Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Life After Leverage: New Staffing Trends in Law Firms

Firms have been deleveraging (reducing the ratio of associates to partners) for the past decade in response to client pressure to reduce costs. Although the economy is recovering, deleveraging is expected to continue to impact law firm staffing for the foreseeable future.

Life After Leverage ALM Legal Intelligence
 American Lawyer Legal Intelligence recently released a new report "Life after Leverage: New Models of Law Firm Staffing." The report was based on a survey of Am Law 200 partners, associates and paralegals in November 2011

Key findings outlined in the report include:

1. The deleveraging trend will continue. Partners have been doing more work relative to associates and this is expected to continue over the next 3 years.

2. Firms are likely to have 2 tiers of non-equity partners and 2 tiers of associates. Non-equity partners will be divided into permanent and temporary (with a shot at equity partnership). Associates will also have two tiers permanent or career associates and partner track associates.

3.Paralegals will become more important. As client pressures continue, paralegals who bill at lower rates will take over an increased proportion of associate work.

4. Law Firms and Legal Departments will increase their use of outsourced services. Routine work will go to LPOs. More complex work will be sent to lawyer staffing firms who will provide highly qualified lawyers for more complex project based work.

5. Performance Measurement for both partners and associates is of increasing importance. Performance will not only measure billable hours, but also business development skills and industry expertise.

6. Laterals Rule. A law firm's reputation has become less important to clients who are now increasingly searching for expertise. The rivalry for partners with expertise is reshaping the marketplace.

Implications for Information Professionals. Librarians and information professionals are not mentioned in this survey. However it is easy to recognize how they could present comparable, if not greater benefits than paralegals in the new leverage models. Librarians have specialized research skills which can be harnessed to improve efficiency of research assignments and projects. As clients focus on the value of expertise, firms should not overlook the value of in house research expertise. Many law librarians hold JD degrees but bill at lower rates than associates. As physical libraries shrink - the proportion of client support work performed by library and research staff will increase. The transformation of libraries will accelerate the transformation of librarians into specialized research experts  who are tightly aligned with practice groups*  where they will gain visibility and more easily be assigned to "leverage enhancing" projects.

*See: Cindy Adams recent blog post on "embedding" library staff at 3 Geeks and a Law Blog post Out of Sight Out of Mind

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is Lexis the Next Acquisition for Bloomberg?

Today, Bernstein Research. released a report: Reed Elsevier: Voices Calling for Asset Divestitures Should Grow Louder, and Perhaps Fall on Deaf Ears which includes some significant implications for the legal publishing marketplace. The report recommends that Reed Elsevier divest some units including LexisNexis and suggests by implication that Bloomberg Law is standing by and ready to purchase those assets.

The report also notes that interviews with U.S. law librarians were a key source used in the report.

The report bluntly describes the LexisNexis problems as” intractable.”

These problems include:

1. Reed Elsevier’s lack of investment in core legal content has hurt Lexis’s competitive position.

2. Although the legal industry is slowly recovering from the 2008 downturn, law firms have not fully recovered and Lexis is currently signing renewals at deep discounts.

3. LexisNexis’ recent product innovations have lagged significantly behind those of ThomsonReuters. WestlawNext was released about a year ahead of LexisAdvance.

4. Bloomberg Law has become a real competitor. Acquisition of the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) demonstrated both Bloomberg’s seriousness in claiming a stake in the legal market and the fact that Bloomberg has a lot of cash to do it.

Lexis strategies briefly noted in the report:

1. They plan to charge for future releases of Lexis Advance. This idea will not be cheered by the subscriber base.

2. Taking a more modular approach to new products  by targeting specific types of users and practice areas. I see little evidence of this in the large firm market. The report doesn’t explain what it means – but I think I speak for others on the consumer side of the market when I say a modular approach. would be very appealing to many “soon to be ex-customers.” Lexis and other legal publishers need to recognize that it’s time to let  customer’s choose the modules of content which they need. The market has shrunk, law firms are focused on cost control and redundant content is an easy target. Hunkering down in the delusion that the "gravy train" of the 90’s is pulling back into the station is likely to backfire and accelerate outright cancellations.

The Report’s Recommendation

Reed Elsevier should stop trying to wish away Bloomberg and consider selling off LexisNexis while it still has some value.

Although Reed Elsevier outperformed the market in 2012, Bernstein report indicates that there will be continued shareholder pressure to dispose of assets. Management may be nearing the point of considering this option.

What the report does not say:   Law firms remain focused on cutting expenses and  redundant content is rampant in the many "iconic" digital products traditionally subscribed to by large law firms. Law firms are beginning to do the math and recognize that they are paying “a king’s ransom” for the marginal benefits of maintaining access to a small subset of truly unique content offered by each vendor. The retrenchment in the legal industry means that clients are less willing to pay for online research. The decline and perhaps impending abolition of cost recovery means that there will be less tolerance for the support of two major vendors. Oh wait a minute, there are now 3 major vendors: Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg. I hear the sound of some large contracts "falling off the table."

Implications for Potential Bloomberg Subscribers. One of the most appealing distinctions of the Bloomberg Law subscription is the “all in” approach. Unlike Lexis and Westlaw contracts which traditionally drove revenue and enhanced cost variability by “excluding” new content and functionality from existing contracts, Bloomberg will take the opposite approach and enhance predictability. They have repeatedly stated that they will include all new content and functionality in existing subscriber agreements at no additional charge. This means that current existing Bloomberg Law subscribers will not have to pay extra to get access to BNA content. By implication in a hypothetical purchase of Lexis, all Lexis would be absorbed in the same way.