Canada: Recession Proofing – Update

Last Updated: July 17 2018
Article by Stephen Mabey

In late February 2018 I released a column titled "Recession Proofing – Why Now? Perhaps the Better Response is Why Not?" It struck a nerve with the legal industry. So much so, I thought it worth an update on the likelihood of the recession and the single best strategy for law firms to embrace in order to not only survive but actually prosper in a recession.

An inverted yield curve, which has correctly predicted the last seven recessions going back to the late 1960's, occurs when short-term interest rates yield more than longer-term rates1. That's when yields on one-month, six-month, or one-year Treasury bills are higher than yields on 10-year or 30-year Treasury bonds. During healthy economic growth, the yield on a 30-year bond will be three points higher than a three-month bill.

The strategists predicted the 10-year treasury yield would be at 2.7% by the end of 2018, versus 2.85% currently, and 2.50% by mid-2019, resulting in an inverted curve.

Another potential cause of recession would be policy mistakes. The current potential trade wars have business economists feeling jittery -- recently, two-thirds of the members of a panel of National Association for Business Economists predicted a recession in 2020, and blamed trade wars as the primary culprit.

While not an economist, these two indicators would seem sufficiently reliable enough not to make me question that we are headed towards a recession but rather my only uncertainty would be of its timing.

As with most successful strategies, the strategy I would propose law firms embrace in order to prosper before, during and after any recession is simple but will be a challenge to execute.

This strategy will work regardless of the size of your firm! In fact the strategy may even be easier to execute for smaller firms.

You need to become the low-cost producer. To be clear, I am not proposing you reduce / discount the fixed fees or hourly rates you currently charge. While there is a real possibility in the face of any recession clients will seek fee reductions many will be satisfied with no fee increases.

In either case the only way to maintain and grow your firm's prosperity during this time is to be able to manage your client costs.

To be clear I am not proposing the typical cost-cutting exercise firms tend to embrace whenever there is fee pressure. Rather, I am proposing firms focus on the following three operational aspects of "client costs":

  1. Project Management;
  2. Legal Technology; and
  3. Legal Process Improvement.

Project Management

Understanding the concept and having the technology that makes it easy to execute and builds a history at the same time is critical.

Legal project management is the application of the concepts of project management to the control and management of legal cases or matters.2

It is important to understand legal-project management applies to the mechanics and business of providing legal services rather than to the substantive legal work itself.

Regardless of the size, increasingly cases require management of scope, schedule, risk, and cost in a more rigorous and measured manner than firms have practiced in the past. The ability to become effective in this aspect of "client costs" is much like artificial intelligence it will only grow with usage.

Firms practicing effective project management should be able to answer the following questions before embarking on a matter:

  1. WHY are we handling this matter for this client? Why is it important to the client? What is the business goal of the legal work?
  2. WHAT work will accomplish the goal and what work will specifically not be done? For example, is this a litigation matter or a mediation session with settlement on parallel tracks or will we take a scorched earth posture? Is this an asset or a stock deal?
  3. WHEN must work be done and in what sequence? What are the hard deadlines, and what timing is uncertain or dependent on unknowns? What are the milestones and key dates in our timeline?
  4. HOW do we manage the work based on constraints and requirements such as budget, strategic importance, client mandates or risk management protocols? What does our work plan look like?
  5. WHO is involved in the work and what are their roles and responsibilities? Who is responsible for the actual work, who supports that person, and who must be consulted or informed about status and decisions?3

Key project management responsibilities include:

  • Plan projects
  • Monitor project progress compared to the project plan
  • Manage project progress
  • Report project progress to all key stakeholders
  • Confirm project completion
  • Review of project outcomes

I would recommend you not try to go it on your own but rather it should be possible to retain a local expert on project management to come in conduct an internal session on project management (work to generate CLE credits from such a third-party session) for Associates and Partners.

Once you are comfortable with the concept and can execute it effectively, make sure your clients know you utilize such an approach in handling their matters. Possessing the knowledge that their law firm is utilizing this approach can serve as a fee reduction deterrent.

Legal Technology

The use of effective legal technology will result in the ability to control "client costs" from two perspectives – the time required to complete a task and allowing firms to re-jig their professional complement (move from expensive lawyers to less costly para-professionals) required to conduct the files.

There are several steps I would suggest firms consider doing to make certain they are using legal technology as effective as possible, including:

  • Conduct an audit of all the existing legal technology being used by the lawyers / practice groups in the firm gaining of an understanding of how it is used and what it is used for (ideal opportunity to include younger lawyers). Also obtain an understanding of what it is they don't have but would facilitate a more efficient practice;
  • Visit ABA tech center in Chicago to gain exposure to the latest technology that is in actual use and determine if applicable and / or appropriate to the firm's practice. I would recommend also visiting legal innovation incubators to see what is online to be available in the future (and see if there might be some opportunity to be a development site for future considerations);
  • Ensure members involved in the audit are involved in the acquisition of the integrated accounting solution and optional modules to see if existing systems can be readily integrated or given the purpose of the existing stand-alone if an integrated module may actually work better;
  • Retain a system integrator to develop and present the optimum system scenario (some stand-alone software may actually be the best solution but important to have an external perspective); and
  • Set a timetable (could be 1 - 2 years given likely costs) to achieve the integration and execute on it. This is not a static process so annually you should review the plan and new developments to see if changes need to be made.

It is important if you are to achieve the full cost control from the technology review you must then take a hard look at your mix of professionals as keeping the same personnel even with the new technology is at best only slightly better than a break-even proposition.

Legal Process Improvement

According to Kenneth Grady, former CEO of Seyfarth Lean Consulting LLC, a subsidiary of the U.S. law firm Seyfarth Shaw LLP, - "Legal process management digs deep into how each step is performed". The team, using process mapping, walks through each step examining and sequencing what it takes to complete the services. According to Mr. Grady "traditional legal service delivery is very inefficient; by some measures professional services are 30 to 80 percent waste. Stripping out the waste improves quality and reduces costs."

Irrespective of the jurisdiction(s) firms operate in, legal process management will enable them to handle client matters cheaper, faster, better.

A key premise of legal process mapping is that lawyers have to begin looking at the service value proposition from their client's perspective. To do this, lawyers must ask themselves the following three critical questions at each step in the process of delivering legal services:

  • Does the activity move the matter forward?
  • Is it something the client wants and is willing to pay for?
  • Is it done right the first time?

If your answers are no, legal process enthusiasts will opine that your work is wasteful, and in this economy, waste is something clients are increasingly unwilling to pay for. This will even be truer in the face of a recession.

By way of a simplified explanation, the process map lies at the core of the lean six sigma approach. It provides a visual representation of every step, touch, task, person, and resource used to complete a legal transaction.

Mapping is an interactive process that reveals rework loops, steps that don't add value (from the client's perspective), bottlenecks, misallocation of resources, and other forms of waste that impede the flow of quality work. The map serves as a baseline from which to identify and target improvement opportunities.

The goal should be to implement sustainable solutions that optimize processes by reducing errors and waste and increasing quality and productivity.

Process maps can serve multiple purposes, including:

  • Capture the best practices of your top lawyers;
  • Mapping also allows you to better describe your approach and best practices for clients (an important marketing tool);
  • Train students, new associates, and lateral hires in your approach and your best practices; and
  • Estimate and price more accurately.

The result of successful remapping is not only a more efficient process (marketable to clients) but actually a restructuring of who handles the file and therefore a potential restructuring on the mix of professionals required in the firm (normally reducing the costs for the firm).

I would recommend taking one area of practice and even one aspect of it and try a remapping exercise to see first what efficiencies might result and based upon the results whether this is something that firm should start pursuing on a systematic based. The fact that the firm utilizes this approach to look at how it delivers legal services will serve as a further deterrent to fee reduction by clients.

The reason I suggested the recession strategy was simple but will be a challenge to execute stems from the tendency of most lawyers to focus on reasons why something will not work. Many of these same lawyers will be unaccepting of the signals of the oncoming recession.

To that end I would get your lawyers to focus on the strategy as being one for any time and if possible re-enforce with them Dr. Robert Anthony's philosophy "Forget about all the reasons why something may not work. You only need to find one good reason why it will."

Footnote

1. https://www.cnbc.com/2017/06/05/inverted-yield-curve-predicting-coming-recession-commentary.html...

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_Project_Management

Stephen Mabey is a CPA, CA and the Managing Director of Applied Strategies, Inc. Stephen's focus is on law firms in general and on small to medium size law firms in particular. He has written about and advised on, a wide range of issues including - leadership, business development, marketing, key performance indicators, strategic planning, mergers, practice acquisitions, competitive intelligence, finance, mergers, practice transitioning, compensation, organizational structures, succession planning, partnership arrangements and firm retreats. In 2013, Stephen was inducted as a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management in recognition of his sustained commitment to the highest standards of professionalism in law practice management. For more information, visit appliedstrategies.ca or connect with Stephen Mabey on LinkedIn at ca.linkedin.com/in/smabey.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Stephen Mabey
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions