Midsized firms tout benefits to clients

Mining current base is key in hard times
March 5, 2012 12:01 am

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While large firms -- faced with an economic climate in which clients are increasingly tightening the reins on spending -- look to lateral hiring as a primary revenue driver, midsized firms seem focused on gaining new work from existing clients and picking up new clients through the promise of quality work with more flexible rates.

Midsized firms, seeing a chance to gain market share in a landscape dramatically reshaped by the Great Recession, have spent a lot of time and resources identifying how to provide the most value to existing and prospective clients.

Boston-based consultant Jeff Coburn said midsized firms in the Northeast have, on the whole, seen revenue increases "above flat, but not robust" over the last few years.

Mr. Coburn said that could change as early as 2013, though the shift is not likely to be dramatic in an economic environment in which corporate counsel are more guarded in legal spending than they used to be.

"The horizon looks good, but it doesn't look great," he said. "Any firm growing 3 to 5 percent per year should be OK. What industry grows more than that?"

Timothy G. Dietrich, managing partner of Lancaster-based Barley Snyder, said his firm has seen consistent revenue growth during a tough economy.

"We've done quite well, and I won't even use the qualifier 'in this environment,' though that's certainly the case," he said. Mr. Dietrich declined to divulge details but said the firm has met its annual revenue goals.

In part, it has achieved this, he said, by looking inward to improve efficiency under the premise that will ultimately prove more cost-effective to clients.

Everyone at Barley Snyder has read Malcolm Gladwell's book, "The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right," which advocates making sure the simple things in even the most complicated professions are done correctly and efficiently.

Mr. Dietrich said increased efficiency has allowed the firm to implement alternative fee arrangements, from fixed fees for individual transactions to fixed fees for all the work the firm does for a client in a fiscal year up to a certain limit. The change has attracted clients looking for greater stability and predictability in their spending.

Mr. Coburn said midsized firms should not allow themselves to be relegated to routine, low-rate work. They should aim for the 40 to 60 percent of companies' legal matters that fall somewhere between bet-the-company and commodity work.

First Published 2012-03-04 23:17:50

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