RANCHO PALOS VERDES, Calif.— Collaboration is not just today’s hottest buzzword, but is increasingly vital to the legal industry, possibly more so than any other professional sector, said Dr. Heidi K. Gardner. However, as law firm clients react to growing uncertainty in the world and in their own markets, they need lawyers to solve their business problems — not just their legal problems.
Gardner, a Lecturer on Law & a Distinguished Fellow at the Center on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School and author of the new book, Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos, gave her comments as part of the morning keynote at the Legal Executive Institute’s 24th Annual Marketing Partner Forum, held this week at the Terranea Resort.
“You have to have smart collaboration — not just throwing a lot of people at a problem and hoping that the more people involved the more likely a solution will be found — but you need to actually find smart ways of collaborating,” Gardner said, adding that collaboration without planning is costly, risky and time-consuming.
Those smart ways of collaborating include realizing that your clients want help with their largest areas of concern — cybersecurity, global unease, international trade, technology adaption— and not just handling small, single matters in a disjointed, piecemeal way. “Clients really want you to come in and address these big problems,” she said. To do this, you need to make sure your firm is drawing out the expertise of all the firm’s lawyers and that the expertise is integrated, not just added on without thought to the overall effort, she added.
Why is this so important to the clients? Well, they want the best legal services for the dollars they spend, of course; but they also want to see their firms offering the kind of deep understanding of the client’s business operations, its market sector and its competition, Gardner explained. “Once clients see their law firms offering that, clients are willing to pay for it,” she said. “Collaboration pays out.”
Annual Marketing Partner Forum Survey
Prior to Gardner’s talk, another panel — comprised of Silvia Coulter, a Principal at LawVision Group and one of the co-chairs of the Forum, and Steven R. Petrie, the Chief Strategy Officer for Faegre Baker Daniels — presented data from the 2017 Annual Marketing Partner Forum Survey, which offered some analysis of marketing and business development initiatives at law firms. (The online survey was conducted in November, and included responses from marketing and business development leaders at medium- and large-size law firms.)
First, 90% of respondents said that marketing and business development initiatives were not or no longer “structurally distinct departments” at their firms, representing a growing sense of the necessity to encourage stronger collaboration of these initiatives among firms.
Budgets for these initiatives have also increased, with 24% of respondents saying their firm was investing significantly more resources into marketing and business development operations in 2016/2017. That number, however, was down a bit from the previous year when 26% of respondents indicated their firms were investing significant resources in these areas.
Overall, law firms spent an average 2.5% of the firm’s gross revenue on marketing and business development activities.
Among the challenges that marketing and business development professionals still face in the current legal environment is the organization of their teams. For example, just 26% of respondent said their marketing and business development departments utilized “client teams” to directly address these issues with customers. And 45% said their firms did not and have client teams and moreover, had no plans to create them. “I think that’s a real red flag,” said Coulter. “Client teams are where you can really make up some ground with client service.”
Again this year, respondents cited the lack of lawyer engagement as the primary challenge, by far, faced by their firms’ marketing and business development activities. Almost half — 47% of respondents — cited this reason as the biggest challenge their business development efforts face; and 26% of respondents said that was also true of their marketing efforts.
“It’s depressing that it’s still very high and continues to be so,” said Coulter.