Author Archives: Intelligent Challenge

The Relevant Lawyer

The chapter I wrote on the changing nature of the legal profession in the United Kingdom was published by the American Bar Association and is available from the following link:.

The Relevant Lawyer, published by the American Bar Association

The Relevant Lawyer, published by the American Bar Association

The chapter was written for love rather than money, but if you enjoy my writing on this site or are just interested in the huge shifts in the profession, I’d encourage you to have a look. The other chapters are hugely insightful and I feel privileged to have been part of the project.

The writing on the wall #7 – location, location, location

Location, location, location...

Let’s for a moment put aside the discussion as to whether an investment by a law firm into premium real estate makes sense. Let’s assume that clients don’t object to funding acres of marble and an atrium full of lush vegetation. This question is about where your firm’s offices are, not what they are.

The location question is very personal. For some firms it might be simply be about growth – we are outgrowing our current premises – do we just need a bigger office, or should we open a second office (and if so, where). For other firms it might be about national expansion, or response to an existing or future competitive threat. However for many firms the stakes are higher, and it’s about international expansion.

It may be an understatement, but international strategy is not easy. Aside from the economics, the cultural, regulatory and language differences, suddenly the complexity and management overhead increases dramatically. Whether the market entry strategy is through acquisition, merger  or lateral hire, you can then throw a whole host of political and personal factors into the mix.

With that in mind, opening a new office seems like a decision to be made thoughtfully, but in a fast moving market that is changing more than ever, how can you make the time you need to really assess where the right locations are for you?


The writing on the wall #6 – quality talent equals high price?

Quality talent = high price?

As the economy picks up, the gladiators pick up their weapons in the fight for talent again. With a raft of restructurings in the past five years, now that work is picking up, there are structural gaps in the talent profile of a number of similar firms. Make no mistake that the recession was long and deep enough that some very good people were cut adrift. Some of these remain available to the big law firms, albeit that they may look at firms through different eyes (and as a result seek to negotiate a different type of employment relationship). However, plenty of talented lawyers have left the pool of potential employees. Many have found a more natural home in one of the many flexible resource pools that have grown significantly even during tough times, and these “nomadic lawyers” are less likely to be tempted back to the mothership.

The lever many firms will look to pull, will be the big red salary one – paying premium wages for the best talent, and making a business case on the basis of the work these lawyers will not only service but help bring in. The challenge of course is that the market has changed, with general counsel now being far more price sensitive.

If the clients are not willing to pay increased fees to pay for the influx of talent at premium wages, what gives?

The writing on the wall #5 management complexity


Firms are getting bigger. Mergers and International expansion may be the main culprits in recent years, bit add the economy slowly returns to growth, plenty of other law firms face the challenges associated with getting bigger.
Some, like the competition for talent are frequently mentioned, but there is another that is less talked about and yet arguably harder nut to crack. It’s the management overhead. Aside from the difficulty and effectiveness of management, how can firms manage the spiralling cost and resource drain?

Whether it’s professional management cost or the time of the most competent partners, it’s easy for it to grow unchecked. What’s the story in your firm?

The writing on the wall #4 – the commodity game



It seems that whatever the practice area, lawyers talk in hushed tones about their work becoming a commodity. Corporate law, employment law, technology law are among the areas where there is much gnashing of teeth and squeezing of margins.

Much of the debate focuses on whether to do the commoditized elements and if so how to do them profitably, but there is little discussion of what will replace that work at the high end. I suspect the implications of this will be felt in the not-too-distant future.

The writing’s on the wall #3 – resistance to change

IMG_4954.JPGThere is no shortage of commentary about the need for law firms to change in what is the most significant transition in the profession in a lifetime. Theories from Darwin to Kotter are cited yet firms still struggle with the day to day reality of change.

Partners speak of their frustration that things don’t move fast enough and clients are increasingly outspoken about the growing gap between their expectations and the service delivery they receive.

So for your firm, what’s at the heart of the resistance to change, and critically what can you do to address it?

A new beginning – the writing’s on the wall

Efficiency + Growth = ?

Efficiency + Growth = ?

Almost exactly three years since I called time on this blog (see The End of the Beginning) , I now feel called to reignite it but in a way that better fits in with the way social media has evolved. The battle for attention has intensified – lawyers and their business colleagues (whether in law firms or businesses) are more overloaded with information than ever. A partner at a large UK law firm calls it the “fight against digital obesity” while another talks of fee earner productivity in firms dropping, yet the lawyers are working harder than ever.

Working in the profession for nearly twenty years, as lawyer, client, consultant and supplier, this is a trend I have seen evolve and intensify. As Davenport highlighted in his book The Attention Economy, attention is an increasingly critical resource. With this in mind, I have over the last ten years refined a set of content sources that consistently cover the most relevant and thought provoking trends in the fast-changing legal market place and the skills and capabilities lawyers and their colleagues need to stay ahead of the game. I curate and share the best of this via twitter and Linkedin, and am conscious that the legal world probably doesn’t need me starting blogging again and adding another item to an overloaded agenda.

The other aspect to this is that much of my message in the last ten years has been the need for law firms to embrace efficient working (a challenge which many of the large firms are now genuinely meeting rather than skirting round the edges), and as such I believe it is important for me to operate in a way which makes a thoughtful trade off between the time I invest in the blog and the impact it has for my readers, my company and for me personally (and anyone else with a similar philosophy might like a look at Essentialism, one of the best books I read this year).

For my readers, I do believe I can offer a different perspective on the legal market. As well as the roles I mentioned earlier, I have spent the last three years focusing on the world of in-house counsel in the UK, and have interviewed, researched and worked with many different in-house teams. For the last six months I have been in a similar role working with the UK’s largest law firms, which adds another dimension to my thinking. Synthesising this and drawing out key trends prompts a number of questions in my mind about the challenges facing the profession.

It is these questions that will form the basis of this blog’s revival – posted as “the writing on the wall”. As ever, I’d love your feedback on both the format and content. I genuinely hope they are useful and get you thinking.

The end of the beginning

This is a post about endings. It has two main parts.

Firstly, the legal profession, and my thoughts on where we are in the evolution of the legal services market.

Secondly this blog, and where it’s going (if you don’t give two hoots about this, stop after the first section – that’s fine by me).

Is this the end?

I started writing this post almost exactly two years since I started blogging, and the amount of change in the legal profession in that time has been phenomenal. It’s as though much of the innovation and drive that has been missing from so many parts of the profession for decades has suddenly been discovered and injected into its flabby buttocks.

Yet it really only is just beginning.

My first couple of posts were about how change was coming and that the increasing pace of the market meant traditional ways of formulating strategy were unlikely to be fast enough for law firms to be successful in the new world.

As the changes that were on the horizon became reality, there was no shortage of material to write about – outsourcing, new business models, technology,  the need for innovation and differentiation, and the even more pressing drive for efficiency and (truly) effective strategy. As fast as I could write, real world examples appeared in the press:

The speculation about the possibility of UK law firms attracting external investment and the potential that brought began to become reality with the emergence of new law firm franchise models and the well publicised investment in Quality Solicitors (mentioned above). Much of the focus in this area was on consumer focussed legal services, but in the world of commercial law, pricing models continued to vex the profession, with pressure on profits resulting from a growing rejection of the billable hour model and a re-examination of what value really means in the world of legal services.

Irrespective of whether lawyers were working in the world of business or consumer legal services, traditional career paths were breaking down and new options were emerging. This in turn has triggered a debate about how fit for purpose current legal training is – and, in particular, against the current economic backdrop, whether training as a lawyer is a sensible career choice.

Massive change, in the space of two years.

This change will undoubtedly continue, and in my view will accelerate. For the agile, entrepreneurial firms and lawyers, and those new entrants with the assets and appetite for success, this is a time of great opportunity. For those law firms struggling to change, sitting on the fence, or burying their head, the end may not be as far off as you think.

So for those law firms, I do think this is the beginning of the end, but for many more this is the end of the beginning.

Let your creativity and courage take centre stage and sieze the opportunities that will emerge.

Just do something.

And so to this blog.

After two years, around 100 posts and over 35,000 views, it feels like it’s time for a change.

Time to sit back and watch the market – watch new business models and legal service providers emerge and challenge old ways of thinking.

Time to listen to new voices and examine the new perspectives that will undoubtedly join the more established commentators.

Time to reflect on the fantastic comments and feedback on the blog thus far.

Is this the end?

Who knows.

I feel I have a book brewing, and it maybe that a break from the blog helps me get it written.

It may be that some of the developments in the profession get me blogging again sooner than expected.

Time will tell.

But for now, it’s goodbye and thanks for reading. If you’re a new visitor, take some time to explore the links in this post. If you’re a regular, thanks so much for your support. You are the reason I’ve been writing, and I sincerely hope you’ve found some of my posts helpful.


Postscript – how the year turned out.

For the curious and any of my regular readers who return in a fit of nostalgia, WordPress sent me some interesting facts and figures about the blog which I thought I’d share:

  • The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 28,000 times in 2011. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 10 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
  • The busiest day of the year was January 18th with 2,870 views. The most popular post that day was You are wrong. I am right..
  • Top search terms were:  intelligent challenge, value disciplines, chargeable hours, and identify the best value discipline.

  • Most visitors came from The United States. The United Kingdom & Netherlands were not far behind.
  • Top referring sites were wordpress, twitter and linkedin

Thanks again for visiting.

Excuse me, I think your pricing is broken

I was pleased to read the post on 3 geeks about value billing as this is definitely a topic that needs exploring further, not least because I’m astonished by the number of law firm partners who continually tell me that it’s for clients to find a pricing model that works for the firm’s services.

Caroline the Finance Director had the new pricing model absolutely nailed

The common refrain from private practice lawyers (especially those who know how I feel about hourly rate billing) is that in-house lawyers who talk about value based billing really just want to pay less, and are not really interested in concepts like sharing risk. Opening a dialogue about pricing is simply an exercise in getting the law firm to do the same work for less money.

I my have missed the point, but of course they want to pay less!

The fact that the firm hasn’t developed a model that really meets their needs, or if they have the firm can’t communicate it in a compelling model does not turn this into the client’s problem. It’s the private practice lawyer’s problem. It’s the firm’s problem. It’s the profession’s problem.

The market has changed.


Except for those highly differentiated firms that have unique or otherwise genuinely marketing leading skills and expertise, law firms are shifting to being price takers rather than price setters in the market. As barriers to entry in the legal market fall, and new models of legal service delivery emerge, clients have more choices about how they resource work:

  • Big firm, small firm?
  • Global firm or international network?
  • Insource, outsource?
  • Disaggregate, multisource?
  • Onshore, offshore, nearshore?
  • Automate?

Fewer and fewer GCs respond well to a conversation with a law firm that starts at a notional rate card, which of course is all great news if you’re a firm with some creativity and innovation.

To me, understanding value starts with a conversation with the client.

Too many firms assume that clients all want the same thing, but in my experience the range of client needs and expectations are almost infinitely variable.

Organisations of a similar size in the same vertical industry may look similar on the outside. They may have similar sized legal teams which do similar types of work. But actually the underlying businesses may have different operating models, different shareholder expectations, different objectives, different risk tolerances and of course different legal budgets. What they want from their internal and external lawyers may be very different, in fact it might vary significantly across the business.

There are a whole host of client needs that might emerge from a well structured conversation, implemented through some good questions.

The challenge for the law firm is then to define the service that would best meet those needs, identify the variables, work out what the cost implications of those variables are on the overall cost of service delivery and then stitch the whole thing together into a great value proposition at a compelling price.

Some of the variables might include turnaround times, the style of advice (who is the ultimate recipient – business person or in-house lawyer?), the  level of detail, different types of relationship management (dedicated team?) and the hours of operation/availability for the external lawyers.

Thinking about how these factors help the client’s business, as well as the needs of the inhouse legal team, can provide a deeper understanding of value – for example will a quicker response time allow a deal to be completed more quickly? If so, what does that mean for the business?

From this baseline understanding, the firm can get creative, but to do so also needs to ensure they really understand the cost and benefit to the firm of moving these “levers” (i.e. changing the variables).

Cost is often not simply the employee cost, but also may encompass opportunity cost or the cost of holding WIP for specific periods of time. The flip side is that the benefits to the firm can be broader than simply revenue – improved cash flow, client referenceability, employee retention (if the work is prestigious or interesting), replicability (the ability to reproduce the output for other clients at lower cost/higher margin) are all benefits that have value and can be quantified.

With all these factors to play with, plus of course the dynamic of genuinely sharing risk and reward with a client, I would be amazed if a firm couldn’t find a pricing mechanism that works for both the client and the firm. Once some pricing options (hint: that last word is a useful one in these conversations), the overall value proposition for the service offering can be pulled together and communicated. Law firm BD has become increasingly sophisticated, and there are plenty of skilled professionals who can ensure the resulting proposal is truly compelling and is tightly tied to the value it will deliver.

So I’ll grant you this – it’s more effort than simply negotiating percentage discounts on an hourly rate. It requires you to understand the client’s business in more depth, but also your own. But surely both of those are worthwhile steps in any event.

And if you do get a client who is genuinely not interested in this type of conversation (assuming you are not in the commodity market where the price genuinely will be just about lowest price), then maybe they’re not the right fit for your practice?

Or maybe you need to go back and tweak the model some more…..