Is a law firm a business like any other?
The lawyers’ opinion
In my line of work, I work with a lot of lawyers. so it was only natural for me to put this question (title) to a few of my contacts before writing this article.
Unsurprisingly, their responses were unanimous, and some even looked at me with a bewildered expression: “But you’re not thinking about it Thomas, it’s obvious that we’re not a company like any other! We have different legal structures, different obligations, we’re made up of independent partners…”
So it was clear to all my contacts that you couldn’t compare a law firm with a company! Fortunately, I don’t let myself be destabilized easily, and rather than closing the debate, I reopen the discussions. Indeed, while I understand the differences, some needs are identical.
So I’m resuming my investigation, highlighting a few points that seem crucial to me! “Indeed, there are differences, yet like any company you need to do business development, marketing, you need to collaborate on files together and sometimes even with external parties, you need to be able to monitor your employees’ activity, analyze everyone’s performance…”
Then, after hours of heated discussion, we all agreed: Yes! Of course, law firms can integrate certain corporate practices.
I collaborate, you collaborate, we collaborate
One of the main keys to a company’s success is the interaction between its members. The aim of matrix organizations is to ensure that all employees are obliged to cooperate on joint projects.
So if we take the example of business development, the salesperson is not alone in his or her task:
- He uses a common production database to find documents updated by his team.
- shares feedback with the team to foster best practices
- It implements joint strategies to conquer markets more easily
It’s easy enough to reproduce this approach in a law firm, even if there are a number of obstacles that we are well aware of, such as the confidentiality of contacts and professionals (and cross-selling between professionals), and the need to preserve the intellectual property of consultations, contracts, documents and products that represent the lawyer’s know-how…
There’s another, much stronger one in practice, and that’s TRUST (or in Latin, “intuitu personae”, which is the essence of the driving force behind business development for lawyers).
If lawyers are so reluctant to share, it’s because there’s a kind of sacralization of their contacts, who have a great deal of trust in their lawyers, but also a legitimate fear that a bad recommendation (from which he has no benefit) will cause him to lose the client. A transformed and loyal contact who has confidence in the quality of a lawyer represents past, present and often future sales.
So why share your contact, why bring an associate into this ecosystem at the risk of breaking the relationship? It’s like letting the wolf into the henhouse!
The reason is quite simple: “alone we go fast, together we go far”. This adage may seem a little outdated, but collaboration creates synergies, and each lawyer stands to gain individually if the others play along, because this is a market of demand, not supply.
Only the customer knows when to entrust a case to a lawyer. The well-established lawyer is then in a position to send transformed clients directly to his associates! More than just opening the door, he’s an advanced lookout on the customer’s premises, looking for files for him or his associates. It’s a win-win situation: less time wasted looking for new customers, and greater efficiency in identifying needs.
Enter the era of digitalization
No, don’t close this page – this isn’t the umpteenth post on the miracles of digitalization. After all, there’s nothing magical about digitalization!
If companies have long since integrated digitalization into all their departments (sales, marketing, purchasing, logistics, management, HR…), it’s because they have managed to make all these IT tools a central part of their day-to-day production.
Let’s take the example of business development from the previous chapter and apply it to a digital vision.
When interviewing my contacts, many told me that their main source of business was referrals. Others told me they were thinking of creating a business developer position within their firm. But all felt insecure…. They’re at the foot of the mountain, and the mountain is very high!
On the corporate side, this issue has long since been settled. They all use tools such as CRM, marketing automation, contact sharing and best practices.
However, is it possible to copy this model to that of law firms?
In part, yes. One of the best examples is CRM. Why is this type of product under-utilized by law firms, even though it is a central BD tool for companies?
The answer is quite simple: few tools are yet designed for lawyers (because it’s a small profession, and Silicon Valley publishers only think in terms of “scalable”: a war machine to be configured to suit a particular need…. The big difference is that a lawyer has to sell his future production, whereas a corporate salesman has to sell his company’s service or product! It doesn’t produce the car or the software… the organization does…
A lawyer’s commercial challenge is not to sell millions of hours that he won’t be able to produce, but to sell his own hours and those of his teams, based on the availability of each individual. A market CRM is designed to handle thousands of lines and thousands of reminders, and is of no interest to a lawyer.
Nevertheless, there are specific CRMs that can prove to be real business catalysts. Please note that I’m not talking about contact management tools here, but about products capable of guiding associates in a qualitative way towards the prospects or customers most likely to consume one of the firm’s services. The aim is actually quite simple: to minimize the time taken to generate business and maximize the time taken to produce current files.
But business development isn’t the only area in which digitalization can prove crucial for a firm.
In the previous chapter, we saw the need for law firms to collaborate more actively. Here too, digitalization is a powerful catalyst for collaboration. There are a number of software programs that can help structure an organization and make it more collaborative.
This type of tool can increase lawyers’ operational efficiency by multiplying and facilitating their interactions. These interactions can be of several kinds.
- Working on documents together at the same time
- Exchange easily around files
- Share documents simply
If this system works within the firm, it must be able to work in the same way with members outside the firm.
We’re talking here about something that law firms are still not very familiar with, yet which companies cannot afford to ignore. These companies have long understood that the key to success lies in their ability to consider the company as an extended system in which suppliers, customers and partners are fully integrated into a common organization.
I could take the example of invitations to tender for which an associate has to put together a team. It’s perfectly possible to set up an in-house team (and this is the most common practice), but here again, which partners to choose when there are several specialists in a given field?
Often, the lawyer will choose his “buddy” by default, because he may not know the other partners well, but is this the most appropriate professional choice? Project management tools are highly relevant to managing this issue, because in addition to access to a CV library, they provide access to information such as occupancy rates.
But what associates do in-house, they need to be able to do with outside lawyers if they lack a specialist for a particular case.
This is the future of law firms, and it’s time to get equipped so you can stay ahead of the game and not be left by the side of the road!