2021 Vision: Our Executives Open Their Crystal Balls

With 2020 coming to a close, we asked our executive team to open their crystal balls and make some predictions for next year and beyond.  

Tom Jones, CEO and Founder 

Work from home is here to stay. We may not necessarily be at home 100% of the time, but the idea of 50 hours a week in the office every week is gone forever. In-person meetings with clients will also happen a whole lot less, as will business travel in general, including conferences. 

Also, COVID-19 forced firms to think more about expense control, profitability, rates, and discounting. Now that they’ve honed in on these metrics, I don’t think they will be walking back. Among the impacts may be more technology but less support staff, with ratios approaching 5 timekeepers per support staffer.  

Work from home will also democratize the partner selection process. With people not together all the time, we’ll see less of the “old boys’ network.” Law firm partners will more readily share work with people in different geographies, people they don’t normally spend time with, and people more generally not like them. It may take a while, but the playing field will be leveled. 

Finally, I think we will see more regional firms having national success. Many of these firms are high quality and do work at much lower rates. There’s no reason to overpay a nearby New York lawyer if you’ll be collaborating via Zoom anyway.  

Jeff Suhr, Senior VP, Intellistat/Steere 

I expect we will see more automation of workflow and processes. This year, we’ve made great strides in budgeting and bill processing; firms will continue investing in workflow automation tools to facilitate these types of processes.  

Attorneys will also become less resistant to change. They went through an upheaval and came through to the other side, so they’ll be less resistant to change in the future. Firm management, IT, and accounting have all seen lawyers accept change this past year and will now be willing and able to drive more change in the future.  

Many firms thrived even through the shutdown. Some areas even grew: Labor and employment did well and there was a lot of corporate work due to PPP. We’ve proved our resilience. The industry made it through last 9+ months – I am bullish on the future. 

Rod Wittenberg, VP of Sales, North America 

Finance departments, especially at bigger firms, will continue to add staff in order to do more analysis – looking for better ways to manage the firm. Small firms, on the other hand, are still trying to operate under the old premise that partners are a collegial group of professionals willing to share in everything. But the middle tier is changing. Those mid-tier firms with 200-400 lawyers are starting to take note of ways to use analytical tools to improve processes and profitability in the firm. They are starting to see a need to change. 

The biggest firms are hiring professional pricing and project management people to streamline engagements with their largest clients. I predict that these firms will still rely on the hourly bill, but will focus on more disciplined pricing and project management for effective budget management and oversight. We will see incredible growth of pricing professionals: demand at the largest firms will grow 30% or more in the next 12-18 months. And salaries may grow too, even more than some of the other “chief” roles. There will be a lot of moving around in the industry, made easier by new organizations like the Legal Value Network and True Value Partnering Institute. And we will see some talent recruited from outside of legal, such as accounting firms and other service industries. 

All this will play out in the structure of the way engagements are priced and managed. People combined with business intelligence tools will support pricing effectiveness and drive profitability. 

If you’re interested in talking about any of these predictions over with us, please contact us and we’ll be happy to schedule a meeting. If not, all the best for a safe and happy holiday and a healthy and prosperous new year.  

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