Edge International Communiqué
Insights and Analysis from Edge International, the Leading Global Consultancy to the Legal Profession

October, 2013    
Lawyer Assessment and Client Development - An Emerging Trend  


One of standardized assessment's highest and best uses can be to enhance business development savvy and a lawyer's ability to relate appropriately to differing client personalities


by Doug Richardson

As part of an innovative individual business development coaching program for a group of its high-potential partners, a forward-looking global law firm was persuaded to include a battery of personality and motivational assessment instruments to map out each partner's "game face," interpersonal style, motivational drivers and likely stressors or self-awareness blind spots.


This firm's executive committee decided that because business development is so profoundly relationship-driven, any practical information regarding both one's own "operative style" and that of existing and potential clients could translate into greater self-awareness, greater context-awareness, and a better grasp of how to relate effectively to different kinds of people in different kinds of marketing-related situations. In short, they saw a direct path between assessment and business development, a road paving the way for building better working relationships and better collaboration.


Mixed Emotions


The firm's decision to do these assessments was not made without some qualms and controversy. These "tests," as most people call them, spark mixed reactions among lawyers. Many lawyers shy away from "all that touchy-feely stuff," arguing that their professional expertise and experience are their only relevant marketplace differentiators. But others recognize that any solid insights about how to build rapport and trust with varying types and stripes of clients (as well as with their own colleagues) can only enhance their effectiveness and their professional relationships, not to mention the size of their books of business.


Did I Pass the Test?


Although recognizing that "tests" is a commonly used term, legal coaches who conduct assessments dislike that word because it suggests that such standardized instruments as The Birkman Method, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Caliper, the Life Styles Inventory or various emotional intelligence inventories will assign grades and lead to respondents being pigeonholed into some kind of "poor-fair-average-good-excellent" rating system.


The creators of assessment tools argue strenuously that these instruments - that's the word they like - do not and cannot measure competency, skills, or legal knowledge. They only paint an objective picture of how forcefully certain personality and interpersonal style characteristics express themselves.


That Was Then, This is Now


The profound changes in today's legal landscape suggest that it's time to reevaluate the utility of tools that objectively describe the operative style factors that affect lawyer success and lawyer-client business relationships.


Over and above the uses of assessment to support good hiring and lawyer assimilation (the subject of a future blog post in this space), firms that work with individual lawyers to translate assessment insights into individualized mentoring and professional development attention often see immediate gains in lawyers' communication and collaboration skills, as well as in their social self-confidence.


As the partners in the BD coaching program described above soon realized, one of standardized assessment's highest and best uses can be to enhance business development savvy and a lawyer's ability to relate appropriately to differing client personalities.


Yes, being self-aware and having adroit social skills are critical success factors these days, but so is being able to understand what makes a particular client tick. Is he or she temperamentally affiliative, or an aggressive power-seeker? A natural collaborator or a turfy competitor? A stability-seeker or a risk-taker? A natural optimist or a guarded pessimist? More strongly ego-driven or more team-oriented? Does he or she relish the display of power or tend shy away from conflicts? Any insights that can be gained into these areas obviously are invaluable.


One particularly important rapport-building question is, "Is this client like me or unlike me?" If our respective thinking and interpersonal styles are markedly different, some focused self-awareness, and perhaps some behavior modification, are in order.


A Case Study in Modulation


During the BD coaching program, for example, assessment feedback of one partner emphasized that he was likely to be seen by others as a quick-witted and innovative big picture thinker, but also as intense and opinionated. His coach worked with him to modulate the forcefulness of his personality and to be sure to give others adequate "air time" in conversations and discussions. Then, as he prepared a marketing  pitch to a potentially high-stakes client in a novel area of commercial litigation, a casual acquaintance who knew the potential client mentioned in passing, "This guy makes a snail look fast.  He crosses every 'T' and dots every 'I' and then goes back and does it again. I have never seen a more detail-oriented lawyer. He's brilliant, but he moves so sloooow. He really feels overwhelmed by pushy people."


Armed with these insights - both about himself and the potential client - this partner practiced several techniques in preparing both the content and presentation of his upcoming marketing pitch:

  1. In conversations to initiate their relationship, he called attention to manifest differences in style between himself and the client, rather than ignoring them or assuming his customary dominant role: "I think you and I are wired very differently, and I want to be careful that I don't get so caught up in ideas that I'm not clear about the practical details."
  2. He emphasized the practical implementation of his ideas, taking pains to explain how broad strategic ideas would translate into tactical priorities and ground-level action plans.
  3. In terms of his self-presentation style, he concentrated on slowing his rate of speech and inserting clear pauses in his thoughts so that the potential client would have plenty of opportunity to methodically process and organize information and to raise comments and questions.
  4. He focused on modulating his assertive style and promoting conversational give-and-take, as well as lowering the volume of his voice,  limiting his enthusiastic interruptions and quieting his body language.

They got on fine, although the client does refer to dealing with this lawyer as "a cross-cultural experience."


Overall, most lawyers who have undergone assessment report one important insight: when it comes to forging and sustaining powerful relationships with clients, one size does not fit all.  Behaving in ways that make you comfortable but put clients on the defensive is a recipe for losing business. On the other hand, being attuned to the interpersonal nuances of rapport now has become an essential lawyer life skill, one that allows lawyers to adjust to changing circumstances and act appropriately in the moment. Assessment certainly can be an instrumental tool in that adjustment.


This article originally appeared on At The Intersection, the blog of Edge International partner Pam Waldow


Managing Partner - More than Just a Highly Desired Designation


Law firms need clearly defined criteria when selecting a managing partner

by Bithika Anand  


Every law firm has its share of rainmakers, intellectuals, enforcers and senior partners. In many mid-sized and smaller law firms, the managing partner is chosen from one of these groups, based on one specific role and the importance the firm gives to that role.


I often ask my clients whether their firm has defined criteria for the appointment of a managing partner. Has it taken the time and effort to lay down guidelines with respect to the selection process, delegation of authority and power, role, responsibilities, duties, tenure and other relevant issues?


In most cases firms claim to have answers to all my questions in their minds. However, when they consider the actual decisions they have made in the past, they see that rarely have these points been covered.


The appointment of the managing partner is on many occasions a matter of convenience or a continuation of a pre-established practice. The founder, senior-most partner, or the partner who brings in the most business is not necessarily the best choice to be nominated as the managing partner.  


At times, partners opt for a "safety first" approach by pushing the case for a conformist and cordial managing partner, rather than one with all-round managerial skills and an appetite for expansion.


Where a managing partner is chosen based on his or her exceptional performance in a specific role - such as bringing in new clients - extra caution must be maintained to ensure that other relevant factors that make or break a law firm are also nurtured. It is necessary to avoid a situation where aspects such as professional development, quality control, recruitments, relationship management, partner coaching - all of which are equally important for the success of a law firm - are neglected in favor of skills in business development.


Many firms have dedicated departments and partners who take care of the planning and strategy for the various aspects relevant for the functioning of a law firm, and most partners are part of the decision-making process. Nevertheless, as in every other commercial organization, an overseer is needed to ensure that all the cogs in the wheel are running smoothly and to step in whenever a cog needs oiling. This is where the addition of the word "managing" before a partner's designation suggests demanding responsibilities: it cannot be considered merely as a prefix, added as a sign of respect or authority.


One fact that must be accepted by all law firms is that a managing partner's billable hours will considerably reduced, owing to the additional responsibilities that need to be undertaken as part of running the firm. The managing partner has a fine line to walk in order to create a balance between maintaining a positive environment at the firm and taking hard decisions for the firm's growth. A reduction in the billable hours may be offset by increased rates, but never by taking time away from running the firm. In any event, improved all-round management will improve the profitability of the firm.


A common denominator among successful firms is the presence of dedicated and dynamic managing partners with a focus on growing the firm in totality, rather than just in specific areas of comfort. 


 Contact the author, Bithika Anand    

Innovation at Firm Retreats
Putting attorney creativity to work with Innovation Tournaments 
by David Cruickshank   


Law firms are often criticized as being late to innovate, if at all. As I discovered at a recent law firm retreat, the creativity and willingness to innovate resides in the attorneys. It just takes a structure and leadership to unlock. The retreat environment is an ideal setting for an Innovation Tournament.

Innovation Tournaments began as a business-school structure for promoting creative business ideas. I had the opportunity to help a Canadian firm structure and run a tournament at a retreat - a first for law firm retreats as far as we know.

What is an Innovation Tournament?

An Innovation Tournament is a cross between intensive brainstorming, creative arts and American Idol. Let me explain. The tournament takes about five hours of retreat time, including some lunch and coffee breaks. It works best when you have the facilities and numbers to have groups of 14 to 16 that will meet separately at first. Groups are assigned a category of law firm activity - business development, client service improvements, associate development, etc. In our first tournament, we had six broad topics and four to five groups per topic. Each group was asked, in a limited time, to come up with an innovation, consistent with firm strategy, that would be most attractive to their colleagues. Then the tournament "rounds" begin.

Presentation Rounds

Each group gets a piece of flip chart paper. Here is where the creative drawing and chart-making emerges. One or two presenters are selected to present the innovation to other groups working in the same category. A strict three-minute presentation time rule prevails. The skill, humor, and camaraderie exhibited during this phase is unlike anything I have seen at other retreats. As an outside leader, it was important to keep momentum and be the impartial moderator, coach and referee of the process.

Building to the Final Round

After a couple of rounds of selecting and improving on innovations, the tournament builds to a final round. From each of the six categories, after secret balloting, a winning innovation is chosen. The winners again get to "poster" their idea and work on a presentation. During a coffee break, all retreat attendees circulate amid the posters of the category winners. Then all come to a single large room for the American Idol finals. Again, the three-minute speeches were brilliant, and the ideas were within reach of the firm. (Impractical and very expensive ideas did not get enough votes.) This time, the best innovation for the entire firm was on the line. The final presentation round takes just over 30 minutes, followed by secret ballots. (No obnoxious judges are present.)  At the retreat dinner, the winning idea and group is announced and given a prize.

The Payoff

The firm in this case created more than 30 ideas, many of them quite viable and some that attracted the voting support of up to half the lawyers present. The competition and speed of the tournament prevented ideas from being debated to death. Often, senior associates or junior partners were given the presentation role - and were able to showcase previously unknown skills. Above all, the whole process advanced the firm's strategy and demonstrated that the motivation to innovate resides in firms - it just needs a structure and leadership to unlock. In planning your next retreat, talk to us about Innovation Tournaments.


 Contact the author, David Cruickshank     

Archived Edge International Communiqués 
In This Issue
Doug Richardson explains the benefits of standardized assessments
Bithika Anand discusses the importance to law firms of selecting a well-rounded managing partner
David Cruickshank talks about how Innovation Tournaments can generate new strategies for law firms
  Gerry Riskin

Gerry Riskin 





Ed Wesemann



Pam Woldow
Doug Richardson 

John Plank 

 John Plank








New York,

Ft. Lauderdale, 

Mike White

Of Counsel 

Legal League Consulting, LLC  
Dehli and Mumbai,
At The Podium: Upcoming Appearances by Edge Partners   


Jordan Furlong Oct 04
Afternoon Keynote Address,
2013 Futures Conference
College of Law Practice Management
Chicago, IL


Jordan Furlong Oct 16
Luncheon Presentation,
Association of Legal Administrators of Atlanta
Atlanta, GA


Jordan Furlong Oct 24
Plenary Address,
Continuing Legal Education Association of Australasia Annual Meeting
Brisbane, Australia


Edge Blogs

Jordan Furlong's  



Ed Wesemann's Creating Dominance


Pam Woldow's At The Intersection


Gerry Riskin's Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices

Nick Jarrett-Kerr's NJK

Edge Inter
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