Legal Process Outsourcing

Tribes, Teams and Pricing the ‘New Normal’

The goal isn’t to find people who have already decided that they urgently want to go where you are going. The goal is to find a community of people that desire to be in sync and who have a bias in favor of the action you want them to take.

Seth Godin

TRIBES

In around 2009 I recall reading Seth Godin’s, then recently published, blockbuster ‘Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us‘ and thinking this would have a profound impact on the way clients engage law firms. To give this thought some context, it was around the same time as we had started talking about a new fad called ‘unbundled legal services‘ (which would later also become known as ‘limited scope representation‘ – see ‘The great unbundling of legal work‘ in the Australian Financial Review). It was also a time when ‘disaggregation‘ and the rise of Legal Process Outsourcing (LPOs) (predominately in India at that time but later this would extend to South East Asia and South Asia) would have many of us who worked on bids and tenders discussing issues around disruption of the legal services supply chain – if for no other reason than clients were asking us to provide answers to these questions in their requests for tenders.

A cold wind, amounting to real structural change, in the way clients purchased their legal services was coming (Pfizer Legal Alliance).

THE ‘NEW NORMAL 1.0’

Fast forward a decade and probably the only person who still talks to me about Seth’s Tribes is my good friend Julian Summerhayes, and it is never within the context of an RFT or legal services more broadly.

Nope, in short tribes, disaggregation and unbundling, while definitely remaining vogue, never really had the impact and penetration that I – and I would suggest many others – thought they would.

The ‘New Normal 1.0’ had, to all practical purposes, failed.

KRYPTONITE TO THE ‘NEW NORMAL’ – TEAMS

Probably the biggest obstacle to the growth of tribes post 2009 has been the role that teams have historically played within the legal profession.

Since the times of Dickens a junior apprentice lawyer has worked with, and been mentored by, their senior (supervising) partner. It has always been thus, and with it has come an almost umbilical cord tie between lawyers who have worked in the same team.

Many an in-house General Counsel has sat at the foot of the table of the private practice partner to whom they send instructions. A relationship that has been forged within the confines of a team structure.

TRIBES REBOOTED – TRIBES 2.0

It’s my opinion that one of the biggest likely outcomes COVID-19 will have on the profession is the re-emergence of tribes – tribes 2.0!

There are a number of reasons why I think this might be the case, but probably the biggest is that in-house counsel have, over the past three months, become used to working with remote teams.

It should not, then, be too far removed to say that in-house counsel will be happy working with subject matter experts across firms who can enable them to achieve their objectives rather than with an individual firm that might get them across the line.

In short, on the right deal, in-house counsel will be happy to work with a group of lawyers from various law firms rather than one firm – a tribe over a team.

THE CHALLENGES

Moving from teams to tribes is not a foregone conclusion, it faces challenges.

High among these will be:

  • How is risk allocated?
  • Who wears the professional indemnity risk?

My own view is that these can be overcome with:

  • properly scoped Engagement Letters
  • proper use of Legal Project Management
  • a good understanding of Workflow Process Methodology

But that still leaves the issue: How do we price the ‘New Normal 2.0’?

HOW TO PRICE THE ‘NEW NORMAL 2.0’?

The cynic in me says that many law firms will not have the first idea how to price the New Normal 2.0. This presents a significant problem because if they cannot price it, then they cannot sell it (pricing still remains the principal form of credentialisation despite, or rather because of, whatever experience you claim to have).

ONE ANSWER – THE ROLE OF SCOPE PRICING IN THE ‘NEW NORMAL 2.0’

Scope pricing will play a critical role in the pricing in the ‘New Normal 2.0’.

Unlike a fixed fee, capped or fee estimate pricing, scope pricing does it exactly what it says on the tin – it prices to the scope of work being undertaken by the relevant lawyer. This means that proper use of scope pricing should allow in-house to teams to unbundle the legal work within their project – either between the role the in-house plays and the role the private practice firm plays; or, in the case of this post, the role that multiple lawyers with subject matter expertise from various firms play in a project.

And, if done properly, the biggest upside to scope pricing over any other type of pricing of legal services is that, by definition, there really shouldn’t be any scope creep – what you see [in the tin] is what you get!

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‘Alternative’ – but to what?

For an industry that claims to make its livelihood on the definition, use and interpretation of words, in my opinion the legal industry has become rather lax in our use of the word ‘alternative’.

Big claim. So what do I mean by this?

Well, let’s look at the word ‘alternative’:- post GFC we hear the term ‘alternative’ almost daily in respect of ‘alternative fee arrangements’ (AFAS); and, ever increasingly, we now hear ‘alternative’ in respect of ‘alternative legal service providers’.

But how often do we ask – ‘alternative to what’?

Are we talking about ‘alternative’ to what we already have and do?

Because if that’s the case then we are not being true to our esprit de corps, namely ‘words have meaning’.

i.e. there is nothing ‘alternative’ in the term ‘alternative fee arrangements’. There are merely hourly rates, fixed fees and some sort of risk sharing arrangement fee agreement. In short, fee agreements.

And, as Heather Suttie eloquently put in her post today, there are no “alternative” legal service providers. There are just legal service providers (some of which, surprise surprise, serve different clientele).

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

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ps: the only thing I would add to Heather’s post is Pangea3 – 2004

“… we are being asked to do less with less”, Ann Klee of GE

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Work in the legal profession for more than 5 minutes and you’ll hear someone say that clients today are asking the law firm to do “more for less“. It is probably one of the fastest terms to become a cliché in the English language.

So imagine my delight, when watching a video of a presentation given by Ann Klee, VP of Global Operations — Environment, Health & Safety, at General Electric Company at the recent Big Law Business Summit, in describing how (in part) GE managed to reduce its outside legal spend by $60 million in a year, she says that the bottom line is that the role of a lawyer today is about managing more risk, it’s not about just being asked to do more for less, it’s being asked to do less with less (see 16 minutes and 15 seconds into video).

This absolutely spot on.

Law firms today need to:

  • partner with the business to empower their clients,
  • always be looking to deliver on outcomes, not to be following procedure for procedure’s sake (or, worse, following procedure to blow out legal fees),
  • through the use of legal project management, agile or some other mechanism that works for you: identify and eliminate any workflows that are adding no value to the deal/advice.

In short: we need to be doing ‘less for less‘, but we need to be doing it in such a way that is “faster, better, and smarter” for our clients.

At the end of the day, clients like GE are already doing this – so law firms today can either get on board with solving their clients’ problems from their clients’ perspective, at a standard of accountability that their clients are being held to; or they face the very real prospect of becoming irrelevant.

How about applying the “Moscow” process to your next costing letter

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Over the weekend I read a post over on the www.pmhut.com website by Chuck Snead – An Agile Primer: Agile Estimating and the “MoSCoW Process” – which contained an interesting process that I would like to share with you today.

Although the www.pmhut.com website (the “pm” here standing for “Project Management”) doesn’t do posts that relate directly to either law firm business development or marketing, I enjoy reading their posts as I find many of the concepts they cover can easily be applied to the industry. As was the case this weekend, with a guest post by Snead which threw up a very interesting acronym and concept that I had not previously heard of – the “MoSCoW Process”  – and which I now believe should be tailored to form part of any law firm costing/engagement/fee proposal letter process with your client.

So here goes.

Snead stipulates that:

MoSCoW is an acronym for prioritizing feature development along the following guidelines:

  • MUST have features that are required for the project to be called a success.
  • SHOULD have features that have a high priority, but are not required for success.
  • COULD have features which would be nice to have, but are not high priority.
  • WON’T have features that stakeholders agree should be in a future release.

Now let’s apply this to the law firm costing/engagement/fee proposal letter process you go through with your client and agree that your next costing/engagement/fee proposal will include the following:

  • a section in the letter setting out all of the actions/tasks that MUST be done in order for the client’s objective to be met [Category 1 critical]. Here, assign who will be given the task and either the fixed or estimated cost to achieve these tasks; next
  • a section in the letter setting out the actions/tasks that would it would be ‘nice’ (SHOULD) if they were done, but they are not critical to the achievement of the client’s objective(s)[Category 2 critical]. Again, assign who would be given the task if there is sufficient time/budget/desire, etc and either the fixed or estimated cost to achieve these tasks; next
  • a section in the letter setting out the actions/tasks that are [remote] ‘possibles’ (COULD) that may arise out of the client undertaking the action they are planning to take. It should be noted that this should be remote variables/possibilities [Category 3 – variables]. Again, assign who would be given the task if one of these remote variables were to arise and wherever possible attach a fixed fee or estimate against the task; finally
  • set out clearly in the letter those actions the law firm WON’T be taking (is not instructed to take). Now it could be the case that these actions are still needed in order for the client’s objectives to be met, but they will be undertaken elsewhere (eg, in-house or through an LPO) [Category 4 – won’t dos]. Note, this is not a ‘disclaimer’ or limitation on liability section per se, but assigning tasks so that each party knows exactly what is and what is not required of them.

Anyone else out there think we may just have a few less angry client complaints if we went through a process like this each time we took on a new matter?

This process might not be perfect, and it could well need a tweak here and there, but I do think it will go a long way to helping lawyers fully understand the scope and nature of the instruction(s) they receive from their client(s) and lead to less misunderstanding in the industry.

And if that’s the case, the result is a win-win all round.

Law firms: cannibalisation is the only way you can beat cheaper competitors

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The only way for a company to deal with cheaper competition was to set up a different company with an “invitation to kill its parent”

So says Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen during a recent visit to Hong Kong – as cited in an interesting article published in the South China Morning Post on Friday 20 March.

With the fairly recent introductions to the legal market of:

to name a few of the internationals, as well as Corrs Chambers Westgarth’s Orbit closer to home, makes me wonder if the legal sector has taken this message to heart and is now processing this strategy to their business.

All of this activity also reminds of the time I once overhead someone saying the day would come when Riverview Law would be bigger than DLA Piper. Might not happen in my working life, but not totally unthinkable in this day and age.