August 15, 2011 was the 10th anniversary of my starting day at Womble Carlyle as (perhaps) the first person in the legal profession to have the word “sales” on a business card. No one knew how this would go, but from the outset I have received warm welcomes from inside counsel and other buyers of legal services who possess an advanced understanding of business and the importance of professional sales. While it has been an honor being a trailblazer, colleagues, especially those adept at social media, help keep things in perspective. Over the summer, I referred in one Tweet to the legal sales profession. “Legal Sales Profession?” responded a Twitter follower, who, in keeping with the 140-character limit, concluded, “What a pantload!”
For my own amusement, as much as for the enlightenment of others, as my 10 year anniversary arrived, I began collecting thoughts about the state of the legal sales profession at age 10: the most important changes, developments, successes, failings and trends. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share them on the New Legal Normal Blog.
Power to the Buyer.
To me, far and away most important development of the last decade has been the assertion of power on the part of the buyers of legal services. Over the last 10 years, the supply of private-practice lawyers has come to far outstrip the demand for legal services, complemented by the arrival of new technologies and providers other than law firms. Inside of companies, C-suite executives have focused on controlling the legal spend, and in many instances they have deployed procurement specialists to re-engineer arrangements between buyers and sellers. The manifestation of buyer power has many faces: the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge, Lean Six Sigma and other project management tools, innovative pricing, a focus on client delight, collaboration among law firms serving the same client, abandonment of many nickel-and-dime irritants, and a nascent humility on the part of outside counsel.
Much work remains to be done. Old habits die hard on both sides of the table. Too many outside counsel still hope that recent developments are but a blip and that the changes thus far are sufficient. Inside counsel could help ensure that improvement continues by being more courageous than they have been to date in “rewarding” with engagements the law firms that have adapted to the new normal and who really are innovating. One segment of inside counsel in particular – the diverse segment – could play an even more powerful role in realizing their objectives by quantifying the size of the legal spend that they personally control. I am sure it is multiple billions of dollars annually – a market that makes additional law-firm transformation economically, in addition to socially, feasible.
In recent years, I often have heard the word “re-set.” To me, the most-important re-set is the relationship of inside and outside counsel based on buyers’ newfound power and assertiveness, bearing the fruit of improved comity and productivity. While there are plenty of strains in the legal business, I think we’re all getting along better these days.