Throughout this series, we’ve discussed creating a competitive strategy, how client behaviors can impact that strategy, and understanding the competitive forces in play. As you begin to finalize your plans and consider how to truly differentiate your firm from its competitors, there is one final component to consider.
The common element across nearly every competitive assessment in any industry is the role of technology. In the legal industry, technology underpins the rise of many alternative legal service providers (ALSPs), which have proven to be meaningful competition for many firms. Young lawyers have grown up surrounded by technology and expect to have the best tools available for their work. And competitors gaining advantage are almost certainly leveraging the latest legal tech.
Some firm leaders may shrug at these trends, certain that their technology choices are “good enough.” But technology is now the backbone of nearly every process in modern law firms—especially in consideration of the current working environment. From legal research to billing, utilizing solutions that provide easy and reliable remote access are critical to firm efficiency and effectiveness.
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Don’t get out-teched by your clients
Some firms may find that their clients are already leading the way when it comes to technology. In fact, data from Altman Weil’s 2019 Chief Legal Officer Survey shows legal clients reporting a greater use of technology tools as a key tactic for process improvement. As clients see the benefit of new technology for their operations, they expect their firms to follow suit – and no law practice wants to appear “behind” their clients when it comes to technology.
Nearly 83% of CLOs report they require budgets for major matters, and almost 80% provide guidelines for billing, expenses, matter staffing, and matter management. The message is clear – clients cannot and will not pay for things they deem unnecessary for the completion of their work.
For firms serving these and similar clients, the push toward repeatable and profitable service delivery is critical. The rise of pricing and project management functions in firms is evidence that they are already grappling with these new dynamics. But firms have significant challenges. They frequently don’t have a clear picture of project costs and how they relate to specific clients and matters. Then, when the scope of work changes, they can’t anticipate and protect their bottom line. New technologies have been developed that can help firms close these data gaps.
Closing technology gaps can be one practical step toward actualizing a refined competitive strategy. As one lawyer remarked, “The way technology is moving these days, you don’t want to be behind the curve, saying ‘How come we didn’t think of that?'” As firms evaluate their technology platforms, it is worthwhile to consider whether they enable the kinds of workflows that support the firm’s competitive strategy. Questions to consider may include:
- Do partners have insight into matter-level profitability for work in progress?
- Can partners check the budget-to-actuals status of a matter at a glance? And can they quickly identify where the matter may be straying off course?
- Do pricing and project management teams have access to historical matter profitability within their existing workflow?
- Can associates access firm templates, precedent documents, and knowledge resources that increase their productivity?
Various technology platforms in the firm serve discrete groups: fee-earners, pricing and legal project managers, business and financial functions, etc. Connecting legal research, practical guidance, and other productivity tools empowers lawyers but lacks oversight and context. Integrating those tools with project and matter management, historical pricing data, and budgeting templates creates an opportunity to more accurately scope and manage matters. Connecting that ecosystem to reporting and analytics tools can create a holistic view of firm activity that allows leaders to manage from the firm to matter level. It creates a common language for professionals across the firm.
The time for action is now
Regardless of the strategies and technologies firms choose, it is important to remember that all the competitors in the market are evaluating the same set of conditions and making decisions to gain or preserve advantage. Those who make these decisions hastily or without a formal strategy put their practice at risk in an evolving market. Without a clear competitive strategy, law firms risk winning a race to parity rather than advantage.
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