Guest article** by Eric Hunter *
Here’s a theory: The cloud enables firms to adopt a Legal Project Management (LPM) approach to billing, financial management, even client relations, with a minimal technology footprint – all based on the introduction of a disciplined process, yet perhaps unorthodox approach. LPM in the cloud promotes a team and account management philosophy including a broader attorney and firm user base all collaborating to provide better client service. While recently speaking at the LawTech Futures event in London, I heard a futurist give a fascinating perspective on how we are evolving from the economics of scarcity to the economics of ubiquity …basically having easy access to everything! If we indeed have unlimited access, thanks to Google for information, Facebook for interpersonal connections and cloud deployments for collaboration, we should be open to exploring creative and social ways (think in terms of spheres as opposed to ‘top to bottom’ lines) to organize our attorneys into teams and deliver better client service.
It isn’t about technology
A lot of debate is being generated on the buzz topics of LPM and Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs), especially how they can be applied to business driven initiatives. The key to a successful LPM and AFA approach, I feel, lies within client integration, and hence embracing the economics of ubiquity as alluded to above. In the information age, information and associated outputs are abundant, but how do we best organize, manage and share meaningful interactions and deliverables seamlessly with our clients? This can be achieved by creating two organizational models – through shifting focus away from the billable side of the house to the alternative/flat fee side; and by creating a team driven alternative staffing environment as opposed to the traditional legal model.
Many firms are already adopting variations of this approach. However, embracing this approach by integrating client relation management initiatives via an account management model through all layers of the firm is something new. Also, utilizing enterprise driven social media as a behavioral change push in this direction is also novel and rather ‘atypical’. The bottom line though: It isn’t about the technology for technology’s sake. Technology driven initiatives are meant to evolve behind the scenes, creating a consistent innovative backdrop towards behavioral change. As an example, Facebook or Google+ continually evolve technologically, but to the user, this essentially takes place in the background, unbeknownst to them. And even if this evolution results in a major change such as a new user interface, it is an innovative step forward, further revolutionizing the information sharing medium we experience every day.
Let’s talk just a bit further about enterprise-driven social media. As platforms like Salesforce, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Google and Apple all compete and integrate through social media driven solutions for ad revenue and market share, the natural collaboration and team building approach becomes a fluid business integration enhancement. Meaning what? Meaning, when deploying enterprise-driven social media, the natural innovation integration enhancements these players make within a hosted environment directly translate to business-level change and innovation. In turn, these environments lend themselves to legal project management, alternative fees, alternative staffing and alternative business models.
Legal Project Management and Alternative Fee Arrangements are a natural bi-product of this goal within the legal industry. What occurs is a ‘team approach’ driven through a minimal technology footprint. Traditionally a project management team approach is an example where processes are streamlined from the attorney/administrative staffing standpoint. For example, rather than ‘secretaries’ & ‘attorneys’ we instead pool work across several resources with the project deliverable as the consistent element between parties. This model alters the attorney/staffing ratio & reduces costs across the board.
The additional layer of expediency comes from the account management integration concept – where KM attorneys, marketers and account managers are all managing projects for the firm and with clients. A pyramid approach starting with the chief marketing officer creates account managers layered and integrated through all practice areas. This pyramid allows client relations to flow with both a centralized/decentralized approach, from the top of the pyramid down through the ranks. Are new resources brought in to enhance this process? Yes and no. Existing resources are re-thought, re-aligned, and integrated into this pyramid approach. Additional resources are then allocated as the process is streamlined.
Social Media and the Spherical Business Model
Much has been written in terms of the relevance and application of social media in law firm settings. To me, the potential of social media in legal is based on the acceptance of the concept that the social media client relations approach does not stop with our external sharing and collaboration. How is information being relayed and targeted? Through the individual. Both Facebook & Google+ take this approach…. leveraging the ‘circles’ concept to allow firms to funnel information both internally and externally. This allows individual streaming and a decentralized approach to targeted information sharing while centralized where appropriate. What does that mean? It means that we as an industry can no longer divorce process from technology. One drives the other. The business model itself becomes spherical as opposed to linear.
The entire approach with hosted unified social media platforms as an enterprise solution like Google Apps is the shared experience. There are no longer single users, every element of the application is geared towards team and project management related growth. Client relations must be re-thought and integrated through account management layers to meet these demands. What are the bi-products of such an approach? Transparency across the board and all elements, an intranet that is more Facebook than traditional corporate – or to put it another way, the user interface for organization and client alike is decentralized like Facebook & Google+. Therefore the information is delivered, accessible and shareable in the most expedient way possible. In this way, both intranet/knowledge portal – it’s all the same shared communication experience.
When elements of the work product are accessible to the client for team driven collaboration in this fashion of course the billable hour concept will ultimately be put to the test. So how do we begin towards flat fees and afa’s becoming the standard? Dissect the work product, approach the work product in phases and rebuild within a shared environment. In other words, the work product is no longer linear. We have in turn an organization that is no longer linear. We instead have a spherical organization, with over-arching circles interlacing account management through all practice areas, clients, and work product.
New Business Models & Beyond
When re-adapting to these business models what is the end result? LPM and AFA’s are just the beginning. The economics of scarcity evolving to the economics of ubiquity becomes the reality. Where the UK is moving with their potential business revolution of non-equity integration can ultimately tie in with hosted integration through enterprise driven social media solutions. A spherical model driving the adoption between decentralized and centralized nonlinear models is what will lead to success. As an increasing number of solutions integrate, more and more opportunities arise for investment within hosted innovation models, with onsite innovation investments leading the alternative staffing driven elements of the future.
Competition between Facebook, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and SalesForce has popularized the hosted collaboration approach, aka the vertical agnostic approach. LPM and AFAs are nothing more than examples of the legal profession adapting the bigger picture other industries are driving, and what hosted collaboration platforms are re-engineering within the consumer driven arena. Behavioral driven consumer social platforms can be leveraged by the enterprise for organizational driven re-organization and alternative staffing models based off the re-engineered centralized information sharing evolution these platforms provide. The end result is a minimal technology footprint with the primary focus on process and behavior.
* About the author Eric Hunter is the Director of Knowledge, Innovation & Technology Strategies at Bradford & Barthel LLP. Over the past two years, Eric has integrated a Google-driven social media knowledge and collaboration environment within the firm and is constantly looking to leverage innovation solutions to enhance client service interaction while driving business optimization solutions internally. Eric speaks and writes on competitive strategy and collaborative cloud solutions globally and is the recipient of ILTA’s 2010 ‘Knowledge Management Champion’ Distinguished Peer and ILTA’s 2010 ‘Innovative Member’ awards. Eric can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @thelihunter
** The original article previously appeared in LJN’s Legal Tech Newsletter, an ALM Publication and is being re-published with permission.