Sunday, March 29, 2009

Four Possible Futures for Law Firm Scenario Planning Workshop

LMA'ers will be tweeting at #LMA during sessions of the upcoming 23rd LMA annual meeting at Gaylord Conference Center on the Potomac. Therefore, LMA has asked speakers to share some of their materials with those who will be following these tweets. Good idea! And so ...

On Wednesday morning, April 1, Bill Fiora (of Nixon Peabody), Ken Sawka (of Outward Insights), and I (Ann Lee Gibson Consulting) will lead a three-hour scenario planning workshop for senior legal marketers.

Below is a summary of four possible futures we have developed for participants' use during the session. Working in small groups, they will identify core and contingent strategies for success under different scenarios, identify early warnings to recognize when scenarios are "coming true," and challenge their own and others' assumptions and strategies.

Each of the following scenarios describes a possible future for the legal industry intersecting somewhere between two dimensions: (1) timing of economic recovery (early 2010 vs. 2011-12) and (2) legal services delivery models (aggregated vs. disaggregated). The scenarios are summarized below.

Note to workshop participants: You will receive and work with scenarios that are much more detailed than the following summaries.

Scenario #1 -- The Great Pretenders describes a world where economic recovery begins in early 2010, the earliest anyone now hopes for. Global M&A activity, one of the earliest indicators of the recovery, surges as market-leading companies and those with large cash reserves acquire competitors and suppliers weakened by the recession. The strong are eating the weak and getting even stronger.

In this world, law firm leaders feel they have made it through the tough times and look forward to life as they once knew it. The recession was tough, but it encouraged necessary discipline and weeded out the weak. 2010 promises to produce the most law firm mergers and acquisitions ever recorded.

Scenario #2 -- Shattered! describes a legal industry dramatically altered by a perfect storm of events that created a PR nightmare for BigLaw. In this possible future, the recession’s impacts on the legal industry pale in comparison to other events that also grabbed the public’s attention. Inside BigLaw, the survivors of the 2008-09 layoffs still suffer from depression and guilt. In 2009, a runaway bestseller and a summer HBO TV series set the stage for a Wall Street BigLaw disaster fueled by debauchery and hubris. One of America’s most respected law firms has been brought very low, rocking New York society and BigLaw to its core. Law firms may never be the same.

As a result, the legal industry is reversing its bigger-is-better trend. Dozens of start-up law firms, prospering mid-sized and regional firms, mega-networks of telecommuting lawyers, and new legal vendors leap into the breach. It’s possible the growing economic recovery will allow BigLaw to repair its embattled reputation and rule again, but one thing everybody understands is that for the first time in a long time BigLaw has many serious competitors.

Scenario #3 -- The Big Chill is a future where the hoped-for 2010 recovery has not appeared and does not seem imminent. All governments and economists now agree the recovery will not appear until 2011 or later. Federal stimulus plans have dramatically slowed home foreclosures, but failed to thaw banks’ lending practices. The only bright spot in the corporate legal services market comes from the huge corporate M&A deals being struck in pharma, transportation, real estate, and energy at enormous fire-sale prices.

Corporate legal clients have much smaller legal budgets, but still face an overwhelming burden of legal issues, including bankruptcy, financing, litigation, and regulatory changes. In response, all firms survive by cutting costs to the bone and learn to compete on price. The largest companies discover they have no energy to deal with scores of smaller firms. The exchange of large amounts of commodity work for law firms and the BigLaw promise of safety for corporations becomes the two-ingredient glue that keeps big companies with big law firms. It is a painful time, particularly for legal vendors. Competition becomes cut-throat, pitting firm against firm—and in a surprising twist, some firms against some clients.

Scenario #4 -- Davids vs. Goliaths sees corporate legal clients having a radically different response to the continuing economic deep freeze. In a world already full of risk, they see little extra risk in moving from one law firm to another. All relationships are up for grabs. Some clients cancel their convergence programs, turning to procurement agents or consultants to deliver the best combination of price and expertise on each matter.

The legal industry is rapidly disaggregating. The fiction that big firms could develop and benefit from economies of scale is now seen for the naked emperor it always was. In BigLaw, some of the biggest rainmakers decide they’d rather not share their pie, and form their own boutique firms. In fact, new firms of all kinds are sprouting up all over. Technology vendors reorganize to provide turnkey services and compete directly with firms. Many law firms outsource everything but their most core legal services. Clients are buying legal services directly from India and China. The only certainty is that this is a time for pragmatists, not purists. Everyone who hopes to survive this era is now brutally scrutinizing their beliefs, styles, processes, and goals.


Anonymous said...

The four possible futures you describe apply to many businesses that depend on other businesses. The details may vary but the scenarios are the same.

It is good to run through this and have the elements of a plan for each.

The Future Café said...

Seems the recession is the dominating uncertainty - but I wonder if other things are not going to surprise the law industry [commoditization; integration with broader consulting; outsourcing; twitterfication.. and so on] But congrats on what looks like a good set. I'd love a copy if it's in the public domain. -Adam Gordon (Author, Future Savvy, Amacom Press, 2009.

Unknown said...

Very nice article, I enjoyed reading your post, very nice share, I want to twit this to my followers. Thanks!.
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