The Maraia Minutes


Five Ways To Leverage The Chairman’s Role

Volume 13, Issue 8


I was recently asked to speak to a group of managing partners and their COO’s.  The forum sponsors wanted me to address this topic:  How can we leverage the Chairman or Managing Partner’s role to maximum effect?  The session sparked a robust dialogue.  Here are the five things we discussed:

1.  Make it a priority to conduct regular client interviews.  

There is no higher leverage activity you can undertake in your firm than to regularly visit with your top clients and ask them for feedback.  Every leader I speak to agrees client interviews are a very high leverage activity but less than ten percent of them had done a minimum of 12 client interviews in the previous year.  Why the disconnect?  The biggest reason is most don’t have a clear idea about how to conduct them.  If you’ve never done one before, I’d suggest you start with clients who you feel safe with.  Start with clients where the stakes aren’t too high so you can practice.  You don’t have to be the Chairman of your firm to start gathering regular feedback from clients.  If you lead a team of people, you can gather feedback from the clients your team serves.

One of the common mistakes made by many leaders who don’t have experience in doing client interviews is to try to turn the visit into a business generation opportunity.  That’s a huge mistake.  Here is a real irony: If you conduct the client interview effectively (including thorough preparation, asking thoughtful questions, AND listening to the answers) over 50% of your visits will morph into discussions with the client about doing more work.  However, it should always be the client who initiates that discussion.  Then, and only then, is it permissible to find out how you can better serve your client. 

2.  Set forth crystal clear expectations for relationship building for each group of lawyers (or professionals) in your firm. 

This might include establishing one set of expectations for partners, another set of expectations for managers or of counsel, and a third set of expectations for associates. The key is clarity.  Don’t delude yourself into thinking you have already set forth clear expectations.  Instead, try this test today:  Randomly ask any partner you see in the hall what is expected of them in their relationship building efforts.  If you don’t get a uniform answer to the question after trying it with 2-3 partners, expectations aren’t clear.  The greatest reason for performance failure in law firms (and other professional service firms) today is the lack of crystal clear relationship expectations.  Too often firms establish the billable hour as one of their key expectations.  That’s a huge mistake.  Billable hours disrupt building relationships.  Sample expectations might be as follows:

  • Each partner will visit twenty clients off the clock in 2010.
  • Each partner will add one in house lawyer to his network per week.
  • Each partner will create a LinkedIn account containing at least 200 contacts and then add 2 people per week to his contacts
  • Each partner will invest one hour per day to developing an associate’s networking and marketing skills. 
  • Each manager will make one phone call per day to someone in his network.
  • Each manager will make one introduction per week for the benefit of hisclient or his contact.
  • Each associate will add 2 people per week to his  network (if they’re in his network they also be in their LinkedIn contacts unless the other person doesn’t have a LinkedIn account)

You’re much better served to set forth only one expectation for each group but then devote energy to making sure each person is held accountable for meeting it.  If you throw too many expectations at them, the troops will get confused or overwhelmed.  In addition, you’ll find it’s almost impossible to hold people accountable.  Once you’ve set forth clear expectations, you can tie all training and coaching (regardless of whether you use internal or external people) to those expectations.  You can also make each encounter with a person in the group a checkpoint on how they’ve met expectations.  If you ask the same question over and over again, people start to get the message.  See point 4 below about conversations for action.  We’re after small measures of clear progress not grand sweeping gestures. 

3.  Ask your partners to establish a daily or weekly metric for how they will measure their progress in relationship building. 

This action may seem similar to expectations, but it’s not.  Firm leaders set expectations whereas the individual sets metrics.  Have your partners establish the metric and put it in their business development plan.  I’ve worked with some of the most sophisticated professional service firms on the planet who measure all sorts of parameters, but not a single thing gets measured at  the relationship level.  The name of the game is relationships skills. It is way too easy for partners to become complacent or distracted and lose their focus if they don’t set metrics for themselves.  Metrics are an exquisite score keeping mechanism that can dramatically improve consistency among your professionals.

4.  Have more conversations for action.  Refer to Chapter 43 of "Rainmaking Made Simple."

How many of the leaders in your firm have a bias toward taking action?  Not many I’ll bet. If you’re serious about results, have more conversations for action! Great leaders get stuff done through others.  Your professionals need to know that you will be asking them to take action and that you will follow up.  If leaders do this with practice group leaders who in turn do it with people in their group you’ll get way more stuff done through others.   If you don’t do this (along with your direct reports), expect little movement from the troops.  As one co MP said about his peer: “Dave is impatiently action oriented.”

How well do you inspire the troops to take action? Most leaders are given dozens of chances every day to propel people to action…don’t waste them!  Every group meeting is a chance to have a conversation for action.  Every individual meeting is a chance to have a conversation for action. Make sure you create a reminder to follow up after you have one of these kinds of conversations.  If you’re serious about results, have more conversations for action! 

By the way, this ties in nicely with the previous point made about metrics.  As a leader, you can set your own metric of, say, having at least three conversations for action every day.  Anything less and you’re not leading. Enroll your assistant in the effort.  Let her know what you’re trying to do.  Ask every member of the leadership team to do the same.  Remember:  Leaders get things done through others!!

5. Increase the financial or business savvy of your partners. 

Which lawyers in your firm have the most financial and business acumen?  If you’re like most firms, it’s your rainmakers (and only them) who possess that kind of savvy.  Imagine if every partner (and professional) had that level of savvy - what impact would it have on your firm?  It would be mind boggling!  You’d have many more rainmakers and many more professionals who deliver high levels of client engagement and satisfaction. 

Those were my five.  What are yours?  What are you doing to take action?  What have I missed?  I’d love to hear from you if there are other ways you’ve found to effectively leverage the Chairman’s role. (Click here to email Mark)