“You Are Here” Webinar Series, Part Three: How Law Firms Can Survive and Thrive in a Post-Pandemic World
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the ways businesses operate, and its impact will linger long after the economic downturn subsides. During the third and final part of our program, “You Are Here,” Richard Susskind, co-author of The Future of the Professions, joins me for a deeper discussion about the different ways law firms can move forward and adapt to the new normal.
For his part, Richard argues that thriving in the post-pandemic market requires firms to do at least one of three things:
- Optimize — Carry on with what your firm is doing but in a more efficient manner.
- Transform — Fundamentally change how your firm operates.
- Diversify — Widen the business activities in which your firm is engaged.
Moving Outside the Comfort Zone
Firms that choose to optimize are — as I like to put it — getting better at what they’re already comfortable doing. Efficiency has always been important to firms, but the pandemic prompted them to innovate, using technologies like Zoom to successfully fulfill their clients’ needs.
To truly bring something new to the table, leaders must transform their businesses to provide innovative solutions to a new set of problems. Richard provided an example of remote legal courts held via telephone and video conferencing, which could lead to opportunities such as:
- Legal firms providing an entirely new service — online dispute resolution.
- Firms adopting new, efficient technology to provide this new service.
- Legal teams adopting new skills and technical knowledge to effectively run online dispute resolution.
Expanding and Diversifying Practice Areas
Today, firms should find adjacent areas of business and diversify the ways they serve their clients and address their business challenges. Although it may feel daunting at first, he assures that diversification pays off in spades, citing the evolution of the Big Four accounting firms during the 1980s. “The big accounting firms evolved from just offering accounting and tax services to building large and highly lucrative consulting practices,” he said.
In addition to diversifying business models, I argue that it is essential for firm leaders to diversify their teams. In my experience having people on the team who approach problems differently — and who bring perspectives from engineering, accounting, technology, and fine arts —improves the creativity and quality of the services you offer.
Building the Framework for Change
When describing the process for building an action plan, I advise my peers that it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. The choices are in the firms’ hands. And every change a law firm makes needs to derive from its culture, its practice, and its priorities. To get started I often recommend a four-part framework, combining the best elements of service, resource, financial, and investment models.
- Service — Deliver maximum value for the client’s dollar.
- Resource — Optimize the utilization of resources, including technology, to provide more time for fee earners to focus on pressing matters such as client satisfaction and business development.
- Financial — Move away from billable hours and instead create a system structured to incentivize the quality of work over the quantity.
- Investment — Focus on the long-term horizon. Invest time, effort, and money into installing new technologies and training your teams so that your firm may be ready to thrive in the future.
Modernizing Now for Future Success
No matter how you go about modernizing your firm, Richard and I agree: the time to act is now. The ship is setting sail in the here and now; if you miss the boat, it will become virtually impossible to remain a major contender in the post-pandemic market.
Change will make your firm better and stronger. It’s just a question of how you do it.