Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Full Service is 'Many to One'

Law firms are made up of individual attorneys, each possessing a specific set of legal skills (maybe similar to some of the other attorneys in the firm, but never exactly the same). These individuals are instructed: ‘Go find clients and succeed.’

If planted as a group on a street corner in the middle of a city with those instructions in hand, the attorneys would take off in as many different directions as there are streets to walk down.

If the law firm has attorneys with expertise across a wide enough swatch of legal real estate, the firm can claim to be a ‘full-service’ firm. It’s a strong message. But does the claim have legs.

I know of several firms claiming “full-service” with incredibly long lists of great clients; every attorney working at max capacity, and yet suffers stagnate growth. In every case I’ve found the same malady. They’ve focused on being ‘One to Many”.

‘One to Many’ means each attorney is working with an individual set of clients separate and not shared with other (equity) attorneys. For each client only one skill set of the firm is being utilized.

What ‘full-service’ should mean (at least according to me), is ‘Many to One’.

The folks at Deloitte & Touche get this principle big time. They created a process called “target teaming”. Deloitte marketers regularly identify the top (X)% of clients they serve and partners with the primary relationship are required to form a multi-disciplinarily team to explore other services the client could use to their advantage.

Deloitte claims to be a full-service professional services firm; And in practice are living up to it. One client is offered access to many.

‘Many to One’ has some great advantages. Increased dependency, multiple paths of recovery from failed relationships, increased profitability, and most of all, the positive psychological effect of creating teaming experiences.

The steps to make this real are simple. Start with one great client. Find out everything you can about the client, their industry, their challenges, their competition, their culture, and their hopes for the future.

Next, form a team that includes one attorney from every discipline in your firm, and get them together to talk about everything you’ve discovered about the client. Ask them (within their individual areas of expertise) to think up ideas and strategies that could help the client achieve greater success.

Then, with list of ideas in hand, the attorney with the primary relationship makes introductions. The tax attorney needs to know the CFO, the real estate attorney needs to be introduced to operations leadership, the litigators should be cuddling up to investor relations, etc.

‘Full-Service’ is about providing many services to one client. Being a ‘Full Service’ firm could be the path to a true law firm “partnership”.