Law firms have had, for some time now, a Client Account Manager support role within their Business Development and Marketing teams. Typically reporting to the Head of Business Development and the Client Relationship Partner, these roles have historically been focussed around a number of “key” client programs (aka Key Account Management programs or “KAM”) and can also be sector specific – for example, financial services, energy and resources and government. In the larger firms, the Client Account Manager may be required to look after up to three to four large client accounts, but normally the role is inward looking with little (in real terms) direct interaction with the client themselves (although in some cases you do find the law firm CAM and support personnel at the client talking to each other regularly).
There is little doubt these roles have served a significant purpose. One could even go so far as to say they have increased cross pollination (cross selling) among practice groups significantly. But, in these changing times, with law firms having significantly increased their investment in Client Relationship Management (CRM) tools and software, the following question does need to be asked:
is it now time to move on from the Client Account Manager role?
I recently watched an interesting video (27 minutes and 2 seconds) of a panel discussion filmed at the Briefing Operational Leaders In Legal 2014 conference (November 2014) that talked about, among other things, “client-facing account managers and better management information“.
Moderated by Julia Chain of JSC Associates, the panel included Jonathan Beak (chief counsel – legal, UK and Ireland, Thomson Reuters), Sarah Spooner (head of legal, Vodafone), Angela Williams (head of legal, global cash management and debt advisory, Barclays) and David Symonds (VP, regional general counsel EMEA, Tyco International).
The whole discussion is extremely informative and if you are a business developer looking for insight into how the leaders of some of the biggest in-house teams out there think, then you should watch it.
But, for the purposes of this post the most crucial part is the commentary by David Symonds who, discussing why Tyco appointed the law firm Eversheds as sole legal provider (in the now famous annual fixed fee arrangement tender), states that Tyco instigated what he calls certain grounds rules with Eversheds, including that only one lawyer acted for them and that the work was carried out at the appropriate level depending on what the matter is.
Nothing ground-breaking there. Until you get to 11 minutes and 53 seconds into the video. Here a general discussion is going on among the panel about what law firms do (or need to do) to differentiate themselves (the Holy Grail) and Symonds states that Eversheds were the only firm to offer a full time dedicated Project Manager to manage Tyco’s caseload.
Very interesting, but all the more so given today’s exclusive in The Lawyer by Tabby Kinder that Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) (the merged international firm of Herbert Smith and Australian firm Freehills) is to “roll out legal project managers across firmwide practice groups this summer.”
Now this really is big news, because it cannot be long now before the rest of the international firms follow suit (Clifford Chance and Linklaters are already being mooted as implementing legal project manager roles later this year and, in addition to Eversheds, Hogan Lovells and Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer are understood to already have these roles in place).
So, what can we expect from a Client Project Manager?
According to The Lawyer article:
HSF project managers will work with project teams and be involved in pricing negotiations with clients as well as providing coaching to partners on efficiency and best practice when managing complex cases.
which doesn’t sound all that different to the Client Account Manager role.
But, according to the team at The Project Management Hut, in addition to monitoring client matters against acceptable outcomes and strategy to ensure the relationship produces substantial benefits to both side, your typical Client Project Manager should also provide your law firm with the following five (5) sources of competitive advantage:
- a better client service
- better time management
- better people management and supervision skills
- better profitability, through project management (LPM) and process improvements (LPO), and
- provide the team with client-based business thinking.
and it is #3 and #4 in that list that law firms really could benefit from.
Now all we need to decide is: do these roles sit in the finance department, the practice groups, or marketing and business development?