You’d have to have been hiding under a rock for past two years not to have seen an article or two on the benefits/pitfalls of remote working. But, as we move into the next phase of this pandemic/endemic, one in which we must start to learn to live with COVID, law firm management now need to be asking:
‘What does the future of the office look like for our firm?’
Truth is, there’s no simple answer to this question. On the one hand, we have those who advocate that “distance breeds distrust” and “out of sight, out of mind”. On the other hand, we have a lot of people saying we’re not going back to the old ways – and if you make us, we will part of the Great Resignation.
One answer to this issue might be in what the Australian Financial Review recently termed ‘Anchor Days’.
As per the AFR article, ‘Anchor Days’ are days on which a group of employees (in the same team) agree to go into the office on the same day each week with the aim of enhancing collaboration and ensuring a more lively office culture.
While I like the concept of Anchor Days, I think I should also point out that, from my reading, it comes with a couple of major misconceptions:
we all work in the same physical location (geographically in the same State/Cities, but also on the same floor of a building!).
that collaboration is more likely to happen in physical presence, when what we actually find is that collaboration more likely occurs with inclusion, and inclusion is more aligned with trust. QED, if you want more collaboration within your team, then trusting that your team can get it’s shit done here remotely/agile and not dictating collaboration top down, is a big step in the right direction.
My final comment: if Anchor Days become a thing, what day(s) would you chose?
Last week saw the publication of the 14th edition of CommBank’s Legal Market Pulse report for 2021. What I recall starting out as a quarterly, then half-yearly, report, now looks to be permanently set as an annual publication (feel free to do a search of my previous posts on the CommBank report to see some of the history behind this).
Anyhow, the overriding message of this year’s Report is that the pandemic had little affect on overall profit growth at most Australian law firms (probably as a result of dramatically reduced costs). And with year-on-year median 12.1% growth in profit, on first look it appears that the profession is going great guns. Which, as someone who advises to the profession, is great news!
But where do law firms think growth will come from over the next 3 years?
How Australian law firms are looking to grow over the next 3 years?
Looking at page 11 of the Report, Australian law firms will primarily look at the following 11 ways to grow their firm’s revenue over the next 3 years:
If you missed it, last week TikTok owner Byte-dance announced that it was moving its employees away from their 996 work week to a new 1075 work week.
For the uninformed, which included me until last week, 9-9-6 required Byte-dance employees to work from 9am to 9pm 6 days a week. A time schedule that would make most lawyers blush. Fortunately for Byte-dance employees, their new – light-on – work schedule is 10-7-5, or from 10am to 7pm 5 days a week.
Clearly a step in the right direction when it comes to employee well-being and mental health.
Anyhow, I comment on this for three reasons:
First, Legal Cheek recently published a post that revealed the average working hours of junior lawyers in the UK. Of the 2,500 junior lawyers surveyed, junior lawyers at Kirkland & Ellis racked up the longest average working day, clocking on at a tardy 9:14am and off at 11:28pm. The survey is silent on whether this is a 5, 6 or 7 day week. I recommend you take a look at the full list, makes for rather sad reading (if junior lawyer mental health really is an issue of concern for the industry)
Second, last week the New York State Bar Association Task Force on Attorney Well-being suggested that there be a cap on billable hours at 1,800 hours per year.
The announcement had no less than Roy Strom comment on Bloomberg Law that:
Firms are too scared to impose a cap because it would be hard to hire the number of additional lawyers the cap would require. It would also put a huge dent in profits.
The billable hour serves as something of a measuring cup ambitious people pour themselves into. The unfortunate truth about Big Law is that it doesn’t have many alternative definitions of success.
If Roy’s comment is right, and it is an unfortunate truth that Big law has little alternative but to measure success by the amount of hours billed then, in my view, that is a really sad reflection of our industry. Because surely other metrics, such as the quality of the work provided and client satisfaction should have equal weighting. Not to mention churn and retention rates.
My third and last reason for commenting on all this is a personal one. I have long said that asking lawyers to work 2,000+ billable hours a year wasn’t a good thing – and there must be a reason why that is my most read post, so there is some comfort in seeing such an esteemed group as the New York Bar Association finally agree with me.
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):-
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!
‘What would be some of the things I would want to be looking out for in a law firm’s invoice?
So here’s a quick list of my 10 things, but feel free to add your own 🤪 :-
Being charged [for]:
Expenses/disbursement – especially if they are unaccounted for (and particularly on fixed fee matters)
Travel time – especially if your lawyer is in the same town/city as you
‘Reading in’ time – especially when a new lawyer joins the team because one of the original team members has resigned or left the team
Team meetings to discuss your case/matter
Multiple lawyers attending the same meeting – especially if they have different time eateries
‘Out of scope’ work without a corresponding change order
Block billing of numerous tasks without explanation
Promotions – charge-out rates being increased for lawyers on your case because they have gain an additional year of post-qualified experience without adding any additional value
‘Bill padding’/‘Rounding up’ – when your lawyer rounds their time up to the next billable unit
‘Stickiness’ – where senior lawyers are doing work on your file that could be easily have been done by more junior lawyers, but they do it because they need to meet their internal billable targets.have different time.
As I say, feel free to add some of your own in the comments.
As far as I’m aware, Apple has never allowed retailers to discount (or have any other say in) its products pricing.
As far as I have understood it, Apple’s rational for this because it has always insisted that it – and it alone – has complete control over its pricing.
Why is this important?
In short, because while you will see retailers heavily discounting every other computer software and hardware manufacturers’ products during this year’s EOFY (lockdown) sales, no such offer is made on Apple products.
You don’t see red ink on Apple product price tags.
So what can law firms learn from this approach?
Always understand the value you provide to your clients
There’s a saying that overnight successes take 20 years to happen. I generally agree with that; it is rare indeed to come across a true overnight success. With the incredible ascent of the Legal Operations role within the legal ecosystem over the past five years, I am, however, willing to make an exception to this saying.
CLOC – the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium – was co-founded by Mary O’Carroll and Betsi Roach in 2016. From my background reading I understand Mary and Betsi started CLOC as quasi book club membership group for quirky people with a legal operations title or elements of legal operation within their role.
Within a very short period of time, CLOC had set parameters around what they called the ‘Core 12’ skill-sets/roles of a Legal Operations professional. These include:
Firm & Vendor Management
Organization Optimization & Health
Service Delivery Models
Training & Development
So far, so good. Nothing too exciting about this.
Legal Operations: Where are we today?
‘Fast’ forward (if you can) six years and CLOC and the role of Legal Operations has a massive global footprint, as evidenced by the release of two reports in that past month that clearly highlight the rapid ascent of this role within in-house legal teams.
This Report contains the following telling graph – the massive increase in the percentage of [legal] departments with at least one legal operations professional.
Take that graph in for a second.
Now let’s give it some context.
In 2020, just before COVID, when discussing CLOC and its role in ‘Episode 27: Legal Operation is it the new legal business game changer‘ of The Legalpreneurs Sandbox, the panel of presenters at the Centre for Legal Innovation (lead by the wonderful Terri Mottershead), took the best past of an hour explaining who CLOC where and what the Legal Operations role was.
This is in no way a negative comment on the Centre – far from it. They are a leading edge think-tank of highly knowledgeable people talking an audience that know what is going on at the forefront of legal innovation.
Frankly, they’re a clever bunch.
And yet, even for them, the ascent of this ‘Legal Operations’ role was – not to put too fine a point on it – mind-blowing.
The Gartner Graph
So we come to the second graph, which comes from a Gartner report that I read earlier today.
Again, this graph blows my mind. But, in this case, so far as I am concerned, the mind-blowing detail isn’t in the astronomical rise of Legal Operations role (which I think relies heavily on the ACC graph above), as it is in the number of so-called ‘non-lawyers’ who are doing this role.
If the growth in that yellow box doesn’t have you shaking your head, go back and take another look at the skill in CLOC’s Core 12 above. Then tell yourself that a ‘non-lawyer’ is in charge of those skills.
So what does this mean for law firms going forward?
The honest answer is, I don’t know.
I have yet to to decide exactly where the role of Legal Operations fits. Clearly this is an important role that will have a significant role to play in the day-to-day running of a legal team. But how do the tasks of Firm Vendor Management, Service Delivery Models and Strategic Planning fit with the role Procurement plays?
Truth is, I don’t yet know.
What these charts do show me though is that the role of Legal Operations here is to stay. We best get used to. And we best get used to working with them. So make sure it a discussion topic within your firm. And, I suspect you will actually be seeing this role playing out in your firm – with a ‘non-lawyer’ in charge!
As always, the above represent my own thoughts only and would love to hear yours.
Tracking the responses to this question over a six month period (see graph above) has been interesting.
Extending payment terms; which I thought would have ballooned, has actually contracted.
Ask for (additional) discounts; which I would have thought would be leading the pack, has actually held relatively steady.
Bring more work in-house (outside of a blip in June) has held relatively steady. But more on this one in a second.
Hire alternative legal providers has actually ballooned, and may go some way to explaining why may believe the alternative legal services providers have been the real winners from COVID-19 – there time has come.
Renegotiating terms with law firms – more on this one below.
Pushing non-urgent work to a later date. No surprises with this one, makes perfect sense.
Cut non-essential costs: this one has shrunk relatively significantly since April. Not sure if that tells us there isn’t much ‘fat’ in in-house teams?
Reduce internal head count; is on the increase again and would seem to suggest a conflict with the “bring more work in-house” response above. Alternatively, in-house teams are really busy at the moment, which coupled with the rise in the use of alternative legal providers could well be very true.
Anyhow, the purpose of this post was to remake on the significant rise in clients ‘renegotiating terms with law firms’.
While this BLC reports (from what I could find) doesn’t define how this renegotiation process is happening, my experience has been that since May of 2020 there has been a significant increase in pitch and tender activity. Many clients are looking for significant savings and are looking to lock law firms into those savings for lengthy periods of time.
And I would have to say that I expect this trend to grow, so if you are a private practice lawyer who hasn’t yet locked-in expert pursuit/pitch/pricing expertise, you’re probably in for a rough 2021.
In any event, keep an eye on BLC – seeing where this trend tack us will be interested in the coming months.
As always, the above represent my own thoughts only and would love to hear yours.