ABA Journal

The New Normal

Moving from Good Law to Great Law

By Debra Baker and Deborah Knupp

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Five years ago, a committed group of law firm leaders and law firm service providers embarked on a journey to reimagine the legal profession with a futurist’s view.

While many innovation journeys begin with an examination of the current state of a business, team, product or service in order to determine how to make what exists better, this innovation journey was different.

This journey started by looking ahead—to what the world might look like in 2023 and forecasting what this world would need from its lawyers.

After a 15-month study featuring futurists and thought leaders from a wide range of fields, including academics, finance, technology, design and legal, Law 2023 was born. The initiative sought to create a list of technological, structural and entrepreneurial innovations that lawyers and law firms could rely on if they wished to give themselves a decade’s head start on their competitors.

Debra Baker

Debra Baker.

As Paul Harvey would ask, ‘What’s the Rest of the Story?’

So, what happened? Were the predictions accurate? If so, how are firms behaving in the four years since Law 2023 was published?

The headline is—Law 2023 got it right. Law firms are accelerating their focus on innovation with increased time, resources and investment. There is measurable evidence of firms engaging in some or all of the design principles predicted to optimize growth. What’s evolved is a new movement known as Great Law. Great Law is leveraging the Law 2023 design principles to help law firms future cast their own organizations in ways that not only allow them to create more predictable and sustainable revenue but are re-energizing and engaging lawyers in the profession.

Design Principle 1: Technologies will enable lawyers to bill for real value

Law 2023 predicted that firms would deploy technologies in new ways to provide new platforms to deliver premium insight and wisdom. Leading firms have developed collaborative and self-service technology offerings, many of which leverage predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to mine data and synthesize knowledge to accelerate work output. Fewer resources are required to produce commodity work, and greater resources are required for wisdom, insight, advice and judgment by premium-service lawyers. Intellectual property law firm EIP, based in London and California, developed a tech-enabled solution called Patently that allows its lawyers to help companies better assess and understand the competitive landscape for new innovations. Research once conducted by billable hour resources is now accessible directly through an online platform, which frees up the lawyers to focus their billable time on advising and developing strategies to best respond to the data.

Similarly, the higher education practice at Husch Blackwell uses an online compliance service to help universities streamline the reporting of campus violence as required under federal law. The technology allows the firm to provide a service that would otherwise have been cost-prohibitive, creating a stronger relationship with their clients.

Design Principle 2: Firms will develop offerings that transcend jurisdiction

Law 2023 predicted that with globalization, law firm networks and nontraditional legal service providers would redefine what it means to deliver legal services and business advisory services with less reliance on jurisdiction. Lex Mundi and Axiom are great examples of how legal service delivery is evolving whether through law firm networks or alternative service providers. Firms are also beginning to bundle solution providers (legal, technology, consulting, designers, communication, etc.) to capture and create new market share. Akerman’s launch of the Data Law Center in partnership with Neota Logic and Thomson Reuters is a great example of how a partnership in data privacy and information governance between lawyers and technology companies are advancing the ability to address defined client problems.

Design Principle 3: Demand for responsive institutions will create new markets for accountability

More and more law firms are measuring success beyond traditional financial and profitability metrics. Business / social enterprises and the rising influence of Gen Z are major drivers for transparency and accountability. Profitability frameworks like Triple Bottom Line metrics of people, profits and planet provide new ways to measure and demonstrate value from the client’s perspective and encourage firms to be good stewards of their means. Many firms like Hall Prangle & Schoonveld have adopted the Triple Bottom Line as key drivers for their business growth and sustainable law firm culture. CGS3, a Southern California law firm founded by five former Allen Matkins partners, more than tripled in size during its first three years by removing origination credit and minimum hour requirements, using tailored fee models, and institutionalizing flex time to better attract and retain BigLaw talent to its new law business model.

Deborah Knupp

Deborah Knupp.

Design Principle 4: Firms will tap new talent and enable new pathways to practice

Firms continue to create new job titles and career tracks and expand recruiting reach beyond aggressive lateral hiring. Recruiting for new talent includes technology experts, designers, account management professionals, pricing experts and other business advisory capabilities. Workplace standards continue to become more flexible to attract and retain top talent, and job sharing and virtual working environments will become more normative. For instance, Davis Wright Tremaine continues to be a leading firm when it comes to hiring and deploying a wide range of new professionals that include staff/secondment attorneys, project managers, software designers, data scientists, pricing specialists, solution architects and general consultants.

At the national immigration boutique Maggio-Kattar, the firm hired a human resources executive with deep experience supporting the onboarding of foreign nationals as an integrated part of its legal team. As a result, they have been able to develop a managed-service style offering that helps companies optimize their internal immigration processes, training and systems in ways that have proven to support the hiring and retention of foreign nationals.

Design Principle 5: Information access / transparency will push firms to seek hyper-specific markets

As buyers continue to have more access to information and self-service, firms combining deep business expertise with their legal technical expertise will distinguish themselves. Industry focused teams, micro-offerings and niche solutions have a greater probability to win and retain business and shift market share from competitors. This Design Principle was already being adopted prior to the findings of law 2023 with many law firms shifting from practice-based focuses to industry-focused teams.

The most sophisticated have a precision focus on where they want to play and how they will be successful through developments of formal sales strategies, playbooks and the use of talent analytics to identify the right resources for the right teams. Bryan Cave has cultivated four best-in-class industry teams to address very specific client and business needs in financial services, real estate, agribusiness and food, and sports and entertainment. Husch Blackwell reorganized its practice department model around six industry groups to better respond to client needs. The change has allowed them to deepen relationships with existing clients, identify unmet client needs to focus service innovation and to create new roles for lawyers and professionals.

Design Principle 6: Firms will launch R&D departments to create new offerings

New productized service offerings and R&D functions are developing and implanting within firms to explore new lines of business and new ways of practicing law to deliver legal service. These functions most closely mirror how high tech and healthcare firms approach R&D. Akerman, BakerHostetler and Strasburger stand out as law firm leaders in R&D and innovation commitment. Among smaller firms, R&D is standing out as a competitive advantage that allows firms of every size to compete on even footing. Sollertis, a multidisciplinary law firm in San Diego has invested its innovation and business development budget on process improvement, sales effectiveness and talent optimization to accelerate growth. In doing so, the firm has productized preventative law in a way very few firms have with its proprietary Master Asset Protection Plan and Quarterbacking services—offerings that provide a compelling proposition for prescriptive planning built around the premise that the root cause of nearly every legal problem is asset protection.

Design Principle 7: User / anthropological research will shape client experience of legal products

Firms are fortifying relationships with clients by using business, financial, relational, competitive and anecdotal intelligence to anticipate a client’s future needs. Firms that are exceling are building firm-wide client experience playbooks and protocols to be proactively responsive to clients. Levenfeld Pearlstein has set a gold standard by deploying five different paths to engage meaningful client feedback and have cultivated an entire five-step ecosystem (The LP Way) that is committed to delivering excellence in client experience in every step. Faegre Baker Daniels continues to engage firm-wide client experience innovation challenges which enable the firm to rapidly capture and replicate existing firm client experience best practices and to develop a firm culture committed to deliver client value. The litigation practice of Vorys is engaging directly with clients to pilot innovation initiatives with plans to replicate them across other practices at the firm.

Beyond Law 2023

Great Law firms also recognize that to achieve and sustain ongoing growth and innovation, law firms must invest in ongoing business development, product development and leadership development. Coordinated properly, these efforts create the important link between strategy and execution that enables greatness to occur. This effort also inspires leaders to serve a bigger purpose in their communities and to steward their time, talent and resources in service to others.

To be sure, the path to Great Law is still being paved, and Law 2023 is proving to be a solid road map for where the best clients want to buy, the best talents want to work and the best leaders want to serve a greater good.

Debra Baker and Deborah Knupp are managing directors at GrowthPlay, a sales effectiveness firm that partners with its clients to drive revenue growth. Baker, a lawyer, was the founder of law firm strategy company Law Leaders Lab before it was acquired by GrowthPlay in January 2016. Knupp was founder of Akina, a national consulting training and coaching firm prior to being acquired by GrowthPlay.

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