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    Dragged Kicking and Screaming to the Perfect RFP

    Law firms work 4 times harder than 5 years ago to get a new dollar of business. This trend makes the following statements we’ve heard about chasing proposals and pitches all the more frightening:

    “This company is so big you don’t really need to have an existing relationship with them to get the work.”

    “He just accepted my LinkedIn invitation—I think that’s a really good sign.”

    “I practice law. Writing proposals and bids aren’t part of my job.”

    “We don’t bother responding to RFPs; it’s a waste of time. The only way to develop business is to network.”

    “Our marketing and business development department has a standard response for RFPs—I’m not sure why we don’t send it out to all potential clients.”


    Proposals, pitches, and pursuing new opportunities get no respect. 

    For the most part, law firms drag partners kicking and screaming into the bid process or take a cookie cutter approach to their RFP responses. Very little strategic thinking or effort is put into the process. This attitude results in a paltry 31% win rate for law firms.

    RFPs, pitches, and bidding for work are a necessary evil when it comes to business development. 

    The first step in developing a more strategic and effective proposal strategy is to ditch the cookie cutter and give the RFP the respect it deserves. Not every RFP is created equal.

    Understand the nature and type of proposal or pitch opportunity your firm is facing:

    1. Strategic Must-win
      This is the whale you’ve been hunting. You receive the request and the following words run through your mind: marquee client, new market penetration, high-profile, mega-bucks, long-term possibilities. Winning this work would fundamentally change the nature of a career, practice or even a firm’s business.

    2. Firm Builder
      The client or case opportunities providing a great addition to the firm’s portfolio. These opportunities keep good clients in the fold and add new good clients.
    3. Short-term Payoff
      These opportunities offer a nice piece of immediate business. However, the payoff and longer term potential of the client is mostly unknown.

    4. Routine
      Your basic, run-of-the-mill opportunity for new work. The work is mostly routine and there are no additional benefits for the firm other than billable hours.

    5. Newbies
      This is the opportunity you didn’t even know existed until the RFP arrived or the client procurement team called your office. Typically these include situations where a company is auditing their current panel of providers or are sending out a blanket RFP to the 50 law firms they thought of first. Craft a polite, professional decline letter unless this organization is already a client of yours.


    Once the nature of the potential opportunity has been decided, it’s time to show the love.

    Rainmakers and leadership partners love to get their hands on the Strategic Must-win and Firm Builder opportunities (The prestige! The potential! The bragging rights!). These are the opportunities everyone gets excited about and puts their best efforts into.

    But what about the Short-term Payoff and Routine RFPs? Usually there’s a lot less enthusiasm around these categories. It’s time to enlist the firm’s less senior partners and even associates. Give these attorneys the opportunity to cut their teeth on less strategic business development opportunities. They’ll bring new energy, build their skills, and save your firm the billable hours of more senior folks.

    Proposals have become the under-loved, underappreciated lost souls of business development. However, RFPs and pitches are a bastion of opportunity to win work. All it takes is some love and respect—and a touch of strategy.


    In our next post, we will discuss how to craft an effective go/no-go set of criteria to understand which proposals are truly worth your firm’s time and money to chase.


    Ignore Market Trends: Strategic Planning’s Third Deadly Sin

    Dealing with market trends adds a new degree of difficulty to strategic planning. This is especially true when the trends are anything but high growth. Not only do you have to come up with the right goals, you now need to either take advantage of external forces or at least take them into account.

    Most law firms want to know the trends, few want to face them head on. We can pinpoint 6 reasons:

    • Trends require explanation and proof to convince partners, and often leadership, of their impact
    • Leveraging anything but a growth trend is a relatively new phenomena which may demand new and untested tactics
    • There are so many trends it is difficult to separate the driving trends from the inconsequential ones
    • Trends connected with low growth or flat markets push law firms out of their comfort zone—and into dealing with the unknown
    • The metrics used to drive success will be new and different and need to be developed
    • We often don’t like the trends—slow growth, less work, rate pressure or increasing client expectations 

    Trends are agnostic and have no feelings. Virtually every trend has an upside. Unless the practice of law disappears from society entirely you can find an approach to take advantage of any trend. Your approach will be viewed by other law firms as bold, wrong, counterintuitive and with puzzlement. But, meeting trends head on means you will be positioning yourself for leadership.

    In 1994, the Defense industry was facing budget cuts and program cutbacks. Defense contractors Lockheed and Martin Marietta agreed to merge to create scale and efficiency in the coming down market. Lockheed Martin is now the largest US Government contractor and is almost twice the size of the number 2 firm—in a growing and redefined market. Law firms would not be confused with government contractors but Lockheed’s counterintuitive move redefined the company and the industry.


    People think they pay attention to market trends. But, the reality is—they almost totally ignore them.

    Knowing the trends means next to nothing. Even understanding the trends means little. Taking specific action based on the trends means everything. Take action: craft strategies and tactics specifically to take advantage of the current trends or use the trends to guide your plans.

    What’s your next move?


    We discussed market trends and more in our annual BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review. You can view the full webinar here:

    And stay tuned for the fourth deadly sin of strategic planning in this ongoing series…



    7 Lessons from the Client Service A-Team

    Corporate counsel have identified the 30 law firms delivering the absolute best client service. The BTI Client Service 30 outperforms more than 650 other firms by a factor of 6 to land among the client service elite.

    It’s easy to dismiss client service as a nice-to-have soft skill. However, research shows the firms performing at best-in-class levels of service enjoy:

    • 30% higher profits
    • 7% rate premiums across all staffing levels
    • Double the fees from a single client
    • 35% higher client retention

    The BTI Client Service 30 all manage and think about client service differently than other firms. We found 7 profound differences:

    1. More Change for the Buck
    Changing attorney behavior is the single biggest hurdle BTI hears about when discussing how to boost client service performance. Few attorneys are willing (or more likely know how) to make the specific changes necessary to drive a best-in-class performance. 

    The BTI Client Service 30 practice the “more change for the buck” approach. Instead of starting with a pilot program; testing an initiative with a single practice; or hand-picking partners for a trial, these firms fund their programs with the expectation of rolling out new approaches to the entire firm at once. New behaviors are institutionalized only when the entire firm is committed to an initiative.

    2. Client Feedback is For All
    Feedback is the lifeblood of learning. You can’t unquestionably know how your clients perceive your performance unless you ask. This means asking the easy—and hard—questions. The goal is to find out how expectations are changing—and your clients’ expectations of your firm are changing all the time.
    The majority of the BTI Client Service 30 have established formal,  systematic client feedback programs to stay one step ahead of client expectations. 

    3. Client Service Metrics are Built into the Strategic Plan
    The leaders in client service excellence include client service metrics directly in the firm’s strategic plan. Every partner knows the metrics and most have a similar metric in their partner goals.
    Too frequently, client service initiatives are launched from a stand-alone committee where participation is optional and eventually good intentions fade into old bad habits. Not so for the BTI Client Service 30. The dual purpose of metrics in the strategic plan is to communicate the firm’s unequivocal intent to everyone while establishing a clear path for how client service will play in the firm’s path to success. 

    4. All is Lost without Accountability
    Changing behavior requires motivation- and benefit. Most attorneys work tirelessly to reach the goals outlined in their annual plans. Client service leaders have been reworking these individual partner goals to include clear-cut client service metrics. These leaders hold the partners accountable (and provide training to get help partners get there—see #6).
    5. Being Good is Yesterday’s News
    Leaders know clients’ expectations are constantly on the rise. Leaders set new and higher goals after delivering each strong performance. Their mantra: the current state of excellence is the new minimum standard. (As a side note: this trait is why more than half of this year’s BTI Client Service 30 is making a repeat appearance on the list. These firms consistently improve performance each year.)

    6. Training is the Unsung—and Boring—Tool of Choice
    It’s not glamorous and rarely exciting, but few tactics drive change as effectively as high-impact training. Passable client service is common sense. Exceptional client service is harder to reach—particularly when dealing with highly sophisticated corporate counsel.
    From learning how to talk so your clients will listen to successfully cross-selling services in a client-focused manner, client service leaders train their entire firm in the tactics and techniques to drive a significant boost in performance.

    7. Benchmark against Client-chosen (not Firm-chosen) Peers
    It’s hard to be the best if someone else serving your client is doing it better. The client service leaders have learned to compare their client service performance to the law firms operating in their client base—which are usually different from the firms the law firm has tagged as a peer. The leaders have learned to gain new business by outperforming the law firms with whom they compete daily.

    The good news—no law firm engages in all 7 lessons. You will benefit from focusing on even a single one. Jump in, pick one, start today. 

    We discussed the client service leaders and more in our annual BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review. You can view the full webinar here: 



    BTI's Holiday Wishes 2014

    Season's Greeting From All of Us at The BTI Consulting Group!


    14 Best Opportunities for 2015

    Our analysis of more than 500 in-depth interviews with corporate counsel reveals prime opportunities for 2015. We see more opportunities in 2015’s legal market than last year. Don’t expect the market-breaking growth we had in 2006. But at least most of the shrinking practices are flat and the deep slashing of legal budgets has slowed. And a few areas are getting just a few more dollars.


    The 14 best opportunities to drive growth in 2015 include:

    1. Cybersecurity—growing 3 times faster than any legal market segment.
    2. Global companies will add $1 Billion to their outside counsel spending in the US.
    3. Regulatory needs in almost every industry are robust and high-priority.
    4. Class actions rebounds into growth mode and is poised to grow further after shrinking in 2012.
    5. Corporate counsel expect 310 new litigation matters in 2015. Each one offers a business development opportunity.
    6. Litigation triage is becoming a tool in assessing and planning for litigation.    
    7. Large and global organizations will acquire middle market companies and startups to build out needs in products, technology and market channels to drive their own growth.
    8. Food companies spending 3 times more than the average company on litigation.
    9. Corporate counsel starting to use LinkedIn as a source of insightful published content from peers and partners in law firms.
    10. Law firms will mine boutique law firms for cybersecurity lateral partners.
    11. Natural resource and energy companies will increase M&A and litigation activity.
    12. High tech companies will increase spending in almost every major segment of law.
    13. Health care is poised to increase outside counsel spending in 7 legal segments—the most of any industry.
    14. Client expectations of law firms are soaring in response to pressure on General Counsel to add more business-related value.


    Each of the above opportunities provides law firms a chance to not only develop more business but also put themselves in position to improve client service.

    We discussed market trends and more in our annual BTI Market Outlook and Client Service Review. You can view the full webinar here: 



    Zen and the Art of Arrogance 

    Market leaders in 11 professional service markets are arrogant. It’s absolutely true.

    Over the last 25 years, BTI has performed deep dive analyses into client expectations and preferences for professional service providers in 11 different segments including Law, Accounting, Management Consulting, Engineering, Digital Marketing Agencies and more. Our shocking discovery: each and every market leader is also invariably tagged by clients as one of the—if not the absolute—most arrogant provider in their sector.

    How can this be?

    We think of arrogance as bad. Arrogance is most often thought of as an overinflated sense of self; a description reserved for the firms always talking down to clients and peers. The general perception is: arrogant firms just don’t care. But clients tell us the exact opposite is true for the best performers and market leaders.

    These market leaders—the  firms with “positive arrogance”—are able to convince clients they are more important, more valuable and insightful than competitors and scoff at the notion competitors can approach their own depth—more importantly, the firms with positive arrogance make these statements with their behaviors instead of words.

    BTI’s research uncovered 7 clear—and decidedly positive—behaviors C-level executives and decision makers see in market leaders:

    1. Unfettered self-confidence driving clients to feel more confident in their provider.

    2. Unequivocal, unapologetic recommendations and counsel to provoke new thinking and improve the final outcome for clients.

    3. Bravado and certainty in the ability to exceed—not simply meet—client expectations.

    4. Precision in thought and language suggesting the most thorough processes and approaches.

    5. Unmatched command of the facts and circumstances impacting clients.

    6. Comfortable and eager to take control of a situation so the client can sleep better at night.

    7. Continuous flow of new ideas, unconventional approaches, and brainstorming to drive better outcomes.

    To be sure—the line is fine separating “positive arrogance” from its more damning counterpart, “relationship-destroying arrogance.” One wrong action and you have moved from well-respected, confident business partner to blacklisted service provider to be avoided at all costs.

    Words are powerful and have different meanings: arrogance can be positive and a market differentiator. Positive arrogance is all about client-centric self-awareness and superior client service. But clients notice any lack of these positive traits well before we do. The challenge is to stay one step ahead of client expectations—all the way to market leadership.



    Clients Rank Law Firms—Skadden Tops BTI Client Service 30

    Skadden reigns supreme in client service. 

    Each year, The BTI Consulting Group speaks with more than 300 leading corporate counsel and asks them which firms are leading the way when it comes to delivering superior client service—an area law firms aren’t always known for mastering. This year, unexpected leaders prove they’re here to stay and the Davids and Goliaths of the legal world continue their ongoing battle for client service excellence.

    1. Skadden
    According to corporate counsel, Skadden is the undisputed leader in delivering the absolute best client service this year. Skadden is committed to putting clients first. A deliberate shift 5 years ago to a client-facing strategy is paying off for the firm. Clients report a number of new initiatives and noticeable changes from the firm, including: more attention from senior-level partners and having in-depth discussions around business (not legal) strategy and impact.

    2. Jones Day
    Jones Day has been in one of the top 2 spots for each of the past 14 years; proving the firm is truly blazing trails in client service delivery. The One Firm Worldwide principle created by Jones Day allows every individual at the firm to zero in on clients’ targeted outcomes (instead of traditional financial metrics) to produce end results other firms envy.

    3. Sidley
    3 years ago, Sidley made a number of significant client-facing changes. A newly created Client Service Officer and newly hired CMO are spearheading a renewed focus on client service—bolstering an already strong client service culture at the firm. The changes are paying off as clients report better business understanding and increased client focus from Sidley.

    4. Morgan Lewis
    Morgan Lewis proves client service doesn’t have to suffer in the face of major change. Leadership transitions and a large-scale lateral integration did not distract the firm from its core focus: close-working client relationships to drive results. Morgan Lewis’s strategy is executed through high-performing client teams, in-depth client feedback initiatives, and leadership committed to consistently improving the firm’s client service performance.

    5. Thompson Hine
    10 years ago, Thompson Hine made dramatic changes to improve the firm’s client service. 3 years ago, the firm doubled down on this commitment and implemented large-scale project planning and marquee client-focused events to provide (what clients describe as) best-in-class business understanding. This year marks the firm’s best-ever performance on BTI’s A-Team list—showing the battle between David and Goliath continues to sway.

    6. Kirkland & Ellis
    Alternative fees aren’t paying off for many law firms. Kirkland & Ellis is one of the few exceptions. For 12 years, the firm has enjoyed top marks in client service, but refuses to rest on its laurels. A strategic use of alternative fees places Kirkland among the few firms earning recognition for being truly innovative in the legal market—a key attribute valued by corporate counsel.

    7. Faegre Baker Daniels
    FaegreBD is another mid-sized player demonstrating size doesn’t matter. Global behemoths do not have exclusive rights to client service recognition. By leveraging industry teams, FaegreBD is impressing corporate counsel with its depth of knowledge and business understanding.


    Law firms—and the legal market—continue to evolve. Leading legal decision makers have a pool of 650 law firms to choose from when awarding legal work. Corporate counsel are paying close attention (and giving business) to firms able to continually improve their approach to client service delivery. Only 337 firms earn recognition for client service and an elite 30 are performing 6 times better than all other firms.  BTI’s annual A-Team report shows which firms are currently winning the client service race—and details exactly what it is they are doing to outpace the competition.

    Learn how you can too in the new BTI Client Service A-Team 2015: your tool to developing superior skills to drive the absolute best and longest-lasting client relationships. 


    Congratulations on your Bankruptcy… and Other Client Service Turkeys

    Thanksgiving is right around the corner and The Mad Clientist would like to give thanks to the attorneys delivering some of the year’s more egregious client service turkeys. The Mad Clientist shares these true stories from corporate counsel in the hopes we can learn some lessons—and have a few laughs. 

    Let Me Help You Help Me

    From an email a NY law firm partner sent his client prior to BTI’s in-depth client research:

    “I’ve attached the questions my firm wants to ask you. Management is on a real client service rampage so I don’t see how I can get you out of this. Obviously, anything you can do to make me look good would be appreciated. I’m not sure how this will factor into my comp, but you saying good things can’t hurt.”

    Congratulations on Your Bankruptcy

    From BTI’s annual research with legal decision makers—an EVP at a major retailer shared:

    “I kid you not:  after we filed for bankruptcy, I got a note from our law firm saying, ‘Congratulations on getting the deal done!’  Don’t they have any control over what goes out the door? It was unnerving and very inappropriate.”

    I’m On Your Side…Sort of

    From BTI’s client feedback interview with the General Counsel of a large financial services company:

    “Our company has been investing a large amount of money in new products for the consumer market with the ultimate goal of growing our market share. Our in-house attorneys are part of the product development team so we can keep an eye on regulatory issues. Each week, the in-house lawyers debrief with our law firm to provide updates and discuss the regulatory implications.

    After 4 weeks, we realized our law firm had shot down every single idea we proposed. 

    It’s like we were talking to a government regulator rather than our own lawyer.  During these meetings, the lead partner would say, ‘When I put on my regulatory hat…’ and spend the next half hour explaining to us why we couldn’t move ahead with our plan. 

    Finally, I sent the Managing Partner of the firm a box of 6 company hats. I put a note in the box asking his attorneys to wear my company’s hat instead of the regulator’s hat.

    The Managing Partner changed the team and we got two attorneys who helped us strategize our way through the issues. But why did I have to piss away 4 weeks?” 




    Strategic Envy: Strategic Planning’s Second Deadly Sin

    “We want their profits.”

    “Their clients should be our clients.”

    “We should offer the same services they do.”

    “They use project management.”

    “They don’t use Six Sigma.”

    “Our firm would enjoy those results…let’s do what they’re doing!”


    We start with the best of intentions. We want to learn how to improve performance. Sometimes we’re simply satisfying our curiosity—who has the highest profits? Who’s doing the best deals? Who has the clients we want? The list goes on. We analyze the competition to understand what’s happening outside our own doors. Sometimes we see amazing, or even eye-popping numbers, and it’s hard not to look a little closer at what those firms are doing.

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    Don't Sell to People Who Don't Want to Buy

    Some clients just don’t bite. No matter how good you are or how well-suited you are to meet their needs, there are clients who just won’t buy from you. Successfully selling professional services is largely based on personality and chemistry. In any given professional services sector, 60% to 70% of decision makers are a match for your skills and—more importantly—your personality. With the other 35%, something just doesn’t click.

    It is good business to pursue the best (and highest spending) clients, but sometimes the chemistry is missing. While it’s hard to resist the lure of the one who got away, be careful to not let fantasy take over when there’s real money to be made elsewhere. Too frequently, we take refusal as a personal challenge. There’s a push to spend our limited resources on converting disbelievers who never intend to buy instead of focusing on the majority of buyers who are a good match. 

    Are You a Chemistry Major?

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