What Operating Platform?
Here’s a new one: Guess what came up in essentially every single meeting, unbidden? The question, “What’s everyone [else] doing in terms of process management, a back-end platform, the technological infrastructure?” With, first, a palpable degree of uncertainty about what exactly that even meant (hence the different terminology) and, in most cases, the unvoiced fear that other firms simply had to be further ahead.
The first and most obvious observation about this I already made: This is a new topic, certainly in its ubiquity.
Second, and scarcely less obvious, is that it’s an eminently healthy development. Five or even three years ago, if clients asked about process efficiency and how legal work was being optimized, firms could say they were “working on it.” Today they need an actual answer.
Third is the opacity surrounding this whole topic. Whereas firms have a strong sense—even actual data—on what “peer” firms (a) are charging clients; (b) are paying their lawyers and professionals; (c) which are strong and which are weak and which are risible practice areas; (d) pretty much what they’re actually doing for name-brand clients, and a host of other business-side dimensions, firms seem to have no visibility into what others are doing in this area. I can’t say I blame them; some firms find it a challenge to describe what they’re doing about this themselves.
Fourth and perhaps most fascinating, there’s a gigantic glaring void in the market here: No one is offering a coherent, integrated “platform” for law firm operations. Instead, we have a host of point solutions: Billing here, time-keeping there, HR on the left, conflicts and new matter intake on the right, document management in this corner, project management on that shelf and resource allocation in the cabinet beneath.
If markets function as I believe they do, this disequilibrium cannot last: Someone(s) will come along with a universal operations management offering. (And if you think it’s an ERP platform that’s already out there such as SAP or Oracle, that’s fine if you have tens and tens of millions of ££ to spend and a couple of years to be entirely distracted while forcing drastic change in how they do things on everyone across the firm—and all fingers crossed that it actually works at the end.)
Meanwhile, I don’t know about you but I’m keeping my eye on this space.
And Other Reflections from Adam Smith, Esq.
In no particular order, a few notes on other topics that came up and have stuck in memory.