The legal industry is changing. Some may wish it was changing faster. Nonetheless, change is upon us. At Clocktimizer, we are lucky to work directly with many of the people driving that change. From Pricing Directors, to Heads of Operations to Service Delivery Managers. Unsurprisingly, many of them have a unique insight into the legal industry. What will cause the next biggest upheaval? Who are the movers and shakers? And do clients really want change after all?
In this series of blogs we are sitting down to discuss these topics with our favourite industry specialists. In the first installment, we will be talking to Alison Larson. Alison is the Strategic Risk and Pricing Manager at Neal Gerber. She has also held almost every possible type of job within the legal industry. Practicing lawyer, in-house counsel, judge and law firm executive. Better yet, she is striving to drive change from within. We spoke to her about the real meaning of client value, and the most exciting developments she has seen throughout her career.
Alison, many thanks for joining us today! You are a lawyer by training. What made you stop practicing?
I never thought of it as stopping practice. Rather I use my skills in a different way. I was given the opportunity to take on an exciting job which would give me both business and legal experience at a time when that was really rare. It gave me a unique edge and meant I had different skills than the typical lawyer.
Can you describe what you did at the ABA?
As a lawyer, I mainly worked in litigation management. We didn’t have a huge amount of litigation coming through the door, but when we did it was high profile and interesting. I spent most of my time on the management side, working as Chief of Staff under three different Executive Directors. It meant I was responsible for knowing what was going on!
Following your time in the ABA, you went back to working for law firms but in a different role; the role of pricing. What drew you to this area?
Before moving in to pricing, I spent fifteen years as a law firm Executive Director. During this time I realised the importance of pricing and planning. What I really think clients want are more options and more information. Which they are entitled to. I don’t think clients will go back to being as passive as they were before the market crashed. My experience allows me to help lawyers offer that level of service delivery to their clients.
What is the biggest challenge facing pricing and legal project management in the legal industry?
The biggest challenge is that nothing can be priced until you know what elements are needed to create that product. Attorneys, as the product, need to think about how they do their work. How can they streamline their processes or become more effective? How can they become a more valuable product to their client?
It’s a tough step to take. Mainly because it isn’t compatible with what law firms are willing to compensate for. Much needs to change in order for the focus to be not just on how many hours you work, but also on producing a product at a fair price in a manner that satisfies the client.
Neal Gerber has recently implemented Clocktimizer as a tool to help in this mission. How does Clocktimizer add value to your role?
Put simply – Clocktimizer helps me show people that they need to get real. If I have an attorney telling me they can set a budget of 50,000 dollars for a suit, I can show them that they have never been able to complete that type of a lawsuit on a budget of 50,000 dollars. It gives me the information I need to get them to look at the process they use and change how they do things.
Lawyers like evidence, after all. Until recently it has been difficult to provide any information to support your pricing decisions. Clocktimizer gives me that evidence.
Who are the pricing and LPM pioneers right now? Who is making a real change here?
There are certainly a lot of big names within the industry right now. Toby Brown, Colin Jasper, Stuart Dodds, to name but a few. But I think the truth is that the real pioneers are corporations. In-house legal teams. Now, they aren’t necessarily doing it as effectively or as quickly as it could be done. But they are still pioneers.
I think Walmart is a great example of this. They have developed a standard package of discovery for most of their personal injury cases. The firms they work with can only charge a flat fee for the pleading phase.
Clearly, law firms need to determine whether or not the work they are doing is worth the money. Clients are saying that it often isn’t. It’s why they use so many third party vendors.
You have been in legal services for a long time. The past 5-10 years have seen many changes. What is the most exciting development in your opinion?
It’s technology. I have a great story to illustrate why. I serve on the board of Illinois Legal Aid Online. We provide more than 3 million individual visitors each year with the tools they need to solve a variety of problems on their own. It costs us about 23 cents per visitor to do so. This would be impossible without technology.
One day, a woman wrote in to Illinois Legal Aid to ask a question. She had recently moved from Florida to put some distance between herself and her ex. Having done so, she wanted to change her name to make it harder for him to find her. One of our volunteer attorneys took responsibility for answering her questions. Unfortunately, she had to inform this woman that in Illinois you have to publish any change to your name. Clearly this was a terrible idea for this woman.
Having given the advice the lawyer went home feeling terrible. She was determined to try and help in any way she could. Luckily, a Partner at her firm was a legislator. A bill was drafted and is now the law in Illinois. Technology made this change possible. People don’t have to live with the problems they have. They have tools to help them.
Any developments you are not particular happy with?
That there have been so few substantive developments. Yes, 35 years ago I didn’t have a computer and had to write out memos by hand. But those are minimal changes compared to where technology and management principles have moved the rest of the world. Law firms have changed very little.
Do you think law firms can continue the way they are going right now?
If they do, clients will continue to take more control. Lawyers will have increasing trouble operating within the parameters that someone else sets for them.
If you were the president of the legal industry, how would you shape the future?
I would want to focus on resolutions. We need to be more concerned with solving a problem than with winning because that, generally, is what is most important to our clients.
If you enjoyed this interview, keep an eye on our blog page. We will be talking to more industry leaders, like Alison on a regular basis. If you have an idea for someone to be interviewed, get in touch!