The Trusted Brain Surgeon Advisor
post # 165 — August 17, 2006 — a Client Relations, Strategy post
Duncan Bucknell, who is a “lawyer, patent attorney and intellectual property strategy consultant” – and a regular participant in these discussions – writes in to ask:
To use an analogy I picked up from you, it seems to me that the trusted adviser is the local doctor – the person you first turn to for assistance.
The Brain Surgeon gets the most challenging and difficult work. However, they are too expensive to call all the time. You want them on your team when there is something really important, but you don’t need them all the time. So, is it actually possible for the brain surgeon to be anyone’s trusted advisor? The business model for the trusted advisor is clearly very different. (You have previously discussed hourly rate and lower leverage etc.)
It also affects things such as conflicts of interest policies. A true trusted advisor will work for fewer clients, because he or she is busy looking after each one more fully. He or she will also see conflicts where other advisors may not – simply to be genuinely looking after his or her client’s best interests. The brain surgeon can not afford such a tight conflict policy. He or she has a larger pool of clients who call for help less frequently, but when it is REALLY needed.
David, can you please shed some light how it is possible to stay a trusted advisor and a brain surgeon at the same time?
Duncan, let me both agree and disagree with your propositions. Your analysis seems to be position the “Trusted Advisor” as a particular role or “positioning”, rather than as a set of behaviors and skills.
I made the same distinction in a chapter called “What kind of Provider Are You?” in my book TRUE PROFESSIONALISM where, like you, I pointed out that the two roles are quite different. In that book, among many other contrasts, I pointed out that the “family doctor role” (I sometimes call it “psychotherapist”) is primarily about the skill of diagnosis – helping the client understand and unbundle the complex symptoms in a situation and decide what needs to be done.
As you say, it is to other people that I may turn (almost always WILL turn) to execute the highly specialist tasks that emerge from the diagnosis. I don’t want a surgeon deciding what needs to be done (they will always say ‘operate’) and I don’t want my family doctor or ‘trusted guide’ always saying “yes, I can do that, too, let me just get my knife!”
So, I end up concluding that you do have to decide what you want your market positioning to be. The tough part is that we’re all capable enough to do it all, but it would be a poor personal or firm strategy to actually do a little of everything and go to market shouting “You wan’t it we got it!” That’s no way to build a reputation. (Even though many large firms try to do exactly that.)
If ther’s a solution for a large firm (not an individual) I could see successfully pulling it off by having clearly organziaaed different teams, staffed with different people (just as a hospital does.) “Here’s our diagnosis doctors, and when the time comes, we have specialist surgeons to hand you over to, if you ever need them.” It won’t be credible if the same doctors keep working in all wards of the hospital!
Of course, even a brain surgeon, who focuses on highly technical tasks, needs to learn interactive skills such as those described in THE TRUSTED ADVISOR book. Brain surgeon’s don’t have to be strong, brooding, sullen, abrupt types. They can and should learn how to interact with clients for the times when they have to. But that’s not their role. It’s not their positioning.
You had it right first time, Duncan.
The Practice Of Law Is Not Brain Surgery
This statement is not intended to disparage our profession but rather to make the point that there are limits to the doctor analogy when applied to the business of marketing/managing a law firm.
And let me just go ahead and make the disclaimer that while I like to think I know alot about how to market & manage a small law firm, I don’t know squat about marketing or managing a medical practice.
Anyway, the point is that lawyers have a different kind of relationship with our pool of prospective clients and referral sources than do doctors. And these differences do not lend themselves very profitably to the trusted advisor/specialist boundaries Mr. Bucknell is attempting to draw.
Let’s take the brain surgeon for one example. His (or her) ONLY way to get business is by way of referral from other doctors. Afterall, it’s not like you’re going to complain of a headache to your realtor who will then have the qualifications or credibility to make an effective referral to a brain surgeon he knows. So the brain surgeon can afford not to be a trusted advisor to the realtors he comes in contact with. Not so for lawyers.
I’ll skip the socioeducational analysis of why, and trust that everyone reading this blog is experienced enough at Rainmaking to know that once people know you are a lawyer, there seems to be no end to the variety of problems they think you are qualified to help them with.
So the realtor from my example who himself may never have a need for an IP lawyer, if properly educated about the benefits of what Mr. Bucknell offers his clients, and if Mr. Bucknell is willing to serve the role of a trusted advisor to that realtor (by referring him to the right lawyer for his needs and the needs of prospective clients referred to him by the realtor, looking out for opportunities for the realtor, etc.) then the realtor can be a great source of business both directly and indirectly.
As a lawyer being a trusted advisor very often means helping people think-through their problems and helping them to find a solution, even when that solution does not involve the services of our own specialized firms – as often it does not.
Look at some of the most successful Rainmakers in the legal industry & you’ll see most of them have a few things in common:
Oh yeah, and they’ve all read Trusted Advisor too!
I think Mr. Bucknell is over-thinking the way Rainmaking works for lawyers: There are several right ways & plenty more wrong ways to make it rain for a law firm. The easiest is when we help as many people as we can to find solutions to the problems they bring to us, either directly or by making the right kind of referral. If we handle the sales call and the referral with any skill at all those people learn to keep calling us first. Eventually, they call with a problem we can get paid to help them solve. Similarly, with even some basic rainmaking skills and systems, the other professionals to whom we have been referring all those clients who were wrong for us, but right for them, pick up the phone & start referring the right kind of business to us.
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posted on August 17, 2006