This year, Clocktimizer was proud to sponsor the Thomson Reuters Institute’s annual COO & CFO Forum. Unsurprisingly, this year saw the event go digital with a virtual space for speaking and working groups held over the two days. The theme was equally appropriate, given global events. “Weathering the storm: New directions in law firm management” is exactly the sort of topic on the minds of every COO and CFO looking to pull through the current financial crisis and uncertainty. Find a video recording of our presentation here.

Because not everyone was able to attend (and benefit from some of the excellent advice shared by speakers) we have put together a wrap up of our favourite bits from the conference. If you think we’ve missed anything then let us know!

Change is inevitable – do you have the right tools for it?

The forum kicked off with a particularly strong talk from Tom Jones, the CEO of Iridium Technology. In a theme that would be continued throughout the forum, Tom suggested that the current crisis is an opportunity for change. Using data allows firms to understand ‘truths’ which can then drive innovation initiatives.

In particular this data should be used to incentivise change through financial profitability led partner remuneration and to improve budget oversight for firms. We couldn’t agree more! It’s why at Clocktimizer, we let you plan in notifications for budget usage, down to the activity level. So you know that out of scope work is happening in real time, rather than at billing. 

The drive towards an evolving legal industry was echoed across day two, where “the State of the US Legal Market” was discussed at length. While sentiment seemed to agree that the financial strain of the pandemic is still not fully realised, there has been an increasing push by clients to innovate. Collections are down, and rates pushing upwards. When combined with cost-cutting measures to weather the storm, firms are having to look to smart, agile technology investments to offer the best value to their clients.

Innovation in pricing models caught our attention

Day one of the forum closed out on a topic close to our heart: Innovation in pricing. Four panelists; Frederick Esposito, COO of Rivkin Radler; Shonette Gaston, COO of Robins Kaplan; Keith Maziarek, Director of Pricing and LPM at Katten Muchin and Michelle Weber, COO of Bilzin Sumberg shared some key themes emerging in law firm pricing:

  • Clients want more pricing choices – Increasing financial uncertainty, and selectivity by clients has led to a desire for ‘a la carte’ pricing choices according to Michelle and Shonette. Firms should be able to build detailed fee quotes, with optional pricing choices to give clients more flexibility. According to all the panelists, technology is essential to create this level of detail (as noted in our recent customer success story with BT law)
  • Price by phase, not by matter – According to Frederick, pricing matters in greater detail gives more flexibility when unexpected work happens. Use LPM and technology like Clocktimizer to monitor budgets by phase and have discussions with clients as out of scope activities occur, rather than sending unintelligible bills of 300 pages.
  • Consider agreeing to unit prices for specific activities – A potential tactic to avoid running over budget is to agree to a unit price for specific activities, according to Keith. However, this is only successful if you then use technology which can track by the activity, and create easy-to-understand data reports for clients showing how many units of time were spent on each activity.
  • The pandemic offers an opportunity for pricing innovation – For all panelists, the pandemic creates increasing competition between firms. However, this can be used to provide sufficient internal motivation for testing new strategies and investing in technology to support them. After all, the pandemic is forcing even closer cooperation with clients. Which means more innovative value based pricing structures.

Avoiding matter leakage with data

A number of different talks covered a topic close to the heart of any CFO – how to avoid matter leakage. It is one of the most painful revenue losses for a firm, not least because in most cases the work has already been done. But how can firms address the challenge? 

For Mark Medice of LawVision, data collection and analysis must be done at every phase of the matter; from intake through to closing. Firms which can analyse at every phase why write-offs or write-downs occurred can introduce steps to prevent this in the future. In fact, we’ve even hosted a webinar on this topic in more detail with LawVision. Those wishing to dive into greater detail can check out a summary of best practices here.

Has COVID forced us to embrace a new normal?

Finally, and rather inevitably, the forum looked at the effect of COVID on law firm operations. Talks throughout the event focused on the impact of remote working to staffing, technology and office sizing decisions within firms. The forum brought together a panel of COOs from the Am Law 200 to share their advice for new operational guidelines.

For many, the greatest danger posed by a change in operations is poor implementation. While the pandemic has pushed some to prefer working from home, panelists shared that 77% still preferred working in the office. This means that any changes made must be flexible enough to cater to both parties. A failure to do this clearly and consistently will create confusion and resentment.

The second change has been seen in the growing divide between lawyers and their support staff. Although administrative hours are still 9-5, most legal professionals are operating 24/7. This leads to a gulf in support which must be filled, either by a changed support rota, or technology.

Finally, the panelists shared that for many in charge of operations, the ball rests in the court of Senior Partners. It appears that COVID has confirmed many of the things that senior operations managers have been sharing for some time. Namely, that firms need to be more flexible in approaching staffing and working challenges, and that investments in technology must be greater to meet these challenges.

A big congratulations from all of us at Clocktimizer

Hosting a conference in the middle of a pandemic is never going to be easy. As such, we want to extend a big congratulations to the Legal Executive Institute for all the hard work that clearly went into the Forum. The event was brilliantly organised, full of engaging speakers and left us with some fascinating talking points around the office. We’re looking forward to next year already!

Interested in learning what Clocktimizer can do for your firm? Book a demo today!