State of the Legal Market: 2018 Georgetown University Report
Each year, Georgetown University’s Law School publishes a Report on the State of the Legal Market. I’ve been watching this Report with interest over the past few years; it has regularly impressed me with its accuracy. Below are some of the highlights and items of interest from the 2018 Report.
“The phenomenon of “consensual neglect” seems a particularly apt description of the strategic posture of many (if not most) law firms in today’s rapidly changing market for legal services. Ignoring strong indicators that their old approaches – to managing legal work processes, pricing, leverage, staffing, project management, technology, and client relationships – are no longer working, they choose to double down on their current strategies rather than risking the change that would be required to respond effectively to evolving market conditions.” (1)
Consensual Neglect is a term developed by Karl Weick of the University of Michigan. It is ‘the tendency of organizational decision makers to tacitly ignore events that undermine their current strategy and double down on the initial decision in order to justify their prior actions.’(2) For law firms, this may mean sticking to older models (billable hours, for example) instead of taking a close look at what those older models actually accomplish and whether a more efficient process could be implemented to reach a similar (or more effective) result.
For example, the firms that have automated their documents with us over the past 20 years have reported a dramatic decrease in the time spent preparing documents for their clients. This time reduction has enabled them to spend more time thinking about their practice and what they can improve. Thus, getting them out of Consensual Neglect.
‘Dynamic’ firms that are investing in business development and improving workflow efficiency are seeing higher growth than those firms that are not investing in these areas.
I know that it’s easy to get caught up in the day to day necessities of your legal work. You have to make sure work is getting done for your clients, that it is completed timely and well, and you also have to manage staffing, administrative, and business decision as part of your regularly workload. It can be extremely difficult for already-busy attorneys to find time to develop their firm’s business practices and truly analyze the current processes. However, the Report found – and I agree – that carving out time for that sort of practice development is absolutely essential for a firm to maintain growth.
The consensus of the report is those firms that don’t make the change to being more ’Dynamic’ are going to find themselves in a problematic situation when the next recession hits. They will not have the ability to make the adjustments that are required to survive the next recession.
We see similar trends as the report found with our client firms over the past several years. There is a strong correlation between those firms that invest in business development – such as automating their documents – and those that don’t. The firms that we have worked with are repeatedly seeing steady growth in their respective areas of practice.
In addition, we have seen a rise in innovations that our clients are asking us to implement. I’ve been extremely impressed with some of the ideas that have been presented to us and how those projects have developed from idea to reality. The number of firms that are closely looking at what they can do to improve their processes, increase their efficiency, and service their clients in a better way is rising every day.
(1) Freek Vermeulen and Niro Sivanathan, “Stop Doubling Down on Your Failing Strategy – How to Spot (and Escape) One before It’s Too Late,” Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 2017, at 110-17.
(2) Freek Vermeulen and Niro Sivanathan, “Stop Doubling Down on Your Failing Strategy – How to Spot (and Escape) One before It’s Too Late,” Harvard Business Review, Nov.-Dec. 2017, at 110-17.