“I don’t know what their (Kirkland & Ellis) system is, but every partner I meet falls all over themselves to outdo the other in client service and make things happen for us. It’s kind of amazing. I love it.”
Managing Director, Large Private Equity Fund
Think of the implications, a demanding client who believes partners from their outside counsel compete to over deliver. Even as COVID-19 is making law firms take pause, Kirkland is out there bringing in laterals and going after the restructuring business. These are 2 small reasons Kirkland smashed through $4 billion in revenue. We see only a small part of the Kirkland & Ellis strategy – so much of it is behind the curtain. Here are 11 key aspects of their approach driving success:
Outdo Each Other In Client Service, But Still Deliver as a Team
Think of it as competing for client attention, while adding to the client experience. Clients see a team and firm all working in one direction. Partners are always looking for ways to add to and improve the client experience where it counts – client interaction. And, clients say it’s a continuing process – this is their modus operandi.
Embrace Aggressive Business Development
Kirkland is one of the few firms truly embracing the ideas of rainmakers. They want, support, and reward big books of business. Kirkland has mastered the art of creating a rainmaker system built around serving clients.
All-in on Clients and Growth
“We will tolerate a lot of things – but don’t ever piss off a client we think is important or want to keep” says an influential Kirkland partner. This partner’s goal is to hyper-focus on understanding and meeting client objectives – and exceed them. The firm expects attorneys to be all-in on every matter and everything associated with their clients. There are no minor clients or matters – it’s all or nothing.
Watches After Clients Even When They Can’t Work On the Matter
Kirkland routinely refers matters to other firms due to conflicts and matters being too small for the firm’s economics. But the firm still seriously cares. Kirkland takes active steps to ensure the law firms receiving the referrals deliver excellent client service. “They are all over us to take care of their client” says the practice leader of a midsize firm enjoying Kirkland referrals.
Take No Prisoners Approach
Kirkland plays to win. The culture is more like a high-tech company than a law firm with their sense of market domination. The firm sees no boundaries in clients, matters, laterals, associates, or tradition in staking their claim. They do what they need to win.
Focus On the Client Personalities Where They Can Be Most Successful
Clients have distinct personalities. Kirkland is skilled and well-positioned to attract the 2 types of clients who pay the highest premiums in return for the ultimate in client commitment and certainty. These clients are the hardest to find and issue fewer RFPs than all other clients. They are considered the most demanding but are most likely to stick with their law firms for the long term – if they keep performing.
Create Robust, Inbound Lead Flow
The clients where Kirkland & Ellis performs well – they perform exceptionally well. They earn high praise and the honor of being one of the most recommended law firms despite focusing on a much narrower client base than most firms. Clients’ peer-to-peer recommendations are the single largest driver of inbound leads. This is especially powerful. Combine this inbound lead flow with their aggressive business development and winner takes all approach – and you have serious growth.
Find Great Landing Spots for People Who Leave the Firm
The associates and selected partners who leave the firm get help. The firm wants future alumni to land good jobs where the firm will have a friend. This under-utilized approach is a long-used tool for the Big 4, major strategy consultancies, and investment banks. There is a lesson for all law firms here.
Lateral Strength and Savvy
Kirkland knows how to recruit, integrate, and otherwise leverage laterals. They have no qualms about convincing some of the best rainmakers in the business to join their ship. Once they are on board – the firm is skilled at making use of their contacts, skills, and ability to make things happen.
Creating Future Brand – Highly Recommended by Associates – Even Those Who Don’t Work There
Associates have a high opinion of Kirkland – even when they don’t work there. Soon to be published BTI research shows Kirkland is one of the top law firms associates recommend to other associates. This gives Kirkland a chance to start branding with future clients well ahead of many other firms. This makes it easier to create the valued inbound if, and when, these associates become decision makers.
They Know They Are Not For Everyone, and It’s the Plan
Kirkland & Ellis is confident in knowing exactly who they are and where they perform best. They are client savvy and use their intuitive sense of investing in the clients where they can be highly successful. This sixth sense makes it easier to understand a client’s culture. The ability to attract, pick, and pursue the right types of clients for Kirkland is a marquee strength.
On top of the firm’s strategy and skill, so much of Kirkland’s success is based on cultural factors. They drive behaviors, communication, client management style, and approach. And this may just be the key point – everyone at Kirkland understands how they are expected to interact with clients and within the firm. This understanding focuses all their energy on clients and success.
Kirkland shows few signs of abatement as the pandemic hits. Business may slow as the economy is on lockdown – but Kirkland invests on. They are going after restructuring business while saving the deals their private equity clients want to save. And they are advising clients on what this all means, before clients ask.
Any and every law firm can start working on setting uniform expectations for client interactions and business development today. Your firm will see results much faster than you can imagine. You are closer reaching this goal than you think. Call or email to talk about how.
Be well. Be safe.
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