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It is a criticism that has been voiced often and widely: Lawyers today focus too much on legal problems and not enough on their clients’ overall business challenges. But how can attorneys think more like their clients, many of whom are nonlawyer visionaries and leaders of successful businesses? This was the question the retreat programming committee at Ross, Dixon & Bell pondered as we began to plan our firm’s October 2003 business development-oriented retreat. Perhaps, we thought, one way to help our lawyers think more like their clients would be to re-educate them in the fashion of many of their clients — business school. After all, we knew that lawyers who study their clients’ businesses can anticipate market trends and find synergies between their practices and their clients’ core business models. Already, the firm’s “Lawyers’ Business School” has produced major dividends. In the months following the retreat, our workload for some of the clients we targeted has more than doubled, due in part to the program. THE CASE METHOD Two of the top business schools — Harvard and the University of Virginia’s Darden — teach solely using the case method. Students read 10- to 20-page case studies about real challenges facing real businesses, then work together in teams to answer the questions posed at the end of the study. In preparing for the retreat, the marketing department began to analyze case studies from the two schools, easily accessed for a small fee from the schools’ Web sites. In the Harvard collection, we found a study on one of our longest-standing clients, full of useful industry research and company analysis. Could such studies be written for our other clients and prospective clients? Pulling together a list of some of our most interesting clients and prospects, we embarked upon the in-depth research required for the gargantuan task of writing our own case studies. To give a sense of the scope of this undertaking, students at Darden can earn three credits for writing a single case study over one term. We were about to write eight in approximately three months. By August, the Lawyers’ Business School was taking shape. We were well on our way to collecting the research needed to write the studies. Our resources included Securities and Exchange Commission filings, newspaper articles, industry association white papers, and other market research. Each case study provided comprehensive background on the strengths and weaknesses of the industry, information on market trends, graphics and timelines to depict the company’s structure, and its history of growth and expansion. Perhaps the most difficult task was synthesizing the information to uncover one or two large themes that could be tracked throughout the study. These themes represented the issues most important to the survival and growth of the business. By late September, after hundreds of hours of research and writing by the eight-member programming committee, which included lawyers and staff, many of the case studies were nearly finished. We divided the firm into eight groups. Much like the Harvard and Darden student team models, each group would be assigned to read and reflect upon one case study before the retreat, then collaborate in a work session at the retreat to answer questions posed at the end of the study. In forming the groups, we sought to maximize cross-practice and cross-office marketing opportunities. For example, the group studying an aspect of the real estate industry included the transactional lawyers whose client was the subject of the case study, but also included two construction litigation attorneys from a different office, and insurance coverage attorneys from a third office whose clients insure real estate projects. As the retreat groups came together, we saw the potential to launch industry teams — clusters of attorneys from different practice areas who can all service one industry. Such teams allow smaller firms to selectively offer clients comprehensive services usually only offered by large, full-service firms. But would the lawyers embrace the industry team concept? Would they recognize the potential cross-selling opportunities revealed in the case studies? THE RETREAT In October, approximately 110 attorneys from our four nationwide offices traveled to The Homestead resort in Virginia’s Allegheny Mountains for three days of serious business development sessions, interspersed with not-so-serious social and recreational activities. On the afternoon of the first day, the members of the eight case study teams disappeared with coffee in hand to their respective meeting rooms to discuss their cases. At the end of each case study, the groups found two sets of questions. The first were business-oriented questions, linked to the themes developed throughout the study. For example: • Why did this company go from a traditional corporate structure to an alternative business form? • How has this company approached the management and marketing of its biggest brand and why? • Why did this company’s industry plateau in the 1980s, and what did this company do to recover? The second set of questions asked the lawyers to apply what they had learned about the company to our law firm. For example: • What future legal challenges might our client’s industry face, and how can our firm position itself to assist? • How can our transactional attorneys play a greater role in servicing this client? • What trade associations and publications are most important to this client’s industry; which of them should we target if we would like to develop more business with this client? The purpose of the first set of questions was to analyze some of the most important challenges faced by the company and the strategies the company employed to overcome these challenges. Armed with knowledge of the issues facing the clients, the second set of questions was designed to have lawyers consider how our firm might service the client or industry more fully. We are now tracking the impact of the Lawyers’ Business School program on the firm’s business development efforts. The most successful teams so far, in terms of capitalizing on the insight gained through case studies, have been groups organized around two of our smaller but most promising clients (we’ve seen a sharp increase in business from these clients in the months following the retreat). The team that studied one of our relatively new insurance clients used the study in a proposal to expand our work with the client. After reading the study and realizing the untapped opportunities, the group reconfigured its proposal team to include lawyers who could service an area of business that the client was in the process of developing. Another group, working with a government contractor, has formed an industry team that meets on a regular basis, working to focus their marketing efforts within the industry, to become active in trade associations, and to expand the firm’s service of the industry to our other offices. In the months since the retreat, several lawyers have asked our marketing department for case studies on other potential clients and have used them to plan and execute business proposals. Through these new studies, we have continued to focus on cross-selling and have been able to alert other lawyers of opportunities with potential clients. One of the most encouraging results achieved from the case study program has been a subtle shift in thinking on the part of some lawyers. In response to a recent request for a proposal from a national corporation, the lawyer responsible for completing the proposal reported that his experience with the case studies changed the way he researched the company and structured the response. The final proposal demonstrated how the firm could address many of the potential client’s needs rather than focusing on the practice niche that had initially prompted the corporation to contact the firm. With our marketing department just two years old, the firm is constantly evolving and re-evaluating our formal business development strategy. Through the Lawyers’ Business School program, our lawyers have begun to appreciate the depth of client knowledge necessary to maximize business opportunities, especially in new industries. They have begun to recognize that they must continually strive to understand more fully their clients’ businesses, which will allow them to provide more effective — and comprehensive — service to our clients. Paul Vitrano, a partner at Ross, Dixon & Bell LLP, maintains a diverse litigation practice, representing both defendants and plaintiffs in commercial and liability litigation matters. He can be reached at [email protected]. Helen Bertelli is marketing director of Ross, Dixon & Bell and launched the firm’s marketing department in early 2002. She can be reached at [email protected].

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