Lawyer Immunity from Delivering Customer Value is No More
All indications are that business and revenue growth for law firms is no longer a function of head count. As with other professional service providers, lawyers are experiencing increased competition from a variety of new sources, and client demands and needs are changing as society adopts and embraces technology, social computing, and self-service solutions. The problem is that many partners and firm leaders don’t really know what do to about it, and are attempting to fuel continued growth of revenues and profitability while essentially maintaining status quo.
Looking to reduce costs and pushing for more billable hours is standard fare among firm managers, yet the results to be gained from these efforts have pretty much reached their maximum potential. You can only cut so much, and you can only work your people so hard. Unfortunately, many partners and managers simply look away from the problem and continue along the path that has been successful in the past. But growth has slowed, revenues have not grown as expected, and firms are literally being forced to adjust to market forces or go out of business. It’s just too competitive and the pace of change is too rapid. There is no immunity for lawyers in this changing market – service quality and value must improve.
Instead of taking the legacy approach of hiring more people so they can bill for more hours, successful firms are taking a few queues from other professional service providers and are recognizing that individualized client service, consistently high-quality and timely service, and service priced commensurate with the value delivered are at least parts of the solution.
There is quite a lot that law firms and accounting firms have in common, particularly when it comes to the fact that most of these entities are viewed – perhaps rightly so – as being “old school”, with a managing partner or board with intractable views and grey hair. Lawyers, like accountants, are inherently wary of new-fangled concepts and wild ideas. They’re a cautious bunch, and tend to be resistant to change. Yet accounting professionals are beginning to embrace new tools and new ideas when it comes to delivering service and value, and forward-thinking law firms are following suit.
For successful firms, the focus is on the client and the value delivered – on internal process improvements and a better value proposition for the customer – not on the billable hour. Yes, there are investments required. The firm must invest time most of all. It takes time to get everyone educated about issues the firm is facing in the changing marketplace. Unless everyone knows what they’re up against, there will be continued resistance to new ideas and concepts. It also takes time with clients to understand their needs, which is the essential element to delivering service valuable to them. And it takes time to develop and nurture a long-term vision, recognizing that the vision may change as conditions change, and that regular monitoring and adjustment may be necessary.
Investing time and consideration in these areas is the key to delivering customer (and shareholder) value. The result is satisfied and loyal clients, repeat business and increased growth and profitability. Rather than viewing this brave new world as a challenge to the firm’s traditional model, it should be viewed as the opportunity to deliver new and greater value to the firm’s customers.
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