The Friday Five

What I Learned at the First P3 Conference

By | Oct.18.13 | Daily Dispatch, Fees, Law Practice, The Friday Five, Trends

getting clients title showing three people

If you like this sort of thing (and I really do), the P3 Conference was an energizing, cutting-edge event that, for the first time, brought together three traditionally discrete disciplines — pricing, practice improvement and project management — to compare notes on some big trends in the practice of law.

Held October 1-3 in Chicago, the conference drew a diverse group of nearly 200, including law firm pricing experts (a new field that’s really growing), business development and marketing pros, practice managers, corporate procurement experts, service providers to law firms and corporate law types. Hosted by the Legal Marketing Association‘s Client Value SIG, the emphasis was on both the big picture (what lawyers actually do and how they do it) and the small (how to get recalcitrant associates to turn in timesheets more quickly).

To me, it resembled some early meetings of the Legal Marketing Association, when people were still trying to get their arms around what was happening to the legal profession — and whether or not they wanted to play this silly new game. For the law practice management wonk — and I’ll own that — it was fascinating. For the practitioner, useful in the extreme.

You Can Take That to the Bank

My fingers are seriously crossed that the P3 Conference will become an annual event. Not only would it spread the gospel of an increasingly business-focused legal profession, but also create new knowledge and benchmark new practices. Here are my five favorite take-home tidbits — facts, new ways of seeing things, inspiration —  from this year’s event. If you were there and drawn to others, please share them in the comments below.

1. It’s not just arrogance. Like it or not, the past two decades of growth for big firms has served to increase the cost of legal services due to the sheer growing expense of coordination among offices and among lawyers. If you are a solo or small firm, that’s good news. If you’re responsible for a big firm, that should have you laser-focused on how to get those coordination costs down.

2. Commodity work is an opportunity. Many law firms will say that commodity work — simple, low-priced legal tasks that can be done over and over again with little need for customization — is uninteresting and not profitable. However, unless you’re only in the law business to get your intellectual jollies, commodity work represents a huge opportunity to increase profitability. It takes a businesslike approach to staff, manage and price it correctly, that’s all.

3. Forehead smack. Clients are not interested in supporting the existence of traditional law firms. Imagine that!

4. Forms banks can be sexy. How long have we been talking about forms banks? All I have to do is say the words and you get the yawns, right? Well, here’s how the pioneers at this conference are thinking about it: Re-useable forms save time, so if you are charging for your services any way other than hourly, that means expanded profit margins. Got your attention, didn’t I? Not only that: It was pointed out that the more complex a deal is, the greater the opportunity to use standardized forms … if you’re doing it right.

5. Remember the maxim “If you do good work, clients will just come to you”? Those were the good old days. LegalZoom has spent hundreds of millions of dollars (so far) to take your basic clients away from you. What are you doing about it?

Merrilyn Astin Tarlton has been helping lawyers and law firms think differently about the business of practicing law since 1984. She is Partner/Catalyst at Attorney at Work, a founding member of the Legal Marketing Association, an LMA Hall of Fame inductee, and a past President of the College of Law Practice Management. Follow her on Twitter @astintarlton.

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