Wednesday, May 24, 2006

To the Intersection of Market Need and Exemplar Leadership

I am always intrigued by how often I am asked the question "What market is Exemplar going after as a firm?" At first blush, it sounds like a perfectly reasonable question. In fact, many people ask me "What practice areas are you looking for people to fill?" By these questions I am reminded of the difference between "Good" companies and "Great" companies. Good companies decide where the bus is going first and then gather a whole bunch of people to go along for the ride. Great companies start by getting great people on the bus. . . then. . . they look around at the talent and say "Where should we go?" So, what does all of this mean? This means that Exemplar Law Partners is headed to the intersection of Market Needs and Exemplar Leadership. Are you confused yet? Well, in business it would be a great mistake to set off to penentrate a particular market only to realize on your way that the target market no longer exists and now you have the wrong people to change course. I find it far more compelling to surround myself with leaders who have their ears to the market and can adapt and change to the growing marketplace. You see, if you focus too much on a destination you forget to enjoy the journey. Exemplar Law Partners has a model that allows our people and our customers to enjoy the journey, because with excellence as a core value we know that our destination is never truly reached.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Centralized Pricing is Key

The most common question I am asked about our model is how we actually price out legal work. Most people ask "How can you price when you don't know how long it will take?". The error in the reasoning that the question implies is that there exists a relationship between time and value to the client. The basis of a value pricing model is that there is, in fact, no direct relationship at all. (Karl Marx' Labor Theory of Value was refuted long ago) In fact, most clients want the work done faster, not slower. I do not meet many passengers on airplanes who think they should pay more because it took longer to get to their destination. . . . . yes. . . even though delays cost much more to the airline in fuel and missed connections. Most passengers want one thing: to get to their destination as fast and safely as possible. Last year I paid a lot of money for a new car and did not think to ask how long it took the engineers to make it! hmmmm.

At Exemplar our interests are aligned with the client and we have an incentive to get them to their destination as safely and promptly as possible. We have a pricing committee of professionals who are dedicated to understanding value from the customer's perspective. They make sure that the intake process is effective at getting the right information so that we understand how to design our services around exactly what the customer wants. What's more, centralizing the pricing function in an organization is critical to providing a consistent customer experience. This also allows us to communicate, learn, and correct any errors in the process that would not otherwise be discovered if attorneys priced individually. Why not have attorney's price individually? Well, what other businesses let technicians price the product? Still trying to think a one? After all, what does technical expertise have to do with pricing expertise. The engineers at Ford focus on making a good car. The people who price the cars focus on giving the customer what they want at the right price. The finance experts focus on the relationships between pricing and costing from a portfolio perspective (not a per-car anaysis). At Exemplar, we are inspired by models of success that work. Centralizing the pricing function is therefore a natural step for firms that want to improve client service.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Service Is In The Eye of the Customer:

Today I had the distinct pleasure of hearing the most gratifying remarks I could possibly hear as an attorney: "you guys are great, and I am so thankful for your help today." These remarks came from a client that we helped through an emergency situation this afteroon and they were left on my voicemail after the matter was satisfactorily resolved. It made realize why I am in this business and how wonderful it really feels to be able to help clients. The remarks left on my voicemail were actually longer and so enthusiastic that I forwarded the message to several of our team members just so they could hear it. At the same time, three businesspeople who are forming a company together that aims to have a national presence from the start decided, after meeting with us, to ditch their old attorney from Chicago and take the Exemplar plunge, citing that they really felt that they could connect with us on a personal and business level. Exeperiences like these confirm that the business of law is truly about relationships and helping people and businesses. Those who think it is just about where you got your diploma or technical skill have missed the point. The ability to deliver is a minimum requirement, but I believe that servicing the customer by fostering open and long-lasting relationships is the key to success. Time will tell, but so far our customers have been very satisfied. . . a satisfaction that makes me believe everyday in what we have set out to do as a firm.

Friday, May 05, 2006

More People Seem to '"Get It" Than Ever Before

I have noticed in the past few months (and especially in the past few weeks) that many more of the candidates applying to Exemplar really "get it" and are in a position to take the plunge! Over the past year and a half we have received more than 600 applicants. About half of them were just looking for jobs. We ended up speaking with about 300 of them, half of which were risk tolerant enough to meet for in-person interviews. Only half of those had social skills (that brings us to 75), and only half of those had ambition (37.5). About half of that group had business sense (18.75) and of the rest only half were humble enough to roll up their sleeves and build a firm. We are now 9 and growing about 1 per month and I have noticed a dramatic increase in both the number and percentage of applicants who really "get it!" We had our first Fortune 50 in-house counsel apply to our firm this week and will be flying in to meet with us. From being in-house and knowing how attractive fixed-priced offerings are, he had a unique niche that he believed would do well on a fixed-price model and contacted us. As usual, I will be interviewing about 6-7 people next week to see if there are any leaders among them, but the moral of this story is that visibility has increased and with it comes a higher comfort level that we will be successful. One of the most rewarding life experiences has been speaking with several hundred attorneys and learning about how you view your industy; your dreams; your gripes with the billable hour model; and your interest in a better way of doing business. Most attorneys I know are not happy. The opportunity to build a firm that can be a win for the attorneys by creating a great work environment and at the same time be a win for clients who are endlessly disappointed with law firm service and billable hours is what drives me to get up every day and do what I do. People who think Exemplar is about a pricing model have missed the point. Exemplar is about changing lives. . . one by one. . . until we're all done!