Practice Management

Leadership, growth and profitability in a post-pandemic era explored in new report

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Ari Kaplan

Ari Kaplan. Photo by Tori Soper.

Ari Kaplan recently spoke with Lydia Flocchini, the chief marketing officer at SurePoint Technologies, Debbie Foster, the CEO at Affinity Consulting, and Laura Wenzel, the global director of product marketing at iManage.

A consortium of the three companies has released a new report, which is based on interviews with 18 chief operating officers, 10 executive directors, one CEO and one chief administrative officer at midsize law firms.

Ari Kaplan: Lydia, what were the most interesting findings from this report, and how do you see law firms driving change in the current environment?

Lydia Flocchini: Three key elements of the report stood out. First, law firm leaders are reconsidering the skills they need to help their firms thrive in a digital world because they are managing professionals in various locations—whether in the office, remotely or hybrid—and at a range of experience levels, so they have to incorporate that new paradigm into how they grow, innovate and gain a competitive advantage, and become more dynamic change agents. Second, leaders need to be more influential data stewards and data champions to promote a data-driven mindset across their law firms. Third, from a financial acumen standpoint, those individuals tasked with managing legal organizations are required to be more strategic about their long-term growth.

Ari Kaplan: Laura, one of the key points from the research is that digital transformation is on the rise, with 63% of the respondents reporting that their firms automate often created documents, and 73% create workflows around their repeatable processes. How should readers interpret this data to take improve their productivity?

FlocchiniFosterWenzel_headshots Lydia Flocchini is the chief marketing officer at SurePoint Technologies. Debbie Foster is the CEO at Affinity Consulting. Laura Wenzel is the global director of product marketing at iManage.

Laura Wenzel: Digital transformation has been a hot area for decades, but we have reached a point where clients expect their firms to deliver on that promise and want to see legal leaders running their practices as businesses. As a result, leaders need to have both technical and financial aptitude. It is that combination that makes digital transformation most effective. It is not enough to adopt new technology. Rather, they also need to understand how it affects and improves their workflows to help end users work more effectively. It is ineffective to force change, particularly at the precipice of generative AI and legal automation. Leaders who invest in understanding and exploiting emerging tools will gain a competitive advantage because to most effectively apply AI, they need to fully understand how their employees work.

Ari Kaplan: Debbie, there was a common theme in the report about driving the adoption of new tools through training, with 43% noting that their firms offer leadership training for those who are elevated into senior management positions. What are some best practices that law firm leaders should incorporate into their training?

Debbie Foster: There are two sides to leadership training. One is that law firms and many organizations promote individuals to leadership positions and then fail to provide the tools they need to be effective, excellent leaders. Leadership is a journey that requires constant education, including honing skills on providing feedback and motivating teams, among other areas, which help them achieve growth and profitability. The other is that we are in an era where it is impossible to keep up with the changes that are being added to the tools that we use because there are new features being added all the time. So when we think about new tools from a law firm perspective, training has to be built into the culture.

Ari Kaplan: Lydia, 47% of the respondents advised that they spend more than 20% of their time focusing on strategy and innovation. Do you expect this number to rise as that becomes a greater part of a law firm leader’s role?

Lydia Flocchini: Yes, without question. Leaders developing strategies to grow, thrive and gain a competitive advantage in the current market need to collaborate with other stakeholders on improving the culture of their firm, empowering the individual success of the professionals and practice groups, and implementing dynamic professional development. Law firms now operate in a multigenerational environment that requires rapid adaptation to improve internal interaction and external client service. Savvy leaders are instrumental in employee retention, expansion and identifying new areas of opportunity.

Ari Kaplan: Laura, 70% of the respondents reported that legal technology helps drive the growth of their law firms, 90% conveyed that legal technology helps their firms increase revenue, and 100% noted that it helps their teams deliver better client service. How has the process of evaluating and implementing technology in law firms evolved since the pandemic?

Laura Wenzel: To improve client service, increase efficiency and empower productivity beyond the adoption of technology, law firms need to provide transparency. They also need to share, reuse and build on the collective intelligence of their firms because it is still the people and their knowledge that create a competitive advantage. Legal technology makes that possible, so it is fundamental and essential to integrating workflows and the user experience.

Ari Kaplan: Debbie, one law firm leader featured in the report said—“Not only were we keeping the spinning plates in the air before the pandemic, now someone has lit them on fire.” How do you see leadership evolving in light of all the changes in the market and in the delivery of legal services, particularly in an AI-centric future?

Debbie Foster: First, leaders have to slow down. I recognize that the plates are burning, but we need to think about how to deal with our burning plates before we take action. When we have client demands, critical leadership elements, such as mentorship, tend to be replaced with higher-priority tasks, but that may not help the firm over the long term. As for AI, we are all applying our best guesses as to what will happen to generative AI and how it might change the profession. I am reminded of the meme that while it only took me 15 minutes to solve your problem, I spent 20 years learning how to solve your problem in 15 minutes and charge for the years, not the minutes. Rather than fear generative AI, law firms should focus on the value they bring to their clients and use emerging tools to execute the rote activities they no longer need to do. Successful leaders increasingly emphasize value and price their services accordingly.

Editor’s Note: This interview references research that Ari Kaplan Advisors, an independent advisory firm, conducted on behalf of Affinity Consulting, iManage and SurePoint Technologies.

Listen to the complete interview at Reinventing Professionals.

Ari Kaplan regularly interviews leaders in the legal industry and in the broader professional services community to share perspective, highlight transformative change and introduce new technology at his blog and on iTunes.

This column reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the views of the ABA Journal—or the American Bar Association.

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