As you may already be aware, client expectations have radically shifted over the last ten years in a trend that is set to continue. In the past, when law firms used to market themselves as a “one-stop-shop” or “full service” firm it would mean that a large institutional client could go to a firm and have all its legal needs met in a variety of sectors such as corporate, employment, litigation, finance and IP.

Now law firms are taking this further by utilising flexible resourcing of consultants and paralegals (and in some cases other industry professionals such as accountants) in combination with legal technology to deliver results faster and more cost-effectively.

Clients want a single firm that they can go to for all of their legal needs rather than having to manage relationships with multiple organisations. Clients do not just expect quality service, they also expect efficiency and value for money. This has resulted in many firms consolidating different types of legal and non-legal services under one roof, redefining the “one-stop-shop” approach to law.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes: You run a medium-sized advertising agency that is interested in acquiring a small start-up sports marketing agency. Traditionally, for a merger like this you may have to manage relationships with:

1) the point-person in the Corporate/M&A department of your chosen law firm whose team will negotiate the deal;

2) the point-person in your chosen accountancy firm whose team will conduct the valuation and due diligence;

3) a lender who may be helping finance the transaction; and

4) a provider of liability insurance.

However, wouldn’t the process be much easier if you only had to deal with a single relationship manager at a law firm instead? This point-person would sit in the corporate team and draw on the expertise of risk analysts and accountants in the firm’s in-house consultancy division to conduct due diligence and provide a valuation. The lawyer will also coordinate with external organisations like lenders and insurers on your behalf. This way you only have one relationship to manage and can therefore go back to devoting 90 per cent of your time to running your business.

Furthermore, the use of strategic consulting can simplify the entire legal process through workflow management. The more integrated the firm is with the client, the more the firm will be able to predict future needs. For example, if the client has given work to multiple departments of a firm and outsourced its compliance needs to the firm's consultancy group, then the firm will have a great deal of information on the client. The more information the firm has overall, the more equipped the consultants would be to predict future issues for the client and engage the requisite departments of the law firm as and when they are needed.

A strategic consulting group is best utilised when supported with legal technology. For instance, workflow management would be most efficient if the client and the firm had access to a shared dashboard through which both parties could monitor the status of ongoing client work as well as previous work illustrating the history of the relationship. Such a dashboard would also enable a consultant to gain information on the client’s business at a glance to better help predict future needs. An example of this in action is Bird & Bird’s Relationship Site, which facilitates communication between the firm and clients, enables effective collaboration and gives both parties constant oversight over the work being carried out.

Moreover, the strategic consulting group could use additional cloud-based collaboration software solutions to ensure the integration between the firm and client is as seamless as possible. Firms should be aware of their clients’ processes and be able to utilise the myriad communication platforms and operating systems. That way once the firm is aware of the tools the client is comfortable with, its lawyers can seamlessly fit in as collaborators. Similarly, by creating an in-house strategic team of consultants and paralegals, a large corporate law firm can boost its agility and increase its revenue by handling more work from its clients, who otherwise would have engaged another smaller firm to assist with.

Let us take another example: You run a public listed company which manufactures cars in a number of factories in the West Midlands. You have a relationship with a large corporate firm that operates across the UK which you engage for business-critical situations. You also have a relationship with a smaller firm in Birmingham which you engage for routine advice in the event of a customer complaint before the complaint turns into a dispute. Additionally, when you went public you had to increase your in-house legal team to ensure that you comply with corporate governance requirements such as disclosure and listing rules.

Traditionally, you would not go to the large corporate firm for anything other than business-critical work because it just would not be cost-effective. However, imagine how easier it would be if the large corporate law firm had a team that could take the routine advice and your regulatory compliance needs off your hands in a way that would only cost a fraction of your usual bill. That is the aim of a strategic consultancy division.

Since the work is being done by paralegals and consultants as opposed to partners and associates, the cost is greatly reduced. Therefore, as the process is cheaper, clients can effectively outsource all legal needs to the firm – even seemingly trivial matters – removing the client’s need to manage a simultaneous relationship with a less expensive firm. It also means that the client no longer has to have a large in-house legal team as that work could be outsourced. This is especially useful when it comes to regulatory and corporate governance compliance since a law firm can now take that burden away wholesale, saving the client time and money.

Key Takeaways:

•    Firms are using flexible resourcing of consultants and paralegals, combined with legal technology, to deliver services faster and more cost-effectively.

•    The use of strategic consulting could simplify the entire legal process through workflow management and other legal technology tools, such as cloud-based collaboration.

•    This consolidation allows firms to attract new clients and acquire more work from existing clients, who would have otherwise engaged with other firms.