Embrace Disruption and Foster Innovation
An ongoing theme in our LMA educational offerings is "the voice of the client." Our organization is committed to delivering the client's voice in a variety of venues — from local programming and regional conferences to LMA's annual conference — to help members influence and lead change in their firms. To keep "the voice of the client" at the forefront of our quarterly 2017 LMA Board meetings, we invite a client representative to each meeting to share their perspectives and we “pay it forward” by sharing key takeaways from each of the client exchanges at our Board meetings via Strategies+.
The first part in the "Voice of the Client" series featured Steve Harmon, vice president and deputy general at Cisco, sharing ways in which he measures success, how law firms can better serve clients and four trends to watch. The second part featured Justin Ergler, director of alternative fee intelligence and analytics at GlaxoSmithKline, sharing his perspective on the role of procurement in the legal buying process, the value business professionals play in client relationships and the importance of pricing and project management in law firms.
At our July Board meeting, we were joined by Ama Romaine, general counsel at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Romaine started her career in private practice, working as an associate first for White & Case and then Morrison & Foerster. She joined Choice Hotels International in 2007 and then Hilton Worldwide, where she served as vice president and senior counsel, brands, working closely with Hilton's marketing team to support the Hilton brand. The key takeaways from her presentation are as follows:disr
- Innovation and disruption are two words that are common in business, but not yet common in law firms. Romaine said innovation is "the buzzword now," in response to the significant disruption that is occurring across all industries. She shared the examples of Airbnb, Expedia and Travelocity disrupting the hotel market, and Uber and Lyft disrupting the taxicab market. "When I think about the legal industry, it feels like we are poised for disruption, but we're holding on tight."
- She described how the Hilton legal department was aligned with the business units. The general counsel asked the in-house lawyers to create legal business plans to address the needs of the business units they served. In order to create those plans, the in-house lawyers had to interview the business partners, to "understand what was keeping them up at night." In essence, the in-house lawyers treated their business unit partners as internal "clients," asking them questions similar to what law firms ask of their own clients.
- As she started to understand her business partner's needs, the theme of disruption was a constant. "I was struck by the fact that the competition — the disruption — was coming from technology." She encourages legal marketers to take a look at our competition as coming not just from other law firms or from growing in-house legal departments, but from technology. Artificial intelligence is one such example, as a technology that can streamline legal tasks and create efficiencies. "There is a role for smarter technology in the delivery of legal services."
- She emphasized the importance of learning to speak the language your customer understands: "Make sure you understand what environment your clients are operating in." As an example, she noted that 70 percent of her organization's staff are technical professionals who rely on data. While her legal department may not have the expansive data scientists rely on to form conclusions, she can provide context — for example, educating them on the class action filing process — to help deliver the message.
- Law firms need to pay close attention to their customers' actual needs, which go beyond the tangible delivery of legal services. "Amazon understands customers want efficiency, not just things."
- Customers, including in-house legal departments, are prioritizing brands from commodities. "I do believe a lot of legal work is commodity work."
- When responding to RFPs, it is critical to follow the directions and answer the specific questions being asked by the client. She reflected on a significant RFP for which she had been involved where many law firm responses did not honor the page limits. She also saw many generic responses to very specific RFP questions. The law firms that were specific about how they would serve the company — and how those services would be priced — stood out from the competitors. "You've got to find a way to stand out. I ask for creative fee proposals, and I get hourly rates with caps. In the end, value-based billing can help you stand out."
- "You can't predict litigation, but you can control your spend."
- She advises law firm marketers to teach their attorneys to build multiple relationships with in-house counsel — a "zippering" approach from top-to-bottom. "Far too many people focus on one relationship — the GC. That's a mistake. Most GCs last one to five years. Most other in-house counsel are there longer. You've got to build relationships widely in the organization. The more connections you have in the organization, the more successful you'll be long term."
In conclusion, the law firms that remain top-of-mind for Romaine are those "who are always there, always available. When I'm calling you, the chaos you sometimes feel — this is the environment within which I operate. Just roll with me." She also appreciates law firms that offer secondments — assigning law firm attorneys to her in-house legal department for a set period of time. "That is innovation."
For more information about Romaine, read this article about her in Inside Counsel magazine.
Jill Weber, the 2017 LMA President, is chief marketing and business development officer for Stinson Leonard Street, where she is responsible for creating and executing marketing and business development strategies, including Fast Forward®, a nationally recognized integrated business development initiative. Jill was named to the National Law Journal’s inaugural list of "50 Business of Law Trailblazers & Pioneers;" is a fellow in the College of Law Practice Management; was recognized as a 2009 “Unsung Legal Hero” by Minnesota Lawyer; was the recipient of the 2007 EXCEL Minnesota Award, sponsored by the Minnesota Chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators; and has received three national and 19 local Legal Marketing Association (LMA) “Your Honor” awards. She is the 2017 LMA president and was co-chair of the 2012 LMA Annual Conference. She has attended Harvard Law School’s “Leadership in Law Firms” executive education program. Jill offers more than 20 years of experience creating marketing and business development strategies for professional service firms, including law firms, accounting firms and financial institutions. Jill successfully led the marketing communications strategy for the Stinson Leonard Street merger in 2014 and is actively involved in ongoing integration and client growth strategies.