Strategic Choices and Key Success Factors for Law Firms June, Alan Hodgart

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1 Strategic Choices and Key Success Factors for Law Firms June, 2010 Alan Hodgart The Association of Danish Law Firms 1 Huron Consulting Group Inc. All rights reserved. Huron is a management consulting firm and not a CPA firm, and does not provide attest services, audits, or other engagements in accordance with the AICPA s Statements on Auditing Standards.

2 Four critical components (plus a key capability) create and sustain success in people businesses override everything else Vision & Strategy Leadership & Management Organisational Effectiveness People Execution Capabilities 2

3 There are a few natural laws in any competitive industry Businesses segment into peer groups Each group has similar scale and scope Focused on a similar part of the market Scale matters a consequence of the drive for critical mass in core practices Clients question why one firm is much smaller than another (in a peer group) Consolidation follows driven by the need for scale And the fact that winners develop faster than others Concentration occurs around value/industry segments A few win greater market share than the majority Concentration mostly starts around higher value segments of the market Consequently markets demonstrate a high level of stratification Firms compete within their peer group, less so outside it

4 Legal Services markets have undergone enormous change over the last decade Increasingly sophisticated clients of all sizes Segmentation of markets into identifiable chunks Increasing levels of competition especially for higher value work Concentration of work around leading firms Consolidation massive growth in size at upper end Segmentation of firms by perceived strengths at other levels Rise of Global/International Firms Major shift to better / more strategic leadership and management

5 All markets segment as they mature an ongoing process Clients demand greater value without a consequent increase in price in all markets Progressively all markets will follow a pattern Practice areas have a group of expert firms seen as capable in the higher value end in each market Critical issues can be addressed effectively by only a few Consolidation in the high value end Clients see a narrow, high value end ( bet the company ) with a wider midmarket segment Consolidation follows in the mid-market Other options emerge further down in the market Specialization by practice, by geography, by industry

6 Client sophistication is the primary driver of this process Clients segment services by the value to them based on the importance of the issue Higher value services are less price sensitive than lower value but carry much greater expectations about performance Firms are ranked by their perceived strengths in specific areas and level of value delivered High value work is a small part of the market Likely to decrease in relative terms Hard for most firms to focus solely here required critical mass will require a wider focus The high value end of any market always becomes dominated by a few others move/forced into lower margin clients: work A commodity end in all markets is emerging with not much in the middle in some cases

7 There is significant confusion about strategy and planning in many firms Majority of firms in the professions have something called a strategic plan Often more a wish list than a strategy - lack of external focus A plan should be no more than a summary of the thinking processes An effective strategy guides the resource use towards areas that build long term competitiveness Links the internal and external dimensions of a firm Strategic options can be developed only with a deep understanding of market trends Need to define the market Understand the starting point Understand the availability of positions given the required competitive capabilities A tendency to see full service as a market position No sophisticated client buys a full service firm - they buy a specific service Need to identify particular strengths in the range - linked to the market position

8 Slaughter and May s success process (1/3) Very clear, long term vision, strategy and market position Has adapted over time but not changed Clarity around core business clients, practices First class work, first class clients, first class people Rigorous process of recruitment and promotion A clear profile of a Slaughter s person Consider the one of us question as much as technical skills High levels of consistent processes A what is the best approach? rather than my way is the right way 8

9 Slaughter and May s success process (2/3) Effective leadership Light handed Restate the ethos regularly - the constant repetition of a simple message Huge levels of self-imposed discipline Integrity internally and externally Willing to make tough decisions when something is in conflict with strategy or ethos Rigorous in the recruitment process Rather lose the right person occasionally than recruit a number of wrong people Seek to challenge associates by delegating work one level above their capability Rigorous in the promotion process Clarify career paths Provide training and feedback Effectively an up or out organization

10 Slaughter and May s success process (3/3) The firm is very strict about the quality of clients and work that it accepts A demonstrable dedication to clients - know the profit will follow if clients feel they are part of the Slaughter family Low on financial targets - high on client interaction Will do low value work for core clients if clients want it - but no where else Tough client acceptance and conflict management procedures An unstated but clear culture focused on excellence and adaptability And on working with clients to get commercial solutions

11 Cravath follows a very clear path to success Absolute clarity around strategy Know the work and clients NOT to take on Very clear about the role of a partner and the relationship with clients Client needs are first and foremost Associates are promoted on this as much as technical skills Demanding of associates but challenge them to perform at high levels Light handed management - but ruthless to non-conformers High levels of integrity, commitment and discipline A constant focus on the Firm, the people and clients A strong culture that focuses on excellence and innovation

12 Successful firms can be found in different parts of the legal market Part of the mantra of law firms in general is to claim excellence in everything they do Being very good does not mean excellence and many are simply good not very Achieving excellence in what a firm does and then sustaining it is extremely difficult it is a market differentiator Successful firms pay attention to a huge amount of detail every day But there are four critical areas that create and sustain excellence And Partners focus particularly on these see it as key part of their role Lead others in doing the same Successful firms make mistakes but are able to recover quickly 12

13 Difficult to develop strategic options without a long term vision for the business The long term vision and current market position will guide the choice of options Particularly what to reject on grounds of no fit Long term visions are rarely overly specific Clarifies the broad positioning of a firm Provides development guidelines - geographical positioning, value position, peer group competitor types, product/market scope, sense of differentiation Long term visions can change when people see new opportunities or a declining attractiveness in the present Be prepared to revisit when studying options see it as a guide not a straight jacket Avoid a butterfly approach

14 A strategy must provide alignment between vision, market trends and competitive capabilities Vision New Competitors In 3 years Competitor moves Market Position Today Today Client Demand Trends Behaviour Market Position Image Value Position Core clients Core services Competitive basis Behaviour Structure Systems Skills Processes Culture Economics Image Structure Value Position Core clients Core services Competitive basis Systems Skills Processes Culture Economics Resource Supplies Technology Political, Economic and Social Trends 14

15 In Denmark 2005 there was a clear gap between the Big 4 and the second group of firms 15 Source: European Legal 500, 2005

16 The Big 4 still dominate the market in 2010 but the second group is closer 16 Note: Black dot indicates 2010 position, red dot indicates 2005 position. Source: Legal 500, 2005 and 2010

17 Strategic options flow from a firm s existing market position Positioning in professional services markets is defined around four criteria Core client types Practice area competitive strengths Value proposition Geography Defining a firm s position today around these criteria is critical The starting point will determine the actions required to achieve a specific position in the future A strategic vision should make the future market position clear A Top 10 firm leaves the question open Needs more precise definition Essential that there be partner buy in to a strategic vision

18 Understanding the segmentation of a market along with current trends is hard work Traditional SWOT analyses tend to be based on a static view of a market which limits their value Also identify real competitive strengths and weaknesses not entry cards Essential that the analysis be based on a dynamic analysis Projecting forward carries risk but less so than not doing it Must be carried out via data collection and analysis Avoid the okay, let s do a SWOT analysis in an hour approach People working a segment are not always the best to spot trends Look backwards and forwards in the data collection Collect data from businesses in the segment plus desk research Requires careful analysis and interpretation

19 There will be various bases to market segments One segment might be size The Global Fortune 1000 A commonality of service line need and value Big Four accountants; global investment banks; global capital markets lawyers Another might be by generic features Owner managed; FMCG s; SME s A commonality of service needs plus a size issue Specific industry groups Industry knowledge; commonality of service needs But need to ensure there is a differentiation available Otherwise they are a useful marketing channel only A segment must have some cohesiveness common competitive basis

20 Identifying attractive segments is the next step This analysis will produce a range of service line:market options Match these against the long term strategic vision of the firm what we want to be in the long term Eliminate incompatible options (or change the vision) Map the reduced set of options against the firm s existing organizational capabilities Evolution or step change? Identify the implications of building a competitive position in each option What are the competitive requirements to succeed? Could we build these? Do we want to build these? How long will it take to do this?

21 Further critical dimensions need to be developed What level of value is the objective in a segment? High end, medium or low? How large is this part? What are the core service lines into a segment? What are the secondary service lines? Do they match our desired position? What is the required size of the secondary service lines in order to fulfill their role? What are the service level issues? What is the level of market maturity/sophistication of buyers? What are the likely pricing issues in a segment? Who is serving this segment at present? Are we ever likely to be able to compete? Merger/acquisition? What are the underlying competitive trends in a segment? What does this suggest about future professional needs and competitive drivers?

22 The quality of people is a critical success factor Recruit people based on both skills and attitude - too much focus is on skills and qualifications Seek to ascertain that they fit the culture Develop career paths for all levels of partner and staff Clarify the role of a partner and work down from there Establish targets for each fee earner - demonstrate what needs to be achieved to progress Provide training, coaching and support tailored to the role - business skills at a more senior level Ensure regular feedback is given Address underperformance fairly but with rigor Cannot fudge the issue on this Maintain motivation through effective delegation of work Ensure fee earners feel challenged Build cultural behaviour into performance assessments People are assessed on how well they fit the cultural norms through their behaviour Maintain focus on the strategic objectives and actions The constant repetition of a simple message 22

23 Many firms tend to demonstrate similar inhibiting characteristics No clear long term vision - at least a realistic one Often based on being a leading firm with little definition Hence partner buy-in is patchy - means what people want it to mean Confuse the owner/producer role See management more as administration rather than strategic implementers Lack of discipline in implementing strategic decisions Partners do what they want rather than what is required Part of the lack of strategic buy-in Tend to not delegate sufficiently See their role as doing rather than managing the work Give inadequate attention to staff development Generally unwilling to share clients within the firm A lack of trust in others Less willing to make significant investments for long term benefits A more short term approach

24 A critical aspect of success is commitment and self-imposed discipline (1/2) These start at the top partners, directors Senior people believe in the firm, in the business and in their people They want the firm to be successful in the eyes of their clients to have made a difference using the skills and capabilities of the organisation (not just themselves) Committed to seeking improvements in all they do Never (almost) do the same thing twice A sense that what I did today can be done better tomorrow Want the best way even if it comes from others Take the firm s vision and strategy seriously Seek to understand it and articulate it to others 24

25 A critical aspect of success is commitment and self-imposed discipline (2/2) People act with integrity Do what they are required to do and don t do what they shouldn t - practice integrity Act with integrity towards clients and the Firm Put enormous effort into developing people Themselves and those around them Behave as leaders and owners of the business Leave the firm in better shape than when they joined Hence no need for heavy handed management, tight controls and bureaucracy Rigorous in the selection of people Clear career paths and performance feedback 25

26 A powerful differentiator the willingness and ability to execute on an effective strategy (1/2) The clarity of strategy and an understanding of what it requires people to do is fundamental The self-imposed discipline of people is the second fundamental aspect of achieving excellence People take seriously the responsibility for executing the Firm s strategy Prepared to accept personal discomfort Willing to let go of some things and take on new tasks, roles etc. Everyone seeks to make themselves redundant every year 26

27 A powerful differentiator the willingness and ability to execute on an effective strategy (2/2) Execution occurs mainly in work groups People devote time to management Partners work together to get things done Partners accept responsibility for execution at Group level There is a clear management structure: responsibilities are both understood and taken seriously The firm provides a vast amount of support to partners in taking on this role Management and leadership positions are prized and seen as critical to their firm s success Everyone recognises the importance of people managing 27

28 Long term success requires a firm s strategy to be capable of clear articulation and buy-in The strategy must be one people want to pursue, feel able to pursue and which is capable of achieving the desired objectives Everyone requires an understanding of it Level One Desired market position spelt out Level Two Clarification points Level Three Core client requirements Level Four Core practice area requirements Level Five Core areas of differentiation from competitors Level Six Critical areas of organisational change 28

29 Sustaining success as a professional firm requires alignment of four critical components All competitively strong professional firms have four fundamental components aligned plus an essential capability Vision & Strategy Leadership & Management Organisational Effectiveness People Position Structure Behaviour Image/Brand Differentiation Long Term Vision Buy In Trust Systems Processes Consistency Economics Quality Skills Capabilities Self- Discipline Integrity Attitude Execution Capabilities 29

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