The most efficient and effective way to become the go-to law firm for a specific industry is through industry practice groups, according to John Remsen, Jr., President and CEO of The Remsen Group. But their success, he says, depends on strong leadership.
How does he know this? Through decades of helping law firms develop and implement long-term strategic marketing and business development objectives.
“I can give you many, many examples where firms set up groups where one really thrives. They’re out doing things, there’s energy, and over time it starts to roll,” he says. “And then there’s another group. They can’t seem to ever get it together.
“What’s the difference between the two? A strong, passionate leader,” says John.
That’s why he advises looking for these 8 traits when you’re seeking an industry practice group leader:
1. They’re eager to lead an industry practice group.
This may seem obvious, but John has witnessed too many firms place a senior lawyer in an industry practice group leadership position who just doesn’t appreciate the concept. He recalls a situation at a firm where he was consulting. One lawyer was excited about being a group leader and was very eager to work with John to move forward.
“He was a younger partner who was really into it,” he notes.
In contrast, the other leader was someone everyone recognized as a great lawyer and a senior partner. But when John followed up with him on this group’s progress, he responded, “Why are we doing this again?”
John went back to the managing partner and informed him one of the groups was going to do “really, really well.”
“What about the other?” inquired the managing partner.
“DOA,” said John.
“The group leader just wasn’t getting the concept of industry practice groups. He couldn’t wrap his head around it. He didn’t get it and he didn’t want to get it,” he explained.
2. They’re altruistic.
“The group leader’s intention to improve the firm has to be pure,” insists John. “This isn’t a power grab or ego feed. They have to be relatively unselfish.”
John notes that the leader must understand that everyone in the group benefits from working together, playing off each other’s strengths and operating as a team.
3. They’re trustworthy.
John advises selecting the kind of people others can come to in confidence. They’re not on a power trip and will praise in public, but criticize in private.
“If they’ve got a group member really stepping out and speaking, they dispense ‘attaboys’ freely,” adds John. “They know how to showcase success and encourage others to go out there and do business.”
4. They’re willing to commit the time and energy
Choose someone who is prepared to lead the group for at least two years and is willing to invest 100 to 200 hours a year to its success.
“Everyone brings a style to the position. But, too often, they no more find their rhythm and then they get pushed out,” says John. “Find someone who is going to be committed to the role for at least two years so there’s some continuity and we’re not retraining group leaders.”
He advises coming up with rewards and incentives for lawyers who make this commitment.
5. They’re someone other lawyers will follow.
John says the credibility to lead is critical to:
- Holding lawyers accountable
- Making sure lawyers attend meetings.
- Being an effective coach, cheerleader, mentor and enforcer – roles all group leaders have to play at some point.
“A group leader has to be well-respected. Lawyers respect seniority; it does help to have a little gray hair. They also should have some natural rainmaking ability,” says John. “They need to be able to practice what they preach, and have a track record that says they’re good at that.”
But the best leaders aren’t always the most senior lawyer or the one with the biggest book of business, John reminds us.
“It’s often the younger partners who appreciate the change in the marketplace; the fact that it’s gotten more competitive and they have to work together as a firm,” notes John.
That’s why he recommends setting up a chair emeritus for industry groups that consist of the senior lawyers that they’ll look up to, and support that with a deputy chair who is a younger lawyer who can compose agendas, run meetings, distribute notes and keep the group moving forward.
“This would be a great stepping stone for young lawyers,” says John, “to see who has the skillset, the temperament and desire to really lead.”
6. They have power to affect compensation.
Money motivates, that’s why John believes it’s a good idea to select leaders who can affect compensation.
“They can suggest where shared origination credit might be appropriate. They can reward the efforts of the group for non-billable time,” he notes.
7. They know how to run a good meeting.
When a meeting is run effectively, people want to be there, notes John. There’s energy and information sharing –which is critical to the success of an industry practice group.
“A good leader will start and end meetings on time, doesn’t allow laggards, and makes sure everyone participates without the same people dominating the conversation,” he points out.
8. They’re patient.
“It takes time to develop a reputation as a go-to law firm,” says John.
A good leader won’t expect immediate results and won’t give up too easily. They’ll stay the course and encourage their practice group team to do the same.
John recalls a client that conducted a series of seminars and was frustrated that they weren’t getting new clients after the third event. However, the fourth seminar was the charm. They signed up a client that today, 15 years later, is their largest.
Want more information on developing industry practice groups that will establish your firm as a go-to industry resources? Check out 7 Steps to Creating a successful Industry Practice Group: An Interview with John R. Remsen, Jr.
Keep in mind that as you set up your groups that one of the best ways to spur business is by giving your team a 360-degree real-time view of the industry’s marketplace with Customer relationship automation. Want to find out more? Schedule a demo.