What Does "More With Less" Mean For The Legal Industry?
Updated: Aug 15
Business is about doing more with less. This is its mantra since the global financial crisis. Tech-enabled, data and process-driven upstarts have unseated a pan-industry array of incumbents and ushered in the digital age. Optimization of customer access, satisfaction, and value are common denominators among the disruptors.
Law is about doing less with more. Its labor-intensive approach to problem solving is designed to produce the “best legal product,” no matter the client value. This slant supported its hierarchical structure and economic model but has become misaligned with the way business operates. Something’s got to give. Spoiler alert: less is more is coming to the legal industry.
The corporate C-suite is revoking law’s immunity from business accountability, process, and metrics. Lawyers will continue to craft and enforce their own professional standards that govern practice. They will no longer dictate the norms, standards, and market of delivering legal services—business will. Law’s focus is shifting from lawyers/providers to business/buyers.
What Does More With Less Mean?
“More with less” has been applied to everything from cookbooks to college football coaches. It generally refers to resource optimization that drives positive customer outcomes. Some mistakenly believe—many lawyers among them—that more with less is limited to cost-cutting, labor arbitrage, and/or some degree of automation. It’s much more than that.
More with less involves a division of labor that extracts maximum value from its workforce, ensuring that the appropriate resource—human and/or machine-- is deployed. It equally involves the avoidance of unproductive meetings, duplication of effort, and failure to harness institutional knowledge. It’s also about data mining and analytics material risk identification and mitigation, outcome prediction, and metrics for internal, supply chain, and customer-satisfaction. It is, to borrow from another Forbes contributor, avoiding anything “not explicitly aligned with the strategies and goals of the organization.” Those internal strategies and goals must be aligned with customers’.
A More Expansive Meaning and Some Examples
More with less is the art of the possible—creating the organizational structures, economic models, reward systems, talent management, skillsets, resources—human and machine—and collaboration required to provide consumers with a better alternative to existing delivery systems. It is the means to the organizational end—no matter the business or profession--of expanding access to and improving customer outcomes and satisfaction. It is about making the buy-sell dynamic easier, more transparent, and cost-effective for the customer
More with less is about year-on-year operational improvement with a flat or declining budget. This is not simply cost-cutting; it is enhanced results at lower cost achieved by innovation, “right-sourcing,” upskilling, talent management that integrates new skillsets, and a cultural commitment to constant improvement. Doing more with less is a proactive mindset that reimagines the client experience and achieves it transparently, efficiently, accessibly, cost-effectively, and consistently.
More with less requires an organizational culture change, a collective commitment to jettison knee-jerk resistance to change and a willingness to be open to new ways of doing things. More with less describes a complex, holistic process of adapting to a rapidly changing, customer-focused business climate. To survive this harsh environment, an organization must confront competition from existing and new sources, regulatory, cyber, talent management, and brand issues among other challenges. To remain competitive—if not viable—organizations must do more with less.
Uber, Apple, Amazon, Airbnb, and other new-model providers are examples of companies that have done more with less. Each has reimagined the possible from the consumer perspective, then figured out how to deliver it at scale. Uber transformed the ride hailing industry without buying cars. Airbnb revolutionized hospitality without buying hotels. Their models not only transformed industries from the customer perspective but they also changed the way people live and work. Gigs are now as common as jobs. Underutilized assets—cars and real estate-- are transformed into shared assets that drive value to provider and buyer. More with less involves a fundamental reshaping of buyer and seller and an alignment of their interests.
More With Less Comes To Law
The fault lines for legal industry adoption of more with less generally follow provider source. General Counsel in large companies are on the front lines of applying more with less to the legal function. That’s because they are embedded in the enterprise they represent and have direct contact with and escalating demands from the C-Suite.
GC’s confront a battery of challenges: management demand to operate with the same efficiency, speed, and value enhancement as the enterprise; simultaneously serve as enterprise defender and business partner; manage existing and new risks; and navigate the speed and complexity of global business. Their portfolio is growing in size and complexity and includes responsibility for regulatory, data management, cybersecurity, brand protection, and other risk factors. GC’s must manage all this and achieve year-over-year operational improvement. This requires doing more with less. GC’s also face cultural obstacles to achieve more with less. They must convince their internal and external teams that upskilling, collaboration, and reimagining legal delivery and the legal function promote job security, not redundancy. They confront strong headwinds from attorneys that grew up in a culture imbued with the myth of legal exceptionalism and fealty to the legal guild.
To clear these hurdles requires GC’s-- and soon all legal professionals—to reimagine the legal function from the consumer perspective. Legal delivery is no longer solely about lawyers but what legal consumers need to solve business challenges. GC’s and leading legal service providers--commonly referred to as alternative legal service providers (ALSP’s)--tend to be better attuned to the customer perspective than law firms. The ALSP genesis springs from unmet legal consumer needs and the growing willingness of GC’s to entertain new delivery models. The leading providers are customer-centric, tech-enabled, process, data, and result-driven, well-capitalized, business-oriented, efficient, and possessed of business DNA. Law firms, unsurprisingly, have generally lagged because of their partnership structure, economic model, practice-centricity, and a culture accustomed to conforming delivery to what serves their model, not necessarily client objectives. Many firms mistakenly believe that acceding to client demands for discounted rack rates, fixed-fee arrangements, and ceding certain work to other providers constitutes doing more with less.
More With Less: One GC’s Experience
Bill Deckelman, the General Counsel of DXC Technology, provides a case study of more with less applied to the legal function. When Deckelman took the helm of DXC’s legal department, the product of a 2017 merger of CSC and the Enterprise Services business of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, he had a full plate. He was charged with integrating two large legal departments, overseeing other acquisitions, and continuing to serve as an active business partner. That was just part of his challenge. Deckelman was directed to cut his legal budget by 30%. This required quick, considered action involving bold measures. He was forced to reimagine how DXC’s legal requirements could be met, then implement the new vision—within a year.
Deckelman entered into a blockbuster managed services agreement with UnitedLex and its customer lifecycle platform (CLM), the largest such agreement in legal industry history. It worked. Deckelman says DXC has “reduced internal contracting costs by over 35% in the first year and increased speed to final contract.” Most people focus on the eye-popping legal budget reduction, an accomplishment to be sure. The accelerated contract process is equally significant because it produced measurable, impactful results for the enterprise. More with less is about the legal function serving as more efficient, proactive enterprise defenders and simultaneously advancing business objectives.
Deckelman also made wholesale changes in the firms he engages. In an article entitled “Why This GC Has Migrated Work from the Largest, Most Elite Firms,” he describes how he overcame his predisposition—and common industry practice-- to retain “elite” AmLaw 20 and Magic Circle firms. He acknowledges the excellence of many lawyers in those firms but notes their structure, migration of talent to other firms, and client leverage have diluted their competitive edge. These factors—and the eagerness of other firms to innovate—caused him to reconsider counsel selection and to shake up his go-to law firm panel based on performance, value, and collaboration. AdvanceLaw, another Deckelman strategic partner, conducted a study on law firm performance and client satisfaction that was a basis for Deckelman’s decision. It found that a select group of lesser-known firms outperformed highly pedigreed ones.
Deckelman’s more with less experience—a perpetual work in process—casts a bright light on what the term means when applied to legal delivery. Some key takeaways include: (1) reliable, relevant data (e.g. AdvanceLaw’s study) is essential to good decision-making; (2) pedigree does not necessarily equate to better results and client satisfaction; (3) legal delivery is not only about who does what but also what clients need to solve business challenges; (4) collaboration is a critical; the most effective organizations achieve seamless integration of internal and external resources; and (5) incremental concessions by incumbent providers are not long-term solutions to law’s urgent need to do more with less.
Business is in a perpetual cycle of identifying ways to do more with less. Legal providers and professionals must learn to do the same. Inaction could cast them as the less in the search for the more.
About Mark A. Cohen