Delivering value

If Nick Jarrett-Kerr is right that the current downturn in work has removed the last excuse for partners avoiding to engage in valuable non-chargeable work (see his article in Kerma Partners Quarterly 2/08 and my earlier post Spending time wisely), then high on our list of things to look at is how to resolve the problem of a business model based primarily on selling time.

Although his post The new brand landscape for law firms in Law 21 is primarily aimed at law firm rebranding rights and wrongs, and is very well worth reading for that, Jordan Furlong also touches on billing and branding,

Today, brand opportunities are opening up everywhere — not primarily in new industries or practice areas, although there are a few of those, but in how a firm delivers value to its clients. Service delivery, billing parameters, value definition, client communications, risk sharing — these and many other key elements of customer relationships, which have lain dormant and ignored for years, are coming to sudden life.

Take the oldest complaint in the book — the billable hour system — as an example. Clients have moaned for decades about how the billable hour removes the burdens of accountability and risk from the lawyer (though clients share some of the blame for not pushing harder), and conventional wisdom called the billable hour unkillable.

But now there are firms that have successfully staked out this ground and branded themselves as having abandoned the billable hour altogether.

Spending time wisely

An interesting report by Economics Editor Chris Giles in this morning’s FT, that ‘data show that confidence is down but consumer and business behavious tells another story’. He suggests that ‘the gap between action and sentiment puts the economy at a tipping point’.

We are certainly seeing this day to day: work continues, but ask anyone about what happens next and the outlook is decidedly gloomy. At a lavish corporate event last week, to which I took one of my daughters, she was most surprised not by the artwork on display but by, to her, the incongruity of unlimited champagne and the chorus of doom-sayers quaffing it.

There are various steps that we can take in our practices to see us through the slowdown, whether it be long or short. In an email circular last month, Nick Jarrett-Kerr of Kerma Partners, identified “where partners should be spending their time during a market turndown” as

  • skills building
  • steam-lining and re-engineering work
  • getting even closer to clients
  • getting involved in internal projects
  • motivating and developing their precious assets [their teams]

Most partners see fee-earning as their key task, and in most practices this is the case, but, as Jarrett-Kerr notes, ‘the silver lining in the recessional cloud may be that at last the excuses have been removed for partners avoiding to engage in valuable non chargeable work’.