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97: It’s About the Client with Miller Canfield, CEO, Michael McGee

Service is Personal

Our discussion with Michael McGee, starts off with a point we can’t emphasize enough; it’s about the client. A client’s needs come first. Go beyond the legal deliverable and ease the concerns of the client. Get to know your clients, see them in person; get to know their businesses. Listen and continue to ask (and earn) their business. Others are asking you should be too.
Mike’s firm has a yearly strategy for growth including a specific plan and targets for the year. The plan reflects known clients activities in the coming year; what’s happening in specific industry sectors; and what’s occurring more broadly in current events. He notes that the attitude of firm lawyers about the yearly strategy is important. Being smart is table stakes, it’s important that firm lawyers understand that competition exists; and that executing a strategy and plan with energy and enthusiasm matters.

When addressing changing market conditions our conversation quickly turns to data and the ability to break down cases and matters using the tools available today. The availability of data coincides with the shifting of fee risk from the client to the law firm. Originally requests for data and specific cost outlines were driven by clients looking to understand costs, as they owned the risk. With the acceptance and widespread use of fixed fees, the financial risk is now with law firms and the data insights are being used to establish fixed fee pricing agreements.

When establishing caveats for fixed fee agreements, Mike recommends broad-based discussions in advance. For example, ‘we’ve analyzed the drivers of cost within these 5 areas; we feel confident with the fixed fees within these 3 areas; and less confident in these 2 areas and this is why’; ‘we’d like to talk about alternative fee structures for these 2 areas before we agree on fees’. Establishing a basis for this discussion should not be random, get it on the table early, talk about it.

Noting that in some areas of the law, specifically public finance, fixed fee engagements have been in place for 80 years. Lawyers not used to this type of billing are often uncomfortable with the practice. Using analytics to assist with pricing drives accuracy and can alleviate risk bringing us full circle on both the risk and the need for data.

Advice to those starting their business development journey? Begin as early as you can developing a network within your age cohort. In 10 years many of these connections will be in positions of influence as in-house counsel and business leaders. Set-aside time. Focus on the fundamentals, find your authentic voice; make an effort, and business development success and the joy of that success will come.

Michael McGee, Miller Canfield’s, CEO, oversees a firm with more than 300 legal staff; across 16 offices; in 5 countries. A corporate transactions lawyer and a senior member of the Public Finance group he’s put his law, economics and public policy education to good use.