Perhaps. That’s the warning from Soren Kaplan, writing for Inc. on the upcoming disruption about to rock the world of business and management consultants everywhere. In an article titled, “The Business Consulting Industry Is Booming, and It’s About to Be Disrupted,” Kaplan states: (more…)
The seamless look of the new technology is thanks to “integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware” according to Tesla’s website. Electrek said these features come from Zep Solar, a mounting equipment company SolarCity acquired before Tesla’s acquisition. Zep Solar engineers designed the rail-less system Solar City employed to slash solar installation times in half.
So this is satire, just to be clear… John Frank Weaver, writing for the always hilarious McSweeney’s, offers a wonderfully hand-crafted glimpse into the imaginary life of an Artisanal Attorney.
Weaver opens his piece with the question, “Are you tired of large corporate law firms making the same cookie cutter litigation?” (I know that I am not alone in the construction defect industry that immediately thinks of one law firm in particular upon reading that question.
How is an artisanal attorney different from any other attorney? Like other artisans, I pay close attention to my ingredients and process; I am intimately involved in all stages of creation. Other attorneys print their documents on paper they buy in mass-produced boxes, tens of thousands of sheets at a time, using ink that mechanically jets onto the page. I make my own paper by hand, using the traditional methods of 14th-century book publishers, who printed their works on linen and vellum. The flax for the linen grows along the sides of a nearby swimming hole, and the plants’ growth is influenced by the laughter of children in the summer, when I pick it by hand. The vellum comes from the grass-fed cows of an area farm; to give the cows more agency in the vellum-making process, I let them choose the pumice I will treat their hides with after slaughter. I also make my own ink, using the ink of squid I raise myself in a PETA-approved salt-water aquarium in my office. You can meet all my squid during our initial meeting and pick which one you want for the ink on your will or healthcare power of attorney…
Don’t be lulled into a complacent life filled with more cheap, manufactured goods than you’ll ever need and lawsuits that don’t reflect your uniqueness. Insist on a life well-lived with food, experiences, and litigation that reflect people and skills, not factories and automation. The next time you need to settle a boundary dispute with your neighbor, consult with me – I’m your artisanal attorney. You can find me on Bedford Avenue, in between Ruby’s Fluoridation-Free Fire Sprinkler Installation and Otto’s Mustache Groomery.
Since first reading Alan Weiss’ in-depth writings on the subject of value-based fees, I have become a strong proponent of the concept. Several years ago, I introduced a methodology for establishing value-based pricing for construction defect expert consulting services that has been successfully implemented on over a hundred engagements and led to significantly increased profit margins for companies that have adopted the practice.
Writing at CPA Trendlines, consultant Alex Koltin wrote a post offering his predictions and recommendations for CPAs in the coming year called, 2014 Roundtable: The Gloves Are Off. Last, but certainly not least, of Koltin’s points is the following:
I think the value billing phenomenon (throw out your timesheets and just bill for value!) will lose some of its steam. I sense some of the firms that have executed the strategy are having some challenges when they are trying to measure associate and partner performance, as well as a high degree of difficulty when trying to merge other firms in. I believe the concept of value billing is wonderful, but I’m sure not a believer in burning the timesheets and not knowing what our true costs are along the way to deliver the service.
Besides Alan Weiss, one of the other heavyweights in promoting value-based fees is the Verasage Institute, a “revolutionary think tank for professional-knowledge firms.” Verasage senior director and partner Ed Kless offered the following response to Koltin’s remark about the “value billing phenomenon.”
I think you have analyzed some of the challenges quite well. However, one quibble is your use of the term “value billing.” True advocates never use this term. To us (yes, I am one of them) “value billing” is akin to saying “soak the rich” when referring to tax increases. It is derogatory. We use the term value-led pricing or value pricing when referring to the process. With a customer, it is always a fixed price.
Kless goes on to tackle the assertion by Koltin that timesheets provide a metric for employee performance. I agree with everything he says, but wanted to focus on a specific nuance: incentive.
I once worked for a company where billable hours were the primary measure of employee value. Every month, grown adults (many of whom were licensed professionals, I might add) would wait in nervous anticipation of the monthly billable hour chart to be posted in a shared space for all to see. And, I kid you not, one lucky individual each month would receive a gold star in recognition of their having billed the most hours.
What did this incentivize:
- Dragging out work as long as possible
- Hoarding of work by senior staff
- Clients became reluctant to authorize additional work for fear of cost
- When work was authorized, it was often at the last minute, resulting in overtime and less than stellar quality
- More efficient practices in carrying out our services became a direct threat to overall profitability
- As clients sought more cost-effective and predictable service providers, all of the above problems were exacerbated
- As revenue and profit plummeted, decisions to lay off employees were based entirely on billable hours
Measuring employee performance based on who spends the longest time getting things done seems counterintuitive and just plain lazy. Clients hire your firm because of the end result.
When you hire someone to provide you with professional services, don’t you want to know how much you can expect to pay in advance? Do you feel good about paying someone 0.7 hours at $XXX per hour to prepare a fax?
When you are empathetic to the client and put their needs and concerns first, the client will have even more respect for you.
Image courtesy Seth Anderson
Originally known as Animators at Law, A2L Consulting has been innovating the practice of demonstrative trial exhibits since 1995. At the company’s very informative and well-read blog, founder Ken Lopez has been writing recently about how his firm has adapted their business model to meet the needs of the marketplace — including the adoption of value-based fees.
The term the “new normal” is a term that is frequently used today to describe the changing state of the legal market.
In its present connotation, the term was apparently coined by Mohamed A. El-Erian, the head of PIMCO, a major global financial firm, to describe the new post-recession world of slower economic growth. It was quickly applied to the legal market by other theorists. The concept was recently mentioned in connection with the current Weil Gotshal layoffs and other efforts by law firms to reduce staff to meet reduced demand. We have written about the topic recently and plan to release an e-book about the new normal in a couple of weeks (*subscribe for free and be notified of its release).
The reason we are writing about the new normal is because we believe there has been a permanent shift that mirrors what is happening in the economy as a whole. With the rise of the Internet, buyers of almost anything can now quickly find information about various products or services and compare price. This used to be quite difficult not all that long ago, especially in the legal market.
In business, this process is called commoditization. When a product becomes commoditized, buyers learn what the product or service actually consists of, and they learn to compare similar providers. Once that occurs, RFPs appear in the marketplace, and price eventually becomes the biggest factor in purchasing decisions.
In our industry, it was printed trial boards that were commoditized first. Then it was courtroom trial technician support and increasingly it is graphics and jury work. Price is not the only consideration, but it is a big one, especially for in-house counsel, and it should be. The speed with which e-discovery services were commoditized surprised even experts.
Being much smaller than a large law firm, we adapted to the new normal back in 2008 when we first announced fixed-fee pricing and other discounting methods to create predictable pricing. We continue to offer a variety of innovative alternative fee arrangements and we routinely participate in preferred litigation support vendor discounting programs.
Not only have we adopted new pricing methods, thus embracing commoditization in one part of our business, but we continue to innovate and add new service offerings like mock hearings and sophisticated jury consulting services. For a firm to thrive for decades as ours has, that is the only way to address commoditization unless you intend to become the Wal-Mart of your industry. Law firms must do the same – strive to deliver many services much more efficiently, while at the same time introducing novel elements to their businesses.
Below are 24 great resources that discuss the new normal, divided into 11 topic areas.
- The ABA has 30 pages of article titles devoted to the new normal with the first mention of the term back in October 2010.
- The New Republic article last week, The Last Days of Big Law, has been widely discussed as an example of the “new normal.” I think it was a bit of a hatchet job on Mayer Brown, which is a great firm. This ABA article discusses the New Republic article and includes Mayer Brown’s statement on the article. So many have written about the New Republic article in the last ten days that the author has already penned a rebuttal to critics.
The Weil Gotshal layoffs last month generated a lot of discussion about the new normal. This New York Law Journal article discusses the reaction of other law firm leaders. What was especially noteworthy was that Weil Gotshal’s executive partner attributed the layoffs to the “new normal.”
I love this article discussing business basics as it applies to the new normal. The author does a great job creating a financial primer for law firm management.
The reports of Citi and Hildebrandt on law firm management always generate good discussion, and increasingly that is focused overtly on the new normal. Here is a good Above the Law article commenting on the specifics of a recent Citi/Hildebrandt report.
Many industry observers have discussed alternative fee arrangements (AFAs). Broadly defined, that means anything that isn’t simple billable hours times an hourly rate. We have written about AFAs, DuPont is a thought leader on the topic and there are many good articles such as this ABA piece.
Pricing specialists. The new normal has given rise to a new position at law firms, strategic pricing specialists. If you are a large corporation, you would want to work with law firms that have a pricing specialist on staff. Firms like Akin Gump, Crowell & Moring, and others have great programs in place. Good articles have been written about this topic such as this article in the Legal Intelligencer. Here is a great blog article on who holds these positions at large law firms.
Discussion of the death of the billable hour. A discussion of the new normal essentially goes hand in hand with a discussion of the passing of the billable hour.
I like this 2013 report [PDF] from Georgetown Law describing the state of the legal market. It is a good rational discussion backed up by a lot of data. Altman Weil’s 2013 Law Firms in Transition Survey [PDF] is also illuminating.
Perhaps the whole industry should get a copy of Who Moved My Cheese? because the apparent shock expressed by some to the industry changes is surprising. This article talks about Motivation and Morale in the New Normal.
There are many good blogs discussing the new normal, the business of law and law firm economics. Here are a few I think are worth a look: Adam Smith, Esq., Leadership for Lawyers, Corcoran’s Business of Law, Legal Bill Reviewer
What is the silver lining in all of this? First, everything is going to be okay. We adapted our pricing models very quickly five years ago, and I have come to prefer fixed-price engagements for our jury consulting, litigation graphics and courtroom technology assignments. Such an alternative fee arrangement removes a lot of anxiety and allows us and the trial team to focus more deeply on winning.
Furthermore, just as it is a bad sign when people say it’s a new economy when the market is soaring, it is probably a good sign that people are talking about a fundamental shift having taken place now. It suggests we are at or past the bottom, and that likely means good times are just around the corner. Here’s an encouraging pair of articles that remind us that despite all we hear, law firm hiring is up 27% and revenue per lawyer at large law firms rose by 8.5% in 2012.
About the Author
Ken is the Founder & CEO of A2L Consulting, a leading international provider of jury consulting, litigation graphics and courtroom support to all of the nation’s largest law firms. A2L had 800 monthly visitors to its website to begin 2011. It now welcomes more than 15,000 visitors per month. Mr. Lopez graduated from the Widener University School of Law where he currently serves on the Dean’s National Advisory Board. His undergraduate degree in economics is from the University of Mary Washington where he serves on the advisory board of the University of Mary Washington’s Business. He runs a second firm, LawProspector, that just migrated to the HubSpot platform. He is the proud father of triplet girls born in 2008.
Ken’s original post can be found at 24 Things to Know About The “New Normal” of The Legal Economy and has been re-published with his permission at AEC Quality .com.
Image courtesy col_adamson
Although much of what I have written about here is focused on growing business, that doesn’t mean that customer/client service is somehow less important or relevant. In fact, good customer/client service is essential to growth.
As many people know, word of mouth marketing can be very powerful. Referrals and unsolicited testimonials have perhaps the greatest potential for growing revenue. But they aren’t going to just fall out of the sky.
From Client To Evangelist
Transforming clients into evangelists for your company isn’t something that happens without effort. And it isn’t going to happen if your clients are less-than-pleased with your company’s services. The first step to getting your existing clients to become cheerleaders for your firm is to make sure that your clients are satisfied with what you provide.
An excellent suggestion that I’ve seen from many project managers and professional marketers is to do a post mortem at the conclusion of every project or engagement with each client. This could be a formalized process, but I think it is best handled in a personal conversation. After a project is completed, schedule some time to sit down with your client to discuss the outcome. Simply ask the client what worked, what needs improvement, and in general, how satisfied they are with the results.
This process involves elements that are integral to business success:
- First, this process identifies areas of improvement. Your business and your approach should be living and breathing things that are constantly revised and improved. Who better than an existing client to help you understand what needs to be improved?
- It is important to remember that clients are people, too. Your client engages your services to improve their life or business. Was that objective accomplished? How does the client feel about the outcome of the project? This is not a trivial assessment.
- Focus on the positive. If the project was a success, this post mortem process will serve to highlight that success. If there are some negative outcomes, this is your chance to demonstrate your commitment to improve your relationship with your client. Offer tangible ways in which you can improve the outcome of the next project.
- Finally, this process is all about forward motion. What is the next assignment? How can you help the client in other ways? And here is the clincher: ask your client at the end of a successful project if they would be willing to refer you to other clients or perhaps give you a testimonial. If you don’t ask, it isn’t going to happen.
The post mortem process is one way to ensure client satisfaction and your personal commitment to the needs of your clients. It is a way to emphasize the added value that you bring to the relationship by focusing on positive outcomes and ways to improve. More than anything, it is a statement of solidarity.
If you’re good at what you do, make sure that your clients have the chance to see that. Don’t let the last communication you have with your client on a project be an invoice. Finish the project the way it most likely started: with a friendly conversation discussing your commitment to meeting the client’s needs. Because if you’re not meeting the needs of your clients, someone else will.
- Caution: Unless you have more work than you can handle in your business, I don’t think that relying on word of mouth is enough to sustain any company.
- Don’t even think about charging your client to sit down and do a post mortem. I know there are a lot of people that bill by the hour, or worse, by a fraction of an hour. Charging a client for customer service is a slap in the face.
Yesterday I was laid off from a job I worked at for 10 years and 9 months. And I haven’t stopped smiling since.
Right now, I’m sitting at a table in Caffe Calabria, arguably the best coffee house in San Diego. It has been years since I sat down in a coffee house for any length of time. I’m drinking great coffee, catching up on some awesome podcasts, and getting stuff done.
I predict that there will be many more days like this.
Introducing BLHill Inc. – Helping Buildings and Businesses Achieve More From Less
I filed articles of incorporation for BLHill Inc. in January of 2011. But that was just a formality. I have been planning and preparing for the launch of my own consulting firm for at least eight years.
One of the challenges I have wrestled with over the years is in terms of branding.
My background is fairly diverse: I’ve done everything from cleaning toilets in a mortuary, working as a barista (after running my own coffee house), processing divorces and bankruptcies as a paralegal, building and launching a restaurant, overseeing project controls on a half-billion dollar R&D campus, and assisting in the investigation of thousands of buildings involved in construction defect and ADA claims. My first business offered professional jazz music performance, management, composition/arranging, recording engineering and private music lessons.
The road to launching my own consulting firm has involved a lot of introspection. Who am I, really? What do I value? How do I relate to and how can I help others?
In the end, rather recently actually, I reached a tentative conclusion. Ultimately my work over the last 25-plus years involves helping buildings and businesses achieve more from less.
I have seen what works and what doesn’t.
On the building side, I’ve learned that the best way to improve quality and achieve true sustainability is to learn from past mistakes. Over the last 15 years, most of my work has involved forensic investigation, analysis, verification, development of repair recommendations, and presentation of findings. And while I feel confident in my abilities, perhaps the greatest value that I can offer has to do with the network of bona fide experts I have built up over this time.
When it comes to business, most of the companies I have worked with since starting my own business around 25 years ago are small/solo professional service firms. The challenge with these types of businesses is that more focus tends to be on delivery of professional services, to the detriment of actually running the business. For example, the top executives at most professional services firms are typically the primary provider of those services. (Law firms are led by lawyers, engineering firms are led by engineers, etc.) Small/solo professional service firms are using lacking in a few areas – sometimes it is marketing or IT, other times it may be accounting. The worst situations are when professional service providers have little understanding of business leadership.
How Can I Help You?
I am looking for projects to collaborate on where I can add something of value. My goal is to develop long-term relationships with clients I like.
The process begins with a conversation. Once I have a better understanding of your situation I can offer suggestions. We can then discuss what a collaboration might look like and identify specific objectives, and ways to measure success. Upon reaching consensus about how to move forward, I’ll send you a proposal with the fees clearly defined in advance.
Just to be clear, there is a reason I have written so much over the years about value-based fees. I don’t charge for my time, so conversations are always free.
How Can You Help Me?
I’ll be honest with you – I have almost no capital and nothing else to fall back on. If I fail, my family and I have nowhere to turn. I need clients and I need work now!
You may not be in a position to retain my services, but chances are that you know somebody who I can help. If you know of someone that needs help with their building(s) or someone whose professional services firm could use some assistance, please refer them to me. Sometimes the best value you can offer to others is through introducing them to the right resource.
Here is how to reach me:
Email: BLH at BLHill dot net
Or use the contact form…
Thanks again for your continued support. I hope that I have the opportunity to help you in the future.
P.S. – The new website will be finished soon. You can find it here: BLHill.com
The product that consultants and other professional service providers offer is essentially themselves. The most effective and efficient means of marketing professional services is through content marketing. By producing content of value, consistently, a consultant can engage with existing and prospective clients in a way that is mutually beneficial.
What the Experts Say
- According to The Consulting Bible (Alan Weiss), the work of a consultant is marketing.
- Scott Stratten says to throw out everything we’ve come to associate with marketing in his book, Unmarketing: Stop Marketing. Start Engaging.
- C.C. Chapman and Ann Handley’s book, Content Rules, illustrates that the most effective way to engage clients and prospects is through creating consistent content of value.
Consultants can effectively market their business by demonstrating their expertise through a constant effort to produce quality content. 140 characters in a tweet isn’t going to connect you with a large contract, most likely. Being accessible in a variety of contexts to the preferences of your audience (clients, prospects, peers, competitors), fosters the trust building process. Consultants are experts in their fields, and social media (blogging, participating in various social networks, etc.) lowers the possible barriers of entry to that expertise.
Therefore, produce content about the subjects that interest you. Do so with the intent of engaging others by demonstrating value. Don’t tell people how smart you are, show them. Consistently.
Image courtesy guwashi999
I was 12 years old when I decided I wanted to become a professional musician. That summer I landed my first paying gig, and the rest – as they say – is history. Around the same time, I cultivated a deep and life-long interest in philosophy.
Here is how Wikipedia defines philosophy:
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. The word “philosophy” comes from the Greek φιλοσοφία (philosophia), which literally means “love of wisdom”.
In my opinion, the application of philosophy to business is strategy. Robert Boyden Lamb defines strategic management in the intro to his book, Competitive Strategic Management, as follows:
Strategic management is an ongoing process that evaluates and controls the business and the industries in which the company is involved; assesses its competitors and sets goals and strategies to meet all existing and potential competitors; and then reassesses each strategy annually or quarterly [i.e. regularly] to determine how it has been implemented and whether it has succeeded or needs replacement by a new strategy to meet changed circumstances, new technology, new competitors, a new economic environment., or a new social, financial, or political environment.
What’s the Point?
Philosophy is a way of addressing problems through a “critical, generally systematic approach and… rational argument.” Effective business leaders also address problems rationally, critically and often systematically. How a business positions itself in the marketplace, how the business interacts with clients, and even how a business develops product and service offerings – these decisions demand a rational and critical approach.
The original Greek definition of philosophy, “love of wisdom,” is extremely relevant to modern business strategy. The more knowledge and information that is factored into intelligent decisions, the better the outcome is likely to be. Philosophy is about tackling the big questions, and those questions are just as applicable to business:
- Why are we here? (Mission)
- How do we make decisions? (Business Intelligence)
- What is our relation to the outside world? (Marketing, Customer Service)
What is your philosophy of business?
Image via diametrik
I just purchased a new book for my Kindle: Death On A High Floor. Here is the official description:
When the much-despised Marbury Marfan senior partner Simon Rafer turns up dead, with an ornate dagger buried between his shoulder blades, it comes as a surprise to no one. Simon was an abusive boss and had recently been on the warpath, clearing the “dead wood” from the legal firm he treated as his personal fiefdom. Nearly a thousand attorneys and associates, scattered across four continents, had good reason to want Rafer dead, but homicide Detective Spritz has his eye trained on Marbury Marfan partner Robert Tarza, in particular. Tarza and his friend and colleague—and maybe a bit more—Jenna are soon forced to play detective themselves, in a race to find the real killer or killers before Spritz finishes assembling a collection of evidence that will make a very credible case against Tarza.
World-class mediator, Victoria Pynchon, wrote about the book for Forbes last year. She attended a book reading by the author of the book and was struggling to explain the dynamics of BigLaw upper management:
Finally, I said, “it’s a cage match. They throw a piece of meat into the cage and the men – mostly it’s the men – fight to the death over it.”