Commerciality for Lawyers – why is it key?
- The legal market is evolving at a frightening pace, with new market entrants and changing client expectations making things tough for traditional law firms
- Traditional law firms have made advances in areas such as sector focus, account planning and knowledge management
- However, there is still huge ground for you to make up in terms of pricing and scoping, project management and problem-solving
Our research with clients shows lawyers get better ratings for being commercial than any other profession, beating accountants, property consultants and even management consultants.
Why is this? Our studies show General Counsel are climbing the corporate ladder. Businesses are struggling with onerous, rapidly evolving regulations. Businesses are aware of the need to protect their corporate reputation. The board are, therefore, looking to their lawyers for guidance. Business people appreciate lawyers who can help them think through these complexities.
The legal market is also being re-shaped by new entrants such as Axiom, Riverview and Practical Law Company that are offering innovative solutions to companies.
Legal departments have changed, but have law firms? Here the evidence is mixed.
GCs’ views on law firms:
- Better sector focus. More firms are organizing along sector lines, for example Kemp Little in technology, CMS Cameron McKenna in Oil & Gas.
- Stronger key account planning. Law firms are applying much more disciplined account planning, learning the lessons from the Big 4 accountancy firms.
- Knowledge management. Several firms are building sophisticated on-line intranets for sharing insights about clients and sectors. RPC, the London law firm, is ahead of the curve with its Edge social intranet system.
Work to be done:
- Improving pricing, scoping and project management. Firms are still struggling to provide cost certainty. Clients complain about cost over-runs, over-engineering (“Is it really necessary to have 6 lawyers on the conference call”), and inefficiencies. Many firms are addressing this. Firms are hiring project management experts, and some are are undertaking process mapping (notably Addleshaw Goddard). But the barriers to good project management remain. Put simply, lawyers don’t like the idea of “project management”. It is wrongly perceived to be bureaucratic and cramping their flair. Management need to show that good project management helps lawyers do a better job for their clients, and will save time.
- A rounded education. Training for young lawyers has traditionally been very focused on technical skills. Leading firms are now providing mini-MBAs. Simmons & Simmons has been at the vanguard. In the US, the University of Pennsylvania is providing programmes to teach young lawyers business skills.
- Thought leadership. The Big 4 accountancy firms have historically provided much better quality thought leadership than law firms. Recent evidence however shows that law firms are upping their game.
- Practical problem-solving. All too often, the stereotype holds true: lawyers provide long, complex letters of advice that highlight a catalogue of risks. Some lawyers think it is their job to highlight problems. By contrast, business is moving to a more collaborative, informal and iterative mode of decision-making. The great lawyers have adapted; they will brainstorm with clients, they will map out the different options (looking at opportunities not just risks), and they will provide succinct conclusions. Some are even using visuals e.g. traffic lights reports, or diagrams to explain complex issues.