In a Special Edition of our Practice Innovations newsletter, we will be looking at the immediate challenges facing the legal industry and the solutions and opportunities that are available.
This article was written by by Silvia L. Coulter & Steve Bell
If law firms are concerned about revenue opportunities for the balance of 2020 and into 2021, there is one key place they could look to find these opportunities — their important clients.
We’ve long opined on the importance of focusing on key clients, or as the commercial world calls them, strategic accounts. The emergence of the COVID-19 crisis has only accelerated the need to do so, as law firms contemplate how COVID-19 will mandate new approaches for an uncertain future. In our opinion, one of these new approaches in the business development arena should be strategic account management — or, as we call it, SAM-Legal strategy.
When strategic-account discussions occur at many law firms, however, too often several roadblocks appear right away. A key relationship lawyer may not support the effort, for example; or an originating partner does not want to give up any credit. Or, too many partners want in on the game so they can “pitch” the client about their areas of practice, or there may be a general lack of a cohesive strategic account strategy and process throughout the firm.
Our advice is to unite behind and organize around a strategic account strategy, which focuses the firm and its people on serving the firm’s most significant clients, preserving those clients, and fending off competitors. Keep in mind that today’s competition includes not only other law firms, but the Big Four accounting and audit firms, alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), and other professional service providers all are focusing on your firm’s clients for prospective business, and many of them are utilizing strategic account management techniques of their own.
Launching a full-blown SAM-Legal strategy is complex and multifaceted, but that should not stop forward-looking partners at progressive firms from taking some initial steps to get the SAM-Legal ball rolling, particularly with the re-casting of the world in the wake of COVID-19. In this environment, experimentation is desirable, and simply digging in may be the best way to plant seeds early that will grow later into a full-fledged program.
The SAM-Legal quick guide
Here are five steps law firms can take to begin the process:
Step 1: Identify an important client from each key practice area
At this early stage, keep the overall number of SAM-Legal clients low, so that techniques, processes, best-practices, and technologies can be built and improved before attempting firm-wide rollout.
Because SAM-Legal is a demonstration project at this stage, it is critical that relationship partners be team players with advanced leadership skills. Another key reason that team and leadership skills are important is that even though a SAM-Legal client may start in one practice area, overall growth of the client relationship certainly will involve collaboration with other practice areas. Given the tenor of the times, it may be that selected SAM-Legal clients could benefit from crisis-related skills that reside in other practice areas. The ability to create and lead interdisciplinary skills is at a premium, particularly now.
Step 2: Select your team
Identify up to seven total team members; more than seven is cumbersome and will hinder progress. On this team you should include: one or two partners who frequently work with the client, a senior associate, a mid-level associate, and a junior associate. As ad hoc members of the team, add a business development professional and a finance professional, both of whom will be liaisons to helpful resources as the initiative proceeds.
Step 3: Conduct a client interview
Use this time not only to gather information about past work, but also to inform the client about the formation of the SAM-Legal team and how SAM-Legal will result in: i) an even more collaborative relationship with the client and its professionals; ii) better alignment with important client business goals; and iii) new and deepened key relationships across firm and client peer groups.
At this interview, ask the client for two key pieces of data that will inform the firm’s SAM-Legal team goals: an organization chart, and a copy of the client’s strategic plan or an executive summary of the plan. Armed with this information, the team may now proceed to Step 4.
Step 4: Create the SAM-Legal plan
The plan’s primary focus must be on the client’s goals and what legal needs might be anticipated based on those goals. (You can request a copy of our planning form here.) For example, if the client’s growth plans are envisioned via the acquisition of key target companies, then the SAM-Legal plan needs to provide for integrated M&A, Labor & Employment, IP, and other services.
Based on an analysis of client strategic goals and needs, and on the firm’s capabilities, the SAM-Legal team can begin to craft completely relevant value propositions to discuss with the client. Beyond legal services proper, the SAM-Legal plan can identify other activities that will add great value to this important relationship, such as customized CLEs, shared creation of industry thought leadership, and introductions to individuals and companies (e.g., supply chain partners or acquisition targets).
Step 5: Schedule regular team meetings
Include the client in at least two meetings per year, but meet more often than that. Including the client in these meetings is a proven method to keep the firm’s team on point, and to ensure continued alignment with the client’s goals.
There are many other small, but important pieces of a firm-wide SAM-Legal strategy. For now, these quick tips will help law firms identify immediate opportunities for revenue growth, and retain their most important clients.