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Whilst we were at the PM Forum Conference we bumped into the wildly inspirational Susan Saltonstall Duncan from Rainmaking Oasis in the USA.  This post is one of four that discusses the findings of a survey conducted jointly by the Financial Times (FT), the Managing Partners’ Forum’ (MPF) and Meridian West. The survey results were pre-viewed at a one day conference hosted by PM Forum in London on September 27. The posts reflect findings from the survey, sessions and discussions at the conference and of course, views of the blog’s author.

The previous three posts have discussed important areas in which professional firms need to excel (and improve) in order to respond to the trends that clients have noted are important in their relationships with their advisers:

  • Strong and effective management
  • Consistency of service
  • Commercial awareness and proactivity
  • Added value
  • Project management and efficiency

As noted in our post, How Can We Help Practice Group Leaders to be Successful?, leadership skills are not often taught in firms and leaders are usually expected to carry on a heavy client workload in addition to management responsibilities. Similarly, the survey found that firms are falling short in embedding these client priorities into their firms’ culture and infrastructure.

The survey asked the following question of advisers:

  1. “Does your organization provide you with training in any of the following areas?”
  2. “Is competence in any of the following areas explicitly part of your performance appraisal process?”
  3. “Is competence in any of the following areas explicitly linked to your remuneration?”
Training Performance appraisal Remuneration
Client service, including needs   assessment 42% 57% 41%
Business and commercial issues 36% 33% 18%
Project management 35% 38% 15%
Sales and pitches 35% 25% 24%
Financial analysis 29% 28% 17%
Pricing negotiation 26% 15% 17%

The gap here is obvious. While 87% of managing partners recognize the need to develop a more commercial skill-set, only 36% of the firms provide training in this, only 33% evaluate professionals on this basis and only 18% have a link to compensation for the skills that clients perceive as essential.  Perhaps more glaringly important and basic, if client service is only linked to compensation in 41% of the professional service firms, what message does that send to partners for how crucial it is to their success in the firm? I believe the number is much lower in law firms where in many instances, partners do not receive formal performance appraisals. Compensation is usually based on a set of subjective factors together with the numbers. In lock-step firms, it can be ignored altogether.

The recommendations for law firms then are clear:

  • Invest in training,development and mentoring programs for all partners, associates, other fee-earners and staff in areas critical to effective client-adviser relationships (client service, needs assessment, continuous improvement feedback, teaming and collaboration, finance, business and commercial skills, project management, etc.)
  • Provide ongoing support through tools, templates and eLearning.
  • Invest in technology and resources for project management and budgeting.
  • Hire and authorize experts in process improvement, project management and pricing.
  • Develop an infrastructure for key account management including appointing client service managers.
  • Develop a system for various levels of continuous feedback from clients: needs and relationship assessments, after matter reviews, continuous improvement – be prepared to share the findings throughout the organization and act upon the feedback.
  • Develop clear and measurable metrics for performance appraisals for every member of the firm, from receptionist and clerk, to the chair and managing partner. Institute 360 appraisals that also evaluate on this basis.

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