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Have Midsized Law Firms Found a New Competitive Advantage?

Posted by Merry Neitlich on Oct 1, 2018 7:03:02 PM


Work to align corporate needs with outside law firm service.

Midsized law firms possess a remarkable opportunity to obtain new business with large companies. The growing demand from corporate legal departments to achieve better innovation, greater transparency and more predictability in legal fees has opened up new possibilities. Law firms must first overcome inertia and their strong resistance to the changing landscape in the marketplace by creating better alignment between corporate legal departments’ needs and the delivery of services from outside firms. Many in-house counsels refer to this as creating better and more customized legal operations (legal ops).

For the past three years at their annual institute and throughout the year, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium Institute (CLOC) has focused on teaching lawyers about the nuances and various aspects of legal ops, such as aligning with a company’s needs and law firms needing to put skin in the game. Of course, technology is a significant aspect of this, but there is much more to legal ops. Mary O’Carroll, head of legal operations at Google, said, “If one of my law firms picked up the phone and asked to meet to discuss how we can create better efficiencies, I would be thrilled but surprised.”

Another event attendee shared this about her legal department: “I am working with several of the CLOC 12 Core Competencies on a shoestring budget. Make my life as simple and value-added as possible, and I will always let my attorneys know what a great partnership we have with your firm.”

The head of legal operations and technology at a Fortune 500 Company based in the Midwest had this to say about small and midsized firms working successfully with large corporations: “It’s great that some smaller firms are incorporating legal operations principles. At our company, we are open to considering smaller firms. Sometimes working with larger firms can be a turn off because of their complicated infrastructure and poor service. Midsized and smaller firms can be more facile and easier to work with, especially if they take the time to understand our company, see where we are headed and how they can work with us to create better efficiencies. In fact, some corporations want to try out relationships with smaller firms but finding the right firm can be a challenge.”

Now is the time for your firm to gain a strong foothold with companies focused on legal operations while this opportunity is still front and center. The door is wide open for midsized firms to learn about legal operations and to approach targeted non-clients from larger corporations to start a dialogue about their preferences in legal operations.

How Can Law Firms Tie Successful Business Development in With Legal Operations?

To start, let’s focus on three of the most basic and probably most important competencies as an initial way to engage in productive conversations with clients and potential clients. They include:

  • Strategic planning
  • Technology and process support
  • Service delivery and alternative support models

Engaging in conversations with in-house counsels about these three areas of legal operations can provide law firms with a starting point to understand where each legal department currently is and where it plans to go over the next 12 months. Be certain to understand what technologies your law firm already has, such as e-billing and knowledge management software. You will find that each corporate legal department has its own proclivities in technology and other operations areas. But having a clear understanding of what your law firm already has can help the conversation move forward. There is no one-size fits all in these conversations. Like client feedback interviews, legal ops conversations require asking questions and listening to responses in order to follow up effectively with clarifying questions.

To date, about 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies are currently involved with legal ops programs. Many more are starting to engage in them, and your firm can possibly be of assistance as they start to explore what is most important to them. Legal ops are primarily about creating predictability, efficiencies and transparency between outside law firms and legal departments. I recommend reading a variety of articles on this process to familiarize yourself with what legal ops conversations might be like.

Legal operations professionals in corporations are interested in speaking with law firms about these issues. The chance to have meaningful conversations about innovative ideas to align corporate needs with outside law firm service is real. The question is how long will this opportunity will be available before the competitive advantage is gone?

Want to learn more before making the leap? Be sure to check out CLOC’s 12 Core Competencies, which were mentioned in this article. In addition, LMA’s Body of Knowledge offers six domains to advance your legal marketing prowess. Check out the Client Services domain to learn about the techniques, processes and standards by which law firms’ professional staff serve the lawyers in the firm and clients of the firm; and see the Business of Law domain to delve into all aspects of the legal profession, including financial and operational performance.

Merry LMA large '17

Merry Neitlich, managing partner of EM Consulting, assists law firms in forming legal operations relationships with potential clients. As an LMA Hall of Fame member and inductee into the College of Law Practice Management, Merry brings over 20 years of experience implementing successful client feedback programs and winning business development initiatives for law firms. She offers programs and facilitates retreats as well as industry and practice group meetings to help lawyers gain a strategic advantage training through legal operations. Contact Merry at

Topics: Client Services

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