What Makes a Successful Firm?
The Successful Firm Project is a professional network of law firms and solution providers committed to sharing best practices for law firm success. Our mission is to inspire business success for law firm teams through shared experiences, resources and networking. The SFP Leadership Advisory Board is comprised of legal management professionals who possess unique visions about the future of law firms in the 21st century. We asked them to share their outlook on what makes a successful firm.
Laura J. Broomell, CLM
Greene Espel PLLP
Chief Operating Officer
Association of Legal Administrators
James L. Cornell
Shook Hardy & Bacon, LLP
Director of Business Development
What do successful firms need to prioritize in 2021?
Broomell: To begin, successful firms need to prioritize technology- specifically balancing ease of work and accessibility with security, providing secure and ergonomic workspaces for both in-office and remote work locations, tax consequences and compliance issues related to work from anywhere options, and training. Additionally, successful firms need to implement actionable initiatives to advance Diversity, Equity, Inclusions and Access (DEIA). It's important to emphasis the wellbeing for everyone at the firm, reimagine what work looks like in the future without attachment to what has been done in the past, and place an increased focus on the client experience by offering custom-fee arrangements, improving the service experience, and nurturing relationships.
Campbell: I believe to be successful in 2021 and beyond, firms must commit to accepting the concept of a little failure for the sake of progress. Everyone in the firm context likes to get things perfect before they are put out into the world. While that is incredibly important in the representation of clients, firms could do themselves a favor for the sake of business progression if they allow for some experimentation.
Cornell: I believe in any year firms should prioritize people, process and purpose, however those three areas seem exponentially more important in 2021 given all that has taken place as a result of the pandemic. People are a firm’s greatest asset, and ensuring the collaboration of people with each other and in the services our firms perform helps ensure that values and expectations of the firm remain aligned with those of our clients. When people, process and purpose are in alignment we realize the triple bottom line of success!
Ries: Successful firms focus on their clients and their clients’ experience working with the firm.
How do successful firms collaborate with their teams to ensure meaningful contributions?
Broomell: Successful team collaboration at its highest and most effective level is achieved only if the team relies on open, equitable, and truthful communication. There must be a trusting relationship amongst team members, so every person feels comfortable sharing and contributing. That is the foundation to a successful team
Campbell: I believe the most successful firm teams are ones that have asked, “Whose voice do we have in the room and whose are we missing?” Once you get everyone in the room who needs to be there, you need to ensure a space with equal standing to foster grounded, well-informed and measured solutions.
Cornell: Firms are using technology, and specifically online collaboration platforms and tools, to enable better collaboration as our teams are more distributed than ever. The pandemic accelerated a growing trend so much so that approximately 83% of employees rely on using technology for daily collaboration with team members that may be located anywhere in the world. This sense of connection and freedom work hand in hand to create a more engaged and satisfied employee/workforce, which generally results in employees feeling like they are making more meaningful contributions. This feeling bodes well for employee retention at a time when employees who don’t feel connected have less incentive to stay with their current employer given the mostly remote work environment many employees and firms are operating in.
Ries: Firms need to have a clearly understood and communicated mission and goals that appear every step of the way with everyone involved.
How are client relationships evolving?
Broomell: Many client/law firm relationships are evolving by being focused on building relationships. Attorneys must know the client’s business and industry, and not just be an expert in a particular area of law. As with successful teams, clients and attorneys are looking to build trusting relationships that focus on success for both the client and the law firm. A strong trusting relationship equates to greater understanding of the issues, which result in better outcomes.
Campbell: My observation from the 30,000 feet view is that many clients find true value in the firms that provide them guidance and advice to advance the goals of their businesses while proactively protecting their interests. Clients want to know what to expect from firms so they can determine how their lawyers/law firms fit into their supply chain as part of the business, not as part of the clean up after something has gone wrong.
Cornell: In many ways client relationships are becoming more familiar, and personal as a result of the pandemic. Thanks to video conferencing platforms on our laptops and mobile phones, we have seen our clients in their homes with their families and pets and without the formal conference room table between us. And our clients have likewise gotten to know us in similarly personal ways. I think this has created a stronger sense of partnership that is less formal in nature, yet closer in understanding and values. Interestingly, the same applications that have brought us closer to our clients are available to lawyers and law firms of all sizes and as a result are a great equalizer. Any competitive advantage that a larger firm may have had in terms of technology or resources for building relationships and being top of mind with clients and prospective clients are readily available now to all, which means greater competition and pressure to deliver top notch legal services at a competitive cost. The result is a need for more focus on developing relationships with clients as well as maintaining and growing those relationships.
Ries: Clients want partners, not vendors. They want professional services delivered in a consultative manner, and they are looking for added value in a relationship.
The Successful Firm Project will be exploring these concepts throughout the year. Subscribe today and gain access to active learning environments, networking, and purposeful content focused on helping teams build and grow their successful firms for today and tomorrow.