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A Strategy For Growing Your Practice: The Science

I have written and spoken often about the importance of business development planning for lawyers and law firms. Many law firms have taken their cue from other industries and have created firm-wide business development plans.  Many of those firms have taken the next step and required BD plans from each of their fee earning professionals.

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SC&C’s Kathryn Szymczyk Presents IPIC Webinar: Are You Ready For “The Amazon Effect”?

SC&C’s Kathryn Szymczyk will be hosting a webinar for the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada (IPIC) on the mindset and skills lawyers need to thrive in today’s legal marketplace.  The session will be moderated by Elizabeth Dipchand of Dipchand LLP. The session will start with some background on “The Amazon Effect” and how it is influencing the legal marketplace.

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Networking Emergency Tool Kit

Everything you need to make the most of conference season.

Conference season is getting underway and many of us are preparing to make the most of the opportunity to meet face to face with our clients and potential clients.  We can be the best lawyer in the world but if we don’t take advantage of the chance to foster relationships, we may find our dream clients heading to the competition. In this blog post, we offer some tools and suggestions for raising your networking game.

Conversation Starters:

Many of my clients – from the most junior to the most senior – ask me if there are a list of questions to kick-start conversations at conferences or meetings.  For those of you who like the idea of having a list to refer to, I offer the following (for those of you who don’t, scroll down for more tips below!):

  • “What do you think of the conference this year?”
  • “How long have you worked for your Firm/company?”
  • “How large is your department?”
  • “What’s the scope of your role within the company?”
  • “I understand you recently joined the Firm from x Firm.  How is the transition going?”
  • “How are the recent changes in law/regulations affecting your business?”
  • “What issues come up for you most in x jurisdiction/country/area of law?”
  • “Have you always worked with healthcare companies or have you worked in other industries?”

What do all of these questions have in common? They are all “open-ended questions” which commonly start with “what” and “how” (try to avoid “why” because it can make people feel defensive). These type of questions cannot be answered by yes or no and, therefore, keep the conversation going.

In addition to having a few good conversation starters in your back pocket, it is just as important to show up with the right mindset in order to be a networker who sees results.  I offer the following tips in that regard:

    1. Show Up Ready to Connect: No one likes talking to the person who is scanning the room or clearly thinking about something else.  In order to show up ready to connect with others, we must first quiet our own minds.  One effective way of doing so is to use breathing techniques that help us attune to the present and the person across from us as opposed to our own thoughts.  I encourage you to try the 4-7-8 breath exercise (outlined at the bottom of this post) before heading out for the day or before an important meeting.
    2. Find What You Like and How You Are Alike:  People like people who like them and people like people who are like them.  If your first comment can be a genuine compliment on something you appreciate about the person (their company/firm, their role, a speech they gave), do so.  If you can then focus on some insight, passion, obstacle or opportunity you have in common, you will be surprised how quickly you can foster conversation and connection.  Of course, in order to be successful, this must be done genuinely and sincerely and with a willingness to share our own thoughts and opinions (otherwise it may feel like an interrogation!).
    3. Preparation Will Set You Free:  Make sure you have more to talk about then the weather or your trip to the conference.  Any research or thought you can invest in identifying topics/stories/experiences that may be of interest to the attendees, the more confident and at ease you will feel with starting conversations.  For example, I always make sure I read the first few pages of the Economist before I go to an international conference so I at least know the headlines of what is going on in several countries.  It is enough to start a conversation and it is very endearing to people when you know something about their country.  Bonus points if you know a case, development of the law or new product/service relevant to their country or company and of interest to you and your practice.
    4. Show Up Curious and Ready to Listen:  You can have all the tips and conversation starters in the world but if you are not genuinely curious and focused on the people you are speaking with, you can completely fail to make a connection.  These tips on active listening can make all the difference:
      • Pause: Give people room to respond and talk about themselves.  You are not the only person responsible for the conversation.  Silence is the most effective listening skill!
      • Focus:  Put your attention over there on the prospect – not on what you want to say about yourself or the work that is sitting on your desk back at the office (the breathing exercises above will help you with that).  Challenge yourself to find something you have in common (see #2 above).
      • Encourage:  Use verbal and physical cues to add energy to the conversation and show you are interested.
      • Reflect back: Repeat what the other person says in their words so you both can confirm for your self AND show them you understand what they are saying.
      • Clarify: If you don’t understand something, have the confidence to say so.  You don’t need to know all the answers and the person will appreciate the opportunity to expand on their thoughts. People love to speak about themselves.  Take advantage of it.
    5. Know What You Want and Why You Should Get It:  To turn this from an exercise in meeting friends into a successful business development tool, we must take the time to consider what information, connections, reputation, and opportunities we are trying to foster at this event.  In other words, we need a focused and intentional strategy for success. You can see our prior blog post on why creating a strategy is important here and how to create one on the fly here.  Your strategy should include knowing the 3 things that make you the best person to get the clients and work that you want – your unique selling proposition (USP), if you will.  If it isn’t top of mind then how can you convey it?  And if you want to convey it, it is worthwhile preparing some stories, examples, and anecdotes ahead of time.  You will be surprised at how easy they come up in conversation once you have done this.

    Showing up ready to connect with curiosity and open-ended questions can take time and practice.  It also requires us to show some vulnerability.  As lawyers, we are trained to show up with solutions and to not ask any questions we don’t know the answers to.  Workshops and coaching help my clients with this mindset shift. With the right tools, support and practice, you too can be a master networker.  Happy networking!

    How can SC&C help? If you or your team would like help becoming master networkers contact us at kathryn@sccignites.com to find out about our experiential workshops, Firm retreats and one-on-one coaching programs.  We are offering free 30-minute sample coaching sessions to the first 20 people to respond.  Email us with “Sample Coaching Session” in the subject line.

    P.S. The 4-7-8 Breath Exercise mentioned above goes like this.  Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward:

    • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
    • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
    • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
    • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
    • This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

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Innovation from Within: Why law firms need to engage Millennials and other right-brained thinkers to thrive.



It’s clear. The mounting pressures facing the legal services sector are not part of a cycle – they are here to stay. Simple tweaks are no longer going to cut it. We need to face the facts. But, are we equipped to do so? Do we have the right mindset, perspective and training?  Law firms are struggling to adapt while remaining profitable.  Statistics show that the majority are simply increasing fees, increasing billable hour expectations and cutting staff.  These tactics are not only ultimately unsuccessful, they result in an atmosphere of fight, flight, and freeze – exactly the opposite of what has led the most successful companies to thrive in today’s economy.  However, recent conversations, articles, and books have shown me that a few of the more intrepid among us have dared to think outside the box and are beginning to reap the rewards.  How can firms set themselves up to innovate from the inside instead of being left by the wayside?

Some of you may have seen a transcript of a lecture delivered by Dana Robinson (Founding Partner of TechLaw LLC and adjunct professor at the University of San Diego) circulating on LinkedIn here. Dana congratulates the Millennials in his first year IP law class, for having the creativity and innovation that will attract today’s most attractive clients.  He states:

“Left-brained law firms doing work for left-brained businesses are on the way out.  As right-brained businesses take over, they require creative attorneys who think outside the box.  The law firms of the future are like the client they will serve: creative, flexible, fun.”

Creative. Flexible. Fun. When is the last time you heard those three words used to describe a traditional law firm?  However, based on what I have heard from in-house counsel around the world and based on the positive results I have seen enjoyed by some of the most creative and innovative in the profession, I think he has hit the nail on the head.

What does fun have to do with it?

Let’s tackle the “fun” part first.  Traditionally, lawyers have equated being professional with being formal and holding our clients at arm’s length.  Many of us are very cynical about expressing emotions, especially those that reveal any vulnerability.  In the extreme, this has led to attitudes of condescension and pretension, especially among the older generation of lawyers.  These are the two characteristics I have heard most in-house counsel reject outright when choosing a trusted advisor today.

Many of us have discovered that forming some type of personal connection with contacts and clients does seem to translate into winning work.  The reason for that is very simple, and yet so few in the legal profession seem curious about how to hone and leverage this as a professional skill and tool.  Human beings, no matter what we like to think, make decisions based on emotions.  We also remember and are drawn to people and ideas that have a positive emotion attached to them.  Furthermore, feelings of familiarity – when combined with positive emotions – foster feelings of trust.

Need any more reasons to work on your “soft” skills?  Given the abundance of choice, the ability to make a genuine personal connection with our clients and contacts is an essential professional skill for lawyers today.

When is the last time you had fun with your clients or potential clients?

Being creative in the service industry means co-creating.

We have all heard the elusive phrase “trusted advisor” when we talk about what clients want in a lawyer.  But what does that mean?  

As noted above, the “trust” element often comes through familiarity and shared positive emotions.  

Being an “advisor” implies an expertise in the area of interest.  Many lawyers make the mistake of thinking that they only need to be an expert in the law.  However, busy in-house counsel with tight budgets and a multitude of responsibilities want advice that is delivered in the context of their business reality.  This requires lawyers to have two woefully underutilized skills: active listening and deep curiosity.   Clients hold the key to our relevance these days.  Without acquiring the mindset and skills to respond to this reality, lawyers and their law firms will be left behind.  

When is the last time you truly felt you were co-creating with your client?

If you don’t bend, you might break (or at least be left behind).

In Mitch Kowalski’s attention-grabbing book, The Great Legal Reformation, (an absolute must read for anyone looking to stay ahead in the legal services industry) he begins by telling the story of four University of Toronto computer science students who were accepted into a collaboration with IBM to use its artificial intelligence (AI) program. Although none of them had a legal background, they created ROSS – one of the top breakthrough technologies in the legal profession to date.  We would all do well to consider the question Mr. Kowalski poses: “How was it that a small group of very young Millennials so quickly grasped the potential of AI in legal services and acted upon it, yet an industry filled with thousands of mature, well-educated lawyers, did not?”.

That antiquated formality and hierarchical condescension, favoured by so many lawyers in large law firms (and informing the business and compensation models used) dampens creativity and innovation within the firm.  Those Millennials that were so creative in law school, learn soon enough to abandon such an approach.  Billable targets keep them tied to their desks with little time for co-creating and innovating with their clients.  No one is happy.  

When was the last time your firm invested in a lawyer’s radical new idea firmly based on feedback from clients?

So what can you do to stay ahead of the game?

Leaving aside necessary changes to business models and compensation structures, below we offer a few ideas of what law firms can do to create an atmosphere where creativity and innovation thrive.  

  • Provide (non-technical) Professional Skills Training:  Our clients hold the key to our relevance.  We need to be able to connect with them in a meaningful way in order to respond creatively and innovatively to their needs. Unfortunately, these professional skills, and how to efficiently apply them, have not traditionally been part of our legal training.  We need to catch up with the rest of the marketplace.  Training and practice using professional skills such as curiosity, open-ended questions, and active listening will build emotional intelligence and right-brained thinking among lawyers.  Read about SC&C’s workshops here.
  • Provide Support to Your Team:  Many lawyers feel overwhelmed with the fact that it is no longer enough to be a technical expert. This discomfort makes them resistant to taking on new habits and new perspectives. Don’t leave your star technical players behind. Many firms are making one-on-one coaching available to individual lawyers to help them identify and pursue who they need to be and what they need do in order to meet today’s challenges.  Coaching also helps those that are already thinking creatively and innovatively to maximize their potential and follow through on new ideas.  Read about SC&C’s coaching here.
  • Engage Millennials:  Instead of bemoaning what this generation of lawyers is not bringing to the table, firms can benefit from tapping into what Millenials do offer.  Consider providing workshops and forums for Millennials in order to engage them and access their natural aptitudes for thinking outside the box. Contact us to hear about our Millennial Programs.  Read our case study here.
  • Foster Collaboration:  Working as part of a team and sharing ideas can accelerate creativity and innovation.  Consider bringing cohorts of lawyers together to brainstorm clients needs and gaps in the market.  A trained facilitator or group coach can create the right environment to spark participation and help turn ideas into calls to action.  
  • Create Leaders That Foster Innovation: In order for creativity and innovation to thrive, leaders of the firm must learn the skills to create the necessary environment for engagement.  Many CEOs and management teams in the corporate world are acquiring coaching skills that have been shown to help change the perspectives and habits of their entire team. Read about SC&C’s “Train the Trainers” courses here.


About SC&C: Our Team of coaches, facilitators, and trainers work with lawyers and firms to build their capacity to bring in bigger and better business, leading to a more profitable and satisfying practice. Based in Canada, with ties around the world, we can help you where you are to build the international clientele that you want. Contact us at info@sccignites.com.

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Case Study: Getting the Whole Team Onboard for BD



Many of my clients struggle with engaging their Associates in the task of promoting the Firm: Why do they show no initiative? Why aren’t they more hungry? What more can I do?

Do these questions sound familiar?  There can be many things at play, of course, however, our work with an IP Boutique found success in engaging the firm’s Associates and bringing back enthusiasm and confidence to the partners. A BD reset, if you will.

1. Step One: A Written BD Strategy for the Firm

Our first step was to ensure everyone was on the same page. We facilitated discussions with the partners which resulted in a concrete strategy for the coming year; including 5 objectives, associated target audiences; desired outcomes and activities for achieving them. It is surprising, even to our clients themselves, how few of them have written BD strategies. The Managing Partner of this Firm noted “Like many firms, although the partners had a general idea of what our goals were, we had not taken the time to write a detailed Business Development strategy nor had we shared specific objectives with the other professionals and other role players in the firm.”

2. Step Two: Share the Strategy

Once you have a written Strategy you can set concrete expectations for your team. Sharing your Strategy with your Associates – especially when it includes concrete objectives and desired outcomes – gives them a sense of purpose and sets expectations. These are two things that we are all motivated by. This is the time to inform them that you expect that the whole firm will find a way of contributing to meeting the Strategy objectives. Assure them that you understand that everyone will contribute differently depending on their experience and aptitudes and that you will be providing them with training and mentoring to help them meet their potential.


3. Step Three: Provide Experiential Learning Supported By Coaching

Many of us have sat through business development training only to go back to our desks with great plans but no ideas for implementing them. This is made worse when our “day job” is staring us in the face. As such, SC&C provided a three hour experiential workshop for Associates.  It was designed to create a mind-set shift among Associates to begin thinking of their practice as a business that was in support of the overall firm’s business. The course took them through the practicalities of creating S.M.A.R.T. goals and tracking their success and was supported by group and individual coaching.


4. Step Four: Learn and Practice Together

A second experiential learning session included Partners and was about the fundamentals of BD, namely, fostering a relationship with clients and potential clients. It included role play, a chance to practice in teams and groups and a chance for Partners to assume a structured mentoring role that they have now institutionalized at the firm.


5. Step Five: Mentoring

Partners were given training and tips on how to mentor Associates to raise their BD potential. They had the chance to practice the tips and see the results during our Firm session of experiential learning. Each partner was given an Objective and a Team who they would be working with to meet that objective.

5. Step Six: Set Up an Accountability System

Using the firm’s existing resources, we co-created an internal system for all professionals to submit and be held accountable to their individual BD Strategies. Mentors scheduled on going accountability appointments with their Team and individual Associates. The BD and Marketing Department knew what everyone was working towards so they were able to provide targeted support to the lawyers throughout the year.

The Results?

The following are testimonials provided by the Managing Partner and another Senior Partner of this IP Boutique, respectively:

“As Kathryn predicted, this had the effect of engaging all members of our Team. It also gave us the opportunity for every member in our Team to prepare his/her own Business Development strategy, which falls within the ambit of the firm’s BD strategy. It enables everybody working on different aspects of the firm’s goals and doing so as a Team. We could also formulate a plan for execution with a timeline and deliverables. We are very optimistic about the new business that this spike in BD activity will bring to our Firm.”

“It was fantastic having you here. You gave us a big push in the right direction … I like that what you have left us with is focused and very practical yet would have taken us years to reach ourselves, if at all. As a firm we are re-invigorated and excited about our BD”.

About SC&C: Our Team of coaches, facilitators and trainers, work with lawyers and law firms to build their capacity to bring in bigger and better business, leading to a more profitable and satisfying practice. Based in Canada, with ties around the world, we can help you where you are to build the international clientele that you want. Contact us at info@sccignites.com.