General Counsel have a great opportunity to change how legal services are delivered – if they choose to do so. While some have made strides to change things up so that they may assume a more strategic and value-added role within their companies (which in my view is the best role for GCs and their teams), many choose to remain reactive fire-fighters, policing an increasing number of outside law firms. In fact many advertisements for in-house counsel now stipulate that experience managing outside law firms is a vital quality for employment. Surely companies should be hiring in-house counsel to bring much more value to the table than being cops. But I digress.
GCs have an advantage that some have not yet taken advantage of – the ability to see legal services as an industry, not a profession. When an issue arises, GCs analyze it, determine the risk to the company and evaluate the complexity of the solution. They then determine the best solution; it may be that the issue can be solved by the in-house team of lawyers either through education or legal skill; it may be that there is a technology solution to the issue that will allow it to be solved in-house; it may be that an LPO or other non-law firm service provider can deal with the matter; and if all else fails, there is always a law firm.
Because legal services are increasingly seen as an “industry” with many players (Stephen Allen has made this comment before) only one of which happens to be lawyers, perhaps it is also time for law firms to take the same approach. Can law firms learn from this and become more innovative in their approach to law?
By seeing legal services as only deliverable by lawyers and staff within the traditional firm model, law firms unnecessarily limit their opportunities. This lawyer-centric viewpoint, blinds firms to potential new lines of business and new ways to reduce costs (read: new ways to increase profit margins). This thinking also results in the loss of so-called commodity work; commodity work, which could, with the right process and team, be quite profitable – just ask CPA Global or Pangea3.
Wouldn’t it be much better for firms to learn from GCs and take a wholistic approach to legal services? An approach that makes a law firm the central co-ordinator of a number of quality players to deliver client service – a true one-stop shop for GCs rather than just one puzzle piece?