Author: RWS_01

Over 20 years’ experience developing and implementing effective business development strategies in law firms across Australia and Asia.

Secondments, labour arbitrage and a new race to the bottom

Follow me:

  • In-house teams have been the biggest ‘growth’ area in legal post 2008 and some in-house teams are now bigger than the law firms they previously outsourced worked to
  • Most GCs report to the CFO
  • GCs are increasingly under pressure from the CFO to reduce their ‘cost’ (including bonuses now linked to reducing cost – note: not external legal spend)
  • GCs have effectively two cost centres: ‘labour’ or ‘ external legal spend’
  • Procurement tells GCs they can reduce both ‘labour’ and ‘spend’ at the same time – secondments (heavily discounted at daily or weekly rates in RFPs – don’t need to advise out and don’t need to hire in-house!)
  • Law firms enter the discounted labour arbitrage market

And a new race to the bottom starts*…

As always, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.

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*welcome to the party LoD

Is your law firm selling dirt?

Earlier today I heard a wonderful exchange between Mark Stiving and Reed Holden (of Pricing with Confidence fame) on Mark’s Impact Pricing podacst

I’ve lifted the following [short] transcript, of part of their conversation, straight from Mark’s website (with all credit to Mark)

Reed Holden: It would be fair to say that dirt is a commodity. Yeah. What David did is he went out and had a conversation with the customer. So David asked a couple of questions. He said you know, what do you really need from us? And he goes, well, Geez, you know, we spent a lot of time waiting for you guys to fill up the trucks. Well, why is that important as well? Because it’s costing me a hundred bucks an hour to get through your facility. Well, how would it be valuable? Who cut it in half? So sure it would save me 45 bucks an hour, 45 bucks an hour, a 16-ton truck works out to about 253 bucks a ton. And what they did is they implemented a, what I’ll call a flanking gate strategy and when you want it to the quarries that were two gates. At gate B, there was a line of trucks. At gate a, there was no line of trucks and there was a d five dozer sitting in there ready to load up the trucks. And so a sales guy would go in and have a conversation with, you know, a cement contractor or an asphalt contractor who were the primary customers. Think about it. Cement and asphalt contractors all have to bid in order to win the business. So it’s a very price-oriented business and the sales guy would go in. Then the contract will say how much, how much is your dirt today? And the sales guy would say it’s gonna cost you 11 bucks a ton. And the guy would come in said, well you have a competitor in here at 10 50 the sales coach, oh are we can meet 10 50 in fact we can meet 10 25 but you have to go through gate B and the quarry and the contracts, what’s gate B? It just not services fast. And the contract will quickly calculate that they would save money by paying a little bit more for the dirt. And you know it’s, we use it as, I mean we’ve extended that to professional services. In fact, we’ve done a lot of global work and extremely high-value professional services and both consulting and financial, the legal business. But you know, the commodity story tells it all because it, if it works in commodity, I guarantee you it works in the high-value stuff. But hit it with a simple conversation.

to which Mark replies:

Mark Stiving: Dirt. You’d think we’re selling dirt. But in truth, we’re not selling dirt. We’re selling a solution to a problem which includes using the truck as efficiently as possible as we’re delivering dirt to our customers.

So my question to you is this: ‘Is your law firm selling dirt, and if it is, what’s your solution that goes with it?’

As always, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback, but whatever you do listen to the whole episode here.

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What is the biggest pricing problem law firms are facing today?

This week’s episode of the Impact Pricing podcast (episode 20 – ‘Mastering SaaS Pricing: How to Price and Package Your Service’) sees host Mark Stiving talking with Kyle Poyar, Vice President for Market Strategy at OpenView. By their own admission, Mark and Kyle geek-out over SaaS pricing theory and its KPIs, so this podcast is not for everyone.

What is interesting, however, is the response Kylie gives to a question Mark asks at the 23 minute 37 second mark.

Mark’s question:

What do you see as the biggest pricing problem that subscription companies are having today?

Kylie’s response:

…structurally speaking, companies are not spending enough time on pricing, they don’t take a scientific or rigorous enough approach to optimising their pricing and testing it and collecting data on it. And we have gotten smart about just about everything in technology and if you look at the level of sophistication of the operations of a technology company it’s like just so different from where we were a few years ago. But pricing hasn’t really changed and I’ve just started to hear of companies that are trying to bring on pricing talent and make their first dedicated pricing hire and have that happen earlier in their lifecycle; but then those companies are having trouble figuring out what’s the right profile to hire for, who is going to do a good job in this role, and then finding that talent and so I think like, structurally, their biggest challenge is just lack of great pricing skills…

In my opinion, that sums up pretty well the pricing problem that we have in law firms:- we’re in such a rush to show everyone how serious we are about the pricing issue/problem facing the industry (as in, alternatives to the billable hour, project management, process improvement etc), that we have hired Heads of Pricing by the boat loads, but a niggling issue remains – industry report after industry report that has sought feedback from clients indicates (some might even say, shows) that we haven’t gotten all that much more sophisticated or even better about how we price. If that’s the case, we have to ask: is there just a lack of great pricing skills in the industry?

As always, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.

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NB: please ignore all comments Kylie makes about volume discounts prior to his comments above, as regular readers will know I don’t hold with those views!

The big squeeze is coming: Why it’s important to know if your practice is bespoke or precedent?

Hall Wang penned an interesting post on the Tom Spencer blog over the weekend that looked at two of the different types of consulting – Bespoke and Precedent (Bespoke and Precedent Driven – Understanding the Two Different Approaches to Consulting).

Wang explains the difference between the two as being:

Bespoke: This approach is like making a custom-tailored outfit whereby the focus is on what is unique about a client’s situation and then crafting a customized solution for the client. The mindset in this approach is to think about what might be possible to best fit the client’s needs.

Precedent driven: This approach is similar to the way you bake a cake using a cookbook; following the recipe, but making adjustments as time and available ingredients necessitate. The mindset is to find proven precedents and use them as a guide to provide reliable client recommendations.”

I like Wang’s terminology. I particularly like Wang’s use of ‘precedent driven‘ – an alternative to the stale and often misused ‘commoditised‘. It’s smart language, but I think it’s really important that lawyers and their support team understand the difference and workout which of the two their practice sits in.

So why is this even important?

Here’s the reason:- because if you operate a predominantly ‘precedent-based practice’, then you’re going to be feeling the forthcoming ‘big squeeze’ way more than is likely to be the case than if you run a bespoke practice.

What ‘big squeeze?’; my practice is already seeing an uptick in legal work you may be asking – see the latest Altman Weil ‘Law Firms in Transition 2019: Change Efforts Stalled in 2018 as Business Boomed‘ report for why this may be the case.

Well, as I recently blogged The State of Australian Corporate Law Departments Report 2019 has stated that “45% of Australian GCs are forecasting a decrease in their 2019 legal spend” – so ask yourself:- “Where is this massive savings going to come from?” Add to this the recent Thomson Reuters ‘Alternative Legal Services Provider Report‘ (February 2019) stat that

In just two years, revenues for alternative legal services providers have grown from $8.4 billion in 2015 to about $10.7 billion in 2017. This represents a compound annual growth rate of 12.9% over that period.

and it doesn’t take Einstein to tell you that a big (or bigger) squeeze is coming and that the middle – precedent-driven – market (where the majority of the market players sit) is going to be the epicentre of that big squeeze.

But knowing and understanding this is very important. It helps take you – as lawyers, business developers or leaders – a long way to understanding that in reality very few people want or need bespoke legal services; but what the really really really don’t want is a precedent legal service dressed up with a bespoke ‘full service’ price.

As always though, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.

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“A lawyer’s time is the only commodity that we have to sell”

Earlier today I listened to a podcast on respected legal technologist expert/journalist/speaker Ari Kaplan’s Reinventing Professionals from May 2, 2019 in which he spoke with Josh Taylor, an attorney and the lead content strategist at Smokeball, a practice management software platform that started out life here in Australia and now appears to be mainly located in Chicago (although retains a presence in Sydney and Melbourne).

The first seven minutes (out of nine) I was entertained and thought were good.  But two minutes and twelve seconds from the end Ari throws out his last question (my transcript follows so sorry for any errors) to Josh:

Where do you see the use of technology in solo practices and small firms headed?

And Josh responds:

One thing that we struggle with so much, and I have saved it to the end here Ari instead of mentioning it as a pain-point upfront, the main part of the small law practice that we see people failing at day after day is accurately tracking their time and either on the the extreme cheating a client by over estimating, which is very rare, more likely and more often we see small law firms cheating themselves by under valuing every minute they have; when I go around speaking to bar associations around the country I always say “you know a lawyer’s time is the only commodity that we have to sell, we don’t make a thousand widgets in a minute that we can then sell for the same price, we have minutes in a day that is the only thing that we can sell out to our clients” because we cannot double bill people so to value and track time accurately I think is where legal tech is going to start leading the way…

Leaving aside the whole time-based billing versus value-based billing discussion, even if you only believe in time-based billing (cost-plus or however that looks) and never want to entertain the notion of any kind of alternative pricing method, to say:

a lawyer’s time is the only commodity that we have to sell

is so far removed from reality it’s not funny.

What a lawyer’s ‘commodity’ is, is the knowledge they have acquired, the experience they acquired to be able to apply that knowledge to the situation their client is facing, and the insight to do this in a valuable and respectable way.

Regardless of how you bill – as a lawyer that is the only commodity you have to sell.

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An OmniFocus subscription – a great example of ‘charm pricing’?

Not familiar with the term ‘charm pricing’? – neither was I until I started taking the issue of pricing seriously, but at it’s core is something we (tender and pitch professionals) see daily,  the psychological effect of reducing the the left digit(s) by one so that “0” and “00” becomes “9” and “99” – i.e. $150.00 becomes either $149 or $149.99.

Why is it important?

Check out these two subscription options…

Screen Shot 2019-05-20 at 8.47.23 pm

…and let me know which you would have gone with.

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Presence of mind, not being present in the flesh

‘presenteeism’: (noun) the practice of being present at one’s place of work for more hours than is required, especially as a manifestation of insecurity about one’s job.

Ask any lawyer if they have stayed behind at work when they weren’t needed, whether or not that’s a a manifestation of their job insecurity – and it almost is, and I’d bet all could tell you a great tale.

Mine..

I was leaving the office and put on my jacket and my partner – seeing me do this – asked if I was cold.

So, the realisation that ‘presenteeism’ exists as a problem is no secret (‘It’s a waste’: Law firms plagued by ‘presenteeism’ culture and graduate ‘sweatshops’ by Michael Pelly in the Australian Financial Review [published on Feb 22, 2019] and ‘4,200’ – why it’s a prize not worth winning on this blog highlight this issue); but what really grab my attention was an excellent article in this week’s The Economist (‘Bartleby – The joy of absence‘).

The Economist article talks to two things that really resonate with me with regard to the futility of presenteeism in the legal profession – especially as we move forward.

The first speaks to the way we were (and some would argue still are):

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce group, recently praised the 996 model, where employees work from 9am to 9pm, six days a week, as a “great opportunity”.

The second includes what is probably year-to-date one of my favourite lines (and the title of this post):

Turning an office into a prison, with inmates allowed home for the evenings, does nothing for creativity that is increasingly demanded of office workers as routine tasks are automated. To be productive you need presence of mind, not being present in the flesh.

As always though, interested in your thoughts/views/feedback.

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