There’s been a lot of chatter over the last few years about the "new normal" for law firms, and what that might mean.  Yesterday, I was reading an interesting article at Above the Law, which addressed the idea that the new normal is a lot like the "old normal" (making the boom time an aberrance and not the other way around). 

While that part was enlightening (and I recommend reading the article in full), what I found most useful were the lessons that the author felt we’d learned over the past four years and advice for BigLaw firms in dealing with the new normal.  We all recognize that BigLaw and mid-sized firms are different, but in this case, the advice are very much the same for both. We’ve been hearing it again and again, so it’s definitely time to start making some changes (if you haven’t already), to remain competitive. 

 

Listen to Your Clients

As Above the Law says…

This sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at how often firms don’t listen to their clients. For example, before undertaking an expansion into a new geographical region or practice area, a firm should assure itself that there’s actually demand from its clients for the new services." 

This applies to mid-sized firms too, who may be considering opening an additional office or starting a new practice group within the firm. How have you identified that this is what your clients want, and will serve their needs well? 

Rethink Your Business Model

Again, Above the Law says…

The advisory encourages firms to consider sending certain functions to outside providers or to less expensive parts of the country or the world; to provide transparent and responsible leadership; to pay attention to firm culture, using lateral hiring judiciously rather than indiscriminately; and to maintain a strong balance sheet. (Those last few items all sound like lessons learned from Dewey’s downfall.)."

This is something that Tim Corcoran spoke about at length during his webinar series for ILN members. He delved into the topic of outsourcing and contract lawyers with the help of Kevin Colangelo in his final webinar, the recaps for which can be found herehere and here. Using contract lawyers and outsourcing certain business functions isn’t just for large firms; mid-sized firms can and should consider it too. 

Differentiate Yourself

It’s no longer sufficient to say that you’re a high quality law firm with talented lawyers – that’s what gets you admission to the table these days. Above the Law says…

I talked about this a bit in my recent Bloomberg TV appearance. Firms need to figure out which areas to prioritize and which areas they’re going to stake their reputations on. The days of “pretty good” regional firms that get business just because they’re there are numbered; firms need to figure out what their marquee practices are going to be. Why should clients go to your firm as opposed to the one down the street?"

So it’s no longer going to be enough to say, "We’re a full-service law firm; we do everything well." What will you specialize in? Firms need to give their potential clients, and yes, even their current clients, a reason to hire their firm over all others. Everyone is hungry for business, so clients need to have a good reason to choose you over someone else. Differentiation isn’t just about marketing and branding – it’s about making a decision about the business model you’re going to pursue as a law firm. 

As you’re thinking about this, I recommend reading the recaps from Tim’s webinar sessions if you missed them (or even if you read them the first time) – Tim does an excellent job of describing the difficulties we have adapting to the new normal, and how we can make the most of the current climate. Because as Above the Law points out, while it might be a painful truth…

So while the “old normal” was followed by a big boom, the “new normal” probably won’t be. Trends like technology and outsourcing are putting pressure on prices that is unlikely to abate, even if the larger economy improves (as some think it will in 2013)."