Five Things I Learned from the 2012 Futures Conference
I enjoyed Tim Corcoran’s excellent summary of what he learned at the 2012 Futures Conference. He brought up some great points, particularly relating to the disconnect between what the leading lights are saying and what’s actually getting through to law firm leadership.
Here are some additional points that I took away from the conference:
- While alternative law firms can produce savings due to process improvement and creative staffing, the biggest savings for corporate clients may be produced because of altered profit expectations of the equity holders. This was starkly shown in the presentation by Potomac Law Group’s managing partner, Ben Lieber, who broke down how rates for work are reduced under his firm’s model. While savings were produced through such things as reduced cost of space and furnishings, elimination of entry-level recruiting and training costs, and lower pay for junior lawyers, more than two-thirds of the savings were brought about by what Ben termed as “reduced partner leverage.”
- There is a great deal of interest these days in alternative billing arrangements, as illustrated by a panel that included Cisco GC Mark Chandler. However, a separate panel of corporate general counsel that included Michael Finn of General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems and Eric Margolin of CarMax Inc., indicated that the two most important determinants in choosing or retaining outside counsel are quality (that is, results) and responsiveness.
- A study of Managing Partners conducted by John Michalik of JJayEm Consulting and illustrated in a panel discussion involving large, midsize and small firm managing partners, indicated the three most important responsibilities were preserving and developing law firm culture, obtaining and building consensus, and seeing and creating the big picture. But integrating all of these goals is a huge challenge.
- While diversity has made inroads in the operations of most law firms, a big stumbling block has been in the lateral partner hiring process, according to renowned diversity consultant and keynote speaker Verna Myers. This is because much of the assumptions in making those decisions (in particular, the analysis of the so-called book of business) tends to work against minorities and women.
- Finally, the College of Law Practice Management continues to include some of the most innovative minds of the profession. This year’s record class of 18 inductees includes an incredibly diverse group of professionals, including innovators in the areas of pricing, marketing and business development, finance and technology, as well as those in the forefront in ensuring that legal services are available to everyone. And what’s great is that many of them were active participants in the two-day conference.
Steve Nelson is Managing Principal of the Law & Government Affairs and the Law Firm Administration practices at The McCormick Group, an executive search firm based in Arlington, Va. Steve conducts searches for both partners and high-level marketing, practice management and professional development professionals. Previously, he served in high-level editorial and management positions at the Legal Times and Prentice Hall Law & Business. He also practiced antitrust law at a large Washington law firm. He is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management.