June 2014

I ran across an interesting article in Attorney at Work, Trends in Legal Pricing and Project Management. The article reported on the recent P3 Conference offered by the Legal Marketing Association.  The three P’s are pricing, project Management and process improvement.  Having just written a book that covers these topics (and more), I was interested to hear the latest.  Unfortunately, it seems like so much pablum.  Of course, my reactions below are based solely on this article and there may well have been much more to the Conference.

The basic idea, that pricing is about more than just the price offered but must include tools to bring value to the price offered, is one I have written about many times.  Unfortunately, the focus on project management and process improvement ignores the critical role other tools play in creating value.  My forthcoming book, for example, contains chapters on early case assessment, decision trees, disaggregation, managing risk and after action assessments.  Each of these tools, particularly managing risk, is critical to obtaining value.  To illustrate, if a client is unwilling to accept a modest amount of increased risk, it is hard to create significant value because the same old run-down-every-rabbit-hole approach will be a huge driver of high cost service.

But the points there were covered were much more “glass half empty” than “half full.” The author, Steve Nelson, reports that “law firm teams in pricing and project management are growing quickly.”  There are now 16 non-practicing pricing and project management professionals at Reed Smith and a whopping 12 at Mayer Brown.   At this pace, the firms will have the staffs they really need by the start of the 22nd century.  These numbers, to me, show that the firms are playing at the periphery and doing little more than paying lip service to the importance project management and process improvement play in generating value. If you take the “some is better than none” view of things, than sure, these numbers show an improvement.  But that bar is set so low that it will be hard not to trip over it.

The next point is that “there is a growing focus on budgets.” Really?  That has only been an issue since the early 1990s.  That is immediately followed by the point that “clients are bulking up too.”  Again, this is not news.  Maybe some clients are late to the party, but there was this thing called The Great Recession that caused many clients to focus on this issue years ago.

The next point, “beyond spreadsheets” is about the role of technology in pricing.  Technology that utilizes the prior billable hour work doesn’t really bring much value to the table other than setting a bogey that firms should be able to beat for similar work.  And beat significantly—think on the order of 20-30%.  I am not aware of many firms who are using technology for pricing that provides real value to their clients.

The last point, “proving ground for tomorrow’s law firm leaders,” is an important one, but only because it provides career-path guidance to young attorneys.  I am not sure I agree with Toby Brown’s statement that future COOs could come from those handling practice innovation.  Toby is a highly accomplished and very rare pricing and practice specialist.  He likely is destined for high levels of firm management, but firms need to reach the point Akin has in embracing the ideas of value pricing.  Few have.

It sounds as if the P3 Conference was a “just scratch the surface” event.  At least the article suggests such was the case.  Even if not, the perception that creating pricing value is easily accomplished does a huge disservice to the endeavor. The challenges firms face to providing better pricing are core to their business model and require changes to firm DNA.  Few are willing to expend the energy to truly accomplish the objective.

Fascinating article in today’s Wall Street Journal, A Company Without Email? Not So Fast.  The article features companies that have tried to do their work without email and addresses how hard it has been to accomplish that goal.  But what really got my attention was this:

Email usage is “exploding,” said Gloria Mark, a professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied how workers interact with the technology. Not only are workers wading through ever more clogged in-boxes, they’re also checking frequently, an average of 74 times a day, according to coming research from Prof. Mark.

Seventy-four times a day?  Wow.  That seems like an enormous waste, not just from the inefficiency of the disruption itself, but also from the time needed to get back on task at the same point as before the interruption.

And it seems so unnecessary. Think about this from the standpoint of the litigation world.  Someone sends an email about a case. Is it time sensitive?  Probably not, meaning the disruption at that moment is a subtraction from value, not a value add.  What if non-critical emails went instead to a discussion forum about the case, where you could review all of the updates (they aren’t emails anymore) at a given time, when it is convenient for you instead of at the whim of the sender?  I believe this kind of discussion forum approach would be a hugely positive thing from a quality and efficiency standpoint.

Is there more?  Seems like it.

A 2012 study from Prof. Mark and several colleagues found that workers who were cut off from their email focused for longer periods of time, switching screens less frequently, and were less stressed, as measured by heart-rate monitors.

I have said before that I think email has a limited shelf-life.  My teenage kids simply ignore email.  If it isn’t part of their world, the odds are that the world will change to their way of thinking, perhaps only eventually.  Eventually, but certainly.

If anyone has any products or ideas to share to help businesses move away from email, please share them.

The New York Law Journal reports that the number of lawyers in the top 100 firms in New York City has declined yet again.

The number of attorneys employed full time by the largest private law offices in New York continues to decline, a trend that began with the 2008 financial crisis, according to data gathered for the New York Law Journal’s annual NYLJ 100 survey. Hiring is up, however, among regional and out-of-state firms….

Among these 100 law offices, 53 saw a net loss of New York attorneys from 2012 to 2013; two saw no change and 43 had a net gain. (Year-to-year changes in two firms’ head count could not be calculated due to mergers.)
The amount of work clients need to have performed certainly has not declined in total since 2008.  Does this mean work is going elsewhere?  That firms are becoming significantly more efficient in how they handle work?  Both?  Neither?
I would love to see data on this point, but my guess is that work is being moved to lower cost providers and some measure of the work is being handled by LPOs.  Just a hunch.

I ran across an infographic in Inc. that captured my attention—16 Brilliant Marketing Quotes from Don Draper.  As a fan of the show, how could I not read the quotes? As I read them, I couldn’t help wonder if the lines from the show were also written for lawyers. Some seem to be.  Others, not so much.

“The day you sign a client is the day you start losing one.”

You certainly need this mindset if you are going to create a long-term client relationship.  If nothing else, fear of losing a client should cause you to be certain your service quality and work quality are the very best you can offer.  Fear of loss can be a powerful motivator.

Our worst fears lie in anticipation.

The antidote to anticipation is execution.

Even though success is a reality, its effects are temporary.

And this is as it should be.  As a service provider, the focus has to be on tomorrow.  We have a sign posted in our office that says “If we haven’t exceeded our client’s wildest dreams today, someone else will tomorrow.”  Businesses look forward.  We need to as well.

If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.

In some respects, this is the essence of the New Normal.  The conversation created by OldLaw is now supplemented by the New Normal, referred to by Mike Ayotte as “BetterLaw” and “NewLaw”.

Advertising is based on one thing, happiness.  And you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car. It is freedom from fear. It’s a billboard on the side of the road that screams reassurance that you are doing is okay. You are okay.

Happiness. Freedom from fear. Reassurance.  These words scream client service.  They are not the only words that do so, but they are on the right track.

It’s your life. You don’t know how long it’s gonna last, but you know it doesn’t end well. You’ve gotta move forward as soon as you can figure out what that means.”

In his famous address to a Stanford graduating class, Steve Jobs said much the same thing. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living some else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

I hate to break it to you, but there is no big lie, there is no system, the universe is indifferent.

If you meet a client’s real need, you can succeed.

We’re gonna sit at our desks typing while the walls fall down around us. Because we’re the least important, most important thing there is.

People want to be told what to do so badly that they’ll listen to anyone.

You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex.  They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.

What you call love was invented by guys like me…to sell nylons.

It wasn’t a lie, it was ineptitude with insufficient cover.

Everybody else’s tobacco is poisonous. Lucky Strikes’ … is toasted.

These six really add nothing to the New Normal, BetterLaw dialog. They reflect enormous cynicism, and that is an anathema to the New Normal.

But what is happiness, it’s a moment before you need more happiness.

The same is true for providing client satisfaction.  You cannot be static in a changing world.

Change is neither good or bad, it simply is.

Amen, Don. People who resist will lose out, some sooner, some later, but those who resist will lose.  This is a truth proven through the history of human-kind. Those who embrace change can ride the wave.

And lastly….

Nostalgia: it’s delicate, but potent….In Greek, nostaligia literally means the pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone.

This factor explains why change is hard, why it takes not just great effort, but great effort over an extended period of time.  It is the difference between running a mile and running a marathon.