"Your Budget Was Cut Again? But, Didn't Your Firm Post Record Profits?"

I'm going to play "Devil's Advocate" for a few minutes, so bear with me. I hear a lot of talk about how law firm administration has to:
  • "do more with less" 
  • "everyone has to wear multiple hats" 
  • "times are tough" 
  • "budgets have to be cut in hard times" 
  • "clients just aren't paying for that any longer" 
I'm sure that I'm not the only one that's hearing this lately. In return, it gives me some good ammunition to take to my vendors and say:
  • we can't afford to continue 10% or greater increases in subscriptions any more
  • we just don't recover as much as we used to from clients
  • my budget is slashed because of the bad economy
Now, I know that the vendors would never come out and say this to our faces, but if anyone is following the numbers coming out of the Am Law 100 firms so far this year, vendors could counter with something like "Your budget was cut again this year? But, didn't your firm just report that it had its best year ever? Sounds like your firm is doing just fine to me. That'll be an extra 10% increase in your subscription, thank  you very much."

Here are a few of the headlines that the Am Law 100 press releases have been bragging about lately:
  • Profits and Revenues Hit Record Highs
  • Very Big Year
  • Bump Up in Profits
  • It's Back to 2008
  • Profits Surge
  • Rise in Revenue, Profits
  • Profits, Revenue Rises

We all know that administrative cuts were deep over the past two to three years. Quite frankly, it'll be a long time before we ever see 2008 type budgets or staffing again. In fact, many of us believe that the downturn in the economy helped weed out some serious inefficiencies and helped us streamline the overall administrative side of the house. That being said, many of us also believe that we cannot continue to cut services without it eventually catching up with us, and potentially biting us in the butt. It is also pretty obvious that the excuses we've been using for the past two years are hard for others to accept when we're also slapping ourselves on the back for record profits.

We're at a cross-roads right now on developing ways to improve services provided by the administrative side of a law firm, without slipping back into the pre-2008 sloppiness that caused so many cuts in services and staffing. Vendors will probably think that it is "business as usual" in the legal industry; Partners will think that "we still need to run a lean operation"; however, it is those of us in the "non-lawyer" side of things that have to start developing ways to keep costs down while at the same time bringing services back up to an acceptable level that provides the firm with the resources it needs.

Time to put away the excuses of "we don't have the money" and time to start developing the new business model of "we can't afford to waste our time, effort and money on _____, any longer."

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Toby Brown said...

Or better yet - I wonder what clients think of these same headlines.

non-lawyer said...

As someone on the "non-lawyer" side, I wish every partner, manager, and director would read this blog. Questions like this challenge the firm-vendor, firm-client, and firm-staff relationships to come up with answers. Those not already asking themselves these questions are (unfortunately) happy with the way things are or are plotting their exits.

The services and work product now being provided _are_ better from the non-lawyer's perspective, but may be so seamless that a lawyer won't notice the difference. Since quality not always easy to measure, is it going to be a game of manufacturing statistics to justify the budget expense or will they accept our word? How is the confidence, robustness or conscientiousness of a non-lawyer work product to be measured?


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