A recent article in The American Lawyer shares research by UK-based research firm Acritas about the main reasons that clients fire outside counsel. Major clients cited cost (21%), bad advice or lack of expertise (18%), project completion (16%), poor service (15%), and loss of a key partner (11%) as primary factors in their decisions. Given the additional complexities of international practice, how do you reduce the chances that any of these will happen to you?
As noted above, high cost was the primary reason that corporate counsel fired outside firms. In the international arena, the Magic Circle and other large global firms are known for charging some of the highest hourly rates around. One way to combat high hourly rates is, of course, to adopt alternative billing structures that focus on value rather than hourly billing. For example, the In-House ACCess blog describes how footwear company Wolverine Worldwide and outside counsel Seyfarth Shaw are negotiating to work out a value-based relationship, and the metrics being proposed by each side. For example, in-house counsel proposed a “Trademark Risk Rate” which included total dollars spent on trademark defense divided by the number of trademarks defended. Outside counsel, however, proposed a different set of metrics including Overall Satisfaction and Timeliness of Communication. As the post notes, the parties are in the midst of working out the metrics. However, their efforts show a willingness to create alternative fee structures up front.
As noted in the first paragraph, poor service is another common reason that in-house counsel fire outside firms. However, sometimes differences in cultural expectations can create an unintended impression of “poor service”. Do you know each client’s cultural expectations–and are you meeting them? For example, what are your client’s expectations about work product timing? Is their sense of time fluid, or do they expect advance warning and justification of any schedule changes? Are your clients willing to work directly with lower-level attorneys or do they expect to interface with senior partners to feel that they are receiving good service? (See also Effective Cross-cultural Lawyering in this blog.)
As the Acritas study notes, clients also leave when a firm lacks the right kind of expertise or delivers bad legal advice. Client-attorney cultural misunderstandings, as well as separation by time zones and distance, increase the chance that clients’ expectations won’t be fully met. So, when dealing with a potential client, spend extra time clarifying what kind of legal expertise they are seeking and honestly assess whether you can match it. If you can’t meet their needs, then refer the matter to another trusted lawyer. It is far better for clients to get the legal expertise that they desire rather than to damage your brand by not meeting expectations.
Finally, plan ahead for transitions. When a client’s project ends or the client’s primary lawyer contact leaves your firm, be ready to maintain and nourish the client relationship. This can take extra effort across the miles, but try to maintain open lines of communication with all former clients. Sending articles of interest with handwritten notes is an easy but personal way to show continued interest. Of course, personal visits anytime that you are in the client’s city help to maintain a warm relationship, too.
Implementing these tips will help decrease the chances that you will get fired, despite distance across the miles and time zones.
For tips on taking your law practice to a global level, please see my recent article on the Texas Bar Journal (July 2012) titled Going Global: Delving into the International Legal Arena. The article shares advice on building relationships with other international lawyers, developing international legal work, handling global legal work, and the like. Happy Global Lawyering!
Want to become a popular source for the press? Want to work well with the foreign press? Paramjit Mahli of the SCG Legal PR Network has some great tips for lawyers on both:
Becoming a popular press source:
Working well with the foreign press:
To the latter post I commented that knowing how to communicate with reporters from foreign cultures can be invaluable. Americans tend to be very direct communicators, very individualistic, and comfortable with self promotion. As a result, many American lawyers are quoted with a string of sentences beginning with, “I think…”, “I know…” and “In my opinion…”. Although lawyers should make their opinions known, when communicating with a reporter from a less individualistic and more indirect culture, American lawyers should avoid starting every sentence with “I”.
Would you tell a stranger that you were leaving for a ten day vacation to Acapulco? Would you willingly give out your birth date and address to someone you didn’t know? Most of us would answer a resounding “NO” to these questions. Yet millions of people–including many lawyers– do this daily on their Facebook and Linked In pages.
Joe Pistone, who worked for the FBI for 27 years as an undercover agent, cautions people against putting too much information on social media sites. As Pistone told Computer Weekly, Russian and Italian Mafias are using data from such social media public sites to extort businesses and individuals.
Similarly, David Rappe, a former US Army commando and expert with the security firm Beyond Risk, warns that kidnappers are becoming much more sophisticated regarding their research of potential prey. Like the Russian and Italian Mafias, kidnappers within Venezuela (and other nations) are scouring Facebook, and even creating false profiles, in an effort to learn routines and financial holdings of their intended victims. The son of wealthy Mexican businessman Alejandro Marti was kidnapped and murdered, a crime aided by the son’s on-line postings. As Rappe told TIME, it’s not actually being risk that puts you in danger but rather “the appearance of being rich.”
In an effort to protect their lawyers, many law firms with such security concerns have opted not to publish individual lawyer photos on their online lawyer profiles. Unfortunately, this can leave firm website looking cold and impersonal.
So how do lawyers take advantage of the internet and social media’s benefits (like the ability to connect with actual and potential clients), while mitigating the inherent risks?
Social networking sites offer various levels of account security, but it is up to the user to employ them. In addition, ComputerWeekly suggests these social media safety tips (and we have added a few of our own):
• Restrict viewing of your details to trusted persons.
• Never publish your full birth date.
• Don’t reveal your e-mail, phone number, or postal address.
• Question the motivation of unsolicited requests to be friends or group membership from persons unknown.
• Read the small print of any third-party software installed via social networking sites.
• Never arrange to meet strangers in person.
• Do not post your travel plans; carefully edit comments on past travel (avoiding revealing any pattern to your travel, or, like Rappe notes, appearing affluent.).
•Restrict descriptions of your personal and professional activities, lest unscrupulous people figure out a pattern of your behavior.
•Some lawyers may want to omit personal photos entirely. However, if your law firm already publishes your professional photo, use the same one on your personal social media page, to minimize the publicly accessible images of you.
•Use a “strong” password, and change it often.
Despite security concerns, social media is growing rapidly. Americas Quarterly reports that in 2009, social media use in Latin America rose 83.3%. Mexican businessman Miguel Angel Oliva, Vice President of Public Relations and Corporate Affairs for HBO Latin America, spends a couple of hours every day updating his profiles on Facebook and on LinkedIn, especially since LinkedIn launched its Spanish version in 2008. “When I joined LinkedIn, I realized that it had a professional focus, that it was a serious business community. I would recommend new users to join groups of interest, to develop their profile and participate actively on LinkedIn”, Oliva explains.
Professionals like Oliva have managed to incorporate social media networks into their business in a safe and effective manner. Similarly, lawyers everywhere can safely utilize social media, as long as they are vigilant in what they are posting, and pay particular attention to whom they permit to see their profiles.
Last night I got to introduce John Otis, TIME and Global Post correspondent in Bogota, before a local World Affairs Council event. John recently published Law of the Jungle: The Hunt for Colombian Guerrillas, American Hostages, and Buried Treasure. Many years ago as a young journalist he made his way from Minnesota to South America with his typewriter crammed in his backpack; the typewriter took up so much room that he had to abandon his sleeping bag.
John read from his fascinating book, a fact which I later described on my Facebook page. What interested me was the response that I got. Although my comments were brief, a number of friends emailed me asking where they could buy the book (answer: Amazon). Since my description was minimal, I concluded that it was the book’s snappy, intriguing title which had garnered so much attention. Words like “Buried Treasure” do pique the imagination.
So, when writing articles, blog posts, or even letters to clients, how can you grab your reader’s attention? Although allusions to the “Jungle” and “Hostages” may not be appropriate, writing in a compelling way (not legalese) will set you apart from most lawyers. Need help? There are plenty of books, like Words that Work, to give you guidance.