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Client Loyalty Post # 17 – Are you innovating or just following a fad?

05.19.21 | Susan Duncan

This is the seventeenth in our bi-weekly series of posts that provide excerpts and tips from our recently published book, Building Enduring Client Loyalty: A Guide for Lawyers and Their Firms. Click here to save 15%. Enter code ‘AUTHBEC’ at the checkout.

With so much talk about the need for innovation in the legal profession, many misconstrue that innovation in law firms is all about technology but it is not.  Some of the most fundamental innovation that is occurring has to do with how work is done, why, by whom and for whom. Innovation focuses on people, process and platform. Technology will be an essential enabler of the transformation taking place in the profession, but it is not in and of itself innovation in the delivery of legal services.

Innovation must solve a problem as well as create value or benefit to the client business. It also addresses the critical question of who delivers legal services. Traditionally, law has been practiced strictly by lawyers in law firms (and more recently by in-house lawyers in companies.)  Even with the recent advent of technology tools used for eDiscovery, contract management and other areas, the majority of legal services provided to clients by law firms still are managed and executed by lawyers who charge very expensive rates by the hour.

The book provides detailed explanations and steps to enable value and innovation along with many perspectives on innovation from the many general counsel we interviewed. In brief, four of the fundamental components of delivering value to clients include:

Knowledge Management (KM).  Knowledge management in law firms is derived by creating systems, platforms and processes to capture knowledge assets, expertise, experience and prior work product. It enables firms to capture and collect, store, share and refine knowledge that provides value to clients and the firm.  It prevents firms from reinventing the wheel and avoids the common problem of different lawyers in the firm using their own forms or pricing models or cutting and pasting from prior documents which creates inconsistency, uneven quality and inefficiency.

Project Management (PM).  The role of project management is to ensure that cases, matters and transactions are completed using: (1) the right staffing in terms of skills, level and cost, (2) processes and timelines to map and monitor workflow against schedules, and (3) objectives/outcomes and budgets that are developed and met, all while still achieving desired outcomes or results. Many law firms now often employ project management software and technology, employ certified and experienced project managers and train their lawyers to work beside these resources to better manage client work and expectations.

Scoping, Staffing, Budgeting and Billing Practices.  An essential component of effective project management is the development of a proper scoping plan right at the outset of an engagement. Once the project is well-defined, the next step is to determine how to best staff it for maximum efficiency and effectiveness. This will include consideration of expertise needed, whether that can be provided by in-house lawyers and paralegals, outside law firms, ALSPs, experts and other outsource options.

Billing.  The majority of law firms use the billable hour as their primary tracking and billing model. Fortunately, time-keeping methods and applications have improved significantly with the use of recording time in real time and using passive mechanisms to track time.  Clients often require their firms to use eBilling technology and Outside Counsel Guidelines have made it much more difficult for firms to bill for time that is not well-defined or allowed for in the guidelines.

Data Analytics.  Clients are looking to law firms to use data in ways that will help them provide better service, value and efficiency. They are accessing publicly available data on billing rates and costs for types of matters across jurisdictions and then combining that with their own analysis of data histories on cases, costs, firms, timelines and outcomes. Clients want firms to be able to better predict the cost and price of cases, matters, and transactions at the portfolio, matter or task level.

“Technology solutions need to bring together people, process and technology. You can have the technology but it has to be part of a process that is accessible, and you need the people to be convinced to use it.  Getting people to change is very hard. It has to be fast and intuitive, and show an immediate benefit.”  Mark Chandler, EVP, Chief Legal Officer and Chief Compliance Officer, Cisco Systems, Inc.

RainMaking Oasis provides consulting and coaching services to law firms and lawyers in the areas of client loyalty and development, business development and growth strategy, collaboration and innovation and succession planning. Please contact Susan Duncan at [email protected].