Strategy Consultant for TGO Consulting
Author of Death Of A Law Firm
LFMS: As someone with over 15 years’ experience heading up the business development and strategic function within the international legal sector, what is – in your view – the single biggest issue that threatens a successful future for law firms?
JB: After decades of continuous growth of revenue and profit, today law firms are confronted with multiple challenges. The single most threatening being ‘commoditization’. A legal service is marked commoditized when, from the client’s perspective, multiple law firms can perform the same task equally well. Whenever this is the case the client has freedom of choice without sacrificing quality. This will inevitably lead to price becoming the decisive factor. Clients consider 80-85% of all external legal services a commodity. The problem is that lawyers almost invariably suffer from ‘commoditization blindness’ meaning that they consider what they do bespoke and unique.
Commoditization has an eroding effect on profitability. Due to ‘commoditization blindness’ many law firms fail to take adequate action. This might eventually spiral into its collapse.
LFMS: When you look at how other professional services sectors are responding to changing market conditions, what do you feel the legal sector should be emulating?
JB: The business of law has always been one of the most successful business models around. Many partners make more money than the average CEO or Head of State. The legal sector has weathered many storms and still always managed to increase profit. The problem is that nothing fails like success. Now for the first time in history the business of law needs to reinvent itself. Today there is still time to change. Soon it will be too late. The problem is that it’s hard to venture into uncharted territory when you are still making tons of money with the current way of working. However there effectively is no choice. The future will be only for those who dare to change and adapt the business model.
LFMS: Your best selling treatise on the “Death of a Law Firm” has been described as a must-read for anyone in the legal sector. What’s your top tip for law firms who want to avoid the doom threatened by the title and achieve not only survival, but continued growth, in the future?
JB: Opening their eyes to the effect of commoditization would be a good start. On a rational level that is something that is quite easy to grasp. However converting rational understanding into action is where the problems start. In most law firms each partner in the end has his or her own agenda. Typically a partner is more worried about his/her own position than about the position of the firm as a whole. On top of that comes that partners rarely fully trust each other. So the top tip I guess is to start putting the ‘firm’ above ‘self’. The firm has to do well and retention or growth of profit in the coming years is a key element for which each individual partner bears a personal responsibility. Taking action should not be delegated to management or BD.
LFMS: What recommendations do you have for fellow marketing and business development professionals in the legal sector in terms of how to engage their firms in the business development challenge?
JB: Recognize that partners are under constant pressure to make billable hours. Partners are also risk averse and prefer to focus on legal matters. This means that BD will be most effective if partner involvement is limited to 10-15 minutes per day and if it is straightforward and clear what the partner is supposed to do. Avoid meetings and focus on small steps and quick wins. All too often nothing ever happens because we keep looking for the perfect plan. It is always better to start executing fast and build on the experience gained. Make sure all partners involved feel personally responsible for the success of the project; do not delegate that responsibility to a project manager. It is the role of BD to inspire and know what’s out there. To that end, I’m sure this conference will be a great contribution.
LFMS: Why do you feel the time is right for this inaugural Law Firm Marketing Summit to take place in London/Europe?
JB: London and New York are widely regard to be the legal capitals of the world. No place in Europe has a higher lawyer density than London. No city in Europe brings together more talented professionals than London and realistically English is the international business language of choice. With 3 major business airports, London also has excellent connections with the rest of Europe. Given these premises it is not surprising that the first Law Firm Marketing Summit is to take place in London. However I would encourage to consider other major European cities like Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam or Munich for future editions.
LFMS: Looking at the agenda for the Law Firm Marketing Summit, which sessions [apart from your own of course] are you most looking forward to?
JB: When I first got involved in this conference I immediately thought is was a great initiative. Once I had seen the finalized agenda I got really excited. As you can imagine through the years I have participated in many conferences all over the world. The Law Firm Marketing Summit will be by comparison time well spent for all those BD professionals who already have a lot on their plate but nevertheless have the ambition to do constantly better. Attending this conference will be time well invested. It is not so much the individual presentation but the sum of all topics and speakers that make this event so special. Be on time, don’t leave early. Keep your hands off your iPhone and participate actively. Maximize your take away, become more effective and increase your value for your firm.