This is a live post from the Bloomberg Big Law Summit. Please excuse any typos or errors in how I capture proceedings.

Session Description

11:15 am Panel Session:   Innovation – New Models for Differentiation
Pricing pressure and competition are forcing law firms to question every aspect of their business, as well as compelling innovation. From offering summer associates at no charge to clients and implementing new project management systems, to using client surveys, law firms are experimenting with new services models and are seeking to differentiate their brand and business from competitors. A panel of chairs and managing partners from some of the most prestigious law firms will speak about business strategies that worked, failed and deserve more attention, as well as explore common challenges.

Moderated by: Paul Barrett, Assistant Managing Editor and Senior Writer, Bloomberg Businessweek

Confirmed Speakers:

Kim Koopersmith, Chairperson, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP
Jami McKeon, Chair, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP
Terrence Truax, Managing Partner, Jenner & Block LLP
Seth Zachary, Chairman, Paul Hastings LLP


Jenner & Block…. Innovating is very hard because lawyers are risk averse. As managing partner for one year, I’ve learned it’s easy to talk about innovation. But then when you try to push through the most modest of proposed changes, you get a lot of individual and institutional resistance. For example, getting some partners to relinquish their very old Blackberry for a new one… “that cannot happen”.

Jenner: Three areas of focus:

  • Alternative staffing is a big trend. We recently created an in-house document review attorney. We have created several new lawyer roles to help achieve client cost goals.
  • Technology is a big driver. We are creating a virtual platform so that they can work from anywhere but meets client security demands.
  • Project management, even in the high end work space, is critical. We have to deliver value on the highest premium work. Most such matters have elements of commodity work. We try to pull those elements out and price appropriately.

Morgan Lewis…. Agrees with observations that lawyers are not innovative. But recognizes there is creativity and innovation in delivering legal advice. Need to tap that on the business side. Firm created an innovation committee and focus on innovation. When we created an e-Data and eDiscovery group, that was a big deal. [RF: the firm has a well-established and well-known EDD practice.] Moving focus of firm to clients. Yes, that’s what other firms say they do. But if all your action is guided that way, it helps assure effectiveness. Firm also have a focus on learning client industries – on our nickel.

Akin Gump… Adopts the principle that lawyers don’t like to change and clients should be the focus. Success is what drives buy-in for change. Over last couple of years, have done projects by practice and with clients, generally with technology but also with relationships. For example, in funds, we started a fixed fee offering to help start new funds. We collect data digitally and create documents automatically (first drafts at least). Small funds remember how they got started intially.

For practices that collaborate a great deal, we are tired of too much email traffic. We use an internal Facebook type service for Q&A to capture prior answers and useful documents. THis is very helpful for our lawyers and staff – and cost effective for clients. We have staff dedicated to making sure right answers are in this database. Sanctions is one practice area where we do this.

We use success in one practice to motivate change in others. This taps lawyers’ competitiveness.

Three years ago, we hired Chief Pricing Officers. It was new then, not so much now. He is devoted to working with partners and clients to help use deliver service at the right price. Clients like this.

Paul Hastings… We thought about what innovation really means. Had to overcome lawyer tendency to self-evaluate. We had to change the way we look at and evaluate ourselves. This includes more uniformity across our geographies. All incentives and policies are global. No geo profit analysis. Institutionalized client relationships. We judge ourselves now not by effort but by results. We focus more on client industries.

Q: How do you deal with lateral exits? [RF: I Tweeted during this conversation: “Not sure what risk of lateral partner moves has to do with topic title, New Models for Differentiation, at #BigLawSummit“]

Paul Hastings… We continually broaden the number of practices that drive our profitability and value to clients. De-personalize client relationships and institutionalize them. Make everyone enthusiastic about future of firm.

Akin Gump… Make sure that partners are comfortable about firm’s finances, coupled with a high level of transparency. We creates an audit committee, we circulate reports. We invest in making everyone feel like we have a secure platform. MP spends a lot of time talking to partners to make them feel part of the firm. Puts partners in charge of initiatives so they feel vested.

Morgan Lewis… Partners move because of lack of confidence. The cure is communication and staying grounded. No such thing as “my client.” If money is the only factor, you don’t have a culture.

Jenner… We pay much attention to culture.