A recent report from Robert Half Legal, titled Future Law Office, caught my eye, since it validated many of the trends we’ve been hearing about from our Corporate Focus customers. The key point of this eye-opening white paper: “In a rapidly changing and highly competitive landscape, firms and departments are striving to improve quality and delivery of services while instituting leaner, more efficient modes of operation.”Over the past few years, there has been less legal work to go around. More work is being done by in-house legal departments, and lawyers are looking for ways to provide better client service. According to the survey cited in the Robert Half Legal report, when asked how they planned to increase revenue in the coming year, 86% of lawyers said they sought to get more business from existing clients. Their strategies for doing so include:
- Greater use of alternative fee arrangements
- More transparency between law firms and clients
- Increased reliance on network technology
- Improved knowledge management within firms
- Focus on responsiveness to clients’ needs
This does not mean that legal clients are trying to cut corners or nickle-and-dime their law firms. They are still willing to pay premium dollars for high-value work. What they don’t want to see are legal bills that are needlessly plumped up with the inefficient use of time. Meanwhile, lawyers don’t want to spend any time that could be considered wasteful and might require hours to be written off or discounted.
The trend we’ve seen that is consistent with the goals of both lawyers and their corporate clients is self-service – in other words, direct access to legal information and documents. No matter what field of law, every time a client can find his own information or documents online (just as they might check their bank account online), it’s good for the client – and good for the firm. Good for the client because they can find what they need at no cost and with no time delay. Good for the law firm since self-service impresses clients, reduces the chance of any time being written off, and lowers their fixed expenses (i.e. full-time staff).
And, even if clients can’t find their information in a self-service manner, at least the lawyer or paralegal should be able to find the relevant information online quickly.
Does self-service come at no cost to a law firm or client? Not quite. The cost is either in the internal information and knowledge management systems that track, store, and provide the data or the time and effort that was required to enter, update, and manage the information. However, the investment in information systems and human resources is minimal compared to the ROI of long-term, high-value clients. Given that you increase the risk of losing a client’s business each time they have to wait for something a little too long or the bill is a little too high, the payoff is clear. As the survey confirms, it is much easier to get ongoing and increased revenue from a client you have than trying to find that next client who has never done business with you. And don’t forget about referrals from current clients who are impressed with your capabilities.
Through our Corporate Focus customers, we see the payoff every time a client logs in and retrieves a minute book document, capitalization table, or current data sheet without phoning their lawyer (other than to say how delighted they were to not have to call or email their attorney to get something they needed).
As Cesar Alvarez, Executive Chairman of Greenbert Traurig, puts it: “We’re always looking at how we can get greater efficiency out of our information systems.” This is true today and also promises to be true over the next five years. Says Robin Sangston, Vice President of Legal Affairs at Cox Communications, “We’ll eventually become paperless, completely Internet-linked, and even more reliant on technology in performing our jobs.”
The landscape is clearly shifting. Just like we’re organizing our personal lives on Facebook and Gmail and our business lives on cloud-based applications like Salesforce and Zoho, legal professionals are organizing their records in online systems like Corporate Focus, Netdocuments, and CaseCentral. Over the next few years:
- thousands of lawyers, in-house counsel, and CFOs will be finding their own information and documents when they need it – without asking someone else;
- legal fees related to administrative work will be reduced; and
- lawyers at firms and in legal departments will be working better and more efficiently than ever before with their appreciative clients.