PITTSBURGH — The old adage about showing a person how to fish may have deep reverberations in the legal industry today as law firms realize their more sophisticated clients don’t want all legal services provided to them, but would rather get firms’ help crafting a way they can provide those services for themselves.
That was one of the notable trends discussed in-depth at a recent Thomson Reuters event, Innovation: In-House/Outside Counsel — Trends & Perspectives Moving Forward, that gave several attending lawyers and general counsel the chance to share the innovative ways they’re now approaching the relationship between in-house and outside counsel.
David Pulice, Director of Practice Innovation at Reed Smith, says one way to ensure better client relationships is to figure out how to make clients’ lives easier. “I often ask clients, ‘How can we make your life easier?’ because making our clients’ lives easier typically leads to real and substantial innovation.”
At the panel, Pulice was very pleased to hear one corporate counsel panelist say that if any law firm came into their office and said, ‘How can I make your life easier?’ that she would fall off her chair because she’s never heard that from a law firm. She also said that any firm that does that would distinguish itself from the 10 other firms who walk through her door. “I was happy to hear that at the panel,” Pulice exclaims, “because that’s exactly the experience that we’ve had.”
When his firm approaches clients, Pulice says he tries to keep this mantra in mind. Even if there isn’t an immediate solution to a larger problem, his group can usually find several immediate solutions to smaller problems that make the whole process more efficient. “By trying to figure out how to make peoples’ lives easier, we hear about the breakdowns or lack of current process. We can then invoke process improvement and marry technology to the process to create real, useful solutions,” he says, adding that it takes “the great trilogy of people, process and technology” to truly innovate.
“Too often, some people don’t want to hear that, they just want to be given the technology and try to figure the rest out,” he notes. “But that’s not the way we approach it.”
Given how relationships have shifted between law firms and their corporate clients over the past 10 years — something the panel discussed at length — clients now have the power to enforce their ideas of price certainty on law firms and shop around for legal services, which they never had the ability to do before, Pulice explains.
That has forced law firms to work to differentiate themselves from the pack, offering clients something that other firms in the pack do not. In Reed Smith’s case, that differentiation has increasingly revolved around the firm’s technological expertise and how they deliver innovative solutions, he says. “I think what differentiates Reed Smith is that we get it done — we invoke actual solutions through process improvement and technology that lead to true and valued efficiencies,” Pulice says.
“By trying to figure out how to make peoples’ lives easier, we hear the breakdowns or lack of current process. We can then invoke process improvement and marry technology to the process to create real, useful solutions.”
For example, Pulice notes, the firm has had tremendous success with mastering the technology around document automation, which made their own attorneys more efficient and allowed them to be competitive on offering alternative fee arrangements. While that has allowed the firm to capture work they might otherwise have missed out on if they charged the traditional hourly fees, the real innovative advantage has been leveraging the expertise of the firm’s senior attorneys to automate the forms and documents that the client needs to use the most, whether contracts, loan transaction agreements, real estate forms, legal briefs, or other documents.
And that’s where we get back to the adage of showing someone how to fish. Clients that then leverage these customized contract solutions can really improve efficiency and use the automation to lower their legal spend. “We’ll work with our clients to determine if automation is right for them,” Pulice says. “If they use the same or similar documents repeatedly, then the initial investment from all parties will be well worth the efficiency gain. We can then gain even greater efficiency delegating the initial drafting down to more junior, cost-effective attorneys with the same quality as a more senior Reed Smith attorneys because they worked with their client to formulate the agreed upon forms and provide guidance to formulate the initial draft.”
That result takes some deep communication with clients, Pulice explains, but that’s where he says his group excels — engaging with the clients and working with them to identify their pain points and how those could be eased. “If a client is willing to open themselves up and say, ‘Well, this is how we’ve been doing it’ and allow us to point out possible improvements in that process and have a realistic conversation with them, then I know we’ve found a client who gets it.”
“When we’ve found that particular attitude in a client — somebody who is open to that type of relationship — this is proved positive in the successes that we’ve had with our clients.”
And that makes life easier for everyone.