In listening to Richard Susskind at a recent presentation before an American Bar Association audience, I was struck by his two primary principles, at least as I understood them at that time.
First, technology was making the practice of law more efficient, more like a commodity, with resulting downward pressure on both costs and fees. Second, clients were becoming more sophisticated and demanding, with the resulting requirement of being client-centric for survival. In other words, the practice of law would need to become more collegial and team-oriented to serve the needs of clients in the future.
As I sat there, listening to an obviously impassioned and eloquent presentation, a light bulb went on for me. First, re technology. During the industrial revolution, we learned that the more equipment we could use to make something, the less labor was required, the lower the price could be charged. With a lower price, volume increased and profits likewise could rise. Then, we moved into automation, with the same result ... just a different name. The more a machine could produce a product or service, the less expensive it might be ... and the result would be a lower price with higher volume, all of which produced higher profits. Today, we’ve moved to technology. The principles are the same, just the label is changed.
The move from the Industrial Revolution to today’s technology may have increased in speed of change, even exponentially, but the principles are identical. Increased machine power reduces labor which tends to reduce cost which tends to reduce price which increases volume ... and profits.
Second, when we discuss client-centric practices, we are talking about partnering with clients ... understanding what they need, listening to what they want and bridging the gap between the two with our value proposition. Our value is to understand what they want and show them how we can provide value by addressing that want and also to protect them by delivering what they need to address their challenges.
This partnering, in my earlier manufacturing experience, is called “client loyalty.” One day, I was called in by a buyer of my product. He said that his company had done a quality comparison among my product and others that were sold on his shelves. My product did o.k., but was not so superior that he could ignore the price discount offerings of my competitors. He said to me, “Ed, I don’t need you to meet the competition, but I do need you to do something so I can show that I’ve addressed the competitive marketplace.” As I walked away from his office, I realized a very important fact: This buyer was loyal to me. He had called me last. He gave me the opportunity to compete, without having to reduce my price all the way to the level of my competitors. He called me at the end of the process and was willing to “partner” with me in the sale of my products to his customers. To me, that is client-centric.
Law firms that can partner with their clients, can show their clients how they can reduce their legal costs (without reducing the lawyers’ per unit fees), can develop strategic plans for defending/pursuing legal challenges are the law firms that will thrive in the new economy. It’s these law firms that Richard Susskind was talking about.
This may be new language, like a new business fad of TQM, Sigma ... etc., but it still is the old-fashioned care about your client/customer and treat them well ... and you will be rewarded by a loyal client willing to work with you for the mutual benefit of both the client and the lawyer/law firm.
See my new book, The 3 Dimension Lawyer: How to Thrive in the New Economy, to be released later this year by West Pub.