EP 56 – Tim Corcoran – Learning to Adapt and Thrive as a Law Firm in the Ever-Changing Market

Tim Corcoran is a Legal Management Consultant with offices in New York, Charlottesville, and Sydney as a global client base. He is a keynote speaker, author, as well as a legal commentator and has been in the industry for the past 2 decades as a corporate executive. The things that he talks about and where he guides his clients is just practical advice – what he learned in how to run a business and what they may not have been trained to do when in law school. It is really about helping legal leaders use their intellect and their lawyer abilities to be more effective leaders and managers of their business, which is essentially what his consulting practice is based on. Please reach out to Tim by visiting his website at bringintim.com or by following him on Twitter @tcorcoran

Prioritizing Your Next Steps in Navigating the Pandemic and Beyond

Now is a perfect opportunity for law firms, and all businesses, to be taking a look at their operations and determine which of their programs, investments, capital expenditures, tools and technologies, and suppliers may need to be dialed back as well as looking to see what resources and maybe even people may not be as mission-critical in the short-term. Many businesses are being faced with several tough decisions to make right now and they are all happening at once. Tim has helped clients come up with a decision framework to do this triage. He looks at the term triage as how medical professionals do an assignment of urgency when they have someone that is present with symptoms and they cannot treat everyone and do everything all at once, so really they are trying to prioritize what is most important first. A short-term challenge facing many law firm leaders is that there is not a lot of planning done in advance for how to deal with this. Most businesses did not even have a plan that would accommodate the scale of this disruption.

Law firm leaders need to triage and prioritize what their next step is going to be. It is a 3-stage process that several law firms are currently facing. There was a Canadian minister that described their government here as dealing with the COVID-19 Pandemic as a plane struggling in an intense storm. The first stage is landing the plane on the ground safely to ensure that everyone is safe and alive. The second stage is securing the plane on the ground and making sure that it will be safe to ride out the storm there. The third and final stage is preparing to take-off again as the climate allows for proceeding. The first thing that law firms need to look at doing is securing their law firms to ensure that they will be in business come the following day. Their first steps in doing so are to make sure that you have enough cash on hadn’t to make payroll, think about if you have enough laptops and desktops available to disperse to people so that they can work from home, if not, then you need to make adjustments to secure device policies, zoom policies, and conference call capabilities so that employees can use firm services to login and access the critical materials that they need.

Embracing Opportunities and Collaborating and Communicating More Effectively

We as a society, but especially as law firms, have been ignoring opportunities to embrace a flexible workforce. There are ignored opportunities when a valuable employee moves across the country for many different reasons and most employers just say goodbye. Why is that the case though if they can work remotely and be just as effective? Now is a great opportunity to say that we do not need a model where everyone is in a shiny building downtown, but rather to embrace a model where you can be everywhere. This gives a greater competitive advantage and a lower cost space which will in turn improve profitability. Take this time to put things into perspective. It is not about adapt or die, although some will not adapt and some will die, it is really about adapting and thriving. The market has changed, and is always changing, so how do you as a law firm or a leader in the legal community take advantage of what the market is telling you very loudly and very clearly?

Law firms structurally are not built very well for collaboration, even when everyone works in the same office or the same set of offices. This market change may provide a recognition to use the tools and processes that allow you to collaborate even when you cannot be right across the desk from one another. The missing link is if people are being effective in using these tools. With time, we can realize that there is a way to collaborate with others when you are not in the same room and if we take that lesson back, we may reform the law firm footprint so that now we may collaborate and communicate far more effectively.

Utilizing Technologies as a Way to Deliver New Solutions

The market has been fairly loud in asking lawyers and law firms to adapt to a changing world- whether a consumer or large corporate clients. The market has also said that there is a learning curve and that legal professionals should be more efficient at delivering service at a higher quality and lower cost than they were 5 years ago. While billable hours still exist, the market is saying that they no longer need lawyers’ permission to access legal services from alternate sources. Big law firms are now realizing that some of their work is being seeded to smaller law firms and all law firms are now seeing some of their work being brought in-house or to alternate suppliers where it is a lower cost of delivery. Some companies are delivering services to organizations that have legal needs and they are delivering them more effectively, at a higher quality and lower price, and with higher throughput. Law firms are now realizing that all of these things they said they cannot change and changing, and they don’t have a voice in it. Courts are accepting e-signatures, people are providing services electronically, taking appearances by video, and they are starting to see the same sort of thing in transactions. The things that used to have to be on paper are now submitted electronically.

Much of the market has mischaracterized the benefits of the use of technology to legal services. Buyers are more ahead of the game than the sellers. We need to first look at technology not as the solution, but as a way to deliver that solution more effectively and efficiently. Lawyers need better processes. It is not uncommon to look at a law firm and see how different lawyers have fundamentally different approaches to handling the same task, whether that be a legal task or an administrative task. The better course of action is to recognize that you have inefficient processes and that inefficiency sends a message to your clients and the clients are saying that the law firm’s inefficiency costs them more money. It is time to engage in process improvement and no one way has to win, there may need to be some variations. Process mapping, process improvement, and project management are not about commoditizing the law, they are about saying how to unlock the smarts that lawyers have if they have done these things before thousands of times. That approach will pave the way for technology we think will be necessary and helpful to deliver that. Technology comes after the business mapping and then the technology is one of the ways to deliver those services. So, how do we benefit from using technology? The price point can come down, but the profit can go up and both the client and the law firm are happier.

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