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Top 10 Reasons Client Teams Fail Article Final Print Version


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Top 10 Reasons Client Teams Fail Article Final Print Version

  1. 1. © 2016 Blain R. Banick, MBA – Law Firm CultureShift® Page 1 The Top 10 Reasons Client Teams Fail If you are like most firm leaders today, you are probably haunted by one question: “Will everything we plan to do in 2016 at the firm, group and individual attorney level be enough to deliver the economic results we need to retain and attract top talent, grow our business to meet our strategic goals and deliver the value and efficiencies required by our ever more demanding client base?” If an effective client team program isn’t a central component of your revenue growth strategy for 2016 and beyond, the answer is probably no. According to the recently released January 2016 Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute Annual Marketing and Business Development Benchmarking Survey, 52% of law firms have launched client team programs, with another 16% planning to do so in 2016. 76% of all respondents to the survey were from leaders at firms of less than 500 attorneys, of which 28% of the respondents fell into the 80 – 149 attorney firm size, which indicates client teams have taken hold in a broad spectrum of firms. An effective client team program is something that can be launched by firms of just about any size or practice/industry focus. However, not all client team programs will be successful, unless you put in place a sustainable and realistic program right from the start, demonstrate strong support from leadership and hold Client Team Leaders (CTLs), Members (CTMs) and administrative staff support members accountable for results. The Top 10 Reasons Why Client Teams Fail 1. The client team program is launched without any real strategy or structure that is sustainable beyond the short term launch of the program. To be sustainable and successful long-term, there needs to be a common client team planning, execution and accountability model in place from Day 1. All teams need to be using the same plan format, planning tools and terminology. Every member of the team – CTL, CTMs and administrative support professional(s) needs to understand the process and their roles and most importantly, CTLs and firm leadership need to hold all of these key players accountable for following the model.
  2. 2. © 2016 Blain R. Banick, MBA – Law Firm CultureShift® Page 2 2. You don’t put the time, effort and research necessary to select the right client teams and CTLs to participate in the program from the start. Selection of client teams is a critical and underappreciated process in too many failed client team efforts. You can’t just pull out your top 10/50/100/300 clients from the previous year and just randomly select which clients will be part of the program based on past revenues or gut instinct that “we should just have more work from this client” based on your perception of what you have to sell to that client. Accurate and deep competitive/business intelligence (CI/BI) needs to drive this process. CTL/CTM selection is also critical and can’t just automatically be the current client relationship manager or billing partner(s). Find the people who care the most, who will be invested for the long-term and have the respect of the client and the team. 3. You are unrealistic about the number of client teams you can effectively support. Many firms salivate when they do the math and anticipate the additional revenue that can come from client teams. A natural reaction, therefore, is the more the merrier. However, such a philosophy can doom the initiative from the start, because of the volume of support needed to get them started and keep them maintained over time. Instead, start small with the “coalition of the willing”, and then deploy additional teams once you have developed solid systems and have successful examples to convince others to join the program. For most firms, regardless of their size, you are probably looking at a beta program launch of between 3 – 10 teams. As we all know, attorneys are naturally competitive individuals. Show them a program that is successful and delivering results, and others will clamor to get on the revenue bandwagon. However, this will happen only if you match your ambition to realistic expectations and skills of your available support staff. 4. Administrative team members don’t provide the level of support required to make the CTLs and CTMs as efficient and effective as they need to be in their roles. Successful client teams heavily depend upon BD/Marketing team members (and other key administrative staff) to handle most of the administrative tasks connected to their client team efforts, including: • capturing and disseminating all client team efforts, intelligence and results generated through the program before all client team meetings; • accurate tracking of effort, time and money invested in the client team efforts and developing standardized CTL reports to firm leadership; • effectively sharing important client/industry information to all CTMs and other attorneys serving the needs of the client (most effectively done through “automated information push based technologies”) that all client teams use the same way; and • keeping CTLs/CTMs accountable for implementing their ongoing responsibilities to the client and the team.
  3. 3. © 2016 Blain R. Banick, MBA – Law Firm CultureShift® Page 3 Client teams that are not supported with adequate staff administrative team support will fail because the “ask” on CTLs/CTMs becomes too great (remember, this is usually a new set of responsibilities layered on top of their existing full-time jobs!). 5. Client team leaders and team members are chosen for political, rather than rational business reasons. A good place to start in the selection of CTLs and CTMs is to look at those partners and attorneys who are already involved with the client and know key players within the client organization. However, the selection process cannot stop there. Attorney/client relationships that have never turned into revenue in the past are not as useful as newer relationships with emerging leaders within the client organization. CTL roles can’t be assigned to absentee client relationship and billing partners. If you want the very best information on who should be your CTLs/CTMs, start the client team planning process by having a member of firm leadership (not connected to the delivery of service to the client) interview key client contacts. 6. Client team leaders and members don’t follow through on their commitments to their fellow client team members. Accountability is key to the success of every client team program. Every attorney is going to get busy with client work. Meetings and follow-up efforts will be impacted by calendaring conflicts. However, all CTMs must demonstrate they are willing to be held accountable for doing what they promised they would do to move the effort forward on a consistent basis. When this doesn’t happen, CTLs and firm leadership must be empowered to change the composition of the team and replace under-performing CTLs and CTMs with other attorneys who will make the necessary commitment to this critical revenue/client relationship building initiative. 7. Firm leadership doesn’t hold their client teams accountable for delivering results. At a minimum, CTLs should be required to report to firm leadership on the progress of the team against its plan and related metrics on a quarterly basis. Future investment of time and money in a client team must depend upon results. Non-performing client teams should be disbanded and new efforts with greater opportunities for success must take their place. Not every client team effort will be successful, but the program as a whole must demonstrate a positive and substantial return. 8. Client team members don’t follow the plan and just keep doing what they’ve always done to maintain their relationships with people they already know at the client organization. You will know you have a successful client team program when the methodology, terminology and approach are consistently applied to drive all of their team-based initiatives. If client teams don’t follow the planning methodology, there is a very strong tendency for individuals and teams to fall back into dysfunctional prior habits. Long-term
  4. 4. © 2016 Blain R. Banick, MBA – Law Firm CultureShift® Page 4 success depends upon CTLs and firm leadership holding all teams to the highest standards and encourage teams to aim high. 9. Firm leadership and CTLs don’t recognize team accomplishments and CTMs don’t feel they are being recognized for their contributions and successes. No matter what type of compensation system you have in place today, client team efforts can be successful, if firm leadership recognizes the accomplishments of client teams and individual CTMs in accordance with firm culture and values. Recognition through compensation is a question each firm will have to address before program launch. However, please remember that public recognition among peers and other forms of formal and informal recognition can go a long way toward providing ongoing motivational fuel for keeping your program on track. 10. CTLs, CTMs or other attorneys with connections to the client organization forget the old adage that there is no “I” in TEAM. To be successful, client teams must be a reasonable size to ensure both nimbleness and accountability. Ideally, most client teams should start out with four to seven core team members, with additional attorneys brought in to provide assistance, technical expertise and address emerging client connections/needs as they become known. Not every attorney who works on servicing the client or has connections within the client organization need be a formal CTM. They can play a critical role in the success of the team and be recognized for their efforts, but teams that grow too large often bog down and become either less efficient or dysfunctional due to the multitude of voices and opinions that must be heard. Conversely, teams can’t be dominated by just one or two individuals. Client relationship and billing partners shouldn’t drive all team efforts or impede the efforts of others on the team just because of their past connections to the client’s leaders and the overall client organization. Client teams are successful when they “hunt in packs” with all CTMs playing a critical role, based on a shared commitment and vision of success. Lone wolves and those who hold current relationships too close to the vest will only impede team success. In all, what may seem easy on the surface has a multitude of moving parts that need synchronous integration to work at peak efficiency. Avoiding these ten mistakes will go a long way toward helping your teams fulfil their potential. For more information on how Law Firm CultureShift® can assist you in developing a successful client team program at your firm, please contact Blain R. Banick, MBA ( or 314.452.6944). You can also visit our website,