HOW TO GUESS RIGHT
By Bruce Marcus
Prognostication is a game for which the prize for getting it right is at least bragging rights, at best successful planning. Statistically, it seems, there are few winners — but that seems to stop no one from doing it. Gambling is OK for sport, I guess, but — except for calculated business risk — not so hot as a planning or management tool.
Still, fortunately, there are ways to improve your chances of intelligent anticipation of events. And that is to watch and learn to read trends. Current trends tell us that, while today’s law firm is substantially different from that of my father’s generation, the events and trends that currently prevail dictate that most law firms will be different at the end of 2013 than they are today, at the end of 2012. Consider...
- As President Obama starts a second term, armed with fresh mandate to change many things in many areas of the economy and society, including the professions’ base. These are likely to include new financial, commercial and social initiatives that can substantially alter the environment in which the professions must function. These changes will, to one degree or another, have an effect on professional practice.
- As the market for professional services becomes more stringent (which is clearly happening now), competition becomes more keen. As competition becomes more intense, increasing productivity — a potent competitive tool — becomes more significant, leading to change in such elements as governance, the future erosion of traditional caste structures in professional firms, and the destruction of barriers between lawyers and accountants and professional marketers. That this is a trend well started is clearly chronicled in Professional Services Marketing 3.0.
- The economy, fueled by a lack of management skills in both large and small professional firms, and impelled by the inability to compete in today’s economic climate, will continue to generate an increasing number of mergers.
- There is growing turmoil in the law schools, and to a lesser extent, the accounting schools regarding the relevancy of professional education to the functioning world. This should further roil both legal and accounting educational systems, with more emphasis on client service, marketing skills, and management skills. These schools can no longer blindly produce professionals fit only for early 20th century practice. The world in which professionals function is changing more rapidly than the professions themselves.
- As I point out in my article on what the demise of Dewey et. al foretells the future of the professions, this venerable vision casts a spotlight on such anachronistic practices as caste-system governance structure and firm management, which can breed greed, mismanagement, and dissipation of much needed talent (and in many cases, has), by focusing primarily on the needs of the firm and its partners, rather than on the ability to meet the needs of the clients. The long-standing and obsolete rules against capital contribution by non-lawyers and non-accountants are inhibiting growth. What restraints on outside capital or equity for non-professionals that have existed in the past no longer do so, and are beginning to explode — and in fact, in Great Britain they already have.
- The quaint and ponderous system of hourly billing is rapidly giving way to value billing, if for no other reason than that clients are beginning to insist on it. This trend is accelerating, and will continue to increase in momentum, in 2013. While not yet universal, it has taken on a life of its own as clients begin to understand and accept it.
- Technology, with its own momentum for change and improvement, is going to continue to help shape the practices of law and accounting, Technology literacy, once external to the professions, is now integral to the practice, and is a powerful tool for productivity and competitiveness.
- Where once marketing was anathema to professional practice, and then ancillary to it, it is now recognized as integral to the practice itself, with many professionals becoming highly knowledgeable and skilled in its techniques. Their increased understanding of its values is leaving them more open than ever before to big marketing ideas that were heretofore rejected, due to lack of understanding by the lawyers and accountants.
- Using data — knowledge management — is now becoming better understood by the professionals. This is a significant break from the past, in which ideas like knowledge management were neither clearly understood nor appreciated as useful to a practice. This has been changing, and should continue to change significantly in coming months.
- Follow trends. Trends in law and accounting firm actions, in the industries and clienteles served by the professions, in regulatory environment, and in social activities. Learn to read and interpret them.
- Develop competitive intelligence procedures to keep competitive.
- Examine your own management skills, assess them, and consider hiring professional managers.
- Learn to accept marketing as a management tool, and improve your understanding of the marketing process, and of marketers as well.
- Learn to understand the process of change, to keep your firm relevant and responsive to the changing needs of your marketplace. Learn to manage change, which should not be done arbitrarily, but as each change can be justified for management and competitive purposes.
- Reexamine the skills of associates, particularly those who might otherwise not possess partnership skills. Compensate their skills appropriately, and not on arbitrary factors, such as longevity.
- Be active in your local bar association, and lobby to modernize the profession’s activities.
Bruce W. Marcus is a Connecticut-based consultant in marketing and strategic planning for professional firms, the editor of THE MARCUS LETTER ON PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING, (www.marcusletter.com), the author of PROFESSIONAL SERVICES MARKETING 3.0 (Bay Street Group, 2011 http://bit.ly/MarcusBook), and the co-author of CLIENT AT THE CORE (John Wiley & Sons, 2004) His e-mail address is email@example.com. © 2011 Bruce W. Marcus. All rights reserved.