A new year gives us a chance to re-examine these four tenants: i) how we live our lives; ii) how we interact with those around us; iii) how we take care of ourselves; and iv) how we run our businesses and serve our clients.
In recognition of this, Thomson Reuters this year is creating a more focused Midsize Law Firms customer segment, and I am excited to be leading this new initiative.
As 2019 begins, leaders of midsize firms who are feeling squeezed from all sides should consider how they can best approach this dynamic market with deliberation and determination in order to compete with any legal service provider out there.
As law firm consolidation continues — and client options for legal service providers proliferate — mindful firm leaders can exploit the natural advantages of midsize firms to win the wars on business development and talent and on behalf of clients. To that end, here are a few midsize law firm resolutions for 2019:
1. Select a differentiation strategy and stick to it — There are 6,000-plus U.S. law firms in the midsize space: what is yours known for? Or put another way,what will resonate with the clients you’re trying to attract? You can be the green law firm, the tech-enabled pioneering law firm, the IP experts, the firm that has the best work/life balance for associates and partners, or the hometown firm that has never lost a case. Differentiate yourself from the pack and be consistent. Let it guide your hiring, your pro bono work, and your marketing to attract clients, as well as the PR when you’ve delivered for them. When a prospective client is choosing between you and another firm, what’s your advantage?
2. Punch above your weight class — Corporate general counsels are increasingly unbundling work and using a variety of legal service providers for cost effectiveness — and midsize firms are primed to take some of that business. The greater agility many midsize firms enjoy enables greater flexibility on tricky issues like rates and fees. Mind you, flexible fees don’t have to mean deep discounts; just match the fee to the work and deliver with the level of service clients expect, and you’ll be well-positioned to become a go-to partner.
3. Technology levels the playing field — There are many legal tech solutions on the market to make your attorneys more efficient. And finding and embracing the right one will allow your attorneys to spend more time issue-spotting and advising clients, which in turn, will allow your firm to deliver the level of service that will help differentiate you with clients. If you’re not looking at your lawyer work flow and finding opportunities to save minutes (multiplied by every client, all year long), your firm may be treading water while the more tech-enabled firms pass you by. Customers tell us prospective clients are increasingly asking for “proof of efficiency” — what’s yours?
4. Win the war on talent — Provide your associates with an environment where they can thrive professionally and personally. It’s not news that attitudes about work/life balance are shifting as boomer partners retire and next generation associates proliferate. Your firm should leverage technology to enable mobility, allowing your lawyers to work anywhere. Provide the tools and mentors to develop their confidence and expertise. Help them maximize their billing efficiency by putting more hours toward billable work rather than having them get up to speed or other tasks that will ultimately be written off. Why should your lawyers work 3,200 hours per year to bill 1,950, if they can bill that same amount by working only 2,500? A lawyer who can work efficiently whenever and wherever they please is one who can better serve their client and your firm. That person is more likely to stay with you rather than look for a better fit elsewhere, taking your investment in them — and possibly the colleagues and clients they’ve nurtured — wherever they go.
5. Think Big — This does not mean hire more lawyers for the sake of hiring more lawyers, rather you should think big in terms of overall growth. Our recent 2018 Dynamic Law Firms study examined a population of firms who were leading the market in terms of their growth in revenue and profitability. Fully one-third of those firms were midsize law firms. You don’t have to be big to experience big growth. But you do have to run a smart business focused on strategic investment, effective go-to-market strategies, efficient client-service delivery, and profitability.
From our vantage point, midsize law firms are poised to thrive in 2019 when their leaders focus on deliberate differentiation, client service, and talent.