On Wednesday, August 31, 2022, award-winning business development consultant and Founder of EM Consulting Merry Neitlich joined LMA Minnesota for a virtual program entitled: “Driving Revenue Through Advanced Collaboration.” Neitlich focused her presentation on 1) why now is the time for attorneys to leverage legal operations principles to help clients develop efficiencies and better predictability, and 2) how business development professionals are uniquely positioned to prompt attorneys to act on these opportunities.
Legal Operations and Business Development: Why Now?
As Neitlich explained, proven practices for enhancing client relationships have evolved significantly over the years. While not obsolete, traditional sales pitches that involve asking clients for business are far less desirable today than intentional, consistent connections wherein something of value is given.
But in an increasingly competitive market for legal services, what can law firms give to their clients that will set them apart from competitors? According to Neitlich, attorneys should hold meaningful conversations with clients about ways they can collaborate to create efficiencies and better predictability, drawing upon principles of legal operations and process improvement.
Neitlich argued that clients are highly likely to want to participate in conversations about how they can save time and money, and that this kind of forward-looking discussion has the potential to transform the law firm-client relationship in a way that more traditional client feedback requests—such as those related to service on the last matter—simply cannot. And, according to Neitlich, most companies are willing to partner with their law firms to create better efficiency.
Addition by Subtraction
Helping clients innovate in a way that saves them time and money might seem like a loss for the firm, but it will pay dividends for everyone in the long run.
Neitlich shared the story of a company that asked their law firm to collaborate with them to improve the complicated contract renewal process that was costing the client a significant amount of time and resources. The client assured the law firm—which had been shepherding the contract renewal process each year and billing the client accordingly—that any efficiencies created would ultimately benefit their relationship. Unfortunately, the law firm took a shortsighted approach and was unwilling to help because process improvement in this case represented a loss of revenue to their firm.
The result? The client partnered with another law firm to create an industry-leading process that not only reduced the client’s headache but also solidified the new firm’s role as trusted advisor on this and future projects. Read: clients will innovate their processes to minimize expenditure and maximize value, and law firms can either be part of the solution or risk becoming obsolete.
Neitlich highlighted another example: a litigation “roadmap” that she helped boutique law firm Klein & Wilson create to bring efficiency and predictability to complex litigation. The firm ties its record of winning more than 90% of its trials, as well as coming within 15% to 20% of predicted budget (highly unusual in complex litigation), to the process embodied in this innovative, client resource.
The Words to Say
How should attorneys get started? Business development professionals are ideally positioned to prompt the attorneys they support to tee up these conversations with clients. They can even give them the questions to ask that will identify pain points that could be eliminated through collaborative process improvement.
In this LMA webinar, Neitlich shared a host of probing questions that business development professionals could provide to attorneys to help them get started. Topics range from calibrating the right stack of technology and software tools to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Select examples include:
- What are other firms doing that works well for you in the delivery of legal services?
- How can we work together to create more efficiencies, increase transparency between our organizations, coordinate technologies, and software, and create more predictability in our working relationship?
- How can an outside firm work more seamlessly with you? For example, how can we create (status) memos that are written in a format that matches your corporate style?
- Let’s discuss how our firm initiatives in diversity and inclusion successfully coordinate with your internal programs.
And this author’s personal favorite: What are your pain points? What problems can we solve together?
Neitlich emphasized that these client conversations are opportunities to listen, not sell. In partnership with business development professionals, attorneys should memorialize the insights gained in these listening exercises and engage in internal discussion about what resources the law firm has at its disposal to help. Then, attorneys can return to the client with well-informed recommendations for methods to develop—in a collaborative manner—efficiencies and better predictability, with the ultimate goal of make the client’s life easier.