In 2007 I left my position as firmwide marketing director at Heller Ehrman. At the time I certainly knew the firm was in trouble, but I never once believed the challenges it faced would be insurmountable.
I feel like Pollyanna saying this now, but I believed in Heller’s core values, in the integrity of the partnership. At the end of the day, I thought that would be enough to turn the firm around. Lest anyone say differently, it was a good firm made up of high-quality people.
Heller’s unfortunate legacy likely will be how its implosion served as the first tremor of a seismic shift across the legal industry. In the three years since leaving, I’ve watched from the sidelines as Heller closed its doors. I saw other law firms around the country struggle to stay afloat. I’ve witnessed the layoffs of thousands of lawyers and professional staff during the toughest economy of my lifetime.
Leaving Heller also gave me a new perspective on the legal industry, enabling me to regain the objectivity I once prided myself on in my first career as a legal journalist. Based on my own experience, as well as in conversations with partners, knowledge managers and marketing executives from law firms and legal departments around the country, several themes emerge:
1. Inefficiencies are rampant throughout all functions of law firms. Silos across firms result in duplicative efforts among individual lawyers, offices and practice groups.
2. Corporations are more sophisticated buyers of legal services than they have ever been in the past. As evidenced by initiatives such as the ACC Value Challenge, clients are leveraging their buying power by demanding more from their outside counsel.
3. Disruptive technologies will force law firms to change their business model. In-house lawyers understand this, but law firms are late to the game.
Even today the economy shoulders most of the blame for the struggling legal market. But for law firms, the financial crisis is merely symbolic of Dorothy pulling back the curtain on a weak wizard trying to keep his reign over a kingdom transforming before his eyes. The wizard behind this curtain is a business model that promotes inefficiency, fears innovation, and denies a client base demanding service levels few firms are able to meet.
To be sure, exceptions exist for every rule. A number of firms do address these challenges head on, but it is a slow process.
For all these reasons, Law Firm Transitions was born. My company, Legal Vertical Strategies, believes value-driven legal service models are the future for law firms.
As a principal at LVS, I have the unique opportunity of working with both buyers and sellers of legal services—law firms and legal vendors.
I plan to draw upon that experience to help drive the needed dialogue to define and implement these changes. Along the way, we’ll talk about best practices for driving revenue and growing client relationships.
I certainly don’t have all the answers and hope you will join the conversation to share your thoughts and advice as well.