Most law firms, big or small, realize that it makes sense for lawyers who practice in the same area to meet, typically by phone or video conference, every month or quarter.
These meetings can be wastes of time and money (one hour billable time lost for each lawyer).
A typical meeting starts with a prolonged roll call. Then a lawyer speaks about a recent client alert, or a regulatory change in the law. Many use this time to check email or work through the call at their desk with the speakerphone on in the background.
Often, this may be followed by reporting some recent firm news or information about marketing events or recent wins, speaking engagements, etc. Some good information is conveyed, but more often than not, these meetings are a missed opportunity.
Ways to improve the quality of your meetings:
1) Pick agenda items geared toward driving revenue.
Some of these topics are best for partner-only meetings, others for all-practice group members. Sample agenda items:
Pricing terms. Best practices and talking points on how to negotiate the best pricing terms.
Competitive advantages. Who are your key competitors in the market? What are the competitive advantages that you can highlight as a practice group when pitching against peer firms?
Innovation and technology. How is your practice group using the latest technology with clients? What examples can be shared so the group has talking points about how the firm uses technology to drive innovation?
Alternative fee arrangements. What type of AFAs is the practice group using most frequently? What best practices can be shared with the group? What services of the practice group could be sold as “products”?
Request for proposals. Buyers of legal services continue to use RFPs as the most popular tool for comparing law firms and negotiating terms and pricing. What is the practice group’s strategy on converting more of these opportunities to wins?
Financials. What is the realization rate of the practice group? How can you improve that figure? What best practices can be shared on ways of minimizing write-offs and write-downs? What type of work in the group is the most profitable? What type of work is considered complex, and what type of work is commodity level? What is the group’s strategy for fending off alternative service providers who may be gunning for that commodity-level work?
Key clients. Discuss who the practice group’s top clients are, and which clients have had the biggest increases and decreases in revenue for the year and why. Discuss which types of clients are most likely to hire the firm and how the group can target more of these companies.
Industry trends. What is the practice group’s client breakdown by industry? Is the group involved in the top trade associations for these industries? What legal changes do you expect to see in these industries in the future, and how can you best position your group to be considered for this work?
Cross-selling. What other practice groups in the firm are sending the most work to your practice group? What groups do you export the most matters to? How can your groups collaborate on business development efforts?
Performance feedback. Identify five times when members of the practice group were competing for work against peer firms. Discuss why the firm was selected or not. Have group members learn from past experiences so they can apply lessons to future opportunities. It’s valuable for associates to hear these conversations.
2) Leverage firm resources.
Practice group chairs are often some of firms’ top billers and typically have good books of business, which means they don’t have much free time to spare on non-billable initiatives. Firm management needs to provide them with resources when possible for these meetings.
For example, an administrative assistant should handle logistics such as reserving conference rooms and placing food orders, and managing dial-in details, IT requirements and general note-taking. Do not waste limited marketing team resources on administrative tasks.
Marketing contacts should focus on working with the practice chair on the meeting agenda and on providing support in researching and presenting firm content on financials, business development and industry market research. Your financial or billing contacts should help with running requested reports, and your librarian should help with research.
3) Incorporate strategic guest speakers for cross-selling.
Every firm considers cross-selling a key component of revenue growth for a practice group. Group meetings provide an opportunity to hear from other lawyers in the firm about changes in the law that may impact your clients.
For example, a new regulatory tax change that impacts corporations may have been signed into law. The tax partner has been asked to provide an update to the corporate practice group at the meeting. In this case, you would want to have the tax partner explain what the rule is, which clients it impacts, how the tax team can help, what they charge for this type of work, and how corporate lawyers can best pitch this service to their contacts.
Guest speakers don’t need to be internal firm resources. One of the best ways to learn what’s happening in an industry is to bring in a panel of clients and just listen.
*Bonus tip: Free lunch is a great way to get attendance, but instead of ordering sandwiches from the building or the normal caterer, try something different each time. It could be a different pizza place each meeting, with a year-end vote on top pie, or a rotating choice by a different partner each meeting.
Look for ways to make these meetings stand out, as live attendance is far more productive then dialing in.
Matthew Prinn is a principal with the Boston-based RFP Advisory Group, where he provides consulting services to law firms and corporate counsel in the areas of business development and RFPs in the legal profession.