Wednesday, August 26, 2015

PLLIP Summit Keynote: Aric Press "Bullish" on Big Law

Aric Press gives PLLIP Summit Keynote (c. O'Grady)
The 2015 Private Law Librarians and Information Professionals Summit  was held on July 18th in conjunction with the annual AALL meeting in Philadelphia. This year’s Summit  kicked off  with a keynote from Aric Press. Press is the former Editor-in-Chief of American Lawyer and currently a law firm consultant with Bernero & Press. His keynote was entitled “Clients, Culture and the Future.” After several years of grim forecasts for the legal profession, Press was rather “bullish” on the legal profession. He believes that clients are not entirely comfortable with the range of new legal service providers and don't understand AFAs. Big Law firms have a chance to "win" the future if they adopt "winning" strategies.

Embracing Disruption

Although many aspects of the legal profession have been evolving in the past 20 years,  law firms have not been "disrupted." Press acknowledged that the role of law librarians has been more dramatically transformed by technology than even the work of lawyers. He suggested that if a 19th Century lawyer were to walk in to one of our firms, the work and the tools of the 21st century information professional would be completely unrecognizable. Press saluted many information professionals for embracing both technology and change in an environment of extremely constricted budgets. Lawyers are still drafting documents but law librarians are performing completely new functions. 
He believes that the future is bright for the business and practice of law. Even though the era of surging growth is over,  the legal more it is worth $255 billion. Press outlined a series of questions and issues which information professionals and other legal administrators need to understand in order to help their firms successfully navigate the next decade.

Four  questions  that drive the legal marketplace: 

1. Do we know what our clients need?

2. Do we have the right mix of talent and services to meet those needs?

3. Do our clients know what we do?

4. Do we know why our clients hire us and why they don’t?

These are not only important questions for law firms but also for  information professionals and other law firm administrators. Press believes that firms which can answer “yes” to  those four questions could win the coming decade.

Four secular changes:

1.Legal spending by corporate America fell with the great recession and hasn't returned

2.The AmLaw 200 firms increased share of domestic spending 247% in 2010 and have held it

3. The Nature of partnership has changed

4. The big firm market has segmented. By size ( headcount and gross revenue), by reach and by financial success.

Some demographic factoids:

·         Since 2008 the 6 verein firms employ over 9,000 lawyer

·         The biggest Amlaw 200 firm is 7 times larger than the smallest

·         The biggest Amlaw 200 firm has 25 times the revenue of the smallest

·         10 firms account for 2/3s of the non-US lawyer headcount.

·         Since the great recession 85 firms grew, 85 firms shrank and 1 firm remained flat.

·         Equity partner are a smaller share of law firm headcount in 2013 than in 2004.

Challenges facing law firms include: 

·         The legal market is growing more complex.

·         Clients have not increased spending in inflation adjusted dollars

·         Clients have more choices and are more discerning.

·         The partner talent pool is anxious aging and not necessarily loyal. 

The 3 sources of competitive advantage

·         Best in class  services and products

·         Offering the most efficient and/or  highest value work

·         A motivated, agile workforce that focuses relentlessly on the clients.

The trends and issues outlined by Press apply to both the broad legal market but also to the internal market within legal organizations. The list of challenges facing law firms and sources of competitive advantage are good starting points for the development of a strategic plan for law firms, practice groups and administrative departments.

Aric Press can be reached

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