‘All the world's a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…’
William Shakespeare, As You Like It
One of my favourite plays sprang to mind on the train home from the Buying Legal Council 2017 Conference in London. Delighted to have been invited to present on forecasting, I came away musing on how the worldwide stage is expanding for procurement professionals as our role changes, matures and embeds year on year.
Literary references aside, my overwhelming takeaway from the day was about the stark differences between the 2016 and 2017 conferences. No longer apologetic about their role, the room was full of experienced procurement professionals, consultants and law firms passionate about improving the relationships between clients, buyers and their outside counsel. In contrast to last year’s conference where I felt the attendees to be less sure of the value of legal procurement, this year there was an underlying acknowledgement and acceptance of legal procurement as a professional service adding value and saving money for clients, and the conference focussed on strategies to deliver innovative, partnership based services.
The opening session from Silvia began with this theme, detailing the results of the 2017 BLC Procurement survey, and setting the tone for the day, highlighting the increasing influence and status of procurement as partners to in-house counsel in helping manage external spend.
The keynote speech from Bjarne Philip Tellmann, Senior Vice President and General Counsel at Pearson continued with this thread. In talking about the changing role of the GC and the ever-increasing need to do more with less, he defined the role he expects his procurement team to play in helping manage his external relationships and expenditure. Seeing them as a valued and necessary part of his team, Bjarne highlighted something I’ve always wholeheartedly believed – procurement is there to support the GC but not to make the final decision where to place work. Procurement’s role should be that of trusted adviser, providing innovation in manging cost-effective legal solutions, but the final sourcing choice belongs with the legal function as those ultimately responsible for the risk and outcome of a transaction.
Whilst we hadn’t colluded, attendees could have been forgiven for thinking that Bjarne and myself had prepared our sessions together. My TED style talk on forecasting also centred on the support role that procurement plays in providing business information and data, to help GCs make sourcing decisions, and how sharing this with their panel firms enables cost innovation and more cost-effective resource planning and management.
My session dovetailed into one of the most interesting parts of the day from my perspective - listening to Trevor Faure, ex GC at Ernst and Young and author of The Smarter Legal Model. He continued with the theme of how procurement can support business change, referencing the Eversheds Tyco deal as an example of how challenging more traditional legal resource models can bring step-change, profitability and better outcomes for both law firms and their clients. Chatting to Stephen Hopkins, Head of Global Client Development at Eversheds Sutherland, about the arrangement, it was great to hear him confirm my personal experience of working in partnership with law firms – it’s possible to have great client relationships, increase profit and deliver amazing service but only by taking the leap of faith and trust.
Other standouts in the day for reasons of personal interest were John de Forte on improving RFPs and Kevin O’Sullivan and Kevin Shine on how (not to) buy project management services.
John made me smile with his selection of RFP questions that don’t actually elicit any insightful selection material whatsoever, a pet rant of mine and the subject of my last Validatum blog. I do think this is an area where as legal procurement professionals we can really improve the way we evaluate law firms, by asking more open questions about differentiation and for examples of new ways of working. The new Buying Legal Council Working Group on Improving Outcomes – Legal Firm & Buyer Perspectives’ will be focussing on this, bringing law firm opinion to the fore in how best to evaluate them.
Kevin and Kevin’s project management session was interesting as it gave some practical insights into how legal firms are using Project Management resources to deliver client legal services, and the benefits that this can bring. A delegate raised what is for me the killer question - whether clients perceive value from law firm project managers, and if they’re happy to pay for the service. It’s one that comes up again and again with my law firm clients who see the need and benefits but often receive a luke-warm response from their clients. My personal perspective is that project managers are invaluable for large matter management, saving client’s money, reporting progress and managing the many complex interdependencies in large deals but I still think there is a way to go for firms in really selling the benefits to clients, through data that shows their positive impact on real projects.
Coming back to my musings on the train home, perhaps the most telling illustrations of the change in perception, embedding and value in procurement delivery came, as with all great conferences, during the networking sessions. I was sought out by many procurement professionals and law firms for advice and discussion, sharing experience and successes in how to manage the law firm/GC/procurement triumvirate relationship. The enthusiasm for improving delivery and innovation highlighted the themes of the day – professional legal procurement is becoming ever more sophisticated and the role of the players is changing.
The Buying Legal Council evidently goes from strength to strength in Europe. I’m proud to be associated with Silvia and her team, both as a procurement professional and a consultant helping law firms work smarter with their clients for better outcomes.