Strategies to be Developed by Mid-sized Law Firms to Deal With the Growing Competition of Multi-Skilled Resources of Larger Firms

by Joel A. Rose

While it is unrealistic to expect that most mid-sized law firms can match the multi-skilled resources of larger firms, mid-sized firms should identify and prioritize those (1) profitable areas of current and projected practice for emphasis and investment, (2) areas for maintenance and incremental improvement, (3) areas not currently offered to be added, and (4) those current practices to be de-emphasized or divested.

Can a mid-size firm match the multi-skilled resources of large firms?

The more financially and professionally successful mid-sized law firms are proficient in performing virtually all of the usual legal services in most of the substantive practice areas required by their key clients, however, they do not have the lawyer complement required to be expert in all practice areas, nor will the sophisticated buyers of legal services believe that mid-sized law firms are able to provide the same breadth and depth of high quality legal expertise as large general practice firms several times their size.

It is for these reasons that many mid-sized law firms identify and prioritize (1) profitable areas of current and projected practice for emphasis and investment, (2) areas for maintenance and incremental improvement, (3) areas not currently offered to be added, and (4) those current practices to be de-emphasized or divested. Also, many mid-sized law firms have formed strategic alliances with law firms having complementary and diverse practices within and outside of their traditional market, while others have joined national and regional networks of law firms so as to develop a cadre of referral sources to serve existing and potential clients.

Strategies to Enhance the Level of Credibility of Mid-sized Law Firms:

The level of "client credibility" mid-sized firms will have is a consequence of providing their clients with consistently outstanding work product, and extraordinary levels of client service in a timely manner at fees that are fair to the client and the firm.

As the result of strategic planning studies and retreats planned and facilitated by Joel Rose & Associates, Inc., many financially and professionally successful mid-sized law firm clients have gained a significant competitive edge by developing and implementing the following "quality service oriented" strategies that were especially designed to serve the best interests of their clients, attorneys (partners and associates) and support staff:

  1. Establish a team-oriented workplace for improved work product, client service and professional development. Instill a sense of teamwork, camaraderie and collegiality in everything the firm does, and improve firm-wide teamwork through increased training, communications and feedback.

  2. Work toward 360 degree performance reviews of all attorneys and their respective practice areas, i.e., to what extent does each attorney, support personnel and their respective practice areas provide the high quality service they purport to? Does the firm need more or a different balance of expertise of its attorneys? If not, the firm should commit to recruit a strong lawyer(s) who possesses the reputation and current client base that could be the foundation for enhancing/building a particular practice.

  3. Expand the firm's visibility and practice. From a marketing perspective, have an attorney in each of the firm's key practice areas write at least one article and an update each year for industry/trade association publications. Articles for bar association publications are fine if the firm is seeking referral work from other attorneys. Also, one or more attorneys in each of the firm's key practice areas should speak at one or two professional association/trade organization meetings each year.
    Partners and associates should increase their involvement in civic, professional and industry organizations. Determination should be made if it would be desirable for members of the firm become an officers in these organizations, etc.

  4. Expand current lawyer referral networks. This may be done by cementing relationships with existing referral sources through face-to-face meetings and entertainment events; actively encouraging partners to have regular contact with potential referral sources via phone conversations, face-to-face meetings, etc.; promoting the firm's reputation for excellence in all areas of practice; and develop relationships between reporters and particular attorneys so that the firm may be perceived by reporters as the "go to" firm for information.

  5. Develop a plan to eliminate client-service weaknesses. Assessment of client service should be discussed during regularly scheduled firm and practice area meetings and during client panels, user groups or seminars with clients at least twice a year.

    Conduct client surveys to obtain feedback from clients about their level of satisfaction (dissatisfaction) with the firm, attorneys, fees charged, attorney's ability to assist the corporate executives to achieve their goals, etc., and immediately follow up on client concerns. Personal client interviews should be conducted at least annually with the firm's fifteen or twenty top paying clients, prestigious clients and those clients that have potential for considerably more profitable business. Mail surveys may be sent to other clients.

  6. Develop and implement a Key Client Program (KCP). The firm should develop annually a list of clients that will be included in the KCP. These may include clients from the list of the top paying clients, high profile and/or prestigious clients who have the promise for additional business, etc. The objective of the KCP is to provide personalized and excellent services to executives of the firm's key corporate and business clients. It will insure that those members of mid-sized law firms who work with these clients develop a better understanding of the client's business and personalize relationships with the "decision makers".This type of relationship will enable the corporate executives to rely more on the attorneys and understand that their work will be produced in a shorter turnaround time.

Each key client in the KCP will be assigned a "Relationship Partner" (Account Executive), who will initiate the following partnering concepts which are appropriate to each identified Key Client:

  • Joint matter staffing;
  • Joint training/CLE;
  • Seminars and reverse seminars (repeat periodically);
  • Technology integration such as e-mail, voice-mail, case management, research resources, access to time/billing systems for their accounts, etc.;
  • An annual plan of services to be provided (free of charge);
  • Voluntary case/matter budgets to enable better projection of legal costs by the client;
  • Rent-a-lawyer programs for finite client needs on a cost plus basis.

It may be beneficial to prepare and distribute written descriptions of the KCP as a supplement to the firm's marketing brochure and proposals for appropriate clients, as required.

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