Law Firm Innovation: Will You Lead or Follow?

  • December 14, 2009
  • Gary Mitchell and Catherine Mitchell

While other firms are bracing themselves to weather the bleak economy, here’s how you can use these tough times to foster change and catapult your firm into the forefront of the marketplace.

If you understand that the legal industry is undergoing a transformation, if you get that your clients are looking for innovation in the way they receive legal services, if you want to take your practice, group or firm to the next level, if you have the courage to consider new options and try new techniques, then this article is for you. If you are not there yet, by the time you finish reading this, we’re confident you will have at least moved in that direction.

The challenges law firms face today are not new. They are, however, intensified by the changing demographics of the talent pool, rise of technology, competition, an increase in free, shared information, and the fact that we are in one of the largest global economic downturns in history. It’s a "perfect storm."

Yet when you think of the way lawyers and law firms react to change or innovation, what are some of the words you would use to describe this? Do the words cautious, conservative, slow, or sceptical come to mind?

This perfect storm creates a new playing field. You can throw out all the old rules because they no longer apply. The approaches that you have relied on in the past will have less impact moving forward and, in some cases, will become completely irrelevant.

So don’t follow—lead.

In other words, don’t do what your competition will do: bury their heads in the sand, wait out this economic cycle and hope that everything will return to normal. They will simply continue to rely on the same strategies and approaches they always have.

Instead, you can use this economy to your advantage by embracing innovation and grabbing the opportunity to catapult your firm way out in front of your competition and truly differentiate yourself in the marketplace. There has never been a better time or set of conditions to do just that. That is why we are so passionate about this topic; we see the countless opportunities for you!

Since the physiological reactions to fear and excitement produce the same bodily sensations (your body temperature might rise, your hair might stand on end, and you may become aware of the pit in your stomach), it’s up to you to determine which you are feeling. How? Your thoughts! What you think about something defines how you respond to it. It’s your choice.

Ask yourself:

  • How do I view the current market cycle?
  • Do I look at it from a negative perspective and see only doom and gloom? Am I afraid?
  • Do I see it from a positive perspective and identify its opportunities? Do I feel excited?

Crisis or opportunity? It’s your choice.

In this paper, we will attempt to help you choose opportunity. We offer you a new lens to look through to help you choose opportunity over crisis; a new way of seeing this economy and the legal industry in its current state.

Some of what you read here may not be new to you. You may already be doing some of what we recommend. If that’s the case, we invite you to consider how the integration of these combined strategies might alter outcomes and produce even greater results. We invite you to read this article using this new lens. If you do, by the time you finish reading this, you are more likely to:

  • View this economic cycle as an opportunity;
  • Accept the urgency to act now to make changes now to capitalize on the opportunity;
  • Understand where and how to act to create the greatest impact for your firm; and
  • Seize the opportunities this economic cycle presents, and take action.

Where are the opportunities?

The single largest opportunity this market cycle offers is the nudge (and hardly a subtle one) it gives you to look within and find ways to become innovative in the way you and the members of your firm connect with your clients.

Re-thinking your strategies in three distinct areas will have an enormous impact on your firm’s ability to connect with your clients:

1. Innovation in service: Value-based relationships
2. Developing your talent
3. Leading change to support your client-centric approach

1. Innovation in service: Value-based relationships

Innovation in service begins with adopting a “client-centric” approach to everything you do.

Remember the 80/20 Rule? Eighty percent of your revenue comes from 20% of your clients. Identify your top 20%, and then work with them to create value-based relationships. Sure, clients appreciate lunch or dinner now and then, but what they really want, and more importantly, what they really need — more than ever — is for you to spend time with them looking for ways to find and deliver more value.

According to the 2009 Trends Study by BTI Consulting, when asked to describe the factors that develop superior client relationships in this economy, general counsel said to focus on four things: Understand my business; help advise me on business issues; anticipate my needs and handle problems.

So, how do you build relationships like these?

Talk with clients.

Book a meeting “off the clock” to talk with them. Visit their factories, plants and offices and meet the key players on their teams. Get them talking. Find out everything you can about their business, challenges, goals, and their concerns - now and for the future. In other words, get to know more than their legal issues. Don’t worry about having all the answers before you ask. Just get them to start talking. Understand as much as you can about them and trust that the ideas and solutions you need to help them will present themselves.

Worried about how you might be perceived if you ask questions you think you should know the answers to? A panel of Canadian Corporate Counsel Association (CCCA) members at a Legal Marketing Association – Toronto Chapter session in October 2008, unanimously agreed that, "Asking questions tells me you’re interested, it’s part of building our relationship. The kinds of questions you ask me will differentiate you." It’s that simple. You can differentiate yourself from your competition with the types of questions you ask.

Real Results: When one of our clients did go out and ask his clients questions, he not only learned a lot more about their business, he learned that he was the first lawyer to ever ask for feedback. It’s important to point out that these were large companies with several firms providing them with service, and he was the first one to have the courage to ask them questions.

Ask for feedback.

Ask them how they perceive your service, communication, and value. Research from BTI Consulting Group shows that 63% of clients are not proactively providing their law firms with feedback, so it’s up to you to ask for it. Why ask for feedback? You need to know that your clients are happy with your services and the way you deliver them. If they are not, you leave yourself open and vulnerable to your competition.

And don’t leave client satisfaction feedback to surveys. According to the CCCA panel, corporate counsel is not any more forthcoming with a third party. You need to ask the questions yourself.

Asking for feedback is a genuine opportunity to build value-based relationships. Consider doing this on an ongoing basis, and not just once a year. And think about opportunities to invite feedback at the start of a mandate and not just at the end of it.

Be first to solve your clients’ needs.

Make sure your people are the eyes and ears of your firm. This positions you to be first in offering solutions. If you are not first, being second doesn’t count for much.

Real Results: When a junior lawyer (a client of ours) spoke with his client on a routine check-in call, he learned of a very large and immediate additional need. He shared the new information with the managing partner, who then immediately called the client. Within 20 minutes, the managing partner was in the client’s boardroom in front of the CEO, and members of competing law firms. By the time the managing partner left the client’s office, he had solved the problem for the client and he was rewarded with a very large cheque for a new matter that would keep a team of his lawyers busy for some time to come.

When you truly and fully understand your clients and their business, their challenges, and their needs and service expectations, you’re more likely to consider the following strategies:

Consider innovative billing options.

The current economy applies even greater pressure on your clients to cut costs and show more value for legal services than ever before. Being client-centric and building value-based relationships is about offering your clients greater value.

Armed with new data you have gathered by talking with your clients, you are more likely to identify areas where alternative billing can provide them with greater value and alleviate some of the pressure they’re working under. Find out what works best for your clients and remain flexible to adapt to meet their needs. Provide greater value now in this economy and you are gold with your clients as you both move toward more prosperous times.

Re-think how you do what you do.

Consider the service you provide from the client’s perspective. Understand what happens before, during and after your role. Create a timeline of events, if you will, where you can identify your role, and those of other professionals or client team members. Examine the transaction from start to finish. When you do, you will identify other areas where you may be of help, and with whom you may want to establish alliances to help your client manage all the moving parts of the deal.

The key message here is to take another look at what you do and see if you can dismantle the “what” so you can enhance the “how” and differentiate yourself.
Real Results: One of our clients looked at her role in this way and identified that nine times out of 10, there was an accountant involved both prior to and after her work. She ended up learning that this accountant had a similar practice to her own. She developed a strategic relationship with that accountant. Now they have what we call a “play nice together” approach. This makes it easier on their shared client to facilitate the transaction they each become involved in.

Identify first-to-market services.

By gaining a deeper understanding of your clients’ and/or prospects’ needs, you may be able to identify emerging practice areas that you or your firm could develop as first-to-market. This is about getting to the next curve before your competition does.

Real Results: During her tenure at a Florida-based firm, a chief marketing officer raised the firm’s ranking from somewhere around 20th in the state to the #1 position. How did that happen? She, with the firm, decided to do some strategic planning. Part of that planning was to discern how to create a first-to-market practice. After meeting with their clients and conducting some market research, they developed a disaster relief practice group. Hurricane Katrina hit just a few months later, causing widespread devastation and chaos. When the city of New Orleans needed advice, the Florida-based firm emerged as the most prepared and most capable. This firm has served the city of New Orleans ever since.

Reorganize talent. 

Most clients encourage a “do more with less” attitude. Being more efficient with legal services usually includes driving the work to high-quality, low-cost practitioners; and conducting project management so your clients don’t have to. Your practice group leaders will need to develop project management skills to become effective at shifting work down to capable practitioners with more affordable rates. Further, rules and policies deterring the hoarding of work should be in place and strictly enforced.

Real Results: One of our clients re-negotiated his relationship with his top clients so they would pay him to manage the team of lawyers working on their files. This enabled the partner to expand his practice group, increase capacity while managing client expectations, and not just contain, but reduce costs and pass that value on to his clients.

Delegating the work down saves your clients money. Your higher fees still come in for strategic consultation and project management, but this work involves less of your time. You’re then freed up to go out and get even more clients. This is a win-win-win scenario.

Establish a client advisory board.

Consider creating an advisory board of your top clients and hold quarterly or semi-annual group meetings that allow everyone to learn from and share best practices and new practices.

Here are some considerations for establishing your own board:

1. Introduce this as a special opportunity, designed solely for those clients who share in your firm’s commitment to providing value, managing risk and helping their organizations realize their business goals. Introduce the spirit of the endeavour as one of partnership – offering a forum for discussion among leading corporate/general counsel.

2. Select a medium and a frequency that meets your objective – the ones we’ve helped our clients establish have been annual in-person events with ongoing communication between sessions.

3. Create it as an exclusive opportunity - by invitation only – and consider a 2-year term for participating.

4. Create it as an ongoing initiative and not a one-off event. Brand it and consider giving it a theme like “Your Voice Matters”.

And just to illustrate how innovative this strategy is, research from Altman Weil shows that only 2% of the AM Law 100 (U.S. firms considered the most marketing-savvy) are using this strategy. Wow! Again, opportunity!

Innovation begins with being client-centric. Client-centric means looking at what you do through the eyes of your clients and remaining mindful of their experience. Not sure where to start? Start by talking with your clients and listening for what’s most important to them. Value-based relationships - that’s what your clients want. More importantly, it’s what your clients need. That’s innovation in service. Help your clients get through these turbulent times and your relationship with them will be gold.

2. Developing your talent

The second thing that will have a great impact on your firm’s ability to connect with your clients is investing in the development of your talent. Let’s look at the “why”, “what” and “how” of developing your talent.

Why develop your talent? 

Investing in the development of your talent will certainly support your new client-centric approach.

Your talent is your product and your capital. 

Today, clients have more legal services choices than ever before. When you invest in your human capital, you provide an unmatched product to your clients. Your firm becomes the obvious choice.

Keep your clients. 

Previously, professional development efforts remained highly focused on retaining talent. In a struggling economy, these efforts become more about helping your talent to retain your clients — and even attract new ones. The more your firm can do to help your talent strengthen client relationships, the more successful your firm will become. This strategy will keep your firm robust and your talent engaged.

Send a message.

Talent development sends a strong message to your clients: "We have a commitment to provide you with the best." You also send an important message to your team: "We value your contribution and want to ensure that you have a fulfilling and successful career with us." Living these messages will support your recruitment and client-development efforts, and differentiate you from your competitors.

Strengthen your brand.

When your logo, firm name and brand promise have become widely recognized, and when your firm has acted on targeted advertising and sponsorship opportunities, you need to ensure your talent can deliver your brand promise. Professional training will guarantee a positive experience when they meet with your clients and prospects.

What skills should you develop?

We recommend you focus on five key skill development areas: leadership, client development, team development, associate practice management, and business management.


How effective is your managing partner at:

  • Setting clear direction, focus and strategy for your firm?
  • Using emotional intelligence in leading people?
  • Developing other leaders around them?
  • Leading and managing change efforts?

Provide your firm’s leadership with the skills training they need to develop or improve their leadership abilities, and alleviate stress.

Real Results: A managing partner (MP) felt frustrated that his employees were not taking his direction. Several initiatives stood still. He hired a leadership coach. Together, they examined the MP’s communication style and why people did not act on his direction. First, he had to understand the various personalities he was dealing with, including his own. The coach helped the MP identify ways to communicate more clearly, and how to follow-up as projects progressed. Fast-forward a few months: the initiatives were off the ground and the MP felt effective.

Client Development

Teaching your lawyers how to strengthen client relationships and bring in new business impacts your bottom line  positively and quickly.

This is about client-centricity at its core. It’s about developing existing clients and finding new ones. It involves learning to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace, and learning to be efficient with networking, profile building and prospecting efforts. It involves creating an individual practice plan that supports the group and firm plan. It’s also about establishing processes and systems to track market and client intelligence so it can be leveraged.

Real Results: A junior partner, green to the concepts of client and business development, not only learned where and how to target her practice, she also developed a strong confidence in her ability to build value-based relationships leveraging her own unique style and preferences. She realized that she didn’t have to become “someone else” to originate business.

A marketing-savvy junior partner wanted to take his practice to the next level. He engaged a client-development coach. First, the coach conducted an audit of what the partner had already done, what he liked to do, and the results he experienced. Because this partner was already engaged in some very effective client-development strategies, his plan became more about slight adjustments to his process than Training 101. Fast-forward one year: at age 40, the partner landed the largest file in the history of his 100-year-old law firm and became the firm’s #1 income earner and business generator.

Team Leadership

You’ve heard your associates say, "Meetings are a waste of time." Or, "I don’t receive any feedback on how I am doing. I don’t know where I stand. I do not see myself or my future in the current firm leaders." You’ve heard your team leaders express frustration with members who don’t attend meetings or follow through on assigned tasks.

Teach your team leaders how to:

  • Run effective and efficient meetings
  • Hold people accountable and provide effective feedback
  • Master the art of delegation
  • Strengthen current client relationships
  • Build capacity and increase revenues

Real Results: A senior partner already engaged in business development realized the only way to increase capacity for his own practice was to build a practice team. He engaged a team/leadership coach. Together, they decided the first step: re-negotiate relationships with his top clients so he could move into a management role and oversee the team who would do the actual work. He delegated the work down to lower-fee earners (a by-product of which is greater value to clients); he managed team members by providing them with effective feedback; and he managed the client relationship. Using this team-based approach increased capacity and revenue by 30%. 

Associate development

How much has associate attrition cost your firm? Engage associates as soon as they arrive. Help them develop a roadmap that will lead them to a successful practice and career with your firm. By helping your juniors become better team members, you also support your leaders. This will increase your retention abilities and earn you a reputation for truly developing your talent. Ignore the naysayers: "Why should we invest in them if they will just leave?" The likelihood of them leaving diminishes when you engage them early and continue to help them build a successful practice that they enjoy.

Real Results: A five-year call decided to transition from litigator to solicitor. With a practice management coach, he clarified desired outcomes through the creation of a business plan. This solicitor identified the types of people he enjoyed working with and the kind of files he enjoyed working on. He isolated his target audiences and determined how he could reach them and bring in new business. Most importantly, he identified the firm leaders he could rely on for support. Within a few short months, this lawyer was happy, engaged and already bringing in new business. Fast-forward two years: he continues to make valuable contributions to his firm, is nearly caught up on his original partnership track, and is being groomed as a practice group leader. How much did that firm save by investing in his transition and career development? How much will that firm make throughout this associate’s career? He recently confided that as long as he is practising, he will stay with that firm because of the support they gave him. 

Business management

Hiring and retaining professional business managers is one of the most critical issues facing law firms today. Current demographics show a large population of baby boomers about to retire without enough people with sufficient skills to replace them. It makes sense to hold on to the talent you have and develop them into higher achievers. Additionally, the non-hierarchical structure of the typical law firm means that business leaders encounter obstacles from the start as they’re forced to lead from a non-authoritative position. How do you help them navigate these barriers? Consider budget support for professional association memberships and events, team-building exercises, and access to a dedicated expert resource through a customized coaching program.
Real Results: A marketing director with seven years’ experience took on a new role. She was hired to re-build a six-person marketing team and implement the firm’s strategic plan. Within six months of arriving, she felt defeated. The partners who hired her did not appear to be respecting her expertise and she didn’t feel empowered to do the job they had hired her to do. Meanwhile, members of her team did not follow her guidance and remained stuck in old methods, continuing to operate like a concierge service rather than perform as a tactical marketing team. She engaged a coach to help her establish the department as a critical firm component and build her team to execute the firm’s strategic plan. They held a marketing team retreat to get everyone on the same page. The coaching enabled her to get the firm’s managers to acknowledge the marketing role and implement it. Fast-forward a few months: the plan is underway and instead of feeling defeated, she feels confident and respected.

How to develop your talent

How you develop your firm’s talent is directly related to what you want to accomplish. What follows is a crash course on program development rooted in the three adult learning principles of outcomes-based, goal-oriented and learner-centred initiatives.

With the kinds of opportunities this market provides us, we strongly advise you to consider building programs that produce sustainable behaviour changes with a learner-centred approach.


Before you begin, take a good look at and get agreement on what outcome(s) you want from this development initiative. Do you want your people to learn something new, or do something different, or both?

If your answer is learn something new, a one-off self-study or group seminar program will do the trick. In these efforts, knowledge is transferred from teacher to student.

If you’re looking for them to do something different, however, you’ll augment this knowledge transfer with some practical ways to exercise what has been learned. You’ll add components like assignments with accountability to complete them, and one-to-one coaching and support to practise the new skills. You’ll also leverage the concepts of time and frequency: a number of shorter knowledge-transfer sessions over a longer period of time.


What’s your goal? If it’s that the participant learn something, then designing a program to produce individual results is good enough. If you want the participant to do something different (i.e. alter their attitude and behaviour), then designing a program to produce integrated and sustainable results is where you want to focus your attention. Each is examined in more detail below.

When you want individual results with a measurable difference for the one participating:

Consider participation requirements that measure engagement in the development opportunity like voluntary participation, number of sessions attended, amount or number of times a coach is consulted (if one is provided) and perhaps even a participant contract/commitment letter that has the person make a declaration of their commitment to the opportunity.

Build in an element where the participant’s team leader holds them to account – with regular check-ins on progress and perhaps even including this participation in the annual evaluation process. At a minimum, ensure the participant’s team leader is aware of the initiative and its key messages/learning modules.

When you want to ensure the development opportunity is integrated with your firm’s learning and development framework and other programs offered:

Three conditions must be present to achieve this:

1. Look at your development efforts in the context of a program or curriculum format. Start with the big picture, then step back and identify specific learning modules or knowledge transfer sessions, the order in which to deliver them, and time frames. Then share the big picture before launching a specific part of it.

2. Integrate the individual knowledge transfer sessions within each program with each other so that participants can see the connection between topics.

3. Align your various development programs with each other (i.e. client and associate development programs with your team and group leader development programs). This will ensure that while you are helping your leaders to lead better, you are also helping your team members to be better team members.

When what you really want to achieve is sustainable change through a mindset and culture shift:

Four conditions must be met:

1. Champions - At least one person at the executive level of partnership must be a visible champion for the training initiative and be willing to take a stand for its success.

2. Accountability from leadership - All firm leaders must agree to visibly support the initiative by supporting participants throughout the process.

3. Competency model - A clear competency model must also be in place to ensure your team knows what is expected of them, in addition to their accountability to participate in the program.

4. Rewards - Compensation must reward your people for meeting and/or exceeding your competency requirements.


Learner-centred development is about addressing the individual needs of the participants; most importantly, their own natural dispositions and styles. Talent development is not about changing people, and making them all the same. It is, however, about changing their perceptions and helping them develop confidence in their natural abilities. From our experience, this is only achieved with a one-to-one element like coaching as part of the development initiative.

3. Leading change to support your client-centric approach

The third thing that will impact on your firm’s ability to connect with your clients is your ability to lead change.

As trusted advisors to your firm’s management, you’re called upon (in fact hired!) to help your firm run like a business. You already have a desire to lead change. But when you do, you’ve likely come up against push-back. Most organizations have some level of politics, and law firms are no different. So where do you start?

Before we reveal the “secret,” here’s why we are so confident that this section will positively impact the way you lead change in your firm:

Every one of the clients we work with are progressive-minded thought leaders who know the kinds of changes that will have the greatest impact on their firms – they’re ahead of the curve – and every single one of them has had to deal with the "firm decision-making process": buyers who don’t understand the need or see the big picture and/or who don’t appreciate the detail involved in the change. So what we are about to share with you is a tried, tested and proven process we’ve developed with our clients to help them move their agendas forward in their firms.

Here’s the deal. Your success really depends on your approach in three areas:

1. Selecting your change initiative
2. Building relationships to get investment
3. Implementation process

Selecting your change initiative

First, remove your personal bias from the equation. Then align your initiative with your firm’s leadership motivation. Your firm’s leadership team is likely to be motivated by one (or more) of these factors:

  • Pleasure/pain principle: an initiative that increases a desired outcome or creates a reward for the firm, or one that minimizes a firm risk.  
  • Client-satisfaction/retention/development: an initiative that has a direct link to client satisfaction, retention or development.  
  • Cross-selling: an initiative that gets the firm working together on behalf of a client.

Probe to understand which one drives their decisions to take action. Then, it’s up to you to ensure your change initiative is aligned with this factor and that the decisionmakers understand the alignment. It helps too, if the change initiative is aligned with a firm objective or goal.

Building relationships to get investment

Let’s face it: it’s much easier to move forward with an idea when you have agreement with others who are willing to support you. It’s not fun to look behind and see that no one is following. So, when you’re the one with the idea, consider everyone else a client (or potential client). You have something you want them to invest in (i.e. your idea, a new way of doing something, etc.). Armed with a plan for your idea (it does not have to be perfect or finalized; you can fine-tune it later) that includes a clear description of what it is, what it promises to deliver and what kind of support you need to implement it, proceed with the following.

Find, build, discover, offer/ask

This is a four-step process we use to teach the lawyers we work with to build relationships with their clients. It works in any client/provider scenario.


Identify the individuals within your firm who may have the potential to help you. The key here is “may have the potential.” Their potential in this case will be defined by their desire and ability to help, their vested interest, and their reputation in the organization. How will you know who they are? They will be driven to take their careers to the next level; they will like the idea of working in teams, helping other lawyers succeed and providing feedback and support; they will understand the business of law, and will be willing to do things differently; they can see the future and are keen to get ahead of it.


Spend time getting to know those individuals you’ve selected to understand them and what opportunities lie ahead to work together. You’re looking for an attitude here. Are they interested in helping? What’s in it for them? Do they see the big picture? This process works as a filter to help you weed out those who may not be interested in helping you reach your goals and those who just don’t see it yet, saving you time and effort.


When you’ve determined who is in a position to help, focus next on discovering just how they can help, and what specifically is in it for them if they do. Is there an opportunity for you to help them achieve their goals while aligning them with your own? This is truly about building partnerships, so find out how you can do that. Instead of pitching your idea, you’re clarifying mutual needs and getting alignment.


At this point, you’re beginning to understand your team and how they can help you. You’re also beginning to understand how their goals are aligned with your own. You have specific requests and timelines in mind and you have taken time to establish a relationship built on integrity, mutual interest and trust. All you need to do now is offer to lead the initiative and ask for their help to do so.

Twelve steps to implementing your change initiative

1. Get your managing partner onside - Ideally, your managing partner is on side with your vision and agrees with your approach. If this is not possible at the outset, and you feel very strongly that your change initiative is imperative, then skip this step (for now), and come back to it once you have some proven results.

2. Build relationships to identify "early adopters" - The marketers and administrators who have been able to engage and implement new things within their firms know their lawyers – and they know them very well. Be patient, follow the four-step process outlined above and it will pay off down the road.

3. Create a support team - Seek other like-minded management who are onside with your vision. Engage them in the process and look to them to help you identify early adopters. If you are the only one leading this change, you are more likely to be thought of as a rebel or an outsider.

4. Initiate a pilot with early adopters - Choose people at various levels within the firm but know that most of the change will be led by those in the middle: senior associates and junior partners. These folks are more likely to embrace change. This first group should include current and soon-to-become practice group leaders. For reasons you will see later, it’s important to build this momentum with lawyers who have influence and who are respected in the firm. How will you know who they are? If you followed the four-step process, you will have already identified them.

5. Ensure pilot success by providing participants with whatever they need - This may include outside consultants or coaches. Remember, these lawyers will be leading change and that is not easy. In many cases, they will be entering uncharted territory. It is imperative that they succeed to move your program to the next stage.

6. Measure success - To measure it, you first have to define it. Success can come in many forms and styles. Be clear about what success means to your initiative and your firm. Put a system in place to measure it. At a minimum, you must be able to answer: What has changed? How has this impacted the bottom line or key objective(s)?

7. Articulate success - Results have a wonderful way of influencing change. Decide who needs to know what and when, and then articulate it. Be clear on what has been accomplished and how and why it makes sense. Regular and consistent communication about results will support your long-term vision.

8. Initiate a second pilot/phase - Building on the success of the first pilot, choose the next group of lawyers to work with. You are now looking for the next wave of early adopters; perhaps those who were onside before, but wanted to see results first. Follow the same steps as outlined above. And seek the support of the first group of lawyers to help identify and mentor this second group. They will be able to provide valuable advice and support. You will begin to notice organic teams developing. As like-minded lawyers begin to work with each other, they will speak the same language and follow the same approaches. Your change effort now has ambassadors.

9. Gain investment from firm management - You may have already included your managing partner at the onset of this program. If not – if you were waiting for results first – initiate that conversation now. Demonstrate the value of the program with the results you have achieved. Get their investment. Then, have your managing partner present the program to the managing committee or key decisionmakers at your firm.
When all of this is established, you have a vision, a clear roadmap of how to get there, an army of ambassadors on your side to champion the cause, results, and proof! It will be very difficult for them not to adopt the initiative, especially knowing that there is a growing demand for this new approach rising within their firm as a result of the success you have already achieved.

10. Articulate success firmwide - Take your communications more broadly now. Let the whole firm know what’s been achieved. Once a number of your practice group leaders, junior partners and associates begin to behave differently — positively and with proven results — more lawyers within the firm will want to adopt a similar approach. The investment factor will greatly increase.

11. Articulate the vision - In preparing to roll out the initiative on a firmwide basis, it becomes imperative that everyone understand the value proposition of it. Design your communications so that every member of your team can see themselves in this change initiative. Champion the early adopters in your firm as examples of what can be achieved; they are your new role models. Some of them will even emerge as the next generation of leadership and not only support your vision for change, but demand it.

12. Implement your program - Roll out your program on a larger scale with the full confidence that comes from demonstrating success in incremental stages. And with continuous communication throughout the program, the results will be far greater than if you had attempted this all on your own.

Bonus: If not already in place, policy changes will be much easier to make once a greater number of your lawyers have changed their behaviour.

Final thoughts on leading change

When you align your firm’s greatest needs (pain) or opportunities (pleasure) with those who will embrace change and take action, you start to get momentum — and results. Just don’t be lured into thinking this is a quick-fix solution. It’s a long-term commitment. It involves patience, process and persistence.

Don’t try this on your own!

If you have the desire to grow your practice, group, team or firm to the next level, then leverage the wisdom and experience of others who have done what you seek to do. Consider three key sources of leverage:

Leverage the wisdom and experience of the peers you meet at industry associations. For lawyers, when you attend conferences, always strive to meet others in similar practice areas and/or in non-competing law firms. If you work at the management level, look for other senior leaders you can connect with and learn from. Make a commitment to yourself that, from now on, when you attend meetings or conferences where your peers will be, you will introduce yourself to them, get to know them and learn from them. And then – follow up. Consider creating a peer community of practice and holding quarterly conference calls. Share new practices and learn from the collective wisdom and experience of your peers.

Leverage your C-level staff. Your professional management team was presumably hired for their expertise and experience. Let them do their job and empower them to succeed.

Leverage outsourced solutions when needed. Consider outsourcing when you don’t have the skills or capacity within the firm to help you attain your goals. This is a sign of strength – not weakness. It shows that you are truly committed to your career and your firm and will do whatever it takes to get to where you want to go. Think of Olympic athletes: they get where they want to go with assistance from dedicated coaches and trainers. You can do the same for your practice and your firm.

Will you lead or follow?

You’ve heard the expression, "Think outside the box." We believe the time has come to get rid of the box all together and let your competition use it!

As Ramsey Clark, lawyer and former attorney general of the United States said, "Turbulence is life force. It is opportunity. Let's love turbulence and use it for change."

We are so passionate about this concept because we can see the opportunities in front of you. There has never been a better time nor set of conditions to embrace innovation by adopting a client-centric approach to everything you do, developing your talent, and leading change. Because most of your competition will sit on their hands, or bury their heads in the sand, the playing field is wide open.

Gary Mitchell is a Client Development Coach and the Managing Director of GEM Communications. Catherine Mitchell is a Client Development Coach and the Director of Partner and Program Development at GEM Communications. GEM Communications is an international team of coaches and consultants most known for helping their clients produce sustainable results from their client development and leadership coaching programs. Gary can be reached at or 604.669.5235 and Catherine can be reached at or 416.562.3711.