How to succeed in the modern legal market
The recently released Georgetown Law and Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market paints a bleak financial picture for firms that remain wedded to business-as-usual strategies. By contrast, "law firms that proactively address the needs of their clients – e.g., by implementing alternative staffing strategies, pursuing flexible pricing models, adopting work process changes, making better use of innovative technologies, and the like – can achieve significant success."1
For anyone who has been following legal market trends, these conclusions are not new; the pressure on firms to deliver greater efficiency, predictability and cost effectiveness has been intensifying over the past several years. The question is, what concrete steps should firms take to be successful in this evolving legal market?
The answer to this question lies in the Report’s analysis of static and dynamic firms. Dynamic firms are those that fall into the top quartile of performance based on revenue per lawyer, profit, and profit margin. Static firms fall into the bottom quartile.2
The relative success of dynamic law firms is not a function of size, leverage, rate increases, or expense reductions. Instead, the dynamic firms are succeeding by taking a fresh approach to pricing and investing in technology that will help improve their efficiency, profitability, and data analytics. Below are three key takeaways from these firms’ strategies.
1. Focus on Communication, Not Discounts
Dynamic firms had substantially higher billing realization than static firms, meaning they discounted less and had fewer write offs. They also collected their fees more quickly than Static firms. The reason? Dynamic firms had better up-front communication with clients about costs.3
These results reflect a fact that all lawyers know but are not enough are addressing: clients react poorly to bills they did not expect and do not understand. Firms can help solve this communication gap by presenting pricing proposals that are clearly scoped at the outset.
2. Embrace Alternative Fee Arrangements
The percentage of revenue derived from alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) was comparable for both static and dynamic firms. However, their approach to AFAs was very different. 75% of the dynamic firms actively pursued AFAs with their clients, while 70 percent of static firms only offered AFAs reactively, in response to client request.4
Successful AFAs involve planning, project management and profitability analyses (which are hard and take time) as well as clear communication with clients about scope, staffing and risk (which can be uncomfortable). It is no surprise that firms willing to tackle these challenges head-on are thriving, while those that take a less systematic approach to AFAs are not.
3. Invest In Technology
Responding to client needs requires investment, and the dynamic firms’ investment in technology outpaced that of static firms by a rate of almost 3:1. Moreover, the dynamic firms’ technology investments are focused on increasing their workflow efficiency and enhancing their ability to analyze data and assess profitability.5
Dynamic firms are rising to the top because they are willing to examine their processes, adopt new technology, and change their ways to better meet the demands of their clients. While this has been true for some time, the 2018 Report indicates that the pace of change is accelerating, and the divide between firms that “get it” and those that do not is widening.
About the Author: Catherine Krow is the CEO of Digitory Legal, a legal budgeting and cost management platform and consulting service for law firms and corporate legal departments. Before founding Digitory Legal, Catherine practiced law at top-tier firms for seventeen years and was a Litigation Partner in the San Francisco office of Orrick, Herrington and Sutcliffe.
1 Georgetown Law Center for the Study of the Legal Profession and Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute and Peer Monitor, 2018 Report on the State of the Legal Market, Jan. 2018, at 17.
2 Id. (citing Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute, 2017 Dynamic Law Firms Study, Nov. 2017).
5 Id. at 17-18.