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    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Profitable AFAs

    Far out at the edges of unchartered space exists the mostly uninhabited planet of Profitable AFAs.

    This isn’t science fiction comedy. Profitable AFAs do, in fact, exist. We partnered with our friends at Law360 to survey more than 750 attorneys. What we discovered is 22% of partners are prospering in what many consider a desolate land.



    AFAs are old news. Clients demanding AFAs is old news. Turning a clear profit from AFAs is new.

    Nearly 80% of law firm partners can’t figure out how to get to Profitable AFAs. Mismanaged scope, poor budgeting skills, and not enough flexibility to change internal work processes are the most common culprits to undermining profitability in AFAs.

    Fortunately, 22% of partners have charted the path to profitability for everyone else to follow. Good tools and processes are the most massively useful things a lawyer can have to reach Profitable AFAs.

    1. Develop detailed budgets to understand and manage costs
    2. Track and monitor budgets like a hawk at least weekly
    3. Assign all work to lawyers on the team with time-specific deadlines and the number of hours budgeted for the task
    4. Review your clients’ objectives with the entire team
    5. Solicit suggestions from the team on how to eliminate unneeded work steps
    6. Discuss case progress with your clients as a normal course of business—a regular dialogue about progress
    7. Track changes in scope or underlying facts and share any budget impact with your clients immediately upon discovery
    8. Actively challenge the team to beat deadlines and deliver early
    9. Develop high trust relationships with your clients

    AFAs only work when your client relationships are at the absolute highest levels of trust—not just a good relationship—but a deep, embedded relationship. Part of the simplicity and certainty delivered by AFAs comes from the client believing their lawyer will deliver. Lawyers who have a history of breaking budgets, have infrequent dialogue with their clients (with or without AFAs) or don’t believe in the power of budgets are more likely to end up in make-less-money column—far, far away from planet Profitable AFAs.


    PS. Click here to learn more about the results of our recent survey on What Clients Pay and What Law Firms Charge: BTI's Billing Rate Reference 2014.


    Press 1 If You Are in a Legal Crisis, Press 2 If Your Matter Has Billings in the 7 Figures

    The Mad Clientist: How many true emergency, ‘I need help right now,’ phone calls does your firm get in a year? 1, 2, 5?

    Law Firm Leader: There are at least a dozen I can name off the top of my head…maybe 15.

    The Mad Clientist: So, once a month?

    Law Firm Leader: Yes, definitely, if not more.

    The Mad Clientist: How much do these crisis calls generate in fees?

    Law Firm Leader: It depends. Some are not really crises so they don’t generate much, but about half become multi-hundred thousand dollar billings, and at least one or two become multimillion dollar fees.


    We all want the juicy bet-the-company work. We savor the challenge, the prestige, and the opportunity to make an impact—and a profit. But are we prepared to get the work? I know you have the resources and the talent, but are you prepared for when you get the call? Yes—the actual call for help.  

    Clients have 2 kinds of bet-the-company work—the planned and known (think enterprise merger) and the crisis. The crisis bet-the-company work will come in by phone. No emails or lunch to plan the work. Crisis work happens in real time.

    When clients—even your longstanding ones—are in urgent, crisis mode, how many unanswered calls will they accept before they move on to someone else? 10? 5? 2?

    The answer is zero.

    If you can’t be reached, or your highly-informed assistant can’t track you down, your client moves on. An urgent need is about getting answers now. The client will leave you in the dust while they seek out someone who can immediately start providing the guidance they need.

    Every time your phone rings think about your most important client sitting in her office with her CEO waiting to hear your confident voice on the other end of the line. She trusts you and is looking for your timely urgent counsel. The reality is, if your client doesn’t hear you or your assistant—an actual live person—pick up, she’ll keep dialing to her next favorite partner.

    Some firms have come to see phone coverage as an expense and even a disruption. Calls are answered with voicemails lacking specificity as to a when the message might be heard, or by assistants who are twice removed from the partner. The point is many firms are placing distance between the phones and partners.

    Which multimillion dollar matter are you willing to sacrifice because picking up the phone is disruptive to your current work?

    Given the stakes, there should be a virtual death match erupting to answer the phone first.

    But, beware. How you answer the phone also matters. Anyone answering phones needs to be armed with the right information.

    1. The whereabouts of the partner being sought
    2. Timing on how soon the partner will return the call
    3. An alternate contact number, if appropriate, for the client
    4. A secondary—even tertiary—contact for the client to speak with if immediate counsel is needed

    Even when a call is not urgent and merely important, the downside is you’ve delivered excellent client service and instituted a culture trained to think about how to help clients at the very first client touch point.  




    How to Stand Out in a Crowded Tank

    Anna, about 3, immediately pulled Mom by the hand over to the lobster tank asking in a loud excited voice: “Where’s Larry?! Where’s Larry?!” as she approached the lobster tank at Captain Marden’s in Wellesley, MA.

    Mom asked Steve, the man behind the counter, if he could take a moment and see if he could find Larry.

    Steve grabbed the lobster rake and combed through the lobsters, at least a hundred of the little creatures. “I see him,” he told Anna, “it’ll just be a minute now.” You could see the rake being maneuvered with great intention to be sure to track down not just any lobster—but Larry the Lobster.

    “There he is!” Steve exclaimed and reached in to pick up Larry to say hello to Anna. Anna was waving her hands and smiling from ear to ear as she visited Larry the Lobster. This whole vignette took less than two minutes.

    No one in the crowded store seemed to mind Anna getting some special attention. Almost everyone in the store was smiling at how the nice man was able to find Larry out of all those lobsters. The store returned to normal, mom thanked Steve for his time and purchased some salmon for that night's dinner. And everyone was in a better mood than when they came in.

    Captain Marden’s Seafood is a fish store, restaurant and restaurant supplier outside of Boston. The store, which operates within a quarter of a mile of a Whole Foods, offers excellent client service as well as excellent fish. The ability to take two minutes to the delight of Anna speaks to how Captain Marden’s thinks about their customers. Make them happy, have some fun and make customers feel special. Anna was happiest, but everyone felt good about Captain Marden’s. This may help explain the legions of people who buy fish at Captain Marden’s and then head to Whole Foods for the rest of their groceries.

    Almost any business can make a customer or client feel special. One general counsel visited a law firm near Christmas and enjoyed a homemade cookie from his partner’s assistant. This general counsel raved about the cookie and then went about his business. He was delighted to receive a box of these same cookies three days later.

    The smaller niceties, finding Larry the Lobster and sending cookies, often have an oversized impact because these acts of kindness are unexpected and personal. How can you apply this to your daily interactions? 




    The End of the IP Gold Rush?

    By 2010, the IP market was unstoppable. Patent reform, technology booms, and predatory litigation fueled unprecedented growth. The opportunities available to law firms made IP a gold-prize practice. In 2014 the gold nuggets in IP are a lot harder to find—but may be worth even more.

    IP—including IP litigation—is under attack. The assailant? Corporate counsel.

    While law firms have enjoyed a steady stream of IP work over the past 4 years, corporate counsel have been quietly changing their mindset. Decision makers are showing less and less interest in the never-ending, expensive approach of defending all IP at any cost. Instead, clients are moving ahead with more focus and a keener sense of priority when it comes to their IP portfolios.  

    Expect the impact of corporate counsel’s new approach to be in full swing by Fall 2014.

    1. There will be less IP work—and money—heading to law firms.
      Active IP caseloads shrank by nearly 12% from 2012 levels.[1] In the second half of 2014 through 2015, IP decision makers plan to carefully increase their IP caseload by only 8%. IP budgets are under even closer scrutiny and only expected to grow 1.1%. Expect heightened rate pressure, aggressive settlements, and for routine work to head in-house.

    2. Clients eye smaller law firm rosters to gain strategic advantage.
      Corporate counsel using the same firm for prosecution, litigation, and counseling are happier with their law firm. These integrated law firms are able to develop a deep understanding of the client’s IP portfolio and needs; providing both efficient handling of routine matters and strategic insight and guidance for more complex issues. To earn the position of primary IP provider, law firms will be best-served by diving into the stream of patent prosecution work and integrating litigators and counsel into the mix once the firm has proven its worth.

    3. Boutique providers play a key role—but can they provide the full package?
      Apart from a few unique cases, most law firms have acquired the depth of knowledge needed to serve clients. Corporate counsel seek firms able to provide expertise, strategic guidance, business-savvy, and superior client service. Only a few firms have been able to answer the call so far.

    As clients redefine their approach to IP, major opportunities are available to the law firms able to make these trends work in their favor.  



    [1] Based on BTI research conducted from December 3, 2013 and June 10, 2014. BTI conducted more than 175 independent, individual interviews with General Counsel and IP decision makers at Fortune 1000 companies and large organizations. The results of the research are available now in BTI’s Intellectual Property Outlook 2015: Changes, Trends and Opportunities in IP & IP Litigation. 


    The Mad Clientist Takes a Vacation

    After a busy start to 2014 it’s vacation time for The Mad Clientist.

    If the warm weather holds up he’ll be kicking back on the deck with a cold drink in one hand and a good book in the other. Though the stack of books to catch up on is 10 books high, his top choices right now are:

    The First 20 Hours by Josh Kaufman

    Lexicon by Max Barry

    The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson

    Where do you think he should start—let him know in the comments below. Or suggest your favorite book below to share with all of The Mad Clientist’s readers.

    Whatever you’re planning, both BTI and The Mad Clientist hope your summer includes some time for yourself to pick up a book, catch a movie, enjoy a round of gold, sail or just unwind.

    Have a happy 4th of July.



    Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute

    Every month, a typical General Counsel speaks with 22 partners—each from a different firm. While partners are discussing legal and case-specific issues, they are also looking for more work. GCs report 75% of these active matter discussions includes the partner doing one of the following:

    • Asking for work in another practice area because of a job well done in one
    • Offering to make introductions to partners in other practices in order to provide more services
    • Inquiring about new, upcoming matters

    GCs don’t want substantive case discussions littered with sales pitches. These business development strategies are more distracting and dilutive than productive. Keep case discussions and the overt sales pitches separate (in contrast to developing business through superior client service and anticipating needs).

    Click to read more ...


    Attention Law Firms, Clients Don’t Care about Your Website

    When a client walks into your lobby what’s the first thing they do?

    Admire the wall of beautiful art or well-lit founders' portraits? Take in the fresh flower display that’s rotated on a weekly basis?

    No. They head to the receptionist and ask to be directed to the person they are trying to visit.

    Websites are the virtual lobbies of today. And much like lobbies and conference rooms, websites are a means to an end.

    In fact, the truth is more than half (56%) of clients never visit their law firm’s website. Remember, clients expect to learn everything they need to know from their partner. There’s no need to go to the site.

    But don’t delete your URL just yet. It’s time to put your website to more strategic use.

    Click to read more ...


    Once Upon a Time There Was an Attorney…Bedtime Stories with The Mad Clientist


    The Attorney Who Cried Conflict

    THERE ONCE WAS AN ATTORNEY who needed a conflicts waiver from a long-time client. The attorney phoned his client to request the waiver, “Waiver, waiver, can I please get this waiver?”

    The client grumbled, “This is a more sensitive matter than most. I will need to think about this request.”

    Early the next morning, the attorney phoned the client again, “Waiver, waiver, can I please get this waiver?”

    The client regretfully replied, “This is a conflict I cannot waive.”

    Two days later, the attorney decided to take a different approach. He emailed the client, “Waiver, waiver, can I please get this waiver?” The attorney pleaded, “This matter is deeply important to me and the firm. You’ve issued waivers for similar situations in the past.”

    The client sternly refused.

    Later that same day, the client received a phone call from the Managing Partner of the attorney’s firm. The Managing Partner tried to comfort the client, “We appreciate the relationship we’ve had over the years. Thank you for the plentiful business. We hope you understand the unique circumstances of this request and will reconsider your position. Waiver, waiver, can we please get this waiver?”

    The client sighed deeply, “I have told you once, I have told you twice. This waiver cannot be. I beg you to stop asking me for that which I cannot do.”

    Three days later, the client received a letter from the attorney and his firm, “Upon reflection—and further investigation of the facts—it appears, friend, that we do not need a waiver for this particular matter. A conflict does not actually exist. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience.”

    The client, having lost all patience and understanding, decided his long-time trusted firm no longer needed the client’s work.  


    The Law Firm and the Mega-Brand: A Story of Perspective Lost

    A LAW FIRM, accustomed to working with large organizations, found itself pitching a well-known Consumer Products Manufacturer. This Manufacturer produced goods which were better known than the company itself.

    The Law Firm worked tirelessly to convince the Manufacturer of their attorneys’ depth of knowledge and understanding of the business. On the day of the pitch, the Law Firm regaled the Manufacturer with observations of the marketplace, including a poignant piece of advice the Law Firm was quite pleased to share, “While you are the dominant player in this market, Manufacturer, we must give you warning. Your numerous acquisitions will draw harsh criticism from your competitors and potentially bring harmful lawsuits upon your organization.”

    Click to read more ...


    The Going Rate, Part II—How Your Rates Really Compare


    To see exactly where your firm's rates stack up to your competitors in BTI's Billing Rate Reference 2014, visit:

    And, in case you missed last week's post: The Going Rate, Part 1—What Clients Really Pay Law Firms



    The Going Rate—What Clients Really Pay Law Firms

    BTI Billing Rate Reference 2014

    Check back next week for The Going Rate, Part 2—What Law Firms Really Charge Clients.

    And learn more about what corporate counsel are really paying law firms in BTI's Billing Rate Reference 2014 here: