ALM Nails It - Big Law's Reality Check

Erik Schmidt | November 04, 2014

ALM's recent Special Report on the state of Big Law is absolutely spot on.

Having worked with most of the Top 21 firms in this report, I can confirm that these firms excel in their specialized practices, align well with their respective markets and have excellent go-to-market execution. Furthermore, they invest carefully in technologies, pay close attention to best practices and run a tight ship in regard to third-party expenses. However, it is safe to say that these firms are rarely at the cutting edge of technology innovation.

That being said, there is an opportunity for firms outside of the Top 21 to capitalize on innovative technology strategies in order to gain competitive advantages in the market. Innovative use of technology is a time proven equalizer. When married to a sound business strategy, technology can help close the gap between the market leaders and those at risk of being left behind.

To accomplishing this, it’s critical that a firm take a brutally honest look at itself. To start, firms should have direct dialog with clients to find out what is working and not working at their firm. Ultimately this solicited feedback will allow a firm to determine where they stand from a client perception starting point. Evaluating client responses against firm culture, skill sets, profitability models and market opportunity will help firms identify strategic opportunities for market alignment. Once a firms know how it stacks up versus its peers, technology and business process innovation become the means by which a firm can drive its market execution strategy to differentiate itself.

While critical, this process is not easy. There is a lot of inertia and frankly, large ego's at play in many law firms. Most firm partners are enjoying financially rewarding careers today and will maintain that they are where they are because of the work practices that exist in their current formats. However, as the authors of the ALM Special Report eloquently put it "Firms can either manage their affairs or let events manage them."

This is where the skills of a well-regarded legal consultancy can be extremely valuable. Like most people, clients struggle to provide honest and direct feedback that could potential hurt the feelings (or egos) of their outside counsel. As a neutral third-party, consultants can gather more accurate feedback by serving as a buffer between the client and law firm relationship. Furthermore, consultants can support firms internally by assessing their current state and providing objective recommendations to further drive innovation and differentiation.

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