The Great Recession has imposed change in the legal profession, but are the business models changing fast enough to keep up with the declining demand for services, an oversupply of providers, unprecedented downward price pressure, and clients aggressively seeking substitutes? While there has been a reasonable response by management and leaders to the economic climate over the years, the Altman Weil Law Firms In Transition Survey 2013 reports that the changes are incremental and not sustainable for the long term. A Discussion with a current COO and former CIO provided insights about leveraging technology for further initiatives.
Technology is a powerful tool for both implementing efficient and effective management processes as well as for the delivery of client services. It can reduce inefficiencies and produce great results if it were not for the human element. The burden lies in overcoming the resistance to it. In an era of greater competition, the pull to embrace it may be a strong motivating factor. While the best practices in technology can also be utilized for marketing purposes to attract clients, the gain can be short-term, as the bar for technology is always improving at an ever-increasing rate.
The top three technological factors that are critical for integrating the systems and allowing for collaboration with a firm’s structure include the following:
* Making sure that the lawyers can get their work out, eliminating any possibility for lost documents as well as ensuring that the technological functions are effective for working remotely.
* Capturing all the right financial information and integrating it so that a clear and accurate account is available for strategic pricing, billing, alternative fee arrangement, and forecasting.
* Automating business intake for risk management ensuring there would be no malpractice.
A strong intra-organizational Knowledge Management system can increase efficiency and work quality by allowing lawyers to replicate strategies and documents that have been successful as well as being a platform for training new associates and providing the first draft in service offerings. Technologies such as intranets allow effective information dissemination. Moreover, an enterprising attorney can use the database from which to discuss a client’s budget, apply strategic pricing and provide a work product that is more efficient. Some legal services are using a business model for Knowledge Management as a client-facing tool set–a free offering to prospective clients allowing them to gather information necessary to draft documents that fit their needs, with lawyers answering specific questions and providing services not available through KM systems.
Are firms thinking critically about commoditization for pricing and products to gain a competitive advantage? According to the Altman Weil survey, 90% of leaders believe there will be more commoditization of legal work. While every law firm has information down to increments within the hour, the process of commoditization would require a lawyer with substantial knowledge as well as his non-billable time to work the information into market pricing. Although there are vendors to assist, it does require a lawyer and it can be a very tedious process.
When it comes to tracking marketing and new business development efforts, it appears that no one has the technology or way of seeing a return on the investment. Efforts are currently perceived as branding. The question raised was how far one can go by re-engineering new methodologies for this? An external market intelligence service can offer backend analytics from which to establish measures along with other products and services–a topic for another article.
Finally, while in the midst of change and uncertainty, an important question to ask is what is right about this? Ilya Prigogine, a Nobel laureate, saw a broad tendency for physical systems that are driven away from stability to regain it at a higher level of organization. Applied to organizational systems, reaching a greater level of stability may require letting go of old beliefs and developing new business models. Oftentimes, the pain will persist until action is taken.
Karen Sadowski, President
KMS Associates, Inc.