In a happy confluence, two articles which are far stronger together
than is either alone were pointed out to me today by two loyal readers.  The
first is The
American Lawyer
‘s current "Management" column,
about Customer Relationship Management systems and the human and
cultural pitfalls of attempting to implement them at law firms.  The
second comes
from the weekly UK publication, Solicitors’ Journal (no
online presence, and yes it would have to be renamed were it US-based)
and addresses the propensity for failure inherent in "in and out"
consultancy arrangements when the goal is to manage change.

It should surprise no one that the last thing that CRM in a law
firm is about is technology:  It’s about culture.  In particular,
it’s about the relationships among the client, the firm, and the
key partners.

  • The Client/Firm Relationship:  This must be first and foremost
    about the client and their legal and strategic business needs.  Do
    not start with the substantive expertise the firm has to sell.  Emphasize
    "softer" but client-centric priorities such as assigning suitable
    (in the holistic sense) lawyers to the team.
  • The Partner/Client Relationship:  A potentially fraught
    area.  Partners can derive the greatest share of their professional
    satisfaction from key client relationships, and, as the healthy
    lateral market vocally proves, can value the client relationship
    above their relationship with the firm.  The best counsel
    is probably to the effect of "tread lightly," and encourage incremental
    change (delegating more to senior associates, e.g.).  Strive
    to make the firm as a whole closer to the client but don’t expect
    to pry the partners’ fingers away from the client’s elbow.
  • The Firm/Partner Relationship:  Strengthening this bond,
    by reinforcing all the ways the firm’s resources can bind the client
    more tightly to the firm, is an essential goal.  Concretely,
    this means building last client-service teams, and rewarding (this
    means $$) contributions to team leadership aside from regular billable

Introducing CRM—and having it take effective hold—is
a subspecies of "change management."  That’s why the Solicitors’
article fits so beautifully here.  After rehearsing
the various failure modes of consultancy engagements (including the
wide range of quality among consultants themselves, ranging from
the "highly competent to those with less obvious capabilities"),
the author suggests substituting a "mentor" relationship instead.  Why?  Mentors
can:  Act as a sounding board, refining analysis in the process;  Facilitate
continuous and incremental changes rather than (as with a consultant)
expecting to orchestrate one decisive course correction; and move
from the (merely) intellectual satisfaction of accurately diagnosing
the problem to the hard work of achieving a solution.

And that’s what it’s all about, is it not?  Any partner who’s
paying half attention can tell you what needs fixing in a firm; identifying
the problem is the least of your problems.  But it’s what consultants
spend most of their energy, and billable time, doing—elaborately
documenting what you really already knew.  The issue is not
diagnosis, it’s treatment.  Execute.  Act.  Move.  Get
a mentor.

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