My friend and colleague Leigh Dance published a terrific article in AmLaw Daily structured as advice for global law firms. But most of it applies to law firms of any size. I've linked to the article here, but I have also pulled the key points so you can scan them.
Leigh's advice comes from more than 20 years consulting to corporate legal departments in multinational companies and global law firms. In addition, she recently conducted a major study for World Law Group with survey respondents from more than 30 countries. Her "to-do's" are designed for law firms with international offices and how they can best serve domestic clients abroad and foreign clients at home. For firms with local, regional and national practices, take this advice and extrapolate to find the nuggets that will work best for you.
- Inhabit your client's world; they want you there. "Your clients in corporations around the world are busy rethinking and reworking every aspect of making and delivering legal services. While they’ll proceed with or without you, they’d like to have their preferred firms at their side. Unfortunately many of you are simply not involved enough in their world. Their focus is not just the legal part—it’s how legal advice is sourced and delivered in the company."
Spend the time and money to meet your clients on their turf.
- Build project management tools, including financial accounting ones. "Your clients want more certainty. Clients still love what you do for them, but many want to manage smarter so they can use you less. To nourish the relationship, your numbers must show you can deliver on your promises. Most of your firm’s financial and account management exists to give you (and The American Lawyer and the banks), productivity and profitability info. What’s in it for the client?"
Clients want to know how you will ensure that you won't under- or over-deliver. And they want to know this on the front end of a matter or engagement.
- Use knowledge management and IT across borders to reinforce client relationships. "Trust is a relationship thing, and your clients long ago stopped thinking of relationships as one-to-one. In multipolar business, relationships between international law firms and corporate clients are inevitably multipersonal. Across the time zones, organizational structures, legal systems, and compliance frameworks, trust is a network constructed with information and project continuity that supports good personal relationships."
Law firms of all sizes struggle with client relationship and experience data. Many are paralyzed because of inefficient processes - or even knowing what to do with the data when they capture it. I'll write much more about this in 2013, but here are two recent blog posts that will further the discussion in your firms. http://lawfirm4-0.typepad.com/law_firm_40_blog/2012/11/experience-management-and-databases-the-results-of-a-survey-of-cmos.html and http://lawfirm4-0.typepad.com/law_firm_40_blog/2012/02/experience-management-its-been-elevated-to-mission-critical.html
- Demonstrate international know-how. "Your firm should provide specific and compelling proof of your knowledge of laws and regulations across the diverse places where your clients are selling, buying, sourcing, or investing. It seems so basic, but global clients say their most pressing concern in high-growth markets is: understanding local and regional laws and regulations. Hello? Big Law, step up to the plate."
If your lawyers are effectively collaborating across practices and geographies, then you are heads and shoulders above your competitor firms. This is what it takes to make your global clients happy with you and your firm.
- Show off your multicultural strengths. "Since many of your clients are worldly, they can quickly discern your lawyers’ and your firm’s ability (or failure) to get things done with a diverse cultural mix of stakeholders, executives, employees, and regulators (many of whom have not mastered your language). Clients active in multiple new markets recognize that service styles and practices vary across cultures. They also know that great short- and long-distance service can be as important as technical legal skill in giving valuable counsel."
Brilliant legal technicians who don't care about the human side of the relationship are not a good fit for many clients - domestic or abroad. The human and cultural understanding are what causes firms and lawyers to get hired - and without it, fired.
- Figure out what you do that's better or different and emphasize it. "Big Law has aced the task of providing expert lawyers who speak brilliantly on their subject matter. It’s far harder, yet more important now, for lawyers to present the firm’s advantages in a way that resonates with the particular client. To do that, you need to understand better what your key clients worry most about, for the issue at hand. Is it meeting a deadline, managing a far-flung legal team, compliance monitoring, reducing costs, cross-border coordination, getting along with a prickly regulator? Only then can you present a differentiated offering that addresses the client’s specific needs."
Your marketing and business development department can be a great asset here. But, in addition to people who understand positioning and messaging, it requires effective processes and the right technology, such as experience management and proposal generation tools.
- Make your global brand real by aligning it with how you serve clients. "Given point Number 6, it frustrates me that many firm marketing efforts travel poorly to clients (and the firm’s own lawyers) around the world. Global law firm branding tends to overemphasize visual identity and underemphasize how specific services and the firm’s resources are discussed with and delivered to clients. Many firms send promotional messages that don’t make sense across cultures and thus mean little to the clients you are trying to win."
Clients will see through "brand" messages that are distinctly different than lawyers' service delivery. Ensure that your key messages resonate with buyers of legal services across all borders. While your messaging might be aspirational, it surely won't ring true.
Here is Leigh's byline and a link to the World Law Group summary of the study.
E. Leigh Dance is president and founder of legal services management consultancy ELD International, based in New York and Brussels. She speaks three languages fluently, and for more than 20 years has worked with global corporate law departments and law firms. The study referred to is the World Law Group Global Agenda 2012: Issues & Priorities for Senior In-house Counsel Worldwide, conducted in conjunction with LexisNexis Martindale-Hubbell and ELD International. Download the study report on home page of www.TheWorldLawGroup.com.