It looks as though collaboration tools, such as extranets, are not only on the cusp of becoming an integral part of how law firms work with their clients, but also as a way to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
If you've ever looked at the 'pitches books' law firms put together for prospective clients, it's no wonder something like an extranet can help set them apart. Most often a law firm's proposal boasts of a blue-chip roster of clients, touts the pedigree of their lawyers, trumpets the many successful cases/deals won for their clients and talks about their commitment to excellent client service. Virtually every law firm still in business can tell similar tales to one another, especially larger full-service firms who typically compete with other full-service firms. There's very little that helps a law firm set themselves apart when employing this standard RFP response. To that end, I once heard a client tell a group of lawyers that something as basic as publishing their rates in a proposal would be considered avant-garde.
While some are impressed with such basic things, more and more corporate legal departments are raising their expectations of what their outside counsel offer. Just ask Laura Owen, Director of Worldwide Legal Services, at Cisco Systems. Her recent article The Tech Evolution: Change or Die highlights several key trends:
- Commoditize routine legal transactions
- Create consortia to share needed work
- Move your legal work to low cost firms located in other regions away from high cost centers
- Use technology, not lawyers, to perform legal work
- Move 80 percent of your fees to a non-billable hour basis
While her thoughts are progressive, it certainly will only be a matter of time before more and more consumers of legal services start to see the wisdom in her approach. This is especially true if her concept of consortium for shared legal work takes off. Can you imagine the buying power large companies like Cisco, Ford, 3-M, Dupont, etc. could exert if they were to band together for joint RFPs?
If you analyze her points in detail, most of them are addressed through collaboration tools and technology. Firms that are currently able to provide these tools set themselves apart, but if Ms. Owen has her way, it will only be a matter of time before we all have to answer the call to better client service.