Matter Management Matters – Improving Quality and Efficiency

I’ve delivered dozens of workshops on this topic and always get the same reaction to the question ‘Who is responsible for what aspects of a matter?’ There are blank faces, because there is typically no clear answer.

The implications of this lack of clarity are significant:

  • There are bound to be some overlaps – which mean that some tasks will be duplicated, either leading to clients being over-charged or margins being squeezed if the time is written off
  • There will probably be some underlaps – where we might hear ‘I thought you were doing that!’. If this happens, it risks having an unnecessary delay in progress and potentially compromises work quality

So it’s clear to me that we need clearer roles for matter management purposes. Here’s my default list of roles for Matter Partners and Matter Associates.

Role for Matter Partners

  • Assemble an appropriate team and select an associate to be Matter Associate
  • Generate a project plan, with assigned tasks and deadlines and keep this updated
  • Provide leadership and supervision
  • Agree fee estimate with client, issue invoices, and collect cash
  • Agree principal point of contact with client
  • Debrief team upon completion
  • Capture and disseminate useful knowhow
  • Undertake a client satisfaction review

Role for Matter Associate

  • Assist the Matter Partner in fulfilling their responsibilities (see above)
  • Produce and maintain a list of documents and key issues
  • Take responsibility for the day-to-day communication within the team and with any external parties (surveyors etc)
  • Arrange regular team meetings
  • Ensure all deadlines are met
  • Monitor costs of the matter against the original estimate and brief the Matter Partner regularly
  • Arrange the completion meeting, preparing the agenda and post completion steps

Looks like there are a lot of key tasks for the Mid-level or Senior Associate.

Most firms will benefit from having greater clarity on matter management roles. If Associates are ever unclear, I highly recommend that you suggest roles for yourself or at least ask the Matter Partner. The potential implications if you don’t are serious!

Have I missed out any key roles? Or assigned them wrongly?

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Research Findings on What Motivates (and Demotivates) Lawyers

Source: pinterest

Lockdown is clearly leading to motivation at work issues. I’ve asked more than a thousand lawyers over the last ten years what motivates them at work. To what extent is it a high salary? Or is it status, congeniality, security, achievement, recognition, autonomy, responsibility?

The results are somewhat consistent and perhaps not surprising. What is surprising is the extent to which their supervisors are behaving in ways that demotivate them!

What Motivates Lawyers

A minority claim that what motivates them is a high salary or bonus. US lawyers have money as a higher priority – maybe because of the high cost of their legal education.

But the vast majority confirm that the main motivators relate to the work itself. It’s receiving challenging work that provides a sense of responsibility, autonomy and ultimately achievement. And it’s being appreciated and recognised for their contribution

What Demotivates Lawyers

A surprising number of lawyers say they are not given stretching work. Their workload seems trivial and mundane. They also say that they don’t feel valued or appreciated.

I receive comments that there seems to be an unequal allocation of work and they sense others are not pulling their weight.

Other aspects that demotivate lawyers are:

  • Not receiving any constructive feedback
  • Others taking the credit for your work
  • Inefficient matter management
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Supervisors who are overly nit-picky

Advice to Supervisors

  1. Try finding out what motivates and demotivates junior lawyers in your team. Ask what matters they’ve enjoyed most and least.
  2. Consider more carefully what stretching work you can delegate. Try to avoid the view that ‘it’s easier to do it myself!’
  3. Delegate thoroughly so juniors know how best to carry out the work. This minimises the risks of work needing to be redone.
  4. Give constructive feedback so junior lawyers can learn. This is particularly important for Millennials.
  5. Say ‘well done’ more often. And make these real by being specific about what was good.

Remember, all your new hires almost certainly started off very motivated to be great lawyers. Let’s try to keep it that way!

It’s more challenging motivating team members during lockdown. Let’s get better at it!

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Marketing and Compelling StoryTelling

All of us construct narratives about ourselves – where we come from, what we do, where we are going. The kinds of stories we tell make a big difference to how confident we are marketing ourselves and our products or services.

Classic powerful stories from Antigone to Casablanca to Star Wars to Harry Potter have been analysed and found to contain the same basic five elements, as follows:

  1. A protagonist the listener cares about. We must be able to relate to the situation or struggles of a particular person or group.
  1. A catalyst compelling the protagonist to take action. An event takes place and something important is at stake. Typically, the first act of a play or section of a novel is devoted to establishing this fact. It’s up to the protagonist to put things right again.
  1. Trials and tribulations. The story’s second act commences as obstacles, produce frustration, conflict and drama, and often lead the protagonist to change in an essential way. As in The Odyssey, the trials reveal, test, and shape the protagonist’s character. Time is spent wandering metaphorically in the wilderness, far from home.
  1. A turning point. This represents a point of no return, which closes the second act. The protagonist can no longer see or do things the same way as before.
  1. A resolution. This is the third act, in which the protagonist either succeeds magnificently or fails tragically.

This is the classic beginning-middle-end story structure defined by Aristotle more than 2,300 years ago and used by countless others since. It seems to reflect how the human mind wants to organise reality.

Do you have a coherent and compelling story about yourself? What about your firm – what’s that story?

Source: Herminia Ibarra & Kent Lineback in HBR Jan 2005

See also:


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The World Needs Better Facilitation for Online Group Meetings

The Zoom or Team calls don’t have to be so unengaging, rambling and ineffective. You just need a good facilitator. And what specifically would such a person bring? Here are some benefits.

  1. Someone to take a little time out to connect personally with everyone on the call. OK, this might not be possible with 300 people but there might be a couple of people in a large group to draw attention to, for example, birthdays or someone who is back having been sick. A good facilitator thinks a bit more about people and ways of engaging with them.
  2. They would stipulate upfront the purpose of the virtual gathering, the agenda and timing and get buy-in to that. It’s hard to stay focused when you’re not sure what’s going on.
  3. A facilitator is not a dictator! They might make a proposal. They might suggest. They might consult. It depends on the group. It might be appropriate to ask, ‘Does anyone have anything to add to the agenda?’ or just ‘Is everyone OK with that?’.
  4. A good facilitator will have considered suitable processes for conducting the agenda items. Depending on whether they want a discussion, a decision or some creative ideas, there are appropriate processes for each. And there are some great ones out there. Have you tried Thinking Rounds? This is a perfect process if you want to avoid the senior people or extraverts dominating the discussion.
  5. They will be good listeners – probing interesting comments to find out what’s below the waterline and not being said explicitly.
  6. Facilitators find ways to build consensus – again, using appropriate processes such as agreeing a list of suitable criteria and carrying out an assessment of risks and rewards.
  7. They will ensure clarity on next steps. Who is to do what, by when? This will be essential for following up at the next meeting. And the team members can get a clear sense of progress being made. Thereby minimising the risk of such meetings being perceived as a waste of time!

And another point…the facilitator doesn’t have to be the boss. Just someone good at it!

Further tips on having effective meetings at:

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Pricing and Fee Negotiating – Training Product Using VC

I’m a great fan of using technology to drive efficiencies and improve performance and have pioneered the use of video conferencing –  not just to provide information – but to change mindsets and develop skills.

My latest product is a 1.5 hr session on pricing and fee negotiating.

Here are the main themes:

  1. The importance of selling value – ultimately, what you charge is determined by several factors, but an important one is the perceived benefit in the mind of the client (both organisationally and personally by the contracting client) of using a top notch firm such as yours rather than a discount firm.
  2. The pros/cons of different pricing options – what’s good for you and what’s good for clients – how to steer successfully between these options to achieve a win-win.
  3. Pricing the three different levels of professional firm services – Expertise (‘You Bet Your Farm’), Experience, Efficiency (for high volume and low margin work)
  4. The Cobb Curve – what happens to margins on professional services over time as products become commoditised
  5. The four-stage negotiation process – most firms just use one stage – I advocate adding three further stages which benefit the firm and avoid misunderstandings
  6. How to respond to clients saying ‘that’s too expensive’
  7. How to renegotiate the fee if the scope or goalposts move
  8. Estimating the fee in the first place – how to minimise the risk of under quoting, using bottom up and top down processes
  9. The psychology of pricing – using techniques such as anchoring, the use of ranges of services, the importance of helping clients minimise risk, the appropriate use of language
  10. Margin improvement – to address the challenge of delivering matters on fixed fees with potential undercutting competitors

I get really good feedback from these programmes! A small investment could make you a lot of money!

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Checklist for Coaches – First Meeting with Client

That first coaching meeting is so important. So many things to cover and it can be really important to have a proper, well-founded set up. Here’s my checklist:

  1. What are their expectations
  • Previous experience of coaching
  • What are you expecting, hoping for from coaching?
  1. Explain and reassure on confidentiality
  1. How the coaching process works
  • It’s their agenda
  • Raising awareness
  • Keeping responsibility with them
  1. Their role:
  • To be open to change, learning and growth
  • To be willing to try new things, different ways of working
  • To be honest – with themselves and with the coach
  1. Coach’s role:
  • To provide a safe place to discuss any topic without judging
  • To support and challenge, probe and clarify
  • To provide feedback (if wanted)
  • To be direct and honest
  • To encourage action
  • To promote learning and growth
  1. What coach will not be doing
  • Counselling, therapy
  • Life coaching
  • Providing all the answers / solving all their problems for them
  1. Areas of primary focus
  • What’s got them this far – background, choices, etc?
  • What’s important to them – values?
  • How would they like things to be different?
  • What do they specifically want to work on?
  1. What will success look like in practice? (measures & timeframes)
  1. What might get in the way?
  • Handling inner doubts
  • Dealing with failure
  • Realism about time frames
  1. Finalise logistical arrangements
  • Format  (face-to-face, phone, VC)
  • Place
  • Frequency
  • Policy on cancellations, timeliness

Have I missed anything?




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Economists are Wrong! Clients Buy Based on Emotions

Source: The Economist

The conventional belief of economists (and all other scientific, logical disciplines such as finance and the law) is that people are logical. What nonsense!

Homo sapiens is a highly complex creature that is difficult to comprehend. But we buy based on emotions and post-rationalise based on facts.

If you can remember the last time you bought an apartment or house, you’ll know what I mean. Maybe you had a good impression from the outside. Maybe deep-down it reminded you of somewhere else. But it made you feel good. We usually can’t put our finger on why.

However you can’t spend all that money based on feelings, so you check the details: the train service, the local schools, the nearest park and convenience stores. You want the apartment but only offer to buy when you can justify the purchase rationally.

So when trying to persuade clients to use your services ask yourself: What’s the client’s emotional hot button here?

Sometimes it will be to look good to their boss, perhaps because you frequently update them on issues and progress. Sometimes it will be sleeping better at night or to have less hassle in their life. There’ll always be something.

Rory Sutherland, Vice Chair at Ogilvy UK, speaks eloquently and says that those involved in business development need to avoid having the rational, economist mindset. You will do well to avoid being overly logical. Often doing the opposite of what your competitors are doing will work well for you.


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Why Professionals Just Focus on Earning Fees…

…And don’t do all the other good things they should.

What sort of things am I talking about? It’s the non-billable stuff, such as business development, managing key accounts, generating knowhow and sharing it with colleagues, introducing clients to colleagues in other teams, investing time in mentoring juniors etc.

I know this situation frustrates the management of many firms. But the typical approach adopted, which is to give them a speech and put them on a training programme, doesn’t work – mainly because insufficient focus is put on understanding why each individual isn’t doing it.

And there are lots of potential reasons according to David Maister, such as:

  1. They don’t really understand the action’s importance.
  2. They see the action’s importance to the firm, but don’t see what’s in it for them personally.
  3. They don’t know how to do the action or some aspect of the action.
  4. They know what to do but is just not very skilled at it.
  5. They don’t want to do it. They’d rather stick to their technical discipline.
  6. They have lost their enthusiasm for innovation and are in an “I’ll just do my job” place.
  7. They haven’t been given the support or tools to do the action.
  8. They think the firm (in spite of its exhortations) really wants them to be focusing on earning fees and not to engage in non-reimbursable activities.
  9. The action is viewed as discretionary (ie they think that participation is optional).
  10. They view the activity as a long-term investment, and they would rather work on things that provide more immediate gratification.
  11. They feel more accountability and pressure for other things. They intend to do or would like to do the action, but they feel that they don’t have the time to do it.
  12. They feel that the action is not really valued by their peers. The corporate culture doesn’t reinforce the action.
  13. They view the action as a personal choice and is not thinking of team-level impacts (or approaches).
  14. They perceive the reward for the activity, but think it will only be given for high levels of performance — so why should a beginner even try?

Perhaps most important of all: When they don’t do it, management doesn’t react (except perhaps once a year at performance evaluation time). Since there are no short-term consequences for noncompliance, why bother when there is so much else to do?

Getting an individual to change and participate requires a more sophisticated approach and an ability to engage in a non-threatening conversation to uncover the true reasons for non-participation.

Once an action plan is agreed, support needs to be offered and the conversation needs following up.

All of which takes time. But the rewards should be great.


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Bad Meetings. Bad Decisions.

Hope you don’t get involved in a meeting as bad as this one…

It’s October 1940 when Benito Mussolini met with his generals to discuss the arrangements for invading Greece. He asked what might seem like an important question: Are we sure of victory?

Absolutely the generals replied, knowing that no other answer was acceptable.

After 90 minutes Il Duce closed the meeting saying: It seems to me that we have examined all aspects of the problem.

In truth of course no vital answers had been given. No important questions had even been asked!

A week later Italy invaded Greece and the country was humiliated.

It turns out that Italy didn’t even have enough industrial capacity to supply their troops with the equipment they needed.

But nobody asked that question!

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