Productive legal teamwork and smart collaboration can lift law firm profit margins
NOVEMBER 14, 2019

Law firms live and die based on the strength of their expertise and secure to reliable legal outcomes that other legal services providers can’t.

What’s covered in this article?

  • Teamwork: a commercial imperative
  • The benefits of effective law firm collaboration
  • Partner buy-in pivotal to impactful teamwork

This truth is even more acute today than in decades gone by, as clients increasingly focus on cost management, with companies adopting analytical eBilling software and turning to NewLaw providers to squeeze as much value as possible from their annual legal spend budgets.

Yes, the law has always been a tough, competitive business — but now its demands are reaching an all-time high, thanks to ongoing market volatility, complex regulatory and trade environments, and a ruthless war for legal talent.

It’s perhaps that last reason that firms can have the most influence over. And it’s why reliance on star performers or unsuitably resourced practice groups can leave firms exposed in a new reality where client accounts span states, countries, and continents.

Clients now wield the power to demand more price transparency and exceptional service. For firms who have built their practice on providing outside counsel guidance to in-house corporate legal departments, there is another challenge too: insourcing.

Teamwork: a commercial imperative

In fact, 2019 was the first year that legal departments spent less on outside counsel than on their in-house lawyers, according to Gartner’s recent State of the Legal Function Survey. Undoubtedly, there’s likely a number of reasons why this is happening, but here’s one headline: corporate legal departments increasingly believe they can handle matters more effectively internally.

What does this mean in an industry that has historically built its entire reputation and approach to decision-making on evidence? There’s no single answer, although it’s clear law firms must prove they can manage cases from inception to outcome better than in-house peers.

Worryingly though, U.S. firms are perceived as lagging behind their European counterparts in their approach to collaboration — the secret sauce to staying competitive and effective in this volatile legal landscape. According to RSG Consulting, a U.K. based legal innovation agency, collaboration is a critical lever for innovation within firms, but one that is left unpulled, by leadership teams who struggle to collaborate both internally and externally.

It is a critical driver of innovation, but many law firms struggle to create internal collaborations, let alone external ones. Who should law firms be collaborating with and how? How can smart collaboration entirely alter the innovation profile of a law firm in terms of both legal expertise and business approach? These are the questions RSG Consulting has posed to U.K. firms and they are just as worthwhile to ask here in the U.S.

Try Provy for free to significantly improve collaboration and teamwork across your law firm’s teams, departments, and even international offices.

The benefits of effective law firm collaboration

The benefits to law firms of enabling effective teamwork and collaboration are exponential, according to Harvard Law School expert Dr. Heidi Gardner, who has spent 20 years studying teamwork in professional services firms.

Dr. Gardner’s book Smart Collaboration contains extensive research, which found that firms who work together well can:

  • Earn higher margins
  • Inspire greater client loyalty
  • Attract and retain the best legal talent
  • And gain a competitive edge
  • Decrease risk

If the benefits are so seemingly profound, then what’s stopping more firms engaging in effective teamwork? Old habits die hard.

Partner buy-in pivotal to impactful teamwork

While legal workflow tools such as Provy can facilitate a more effective and collaborative process for teamwork in firms, the impetus to embed new tools will always need human drivers.

According to Aderant’s 2019 Business of Law Survey, many legal teams find it challenging to gain partner buy-in for new business of law or technology practices. While technological tools open up new possibilities for high team performance, this shift can only happen on a foundation of leadership — senior lawyers need to drive it. As Briefing’s recent Innovation in Global Legal Business Report explained, working more collaboratively both internally and externally is about more than making oceans of data on matters available to clients through portals. Clients want genuine collaboration from and among their firms, as Thomson Reuters has outlined with these common reasons for firms to do so:

  • To see firms are willing to build relationships
  • To gain access to your best experts
  • To deeply understand their business
  • To gain sector-wide and global insights
  • To show you can team with third parties
  • To create consistency across teams
  • To have a ‘one-stop-shop’
  • For efficiency purposes
  • To innovate.
Try Provy for free to see how it enables smart collaboration and teamwork across your law firm’s teams, departments, and international offices.
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