In response to Mark Medice's post - Yes, it is past time for law firms to re-think expenses. There have been a lot of discussions about firm's cutting expenses. And an equal or greater number of discussions on being more efficient (even here on 3 Geeks). What is needed is a re-thinking that merges these two concepts in a thoughtful way.
Using my traditional car analogy - cutting the costs of the landscaping service around the car assembly plant and reducing travel by admin staff will certainly improve the bottom line for Ford. However, that approach does not address the real question of lowering the cost of producing the cars. This challenge requires re-tooling and modifying the production process. It also requires conversations with suppliers about the costs for their component parts of the car (think Westlaw).
Law firms (for the most part) have not dove in on these types of discussions. The way I challenge lawyers on this topic is by asking how they can lower the cost of providing a specific legal service (e.g. a patent prosecution). What would they do differently in order to delver the same or better product at 60% of the current price?
This question changes the nature of the "re-think expenses" question. It's not about the attorney-to-secretary ratio or the leverage between non-partners and partners. Instead the conversation should focus on doing things differently. This method brings a sharp focus on choice of technologies, number and type of personnel and on how the service is actually performed (think legal project management, ala Hassett, Levy and others).
At the core, law firms are experiencing a shift from a 'cost plus' business model to the 'profit margin' model referenced in Mark's post. The law firm business structure still reflects a 'cost plus' world. So I give a resounding YES to the idea of re-thinking expenses.
'Cost plus' behavior in a 'profit margin' world equals failure.