How's Your EQ? Are You Good at Relationships?

I've been talking at a symposium on globalization and the legal profession at Fordham Law School in New York. We talked a lot about how lawyers and law firms depend on relationships in order to succeed. Are they good at forming and maintaining relationships? On the whole, yes, but it can be fickle.

One presentation by Neta Ziv and Chris Whelan showed how clients are imposing all sorts of client-relationship conditions on their outside counsel. For example, Wal-Mart insists that they select relationship partners from a list including people of colour, women, and those working on flexi-time. Perhaps we had doubts about Wal-Mart's motivations.

So it was interesting to see three reports this week focusing on lawyers' relationships--I'm leaving aside their more than high divorce rates--and how they can be fostered. One was on training associates in business development from the perspective that it's too late to leave it to partner time. The idea is that associates will form lasting relationships with their co-equals in inhouse departments.

Lawyers have been slow to adopt the idea of relationship managers, almost preferring the rain maker model of togetherness. The problem with this is that the lawyer is the key element not the firm.

So Allen and Overy is to train its partners in relationship management with the help of McKinsey. Of course the main purpose is to persuade the clients to come up with more business, so it's demand creation. I wonder how clients will like being milked, sorry advised on other matters. This is a tricky one to accomplish without creating the wrong impression.

The intriguing client relationship management programme is that initiated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority. It is imposing relationship managers on the big law firms because  following a pilot the "SRA reached the conclusion that larger and global outfits have "a greater range of issues that require greater engagement to understand." This means they are, perversely, high risk.

I suspect the real reason is to stop the large law firms from introducing their own regulator. So how long will it last?