Most law firms, big or small, realize that it makes sense for lawyers in the firm who practice in the same area of law to meet (typically by a phone or video conference) every month or quarterly. Many of these meetings are often unproductive and a waste of time and money (one hour lost billable time for each lawyer). Below are three suggestions for practice group chairs to improve your meetings.
A typical meeting starts with a prolonged roll call (often a waste of time) and then has a lawyer speak about a recent client alert or regulatory change in the law. Many in the audience use this time to check email or work through the call at their desk with the speakerphone on in the background. Often times this may be followed by a reporting of some recent firm news or information about marketing events or recent wins, speaking engagements, etc. Some good information is conveyed in these meetings, but more often then not, this is a missed opportunity for many firms due to poor planning and execution. The free lunch is sometimes the most productive way to get people to attend.
Here are three suggestions to improve the quality of your meetings:
1) Pick agenda items geared towards driving revenue
Here are ten suggested topics that could actually lead to productive discussions amongst practice group members. Note: some of these topics are best for partner only meetings, and others for all practice group members.
- Pricing Terms. Best practices and talking points on how to negotiate the best pricing terms on your matters.
- 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 is using technology to drive innovation in how you service clients?
- Alternative Fee Arrangements (“AFAs”). What types of AFAs are the practice group using the most frequently? What best practices can be share with the group? What services of the practice group could be sold as a “product”?
- RFPs. Buyers of legal services continue to use RFPs as the most popular tool to compare law firms and negotiate terms and pricing. What is the practice groups’ strategy on how to convert 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 how to minimize write-offs and write-downs on matters? What type of work that is being done in the practice group is the most profitable? What type of work is considered complex and what type of work is commodity level? What is the practice groups’ strategy to fend off alternative service providers who may be gunning for that commodity level work from your clients?
- Key Clients. Discuss who the practice groups’ top clients are and which clients you think the practice group has the best chance to expand. Discuss what clients have had the biggest increases and decreases in revenue for the year and why. Discuss what types of clients are most likely to hire the firm and how the practice group can target more of these companies.
- Industry Trends. What is the client break down for the practice group by industry? Is the practice group involved in the top trade associations for these industries? What legal changes do you expect to see in these industries in the coming years and how can you best position your practice 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 practice groups collaborate on business development efforts?
- Performance Feedback. Identify 5 opportunities where members of the practice group were competing for work against peer firms. Discuss the reasons why the firm was selected or why the firm lost the work. Have practice group members learn from past experiences so that they can incorporate lessons learned into future opportunities. It’s also valuable for the associates to hear these conversations.
2) Leverage Firm Resources
Practice group chairs are often some of the law 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. Law firm management needs to provide them with additional resources when possible for these meetings. For example, an administrative assistant should handle all the logistics such as reserving the conference rooms, food, dial-in details, IT requirements and general note taking. Do not waste your limited marketing team resources on administrative tasks. Your marketing contact should focus their time on working in tandem with the practice chair on the strategy behind planning the meeting agenda and to provide support in researching and presenting firm content on financials, business development and industry market research. Your financial or billing contact should help with running requested reports and your librarian should help with research.
3. Incorporate Strategic Guest Speakers for Cross-Selling
Every law firm considers cross selling to be a key component of revenue growth for a practice group. Practice 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. The guest speaker should draft an email and provide talking points that are circulated to the practice group members so they just need to customize it and send it off to contacts. If possible, try selling the service as a “product” for a fixed price, as profit margin in this case is secondary if it means you have a chance to get your foot in the door with a client for a whole new area of work. Guest speakers don’t need to be limited to internal firm resources, as one of the best ways to learn about what’s happening in an industry is to bring in a panel of clients and just listen to them.
*Bonus Tip: It’s true the 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 but look for ways to make these meetings stand out as live attendance is far more productive then dialing in.