General business development issues

‘4,200’ – why it’s a prize not worth winning

Overnight, Australian time, the annual AM Law 100 report for 2019 was published by the American Lawyer.

A fascinating, if not relatively meaningless (with a caveat to follow), look at how the other half live, one insight from this year’s publication worth taking a closer look at is the ever egotistical champion of the industry – the lawyer with the highest number of billable hours.

And this year’s winner comes from the firm of Fox Rothschild (moment of honesty, never heard of them before today) with, wait for it,

bh

While the individual lawyer is not named, nor their rank, let’s put this under the microscope for a second. That’s:

…4,200 (billable hours) in a year / 365 days in a year (2018 wasn’t a leap year) = 11.5 hours of billable time a day (no write offs or, in parlance, ‘time leakage’)…

…every day…

…without a break – for holiday or for sickness…

…billable

…for 365 consecutive days…

…including Christmas Day.

So what does this really mean?

Whenever I’m asked what this really means I always refer people to the excellent Yale school publication – ‘The Truth About the Billable Hour‘.

In that publication a number of different variations are set out, but in order to ‘bill’ 2201 hours, you need to have been “at work” 3058 hours. By their own admission, this doesn’t account for “personal calls at work, training/observing, talking with coworkers, a longer lunch (to exercise or shop perhaps), a family funeral, pro bono work (if not treated as billable hours), serving on a Bar committee, writing an article for the bar journal, or interviewing an applicant.”

– and yet here we are talking about 4,200 billable hours!

So why does this even matter?

Why asking someone to work 2,000 billable hours a year will kill their spirit‘ is by a long way the most read post on my blog. And yet here we are talking more than double this amount.

So I have a few questions:

  • if you are the supervising partner of a lawyer that has billed 4,200 hours a year, do you have a duty of care to ensure that lawyer is mentally okay?
  • if you are the managing partner of a fee earner that has billed 4,200 hours a year, do you have a fiduciary duty to ensure the mental wellbeing of that lawyer?
  • and, most importantly, as a client: do you really want someone who is working 11.5 hours a day, every day, without a break, working on your file (because I know my answer this question)?

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

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Report: 45% of Australian GCs are forecasting a decrease in their 2019 legal spend – How is this going to be achieved?

The State of Australian Corporate Law Departments Report 2019 – a joint publication between Thomson Reuters and Acritas – was published earlier this month. With more than 2,000 telephone interviews conducted and 73 interviews with Senior Legal Counsel based in Australia taking place, the sample for this report is robust. And while the usual rhetoric around “more for less” is reflected throughout the Report, one of the standouts is that Australian GCs are forecasting 45% projected budget cuts (over 2018 we have to assume):-

budget cuts

To put that into context, that almost twice the global average.

In a time when we have Royal Commissions being announced almost weekly, and compliance issues are on the front pages of the papers daily, you have to wonder where and how these savings are going to be achieved.

As to the ‘where’, given how much ‘top-end’ reputational compliance work that’s happening in Australia at the moment, and how little cost savings can be made from the margins in low-end commoditised work, you’d have to assume the most likely area will be in the mid-level contract drafting/negotiation/management space [the space in which about 30 out of the top 40 firms in Australia play].

As to the ‘how’, having read the Report my take is that Australian GCs will look to achieve this through:

  • innovation
  • panels, and
  • the elephant in the room

Innovation

‘Innovation’ has been a buzzword in the Australian legal world for over a decade. And, as one of the first jurisdictions to legislation the incorporation of law firms, to many outside Australia our system has been one of envy.

But when you ask Australian GCs to rate the innovation of Australian law firms, only 35% feel they’re working with service providers they find modern and innovative.

innovation

From where I sit this means that 65% of Australian GCs don’t think you’re really doing all that much in the innovation space!

Legal Panels

Led by procurement, the dreaded ‘legal panel’s’ stated aim is to achieve:

  • cost efficiencies and predictability
  • relationship building (de facto another way of cost savings)
  • less administrative burden
  • quality [of work]
  • responsiveness
  • access to experts, and
  • value adds on offer

All great and noble aims if you are looking for a 45% cost saving year-on-year – until you take a closer look at the reality:-

panels

This chart is from the ‘GC Thought Leaders Experiment‘ and it clearly indicates that having a panel in place isn’t saving you anything! Add to that lateral hire movement over the past 5 years, and I very much doubt any of the metrics of having a panel are being met.

It’s worth noting here that swimming against the tide of rationalising panels to fragment legal spend is A Verona Dorch – Peabody’s Energy’s Chief Legal Officer who stated (on the issue of appointing panels) that:

Expanding the pool allowed me to insert a few more midsize and non-money center firms than I otherwise could have. And that’s been incredibly helpful—just a few months in, I’m noticing that those firms are extra eager to impress and put forth their top talent.

So maybe, just maybe, if you get it right there is something to be said for legal panels – only not in the form we currently have them.

The elephant in the room

And so we come to the elephant in the room, where a lot of these savings are likely to be found:

40% of Australian in-house buyers of legal services have used alternative legal service providers (“ALSP”) for support on legal matters, and over half of those who used an ALSP did so as they felt it was a more affordable option.

Private practice we are on notice.

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

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Want to know how Microsoft’s legal team measure value?

Screen Shot 2019-04-10 at 8.45.00 pm

Value” – specially how we create and communicate it – is probably the hottest issue in legal pricing at the moment. So how much would you pay to find out how Microsoft’s legal team measure value?

If you’re smart – nothing.

Instead you will listen in to the ‘Business of Law Podcast‘ where Karen Kepler (Law Procurement Manager at Cargill) talks with Rebecca Benavides (Director of Legal Business at Microsoft Corporation) and Jason Barnwell (Assistant General Counsel of Legal Business, Operations, and Strategy at Microsoft Corporation) about the process of designing and building an outside counsel panel.

And after you have listened to the podcast (around 40 minutes of your time), download the show notes and take a look at the 4 page slide pack on ‘CELA Law Firm Engagement: Strategic Partner Selection Process‘ – because you’ll then be able to recognise where the image at the top of this post comes from.

Big lesson learnt here: Our clients want to talk to us about this, but are we really willing to listen?

As always interested in your thoughts, views, feedback.

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Is your law firm building a community or servicing a customer?

Last week I had reason to travel to Newcastle NSW. On the train journey up there (which is roughly three hours from Sydney’s CBD) I took the opportunity to listen to a podcast by Mark Stirving and his guest Darren LaCroix – “How a smart subscription pricing strategy improves retention“.

Very little of what follows in this post actually has much to do with pricing, bar the fact that at approximately the 20 minute minute mark Darren cites a quote from Raymond Aaron which immediately caught my attention:

“They’ll come for the content, they’ll stay for the community”

Wow, as someone who has done a ton of thought leadership and content marketing over the past 20 years for law firms, this really hit home.

After all, let’s face it, law firms are good at content. Actually, they are really, really good at it. To the tune of at least one client newsletter a day good at it.

But, largely they’re really rubbish at building communities.

And this is important because?

Simple really: if you have ‘customers’ it isn’t. But if you want your firm to grow ‘communities’, it’s critical.

As always interested in your thoughts, views, feedback.

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‘How much are you charging your client for that value add?’

It’s a question I often ask law firm partners:

How much are you charging for that value add?

And nearly always the response I get is the same:- *shocked face look*.

Why, well because in my experience lawyers are willing to give something of real value away for free to a client in the hope that same client will then given them their legal work.

But it rarely works like that.

And, more importantly, it shouldn’t work like that in today’s world (if it ever really did).

Don’t get me wrong, there will always be a cost of doing business component to our profession. CPDs/CLEs for in-house counsel would, in my opinion, sit in this category (but not all L&D activity) [tip: if you do this, open a ‘value account’ for your client and put a nominal value, say A$200 per 1 hour session per attendee, again this to try and show the client (in $$$ terms) the value you are providing here].

Rarely though do lawyers give thought to the ramifications of when they offer their clients something of real value, that really differentiates their firm, and then they give the IP away for free in the hope of getting the “more profitable” legal work.

Case in point is the following comment attributed to DHL Supply Chain Americas GC Mark Smolik in an article in yesterday’s The American Lawyer by Gina Passarella Cipriani [‘GCs Are Offering Work on a Silver Platter—and Law Firms Aren’t Taking It’]

“On the matter side, DHL Supply Chain Americas GC Mark Smolik gave an example of what he wishes law firms would do—and it’s something none of his firms ever has. He suggested a firm might want to look at, say, all of the employment cases emanating out of his California warehouses. Maybe they find that 50 percent of the cases are coming from one warehouse, and one person is the culprit. The GC can then take that information to its business units and work out a solution. It makes the GC look good and it makes the law firm look good to provide that kind of actionable intelligence. Other GCs echoed similar requests during Legalweek’s Business of Law Forum.”

Getting down to the bare bones of my point though:- Mark doesn’t suggest this be done for free. And, in my opinion, done right, there is every chance Mark will pay for this value add.

But that’s just my take – as always, would be interested in your thoughts, views, feedback.

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Which kinds of businesses are most threatening to your firm’s future?

The December/January edition of Briefing magazine includes a supplementary report looking at the Legal IT Landscapes 2019. It’s a very enjoyable read, and includes the following graphic (answering the question from which the title of this blog is taken):

image 201901

What this indicates is that despite my having blogged about this issue as far back as September 2017 (‘Do you know who your competitors are?‘) senior managers of law firms still hold that other law firms like theirs are the greatest threat to their ongoing commercial success (at 26%).

As I wrote back then,

With the level of work that clients are now taking back in-house, or not bothering to do at all, they are without doubt the “overwhelming competitive threat” to the current law firm business model. And, this is not cyclical but structural.

Crucially, understanding this is of paramount importance if firms wish to survive the next 5, 10, 15 years. Because it reshapes everything we do. How we try and win work. The type of work we are trying to win. And even the nature of the relationship we have with our client.

In the long term it will determine the way we measure and reward. It will dictate how we charge, and it will determine whether we succeed or fail.

and I still hold now, this view is misplaced at best, and out and out wrong at worst.

As the following quote taken directly from the National Profile of Solicitors 2016 report (most recent I could find) published by the Law Society of New South Wales, in Australia the seriousness of the threat that in-house legal teams have on  the viability of your firm’s future success should not be underestimated:

Legal employment sectors are shifting. The great majority of Australian solicitors continue to work in private practice, with 69% employed in a law firm. However, the proportion of solicitors working in private practice has dropped from 75% to 69% over the last five years. This is due to a significant growth in the number of solicitors working in the corporate sector and government.

Between 2011 and 2016, there was a 59% increase in the number of solicitors working in the corporate sector, compared to a 17% increase working in the private sector.

Let that sink in for a second: a 59% increase in the number of solicitors working in the corporate sector [in Australia] over a 5 year period post the GFC.

Even coming from a relatively low baseline, that’s a staggering shift (indeed, some may even argue seismic)!

But ask senior management of law firms and only 10% will tell you that “in-house/client” is a business that is most threatening to their firm’s business.

Misguided pershaps?

As always, would be interested in your thoughts, views, feedback.

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Lawyers and ‘the amplifying factor’

On 11 January Seth Godin blogged ‘Good intentions (how to be on time)‘. Typical Seth, it’s a relatively short post; and typical Seth, it contains an important message – ‘The amplifying factor‘.

In Seth’s words:

The amplifying factor is that when they’re late, people wait for them.

So why is this relevant to your firm?

The answer:- how familiar does this [2015] post by Bruce MacEwen (Adam Smith, esq) sound:

(3) We recently had a meeting scheduled with the partner on the matter at the firm’s offices in midtown. (I was not present.) Our representative—one of the two wardens of St. Michael’s—arrived about five minutes early and ran into the partner in the firm’s reception area; he was heading for the elevator to go out to get coffee.

He kept going.

My colleague sat in the conference room for 15-20 minutes awaiting his return. When he did appear, the plan was to conference in the other St. Michael’s warden on the speakerphone. He didn’t know how to do that.

This is a perfect example of ‘the amplifying factor‘. And in law firms I see this behaviour every single day…

As always, would be interested in your views.

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