law firm revenue

10 takeouts from BigHand’s Legal Pricing & Budgeting Report

I’m a cynic, so usually read industry reports published by industry providers with a huge pinch of salt, but every now and then you get an exception to the rule. So is the case with BigHand’s recently published ‘The Legal Pricing & Budgeting Report’, which is full of really insightful information (so read it!).

Here are my 10 take-outs (NA = North America and UK = UK):-


The damning:


To the surprising:



To some obvious:



And some knowns:



With a few, “What the?” (as in, only…)



With a great conclusion:


As I said, as a rule I don’t recommended reading these types of reports as they typically are a waste of time; but this is one I have no problem saying “go read it!” – and if you have any thoughts/comments, post them in the comments section below!

Have a great week all.


AFAs accounted for less than 10% of all matters in the US last year

This month saw publication of the End-of-Year 2015 edition of the Enterprise Legal Management Trends Report by LexisNexis and CounselLink.

Based on data derived from outside counsel invoices – accounting for US$21 billion in legal spend in the USA – processed through the CounselLink platform, to my mind what makes this Report different to others is this: it provides insights others might miss because while talk can be cheap, the numbers rarely lie.


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From an Australian perspective, a couple of surprising statistics come out of this year’s Report.

  • the use of AFAs, to govern the service payment of matters, only accounted for 9.4% of matters processed through the CounselLink platform. Given all the chatter and whining you hear from law firms, I would have expected this rate to be much, much higher.
  • Employment and Labor (at 17.3%) is a fairly significant practice area leader in the number of matters (but not revenue – see below) using AFAs, but Real Estate accounting for something less than 2% of its practice area matters using AFAs seems out of whack.
  • Nearly 10% of Regulatory and Compliance matters are done under AFA arrangements. At first this seemed a little strange (given the grey hair nature of the advice being sought), but then I thought a large number of compliance programs could be sold using retainers, fixed fees and other AFAs.


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Moving on to percentage of “billings” executed under AFAs and things start to get really interesting.

  • at 12.4%, by far the biggest practice area using AFAs by billings is Corporate, General and Tax (excluding Mergers and Acquisitions, which is a separate line entry). Not sure I would have guessed that.
  • Finance, Loans and Investments ranked third highest practice area using AFAs by billings last year. Again, don’t think I would have picked that.
  • by billings, only 7% of Employment and Labor practice area matters are executed under AFAs. So, 17.3% of Employment and Labor matters were conducted under AFAs, but only 7% of billings. Might just be me, but that seems strange and I’d want to dig deeper into why that might be the case if my practice was showing these numbers. Then again, may just be the Pareto Theory in practice!
  • At roughly 2% of practice area billings, who says Real Estate has become a commoditized practice area? Because these numbers aren’t showing it.

Interesting numbers showing through this Report. Lots of chatter around the rise in M&A activity/revenue and the fact that “New Law” isn’t being hired to do big ticket work, but the use of AFAs and rationalization of legal panels (which I may well blog on later this week) were my two big takeouts.


Does your firm need a Head of Growth?

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I was away in the delightful Nelson Bay last week and so missed the opportunity to join the webinar co-presented by  John Grimley (@JohnGrimley) and Ivan Rasic (@Ivan_Rasic) on the issue of ‘Supercharge Your Law Firm Revenue With NewLaw And Big4 Sales Methods‘. Fortunately a recording of the webinar was made and you can now listen to this on YouTube (approximately one hour long, including the no-holds-barred Q+A session).

Anyhow, listening to John and Ivan’s webinar reminded me of a post on the Harvard Business Review website last month (February 19) titled ‘Every Company Needs a Growth Manager‘. In the post, the authors Jeff Bussgang and Nadav Benbarak set out very compelling reasons why every company (and not just Silicon Valley Tech companies) should have a growth manager or Head of Growth, many of which apply equally to professional services firms and so prompted this post.

Borrowing from Bussgang and Benbarak, the job description (JD) for the Head of Growth role at a law firm would likely say:

Oversight of client acquisition, activation, retention and cross-selling; working cross-functionally across the firm with Marketing & Business Development, IT, HR, Finance and Knowledge/Precedents to design, implement and execute on profitable growth initiatives within the business.

Although a number – if not all – of these functions are already happening with initiatives such as Key Account Management, Business Development, etc. I believe it is fair to say that it would be rare for these to be centralised under any one person’s control.

More to the point, many firms would benefit from giving an individual or team (depending on size) oversight to monitoring the right data and behaviours to ensure these key initiatives move forward without roadblocks. In turn, this should hopefully install a profitable growth mentality (aka, “profit principal”) within the firm as a whole (rather than the more traditional approach of having “star” teams).

It goes without saying that underlying all of this needs to be a well defined firm-wide strategic plan, which includes clearly defined growth objectives/targets. In addition, any firm looking to implement such a role/scheme would need to have a robust and honest client feedback program in place, as client insight needs to underpin any growth program.

Finally, the Head of Growth would need to work very closely with the Knowledge / Library team to implement a state of the art competitor intelligence analysis program – after all, it helps to know what’s going on in the market if you want to grow!

Ultimately, your Head of Growth would have the creative, analytical and strategic skills to work closely with the firm’s partners and leadership to get a clear understanding of your clients’ and target clients’ needs with the direct authority to implement a program or set of initiatives to target these needs and profitably grow your firm.

To sum up, although it would be a little unfair to say that, historically, professional services firms have not seen a need to grow their book of business – regardless of whether that was profitably or otherwise –  today’s highly competitive market certainly warrants your firm employing a Head of Growth position who is charged with oversight on growing the revenue and top-line profit of your firm.


Almost 20% of Australian law firms revenue is now coming from fixed fees


It has been a full six months since the last CommBank Legal Market Pulse (conducted by Beaton Research + Consulting) was published and from what I can tell from this latest publication, not very much has changed in that time.

While some members of the Australian legal publishing world have commented on the rising optimism (note this is “perception”, and this has gone from awful to not quite so awful), what grabbed my attention was a piece towards the end of the report (page 19) that states:

“Revenue is still predominantly derived from hourly rates. However, almost 20% of all firms revenue, irrespective of size, is now coming from fixed fees.”

I don’t have to hand data from 5 years ago that would allow me to do a comparison to see what this means in real terms, but given that IBISWorld puts the size of the Australian legal market at $23BN, that’s a lot of fixed fee generated revenue.

Somewhat surprisingly, there doesn’t appear to be a huge difference in the percentage of fixed fee revenue being derived at “top-tier” and “mid-tier” firms – with fixed fees accounting for 19.4% of revenue at top-tier firms and 19.2% among mid-tier firms.

The types of work for which fixed fees are being agreed/charged is also very similar – 88% for transactional matters at top-tier and 89% at mid-tier.

Notable, and surprisingly, is that top-tier firms would appear to be much more willing than mid-tier firms to offer fixed fees for litigation work – 50% to 33%.

But the test is always in the tasting (for wine lovers at least): so how good are Australian law firms at fixed fee pricing?

Well, not very if the data is to be believed. Asked for the margin on fixed fees relative to hourly rates, the responses were:

  • higher: 13% top-tier / 15% mid-tier;
  • lower: 0% top-tier (which seems a little hard to believe) / 56% mid-tier (which is probably being too honest)
  • about the same: 75% top-tier / 19% mid-tier; and
  • not sure: 13% top-tier / 11% mid-tier (which should be worrying some managing partners out there).

As well as finding out that Australian law firms are not very good at fixing fees, the report also tells us that over 67% of all law firm revenue still comes from standard hourly rates or discounted hourly rates. Here though, over 25% of revenue comes from “discounted” hourly rates – which begs the question: when do you start saying your discounted rates are your real rates?

Lastly, almost 3% of all law firm revenue now comes from retainer arrangements (2.6% for top-tier, 2.8% for mid-tier). Now that’s certainly something worth keeping an eye on!


CommBank Legal Market Pulse report – Q3 2014/15

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The third quarter (Q3) FY2015 edition of the CommBank Australian Legal Market Pulse Report (Report), with research conducted by Beaton Research + Consulting,  has just been published.

As usual, the Report provides useful insights into the latest thinking of Australian law firm managing partners/leadership, as well as the trends and developments impacting on the Australian private practice legal industry sector.

Interesting outtakes from the latest edition of the Report include:

  • although short-term (next 12 months) economic confidence is fairly dire, the long-term (24 months+) outlook is very positive.
  • surprisingly, given the lack of confidence in short-term economic conditions, every single top-tier surveyed firm is forecasting higher revenue in the next six months. As Marc Totaro’s introduction covers, top-tier firms expect this [next six months] revenue growth to come from Europe, Asia and Sydney; but this paints a little too rosy a picture to me.
  • both top-tier (67%) and mid-tier (47%) firms anticipate seeing revenue growth coming from their employment teams.
  • insurance (60%) related work gets the nod as the expected highest revenue growth area for mid-tier firms. While the Report doesn’t elaborate on whether this is claims related or commercial work, the recent re-jig in the market – with insurance teams moving from the top end of town firms to mid-tier firms – must certainly account for some of this positivity. This is probably also reflected in the fact that top-tier firms surveyed forecast a fall in their insurance practice revenue over the next six months.
  • excepted revenue growth within taxation (50%) ranked higher than I would have guessed among top-tier firms; but maybe this is more reflective of the time of year (Q3).
  • one possible hidden indicator in the Report: mid-tier firms seem more optimistic about getting their hands on “construction, engineering and major infrastructure” (50%) work than top-tier firms – who don’t rank this area in their top 3 revenue growth practices. On the flip-side, clearly the recent M&A work in “IT, telecoms and media” (think 9 Network and iiNet) has been going to the top-end of town with 67% of top-tier firms expecting this practice area to be one of their highest growth areas.
  • top-tier firms forecast revenue growth in UK/Europe, Asia, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney, but revenue in both Adelaide and Perth are predicted to contract.

The Report also provides forecasts on expected realisation rates (and if you thought these couldn’t possibly get any worse, think again), expenses* and outsourcing.

But, saving the best to last, probably the biggest shock the Report contains is the forecasted change in staffing; and, in particular, the bloodbath that is anticipated to take place within the partnership ranks of top-tier firms. And to be clear, a 33% and 67% forecasted decline in net proportion of equity and salaried partners respectively can only be described as a “bloodbath”!

As usual, I suggest you download and read the Report – it’ll make for an interesting weekend read.

* on a personal note, I see there is a forecasted 17% reduction in “Marketing and Business Development” expense by top-tier firms in the next six months. I can only hope that doesn’t come about.