The latest Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute Forum for law firm COOs and CFOs featured another stellar lineup of presenters. They were tasked with reflecting on the turmoil of the past decade while looking toward a future of continued change, with new challenges and opportunities in the legal industry.
The general sessions of this year’s Forum featured the following topics:
- State of the U.S. legal market based on the Legal Executive Institute’s annual report
- The evolving law firm business model
- The impact of artificial intelligence in law
- Post-recession firm training and talent challenges
- The keynote presentation on innovation and organic growth through networks
Three breakout sessions were also held on lateral hiring, profitability through segmentation and specialization, and pricing and legal project management strategies.
I couldn’t summarize the event in one blog post, but I can share five key takeaways and observations gathered from the various presenters and panelists across all the event’s sessions. I will delve into some of these trends individually in future posts.
The voice of the client has been amplified
“Voice of the client” is a relatively new concept in law, yet the Forum presenters were clear that it’s an important one. Savvy firms are doing more than simply responding to every client demand; they are looking to identify, understand and grow their best clients. And they are using the voice of the client not only to enhance service, but to guide firm plans and strategies.
Collaboration is the new information overload
Babson College professor Rob Cross was the key note speaker, and his presentation focused on social networks, with reference to a new kind of information overload—collaboration overload. His research has focused on social networks for critical business issues like innovation, revenue growth, leadership effectiveness and talent management. His latest book is “Driving Results through Social Networks” and while he affirms that collaboration and communication are necessary and useful, easing collaboration overload will be critical for individual and organizational productivity and efficiency.
Artificial intelligence takes time and training
AI and machine learning were the focus of one presentation, with panelists from AI technology companies as well as three firms with AI pilots and plans, including Dentons, which is at the forefront of this new technology. The firm has established Nextlaw Labs, a global collaborative initiative focused on technologies and processes to transform the practice of law.
The most important AI learning for law firms is that this technology does not work “out-of-the-box” like many other software systems. The learning curve is steep and the ROI is relatively distant, but it’s important that firms not hold off on their own AI pilots. Identifying and testing use cases, building knowledge libraries, and doing the teaching required for machine learning will take planning and time.
Talent management is more than recruiting from top law schools
With law school enrollment down, generational divides, and baby boomers continuing their march toward retirement, recruiting and talent management are the next big challenges facing the legal profession. JD enrollment is at its lowest point in more than forty years. Another standard big law practice—recruiting at a select few schools—keeps a huge section of the legal talent pool from consideration, adding more pressure. And firms are also feeling the pinch of attracting skilled non-legal staff in knowledge management, information services, technology and other areas. The old view of support staff as a commodity function doesn’t hold up in these vital areas.
Opportunities for the next ten years
Moving beyond challenges, the following are a few highlighted areas of opportunity in the coming years:
- By region, the metropolitan markets of London, New York and Washington D.C. as well as Silicon Valley and some Asia.
- Transaction-driven work in white collar and regulatory areas.
- Promising industries include technology, medicine and healthcare and energy.
No matter what markets or practice areas a firm serves, two over-riding conditions were communicated throughout the event:
- More revenue will come through alternative fee arrangements as client continue to press for pre-negotiated pricing and services.
- In response to pricing constraints, greater operational efficiency will be critical, including enhanced budgeting and project management.
We will delve into some of these takeaways individually in future posts. Meanwhile, if you were unable to attend the 2017 Forum, I hope you found this useful information.
Contact us if there’s something you’d like us to elaborate further upon.