industry learn from Fortune 500 companies, general counsel and entrepreneurs? Law firms need to expand their horizon and take client service, technology, process and pricing to the next level. How does your law firm rate and what steps can you take to help your firm improve?
Reprinted with permission. Originally Published in The Legal Intelligencer, April 15, 2019
Ioana Good is the senior business development and communications manager at Lowndes and she is the past president of the Legal Marketing Association Southeastern Chapter. Good is a published author and speaker, and currently serves on the Professional Advocacy Group for LMA international and the Southeast region simultaneously.
Jill Huse is a partner at Society54 and the incoming president of LMA international. She is a published speaker, author, certified coach and holds her master’s degree in law firm management.