October 2003  Volume 29, Issue 7
October 2003 Issue
       Send Feedback  Table of Contents
Edited by Milton W. Zwicker
Hug Your Customers: The Proven Way to Personalize Sales and Achieve Astounding Results
Jack Mitchell. (Hyperion, 2003.) $19.95. ISBN:1-4013-0034-0. (800) 759-0190; www.hyperionbooks.com.


Successful lawyers work hard to build strong client relationships, the main ingredient of a client-driven culture. To build this culture, though, you must give clients what they really want. Thus, your first obligation is to know what your clients need and expect. The lawyer must go from thinking, "How can I apply my legal talents to solve this problem?" to "How can I respond to the needs of my clients?" If you crave to develop lasting, steadfast relationships with your clients, you will love Hug Your Customers.

The author, Jack Mitchell, believes that hugging is a mind-set, not a physical act. "In the simplest sense, a hug is anything that exceeds a customer's expectations." The purpose of hugging, in this context, is to develop long-term loyal relationships with customers.

Mitchell and his family operate very successful clothing stores in Connecticut. Yes, his product is clothing, but don't let that put you off-this book holds real value for lawyers because of what the author has to say about building relationships. Mitchell writes that "customers are thirsting for relationship--driven companies." Well, clients are also thirsting for relationship-driven lawyers. These types of companies and these types of lawyers are hard to find. Mitchell says there are so few because, "The difficult part is getting relationships to happen." Thankfully, his book is packed full of ideas on how to develop and execute a plan to overcome that difficulty.

Here's an example of what Mitchell says about his customers that applies to my clients and yours, too: "Years ago, everything was transaction based. The interaction with the customer began and ended with the transaction. Today you have to listen in order to understand the customer's needs, and that means developing a personal relationship with him. I call these customer-led services. Businesses have lost sight of the idea that customers, not product, are the most important priority."

This concept applies to lawyers particularly, because we like to do battle with our intellects and enjoy devising ingenious arguments. Often clients become mere spectators in this process. If we were to follow Mitchell's advice, we would paste this cliché on every client file: "People don't care what you know until they know that you care." Caring is important to clients.
Although the examples the author uses are from his industry, I cannot think of one that we could not apply in our law practices. Take the use of technology, which he describes as the backbone of any successful modern company. His business collects unbelievable amounts of data on its patrons, maintaining a database with detailed profiles of over 115,000 customers. In Mitchell's words, "We often know their nicknames, family names, birthdays, anniversaries, hobbies, where they work, where their spouses work, their golf handicaps, whatever bits of information they're willing to share that would be useful to maintain a personal connection."

In contrast, many lawyers collect facts about their cases instead of information about their clients--the people. Indeed, the most popular software that lawyers purchase today is what vendors call "case management." I bet Jack Mitchell would tell us that this is not the way to develop a client-centric mind-set. He would likely say it's more important to know what kind of client has a legal problem than what kind of legal problem the client has. "Most companies layer customers into their IT systems after all the product information is set into place," writes Mitchell. "We layer the customer first. It's a mind-set. Everything else follows."

Lastly, the author includes eight "Hugging Study Guides" that capture the key ideas of his analyses. Here's a taste of those ideas:

  • Customer-centric organizations are the best huggers--that's because they're always thinking about hugs. Everyone, from top to bottom, focuses first on the customer, the center of the universe.
  • Care for your associates--you can't expect them to hug customers if you don't show you care for them. Pay them well, give them a life, know their hot buttons, and surprise them with perks that are special for them.
  • Don't be handicapped by experience--don't be afraid to try something new just because you've been doing something one way forever. Learn to think outside the box while working in the box.

I now have a ready answer for the next person who asks me, "What's a really good book on marketing?" I'll reply, "Jack Mitchell's Hug Your Customers." The author's ideas are even more powerful when you remember he's a business owner who is daily on the firing line.

Lawyers' Professional Development: The Legal Employer's Comprehensive Guide
Ida O. Abbott. (National Association for Law Placement, 2002.) $145. ISBN: 1-557330336. www.nalp.org/bookstore.


In its 423 pages, Lawyer's Professional Development provides an encyclopedic treatment of the subject of associate training and development. It will be most valuable to large law firms where the ability to create and staff associate training activities exists. Still, lawyers in smaller firms can find specific chapters of use to them.

This publication is informative and is replete with checklists that are of value to all law firms involved in associate training. However, I found that, based on my own experience, I disagreed with a number of the author's assumptions in certain chapters. The chapter titled "Associate Recruiting and Summer Programs," for example, contains a lengthy discussion of both the rationale for summer associate programs and their administration. The author, Ida Abbott, concludes that partners, and only partners, are best qualified to determine the characteristics of associates who will succeed as members of the firm. In my experience, and assuming that all large law firms seek law students with the same outstanding academic credentials, it is the senior and midlevel associates who are uniquely positioned to comment on the attributes required for an associate to succeed in their firms.

In addition, the book gives examples of summer associate programs but fails to suggest ways in which the host firm can improve on those programs. Having the summer associates and the lawyers in the host firm evaluate the program at its conclusion can provide the firm with a unique opportunity to build on its success and also address any problems.

Again, the chapter on budgeting the associate training program will be more valuable for large firms than for small firms. The chapter assumes that small firms can extract important elements from the budgeting section and apply them to their own environment. In most law firms, associate training will take place in practice groups, departments or sections. Those groups must be involved in developing their own associate training and development budgets.

A training issue that Lawyers' Professional Development does not discuss is the "colleges," or "universities," that are emerging as the associate training vehicle in many law firms. These "colleges" follow a curriculum that includes all the important elements of a successful lawyer training program.

Abbot briefly discusses the role of annual or semiannual associate evaluations, duly emphasizing the importance of partner and senior associate participation in the evaluations. The need to conduct evaluations on a regular and meaningful basis is also addressed; such evaluations are important elements in an associate's growth and development.

In addition, Lawyers' Professional Development discusses firm orientation programs. It seems to give too little attention, though, to the associate's introduction to firm administration and structure. To ensure that associates quickly become productive members of the legal team, they must be introduced to the "nuts and bolts" of the firm's administrative structure, procedures and effective utilization of support and administrative staff. Also important to the success of lawyers "new" to the firm is the role of the orientation process in ensuring that they feel that they are a part of the "team."

The chapters titled "Corporate Law Departments" and "Lawyers in the Public Sector" in particular provide valuable information. There is also a chapter on succession planning that discusses transitioning lawyers out of the firm. In addition, a chapter on career guidance describes the firm's role in the development and implementation of a lawyer's career path.

The book also includes a chapter on women and minorities, which recommends segregating women and minorities from the mainstream group in the firm. This is another instance of a difference between Abbott's approach and mine. My experience working with associates, female and minority, has convinced me that both should be on the firm's mainstream track to be fairly considered for advancement.

Because of its length and focus, I believe that Lawyers' Professional Development: The Legal Employer's Comprehensive Guide will be most helpful to individuals involved in associate training and development if they begin with the table of contents, locate the sections of the publication of greatest interest to them, then adapt and apply the information that meets their firm's culture and training needs.

Austin G. Anderson ( aga@andersonboyer.com) is a principal in the AndersonBoyer Group in Ann Arbor, MI. He is coauthor of Associate Retention: Keeping Our Best and Brightest (ABA CLE, 2002).

Milton W. Zwicker ( zwicker@zwickerevanslewis.com) is Managing Partner of Zwicker Evans & Lewis in Orillia, ONT, and the author of Successful Client Newsletters (ABA, 1998).