January/February 2019

Taking the Lead

Five Tips for Leading the Law Firm of the Future

Mary E. Vandenack

Technology, innovation, changes in the workforce and changes in the way consumers purchase and consume legal services are all impacting the way law firms market, hire, deliver services and price services. As the legal industry changes, law firm leaders must consider how to effectively navigate firm structure so that the firm will continue to thrive in the future. Listed below are five tips for law firm leaders to facilitate leading firms through the forces that are changing the profession.

Adopt a modern marketing plan.

Historically, generating new clients was accomplished primarily through building personal relationships. Lawyers got involved in the community, shook hands and participated in various types of organizations. Current legal consumers are finding and evaluating lawyers differently. Different types of legal consumers use different methods of seeking out legal services. Law firm leaders should develop modern marketing plans based on sound consumer research. Leaders should develop a marketing plan and methods that are based on the way current consumers seek services. Websites matter. Social media matters. Being seen as a thought leader matters.

Be clear about how lawyers add value as the industry changes.

Ask the question, What do we do that clients are willing to pay any amount for without worrying about the price? Evaluate what services result in “thank you” notes from a client when they pay a big bill. Also consider any billing complaints. Identify the value of the firm’s lawyers. A law firm leader should drive efforts to assist lawyers in identifying where they add value but, more importantly, how to communicate that to clients. A lawyer should never identify him- or herself as a “document drafter.” Even if he or she is drafting complex documents, many consumers regard legal documents as mere forms. Train lawyers to communicate to clients about the value they add that matters to the client.

Develop a culture of innovation and technology.

Innovation is difficult in law firms for a variety of reasons. Lawyers are under constant pressure to get work out the door and to achieve certain levels of revenue. Law firm leadership must create a culture that supports lawyers in using technology and being innovative. A culture of technology and innovation requires commitment and investment from leadership.

Create a culture that values lawyers at different career stages.

A lot of literature exists about the Millennial workforce. Some Millennials want a work schedule that lets them spend a lot more time outside of the office than law firms have historically offered. Some are financially driven and willing to work extremely hard but want immediate benefits. While Millennials seem to receive the majority of the attention, there remain mid-career and senior lawyers who may have a lot to offer a law firm but would also like to have a different schedule, work remotely or spend a portion of their time pursuing technology and innovation.

Law firm leaders looking to retain talent in the future will completely rethink law firm culture and compensation. Does every lawyer need to work the same number of hours to be valued? Can law firms find ways to value the lawyer who automates processes and documents?

Retain current clients.

The firm’s current clients are the easiest source of ongoing work. Unfortunately, the focus of compensation systems and time often revolves around acquiring new clients rather than retaining current clients. Use modern data-gathering tools to find out what the firm’s clients want from the firm. Do they want top-notch client service? Are they getting it? Technology offers many ways to develop information about what you can offer to clients that will allow the firm to retain clients. Make client retention, client service and developing current clients firm priorities.

Closing thoughts.

Despite alarmists who claim the practice of law is dying, lawyers will continue to exist as the industry evolves. The firms that will thrive as the industry changes are those that pay continuous attention to how to attract and retain clients that are the type of clients that the law firm wants to serve.

Mary E. Vandenack

Mary E. Vandenack is a founding and managing partner of Vandenack Weaver LLC, in Omaha, Nebraska. She was named to the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s Distinguished Women of Legal Tech 2018. Email her.