What do lawyers need to learn from jellyfish?

A recent scientific study has suggested that jellyfish may, in fact, be the most efficient animal in the world due to their unique propulsion system.

So what has this got to do with lawyers?

Well, when it comes to efficiency, it is probably fair to say that most law firms have a fair way to go. If the jellyfish was the benchmark of efficiency then in marine terms, the typical law firm would likely be regarded as a dislodged, half-sunken shipping container.

So why do law firms need to become more efficient?

For many decades, law firms have managed to get away with charging clients on a cost accounting basis (i.e. hourly rates). In its early days, the manufacturing industry used to do the same but one day, the consumer woke up and realised it wasn’t about how much it cost to make but rather what they would pay. This is finally now catching on with law firm clients. An increasing number of clients are no longer prepared to pay for law firm inefficiencies. These clients are often now dictating to firms what they are prepared to pay, particularly where the work is repetitive and therefore predictable. With this client-driven pressure, growing firms need to find ways to do things more efficiently than they have in the past.

Where are the opportunities to become more efficient?

Usually, the big fixed costs that firms have are rent and wages. If it is possible to somehow reduce these costs without reducing the available firm resources, that would provide the biggest single cost reduction for firms, enabling them to pass on these savings (or some of them at least) to clients. But how can this be done?

The “game changer” – Flexible labour

Cloud computing, paperless offices, integrated practice management systems, centralised data storage, mobile devices, high-speed internet, video conferencing and other online collaboration tools have made it easy for staff to work seamlessly from different locations. In addition, many staff, particularly working mothers and older practitioners, are often prepared to trade off the certainty of a fixed job/salary against the flexibility that comes from working as a contractor. This flexible, predominantly home-based, contract labour force is allowing firms to both grow their full-time resourcing levels and also respond to the ebb and flow of their client’s requirements without also having to rent more space and otherwise substantially increase their fixed costs.

In addition, the same technologies and systems that allow staff to seamlessly work from home are also now enabling another category of staff – those working offshore. The potential to use offshore staff as part of your business back office can produce enormous cost savings – up to 80%. The range of functions you can also use them for go well beyond simple WP and can include roles such as accounts receivable and payable, billing, debtor collection, data entry, precedents coding, knowledge management, copy writing, SEO, SEM, HR support, IT support and more!

So what’s stopping law firms from offshoring?

Unfortunately, lawyers love the doctrine of precedent and often need to be shown many, many examples of things working for other people before they even consider the possibility of doing it themselves. Add on top of this how lawyers have convinced each other that their businesses have no value and it becomes easier to understand why it is difficult to get firms to spend the money and invest in innovation.

The time is however rapidly approaching where lawyers won’t need to consider changes like this to innovate and stay ahead of the pack – they will need to do it just to remain competitive and survive …. Wow we really do have lots to learn from jellyfish don’t we?

Share this post on