There’s a great line spoken by Ambassador Kosh in Babylon 5: “The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.”
I was reminded of this line today as I read “GCs Struggle to Hold the Line on Legal Spending” by Rob Thomas of Serengeti Law.
Here’s the money quote: “This strong level of dissatisfaction among corporate clients presents a clear opportunity for those firms that are willing to work with their clients to improve efficiency and predictability. Rather than waiting for their clients to impose new constraints, outside counsel can gain a competitive advantage by identifying and proposing practical solutions that will meet the needs of both sides of the relationship.”
Thomas describes the key problem: “In-house counsel are caught between a heavier workload and their companies’ need to hold the line on legal spending. . . . the top concern of most in-house counsel [currently 82 percent] is getting control over outside legal spending. Dissatisfaction with outside legal costs is leading companies to impose more constraints on firms and to send less work to them.”
Further, he adds, “And it’s clear that more in-house counsel are turning to technology to increase productivity in order to handle more work with current resources: The concern that increased the most this year was having ‘technology to improve the efficiency of the law department and work with outside counsel.’ In-house counsel are starting to close the technology gap with their colleagues at firms. Unlike last year, in-house counsel are generally planning to increase spending on various new technologies during the coming year. In general, as Internet-based systems, such as extranets and e-billing, have matured and gained mainstream acceptance, they have moved up in the list of technology priorities that law departments are considering. E-billing is at the top by a wide margin, with more than 28 percent of law departments currently considering implementing it with their firms. The smorgasbord of other technology to help law departments manage their legal work breaks down roughly into two categories: external tools [that include their firms], and internal tools [used only by the law department]. Among external technologies, law department extranets, currently used by about 20 percent of law departments, continue to grow in popularity as a way to share information.”
Take just a moment to recall that the most common reason law firms get fired is “lack of responsiveness.”
Now consider this statement: “In-house counsel report that firms are not cooperating when it comes to controlling legal costs. Each of the past three years, outside counsel have been rated lowest in performance on cost consciousness and predictive accuracy. In fact, the top suggestion for outside counsel is to be more concerned with costs. These sentiments are supported by reports of law firm resistance to alternative fees, failure to respond to requests for bids, and reluctance to accept other changes sought by in-house counsel.”
Anyone else hear the sound of a big train coming down the track?
I’ve been preaching on this topic for a while, and that’s part of the reason I like this article so much. The other reason is that it is very clear that this train is coming and part of my business is helping law departments and law firms deal with these trends. Since law firms don’t want to listen to the legal departments of their clients, I’m more than happy to help legal departments, through seminars or consulting projects, put together a package of technologies that will definitely get the attention of their law firms, or help them find lawyers who will listen.