On reflection, I now realise how fortunate I was to have spent several years working in “new model” legal services providers during the peak of what was surely the first ever major legal market reset. It started with the Legal Services Act and was driven relentlessly forward by a combination of significant economic and societal changes (of which I suspect we have all read more than enough).
Faced with such market conditions there would have been no point in attempting to compete in the legal market without placing client service unequivocally at the forefront of your brand. This simply had to be the essence of your organisational DNA. If redefining your legal services business model does not make a meaningful impact on the clients it serves then it’s a wasted opportunity of huge magnitude as well as a path to rapid failure. Some did indeed fail rapidly.
For me personally, supported by the empowering effect of living and breathing this ethos, it was a case of positively relishing the freedom of driving a genuinely client-led, solutions-driven focus to delivering legal services. In other words, doing stuff in a way that uncompromisingly provides meaningful outcomes for clients, and only secondarily (but importantly, of course) adapting and evolving the business model to ensure it is effective, sustainable and profitable.
Evidently, my clients enjoyed the benefits too. After several years working in this environment, this approach became the norm to me, to the extent that I began to wonder how there could be any other way. It was so obviously the right solution. The answer, of course, lay in the restrictive structures and cultures of the dominant incumbent providers, for whom the norm looked very different. It most certainly had done to me, for the many previous years during which I had inhabited this world.
This state of affairs led me to wonder what could be achieved if I could take my experience and approach to the buyer side of the market. After all, it was (and very much still is) the age of the empowered legal services buyer. Armed with a combination of buyer power and my perspective as a service provider, I soon realised that it is possible for a buyer to shape legal services in exactly the way they wish. It can be done, even if it means coaxing law firms to deliver in ways that may not be on display in their “shop window”.
It was this series of discoveries that led me to realise that my extensive market connections and my knowledge of the variety of service delivery models and structures – all with their inherent pros and cons – could be harnessed to empower both lawyers and clients to recognise the art of the possible. This needn’t involve hard-nosed, price-driven procurement, nor any tedious, attritional negotiation tactics. Quite simply, there are mutual wins in plain sight if you know how and where to look.
I don’t see this function as a pure procurement exercise. I see myself more as a broker and catalyst for effective, productive and sustainable relationships from which both sides benefit. This was the essence behind my launch of Clerkingwell Consulting.
Two years on, my work has developed beyond the brokering of external legal services into holistic resourcing and operations management for organisations, applying different permutations of internal and external professionals, processes and technology, both in the context of strategic development of the in-house legal function and the more discrete management of legal projects.
Above all, I have learned to recognise that every organisation and, more importantly, the people within have widely varying views and expectations of what value and quality look like. Listening, understanding and eliciting these needs is key to finding the right solution and is not something that any scorecard or RFP template can deliver. It’s all about people.
Find out more
I am something of a cynic when it comes to reading the promotional material of others, so it is only fair that I accept an equally critical eye over my own work. I have therefore set out on my support for in-house lawyers page some brief illustrations of the actual work I have done over the last year or so, so readers can if they wish make up their own mind as to what lies behind my words.
Better still, feel free to contact me for a chat if any of this is of interest.