Humans live within defined boundaries with good reason: life is often easier, more predictable and downright safer. A quick flick through the annals of history reveals the oft romanticised life of the pioneer to be one of extreme difficulty; posthumous glory in many cases serving as meagre compensation for a life ended early, frequently in abject poverty.
But as we all know, without new frontiers and those adventurers strong enough to explore them, life would also be dull stagnant and repetitive. Change, we are frequently reminded, is usually for the better; it is just that as humans we are sometimes afraid to embrace it.
So why am I talking about frontiers and law firms in the same breath? Some might say that after 15 years working exclusively for the UK’s Top 100 legal practices I have become too sympathetic to my clients’ cause: “Conservative”, “traditional”, “unwieldy” are more favoured adjectives for a profession not known for its’ trailblazing attitude.
But if law firms aren’t the most natural trailblazers, many of their most valued clients certainly are. And if there’s one thing law firms have, without exception, had their eyes prised wide open to over the past 10 years, it is the need to anticipate, understand and darn well deliver on what their clients want, before someone else does. Nowhere is this more relevant in today’s economic climate than in the arena of pricing:
Post recession, increasing numbers of clients are demanding more from their legal spend, not just in terms of perceived value but also in terms of more sophisticated pricing structures or AFA’s as we generically refer to them. So it is here that I feel justified returning to thoughts of the next frontier: Pricing strategy: a new land…like all good frontiers brimming with possibility but also unfamiliar, sparsely populated and not without risk…. How then can law firms survive and thrive in such a climate?
Without doubt specialist training can make a huge impact, empowering partners to hone their own pricing skills and strategies. This is something Validatum® has specialised in since 2008. For some law firms though there may also be an additional need: the need to develop a more sophisticated, specialised internal pricing function, shaped and led by someone with the background and experience to ensure that the firm truly excels in the art and science of pricing. Step forward the Strategic Pricing Manager.
There are a handful of these people operating in the Top 100 already. However, the role is nowhere near established and is in the main regarded with curiosity and suspicion in equal measure. We are some years behind the US and also Australia, where these roles are becoming more and more commonplace and the measurable benefits of such appointments more widely appreciated.
Those individuals that take up these early strategic pricing manager roles in UK law firms will be true trailblazers. But it is up to the law firms that employ them to ensure that these new roles are destined for success, rather than disappointment. Talent will need to be attracted from outside of the legal profession, bringing it’s own challenges around culture and integration. Candidates will need to be convinced that their prospective law firm employers have thought through and genuinely bought into the benefits of bringing non-lawyer talent into their closely guarded lawyer: client relationships.
For their part these pricing experts need to be multi-skilled individuals. They need to be capable on the one hand, of developing market disrupting pricing strategies and providing the analytical thought required to make the same work more profitable. At the same time they will need to win the trust and support of not just the firm’s management and senior lawyers but also finance, BD, marketing and bid teams, all of who have a vested interest in and some influence over the area of pricing.
With any new appointment, my strategic recruitment work with clients starts by us shaping and formalising an initial detailed recruitment brief for a proposed appointment. This gives us the opportunity to assess and address client expectations and the degree of senior level “buy-in” to a project. This is never more important than when we are helping law firms to establish a function that they don’t have already. In other words, when we are recruiting for the next frontier. I will revisit this idea in more detail over the coming months.
Can we ever totally de-risk a journey into a new frontier? The logical answer has to be “no.” But for those law firms that have an open mind to the benefits of this new land, there is much preparation that can be done to maximise the prospects of success. It will be interesting to see who is ready for the ride.