Law firm elves (the missing skillsets)

20 12 2010

As snow continues to bathe the United Kingdom in its cold fluffiness, and our transport infrastructure predictably fails to cope, I’ve had plenty of time  to think up a suitably Christmassy post for this festive week.

The business analyst's office was a little off the beaten track

Now Santa Claus(e) is pretty busy at this time of year, arguably busier than even the most stressed managing partner. Sure, cash flow and chasing WIP may not be an issue, but he has millions of presents to procure and wrap, and then a logistics nightmare to contend with. His relentless focus on execution is impressive, but he certainly couldn’t deliver on time and on budget alone. The reindeer may get the media plaudits, but the unsung heroes are undoubtedly his legion of elves. Working quietly in the background, they make sure his ambitious plans are carried out, deal with last minute changes and generally keep things ticking over.

Maybe that’s what law firms need.

So, I started thinking, which elves could help law firms in 2011…….

1. The Sales Elf.

“Sales!” I hear you cry. Heresy! Burn him! But wait a second. Law firm business development has developed tremendously in the last decade and sales training by organisations like the PACE partnership and Huthwaite Fleming is now accepted as delivering solid business benefits. Yet I still see many business opportunities lost because a law firm doesn’t have the right sales capacity or capability. Business development directors in law firms are often in strategic or marketing-focussed roles and if they do have selling skills are rarely given the chance to use them.

Is employing a dedicated sales force going too far? Some may argue that culturally it’s a bridge too far and that professional services can’t be sold in that way? I’m not convinced. I think if you get the right fit between sales person and firm, that focus on generating new business and the skills that go with it, could really turbo charge a law firm’s performance.

2. The Analyst Elf

Outside of the very largest law firms, there is often a lack of internal business analysis capability.  There’s no shortage of raw information, with many firms taking an “arms race” approach to subscribing to market and business research services, yet often the same firms struggle to make best use of this information, with no dedicated resource to synthesise and analyse it.

For the firms looking to position themselves as experts in a particular sector, how helpful would it be to have some proprietary analysis of what was happening in that sector, and to use that to generate some real though leadership, rather than simply offering comment on a recent news item?

The skillsets needed are widely available – investment banks use them, management consultants use them, large accountancy practices use them and corporates certainly use them, yet in comparably size law firms, they are a rare species indeed.

3. The Process Elf

Talking to some legal sector recruitment specialists, this is a hot area. With downward pressure on price and the increasing rejection of the hourly rate billing model, law firms are looking for ways to maintain or improve service quality while at the same time reducing cost. Looks and smells like a Lean Six Sigma type project to me.

Process mapping and re-engineering are perhaps the most obvious quick wins, but actually having a dedicated resource to think about operational efficiency and help drive the personal and organisational change that is needed to deliver the results is essential and I don’t believe it will be achieved by someone doing the job in their “spare time”.

4. The Pricing Elf

On a recent tender exercise for a NYSE listed outsourcer the request for proposal document made it clear that the company did not wish to buy legal services on an hourly rate basis, and asked law firms for alternative pricing models for four different work types. The diversity of responses across the ten law firms was significant. Some were well advanced in their thinking, giving a variety of models, an explanation of the type of work and volumes that would make them work, and detailing how scope changes were managed. Others were being dragged kicking and screaming from their hourly-rate comfort zone, with vague promises to think about fixed price projects and retainers, provided certain caveats were discussed and agreed.

In a world where the market is requiring different pricing models, and given the very (very) direct link between price and profit, doesn’t it make sense to address this seriously? Is setting up a pricing committee made up entirely of lawyers really the answer?

5. Other elves

The need to go and do my Christmas shopping precludes a longer discussion, but some other elves to think about – the change management elf, the project management elf, the product development  elf and the innovation elf.

This is likely to be the last post before Christmas, so if you are celebrating, have a great time and I hope you’re back here again, fully refreshed, for the New Year post, which may well tackle the classic New Year topic of (s)elf improvement!

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4 responses

20 12 2010
Anonymous BD person in a law firm

Mark, yet more valuable use of my time reading another well considered argument.

I would like to add another elf: the creative one. I have seen many examples of responses to tenders, proposals, presentations and pitches (and many more examples) where there has been little or no effort in terms of creativity. Horrible looking documents that lack that branded, professional punch leave the firm too late for the ‘creative’ team to polish it up or even start over. The Creative Elf, given enough time, can work closely with the Innovative Elf to make a ‘gift’ with great impact that stands out from the crowd. The days of standard Word and PowerPoint days are over, in my view, and should be replaced with evidence of time and thoughtfulness being spent on the material.

Have a great Christmas and a happy blogging new year!

20 12 2010
Intelligent Challenge

Great comment Mr A.Mous! The creative elf could also be brought into problem solving exercises and could work with the pricing elf to really shake the market up.

2 08 2011
Super Mario Lawyer – How to gamify a legal career « The Intelligent Challenge

[...] Even before you get to university, you’ll have met another game dynamic which may also continue long into your working life – the concept of a leaderboard. Does law attract competitive people, or is it simply that you need to be able to survive (thrive?) in a competitive environment to succeed in the profession? The nature v nurture debate isn’t for this blog, but aim for a career in law and soon you’ll be stack ranked by A-level grades, outside interests and other achievements. The leaderboard continues through law school as the competition for training contracts and then jobs continues, at which point the challenge ramps up as you realise you need a whole new set of skills and competencies. [...]

2 08 2011
Super Mario Lawyer – How to gamify a legal career

[...] Even before you get to university, you’ll have met another game dynamic which may also continue long into your working life – the concept of a leaderboard. Does law attract competitive people, or is it simply that you need to be able to survive (thrive?) in a competitive environment to succeed in the profession? The nature v nurture debate isn’t for this blog, but aim for a career in law and soon you’ll be stack ranked by A-level grades, outside interests and other achievements. The leaderboard continues through law school as the competition for training contracts and then jobs continues, at which point the challenge ramps up as you realise you need a whole new set of skills and competencies. [...]

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