On Sunday evening, 21 March 2010, I attended the first panel of Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business As Usual? at the Georgetown Center for the Study of the Legal Profession. Reproduced here are my live Tweets from “Emerging Relationships Between Law Firms and Clients.”  

First, however, the panelists:
The Smarter Legal Model: More from Less: Trevor Faure, Global General Counsel and Partner, Ernst & Young Global

Lisa Rohrer, Director of Research, Hildebrandt Baker Robbins

Susan Hackett, Senior Vice President and General Counsel, Association of Corporate Counsel
Thomas D. Yannucci, Partner, Litigation, Kirkland & Ellis
Reena SenGupta, Managing Director, RSG Consulting


At the Georgetown law conf on future of law firms
Trevor Faure, GC of Ernst and Young is first up
Lawyers have long history of bespoke work beyond realm of ordinary people
Compares bespoke lawyer work to custom cars like Bentley – many such car co’s now owned by other countries
The value of the bespoke name like Bentley is in its name
ROI has caused brands and companies to change hands
Same forces of increasing return on capital is playing out in legal market
ROI maximization requires measuring, managing, and improving (commoditizing)
Biz lawyer imperative – 1 Coverage, compliance, and client satisfaction
Biz lawyer imperative – 2 Net Cost incl fees, fines, and biz losses
Biz lawyer imperative – 3 Head Count
At heart, relationship btwn firms and client is a zero sum game
Only monopoly or ever changing list of clients avoids the zero sum game
Zero sum game means conflict btwn firm and client
Inertia may mean relationship continues but these clients never recommend the firm
EY has 4 lawyers in N America who focus on reviewing firm bills. It pays for itself
One GC says a magic circle firm is great but I avoid at all cost reflects a zero sum
Overcome zero sum with technology and communication
Interests of firm and client be rationalized
Agree on high stakes matters and what is commodity work
Sets forth ways to align interests. Fixed fees, risk or suits avoided, segment high end work
Trevor Faure finishes Lisa Rohre of Hildebrandt does panel QA
Thomas d Yannucci suggests that trust and good service fixes the mis-alignment. (???)
Yannucci: clients are buying risk reduction avoiding big losses more important than fees.
Faure: law firm relations change when company ownership changes. This is not just boom bust issue
And ownership is regularly changing
Faure: cost only a non issue in high stakes cases. But most work is not high stakes
Susan Hackett of ACC call on Jeff Carr of FMC about disconnect btwn firm and client perceptions
Hackett: firms do too much work that can be done by non lawyers moving that work can help improve trust
Hackett: quality is based in value, not hours billed
Reena SenGupta of RSG: her company does research on legal market with FT
Reena SenGupta: research shows clients and firms have big discrepancy in value perception
SenGupta: clients focus on output / results. Firms focus on inputs
SenGupta: GC role changing. Status and power increasing. Will affect panels and firm selection
Hackett: firms confuse important and strategic work
Strategic work is only small percent. Six sigma / lean applies to most work. Need predictability
Yannucci: if we have to, my firm will get smaller to keep its focus on strategic work
Yannucci: regional firms getting bigger b/c of focus on operational law support
Yannucci implies that multi office global firms are stuck in middle
Yannucci: cost to change firms b/c of institutional knowledge
Faure: MP of top firm told me our lawyers feel no compulsion to change
Hackett: the real challenge is not the firm, it is the client. GC fear change
Hackett: Too many GCs still more comfortable with discounts. But that will change.
Yannucci: young lawyers are doing things differently like managing contract lawyers or lawyers in India
Leah Cooper from audience: even in strategic work, there is low level work that should not be staffed w associates
Faure calls Yannucci on implying that contract lawyers less effective than alternatives
@CyberPlato what guarantee is there ever for meeting ethical requirements?
@cyberplato how many firms actually carefully supervise staff rigorously. Firms are bad at process, documentation, metrics
Yannucci: for big transactions, clients want many specialties under one roof
Jeff Carr – firms should be able to budget
Carr -firms should bear risk of outliers re budgeting. Faure says share risk
Faure on learning from Big 4 – measuring value. But does not see mega consolidation in law
Hackett: big change is not so much in fees but in how firms resource matters
Hackett: lawyers work too solo. They need to learn to team, work with KM to share know how
Yannucci: firms constantly share knowledge. NOT silos
SenGupta talked to top 25 firms. All expect to reduce space and size. Outsourcing middle office
SenGupta talked to UK top 25
SenGupta research shows many changes coming amongst big UK firms. Just at beginning
Audience member: ABS (alt biz structure) allowed staring in Oct 2010. That will spur change globally

[Note: I did not have my PC so I live-Tweeted from my smart phone. I used a spell checker to correct typos but otherwise did not edit the above. This was my first ‘live conference Tweeting.’ While I like it better than taking notes by hand (since I can’t read my own handwriting), I would still prefer to live blog a session because I think it is easier to read a conference report all at once. I did receive some Twitter replies during the session; I found it hard to respond to those and still Tweet what I was hearing.]