Brand new alternative

Clare Quinn-Waters|Associate director of business development, Proskauer Rose

Under pressure from clients to reduce legal spend, many firms are looking at how they deliver legal services in new ways to maintain profitability and competitive advantage – but what impact does this have on a firm’s brand? Is it possible to be well positioned for big ticket work, and also offer commoditised products?

Innovation can be as simple as implementing a basic system or automation software, but it’s the firm that creates the ‘master platform’ that holds real competitive advantage.

At either end of this spectrum, we know that multi-functional teams can really drive client service forwards. Product developers, pitch teams, sector specialists, client managers, knowhow, finance, and relationship partners – all collaborating to create client-centric operating platforms – shape the client experience and build better, more cohesive relationships.

It could also be argued the Big Four use consulting work as a discovery phase to identify sales opportunities for their product team colleagues to pursue. However, an over-reliance on technological solutions might result in the human element of professional services taking a back seat, limiting opportunity to truly partner with the client to achieve their business objectives.

Therefore, understanding the client need is key when refining delivery models. But it also yields fruit. Deep sector knowledge has enabled firms to ‘build kit’ for industries rather than individual clients – meaning these products can become a new revenue source. Earlier in 2018, Pinsent Masons sold its digital compliance subsidiary to Dow Jones, demonstrating just one possible pathway of investment in alternative delivery models.

On the other hand, evaluating success using short-term metrics and aggressive sales targets is dangerous and potentially shifts focus from business improvement. And are delivery models following the path of value-added services? Over time, what was once a genuine differentiator can become business as usual, so the pressure is on for firms to be viewed as real leaders in this field.

Finally, we should remember that much of what law firms consider ‘low value’ work (time intensive, low revenue) is actually business-critical to the client. Discussing what value means to clients provides an opportunity for firms to think about ‘behavioural’ rather than ‘transactional’ branding, and to position the firm’s commerciality as its differentiator. Game-changing acquisitions such as Clifford Chance and Carillion, or the recent EY Riverview Law deal, certainly demonstrate a general appetite for disruption, and the market can use such developments to contextualise the benefits of alternative delivery models. However, robust and consistent messaging has to be developed to prevent new brand investments from cannibalising the core.There is certainly opportunity for firms that manage this feat. Clients’ legal departments face growing demands from their boards to innovate to reduce legal spend, but they may have little resource to invest in developing in-house systems. Innovation can be as simple as implementing a basic system or automation software, but it’s the firm that creates the ‘master platform’ that holds real competitive advantage.

This article originates from Briefing September 2018: Let’s talk shop

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