JH: You have this mandate to implement something that would normally take ten years into three years. How did you do it, and what was the most challenging aspect of it?
GH: We wanted to be systematic in the approach. We wanted to ensure it is properly embedded and it wasn’t a flash in the pan project. Sometimes law firms get a bad rap for that, buying the latest technology or coming up with a new brand. We wanted to make sure that whatever we planned was co-designed with experts, external experts, with our partners who are internal experts, and often laterals, lots of great ideas and solutions, and clients. We looked internally and tried to understand what the drivers of performance transformation would look like. We were quite clear that we wanted Agile methodology and use Sigma continuing improvement type methodologies. We’ve had very good success with our IT function and our legal ops functions, and our business operations function. Behind all of that is defining something, measuring it, analyzing it, and improving it. I think that’s the core of what we wanted to do.
We wanted to do it quickly. That was the mandate. The external piece was critical because although we are a large, very capable, very confident law firm, I think having a team dedicated to a big transformational change like this is important. Most law firms run on these 12-month cycles; when you go to your board and say, “We’ve got a 3-5 year transformation project, and it will probably cost us money for the first three, maybe four years,” in professional services, that isn’t typical. It’s typically, “Let’s buy this software. We got a new accounting system, ROI will be satisfied in one year,” or “Buy a piece of AI, and we’ll be using it on litigation in six months.” The proposition was quite different we were trying to build, and I think it was a real testament to our board and our chiefs that we got pretty unanimous support for that, and we have had throughout the last two and a bit years. Even with a challenging 2020, we’ve still been moving forward, which has been fantastic.
JH: Was there anything you experienced along the way that was more challenging than what you expected or something surprising to you?
GH: I was surprised by the fact that much of really complicated legal knowledge just lives in lawyers’ heads. Probably not surprising to anyone who’s worked in KM or as a lawyer, but for me, my background is pricing and pricing strategy. I remember sitting in meetings with partners, saying, “Okay, well, let’s just define the transaction. What does it look like? Step one and step two, and let’s price that, and let’s look at history.” I never understood that sometimes they were probably panicking, thinking, “I don’t know what this is gonna look like. I have to act that I do, but I don’t.” When we said we were going to define all of our processes and said we would build playbooks, I expected we would have a process mapping session. We’d get a big whiteboard and some stickers, and all of a sudden, we’d have these end-to-end process maps, and it was much, much harder than that. We found that even within smaller teams, there was a really wide range of approaches, inconsistencies, and different ways of solving the same problem. But when we’re talking about high-volume problems, we should have consistency in those solutions.
Another thing I thought about when we were struggling initially to get some of this stuff on paper, I did some internet research, and I thought, “There must be somewhere where you can buy these playbooks. Someone must be selling this stuff.” [chuckle] No one’s selling this stuff. You can’t get it anywhere. Again, it’s because the nuance of law, even at that volume level, is really important, and some of that information made us adapt our plan slightly. I had this vision that anyone could come in, and I think the plan was for me to sit down and then test some of these legal processes. Could I do these legal processes? It’s not quite as simple as that. More to it, that surprised me, but it’s been a good learning experience on that front. In terms of how we have documented that information and how we continue to work and develop it, I think it’s a healthy activity for the firm and our lawyers to build into their day-to-day.
JH: What was the result? How did you decide to measure success, are you achieving success, and how’s that been to date?
GH: We now have a center based in Leeds in the UK, our experimental platform for doing law differently. Some people call it internally next-gen legal services; some people are still using the term high volume, and it is both, but we have a team of Sigma-trained specialists. We thought that it was important to give them continual improvement education. Tailored to law, but instead of 100% utilization, 50% of their time focused on improving, which is quite interesting, and new for lots of the staff who’ve worked in other similar centers or worked with law firms in a similar position. Still, they enjoy it, and they get to be creative day by day. They get to solve problems. Demonstrating that continuous improvement is gratifying, I think for those people and me and the others in the firm to see the strides we’re making.
The best bit is telling our clients we can do things better, and we’ve shortened delivery chains, or we’ve cut away steps of waste, or whatever you want to say. They’re the most satisfying pieces. We hired our first-ever Head of Legal Engineering, a term we haven’t used in the firm before. The focus of the role is on keeping us aligned to change, keeping us focused on continuous improvement. Even back five years ago that we would hire that type of role, have that position based not in one of our head offices in London is a pretty significant change for us. The best bit, the most gratifying way, I think, would be that the partners have supported throughout, bought into this, given up lots of free time.
At one point, we had a standing meeting every Friday at 8:00 AM, trying to bribe the partners with breakfast. We had some really interesting debates from, “What do our engagement terms look like?” It was a complicated minutiae-type change to the big picture, “Where will we be in 10, 20 years?” Those partners who’ve sat around that table, probably 20 or 30 of them in London, and a much wider base across our global platform, are now not just interested in how we can deliver law differently in that bottom 20%. They’re much more focused on getting pricing right for clients, on value-based pricing, on asking those questions to clients of, “How do you want this to be delivered? What are the critical elements that you need to have first? Can we re-engineer, repurpose, re-orient the way we deliver this stuff to make it more valuable to you?”
These are questions that I don’t think most partners would have asked just a couple of years ago; I think that’s been a great result. We’re not there yet. We still have work to do, and we’ve developed 12 core service lines, and they have individual service line pricing at each one. The aim is to ramp up delivery speed, simplicity for our partners and clients to understand. I think we’re looking to roll that up to 24 – 27 service lines this year. It’s been a good indicator of the appetite around the firm and from clients.
JH: That’s interesting. You talked about selling this to the board and the partners; that was a bit of a challenge because it’s not common. You came to this idea with the commitment that this team will only bill half their time. How was that conversation, “We’re gonna do something that hasn’t been done, and this team will bill their time 50% of the time, and the other 50% is gonna be committed to continuous improvement (CI)?” How did that conversation go, and how did you respond to any questions you may have had?
GH: I do remember a nervy presentation to all the partners, standing up, being ready with the slide, which was, “Here is the 50% utilization model, and here is the 50% CI model.” There were a few kinds of squinted eyes and tilts of the head, but then the next slide was, “This is what clients were asking for. This solves a big problem we’ve got in our business: clients don’t want to pay for us to reinvent the wheel. They want to see us moving faster, and they want to see us moving to the next generation of transports. They don’t wanna see the same thing again and again.” We had some good, really positive, and constructive debates about what that would mean, and I talked earlier on around the cycle for ROI on this project being quite long. We could have maybe tried to shortcut some of that by going further afield with a lower-cost base, trying to deliver some of this stuff. Again, what we heard consistently was making sure that we could align our culture on a big cultural gap and deliver in the first phase, even if it came at a greater cost to the business.