There have been huge changes in legal practice in the last 15 years. While still a profession, things have shifted far more towards law firms being businesses. As such, law firms have begun to appreciate that the factors that influence business success in other industries apply equally to them. Fundamental business concepts like marketing, branding, sales, and efficient operations, are now becoming paramount to a law firm’s success. But one oft overlooked aspect of running a successful business is teamwork. Here’s an analysis on the importance of teamwork in the modern law firm, and tips for how law firms can create a more team oriented culture.
The Shift: Law Firms Becoming Businesses
Noticeable paradigm shifts currently happening in legal practice include dilution of client loyalty, along with a consequent increase in the importance of marketing and branding in an increasingly noisy and competitive environment.
In response to these challenges, the main drumbeat from legal industry commentators and experts on social media channels seems to focus on disruption, technology and changes to billing methods. All of these things have validity and importance, especially for the largest law firms.
However, there may be a more fundamental and basic shift which will determine success or failure for the majority of law firms (i.e those outside the top 100). Something which doesn’t get nearly as much airtime, but actually may be a far more important indicator of survival/success is teamwork.
Why is teamwork so important?
Here are 8 observations that help illustrate the importance of teamwork in the modern law firm.
Lawyers haven’t traditionally worked in a team oriented way
Many attorneys have built their own client portfolio and can be very protective over sharing access to clients. This is inefficient to say the least and unhelpful to the overall success of the business.
Why hire associates and support staff if the partner does all the work for his/her own clients anyway? There are major efficiencies to be gained from a more collaborative workflow.
Marketing is now a vital function in law firms
Marketing is the process by which a business communicates its message to prospective customers and ultimately convinces them to make a purchase. In a law firm, it is impossible to simply outsource the marketing functions to a marketing department.
The marketing function only works well when the marketing person or team works in conjunction with the lawyers, creating a unified message and sales process. This makes teamwork an essential part of effective marketing.
The 80/20 rule and maximizing client lifetime value
Traditionally 80% of new business should come from existing clients and word of mouth. But where teamwork is lacking, law firms potentially miss out on lucrative, repeat business from their existing clients.
Let’s say a client has used a litigation specialist at the firm – that client may be happy with the advice and outcome of using that specialist and hopefully won’t have another dispute in the near future. However, that client may well need commercial or property law advice quite regularly. Without a team and cross marketing ethos, that potential longterm client may be lost to the firm. This can reduce client lifetime value significantly.
Specialization and collaboration lead to greater satisfaction
Many areas of law, like the world generally, have become more complex and specialized in recent years. It is often critical for a client to know and be confident that the firm has a team of specialists who can cover different areas and work efficiently and harmoniously with each other. A single attorney may not have adequate experience in all the different areas of law implicated by a single matter.
A typical example would be a corporate deal – inevitably, corporate transactions, even small ones, will involve property law and intellectual property aspects. Even if the firm does have specialists and they are all brought in as necessary, if it’s clear that they don’t work well together, this might result in delay, conflict, additional cost and overall reduced client satisfaction.
Teamwork engenders trust and loyalty
Trust and loyalty are vital ingredients for overall business success, both internally as well as externally. The way clients perceive law firms has changed, and perception has become very important. Clients are far more attuned to signals of disharmony, staff churn, the attitude of support staff and so on. A lack of harmony internally can create negative perceptions externally.
By emphasizing the collaborative, team-oriented nature of your firm to clients, you will build increased loyalty and trust which leads to more referrals and provides better work product as a result.
Amplification of content on social media
In an increasingly noisy and competitive marketplace, improving law firm marketing and branding is vital to the health of your business. Law firms which seemed to be up and coming 20 years ago have disappeared and/or merged because they simply haven’t recognized the importance of keeping the firm’s name out there actively, especially digitally. Maximizing these perceptions with good content marketing is more critical than ever.
Social media is a key channel for marketing whether on LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube, etc. The effect of amplification, i.e. when a significant proportion of law firm colleagues make a concerted effort to share the same content, should not be underestimated.
Let’s say that you have a 20 lawyer practice and each lawyer has 200 connections on LinkedIn, many of whom are different to the connections of the other lawyers. If even half those lawyers share an article produced by a colleague, as opposed to if none or just 1 or 2 share it, the amplification difference in terms of visibility, is very significant.
We all know that referrals are key for acquiring clients. But if members of your own team are not enthusiastic supporters and ambassadors of your business, can you really expect external people to be?
By creating a strong, team-oriented culture at your law firm, you will encourage this sort of advocacy naturally. Some of the bigger law firms are leading the way in this respect, even by specifically hiring “brand advocates” for the law firm. You can see an example of this in action on Linked here.
It’s not just about the lawyers
With law firms now operating more like normal businesses, non-lawyer roles are on the rise. All of the points above apply equally to non-lawyers working in law firms. It’s critical to integrate all members of the team and ensure that each person feels their contributions are valuable.
A good indicator of the value of teamwork is demonstrated by some pretty savvy thinking by the ever innovative and growing firm, Mishcon de Reya, who recognized the shift in legal practice and the vital impact of teamwork. This speaks volumes (see this article for more).
A thought to finish…
Law firms can benefit tremendously by striving to establish a more collaborative work environment and emphasizing the importance of teamwork, both internally amongst colleagues and externally with clients.
“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” — Henry Ford
James Swede is Managing Partner of Darlingtons and head of the firm’s well known property department. He set up Darlingtons with his father, David, in 1999 and attributes much of the firm’s growth and continuing success as linked to prioritising adaptability, embracing change and investing in people, technology and marketing.