Improving Law Firm and/or Client Profitability – a Case Study

By Dan Safran – Unbiased Consulting

Unbiased Consulting successfully assisted a large, US-based law firm to significantly improve profitability of work performed for one of its largest clients.

Unbiased Consulting completed a four (4) week, focused evaluation of work performed by the law firm, for a long term, high revenue client. The firm spent years successfully delivering high quality, substantive legal work, which was only marginally profitable. The team assessed and recommended a series of integrated recommendations (and included a four-month deployment plan), to pivot the client economics. 


Unbiased Consulting’s work first centered on the following;

  1. What were the real economics of the matters?
  2. If unprofitable, what would it take to make the work profitable?

Current State and Opportunity Identification

As such, Unbiased Consulting’s engagement focused on evaluating and recommending operational strategy, process, people and technology, and a roadmap to accomplish the recommendations. The scope started with a current state and opportunity based review, as follows:

  • What was the operational strategy? The team evaluated high value vs. low value work and priorities and discovered that the client did not value all work the same. Low value work was being prioritized by the firm and too many internal reviews were being completed, raising cost of delivery. The client did not want perfection, only good enough.  Also, it was surprisingly determined that work backlogs were preventing the client from assigning even more work to the firm;
  • How was the work being performed (process)? This included development of a high level process map of the work where the team identified significant extraneous activities, some tasks were legacy in nature and no longer required or valued, detailed and low level activities were being completed by senior lawyers, junior lawyers and administrative teams. Unbiased Consulting team members discovered that too many hands were touching the work, no one owned the work, and the process included too many reviews and tasks that were not desired by the client. The team also discovered that there was no standard, documented work process and that the lawyers assigned to the client were not sufficiently trained, nor did they fully understand internal team or client expectations;
  • Who were the people doing the work and the requisite skills? In this case, the client assigned very junior lawyers do the bulk of the initial drafting work. While deemed as being cost effective, there were no standardized work process and all work required multiple reviews by senior lawyers. As such, the junior lawyers were forced to perform significant re-work. In addition, senior lawyers were forced to perform junior level work.  Administrative assistants were excluded from training and lacked understanding of the work goals, adding to the lack of efficiency and cost of rework.  he assigned junior lawyers were not informed as to work budgets or costs of work completed to date, rendering them unable to monitor or manage costs and work efforts.  Management was very unstructured, untimely and inconsistent. Importantly, no structured feedback processes were in place;
  • What automation supported the work? As discovered, the client team was attempting to use Microsoft Outlook as the primary scheduling and review system, something that platform was not built to do. No significant reach-out to the firm’s technology team was attempted and existing tools were identified to help automate portions of the work. The client’s automation was suboptimal, and there was historical reluctance by the firm’s lawyers to address these issues with the client. The automation did not support either firm-to-client or internal firm communications resulting in great confusion of who was to do what, timing, status and overall communications. The lack of technology support forced multiple daily conversations between the parties to capture status and issues; 
  • What were the desired economics by all parties? As part of the review, Unbiased Consulting tracked time and costs that were expended by firm lawyers and staff and costed the overall work. The team compared the costs to the actual client revenues (by matter) and identified that most matters were not making money. That provided a baseline upon which the joint team could compare costs moving forward. Interestingly, there was only limited discussion with the client in terms of true economics.  When the client pushed hard on rates, the firm did not have open and transparent conversations to educate the client on issues, out of scope work and potential cost adjustments.  Assumptions were not articulated clearly nor in writing by the law firm, limiting the ability to position in-flow changes.

Recommendations and Roadmap

The final recommendations (and draft execution plan) were anticipated to deliver the following:

  • Operational strategy;
    • A better understanding of client requirements and those deliverables that were most highly valued. This included training for the lawyers (senior and junior) and support personnel so that they could focus on the high value items. The goal was to eliminate tasks that were not absolutely necessary.
    • A conversation with the client to ensure that there was a documented agreement relative to the minimum services and deliverables required by the client, along with handling of out-of-scope requests.
    • A refined client agreement that enabled the firm to deliver fixed price work for those components that could be defined and structured, but also included time and materials work for anomalies and exceptions.  Included were recommendations for lawyer training to improve the identification of scope changes and methods to communicate those issues on a regular basis to the client.

  • Refinements as to the work process and both who and how resources were involved; 
    • A standard work approach was defined, documented and all lawyers were trained to ensure understanding, consistency and transparency.
    • Work processes, in terms of internal reviews, were modified to reduce the amount of time required by senior lawyers (which had increased costs to complete the work).
    • Further process enhancements were refined, client deliverables and documents were modified, including adjustment to the level of detail, required by the client.  Additional training was provided, along with standard work templates, documentation, examples and checklists.  This work ensured that requested work was completed in a consistent and structured manner.
    • The law firm work processes were documented, reviewed with the client to ensure that they met client requirements, enhanced transparency and improved communications.
    • A more formal “review” or “postmortem” process was applied to ensure capture of “lessons learned”.  This information was integrated into ongoing team training and statusing and communication.
    • A pilot test was recommended and coordinated with the client, to ensure that the new processes met client expectations.  The results ensured agreement by the client, but also identified tweaks to both the law firm and client processes and approaches. 
  • Modifications to matter resources;
    • More experienced mid-level lawyers were assigned to the work, compared to the very junior resources originally assigned.  The recommendations were intended to improve work quality and reduce time and volume of senior lawyer reviews.
    • A more limited number of experienced administrative staff were assigned on the matter teams, vs. lower skilled.  Recommendations included training of administrative resources assigned to the client matters, to ensure better understanding of the work as well as training on deliverables, team members and outside counsel guidelines was delivered. 
    • As noted above, all lawyers and staff were provided with more complete information on work budgets and costs for work completed to date.
    • A more formal mentoring and management program was deployed by the firm, focused on resources involved on the matter team.
  • Leverage of automation;
    • While the firm was in the process of implementing new automation to support the work processes, it was recommended that this client team be included in the early stages of pilot and deployment.
    • Existing firm owned applications were evaluated to leverage functionality that could be used to manage, structure and communicate work.
    • New technologies were identified to support the refined work processes, including work scheduling, team collaboration, assignment and approval of work.   
    • Team members were re-trained in both the existing and new software.
    • Both work estimates and work hours and costs completed to date were regularly reported to all lawyers and staff assigned to the client matters.


The recommendations and accompanying roadmap supported the following results and benefits: