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Geoffrey Vance – Recalibrate for Speed and Flexibility

In this episode, Matt Todd, Vice President of Elevate’s flexible legal resourcing business, ElevateFlex, talks with Geoffrey Vance, a partner in Perkins Coie’s litigation practice and firmwide chair of the E-Discovery Services and Strategy…

And Say ‘Yes’ to Your Clients

In this episode, Matt Todd, Vice President of Elevate’s flexible legal resourcing business, ElevateFlex, talks with Geoffrey Vance, a partner in Perkins Coie’s litigation practice and firmwide chair of the E-Discovery Services and Strategy practice. Geoff and Matt talk about the rollout and adoption of the ElevateFlex model within Perkins.

  • [00:58] – Scale with a few days’ notice to meet client requests.
  • [02:49] – The instinctive reaction is to question the quality of talent.
  • [04:31] – Elevate is using creative ways to identify great lawyers quickly.
  • [06:02] – Clients are reducing the number of law firms they are hiring. The ability to say yes to more and different types of work is critical.
  • [10:12] – Evaluate talent on the strengths that you’re looking need.
  • [14:09] – We identified clients likely to take advantage of this solution and worked with those client leads and practice group leaders.
  • [16:24] – The number of partners with visceral reactions keeps going down, while the number who advocate for this keeps going up.
  • [17:29] – This is the first of a two-part podcast. When we come back, we’ll share the stories of success we’ve had together.

Enjoy!

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Podcast Transcript

Note: This transcript has been adjusted to improve readability. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcribers. The context and more than 95% of the actual transcript have been preserved.  We strongly encourage our listeners to listen to the audio.

 

Nicole Giantonio: Welcome to the Elevate. Together. Podcast: Voices of Change in the Business of Law. Hello, this is Nicole Giantonio, the Head of Global Marketing at Elevate. The podcast episode you’re about to hear is part of our Impact Series, featuring Elevate customers implementing transformative change.

In this episode, Matt Todd, Vice President of Elevate’s flexible legal resourcing business, ElevateFlex, talks with Geoffrey Vance, a partner in Perkins Coie’s litigation practice and firmwide chair of the E-Discovery Services and Strategy practice. Geoff and Matt talk about the rollout and adoption of the ElevateFlex model within Perkins and that the time is now for firms, partners, and clients to embrace this flexible and impactful approach.

 

Matt Todd: So Geoff, why did you need to implement the change that you did?

 

Geoffrey Vance: In the age of the pandemic, we are facing some staffing challenges, and as a law firm, we don’t have the luxury of hiring enough people to stand by waiting for the next big project. We have benefited from the ability to scale, at a moment’s notice or a few days’ notice, when we need to, without having an entire group of people waiting for work on our end.

…as a law firm, we don’t have the luxury of hiring enough people to stand by waiting for the next big project. We have benefited from the ability to scale, at a moment’s notice or a few days’ notice, when we need to…

Geoff Vance

MT: That’s a big change for a law firm to go through from this sort of classic operating model. When you were thinking about implementing that, what were some of the challenges you thought you might encounter in implementing that change?

 

GV: Well, first, it wasn’t as big of a change for us as you’d think, because the group I run, which is the E-Discovery Services and Strategy Group, has used the system the entire time, where we pay some people full-time salaried positions and others in a pool of eDiscovery contract lawyers, from which we pull and scale. That concept was used by my group in Perkins Coie for the last five years. So we demonstrated it was successful and it could reduce our costs and become extraordinarily responsive very quickly. The next step was to take that model and replicate it on a much bigger scale. We were talking about document reviewers, which are a small niche. Now we’re expanding it to all sorts of positions, types of seniority, geography across the country. That’s the challenge we’re facing now – how to take what we got really good at with a small segmented solution and expand it to all of the practice groups within our firm. So that’s the challenge we face so far.

 

MT: And in implementing that, are there any particular areas of pushback that you’ve experienced from partners, from associates?

 

GV: Mostly from the partners. The instinctive reaction from a typical partner is whether the quality of talent is there. Will the person we engage from Elevate be a good lawyer, one that does not have to be micro-managed, and we don’t have to be worried about that lawyer’s quality of work? That’s the instinctive reaction. Our goal is to demonstrate that these lawyers are fantastic lawyers, good at what they do, like what they do, and don’t need hand-holding or micro-managing to be successful.

 

MT: I’m thinking about this both from the point of view, perhaps, of diversity and inclusion, but also looking at things like education.

 

GV: The partners with whom I’ve worked realized that the school, itself, or any of the formalized educations, doesn’t mean as much, especially the more senior a lawyer becomes. So I don’t know that that’s ever a threshold question. It’s really about experience, what has this person done, how have they done, how many experiences have they had after law school, and how can we make sure we vet them entirely so we realize they’re not only good lawyers that can fit. Perkins Coie prides itself on its culture, and we really care about that. We want to make sure everyone we work with, everyone who is an agent of our firm, has that same “I’m a great lawyer and a great person” mentality.

 

MT: Here at ElevateFlex, we’re thinking about implementing different measures. One example would be the Gallup Strengths Finder, as a way of being able to understand how someone might complement the existing work culture in a way that perhaps a skills-based or an experienced-based resume doesn’t.

 

GV: It’s good to hear about the Gallup suggestion, and I’m all for it.  It’s a creative and innovative approach to finding new ways to identify great people and lawyers. We haven’t done that. We’re doing the classic reference check, actually checking references, doing the criminal background checks, making sure people are certified as lawyers in their particular state. We haven’t done anything more than that. That, to me, is the next step throughout law firms, and with this relationship with ElevateFlex.

 

MT: The essence of the heart of the Flex program is speed, which is being able to go from the client’s “ask” to placing someone quickly. There’s a tension between how much we can do to understand those qualities that aren’t immediate from a resume to ensure that the fit is exactly what it needs to be.

The essence of the heart of the Flex program is speed, which is being able to go from the client’s “ask” to placing someone quickly.

Matt Todd

GV: I think it gets easier as we go. The more we work with particular people, the next time we want to hire them. As this relationship grows and we communicate more, this system will only get better.

 

MT: It’s a core piece of the value proposition that Flex brings to talent, perhaps, more than customers. Although, I can see the benefit to customers is that we try and place and then re-place people as we get to know them better. That benefits our talent because they get that variety of experience that enables them to be able to be more effective in the roles that they go on to take. What are some of the expected longer-term benefits of the change? Obviously, there’s an immediate benefit in saying “Yes,” to the clients you have, but what do you see as some of the longer-term benefits that might manifest?

 

GV: Well, one of the longer-term benefits we just mentioned, which is the longer we have a relationship with ElevateFlex, the more we can identify topnotch talent quickly, and understand that they not only fit into the Perkins Coie culture, but whoever the client we may second them to or place them with, we know that they are well-liked and have developed good relationships with the client too. That’s really important because they are the face of our firm to this client. That’s the future of law firms, too, and that will continue to be important – especially when clients are whittling down the number of law firms they are hiring. To say “yes” more and more and more because the types of questions we’ll be asked, the types of lawyers our clients will be seeking will continue to expand. As we change this economy, as we get more tech, we see that the opportunities our clients ask us to fill are so different now, and with the relationship with ElevateFlex, we can work together on that. We can foresee what we think will happen in a year or two and start recruiting that talent now before being asked to place that talent. That is really exciting.

 

MT: It’s exciting for us here in Flex as well to be able to partner with you and your partners, to look ahead at what changes are going to come up, what challenges, what jobs your clients are going to have to be doing in six months, so that we can begin pipelining candidates ahead of time so that we can move quickly when the need arises, but move quickly knowing the talent that we have through things like interviewing and screening them to make sure they’re the right fit for the role. Are there any differences that you see between what makes a great, I’ll say secondee, and what makes a great associate? Are there any differences there, or are the skills and the approaches pretty much the same?

 

GV: As a secondee, you have to be able to fit within a certain environment very quickly and adapt almost instantaneously. I’m an Army brat. I moved every two years, and I developed that quality from that. There are plenty of great associates who wouldn’t have the ability just to put something down, push pause, and go to a new client and develop new skills and learn to deal with new people all very quickly. I think the ability to be agile and adapt is a skillset that not all associates have, not all great associates have, yet a great secondee must. What we’ve seen with secondees in other placements is, it’s less about quality of work, at least at the beginning, and more about the ability to join a new environment and fit in and demonstrate you’re a hard worker and responsive and that you care. Whether law firm or client-based, we know this person is a great fit for our team. The first part is just demonstrating you’re ready to pitch in.  Not all associates need that because they’ve already been integrated into our firm; they’ve already been working with a select number of partners and counsel. They don’t have to adapt because it’s just business as usual.

 

MT: It’s interesting. We sometimes hear when we’re directly placing people with customers, they ask for more junior people than we might expect for the job to be done. When we push on that, they’ll say things like, “No, I don’t want anyone more than six years qualified.” When we ask why, it’s not that they want someone particularly junior, they’re looking for people who won’t come with a great deal of baggage as to how things are done and they’ll be open to apply their skills in different situations. It sounds like that’s the same kind of thing that clients are asking for and are embracing.

 

GV: We see the same thing, and it’s not price. They don’t come and say, “I want a second or third year” because they want to spend less than a sixth or a seventh year. They want someone who hasn’t developed any bad habits or is still being molded into an attorney so that they could fit right in plug and play into their organization versus they only know one way to do it because they’ve been pods for seven years. It’s much harder to change direction then.  I remember I clerked for a federal judge in law school, and I was just so hungry and energized and excited, and I can see that in certain lawyers, and I don’t see that in others. They’re all good lawyers, but I think what we’re saying is, it’s less about junior versus senior and more about, “I want someone hungry, who’s energetic, who’s excited to be part of this team.”

 

MT: People often come back and say – particularly throughout the pandemic – that there are more senior attorneys looking for work, and we would go back to our clients and say, “Well, this person who is 12 years qualified is willing to come in at that particular rate.” And we’d still get push back there. We found it’s an interesting thing from a diversity and inclusion point of view, because obviously what we don’t want to say to someone is, “You’re of X years experience, you’re not suitable for this role.” It’s about recalibrating and retuning how we talk about these things, focusing on the strengths we’re looking for: openness and willingness to lean in and defocus on years of experiences that can lead us down the wrong path.

 

GV: I agree, but there’s a second part to it. I do think we owe it to those more senior people within your pool to educate everyone about the stereotype. I think some people are stereotyping. If you’re 12 years out of law school and you’re doing it this way, that maybe there’s something that’s a negative knock on you when that’s not true. This can be a lifestyle decision, and it can be just the ability to work for lots of different companies and have lots of different experiences on your own time at your own pace.

There are lots of great reasons to be an ElevateFlex lawyer. We owe the clients some education on “These people are great lawyers; they made this choice. They volunteered to do this, and therefore you don’t have to worry that someone who’s 12 years out may have a knock on them versus someone more junior.” I’m not talking about age; I’m talking about junior by experience. What we see more and more is, the more senior people are saying, “You know what? I’ll take less money. I just want a shot to work at the particular organization doing these kinds of things,” to better their career too.

There are lots of great reasons to be an ElevateFlex lawyer. We owe the clients some education on ‘These people are great lawyers; they made this choice.

Geoff Vance

MT: Absolutely, and that’s one of the things that’s been so refreshing and encouraging about working with Perkins, is that approach, embodied in every aspect of the culture that you have in and in everyone that we’ve had the pleasure of working with. Just turning back to clients for a second, we talked about a couple of other things. Is there anything else that’s come up from some of your clients that have been notes of concern about working with a flexible pool rather than taking a Perkins associate or partner?

 

GV: The instinct is, “Hold on, I thought you were a law firm with 1200 people. Why can’t you find just one for me that we can work with?” Our clients who have worked in the law firm environment understand it’s tough to have people sitting on the sidelines. The greatest lawyers we have are the busiest lawyers we have. It’s tough to find new opportunities that are full-time opportunities for our better lawyers. There are many terrible things about the pandemic, but one positive thing is that clients are more and more likely to understand that the scale solution that we’ve developed with ElevateFlex is a really great idea. And it allows them to get the best of both worlds. They can scale up. They can say, “I need someone in our offices or our virtual offices in a week,” and we can say yes. At the same time, they get a law firm like us with a long relationship with those clients, supervise those lawyers, and make sure that they fit in seamlessly with the client but do good work. So I think it’s less and less. Two years ago, it would have been harder to convince clients. I think now, more and more, what we see, is they expect it.

 

MT: They’re facing the same challenges. They’re facing challenges on permanent headcounts, but yet, the business is beginning to pick up. They need to be able to respond to that cost-effectively.  I think this is a solution that provides them with that, rather than, perhaps, ten years ago, they have been looking at taking two of your associates on the billable hour for 50 hours a week, for a couple of weeks at a time. That’s not a cost-effective way of being able to do that.

 

GV: I’ve had some interesting experiences where the client will specifically say, “I don’t want one of your associates because I don’t want to distract the associates that are already working with us. We want an additional team member to supplement that associate.” That’s why I like the relationship because it allows us to keep the associates on the team and add to the team.

 

MT: Just going back to how you implemented this change, how did you approach that on an office-by-office basis, on a client-by-client basis, what have you found to be the best way of being able to roll this change out?

 

GV: Well, the first thing we needed was management committee buy-in. It needed to be owned and supported and advocated by our leadership, so that was step one. Step two was to take a two-part approach; one is to address particular client leads because we identified a number of clients that were more likely to take advantage of this solution, so we work with specific client leads and the practice group leaders. As a law firm, we are practice group-driven, and the practice group leaders help decide most of the hiring and staffing, so we needed each practice group leader to support this. So it’s through two different approaches after we got management buy-in.

 

MT: The best messaging is messaging seven times, those kinds of truisms. Is that something that you found to be true in the rollout and the communication that you have to keep reminding people that this is available to them and those are the benefits?

 

GV: Absolutely. We’re very busy. Our email boxes are cluttered. So yes, we need to continue to remind the various leaders within the firm and the client leads, and the practice group leaders in many different ways. We have webinars, and we have individual meetings, one-on-ones, to remind them we are there for their practice group meetings or their office meaning. So we try to do it in as many ways to as many people as we can, but it also allows us to give them an update each time. Our relationship continues to grow. Things change every day. We’re learning from the mistakes we make, repeating successes. The following month will be different from the prior month, and we owe it to my partners to tell them about that. It’s less about being repetitive and saying the same thing over and over. It’s just giving them weekly, monthly updates on how this is improved. And every month, we have more success stories to tell, which makes people much more comfortable.

 

MT: As with many changes at law firms, it’s those stories of success that are some of the most compelling ways of being able to incent behavioural change, being able to talk about a particular client, a particular situation, about how this benefited that situation. Have there been any surprises? Many of the things we’ve talked about, but perhaps challenges you or I might have looked ahead in the beginning and said, “These are some of the things we might face.” Anything surprising in the way that’s occurred during the rollout?

 

GV: Not really, and the reason is we had a great team that worked with me on developing this process. We did a pretty good job of making sure we identified all of the challenges that we would face to alert our leadership and let them know what this path is going to look like so that we manage their expectations. I guess it’s not a surprise, but it continues to be a struggle convincing certain lawyers that the lawyers within the flex pool will be great and will do a great job and with not as much hand-holding as they think, and that they’ll be successful with each client, or even with us. However, the number of partners with those visceral reactions keeps going down, and the number of lawyers who advocate for this keeps going up, and I think that is the real success. I agree with you; it’s all about storytelling. I’m a trial lawyer. It’s all about the storytelling, putting together the story, articulating it, framing it well, and explaining to people that our solution can meet their challenge, and that is a success.

 

MT: Well, that’s fantastic. Geoff, thank you so much for spending time with us today talking about both the challenges, the rollout, some of the things that we’ve worked to overcome. This will be the first of a two-part podcast, and when we come back, we can, perhaps, talk about some of those particular stories and the success that together, we’ve been able to affect working with your partners’ team and your clients.

 

GV: I’ll look forward to that, and I appreciate this opportunity. It’s good to chat.

 

MT: Thank you.

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