Top Priorities for BigLaw in 2014? Here's the CMO Perspective...

by JD Supra Perspectives

Although ideally [success] would come in the form of a growth strategy, the best path may be to create a more streamlined law firm with a refined set of practices, lawyers, and sense of purpose. What I’m essentially referring to here is the need for clarity surrounding the vision for the firm… - Jeff Berardi, CMO at K&L Gates

What will be the top priority for law firms in 2014? The answer depends on whom you ask, of course – and, for a perspective in our Firm Leadership series, we put the question to chief marketing officers at law firms publishing on JD Supra.

What will be among the leading issues for law firms in the new year?

We expected a diverse collection of answers, and while that is true (see below) two themes run through the responses: value and efficiency. Vickie Spang, CMO at Sheppard Mullin, an AmLaw 100 firm with more than 600 attorneys around the world, captures this well:

"The name of the game in 2014 is keeping market share. Clients value the work product and the daily treatment they get from their outside counsel; in the final analysis, these are the keys to client retention. Firms should also think about how to improve efficiency – whoever can deliver innovative solutions, wins."

It's a sentiment echoed in Kathleen Flynn's response. Kathleen is CMO at Sedgwick, an international litigation and business law firm with close to 400 attorneys in offices around the world:

"The top issue for law firms in 2014, and going forward is the maturation of the profession and the challenge of looking at the way we deliver services in a new and creative manner. The need to provide our clients with quality representation, in an efficient and cost effective manner, while maintaining a mutually collaborative partnership that is beneficial for, and brings value to, both the client and the law firm."

Efficiency Models

As long as the primary business model for law firms is getting paid for time, there are not enough systematic incentives for building more efficient models...

Adam Stock, Chief Marketing and Client Services Officer at Allen Matkins, a California-based AmLaw 200 firm, reiterates the theme of innovative solutions, efficiency, and client focus thusly: "The top issue for law firms will be working on efficiency models. As long as the primary business model for law firms is getting paid for time, there are not enough systematic incentives for building more efficient models – the more time you spend, the more money you get paid!
We are now dealing with much more informed and empowered buyers who have more choices. At large companies that we serve, legal costs are up for negotiation like the fees of other suppliers. Companies have many choices of firms that are based on different business models. Choices include: using firms that have a contract attorney model, working with firms on a fixed fee model, and working with firms that are willing to share risk."

Client-Focused Outcomes

Firms will be required to really look inward at their own business models and make adjustments that allow the firm to be a business partner with their clients...

Aleisha Gravit, CMO at international law firm Akin Gump (with more than 800 attorneys), puts the focus squarely on client needs: "I think that one of the top priorities for law firms in 2014 will be in the area of client focus, specifically on delivering a client’s targeted outcome. These can be different from the best 'legal' outcome and are usually driven by common business goals, budgets, and risk tolerance level. In order to do this, firms must be willing to be nimble in the way they service the client. Firms will be required to really look inward at their own business models and make adjustments that allow the firm to be a business partner with their clients, including being able and willing to share the risk, if it means providing true value to the client and delivering on their expected outcome."

Heather Morse, Director of Marketing at California-based firm Barger & Wolen, echoes the notion of client focus, among other things, in her rallying cry for the new year: "It’s time to stop spinning our wheels and waiting for the recession to end; the business to come back; things to change. You need to grab a Sharpie, dust off your strategic plan, and get rid of anything that is no longer forward thinking. It’s time to get proactive and invest the resources of time, money, and people to make things happen. How did the recession leave your clients and their business? How have technological changes impacted your clients, and what legal solutions might they not anticipate? Where is your firm today, and where do you want it to be at the end of this 2014? How are you going to get there? What is standing in your way?

Clear Vision and a Long Term Strategy

The long-term strategy helps dictate the law firm’s unique value proposition...

Jeff Berardi, CMO at K&L Gates, one of the world's largest firms with over 2,000 attorneys globally, sees law firm prosperity – next year and beyond – tied to a "viable and long-term strategy – one which must be coupled with a clearly articulated value proposition to clients." Here's why:

"Competition within the legal industry these days is fierce, and I believe that this trend will likely continue to increase in the years to come. If you examine financial downturns following a credit crisis, they are typically followed by prolonged periods of economic stress, thus making corresponding competitive forces even more powerful. To top it off, the economic growth outlook for legal services in 2014 remains somewhat tepid, contributing to increased price pressures and various other organizational challenges. As a result of these factors, law firms of all sizes must effectively set forth a well-defined path if they intend to ensure the future success of their organization.

Although ideally this would come in the form of a growth strategy, in other cases the best path may be to create a more streamlined law firm with a refined set of practices, lawyers and sense of purpose. What I’m essentially referring to here is the need for clarity surrounding the vision for the firm, and it really ought to be a realistic one to achieve rather than simply a 'pie-in-the-sky' approach that will never come to fruition. While this will certainly have implications for 2014, I think firms should refocus their sights on where they expect to be in 3-5 years rather than just by the end of next year.

It seems to me that many law firms have been languishing in a state of flux, without a clear vision or strategy for the future, and this scenario can only last so long before firms are forced to choose one path over another. In turn, the long-term strategy helps dictate the law firm’s unique value proposition, which amounts to a credible set of attributes that differentiates a particular firm from others. Without a clearly defined firm strategy, I think it will be difficult for marketing departments to be able to communicate a compelling value proposition to clients."

Stay tuned in the coming days as additional CMO insights are added to this JD Supra Firm Leadership post.

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