In the past decade, we’ve seen a shift in the way legal departments buy legal services: The number of professionals who are not lawyers who are influencing the buying and selling of legal services has grown. It now includes new players on both sides of the equation — legal marketers and legal operations/procurement. For the sake of this article, I’m going to refer to procurement and operations in the same grouping, but they are separate functions that can have overlapping roles. (Click here for Buying Legal Council’s two-page primer on the differences between the roles.)
Buyers and Sellers
While the ultimate decision-making responsibility for purchasing legal services typically resides with the chief legal officer, general counsel or a C-suite executive, these new players are taking leading roles in influencing those decisions. Here are two areas where buyers and sellers — legal operations/procurement professionals and legal marketing professionals — can collaborate for the benefit of both parties.
Buyers and sellers of legal services agree that there is room for improvement in the sharing of data and information. For example, the RFP process is a great opportunity for these two groups to collaborate to make the process more efficient for both sides.
Legal operations/procurement and legal marketing are both responsible for the project management of an RFP. So, it makes sense that when a law firm is invited to respond, the issuer involves not only the firm’s lead lawyer but also the legal marketing professional who is managing the response process. This is an opportunity for each side to have a key contact to handle information sharing that does not require time from the general counsel or partner. By creating a direct relationship with the firm’s marketing contact, legal operations has a dedicated individual who will make the RFP a top priority and ensure the issuer has the information needed for the decision-making process. From planning the logistics to clarifying questions to providing financial data, the marketing contact can make the process much more efficient versus going directly to a partner who may be tied up in trial and may delay the process.
Another example of data sharing comes when an RFP issuer is looking for a fixed fee. Corporate legal departments complain that law firms are often unable to provide a fixed fee for a specific matter and often give broad estimates with complex assumptions, making it harder to identify the true cost. On the other hand, the biggest complaint from the law firms is that they aren’t given enough information on the scope of the work, so they are unable to provide a fixed fee bid. If legal operations/procurement and legal marketing can better collaborate to discuss what data points are required for the firm to submit a hard bid, then pricing directors and lawyers will get the data they need to scope out the matter and submit a fixed fee with confidence.
Law firms are constantly looking for ways to cross-sell their services. Historically, this was left to the relationship manager to pursue by convincing the general counsel to consider the firm for work in additional practice areas. While this will always be an option, today legal operations/procurement can play influential roles in the cross-selling process too. They are more likely than the general counsel to have the time and interest in listening to law firm pitches and can be a positive influence in getting the firm on the list for consideration— if you are able to sell them on your value proposition.
‘[F]irms are not engaging legal ops and making that connection — but continue to focus on their traditional relationships with their in-house contacts. That’s a missed opportunity.’ — Connie Brenton
(Source: The Care and Feeding of a New Kind of Customer: Working With Legal Departments of the Future)
Platforms for Collaboration
Creating client-facing roles focused on developing new business has been a trend in legal marketing. These professionals are armed with a deep knowledge of the firm or a specific practice area and asked to develop opportunities to drive revenue for the firm.
Legal operations and procurement professionals see legal marketers as their counterparts in the buying and selling process, much like a partner is a counterpart to the general counsel. This creates a great opportunity for client-facing legal marketers to establish a connection in the legal department that can influence who might be invited to the next RFP or invited to pitch to the general counsel.
Also, legal marketers can be great allies to legal operations/procurement in “getting what they want” from law firms. The Corporate Legal Operations Consortium 2019 State of the Industry Survey noted the following as the top four responses to what they want from firms:
- More creative AFAs
- Better project management
- More internal use of technology
- Digital access to content, advice or customized documents
What’s interesting to note is while legal marketing professionals may not be wholly responsible for these items, they would be the best person to act as a connector to the right people in the firm and help facilitate change.
Fostering Collaboration: Key Associations and Organizations
Here are key trade organizations that support the development of professionals from these groups. While the associations only allow membership to their own profession, they all have limited member options, online communities and educational programs where ideas and content can be shared. And they all host live events that provide ample networking opportunities.
- Association of Corporate Counsel — Legal Operations (ACC)
- Buying Legal Council (BLC)
- Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC)
- Legal Marketing Association (LMA)
- Legal Sales and Services Organization (LSSO)
The more collaboration we see between these organizations, the more we expect these roles to impact today’s legal marketplace.
To learn more about how legal marketers and legal ops can collaborate:
Join Matthew Prinn on November 15 for “RFPs: The Storm Is Coming — Is Your Firm Ready?” during the 2019 LMA Northeast Regional Conference, where he will be joined by Adrienne Fox, Director of Global Category Management – Legal Services at Novartis Services Inc.
To learn more about the buying and selling relationship:
- “The Care and Feeding of a New Kind of Customer: Working With Legal Departments of the Future” (interview with NetApp’s Connie Brenton)
- “How a 50-Lawyer Shop Became NetApp’s Go-To Law Firm” by Laura Ernde
- “Five Questions to Ask Before Responding to an RFP” by Matt Prinn
- “What Prospects Really Need Is Help Making a Decision” by Mike O’Horo