How much do you love your client?

I read an article last week in which Jeffrey Cashdan, a partner at King & Spalding, who represents Coca-Cola, is quoted as saying he had banned all [Coca-Cola] competitor drinks from his home.

Think about that for a second…

…banned all competitor drinks from his home!

That’s a hell of a range. And a hell of a commitment, especially if you have children under the age of 20 running around!

So I started to think:- how many of the products in my home belong to my clients?

And I was pleasantly surprised by the answer – a fair few.

But I was also surprised how many competitor brands were in the house.

So I got to thinking, if we expect loyalty from our clients (whether that’s expertise or brand), how many of us out there are willing to go as far as Jeffrey Cashdan, who would appear to walk the walk when he says:

“I’m all-in for my client,”

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The pointlessness of the ‘billable hour’ set out in two charts

Overnight, Australia-time, the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, relying on data from Thomson Reuters Peer Monitor, published the findings of its ‘2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market‘. Reviewing the performance of U.S. law firms in 2017, as well as looking at the trends expected in 2018, this annual report is typically the “first” big report publication of the year and so a trendsetter of where we may be going as an industry over the next 12 months.

As has been the case in other years, the first chart I typically like to see in this annual report is the one setting out ‘Collection Realization against Standard Rates by Law Firm Segment‘ – Chart 9 in this year’s publication – to hopefully give me an indication of how an industry that largely relies on increases in hourly rates each year to boost top-line revenue is fairing.

As you can see, yet again the results here can best be described as ‘disappointing’:

Chart 9

AM Law 100 firms are tracking an ever declining realised recoveries of circa 80 cents in the dollar. All others aren’t doing all that much better at circa 85 cents in the dollar.

Either way, those levels of realisation would have most bank managers in a panic. And the reason they don’t comes down to one small issue: in law firms this collection rate – other than telling you that the market doesn’t see your hourly value as highly as you do – is absolutely meaningless.

What it is, is pie in the sky internal budgetary metrics against market reality cash in the bank.

So we turn to my second “go-to” chart: ‘Collection Realization against Worked (Agreed) Rates‘. This year this is represented in Chart 10:

Chart 10

As the name suggests, what this chart is showing us is “Collected v Worked (Agreed)”. I’m   assuming the “agreed” here is upfront, and I’m accepting that the picture is far from perfect, but there is a far better flatline realisation rate here of 90-ish per cent, or 90 cents in the dollar.

So, what’s my take-out from the two charts?

If you want to try and get a better handle on your projected cashflow, no doubt better to have an upfront conversation with your client about how much you are going to be charging them – however that is (fixed fee, hourly rates, etc) – than having an arbitrary, and less and less meaningful, ‘billable hourly rate’.

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Pitching: ‘Show me don’t tell me’ – is video tendering the future?

Happy New Year to all and welcome to 2018!

One of the more interesting articles I read over the holiday period profiled a Dutch company called Pitchsome.

Heard of them?

Maybe, but I doubt many have.

But they may just end up being a catalyst for of one of the biggest changes to the legal industry in 2018 – namely, how we tender for work in the future.

Under the tagline, “Show, Don’t Tell,” Pitchsome’s business model is a simple one: Show me how your product works in a video and don’t write reams and reams of marketing bluff and expect me to read it in order for me find out what you can do for me/help me fix my problem.

Supporting this business model, the article states that:

Cisco’s Visual Networking Index says video will account for 80 percent of all consumer internet traffic by 2019.

And that got me thinking:

80% of all consumer internet traffic by 2019 will be Visual Networking + pretty much 100% of Government and 70+% of ASX Top100 companies have legal panels in place

so, how long will it be before these government departments/agencies and companies decide to replace the long and tedious word/excel document tender responses with video tenders that ask law firms to:

  • profile key team members,
  • white-board how the law firm can assist the client,
  • evidence how Legal Project Management can be used,
  • visually explain the steps in the pricing,
  • have client referee testimonials,
  • have video of the pro-bono and community activities the firm is involved in, and
  • have other examples of how the value adds being offered are being implemented by other clients in the tender’s industry sector?

Will never happen I’m hearing many in Australia reading this say. “It’s not professional”. “It’s nothing short an advert”, etc., etc.

But I’m left feeling: what, just what, would have happen to the industry if those of us who started down this path in 2008 (and those of you who were involved know exactly what I’m talking about) continued the journey?

It very well may have been disruptive. And that word is a real catchphrase at the moment.

So maybe, just maybe, we will be seeing video tendering by the end of 2019 – and that leaves me asking: what are you doing now to make sure you can met this need?

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Report: What was the top reason for switching law firms in the last 12 months?

The most recent Altman Weil Chief Legal Officer Survey (2017) asked a question close to many business developers heart:

In the last 12 months, have you shifted a portfolio of work worth $50,000 or more from one law firm to another for any of the following reasons?

  • Client service
  • Lower fees
  • Legal expertise
  • Managing matter efficiency
  • Conflicts
  • Our key partner(s) changed firms
  • Size or depth of firm resources
  • Inability to handle our geographic scope
  • Predictable fees
  • Data security reasons
  • Technological sophistication

Wow – there’s a lot in there:-

Innovation. Fixed fees. Cyber-security. Critical mass. Lateral hiring. Globalisation. Legal Project Management (LPM). Legal Process Management. Legal Process Outsourcing (LPO). Conflicts. Subject matter expertise. Industry matter expertise. Being cheap. Being expensive.

But the winner is…

reasons for switching firms

client service.

At the foremost – despite all talk of innovation, fixed fees and New Law, we should never lose sight of the fact that this is a P2P (person to person) industry.

Automate the process for sure, but never forget that the people who seek legal help need to trust that their lawyer cares.

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Is putting profit before culture such a bad thing for law firms?

In 2004, while working at Linklaters, Tony Angel – the then recently appointed Managing Partner of the firm – introduced a new strategic direction that was to become known as ‘Clear Blue Water-– A Vision for Linklaters in 2007‘. Much as was being advocated in Renée Mauborgne and W. Chan Kim’s Blue Ocean Strategy, published around the same time, the intention of Angel’s Clear Blue Water strategy was to create a clear space (as opposed to red oceans) between the firm and it rivals.

For many of us who worked in the firm at the time, this represented a high-water mark. It was made very clear to all that Linklaters was now very much a business: profit trumped culture.

Sure culture was nice to have, but not if it had any material impact on profit.

But was this such a bad thing?

As someone who lived through the 2004-2007 era at Linklaters, I can honestly say “no”.

To be clear, there is little doubt in my mind the firm became more “professional”. Many of the business development, marketing and knowledge management work that had traditionally been done by lawyers was taken off them and given to dedicated teams. The firm introduced key account programs around their top clients. Blue Flag (Linklaters online client portal – that included early use of HotDocs) was a flagship program. Precedents and ClauseBank were core strategic projects.

But importantly, financial analysis was undertaken to determine the difference between revenue and profit and how both revenue and profit could be increased (which didn’t necessarily mean a reduction in costs – for example, the business case behind Blue Flag was the first example of an alternative revenue stream I saw in a law firm).

All of this was then extended to sectors when clients started to say they valued, and appreciated, sector specialists (Linklaters was the first place I worked at that had a virtual practice – The Indian Desk, back in 2005-ish which operated from London, New York, Singapore and Dubai).

Despite – or even because of – an overall strategy to significantly increase profit, large amounts of money were invested in putting in place strategic teams that could help implement and execute on this strategy. Professional KM, marketing and business development people came in to the firm from all walks of life and people who had never worked in professional services firms previously were now doing so.

Importantly, my personal experience was that their voices, counselling and advices were being taken onboard. Sure partners may disagree – and ultimately we all knew that the buck stopped with them, but it was also made clear that they appreciated and valued our input.

Another important aspect of Angel’s Clear Blue Water strategy though was transparency.

Everybody in the firm knew what we were trying to achieve. We knew what was required to get us there (including I might add an absolute understanding that this would involve an incredible amount of hard work). We knew how we were tracking and which parts of the business were struggling to achieve their goals. From my memory (and it was 10 years ago now), this wasn’t done with malice but so that we knew who needed help.

In short, the strategy bred a culture. A culture that many who were not in the firm may have considered elitist, but a culture nonetheless: to be at Linklaters at that time was to know you worked among the best (and if you doubt that, track the CVs of many of the leading BD/Pricing/KM people around the world and see who they worked for during that time).

So why, 10 years after I left, have I decided to bring this all up now?

HSF

The answer to that lies in the decision this week by Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) to open a second office in Sydney.

This second office will be at 66 Talavera Road, Macquarie Park, while the principal office will remain at 161 Castlereagh Street. It is currently being reported that between 200 and 300 support staff (that may not – for now – include BD people) will be moved to this Macquarie Park office.

To my mind, this move eradicates all pretence of a ‘one firm’ culture having anything to do with the running of this firm. Conversely, it cements the ‘us’ and ‘them’ culture. If you are in Castlereigh Street, you’re ‘in’. And if you are in Macquarie Park, well you’re not! Worse, if you get moved from Castlereigh Street to Macquarie Park, you could consider it a demotion (especially given there will be no train line servicing that office for 10 months in the next year or so!).

But again, as someone who has advocated for the outsourcing of support services in law firms (in much the same way as a number of firms in Asia did post the Asian Financial Crisis) for more than 10 years the question should be: is this such a bad thing?

And my answer to that is “no”.

But my answer comes with an important caveat from someone who has been through similar strategic processes, and that is this: everyone at the firm in now on notice – perform, or you’ll be in Macquarie Park – or even out altogether – before you know it!

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Altman Weil’s latest report: ‘Cost certainty trumps process efficiency’

Following on from my post last week that the ‘Billable hour remains the pricing method of choice for Australian law firms’, Altman Weil’s ‘2017 Chief Legal Officer Survey’, published later in the week – and now in its eighteenth year – throws a different light on this debate.

The big take-out for me can be found on page vi of the Executive Summary – namely that in-house lawyers now see ‘cost certainty‘ as being more important to them than ‘process efficiency‘.

Specifically, page vi states:

Screen Shot 2017-11-20 at 8.06.11 pm

“Costs over process”.

Think about that for a second – because it’s massive if you happen to be in private practice.

Crucially, though, is this comment (also on page vi of the Executive Summary):-

It is easier for law departments to demand cost reductions from providers and let them determine how to achieve lower fees.

So what do we have here?:-

  • cost certainty over process efficiency, and
  • private practice being allowed to determine how to achieve lower fees.

QED: If you’re in private practice and don’t have, (a) a robust Legal Project Management system/program, plus (b) data and analysis on the profitability of fixed fees that you can/should be offering…

… then your firm is likely in a lot of trouble.

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Report: Billable hour remains the pricing method of choice for Australian law firms

[This post first appeared on my LinkedIn page on Tuesday 14 November 2017]

Despite the rhetoric we read each and every day around NewLaw, law firm innovation, value-based pricing, fixed fees and alternative fee arrangements, Macquarie Bank’s recently published ‘2017 Legal Benchmarking Results – An industry in transition’ report confirms that the crusty old ‘billable hour’ remains the pricing method of choice for the majority of Australian law firms.

While the report evidences a ‘gradual transition’ away from the billable hour – with 33% of law firms stating that they planned to use a method other than billable hours as their primary pricing method going forward, the term ‘gradual’ here would probably be better described as ‘glacial’ – as this figure is up a mere 2% since 2013.

fees

Interestingly, the report breaks down the preferred pricing method of choice by State (see image above), with Victoria and Queensland leading the way on ‘value-based billing’ (15% and 14% respectively) and NSW smashing it on ‘fixed fees’ (at 26% – which looks to be mostly property related matters) [Anyone else out there as surprised as me with the QLD result?].

Disappointedly, ‘value-based pricing’ is not the term used in the report (and thus I have to assume not asked) as ‘billing’ implies an after the fact approach which almost certainly means there has been no upfront discussion around needs, process maps, project management, white-boarding or any of the other methods of communicating a mutual understand of ‘value’ before a task is undertaken.

At the end of the day though, this report seems to show/indicate that roughly 2 out of every 3 matters undertaken in Australian law firms is being done ‘on the clock’ (i.e. billable hour). And while it doesn’t show what the realisation rates are around this method of pricing, it does provide evidence that law remains a highly profitable business – thus, by extension this method of pricing.

Overall though I found reading the results in this report depressing.

Why?

Because I actually enjoy reading all that rhetoric every morning about how law is changing and becoming more innovative – and to be confronted with evidence this may not actually be the case is, well, depressing.

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[ps, if you haven’t downloaded and read the report – do!]