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Legal Practice Management

How will legal operations teams shape the “New Normal” for legal?

William Josten  Senior Manager, Enterprise Content - Legal, Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

William Josten  Senior Manager, Enterprise Content - Legal, Thomson Reuters Institute

· 5 minute read

Legal operations teams may hold the key for how law firms will deliver value to their clients & navigate the high degree of uncertainty of a market in flux

The “new normal” is something more to be guessed at than completely understood at this point, as there remains a high degree of uncertainty around so many facets of life. This holds equally true for the legal industry.

Yet, that same high degree of uncertainty present opportunities for law firms to provide stability and timely advice for their clients, and to innovate how they deliver legal services in a way that will hopefully make those firms more competitive in a market in flux.

I recently had a chance to participate in a call with members of the Pricing Leaders Cohort for the True Value Partnering Institute (TVPI), a community of senior business professionals who are responsible for driving value in the legal sector. The cohort, one of several that TVPI runs, is made up of experienced pricing leaders who meet regularly for premium business education and to discuss the bigger picture issues facing the legal sector and how they are meeting those challenges as a general means of learning from their peers.

You can find more content done in conjunction with the True Value Partnering Institute here.

The meeting I attended featured the following discussion question: What is really going to happen with clients and law firms in response to this crisis — and how do we shape this?

Some of the key takeaways from the discussion included:

      • The spread of law firm operating models will widen. Stronger law firms will double down on pricing and legal project management teams while weaker firms will maintain or reduce their team size.
      • Firms with mature pricing functions will see an increased focus on project management as pricing pressure increases. Firms with less mature pricing functions will need to build out those functions before they will be able to focus on their legal project management team.
      • Many client in-house teams will hold headcount steady or may even decrease in size, both in terms of attorneys and legal operations staff. As matter volumes continue to increase, this will likely cause the pendulum to swing back to law firms and alternative legal services providers (ALSPs). This may also be the catalyst for more law firms to build out their alternative business models.
      • Firms will compete on price in the short-term in industry sectors impacted by COVID-19; and for some sectors, this competition could be quite aggressive. Efforts by some law firms to offer discounted rates, as opposed to time-bound fee relief, could move clients away from an exploration of alternative pricing models, even if those alternative models might have greater long-term benefits.
      • Firms will respond to the market disruption with staffing model changes. These could include exploring alternative positions for associates and other timekeepers, such as off-site contract attorneys. These changes in how matters are staffed will necessarily impact how those matters are priced.
      • Data analysis and integrity will become more important. Clients have already begun asking for data to back up service delivery, and as the desire for data increases, we will see more uniformity and categorization of matter-level and task-level data as well as the adoption of software that facilitates data analysis.
      • Clients with significant books of business with a given firm will request additional levels of support, such as secondments and other value-adds in return for continued high spend. Even in the absence of such requests, firms may proactively offer such support in areas where in-house teams at key clients have a need.
      • Procurement functions will re-enter the legal cost-control field and re-engage with similar tactics seen after the financial crisis.

Some of these trends are already being seen in the legal market. Others will have slower rates of development but could lead to much longer lasting change, nonetheless.

While much of what the so-called new normal will look like remains uncertain, a few things are clear. Clients will continue to expect an increasing degree of clarity and certainty around pricing — this was true before the economic crisis that has accompanied the pandemic, and current circumstances certainly will not leverage away from it. Indeed, clients will re-examine how they source their legal services, and those with the capability to do so will likely involve corporate procurement resources.

Those law firms with the capability to address both the buy-side and the sell-side of the legal operations equation will be best positioned to not only meet the demands of the new normal but also to shape what this next phase will be.

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