Nathan Darling, the Director of Client Development and Marketing for Van Ness Feldman in Washington, DC, and the 2010 President of LMA International, has the following suggestions for marketers who want to “brainstorm” ideas with their firm lawyers.
1. Frame such sessions as “strategy sessions” rather than “brainstorming.” In my experience many lawyers (many people in general!) don’t like the idea of brainstorming – too soft and squishy.
2. On that note, I’ve found it hard sometimes to get a group of lawyers from a blank page to something useful. They (again, with exceptions) don’t typically do well when asked to “picture this” or “set a vision” – too abstract. Instead, engage their desire (and training) for facts and completeness, and ask questions such as “list clients or prospective clients who might have a need for our services in x area.”
Likewise, using “if, then” constructions often appeals to lawyers’ logical minds. For example, rather than asking for any ideas as to how the firm could build the x practice, consider breaking the session into a series of if-then questions such as “if we want more work from x types of clients, then what steps must we take/who must we get to know, etc.”
A different way of doing this is not to start from a blank page, but to offer a strawman set of proposals, questions, etc. to which the group can react. The lawyers must see this exercise as absolutely relevant to what they do.
3. Sometimes, appealing to their competitive nature works too. While being careful not to imply that a firm should automatically do what the competition does, engaging in a session where lawyers are asked for specific examples of what they’ve seen other law and consulting firms do can be a good way to tease out ideas that would otherwise go unsaid.
Consider framing it in the context of your firm’s clients (i.e., “Hey Rainmaker, in the work you do with Major Client X, you have occasion to work with or see a lot of their other consultants and firms. What do you see that’s working, where do you see the client responding favorably or unfavorably — and what things do you wish we did?”).
4. On the topic of rainmakers – these may be among the more visionary/creative/brainstorming types in your firm. Enlist their help in guiding these strategy sessions and framing the discussions. The caveat is that these folks can sometimes absorb all the oxygen in the room and dominate the discussion, so carefully facilitate the discussion so that everyone has a chance to contribute.