One defining characteristic of the successful law firm of the future -- indeed, of any legal service provider -- is already visible in many of the most successful law firms today.
The successful law firm of the future will be able to deliver a high degree of responsiveness and service quality anytime and anywhere the client needs legal services.
This is the sixth of a series of nine posts that will describe and explore seven characteristics[note 1] that will determine which law firms remain successful in the legal services industry of the future, and what law firms can do now to build them into their operations and professional cultures.
The importance of worldwide 24-hour-a-day responsiveness is nothing new. Many law firms, especially the global giants, already can do this. In the legal services market of the future, however, unprecedented responsivness will be essential, not only to success but, for many firms, survival as a credible competitor for the business that they want.
This is nothing new.
For almost twenty years, the Walker Clark Strategic Business Development Survey, which is a database that now holds the opinions of more than 3,600 major clients and referral sources for law firms, has reported that among twenty indicators of the quality of legal services delivered by a law firm, responsiveness has by far been the most decisive factor in the decision about which law firm to select, either for the first time or for more legal work.
Over those past twenty years, however, we have observed how responsiveness is taking on a broader and more challenging meaning. It no longer means just a fast response, although speed remains and important factor and most clients' definition of a prompt response is getting shorter. As even small, local law firms take on foreign or multinational clients, they must be ready to deliver to their clients, wherever they are located, a consistently high leval of professional expertise, practicality, and service quality.
Worldwide internet-based communications, with the ability to conduct a meeting with participants anywhere in the world at almost no cost, have certainly helped make "anytime" service possible. The great challenge for most law firms, especially small and midsize ones with important international clients, will be to develop a worldwide service-delivery infrastructure to assure reliable delivery "anywhere."
In short, any law firm that wants to continue to participate as a credible competitor for cross-border and multinational legal work will need to have a "foreign policy" -- a network of establlished, reliable, and ready contacts in law firms around the world. This does not necessarily mean that every law firm must join a traditional law firm network. But there must be more than what commonly passes for a "best friends" relationship. There must be an actual sharing and integrated coordination of expertise and service capabilities that are ready to activate on a moment's notice. The legal services market of tomorrow will not be fooled, nor will it accept, only website claims of contacts witjh "leading lawyers" around the world.
Those capabilities must be demonstrated clearly and consistently.
1The seven defining characteristics of the law firm of the future are:
- A conversion from a "factory" model for the production and delivery of legal services to a "shipyard" model
- Closer, ongoing client relationships
- Sustainable profitability
- Very high workflow leverage
- "Anytime, anywhere" service delivery capabilities
- An intense focus on quality management
- A predisposition for innovation.
For more information about the Walker Clark "futures practice," contact the author by e-mail.