8/12/15

Structured Dialogue re Delivery of Legal Services

I keep using the term “structured dialogue” to describe an important piece of my Service Delivery Review. I want to dig into what I mean.

I believe law departments, law firms, and individual legal professionals have an ethical obligation to do things Better, Faster, Cheaper wherever possible regardless of the economic incentives. But the trouble with incentives is that they work.

As businesses, law firms really do need to concern themselves with the return on investments in process improvement, training, or technology. If we do X, will we get more business? Will our profits increase? While it is relatively easy to make the case as to how a particular innovation might improve quality or reduce labor, it is less straight forward to demonstrate that clients will actually care. And clients are a rather important piece of the economic equation.
Clients are right to frequently give their firms low marks on cost-consciousness and innovation (see chart above from George Beaton). I am among those in-house counsel who have exhorted law firms to be more cost-effective, efficient, tech savvy, etc. But where I depart from many, but not all, of my former colleagues is that I recognize that adjectives like “innovative” and “efficient” are vague. Nebulous mandates to ‘do better’ fail to offer much in the way of concrete guidance.

If a law firm were suddenly to get 10% more efficient, would their clients notice? Would their clients reward them with more business? Or would their clients continue to demand the same discounts and cut invoices by the same amount? I don’t have the answers. But the problem is that no one else does either. This inability to project ROI is an obstacle to making the business case for investments in process and technology.

The presumptions against law firm efficiency are so ingrained that it surely not enough for law firms to simply say they are efficient (which all of them already do). And it probably isn’t even enough to be efficient (few are). It is likely necessary for them to prove they are getting more efficient. But how?

Law departments and their core law firms should engage in structured dialogue about what the efficient delivery of legal services looks like. This starts with an honest mapping of the value stream. Identification of areas needing improvement should be followed by prioritization and collective decisions about deliverables, timelines, and measurement. This should be a true dialogue in which both sides are accountable for achieving shared goals. Just as law firms can do better at delivering legal services, law departments can do better at sharing information and integrating their law firms into the client’s legal supply chain. System efficiency, rather than individual efficiency, should be the overarching objective.

Structured dialogue should be an iterative process focused on continuous improvement, not a discrete project. Previous initiatives serve as the baseline for subsequent discussions. Where have we improved? What difference did it make? What lessons did we learn and how can those lessons be applied in selecting new priorities and establishing new targets?< Law firms should be more than just participants, they should stand to gain from demonstrably improving their value proposition and fulfilling their commitments to better serve their clients. This may mean more work. This may mean higher rates. This may mean less pushback on invoices resulting in higher realizations and profits. Law firms must invest real resources to improve service delivery. As businesses, they should see a return on those investments. To be more concrete, below is some output from my Service Delivery Review. These are exemplar findings that seek to mesh what the firm is doing with the client’s priorities. (Click to enlarge)


Importantly, these findings are intended to be a starting point for dialogue. Once the dialogue is concluded, commitments, timelines, measurement, and deliverables will all be memorialized. Clear expectations follow informed, structured dialogue.


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Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.
Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

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1 comments:

Maureen said...

Very interesting post. I'm a supplier to law firms, not working in one. Therefore, I read to understand my customers' world.

If I think about my medical clinic, for example, should their office become 10% more efficient, there's not a chance that they will charge me less. But now I may wait in the waiting room for a shorter period of time. They may remind me when I need lab work and automatically send the work order to the lab, etc. They save me time and make my life easier, so I choose them over other clinics. Clients may not always be looking for a price break, but the relief of a service provided very well. (You do indicate this.)

I like the report card.

On a tactical note, I wish that 3 Geeks would post the author's name at the top of a post. I find it to be disorienting not to know whose work I'm reading so I always page down first to find the author.

 

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