The 14th Annual Law Firm COO & CFO Forum Wrap-Up: Navigating Uncharted Waters

Topics: COO/CFO Forum, Corporate Legal, Law Firms, Thomson Reuters

NEW YORK — Last week’s 14th Annual COO & CFO Forum delivered enormous value to the nearly 300 registrants who attended through a combination of plenary sessions and focused breakouts. The event explored the management issues with which law firm COOs and CFOs must contend as they fulfill their increasingly important functions in these turbulent and changing times.

…In what is actually an expanding market, more and more market share is moving toward in-house…

We got an early start with a “pre-Forum” session Wednesday afternoon on the implications of big data and data analytics for law firms, which I had the pleasure lead. In three separate panels we examined:

  • What “big data” means in the law firm context and how to identify the data sets that provide reservoirs of valuable learning;
  • How data analytics deliver strategic value at a fraction of the cost of conventional methods, if it were retrievable at all; and
  • How firms can lead their partners and other personnel to maximize the value of big data.

Each panel offered useful anecdotes on each topic, facilitating a practical understanding of this important and complex subject. Later Wednesday evening, Intelliteach sponsored a dinner for all Forum attendees at the iconic Four Seasons Restaurant.

We opened the full Forum on Thursday, with two sessions on the changing legal marketplace. In the first, Forum Co-Chairs Jim Jones, Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center, and Dan DiPietro, Managing Director and Chairman of Citi Private Bank Law Firm Group, presented comprehensive data on the changing financial performance of law firms, providing insight into the challenges law firms are facing, the emerging segmentation among firms, the dispersion of financial results within AmLaw segments, together with analysis of the root causes of these financial trends.

LEI Chairman Ralph Baxter

LEI Chairman Ralph Baxter

I then shared an analysis of the ways corporate clients are changing how and from whom they access legal service, demonstrating that, in what is actually an expanding market, more and more market share is moving toward in-house (currently $160 billion, or about 36.6% of the US market), to alternative providers, and to law firms that best meet the clients’ desire for cost effective legal service, and away from the incumbent market leading law firms. I closed the opening session by describing the law firm of the future, expanding on concepts about which I wrote in an earlier blog post.

In the second session on Thursday morning, Joy Spicer, CEO of Elegrity, led a panel of COOs and CFOs of four law firms with different profiles in a discussion of how their firms are adapting to the changing marketplace. In addition to specific issues on new technologies, pricing changes, alternate staffing programs, and collaboration with third parties, the panelists provided valuable insights regarding management and leadership techniques they employ to guide partners and firm management in the directions they need to pursue. The panel also emphasized the increased importance, in these changing times, of traditional factors such as branding, client relationship management and succession planning.

On Thursday afternoon, Forum attendees divided into four break-out seesions to explore subjects in greater detail.

  • John Fernandez, Chief Innovation Officer of Dentons, led a panel on the promise of artificial intelligence and machine learning in the delivery of legal service. The panel recognized the enormous potential of these technologies, discussed the progress already made in document creation and analysis, but generally characterized progress as being at an early stage.
  • Evan Parker, Director of Analytics at Lawyer Metrics, led a panel on lateral partner hiring. The panel shared concrete and valuable insights on how best to select lateral candidates, including excellent anecdotal information regarding due diligence, and on the equally important challenge of integrating partners once they arrive.
  • Terrence Herlihy, Solutions Architect at DTI, led a panel that explored methods to help law firm partners become more adept at project management. The panel of three highly experienced law firm COOs shared their experiences, including successes and disappointments, in leading and managing partners on this vital undertaking.
  • Amanda Brady, a principal at Major, Lindsey & Africa, led a panel on the very sensitive issue of dealing with partners and groups that do not meet the needs of the firm in these challenging times. The panel of four COOs provided a candid and specific set of observations, based on real-world situations, that they had faced.

The first day concluded with a penetrating panel discussion of how firms can and must maintain sound financial accounting as they introduce and manage new strategies and models. In addition to sharing financial techniques, the panelists emphasized how important concepts of leadership and salesmanship are in achieving the desired behaviors.

The final day of the Forum began with a keynote address on a core subject all attendees confront: Making strategic decisions in a rapidly changing and uncertain environment. Dr. Vijay Govindarajan, professor in the School of Business at Dartmouth College, provided valuable lessons from his research and experience about the keys to making sound decisions in uncharted waters.

We concluded the Forum with a look ahead. Marcie Shunk, a Senior Consultant at LawVision Group, led a panel of experts from different industry sectors who shared their thoughts about the changes clients will encounter in the year ahead and how those changes will influence the way clients access legal service. The specific observations were illuminating and reinforced the fundamental reality that clients will be increasingly insistent on legal service being delivered ever more efficiently — a theme that resonated throughout all three days of the Forum.