A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

A Survival Guide for Legal Practice Managers

Should your law firm be tendering?

Monday, April 30, 2018

By Amy Burton-Bradley, Consulting Director, Julian Midwinter & Associates

Maybe. For B2B facing law firms winning a coveted spot on a government, financial institution or big corporate panel of external legal providers can seem like an easy route to a stream of revenue.

However, it should be remembered that winning a competitive tender, bid or proposal is just one ‘route to market’ and one of many ways to ‘close a sale’ or win a client.

In this piece we’ll walk you through some of the key dynamics at play in competitive selection processes and outline some of the less immediately obvious costs of bidding. If you must pursue tenders, we’ll outline how you can position your firm to receive tender invitations and I’ll let you in on my #1 tip when considering a tender opportunity.

Understand the dynamics of competitive selection processes

A few things to consider when presented with a tender ‘opportunity’:

  • Has it been publicly advertised far and wide? For example, on a government procurement site or in the newspaper? These types of ‘open’ tenders are most likely to be issued by government or government entities that are required to seek competitive proposals to meet fairness, contestability and value for money tests.
  • Have you been invited late in the process, several days after the bid was released? This could mean you’ve been added as an afterthought, to make up the numbers, or as a favour by a friendly, well-meaning contact who has no real say in the outcome.
  • Do the request documents seem to assume a lot of knowledge of the tendering organisation? Does it feel like this request has been written for a specific firm?
  • If the request is not quite a ‘tender’ but perhaps a general call for Requests for Information or Expressions of Interest, is the vendor genuine about proceeding to a formal tender? Or are they just wasting everyone’s time with tyre kicking on epic scale because it’s a cheap form of market research?
  • Is the tendering organisation under pressure to go out and test the market widely but at the same time to reduce the number of providers?
  • What is the origin of this process, and why now? Is it cyclical? Political? New management? Cost cutting?
  • If several firms will be appointed are you prepared to do further work to leverage your position, raise your firm profile, and build relationships once you’re on the list?

These are just a few of the different dynamics that can be at play during a procurement exercise.

Before you bid, also consider all the costs

Beyond carefully considering the known and unknown background to a tender there are lots of good reasons not to respond. Consider these direct and indirect costs of participation and weigh them against your chance of success:

  • Financial costs (production, delivery, external consultants)
  • Opportunity cost (missing out on billable work, time away from better opportunities)
  • Morale cost of losing for your team (tenders take intensive work to prepare)
  • The risk of being seen as a ‘loser’ by the prospective client and/or evaluators (and potentially making it harder to prove yourself to them next time around)
  • Professional and management attention devoted to damage control and fall out post bid.

But, our firm still wants to 'do tenders'.

If your firm still wishes to pursue competitive bids, tenders and proposals read on to learn how to position for invitations to participate in closed tenders.

How your firm can get invitations to participate in ‘closed’ tenders

As the name suggests, closed tenders involve only pre-selected bidders.

Those invited have been pre-qualified in some way; perhaps by successfully making it through an Expression of Interest (EOI) round, or by being invited based on an existing relationship, referral or occasionally by reputation.

Closed tenders are most likely to be found in the private sector; think banks, insurers, telcos and other large consumers of legal services.

To position your firm to receive invitations to bid in closed competitions you need to be prepared to play a long game. And the long game goes something like this:

  • Pick the organisation or organisations that you want to work for that align to your capabilities.
  • Look for ways to get to know them – where do they hang out?
  • Identify their issues and concerns, and what you can do to solve them.
  • Use your contacts to gain introductions to the right people.
  • Provide them with substantial, relevant and genuinely helpful thought leadership pieces (not just a copy of your firm newsletter).
  • Network with key people (including those that can introduce or refer you) at professional and industry events and add value to those relationships.
  • Join and participate in LinkedIn groups and discussions, or other online forums, in which they are active.
  • If you can get some ‘off-panel’ pieces of work, it goes without saying that you need to do an excellent job. Use the opportunity to give them a taste of your service style and demonstrate the great benefits of working with you (this is and has always been the easiest and best sell).

The long game can take a few years. Yes, years. But don’t be put off, because when the procurement cycle comes up again, the time and effort you have invested will give you a much greater chance of being invited to tender. The perception (and reality) you’ve built up with that prospective client is that you’re an expert in the field who’s great to work with.

An example is a law firm client of mine that was doing a lot of repeat matters in the independent and religious education sector. In the late 1990s the firm wrote a letter to the chief lawyer of the state government education agency and said:

‘We get really excellent results in these matters for other schools and know we can do a great job for you, we would like a chance to compete for your business.’ 

From there the firm received a matter, then more matters and about 3 years later when a formal panel was created they were invited to bid. Twenty-something years later they have leveraged that initial education department work into a thriving state government practice spanning many agencies and areas of law.

So, the long game is easy to learn, but difficult to master, particularly when it comes to the discipline of staying the course over a long period.

Much of the long game relationship development advice also goes for the publicly advertised tenders and for informal business development opportunities.

The #1 thing law firms should consider when deciding to participate in a tender

With all of the above in mind, your number 1 consideration, no matter the tender circumstance, open or closed, is ‘do we know the tendering organisation, and more importantly do they know us – at all?’.

If your firm has no relationships with, or real insight into, the tendering organisation, then what you can offer will be superficial and untargeted (especially when compared to incumbents); hardly appealing to evaluators and prospective clients.

If you are still having trouble deciding whether or not to pursue a tender opportunity see our ‘Bid or no bid’ assessment checklist’ which could assist you in your tender decision making process.

About our Guest Blogger

Amy Burton-Bradley is an experienced business developer, marketer, and bid manager who has strategised, written and produced more than 350 bids in the last decade. She is a Partner and Consulting Director at Julian Midwinter & Associates, a business development consultancy whose team has helped law firms attract, win, grow, and retain new clients and business since 1993.

How to have a pricing discussion with your client

Monday, April 23, 2018

By Colin Jasper and Stuart Dodds of  Positive Pricing

When you think of discussed pricing with your clients, what emotions does this generate?

If you are like most professionals, talking price with your client creates a level of anxiety. While you hopefully enjoy the work you do, pricing often seems to be a barrier to success – it gets in the way of us winning work and creates tension between us and our clients.

Most professionals can list multiple examples of where they would have won the job, if only the price could have been less. Or worse still – where pricing conversations with clients didn't end well.

It’s true that when pricing is done badly it creates tensions between clients and firms. It diminishes trust and damages relationships. But when pricing is managed well, the opposite occurs.

Pricing can be used as a means of strengthening client relationships and building trust.

Pricing is one of the most intimate parts of our relationships with clients. It’s the moment clients tell us that we are worth it – or not.

All of our efforts to create value for clients, differentiate ourselves from our competitors, provide a solution that meets our clients’ needs in a cost-effective manner, come together in that moment when clients ask themselves – “Is it worth it?”

We can be quite passive in that moment and hope all our previous efforts justify the requested price. Or alternatively, we can actively influence our clients’ assessment of our price.

Ideally pricing should be done with the client rather than to the client.

Ideally, we should develop our offering with our client so that they can see the cost implications of the various deliverables sought and the desired work method. The alternative is that the first time a client sees our price it’s a “surprise” at the end of our proposal.

So how do we use pricing to strengthen client relationships?

Is it true that our objectives are diametrically opposed – the client want’s a lower price and we want a higher price? In order to strengthen client relationships we need to focus on the areas where our goals are aligned:

  • Clients want to know that the price is appropriate, given what’s at stake. Let’s demonstrate we understand this and have consciously thought about the business case.
  • Clients want a range of choices rather than a single price being imposed on them. Let’s provide them with a range of options so that they (rather than us) can decide which represents best value for them.
  • Clients want to contain costs. Let’s demonstrate that we have empathy for this and have consciously thought about ways of keeping costs down.
  • Clients want to avoid surprises. Let’s provide them with certainty where we can and work with them to manage any remaining uncertainties.

We shouldn't be scared of engaging in pricing conversations with clients. Rather we should actively embrace these situations, seeing them as an opportunity to align objectives and strengthen our relationship.

When we actively embrace opportunities to discuss pricing with our clients, we may not always get it right, but we will get better at it over time and this should not only result in a better client experience, it should also drive more profitable growth for your firm.

About our Guest Bloggers

Colin Jasper

Colin Jasper and Stuart Dodds both have over 20 years’ experience in pricing professional services. They established Positive Pricing to assist professional service firms to create greater value for their clients and capture a fair share of that value for themselves. They aim to develop the competence of professionals so that pricing is used to strengthen client relationships, win more work and make it easier to achieve your financial targets.

Colin has consulted to market-leading accounting, consulting and engineering firms as well as most of the leading law firms in Asia and the UK; and an increasing proportion of the AmLaw100. He authored the pricing chapter in the American Bar Association book, The Power of Legal Project Management (2014) and the pricing chapter of Effective Practice Group Leadership (2017). Colin is the co-founder of the New York based, Legal Pricing Roundtable.

Stuart Dodds

Stuart is recognized as one of the leading pricing practitioners in the global legal market. He was one of the first, and longest serving, pricing directors having been Director of Global Pricing and LPM at Baker McKenzie and having held a similar role at Linklaters. Stuart is the author of Smarter Pricing, Smarter Profit (published by the American Bar Association, March 2014), and editor of Pricing on the Front Line (published by the American Bar Association, January 2017). He is a Certified Pricing Professional (CPP) and Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management (CoLPM).

12 Ways to Add to Your Firm’s Profitability and Competitiveness

Monday, April 16, 2018

By Joel Barolsky, Managing Director, Barolsky Advisors

Every person in your firm should be adding value. Every activity should be adding more value than its cost. Every asset should be leveraged to add value.

…but what does “adding value” really mean? In my view there are 12 ways your firm can add to it profitability and competitiveness, my definition of adding value. These can be clustered into four groups and detailed as follows:

12 Ways to Add to Your Firm’s Profitability and Competitiveness

Ways to add value

#1 Profiling and Pitching

  • Brand and Network Building - branded premium providers command higher prices and attract top talent. Firms with better networks spend less on mass marketing and get more low-cost referrals.
  • Client and Industry Insights - firms that really understand their client's business and industry have better bid-win strike rates and a higher percentage of sole-sourced work.
  • Selling and Pricing - firms that are adept at selling and pricing capture more value, discount less and win more.

#2 Resourcing and Communicating

  • Process and Workflow Design - firms that have streamlined workflows use fewer resources for the same outputs. They generally have faster and more predictable response times and enjoy lower error rates.
  • Resource Planning and Project Management - significantly higher margins can be realised by configuring the right combination of talent, tools and technology for each matter or project. More and more clients are choosing firms based on their ability to plan and project manage their work.
  • Client Interaction and Co-creation - better client communication and engagement usually increases the chance of client satisfaction and value perceptions. These, in turn, improve client loyalty, pricing and billing outcomes.

#3 Delivering and Controlling

  • Technical and Commercial Capability - firms that are perceived to provide better quality and more commercially relevant advice are usually able to command a price premium.
  • Service Delivery, Quality Assurance (QA) and Billing - firms that are able to deliver efficiently, effectively and consistently usually outperform their peers. So too are those that bill and collect fairly and promptly.
  • Team Engagement - firms that can motivate and inspire their staff will usually enjoy higher productivity, better quality work and less regrettable turnover.

#4 Connecting and Innovating

  • Client Relationship Management - firms that have wider and deeper relationships with their key clients will usually enjoy lower business development cost, higher share-of-wallet and more predictable revenue flow.
  • Client Education and Support - firms that support their clients through ongoing education and other activities relevant to their needs will enjoy better client relationships and loyalty. Informed purchasers often brief better, respect their providers and know what they don't know.
  • Service Innovation - firms that continue to evolve their service offering to address new market needs will retain current clients and attract new ones. Innovation that lowers costs will give firms more price-setting discretion.

Using the model

Where to invest

The value chain model can be used to assess where resources are currently deployed and where they should be. For example, most law firms put a lot of time and energy into just five areas: Brand and Network Building; Technical and Commercial Capability; Service Delivery, QA and Billing; Team Engagement and Client Relationship Management. This means that seven other value-adding areas are potentially sub-optimised. A more deliberate focus in each of these areas could add up to a significant improvement in profitability and competitiveness.

Where to innovate

Many professional service firms are looking to innovate and "digitise" their business. The model can be used to determine what elements of the value-chain should be the focus of change and investment. For example, rather than spreading themselves too thinly, a firm might want to focus their energy and dollars on getting closer to their key clients and enhancing client connectivity and engagement. This would mean an emphasis on Client Engagement and Co-creation, Client Relationship Management and Client Education and Support.

What should we make, buy or borrow?

By analysing its value chain, a firm can decide which elements it should make, which it should buy, and which it should borrow. So, for example, one of my accounting firm clients has engaged a specialist lead generation company to help out with Sales and Pricing. They recognised that prospecting for new clients was a key weakness, and that re-training the firm's partners would be like flogging a dead horse. They pay the consultancy $500 for each meeting they set up within defined 'right client' parameters.

How do we compare?

The value chain model can be used for head-to-head competitor analysis. Further insights can be gained by examining each of the 12 areas, assessing where a firm is ahead, where it's at par, or where it's behind its key competitors. A firm can then use the model to decide its core strategy, that is, how it's going to win and what capabilities will be needed for success. For example, if very few direct competitors are focusing on Resource Planning & Project Management, this might be a source of competitive advantage in the period ahead.

How do we organise?

The final application area of the value chain model is to ensure there is oversight of each of the value-adding areas or categories. For example, a firm may elect to create a Resourcing and Communicating SWAT team, with a blend of Practice, IT, HR, Finance and BD executives, charged with identifying and making improvements.

About our Guest Blogger

Joel Barolsky

Joel Barolsky is Managing Director of Barolsky Advisors, Senior Fellow of the University of Melbourne and Creator of the Price High or Low smartphone app designed to help you with pricing your projects.

Lawyers win tenders - not the tender writer

Monday, April 09, 2018

By Clemtine Scahill, Business Development Manager, Prodonovich Advisory

How to have your law firm’s tenders taken seriously, as a first step and how to win the work as a result of your tender preparation.

If you want to throw the cat among the pigeons in your law firm, submit a competitive tender for a major new client or project.

Not only does that ensure people will be distracted from their main role for a few weeks, it’s also a guaranteed cause of stress and the derailing of other important projects.

And the best part? After all the late nights, early morning coffees, neglecting of existing clients, and harassing your colleagues (or being harassed by them) for essential information, you’re still more likely than not to miss out.

How I know that is through my work with law firms, where the average success rate is below 45%. That’s better than in many industries and professions, but it’s still hardly the stuff of legend. And it means around half of all firms are actually performing below that mark – sometimes well below.

My own success rate in this arena is about 85%. While I’m proud of that, I’m also certain it’s not a function of having been born with a special bid writing gene. Consequently, I’ve become deeply interested in whether there’s a formula for consistently producing winning tenders – something I’ve been doing without fully appreciating how distinct it is from the typical approach.

The short answer: there is a formula, and I’d like to share it with you.

What is the minimum needed to have your tender considered seriously?

If you’re not already meeting these criteria, this is where you should devote your attention first:
  • You demonstrate you have the legal expertise and can prove it
  • You actually answer all the questions required of the tender. Sounds simple but often a piece is written and it sounds good but it doesn't answer the question
  • You demonstrate that you have the technology, insurances, policies, systems and processes, as well as security needed for this client
  • You are in the right ballpark with price
As I said, meet those criteria, and you can expect to be taken seriously. But that’s not the same as winning.

The four things I believe you need to do to have a real shot at winning the tender

  • Demonstrate and provide proof that you know the client – and their industry 
  • Show that you ‘get’ what bothers them in their daily routine
  • Show that you also get what makes them say ‘thank you’ meaningfully and with relief
  • Finally, show what you do – outside of legal expertise – to make your clients look good.
How do you do all that? The only way to get it right is by working closely with the experts (the lawyers) at the tendering firm. It is they who win the tenders – not the tender writer.

This is one thing I am very clear about – a good tender will have spot-on information from the best lawyers in the firm. The lawyers who know their client and know their client’s industry.

A good tender writer is extremely curious and draws out both information and the tone of the tender, then manages that information for use in the bid document.

That’s a little like being a referee in a sporting contest; I know I’m needed and I know I need to be masterful in my role, but everything I do is designed to allow the real experts knowledge and understanding to shine. Our shared moment arrives when the contract is won.

Getting the right information starts with finding the people in the firm who know a lot about the client and their industry, and then listening hard to what they have to say

I keep questioning until the “ah that’s what I wanted to know and hear – let me get that down word for word” moment. The deeper my understanding of the client, the better I am able to address the needs, fears and the big expectations of clients.
I trust the experts in my client’s firm. It’s easy for a tender to get derailed by enthusiasts for a seductive, marketing/comms-driven approach.

The best marketing people, in my experience, have a level of humility that allows them to enhance rather than dictate. They’re not seductive; they’re clear thinking and outcome driven, and they make sure the experts’ voices are heard.

What your law firm does, and will do, makes all the difference to the client

Usually, it comes down to a combination of saving time, saving money, creating efficiencies and showing that firms understand exactly what the right result is for their client (and it’s not always a win in court); but it may not be limited to those things.
Rather than simply write in the bid that those will be achieved , I keep digging until I’m clear how the law firm will do that. If we can’t demonstrate and provide proof that what we promise will actually happen, it’s questionable whether we should be saying it at all.

And the bottom line, always, is that the most valuable expertise lies with others, not me. When I allow that expertise its fullest expression, magic happens and positive results show up time after time.

Along the way, the valuable insights and documentation that get produced are categorised for future use – for marketing, tender proposals, internal discussions, and more.

One final point to improve your tender’s likelihood of success

In an effort to win new business, many firms tender for opportunities that they really shouldn’t. The reasons not to tender, are many – and a subject for another blog – but for now I suggest that before undertaking a new bid, you always ask yourself what opportunities you have among existing panel appointments and other clients. This is your true low-hanging fruit, and in the excitement of pursuing entirely new opportunities, it’s easy to miss it.

About our Guest Blogger

Clementine Scahill has worked with Prodonovich Advisory since 2015 helping firms pursue new business including managing projects to ensure firms are ready for winning. Clementine assists firms with their strategy development, importantly helping them execute their plans. She has particular expertise in target account plans, competitive pitches and corporate communications. Her career has included senior roles with McKinsey and Company (in Australia and the US), PKF, Hunt and Hunt Lawyers and more recently Bartier Perry Lawyers.

Facebook updates are good news for law firms

Monday, April 02, 2018

By Caitlin Ritter, Marketing Manager, Carter Capner

If you’re managing your law firm’s social media presence or strategy, you’ve likely heard about the coming changes to the Facebook news feed and the algorithm behind it. These changes have already started to roll out.

On the surface, it’s about quality controlling news feeds so people see more of the stuff that makes them happy, like posts from friends rather than content from businesses, brands and media publishers. The branded content you do see will be shown because it sparks genuine connections between people – that means people are engaging with it on more than a superficial ‘post like’ basis. 

So those blog posts, news articles and testimonials that you’re publishing organically (that is, not paying for), while all fine pieces of content, will potentially cease to exist for Facebook users who tend to scroll within their news feed. They will, however, still be visible if a user visits your actual Facebook page.

On the other hand, businesses and pages will be encouraged to continue to pay to have their content shown, meaning boosted posts and advertisements will be all systems go. 

Sounds bad – and expensive – right? 


This Facebook update is good for law firms and here’s why

Law firms are in a great position to offer the types of interactions that Facebook may see as valuable to its users. 

This is because everyone needs legal information at some point in their life. And by its nature, legal information can be tricky to understand. 

With the demand for informative and helpful legal information in plain English, it’s up to firms to create content that fills the gaps and answers the questions people have. 

You can identify these topics through a variety of different methods. You might want to:
  • Ask the legal teams what questions people commonly ask throughout their matters. 
  • Delve into search trends in your practice areas to find out what questions people search for online (or ask your digital agency to do that for you). 
  • Look into your Google Analytics account to see if any blog posts are particularly popular. 
  • Use past social media posts that have had high engagement levels as indicators of what topics work well. 

Qld Estate Lawyers is leveraging the market for information to achieve good reach and engagement on Facebook

What does this mean about posting on Facebook moving forward?

Here are some tips on what and how firms may want to post over the coming months. 

1. Keep it classy – don’t beg for people to interact with your brand

The Facebook overlords have made it pretty clear that posts with ‘comment bait’ (think of brands who add “comment Y if you like cookies!” at the end of a post) won’t be rewarded. While a call to action (“like or share this post if you found it helpful”) is generally OK, make sure any requests for interaction are genuine and relevant to the topic at hand. 

2. Quality over quantity – don’t post for the sake of keeping a schedule

Ever since the news feed ditched its chronological post order, the need to post regularly has been a bit baffling. People will see your posts when they see them, and if your posts aren’t high-quality, then they won’t see them at all. It’s as simple as that. So focus less on sticking to your 3-times-a-week schedule and put more focus on creating content that adds value to your audience’s experience. 

3. Cause some controversy – don’t shy away from having opinions

  • Should artificial intelligence determine sentencing in criminal cases? 
  • Should road rules be adjusted to offer more protection to cyclists?
  • Should the government impose heavier regulations on property developers?
No matter what your area/s of law happen to be, there’s guaranteed to be a hot topic you can use to your advantage. Don’t be afraid to take a stance – passion takes sides, and as long as you’re not being offensive or antagonistic, there’s nothing wrong with having an opinion. Be respectful of commenters who disagree, and listen to any feedback your readers offer. 

4. Switch to camera mode – experiment with video if you have the resources

Show the softer side of the firm with short videos and live videos on your Facebook page. It doesn’t have to be fancy – you could do some short meet the team segments or a Q&A session.

In an earlier ALPMA post on increasing engagement on social media, Nicole Shelley said “You can have a little bit of ‘me, me, me’ but you need to have a lot of ‘you, you, you’”.

That’s truer than ever with the coming changes. And to do that, you need to identify what your audience wants to know, answer those questions thoroughly, and get those answers in front of the right people. It’s not about beating the system – it’s just about giving value back to the people you want to connect with.

About our Guest Blogger

Caitlin Ritter - Carter Capner
Caitlin Ritter is the Marketing Manager for Carter Capner Law, a firm with specialist brands for compensation, wills & estates and business & property. She holds a Bachelor of Business and a Bachelor of Journalism from QUT, and applies her keen interest in consumer-led marketing to the job on a daily basis.
Caitlin comes from a digital marketing and content production background, and enjoys turning technical talk into plain English.

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