Wednesday, November 19, 2008, 10:49 AM

How many law firms are really making changes to reflect the new reality?

Wonder how many in the legal profession have noticed that as of September 2008, the world is totally different than it was only a few months ago. How many law firms are really making changes to reflect the new reality?

In recent days, we have responded to two enormous RFPs with striking and novel alternative fee and alternative service approaches that are in tune with some of the premises of the Association of Corporate Counsel’s Value Challenge. Having listened closely over the last three or more years to the concerns of inside counsel like FMC’s Jeff Carr, Wal-Mart’s Miguel Rivera, and Clorox’s Laura Stein (not to mention sourcing professionals and nonlawyer buyers of legal services) we have redirected our approach to RFP responses to create alignment with buyers’ definition of value. Obviously, the baseline for us is providing high quality legal services; without that, we are nowhere. But now, after three or more years of continual internal dialogue about what value means to clients, some of our lawyers who are in charge of large accounts are enacting changes.

In one recent instance in one of our markets where we have far fewer lawyers than other firms, we competed with 14 other large “name-brand” firms to be the sole (or nearly sole) law firm for a publicly traded company with a legal spend of approximately $7 million. Prior to preparing our submission, we invested an incredible amount of effort understanding why the company was issuing an RFP at all – where had the incumbents not delivered value, and what really is of value to the company going forward. We nailed it, and as a result we are one of four finalists and the only nonincumbent still at the table. In another response to an RFP for a large organization that is an existing client, we proposed to provide tens of thousands of hours of legal service for a fixed fee. The inside lawyers were stunned that a law firm has matched its actions with its words about value. Hopefully, we will win both of these big gambles, but win or lose, the market is noticing, which is a big part of the game.

The key in both instances is absorbing our share of the risk, not expecting inside counsel to manage our affairs, and taking responsibility for our own efficiency. In these two instances, at least, the themes of Value Challenge have gotten the attention of the folks paying the legal bills.

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