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Today's post is courtesy of Bonnie Barnett, former publisher of Attorney at Law magazine. It emerged from a discussion we had about our unusual client team process, which aligns a group of outside attorneys, admins and others within a firm to provoke and sustain thought and information-gathering from clients to create new business opportunities, where before there were perceived to be few or none.

Stone Soup is an old folk story in which hungry strangers (the client team) facilitate local people of a town (the team's clients) to give them food (solve a problem and get paid for doing so). The fable is usually offered as a lesson in cooperation, especially amid scarcity.

The story, with the law firm equivalent in parentheses:

Some travelers come to a village, carrying nothing more than an empty cooking pot (symbolic of the starting point for the attorney/client conversation). When the travelers arrive, the villagers are unwilling to share their food stores with the hungry travelers (existing clients' inside counsel and operations people unwilling to share information with outside counsel). The travelers go to a stream and fill the pot with water, drop a large stone in it (the first probing question asked by outside attorneys to stimulate thought within their client's organization) and place it over a fire. One of the villagers (client) becomes curious and asks what they're doing. The travelers reply that they're making "stone soup," which tastes wonderful, although to improve the flavor it still needs a little bit of garnish, which they're missing. The villager doesn't mind parting with a few carrots (information) to help them out, so that gets added to the soup.

Another villager walks by, inquiring about the pot (more information) and the travelers again mention their stone soup, which has still not reached its full potential. The villager (client) contributes a little bit of seasoning (connections to other internal stakeholders) to help them out. More and more villagers walk by, each adding another ingredient (they're on a roll now). Finally, a delicious and nourishing pot of soup is enjoyed by all.

"Soup enjoyed by all" is a metaphor for the resulting win-win: 

  • Client: the discovery and attention paid to avert a problem or resolve a potential issue that heretofore had not been acknowledged or examined by the client
  • Outside counsel: the work commissioned, and fees earned

The lesson for lawyers seeking to grow existing clients is to stop asking for new work, which is the ultimate reward and instead ask for small amounts of information that will help you do a better job with current work. Solicit these information "grants" from as many sources as you're able to approach in a relevant manner.

Over time, frequent contributions from diverse sources will yield a rich understanding of the client's business challenges and opportunities, and those of the various contributors. It shouldn't be hard to recognize additional ways to help them.

An adage among entrepreneurs seeking venture-investment is, "If you ask for money, you'll get advice. If you ask for advice, you'll get money." Substitute "work" for "money" and you have the lawyer-friendly version.

Mike O'Horo

The TeamPath client team process is truly innovative. It's also a bit chaotic and messy, but it works, and it will transform team members. Better yet, clients absolutely love it. To learn more, contact us.