Legal professionals debate if the ‘new normal’ will differ from the ‘old normal’. Aric Press’ American Lawyer editorial, The Change Agenda: Can You Hear the Ice Melting? shifts the question from ‘if’ to ‘how’. The answer to ‘how?’ is ‘process’. 

Press writes that even when demand picks up, the changes so far are ‘likely irreversible’. There are ‘plenty of disparate events that support the observation that this change business is more than just a sideshow’. He focuses on two: 1. alternative fee arrangements (AFA) and 2. legal process outsourcing (LPO).

According to the editorial, one-half of the 20 ‘A-List’ firms are on record as doing AFA for marquee clients. And a survey AmLaw conducted to quantify the change found that one-quarter of large firms have outsourced work to LPOs.

In my view, the ascension of AFA and LPO mark the beginning of a deeper shift: lawyer as artist or craftsman to lawyer as manager and engineer. As Press says, ‘this year it became clear that LPO is really about the “P.” It’s not whether the work is done in Bangalore or Bangor or on Broad Street; it’s how the work is done”.

I agree that that process is key. In my 2003 post When Clients Come Knocking, I wrote “paying attention to the process [of law practice] seems at least as important as evaluating the ‘outputs’ such as results and costs…. One could even imagine formally analyzing the processes to determine best practices across firms. It seems likely that the firms using better processes will produce better results at a lower cost.”

While LPO has the word process in it, AFA has the idea of process in it. In my recent post Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFA) are Not as Hard as You Think, I suggested that process is one of three AFA pillars (with tech and staffing the other two).

A related signal of process importance is a surge in legal project management. PM is just the beginning. In support of process, lawyers will need data, metrics, analysis, and structure. So expect to see far more business and financial analysts working side-by-side with lawyers to collect data, analyze them, and create rational, tested processes.