More Project Management & Process Improvement Courses Added

Due to increasing demand, we are now offering additional dates to attend the Legal Lean Sigma Institute instructional courses in Process Improvement and Project Management. The highly interactive, experiential-learning courses combined lecture with hands-on experience to illustrate the effectiveness of the tools and methodologies. Our past attendees have cited the practicality of the course, the benefit of collaborating with others facing similar challenges, and the variety of perspectives we and other participants share -- these courses are ideal for law firm partners, law firm associates, finance professionals, marketing & business development professionals, corporate General Counsel, in-house counsel, procurement professionals, and both novice and experienced practitioners of either project management or process improvement. While most of our work is customized and delivered privately to law departments and law firms, these pubic open-enrollment courses provide a great opportunity to see the ideas in action, to interact with similarly situated colleagues facing the same resistance and catalysts to change, and to gain a better understanding of how and at what pace to roll out such an initiative in your organization.

Our next open enrollment white belt certification course is a one-day workshop, held in Los Angeles on May 24, 2016, and hosted by the law firm of Greenberg Glusker.

Our next open enrollment yellow belt certification is a two-day workshop, held in Boston on July 26-27, 2016, and hosted by Suffolk Law School.

For more details on costs and registration, click here. For more information on process improvement and project management, click here and here and here.

 

Timothy B. Corcoran was the 2014 President of the Legal Marketing Association and is an elected Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He delivers keynote presentations, conducts workshops, and advises leaders of law firms, in-house legal departments and legal service providers on how to profit in a time of great change. For more information, contact him at +1.609.557.7311 or at tim@corcoranconsultinggroup.com.

Random thoughts on the future of law and technology

I have the good fortune of meeting and collaborating with some pretty influential players in this cozy little global profession of law practice. Monica Bay is one of those with whom, and from whom, I've learned a great deal. While it's shocking to comprehend the passage of time, I first worked alongside Monica over 20 years ago when we were colleagues at a spunky little technology startup called Counsel Connect, a division of American Lawyer. You can probably google the history somewhere, but essentially Monica and I were part of an effort to bring social media and technology to the mainstream legal profession long before it was cool to do so. I played a minor role in comparison to the other staff members and volunteer contributors, many of whom continue today as thought leaders in this field. But over time I've gained a few insights of my own, and I've had the luxury of sharing my learnings and wisdom, such as it is, as a leader, manager, mentor, and now consultant, where I regularly offer insights at law firm and law department retreats, at conferences, and, of course, on this blog. I was delighted when Monica, in her role as roving reporter at the recent ILTACON15, asked me to spend a few moments reminiscing on what we've seen transpire in this profession, and what we see coming in the near and long-term. We touch on the role of technology, the demise (?) of the billable hour, project management, process improvement, change management and how incentives influence the pace of change, and what's next. I hope you enjoy watching and listening to our conversation as much as I enjoyed having it.

 

ILTACON 2015 - ILTA TV - Monica Bay interviews Timothy Corcoran from ILTA on Vimeo.

Upcoming Legal Lean Sigma Certification Course in Project Management and Process Improvement

What is it? The Legal Lean Sigma Institute is hosting another of its popular "open enrollment" white belt certification courses in project management and process improvement. Join us in Chicago on November 11 for an in-depth dive into PM and PI. We combine lecture and interactive exercises to help attendees understand and then apply PM and PI concepts adapted for implementation in the law firm and law department settings. We cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time, but participants will leave with a solid understanding of both the fundamentals and how they can be applied.

Who should attend?

The white belt certification course is ideal for those who are ready, or getting ready, to embark upon a continuous improvement initiative within their organizations. It's also a great refresher for those who have had some exposure but haven't had much opportunity to engage. We held a standing-room only session earlier this year exclusively for in-house counsel, so those who were unable to join us are welcome. We've also held a number of private white belt and yellow belt certification courses for clients in the US and Canada, so this session is ideal for team members who have joined your continuous improvement initiatives but weren't at the initial training. This is also an ideal session for law firm and law department leaders who don't expect to personally dive into the details, but need to know enough about these concepts to establish a vision for continuous improvement and then supervise the effort. Of particular interest to senior leaders are the modules on understanding the economics of continuous improvement. Think PM and PI are bad for law firms, because efficiency doesn't pay as well as inefficiency (even though it's not cool to say that out loud)? We'll show how law firms can generate greater profits from PM and PI while improving client satisfaction. Think your law department is too complex to "routinize" all of your legal matters? We'll show you how to better link upstream your business management's needs with your law department resources and mission.

How do I enroll?

The event is produced by our friends at the Ark Group, so visit their site here to register. As of this writing, there are individual seats available and a few slots for teams.

Collaboration - It's not just for breakfast anymore

Orange JuiceOne of the most iconic and memorable advertising slogans was developed by the Florida Orange Growers Association to expand interest in orange juice from a breakfast drink to an all-day drink. "Orange Juice - It's not just for breakfast anymore." This slogan came to mind recently after I conducted a project management and process improvement workshop for nearly 100 in-house counsel. The program provided an overview of key concepts along with opportunities for attendees to begin applying the learnings to their own particular law department challenges. One section was devoted to collaboration with outside counsel, with the underlying rationale that few law departments operate in isolation. Sooner or later, in-house counsel will need to rely on outside counsel, so we'd better understand how best to communicate in order to maximize the collaboration. Indeed, some of the most effective and impactful workshops occur when both in-house counsel and their outside counsel representatives come together at the same table. A handful of in-house counsel offered feedback after the workshop that the trend in their organizations is to keep more I work in-house, so they suggested we de-emphasize the need for collaboration with outside counsel. This trend has been widely reported elsewhere. Trouble is, this is not a sustainable trend. Yes, of course, there is some legal work that is more effectively managed in-house. There is also some work that doesn't need to be handled by the legal department at all. And there is a great deal of legal work that can benefit from treating it like it isn't the first time we've encountered it. Ron Friedmann and I will be exploring this as part of our #DoLessLaw panel at the upcoming ILTA conference. But, and let me be gentle here to any potential empire builders, there is no way most CEOs will agree to a long-term shift of outside counsel spend to in-house counsel spend.

Businesses make products or deliver services. The good ones have a narrow focus and develop significant expertise in their core competency. For some, it's a unique product feature; for others, it's a business process, like a lean supply chain or a global distribution infrastructure. But one thing is certain -- doing legal work is far from the organization's core competency. That's not to say the in-house legal department, if one exists, does a poor job. In fact, oftentimes quite the opposite is true. A small group of lawyers takes on an astounding array of legal topics every day with efficiency. But growing the legal department is not an area of strategic priority for the CEO. We want to be good at it and not waste money but nor do we want to spend a single dollar or Euro or Pound more than necessary to achieve the desired results. For every law department that is in-sourcing legal work in order to exploit efficiencies and save money, there's a law department that five years ago in-sourced and now a new CEO has determined that the organization can save on its carrying costs by outsourcing non-core functions, like legal work. Many law firms exist solely because companies don't want to do legal work when an equivalent investment in new product innovation can generate far greater returns.

So collaboration between in-house counsel and outside counsel is here to stay. But I'm astounded to learn how few organizations have a systemic, sustainable, measurable program of collaboration between in-house counsel and outside counsel, let alone between in-house counsel and the internal clients who rely on them. We need to fix this. We can talk all day long about developing a philosophy of continuous improvement, and we can all attend process improvement and project management workshops, but until we do this together, with all stakeholders represented, we won't maximize the benefits of our collaboration.

With that in mind, the good folks at CounselLink asked me to offer some suggestions for how in-house counsel and outside counsel can approach collaboration, beyond merely working on a legal matter together. Jump over to the CounselLink Business of Law blog for "7 Creative Ideas to Kick Start Collaborative Legal Conversations." And while you're at it, go ahead and share some of your own. After all, we're all in this together. Collaboration -- it's not just for breakfast anymore.

 

Timothy B. Corcoran is the immediate past President of the Legal Marketing Association and an elected Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He delivers keynote presentations, conducts workshops, and advises leaders of law firms, in-house legal departments, and legal service providers on how to profit in a time of great change.  To inquire about his services, contact him at +1.609.557.7311 or at tim@corcoranconsultinggroup.com.

The Predictability and Perils of Over-Monetization

"There is no such thing as over-monetization!" Until the client catches on. And then you're screwed. I don't know when I first learned that money could become a verb and monetize and monetization were a thing. But as a young corporate guy moving up the ladder, these words were ideal additions to my vocabulary. If there was one thing I was good at, it was making money for my organization. But in my perpetual quest to close sales, develop new products, defeat the competition, and win awards, I never lost sight of the client's needs. In fact, it was this laser focus on long-term client satisfaction that formed the basis for my success year after year.

It sounds simple in practice, but when faced with the choice to make a few more dollars today while potentially putting the long-term client relationship at risk, many businesspeople are awfully short-sighted. And so it is with lawyers, whose compensation plans often reward billing hours, collecting cash receipts, and generating sizable short-term profits. Maximizing matter profitability often conflicts with a client's desire to lower legal spending. So we might win the battle but lose the war when the client selects a different law firm for future matters of this type. In the end, did we really profit from this transaction?

In this endless quest to make money and make sales, why are we surprised when clients react negatively to high prices? priceincreasesIn simple terms, in a price elastic (or price sensitive) market clients buy less when the price goes up and they buy more when the price goes down. In an inelastic market, the price doesn't have the same direct influence on buying behavior. Many law firm partners came of age at a time when clients were less price sensitive, or had sufficient legal budget so they could overcome their annoyance at rising prices. A simple google search will reveal in-house counsel complaining of rising rates for decades, but most did little about it until the "Great Reset" when shrinking legal budgets drove new behaviors. In addition to seeking lower prices -- by extracting price concessions from incumbent law firms and/or by shifting work to smaller firms with lower rates -- clients also began to seek alternatives and substitutes, e.g., more in-house staff, or LPOs, or non-traditional legal providers, to meet their legal demands. This behavior is as predictable as the sun rising in the East.

The concept of over-monetization is simple: when clients can obtain similar services at lower prices elsewhere, or when clients can obtain reasonable alternatives and substitutes at lower prices, and they act on this, your prices are too high. If your offerings are over-monetized, the clock is ticking. You can try, but you will never find enough new clients with pockets so deep they don't mind over-spending, or with management so inept that they don't recognize over-spending, to make up for the rush of clients out the door.

It is not hard to identify over-monetization. In the legal space, there are some excellent providers, e.g., Wolters Kluwer ELM Solutions (formerly TyMetrix), SkyAnalyticsBTICounselLink on the buyer side; Peer Monitor, PWC, Citibank, ALMBTI, and more on the seller side, to provide such benchmarking. Remember, it's not just how your published rates compare to other firms' published rates; it's what clients are actually paying that matters. However, numerous law firm leaders persist in believing their offerings are unique, not subject to price elasticity, or tied to a premium brand that is immune from the price pressures facing weaker competitors. For a few law firms, this is true. Odds are, this isn't you. (I'm being gentle. All legal services are eventually subject to price pressure.) If you're observing some leading indicators of price pressure, including decreased realization, decreased client retention, decreases in new matters, a declining competition win rate, increased discounts, increased demand to contain firm overhead, and so on, then you're in the thick of it.

Recognizing price sensitivity is half the battle. Business leaders have a bias for optimism, but when that optimism turns to blind stupidity the organization is in trouble. Some years ago my parent company's brand new CEO insisted that warnings of price pressure and declining market demand were merely the bleats of frightened sheep, so he outlawed the term "over-monetization" in all business discussions. He then insisted that all product lines must adopt a hefty price increase in the coming year, irrespective of past price increases, client demand, competitive forces, or any other factor. Every. Single. One. My team had spent a year developing a new pricing methodology for our core product offering because a long history of excessive price increases had eroded the goodwill of even our most loyal clients. The widespread adoption of substitutes and alternatives was rapidly eroding our revenues and profits as well, so we not only resisted raising our prices, we planned to lower our prices. And we were overruled. Even more onerous price increases took effect, and a few years later, long after most of us had moved on in frustration, the entire business unit disappeared. Completely. There was nothing left. The CEO, however, was handsomely rewarded when the price increases led to a one-time boost in revenues. Market analysts loved him. Until the following year when clients resisted that tactic. So he then conducted layoffs to boost profits. And he was rewarded again. Consistently boosting prices beyond what the market will bear works if your goal is to make a lot of money and run. But it's no way to build, or lead, a sustainable, successful business based on repeat clients.

The lesson is that ever-rising prices will not only eventually intersect with the clients' desire to spend less, it will often cause the clients' desire to spend less. But it doesn't have to be this way. Any business school teaches the concept of a business cycle in which products and services evolve from shiny new ideas adopted by a brave few, to commonplace tools in use by many, to outdated anachronistic offerings relied on only by slow movers. Typically prices are low for early stage offerings, and prices increase during the lifecycle until they reach their apex, at which point no one buys any longer. If your current offerings are over-monetized, you need to find new early-stage offerings that better meet market needs. Or start to downsize your business, because declining revenues and profits will not support the infrastructure you've built.

For law firms, this means finding new ways to price and package existing legal services so they better meet clients' desire to spend less. This can be a good thing. We can capture more market share from competitors who won't change their approach. We can lower our prices and win more. Of course, savvy business leaders recognize that we can't merely lower our prices to find long-term success; doing so would be tantamount to suicide. But we can embrace project management and process improvement in order to profit from efficiencies even as revenues for some product lines are flat or declining.

Your law firm is a business, so get over your angst about the use of words like price, and product, and sales. It's not a matter of if, but when your services will be over-monetized. So get there before your clients and you can reinvent your product offerings, and your business, before the disruptive new entrants and your fast-moving competitors dictate your future.

 

Timothy B. Corcoran is the immediate past President of the Legal Marketing Association and an elected Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. He delivers keynote presentations, conducts workshops, and advises leaders of law firms, in-house legal departments, and legal service providers on how to profit in a time of great change.  To inquire about his services, contact him at +1.609.557.7311 or at tim@corcoranconsultinggroup.com.