Most people in the legal industry feel like they’re finally starting to get a handle on the various things that have been changing in recent years. We’ve become accustomed to the ideas of shifting client expectations, a buyer’s market for legal services, savvier clients, and the need to change the way legal services are offered and priced.
Now comes the hard question: How do we manage our law practice through these changes and come out on top?
At last year’s Legal Marketing Association’s P3 conference in Chicago (which I wrote about here and here) this was a huge topic of conversation. Many attendees asked how to get lawyers to buy into the idea that how they do business needs to change, and how to convince them what leadership is proposing is the right thing to do.
As I puzzled over these questions, I came to the conclusion the proper approach was to develop a strategy, find a champion at the firm, get some quick early wins, and use those wins as a proof of concept to convince others to change their ways.
I floated my ideas to the chief marketing officer of a Chicago law firm who, in two quick sentences, convinced me I was wrong. “It’s not about making attorneys change,” he said. “It’s about helping them to work in a fashion that’s much more consistent with their mindset.”
He used the analogy of a litigator preparing for a deposition. The litigator wants to see every piece of discovery and every bit of information related to the witness before the deposition starts. The parallel in business development is to thoroughly vet a potential client and research them with the same mindset of knowing everything there is to know about the client before sitting down with them.
I was fortunate enough to collaborate with this CMO, Ian Turvill
of Freeborn & Peters LLP, on a white paper on this topic. It has led me to a new way of thinking about change management at a law firm as a whole.
One difficulty with managing change at a law firm is getting leadership to agree on a framework for the conversation. The library will approach things differently than the CFO, CMO, or the practice heads. If a firm wants to align its strategy for the future, all of these leaders must be involved.
The idea of structuring change to fit the lawyer mindset provides that common framework for discussion that was lacking in the past.
I recently presented to a group of law firm leaders in Minneapolis on this idea of managing change as it related to operations and process management, pricing, business development, and lawyer compensation. These areas may seem a bit disconnected from each other, but if a firm is to have a unified strategy for the future, leadership needs to be aligned on these concepts and more.
While every firm will have different ideas about what their lawyers’ mindset is, I would offer a few questions to help drive discussion around how a firm can best position itself to manage change.
• Do you tailor your strategies to your lawyers’ strengths?
• Are you doing things simply because that’s the way it’s always been?
• How do you benchmark yourself against competitors?
• Does everyone at the firm follow the same processes and practices?
These questions aren’t easy to answer. But what’s great about them is any stakeholder can apply them to their own department, and they provide a common framework to confront the future.
Bill Josten is the Westlaw national firm profitability specialist, consulting with large and medium law firms in the United States on strategies regarding pricing, profitability, and cost recovery. A version of this article originally appeared on the blog of the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute.