Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jumping on Your Bandwagon

At a dinner party I sat next to an acquaintance, named Tony, whom I had not seen in a while. As we were catching up, he naturally asked, “So how’s business?”

Questions like Tony’s represent a critical moment in such exchanges, and how we respond shapes what follows. “How’s business?” and “How are things going?” are socially obligatory questions, often asked in lieu of something more original and without a care as to the answer. A one-word reply, even a positive one — “fine,” “good,” “great” — doesn’t give the other person much to sink his teeth into and generally serves to put the brakes to what could be a productive conversation.

So instead of giving him some monosyllabic reply, I said, “Tony, I've been in business since 1993, and last year was my best ever, last quarter was my best ever, and last month was my best ever.”

The way Tony looked at me changed. After a pause, he suggested that I call a certain attorney who, he thought, could use my help. I did, he returned my call (I suspect Tony played a role in that), and the story had a happy ending.

The happy ending had little to do with me or my marketing prowess; rather, it had a lot to do with recognizing that a positive, compelling description of your practice, told with some enthusiasm, creates a bandwagon onto which potential referral sources can jump.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The 2001 Mariners

After the Seattle Mariners finished the 2001 season with a major-league record 116 wins, a reporter is said to have suggested to manager Lou Piniella that they won so many games because four of their starting pitchers – Jamie Moyer (20-6), Freddy Garcia (18-6), Paul Abbott (17-4) and Aaron Sele (15-5) - had terrific seasons. Piniella’s reported response: “We didn’t win 116 games because our pitchers had great years. Our pitchers had great years because they pitched for a team that won 116 games.”

There’s a law firm analogy here. Firm A has good lawyers, but as a firm it’s ordinary at best. Firm B’s lawyers are just as good, and as a firm it is widely respected and enjoys consistent success, profitability and growth. To explain why Firm A is less than the sum of its parts, while Firm B is greater, consider these contrasting presumptions: the presumption of scarcity versus the presumption of abundance.

In firms that presume scarcity, the emphasis is on my practice, my originations, my clients, my billable hours, my collections. Standards for clients and matters are pretty low because, after all, the next matter may be my last. And don’t ask me to reinvest in the firm - in marketing, recruiting, training, technology or anything else that may reduce my next draw.

In firms where abundance is presumed, one is more likely to find a firm culture that values teamwork, encouragement, reinvestment, and the sharing of opportunity, success and credit. Client quality is relatively high, because the attorneys understand that accepting a bad client will divert time and energy away from serving the next really good client whose arrival, they are certain, is imminent.

In short, attorneys at firms that presume abundance know that the victories are coming, and that they will have a good year because they play hard for a team that will win 116 games.