Witness the rise of the geek empire

One of our most-read stories on last week on TheLawyer.com was a defiantly geeky report on Addleshaw Goddard mapping 46 primary legal processes.

Catrin Griffiths

It caused some debate on-line; some commenters railed that legal advice simply maintained that transitional services are ripe for systematisation. Reaction to these sorts of stories is often cynical; some commenters on a recent story about Olswang bulking up its pricing team failed to see this as a story at all. Pricing, they seemed to think, had nothing to do with the serious business of giving legal advice.

This absolute lack of understanding of the realities of client demand would have been comical if it hadn’t been so depressing. The knee-jerk response in some quarters of the market is that these projects are done entirely to boost profit per equity partner. It’s a reductionist assumption, because clients are demanding unbundling – unless they’re private equity (PE) clients, that is (and by the way, please don’t miss our feature on which private practice lawyers the PE houses like best, which has emerged from our special paid-for sector report).

Hearts and minds are changing, however. Ashurst’s announcement last week that it was transferring 150 London support roles to a new Glasgow operation – has not attracted half the opprobrium that Allen & Overy did in 2011, when it announced 180 support roles were moving to Northern Ireland. All this geekery is also the subject of our change management supplement that covers: knowledge management, IT, HR, finance, facilities, business development, marketing and risk. It’s also the basis of the Lawyer Management Awards in September that recognise excellence in operations. So crucial are these specialisms nowadays that a firm without these professionals, many of whom come from outside the legal market is rare, not to say foolish.

Process-mapping will not simply change service delivery but will have far-reaching cultural consequences. Addleshaws’ project involved large swathes of the firm having to identify the processes for themselves, rather than having a model imposed upon them. In five years’ time, the most valuable law firm employees won’t just be law graduates but professional project managers. Clients will be baying for them.