Our firm is a twenty two lawyer insurance defense firm in Seattle. Over the years we have told our associates that they were hired to work on firm business and there was no requirement for them to develop or bring in client business. In fact we specifically asked them not to bring in business. Now we are rethinking that policy. Many of our equity partners are retiring and we are finding we have a group of grinders – with very few minders or finders capable of either retaining existing clients or bringing in new clients. What are your thoughts?
Over the years, I have seen many law firms hire associates and tell them that there is plenty of work and they are hired to service the firm’s work and there is no need, or even desire, for them to develop and bring client business into the firm. For years, these associates meet their billable hour expectations, work their files, and get good results on their cases. Twenty years later they are still associates – what went wrong? What are they not equity partners? Often it is because they have not developed client business.
Successful lawyers in private practice must not only do excellent legal work for their clients they must also develop client business. I believe that each attorney must invest money and time in building and promoting their expertise, professional reputation, and their personal brand. Law firms should not only encourage but should require, support, and fund (money and non-billable time) marketing/business development at the individual attorney level. Client development skills have to be developed and practiced early on.
Due to your client base (insurance companies) it may not be that easy for associates to actually bring in new clients unless the firm is diversifying into other practice areas (unless that is your goal). However, they can start by being good minders – client relationship managers – and work on getting more business from existing clients and maintaining client relationships that the firm has.
Client Development is externally focused – relationship management is more internally focused.
Skills for developing new clients and those needed for maintaining good relations are not the same.
While you associates will each have different abilities they should be honing their skills in one of the following areas:
Rainmakers – win new business from new clients and their strength is networking.They serve on boards, attend events, play golf, and entertain clients; prospective clients.
Hired Guns – win new business from new clients – emphasis on expertise.(They speak, write, give seminars, and become experts in a specific field)
Brain Surgeons – win new business from existing clients – internal focus; emphasis is on expertise – they solve problems that others cannot.
The Point Person – wins new business from existing clients and have an internal focus.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC
I am a partner and a member of the Executive Committee of a 250 attorney firm in the mid-west. We have had a succession plan in place for several years for our senior partners. Several have completed their phasedowns successfully and others are struggling. One of our challenges is many of our mid-career partners are simply not ready. I would appreciate your thoughts.
This is a common problem that many larger firms face as their senior partners phasedown to retirement and try to transition client relationships and firm managerial and leadership roles to the next generation. Often the focus of non-founders is on billable hours and working attorney fee collections as opposed to non-billable longer-term investment activities such as client development, firm leadership, and management.
Unlike smaller law firms most large law firms do invest time and effort in developing mid-career partners in these areas. However, often more can be done. Here are a few thoughts:
I would encourage mid-level partners to try to budget 70% of their worked time for billable client production and 30% for non-billable investment activities.
John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC