Collaborative firms earn more money, attract and keep better talent, and increase client retention.
When legal decision makers identify three or more standout attorneys at a single law firm, the firm earns nearly 4x the share of their clients’ legal spending than firms without these teams*.
In addition to earning more from clients, collaboration is one of the top five drivers of partner engagement; meaning: a collaborative environment at your firm is one of the best ways to ensure you are attracting and retaining the absolute best talent. And it’s no wonder: An equity partner receiving support from others in their practice on an additional 10% of their matters earns, on average an extra $72K a year more than partners who work less collaboratively
This all sounds great, right?
Yet, firms can find it a challenge to encourage and support collaboration within their teams.
So, what are these collaborative firms doing right?
1. Know What Collaboration Is…and What It Isn’t
Collaboration is a way for you to meet more of your clients’ needs better than you are doing today.
This means collaboration isn’t simply about introducing clients to lawyers in other practices or jurisdictions. Collaboration is knowing exactly which lawyers to introduce clients to based on the client’s specific needs. Collaboration isn’t making sure your lawyers know what other practices or services the firm offers, but how those practices and services specifically will help solve clients’ business and legal issues.
2. Get your lawyers working together to shape future plans
I’ve worked with law firms on launching strategic initiatives for 15 years and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is: if you don’t get lawyer buy-in before you start, you’re doomed to fail.
While there are always lawyers who are eager to (and naturally do) collaborate, you will also encounter four types of personalities you’ll need to win over:
The most effective way to build enthusiasm around a new program is to ensure your lawyers feel that their voice has helped shaped the process. Whether it’s targeted workshops to create action plans or an online survey where lawyers identify evolving client needs, giving lawyers a platform to help constructively shape your programs—rather than their getting an edict from firm management—will build more support and engagement in the process.
3. Focus on Building High Performing Teams (Not Team Building Activities)
Not everyone is an extrovert who enjoys working on group projects…and this is particularly true for lawyers (and myself if I’m being honest). But when it comes to collaboration, that’s OK. Effective collaboration is about the skills each person brings when working together with a client—not sitting in a room and doing everything together during a matter.
Acritas’ research with more than 2000 buyers per year of legal services has shown the highest performing collaborative teams include at least one of each of the following types of lawyer:
The good news is nearly every Star lawyer will fit into at least one of these categories (we’ll talk about how you can determine this in a future blog post). Create teams where there is a mix of these lawyer types included. People are naturally more likely to do something new if the activity falls into their existing comfort zone. Building teams around lawyers’ current strengths ensures they will embrace their role on the team. The diversity of skills and approach also contributes more to a great client experience of the team.
4. Know the Goal
I was once helping a firm create a new strategic plan. When I asked the Managing Partner what his overall vision for the firm was, he told me, “To make more money.” We all chuckled, and I pushed back on how he and the rest of the Executive Committee wanted to achieve this. Did they want to focus on building out existing client relationships, merging with another firm, attracting new marquee clients, offering new services…He interrupted me and said, “Yes; we should do all of that.” This was a plan destined to fail.
The more specific a goal, the more likely you are to achieve it.
SMART (Specific, Measurable, Acceptable, Realistic and Time-bound) goals keep people focused and aiming at the same endpoint. It’s no different when trying to build collaboration within a firm. Challenge your lawyers to craft the metrics that will determine success.
5. Choose Your Battles
Much like goal setting, being specific about when lawyers should collaborate can drive better results than simply building a more collaborative environment.
Everyone collaborating all the time is not only unrealistic, it’s downright counterproductive. Work needs to get done. Meetings are time consuming. Resources are always limited. The firms best at collaborating focus their time, resources, and energy into areas where there will be the greatest positive impact. The top areas where these firms focus their collaborative efforts are:
► Developing new business (both with new and existing clients)
► Establishing industry teams
► Building an innovative or thought leadership presence in the market
► Working in client teams; particulary for large, complex matters
Building collaboration at your firm shouldn’t feel like an unconquerable quest. Like most strategic initiatives, a common goal, invested resources, and tactical approach can drive outsized business results for your firm.
* Based on Acritas’ 2018 Sharplegal research
** Based on Acritas’ 2018 Stellar Performance research
*** The definition of a team of stand-out lawyers is having 2+ Stars at the firm.
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