Updated: Aug 15, 2020
We recently had the privilege of speaking with Zachary Moen, Founding Attorney of ZVMLaw and Vice President, Legal Acceleration at Revlegal. A practicing attorney for over 15 years, Zachary started his legal career in private practice at an Am Law 100 firm in Chicago and a large Detroit-based law firm before becoming Associate General Counsel at Daifuku Webb Holding Company, and later General Counsel at the Orlans Group. In that time, Zachary founded his own law practice, ZVMLaw, which he describes as a client-centric, technology-enabled “business law firm for the 21st century”. Zachary also serves as Vice Present of Revlegal, a legal consultancy firm which works with corporate legal departments to optimize their people, process, and performance through Lean thinking and technology.
Zachary earned his Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification from the University of Michigan. Zachary describes “lean in legal” as arising from the “lean” processes pioneered by Toyota and other manufacturing companies in the mid-20th century that ultimately spread to other industries and recently, as Zachary notes, to the legal space.
We began our interview by asking Zachary what the concept of value means to him. Zachary begins by stating that he prefers to think of value in the context of Lean principles”, under which value should always be viewed from the customer or stakeholder perspective. But Zachary also states that viewing the concept of value from the client perspective has not always been traditionally ingrained in how attorneys think about the delivery of legal services. He notes how in his prior general counsel roles he would sometimes need quick legal answers outside his or his legal department’s expertise and as a result they would turn to outside counsel; however, Zachary notes that outside counsel would often come back weeks later with a long, well-researched legal memorandum that doesn’t actually answer the specific questions. Zachary points out that the firm would believe that they were offering value in providing comprehensive information when, in reality, they weren’t providing any value at all because Zachary needed a specific answer very quickly.
We asked Zachary how his firms have viewed the concept of value. Zachary responds that the idea of value has been different in each firm he has worked with; he notes that this is in fact the key to value, namely there being no blanket definition to value. Zachary asserts that one must always ask the firm or company what it values, rather than thinking you know what the firm values. Zachary says he does this in his work by using feedback system and setting clear deliverables and cost expectations at the outset of work. As for what his firms seek to deliver in value to clients, Zachary notes that value is what distinguishes firms, but states that the value proposition must be adaptable to the client’s needs.
In his current roles, Zachary says that his typical clients are those with past experience with large law firms who are now looking for the same quality in legal representation but with more client-centric terms. Zachary notes that his legal practice offers fractional general counsel services to small- and medium-sized companies that may not need a full-time general counsel. Zachary’s practice handles the legal matters a typical general counsel’s office would handle at a fixed, cost-effective price; Zachary notes that the value he gets out of the arrangement is not needing to spend time and effort on the details of hourly billing and the ability to learn more about each client’s business and what each client values.
Although fixed price billing provides tremendous value to clients, it can also pose the risk of the law firm losing money on the deal. In his practice, Zachary says that they are able to profitably offer fixed services by partnering with the client to regularly evaluate the client’s legal needs and the value being provided to ensure the client is paying fair rate for the firm’s services based on that value.
Zachary also notes that his firm also relies on technology, including software based on the CLIO platform, to efficiently and cost-effectively deliver legal services. Zachary notes that any law practice is based on selling output and capacity; however, Zachary also notes that the billable hour model provides no incentive for law firms to develop efficiencies. Although his firm relies on technology, Zachary argues that technology can only be as good as a firm’s process – “if you automate a bad process, you just have a faster bad process,” he says. As an example, Zachary notes how he has vetted contract lifecycle management software, but he believes that step one before using any CLM software is to have an effective contract process in place; Zachary notes that this is usually the pain-point for most firms.
We asked Zachary about metrics he uses to measure delivery of value. Zachary notes that he does utilize basic rating schemes; Zachary also notes that when a client values money, delivery of value is not difficult to measure. However, Zachary points out that other value propositions for clients can include speed in delivering outcomes, or not being a roadblock to the client’s business, or providing confidence that the client’s legal needs are being handled; however, Zachary asserts that those values can be difficult to measure, as measuring value sometimes relies solely on opinion, while some values are more easily quantified or measured than others. Zachary believes that if a client has one singular or primary value, it can be easier to measure the delivery of value; for example, if a client wants to undertake a review of all its outstanding contracts, the value delivered can be reducing the review time.
We next asked Zachary for his thoughts on how well he believes the concept of value is understood and talked about in the legal industry. Zachary believes that there is a movement in the legal industry towards understanding value; however, he notes that the billable hour model restricts this movement towards value, since the model often (but not always) makes it hard to align value with a client. Zachary also believes that delivering services solely as directed by the attorneys, rather than a collaborative process than engages all stakeholders, also creates a risk of misalignment of value. Zachary argues that value must be intentionally talked about, as many clients don’t volunteer feedback or go out of their way to tell the firm how well they are doing in delivering value; he notes that this is the reason he implemented routine feedback in his own practice. Zachary notes in particular that new tools and services coming onto the legal marketplace allow legal stakeholders to facilitate conversations on value, especially legal service provider selection and management platforms like ClariLegal that enable providers and clients to define value in legal services beyond just dollars and cents, such as capacity and speed, customer-focus, and quality of service.
To conclude, we asked Zachary for his final thoughts. Zachary begins by noting that an optimal client is one that collaborates in the decision-making process and wants to be part of a team to solve their problems. Zachary notes that it is important to have expertise outside of legal to solve legal issues, which is why he values clients who want to give their input from expertise outside of legal.
Finally, Zachary, drawing on his past professional experience working for a violin maker, analogizes the value of violins to value in the legal industry and how the time spent working on a matter does not, in and of itself, correspond to the value received by the client. Zachary notes that a violin can be made quickly using machine-manufacturing or can be made entirely by hand, which is much more time consuming, or some hybrid of the two methods. Zachary notes that value to the musician may be in the way that the violin sounds or looks, which is not inherently created by spending more time in crafting the instrument. If a violinmaker offered a violin for four times the price that sounded and looked exactly the same as a machine made model but had more parts assembled by hand instead of by machine, Zachary notes that it would likely not be a success with musicians, as the extra manual labor cost provides no additional value to the musician. Similarly, lawyers who bill by the hour and spend time on tasks that could be done more efficiently provide no additional value to their clients for the added cost.
Disclaimer: The statements of the interviewees in the Value Article Series are opinions and observations of a personal nature and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and policies of their respective employers.
About the authors:
James Johnson is principal attorney of First Venture Legal, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based law practice focused on corporate and transactional law for very-early-stage startups. James assists entrepreneurs and small business owners with corporate formation and structuring, contracts, commercial law, employment matters, and early-stage fundraising. His practice utilizes alternative fee structures to deliver value-based service to early-stage ventures.
In addition to practicing law, James works with ClariLegal, focusing on building out its innovative platform and spreading the word of ClariLegal’s mission to reduce cost and complexity in legal vendor selection and management for law firms and corporations.
Cash Butler is the founder of ClariLegal. A seasoned legal technology innovator, Cash has over 18 years of experience in the legal vertical market, primarily working in eDiscovery, litigation & compliance. Cash is an expert in legal vendor, pricing and project management.
ClariLegal is a preferred vendor management platform for legal services that improves business outcomes. Made for legal by legal experts. We match corporations and law firms with preferred vendors to manage the work through a fast and complete RFP and bidding process. ClariLegal’s platform allows all internal client segments to improve business outcomes across the board – predictability, time and money. Learn more