Yesterday, we began with the first part of Tim Corcoran’s webinar on the strategic role of alternative fee arrangements. After Tim’s elephant analogy, he gave the attendees a short economics lesson. Using a graph with two parallel arrows, Tim said that essentially, we charge a rate that is higher than our cost to deliver. Price needs to be higher than the cost, and profit is derived from the difference between the cost and the price.
But law firms do a poor job of calculating costs – other than their overhead and real estate, they don’t know the cost of the delivery of their legal services.
So the challenge is, as we saw in the recent downturn when there was downward price pressure, because we haven’t fundamentally changed our delivery costs, our profit turns to loss. In the first part of the webinar, Tim had talked about the inevitable movement from premium and strategic to commodity, meaning that clients will pay less for something over time. That’s what we’re seeing – clients are refusing to pay for work that they believe doesn’t have the same value it once had, but law firms who have not adapted their cost structure for this are experiencing loss.