A recent panel discussion addressed the state of legal pricing and project management as well as the evolution of those roles within law firms today
I recently had the pleasure of moderating a fascinating discussion on the evolution of the pricing professional and the use of technology for matter pricing and legal project management (LPM). The panel discussion, hosted by the Legal Value Network (LVN), brought together a matter pricing and LPM experts from three separate firms to discuss, in broad terms, what the state of legal pricing and project management looked like, the evolution of those roles within a firm, and what part technology plays within the overall process.
Where we started
All firms had to start somewhere, and that for many, there was a disjointed initial Wild West approach to pricing and LPM. Lawyers could price matters how they saw fit, offering a variety of fee arraignments which may or may not have been in the best interest of the firm. In short, there was little to no discipline.
The key takeaway from all the panelists: Start somewhere. Establishing a dedicated pricing role or department at the firm is the single most important step a firm can take. Once in place — as with anything new — it may take some time for existing processes and personnel to adapt. And during this time, the backing of management is of the utmost importance as the process continues to evolve.
By doing this, you will allow your firm to offer consistency, accountability, and continuity across all practice groups and departments, which can, in turn, lead to higher profitability and a greater visibility of potential issues.
The future of the role
Every firm has a slightly different take on what a business professional is and does, as well as where they sit in terms of department and reporting hierarchy. That said, what became very clear from the panel, is that, regardless of the structure, the role of the business professional at a firm has changed dramatically over the years and is still in a state of constant evolution. It has moved from being a predominantly inward facing role to include an outward facing dimension. This recent development is extremely important as the legal industry moves towards a more transactional model. The objective of making it easier for clients to do business with a firm is of paramount importance, and the pricing and LPM professional plays a central part in ensuring consistency and a continuity of experience across the firm.
A few other takeaways emerged from the panel as well, including:
- Be flexible in your approach — This stood out as the most important. As the saying goes, one size does not fit all, and the responsibilities and interactions of these business professionals will largely depend on the interplay of firm culture and the firm’s openness to change. However, flexibility is essential.
- Be ready to rethink and reimagine — As with any “newer” process or undertaking, it is vital to evaluate the responsibilities of the role and its interaction both internally and externally. The roles are changing, and the added dimensions of client success and perception of client value are taking on a larger dimension in the responsibilities of the pricing and LMP professionals. This evolution will necessarily impact how these roles are structured.
The use of technology
As pricing and LPM roles have evolved, so too has the use of technology to support these functions within the business of law. Much like the industry writ large, software vendors have shaped and adapted their offerings to suit client demand. At BigHand, we have watched the evolution of our matter pricing technology be pulled into a variety of directions to suit the needs and demands of a fast-moving market. Despite this, finding the right tools remains challenging. It’s important to remember, for example, that:
- Pricing and LPM tech must be unobtrusive — The best technology is one you don’t know you are using, and this can be especially true for lawyers who have built many years of success based on a certain mindset and way of working.
- You will be using more than one technology — Because the needs of the pricing professional, LPM professional, and lawyer are different, it will likely be impossible to find one solution that will meet the unique challenges and requirements of each constituency.
The client bonus
If I could boil down the entire panel discussion to one key word, it would be expectation. Clients now expect more and expect better from their outside legal service providers. As the panel phrased it, “sophistication breeds expectation” — and remember, your law firm is not the only firm with which your client interacts.
The panel also observed that, whether your role is that of business professional, partner, associate, or other, you should be asking yourself:
- What are my peers offering my client?
- What are my client’s expectations regarding their interactions with me and our firm, the sophistication of the pricing options we offer, our pricing models, and our use of technology?
The level of sophistication in your client interactions can be driven by you — or by your peers and competitors. Either way, there is an expectation in the market, and it will be incumbent on the pricing and LPM professionals within your firm to help learn and meet that expectation.
This article was authored by Rob Stote, who has more than 20 years of experience in the legal software industry with expertise in law firm process, billing, and practice management.