Market Resonators and Blank Pieces of Paper

New market entrants and forward thinking law firms are busy designing and delivering services based on market need rather than organisational capability.  This should frighten those who are still trying to figure out how to deliver legal services which best fit today’s legal markets.  While the window of opportunity is shrinking for those who have yet to devise a credible strategy which prioritises effective service delivery, all is not yet lost.  The new legal services market is still in its infancy but acknowledging this fact should not become an excuse for complacency: that window is shrinking fast.

Earlier this week I attended a round-table debate hosted by the law firm FoxWilliams, the purpose of which was to discuss results of a survey the firm has commissioned about Alternative Business Structures.  (An executive summary of the report can be downloaded for free from the website of the independent marketing organisation which conducted the survey, Jures).  The existence of ABS’s is the most visible manifestation of the changes underway in the legal services industry.  Although most visible, not necessarily the most important.

One of the panel members, Adam Shutkever CEO of Riverview Law, made the point that organisational structure – whether ABS’s or anything else – is merely a vehicle for serving the market.  Much of the publicity surrounding the launch of Riverview Law earlier this year was about how this new market entrant, with the proverbial ‘blank piece of paper’, has devised an approach to legal service delivery based on its understanding of market requirements.  So after the panel session ended I asked Mr Shutkever why (and how) he thought he knew what his market needed:  he explained that Riverview Law has spent a lot of time, money and effort conducting extensive market research before deciding upon what legal services to offer, who to offer them to and how they should be delivered.  Time did not permit opportunity to discuss in detail how, exactly, Riverview Law deliver their services but I was left in little doubt that market need rather than internal capability is the driving force behind everything Riverview Law tries to do.

I am not trying to promote Riverview Law as such (I don’t think they need any help from me in that regard!) and it is too early to tell whether they will be one of the winners in the new legal services landscape.  However I was impressed by the market based methodology and ethos they seem to be adopting.  It appears to be classic product management applied to legal services, as referred to in my two previous posts.

Starting with a ‘blank piece of paper’ is an option open only to truly new market entrants.  Existing service providers (and as from now, Riverview Law falls into this category) have to work within their resources and associated organisational constraints, to adapt and shape service delivery to meet market need (assuming for the moment that market need is properly understood in the first place).  Attracting additional finance and management expertise via an ABS structure may be one option for breaking free of constraints but, as Mr Shutkever noted, an organisational business model for those engaged in legal service delivery is of little interest to consumers of legal services.  Fundamentally what consumers of all kinds want is relevant legal advice and help, delivered effectively, affordably and with no unwelcome surprises regards costs.

Over the past week or so I have also been talking to law firm staff who design and provide Legal Project Management services.  (You know who you are:  I will just say, once again, thank you for your time).  A number of common themes emerged during our separate discussions.   One theme particularly relevant to this post was client need.  The firms in question have implemented Legal Project Management techniques in direct response to existing, and prospective, client requirements.  Put existing and prospective clients together and you have a market.  Clearly, for these firms, the application of Legal Project Management techniques is a market driven phenomenon.  The firms concerned have taken strides to tune-in to their markets and take action.

‘Tuned-In’ is the title of a brilliant book which has been on my bookshelf for a couple of years now.  It has the strapline: ‘Uncover the Extraordinary Opportunities That Lead to Business Breakthroughs’.  This short book, which topped the business book best seller list a few years ago, is about developing and delivering products and services which resonate in their markets.  The authors (marketers, not lawyers) define resonators as:

  1. The perfect solution to a specific problem
  2. A product or service so powerful it sells itself
  3. An offering that connects to what your market values most
  4. An idea that people immediately understand has value to them.

It seems to me, especially in light of some of the conversations I have had during the past week or so, that Legal Project Management scores very well on these ‘resonator’ criteria.  It seems that criteria 2, 3 and 4 are increasingly being confirmed by client reaction to the existence and application of Legal Project Management techniques to legal service delivery.

I must confess that I struggle a little with the first criterion.  I find it difficult to believe that there is anything such as a perfect solution in law, or even a perfect service delivery method.  Nevertheless, the degree of flexibility afforded by the discipline of project management is such that different commercial endeavours can be managed in a variety of ways and yet still be recognisably ‘project managed’.  The very flexibility, range and scope of project management techniques helps make the discipline the perfect toolkit to deliver solutions for many types of problems.  Arguably, the adoption and application of Legal Project Management techniques should also help existing providers compete with those in possession of blank pieces of paper…

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