The primary dimension to running your firm like a business is simply having a strategy.  Michael Porter observed that “strategy is a choice;” our preferred way of saying the same thing is, “strategy means saying no.”  Once you’ve established that, here are other critical components of approaching your clients and your engagements in a businesslike fashion:

  • Make sure high-level, very well-qualified (and appropriately compensated) business professionals have not just a seat but a voice at the table.
  • Operate through intellectually and cognitively diverse client-facing teams: Lawyers, sure, but also professionals from operations, finance, data analytics and IT, competitive intelligence, journalists/story-tellers, and more.
  • Replace or upgrade your financial systems so they can provide you with near-real-time revenue and profitability statistics, resource allocation, alerts and “escalators,” and make sure that your metrics have consequences (positive and negative) for those responsible for managing them.
  • Put in place a thoughtful, comprehensive strategic client account management program. Stick to it.
  • Invest in obtaining serious, reliable business intelligence, and use it as your basis for decision-making. No more decision-making by anecdote or pursuant to what the loudest voice in the room said last.
  • Did we mention holding people accountable? For goals, deadlines, performance hurdles?
  • And finally, spending a small but non-trivial amount of your annual revenue on R&D; your clients all do.

In a Gray, lawyers are a part of the team, but only a part; they are not first among equals.  This means they are not permitted to second-guess or micromanage business professionals—no more than the business people would presume or care to oversee the lawyers’ trial or deal negotiating strategy.  Let each group do what it does best and stay out of the other’s way.

If you’ve followed what we advise here about being a Gray, one over-riding thought might be in your mind: This doesn’t sound much like running a law firm in days of old.  No, and that is very much the point: One we will return to at the conclusion.

[1] The dataset we saw, as of May 2019, can be summarized as follows:


Matter type Law firm: cost and duration NewLaw: cost and duration
Small litigation (M&A reps & warranties insurance claim) $111K 8 weeks $29K (-74%) 3 weeks (-63%)
Mid-size international arbitration (3 continents, 2 law firms) $2.0M 23 weeks $0.3M (-83%) 6 weeks (-73%)
Large regulatory investigation (SEC, NYAG, CFTC) $18M 80 weeks $4M (-78%) 30 weeks (-63%)
Client comments re quality: “[NewLaw]’s work product is more substantive [than] the law firm’s.” “Exquisitely helpful…such a good job [that] we now have time to think up new thoughts.”  “99.97% accurate; they serve as co-counsel, not just a vendor.”


[2] We don’t want to pick on partners.  Associates exhibit belief in the same delusion when they rationalize their entitlement to high starting salaries by reference to what they “need” to be paid to handle the high student loan burden they have incurred.

[3] “Crash Course: How a small group of firms pivoted and profited after the recession,”  April 23, 2019, available at

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