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Practice innovation — at least in terms of pricing, project management and process improvement (the three “P’s”) — is the focus of the Legal Marketing Association’s P3 Conference, which just wrapped its second year. We asked Steve Nelson to report back on the highlights of P3 2014 — an eye-opener — held last week in Chicago. Here are five things he learned.
1. Law firm teams in pricing and legal project management are growing quickly. It was revealed that there are now 16 non-practicing pricing and project management professionals at Reed Smith and 12 at Mayer Brown, just to name a couple of firms. Largely, these hires are coming from consulting and the business world, not other law firms.
2. There is a growing focus on budgets. While lawyers and others view legal project management and process improvement through the prism of pricing and alternative fee arrangements, it’s very clear that the concepts need to be utilized in all client engagements — including those handled under the traditional billable hour. Indeed, the most significant change driven by law departments in recent years has not been the shift to AFAs, but an overall concentration on budgeting and metrics.
3. Clients are bulking up, too. Corporate clients are facing many of the same challenges as law firms. For example, the increasing influence of procurement officials has pushed law departments to change the way they look at legal services. As a result, companies are staffing up as well. Officers at two companies — Duke Energy Co. and PNC Financial Services — reported on how they are building their internal pricing and project management teams, and how their demands on outside law firms have changed.
4. Beyond spreadsheets. Technology is a critical component of legal project management and pricing — from research to budgeting to monitoring metrics and more. Two different sets of concurrent sessions focused on technology’s role, with vendors such as Redwood Analytics, Prosperoware, Randy Steere LLC, Elevate Services, Thompson Reuters Elite, Sky Analytics, Valeo Partners, Tymetrix, DFTech, Intapp and Satori Group playing key roles. Lawyers need the right tools, of course, but at the same time, firms need to ensure that their lawyers and other professionals are not overwhelmed by the technology. That was brought home in a panel recounting how Gowlings embarked on a “just enough” legal project management program with the aid of Elevate Services after the firm experienced difficulties trying to use complex LPM software.
5. Proving ground for tomorrow’s law firm leaders. Legal project management professionals are well positioned to take on increasingly significant roles in law firms. These functions are not merely an adjunct to the services that law firms provide (like marketing and finance), but rather go to the heart of the practice of law itself. As Toby Brown, Chief Practice Officer at Akin Gump, pointed out, future law firm COOs could very well come from those who have been handling practice innovation.
Stephen Nelson is Managing Principal of the Law & Government Affairs and Law Firm Administration practices at The McCormick Group, an executive search firm based in Arlington, Va. Steve conducts searches for partners and high-level marketing, practice management and professional development professionals. Previously he served in high-level editorial and management positions at Legal Times and Prentice Hall Law & Business. He is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.
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