Posted by: johnocunningham | February 20, 2017

As Law Firm Salaries Rise, Competition Increases

At least one law firm has now bumped starting salaries for first year lawyers to $200,000 per year, as noted in a January posting at Above the Law. Good news for young lawyers, but perhaps not such a great omen for things to come.

Based on interviews I have conducted with various Chief Legal Officers for large companies over the years, I have concluded that sizeable first year salary bumps are the prime catalyst for the growth of in-house law department staff. Simply put, CLOs and CFOs are making an economic decision that it is much cheaper to bring work in-house than to farm it out, and that translates to a shrinking outside counsel hiring budget in the future.

Furthermore, every time salary structures and hourly rates push higher, CLOs look harder at alternative providers, many of whom are now selling all-in-one turn key solutions to corporate problems, featuring not just legal advice, but advice on how to restructure corporate org charts, utilize developing technologies, train and develop people better and get maximum bang for the buck in attacking any given problem. Such comprehensive, integrated, multi-disciplinary solutions are being offered by Big Four providers, such as Deloitte Legal Services, and by new entrants into the competitive landscape, such as United Lex.

Law firms can compete with this broader, more integrated approach by partnering with technology providers, financial experts and human resource experts to offer their own broad-based solutions, but as of now, that does not appear to be happening on a large scale.

This is one more competitive puzzle that law firms need to solve while pitching to their clients how they are the best, most economical and prudent choice for legal problem solving, despite rising first year salaries.

This is my 50th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

Reviewing blog posts for the month of January, 2017, I have chosen to highlight the following three blog posts:

  1. A post on Adam Smith Esq. about the 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market put out by the Georgetown Law Center and Thomson Reuters. This post presents some interesting and likely controversial analysis based on data provided in the report, concluding that law firms need to choose one of two paths to success now – either selling to high-end clients who want customized service, or providing low-cost services more efficiently than competitors. I am not sure it is just that simple, but the analysis and the underlying report are worth considering.
  2. A post by Bruce Alltop on the LawVision blog about “The Importance of Trust” in professional development, which focuses on the benefits and challenges of building trust among partners within firms so that partners can better cross-sell services to clients, potentially enabling those clients to benefit from having a more complete service experience.
  3. A post by David Ackert on the Ackert Advisory blog, entitled “A Client Feedback Lesson from Uber.” As he often does, David provides a great anecdotal illustration of the value of a marketing tool – in this case the value of knowing how you are scored by others and asking why.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | February 6, 2017

E-Discovery: Encroachments on One More Piece of Law Firm Turf

As if law firms did not have enough competition, statistics show an increasing outflow of e-discovery work going to firms that specialize in technology solutions for litigation tasks.

Thus, law firms have to make a strategic decision now on whether to outsource their own e-discovery work to pass on efficiency savings to clients or compete with the outsource providers on efficiency and results.

They also have a challenge to meet in communicating the results of their strategic decisions to clients in order to convince clients that they are getting the best, most thoughtful solution to their needs.

A recent blog post by Dan Meyers, asserting that law firms are not the preferred one-stop e-discovery solution for clients, summarizes the case for outsourcing, but the future has yet to be definitively written on this subject.

E-discovery, like many other aspects of legal service, is rapidly evolving, and law firms have to decide whether to defend this piece of turf, or let it go so that they can focus on defending and owning the strategic ground where they are clearly at their best in providing superior value for clients.

If large law firms can establish e-discovery practices that are truly world class, those practices (which will ultimately look more like operating divisions of a company) may be able to attract work from other law firms, especially smaller ones looking for mutual referrals, who have chosen to outsource this work. Law firms that can effectively operate and innovate in the e-discovery space will also be able to attract direct hiring by some corporate clients who are parceling out pieces of litigation work, thereby gaining an opportunity to get more work from those clients.

Firm leaders need to make up their minds now on what kind of work they want to do, what they don’t want to do, and how they will communicate those decisions to clients.

Posted by: johnocunningham | January 23, 2017

The New Normal for Law Firms

A recent story about a 2017 Report on the State of the Legal Market by Thomson Reuters asserts that law firms must find new ways of adapting to permanent and growing shifts in the way that corporate clients fill their legal needs.

According to the report, clients are demanding lower costs per matter and disaggregating services, sending many tasks to non-law firm service providers, and often reducing the use of less efficient first- and second-year associates.  They are increasingly putting fixed caps on total fees per matter as well, forcing law firms to figure out how they can be more efficient in process improvement and project management.

As noted in many local press outlets, clients are also favoring firms that have figured out how to deliver services at fixed or predictable costs or even on contingent fee arrangements. (See for example, this story about firms that are ditching hourly fees).

In this brave new world, corporate clients are also scrutinizing firms to see how well they can collaborate with others, pushing them to consider sharing of information, resources and staffing in order to accomplish goals. Forward-looking firms are also responding, as indicated in a recent National Review story by Eilene Spear.

The new normal is anything but normal for law firms, but it presents tremendous opportunities for those who are willing to distinguish themselves from competitors by collaborating with their clients on innovative ways to produce high quality work more quickly and cost-effectively over time, using technology, knowledge sharing, resource sharing and other techniques.

 

This is my 49th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

Reviewing blog posts for the month of December 2016, I have chosen to highlight the following three blog posts:

  1. A great piece of advice from the Cordell Parvin blog on the subject of integrating your hobbies and passions with your client development habits. This post has plenty of links to other useful, related topics too.
  2. A short, tidy post by Vanessa Schaefer of Clockwork Design Group, offering three tips for better personal branding, which lawyers should consider because their personal brand or reputation is what clients say they hire – more so than the brand of the firm.
  3. A good story-telling post on the Law Firm 4.0 Blog by Deb McMurray, which not only describes what lawyers can learn from a sports-casting legend, but offers links to similar posts on what lawyers can learn from other people and experiences.

If you have recommendations for great blogs or blog posts, don’t hesitate to share them.

Posted by: johnocunningham | January 9, 2017

Most Popular 2016 Blog Posts on Legal Service Industry

One of the nice features of a WordPress blog is the analytics that come with it, enabling you to look at the most popular posts on a site by day, week, month or year.

With regard to my own site, the analytics show that the following blog posts of 2016 were most often viewed and disseminated to others:

  1. A post on “Internet Tools for Writers, Bloggers and Content Creators
  2. A post on “Law Firms Using Data Analytics to Enhance Client Development” and
  3. A post on “What’s New in Law Firm Innovation

WordPress also summarizes the entire multi-year history of a site, and reveals that the most popular blog post on my own site during the past ten years is this one from 2012:

Posted by: johnocunningham | December 27, 2016

2017: A Look Ahead for Law Firms

The year 2017 does not look promising for law firms, according to a recent overview of a business survey report that appeared on Bloomberg Law on Dec. 13, 2016.

Among other things, the cited report noted that:

  • Realization rates (percent of billables that are collectible) declined through 3Q (3rd quarter) of 2016;
  • Demand for law firm services grew by just 0.3 percent through 3Q;
  • Billing rate increases account for most law firm revenue gains, which is not sustainable.

The report cited “the usual suspects” as solutions for these trends, including better expense management and brand differentiation in marketing.

But, as explained in multiple prior postings on this blog, those solutions will not be sufficient to preserve and promote the lasting vitality of any firm. During the intense phase of competition that the legal industry has entered in this millennium, law firms will need more comprehensive and well-devised strategies for competing with or partnering with:

  •  Corporate law departments, which have been cutting into work previously allocated to firms, as the corporate law departments grow in response to 1st year salary bumps and steady overall billing increases that outpace inflation;
  • Technology solutions providers, which are reducing human billable time spent on document review and discovery, and which will proliferate further with the advent of artificial intelligence that can research and analyze terabytes of data much faster and more effectively than humans;
  • Alternative legal service providers, such as accounting firms and consulting firms that often have far better relationships with most of the C-suite officers of large companies, relationships which are being well-leveraged to grab portions of legal work related to such things as quantification of economic damages in complex litigation; and
  • Temporary staffing solutions providers, designed to supply corporate law departments or law firms with lower cost, but experienced lawyers and paralegals when bump-ups in work volume arise.

Firms will need to do all of the following to stay on the leading edge of competition in this era:

  • Shop for, assess, learn and implement the best technologies for saving money and time on legal services;
  • Institute perpetual process improvement practices in order to maximize efficiency, cut costs, and raise quality and consistency of results;
  • Institute project management practices in order to execute large project management functions as well as or better than their in-house and consulting firm competition;
  • Develop, test and implement innovative solutions to recurring client legal problems;
  • Develop cultures that will foster a unified focus on perpetual improvement, better training and obsession with client service.

 

Posted by: johnocunningham | December 22, 2016

One Law Firm’s Effort To Drive Innovation Rather Than React To It

The big corporate clients that every law firm covets have run laboratories and so-called skunk works groups for a long time in an effort to breed game-changing innovations, and now at least one big law firm in America is following suit.

Reed Smith announced earlier this year that it was launching two innovation “hubs” — one in London and another in New York City — where its lawyers can convene, share ideas and execute on innovation in three areas:

  1. new areas of the law,
  2. new ways of delivering client services and
  3. streamlining internal processes to become more efficient.

The firm is also hiring Alex Smith, a London “innovation manager” from LexisNexis, who will lead and facilitate the firm’s innovation projects. One of his first projects will be to develop an app that the firm initially declined to publicize, but which is tentatively set to be rolled out in 2017.

If law firms are to survive in future competition with outsourcers, technology alternatives, and even fast-growing corporate in-house departments, they will have to innovate with efficiency and speed. Reed Smith’s big move could put them out in front if the firm embraces the products of its own “laboratory.” I hope that they do because history is littered with corporations that lost billions by blowing off their own innovations. Kodak sold patents on digital photography because it might kill their film sales, Xerox sold much of the early technology developed for PCs because it did not fit their core business, and IBM dismissed plans to build an outsourcing solution for the data processing needs of banks, health care institutions and other data dependent companies, resulting in the creation of  a multi-billion dollar competitor, Electronic Data Systems.

It will be very interesting to see what Reed Smith’s innovation hubs can deliver and to see if the partners embrace the changes. Kudos to them for being bold enough to make the effort !

Posted by: johnocunningham | December 9, 2016

Best of November Blogs: Biz Dev, Marketing, Branding and Client Surveys

This is my 48th post in a series of monthly features that I have dubbed “Best of My Blog Roll.” The concept is simple – at the end of a month I peruse my own blog roll (see that column on the right) for material created by other bloggers that I think is most worthy of sharing with others, and then I report on it here.

Reviewing blog posts for the month of November 2016, I have chosen to highlight the following:

  1. A post on practical tips for “quickie” marketing and business development ideas from the Cordell Parvin blog, entitled “Fifteen Thoughtful Things You Can Do For Clients When You Are Busy.”
  2. A thought-provoking post on the LawVision blog by Bruce Alltop, who notes a trend in outsourcing of marketing functions and activities at law firms. His post is captioned, “Law Firm Business Development: Is Marketing Department Outsourcing the New Black?”
  3. A post on the marketing effect of optics and design by Vanessa Schaefer of Clockwork Design Group, entitled, “Branding Your Office Space.”
  4. A data-rich post by Casey Flaherty on the Three Geeks and a Law blog, entitled, “Clients Confirm: We Don’t Ask Law Firms to Change.” This post explains that clients don’t ask for change as much as they just vote with their feet and leave when things are not right.
  5. A nice post by Stephen Fairley on the Rainmaker Blog, in which he offers practical suggestions for client survey questions in his piece entitled, “How Your Clients Can Guide You to Building a Better Law Firm.”
Posted by: johnocunningham | November 28, 2016

Corporate Client Communications Tips for Law Firm Litigators

I recently noticed an article by Mark Herrmann on the “Above the Law” website, entitled, “Five Ways Reporting Differs at Law Firms and Corporations,” and thought it did a nice job of illustrating some important points about communication with a corporate client.

The article was written from the point of view of one who has served in-house for a corporate legal department (something I did for nearly ten years) and demonstrates that there are multiple key constituents who need to be informed about critical and financially material events in the course of any legal matter, particularly a significant piece of litigation.

As the article illustrates, many companies have requirements for key level officers to authorize settlements that exceed a particular sum, and all public companies (and some private ones) have key financial officers who must keep track of, be alerted to and disclose to shareholders or stakeholders any prospective or concluded settlement involving a material sum of money.

Some other communications tips not mentioned in the article would include the following:

  1. Inform the appropriate corporate contacts when a matter is going over budget, or is expected to go over budget for legal expenses, regardless of a favorable settlement prospect or outcome because companies are constantly jiggering their forecasts of revenue and expenses to give accurate disclosure to stakeholders, and they need to track all expenses as closely to real time as possible.
  2. Tell your key corporate contact or contacts about what you have learned from a matter after settlement, letting them know of any exposures that might exist due to policies, practices, procedures or potentially deficient or inadequately trained management or staff personnel so they can correct problems. This kind of added value is something that shows your interest in being a partner and trusted advisor, as well as a service provider.
  3. Tell your key contacts about any good news you have learned in the course of representation. If the local manager and key witness was a star, tell them. If the records department of the company was incredibly responsive and well-organized, say so. People need to know what is working as well as what is not working, and plaudits are always well-received, and can open doors to new friendships with other personnel at an existing corporate client.

 

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