Is the Sky Falling Yet? 2019 'Law Firms in Transition' Survey

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The results of the 2019 Altman Weil annual Law Firms in Transition are receiving well-deserved interest from law firm leadership.

This year, 362 law firms participated in this annual benchmarking survey. The good news is that most law firms are experiencing improved financial performance. And the issues surrounding what clients are expecting is becoming clearer. Lawyers are busier, per se, and many firms have raised rates.

...almost all firm leaders agree that the pace of change will remain high or even accelerate.

According to the results, managing partners have long accepted the fact that there is a permanent trend in how the practice of law is and will be practiced. Change is continuing. But increased profits have some law firm leaders relaxing a bit about the impending discussions of “doom” about how the practice of law is changing. Is the sky really falling?

Apparently the sky has not fallen. But at the same time forward-thinking firm leaders recognize that high collaboration with firm clients is increasingly essential. And according to the survey, almost all firm leaders agree that the pace of change will remain high or even accelerate.

What Do Clients Want?

While clients may not be looking for the low-cost leader they are seeking greater transparency and accountability in the delivery of legal services.

Over 50% of the firms responded that they are invested in capturing data on the cost of their services. The basics of strong experience and expertise along with a high level of communication, good service and efficient processes remain important criteria for clients when choosing outside firms. And a whopping 96% of law firm leaders agreed that a focus on increased efficiency, and perhaps with it better predictability and innovation, are areas clients are seeking.

A clear, strong and distinctive law firm brand remains important to clients. About half of the respondents of this year’s survey said their firms are clearly differentiated from the competition. But what about those firms that have yet to go through a brand development process to identify, codify and implement a clear brand which consistently supports and reflects their unique distinctions? These firms make it difficult for clients and potential clients to understand why a firm with a muddled brand should be chosen.

The survey results report 78% of firms have created a more collaborative culture resulting in improved firm performance. Altman Weil suggests compensation systems should reward increased collaboration and better client service. 

...demand for law firm services has been flat for years and the acquisition of new clients is essential for continued growth and sustainability

The survey did not explore additional issues that are increasingly vocalized by legal departments such as which technologies are preferred, how they use artificial intelligence, or how to incorporate problem solving solutions such as process mapping to minimize pain points.

Altman Weil’s 2019 survey states that the demand for law firm services has been flat for years and that the acquisition of new clients is essential for continued growth and sustainability. 

And, according to the summary, managing partners are highly concerned about the impending recession. The sky may not be falling but savvy law firm leaders are making sure their firms are realistically facing the changing landscape in the practice of law to secure their futures.

The full survey results provide greater details and explanations. Click here to download and read.

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Merry Neitlich is Managing Partner of EM Consulting and an affiliate consultant with Lean Six Sigma  - www.emconsults.org

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