Firms of all sizes generally have a laser focus on profits. But if you ask partners how much a specific filing costs, most have no idea, says Pamela H. Woldow, a consultant whose work targets alternative billing and social media presence.A principal with the legal managing consultant group Altman Weil in Newtown Square, Pa., Woldow says she’s posed the filing-cost question to 600 law firms. The example she usually gives is a summary judgment motion in a two-party case with $100,000 at issue. (This isn’t a trick question, but the answer differs depending on issues like the firm’s size and the jurisdictional rules.)
“They don’t know what it costs because they don’t care. In their own billing system they don’t track by the item they’re creating or the service they’re providing,” Woldow says. “General counsel are consumers and they need to buy a motion. They need a result and a product.”
Woldow advises on both sides of the line—general counsel and chief legal officers of companies as well as law firm managers. When working for law firms, she often interviews clients. When she’s hired by in-house counsel, Woldow starts by asking and recording what they need rather than focusing on what firms are willing to provide.
“Sometimes general counsel are so busy they don’t always articulate what they need, which can be a problem for law firms,” says Woldow.
In theory, she adds, law firm clients could easily buzz up their alternative billing offerings online. She helped a law firm involved in insurance work develop a software program that picks out work done previously to determine fees for frequent tasks. She advised the firm to publish the information on its webpage and in marketing materials so clients and potential clients would know the cost beforehand.
She also helps firms create codes in billing systems to quickly describe each billed item (the way a bill for medical costs is displayed) and to break down work into units that relate to client needs. So far she’s helped 12 law firms do this, and boutiques and midsize firms embrace it most.
Large law firms, she says, have more difficulties.
“Their entire compensation and metrics are so intricately tied to the billable hour. And the mentality of some large firms is: ‘We build a Rolls-Royce, even if all you need is a Hyundai,’ ” Woldow says. “I deal with the friction point of what clients need and what law firms are delivering.”
Hear Pamela Woldow talk about what not to do with social media.
Initially, Woldow, 54, was a litigator with the firms now known as Duane Morris and Manko, Gold, Katcher & Fox. She later was chief counsel with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department. Clients say they appreciate her experience with both fields and her enthusiasm.
“She’s been extremely helpful in helping us lawyers become more creative in trying to provide a service that is not what we want to do, but what the clients want to do,” says Barry Leigh Weissman, an insurance partner with Sonnenschein, Nath & Rosenthal.
Not everyone is ready to listen, but Weissman says Woldow is great at getting naysayers to open their ears. She has a good read on audiences, he adds, and in group presentations changes message delivery to fit the situation. She also uses props during presentations and approaches individuals in the audience to solicit thoughts about what she’s said.
Weissman recalls work Woldow did at an International Association of Insurance Receivers conference.
“She introduced me to a presenter, and all he kept saying was that he didn’t give a darn about all the stuff; he just wanted bigger discounts,” says Weissman, who practices in Los Angeles and New York City. “He and I talked afterward. I don’t want to say he was convinced, but he clearly was a little more open to it after the discussions.”
Woldow also provides social media help. Jeffrey A. Lutsky, a partner with Philadelphia’s Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young, allows that he had no idea what the business-oriented website LinkedIn was or how to use it before Woldow came to his firm for a training session. He and other partners brought their laptops, and she introduced them to Web 2.0 basics in a hands-on session. For Lutsky specifically, she helped build a LinkedIn profile.
“I have used it, and I have increased my contact with clients,” he says.