Rudderless ships

Rudderless ships‘ is a new post by Mike O’Horo, a foremost proponent of how lawyers in BigLaw firms can improve the effectiveness of their business development activities. The volume of debate and activity around law firms’ evolution into sales organizations continues to ramp up. There are lots of opinions – and accompanying solutions offered – around every aspect of this emerging business function.

Want to investigate sales training, client teams, coaching, sales planning, sales support, or associate training? Pick an event and there’s a good bet that your topic will be on the agenda. A Google search will produce more results than you could read in a lifetime. Law firms have invested or will invest in many, if not most, of these, and most either will fail or fall far short of expectations because of a recurring and glaring omission: management oversight/leadership.

Where is law firm management in this mission-critical sales evolution? Too often, they’re conspicuously absent.

Oh, they’ll get involved in the sexy part, i.e. evaluating potential solutions and providers, deciding on the budget. You’ll see them at the visible program launches and kickoffs, with the declarations of grand aspirations.

Then comes the hard work: making sure – every week – that the lawyers in whom they’ve invested time and money to develop the skills to generate the business that sustains the firm are doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

For the most part, management abdicates their responsibility in this regard. This lack of oversight (unintentionally) communicates that it’s OK not to do what you committed to do. As former IBM CEO Lou Gerstner wrote in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, his book about the IBM turnaround, “What gets measured gets done.”

Given that most lawyers have more obligations than they can reasonably fulfill most days, it is human nature to prioritize according to what gets measured. What gets measured in a law firm? Primarily, billable hours.

What doesn’t get measured?

  1. Volume, appropriateness, and effectiveness of marketing and sales activity
  2. Pipeline and progress
  3. Use of coaching and other invested resources
  4. Cost of sales
  5. Adherence to and progress against sales plan.

Lawyers in our ResultsPath sales training/coaching program establish a weekly time budget. Most say they will commit 1-5 hours per week to the specific plan we’ve created together, with “3” being the statistically dominant choice. How many do so, every week?

“What gets measured gets done”— Lou Gerstner, then-CEO of IBM

Of all the action items that lawyers “commit” to in their biz dev plans, how many get done? We have an informed opinion, but we’d bet the ranch that the firms haven’t a clue. Why? Because few leaders check up on the lawyers in whom they’ve invested money and expectations. They seem to hope that somehow the partners will make sales a priority and follow through. Some hope that writing a check for training will solve the sales problem.

Law firm leaders, unless you remain visible and continually make it clear that sales is important enough for you to check on all the time, your sales programs will remain rudderless, compromising your firms’ results and your lawyers’ development.

The easiest way to begin doing this is to do what business writer Tom Peters called “management by walking around.” It’s a literal term. In this case, the idea is to drop in on those lawyers for whom you’ve invested in training or coaching. Be interested. Ask about how things are going, then ask questions whose answers are easily verified, e.g., “How often do you speak with your Coach?”

Once you demonstrate that senior management is paying attention to this investment, people realize that this type of “pop-quiz” could happen at any time. They’re more likely to comply with the program, if only to avoid the risk of having an unsatisfactory answer, or no answer, when challenged.

RainmakerTVMike O'HoroMike O’Horo is a co-founder of RainmakerVT, a very special service through which lawyers learn by doing in a virtual world.

Mike may be contacted by email at and follow him on Twitter: @rainmakervt.


Rudderless Ships first appeared on Mike’s blog on January 24, 2017.

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