In the last few weeks, I’ve interviewed chairmen, chief executive officers, and senior partners at more than 20 of the largest firms in the US about how they are using alternative fees, and about what they expect in the future. I have been absolutely amazed by the range of their opinions, and the variety of ways that AmLaw 100 firms are approaching alternative fees.
Some firms are preparing for a future in which fixed and contingent fees will radically change the way law firms do business, from staffing and project management to hiring and compensation. Some are not.
There was only one question that every single firm to date has agreed on. When I asked whether the percent of revenue coming from alternative fees will grow in the next five years, everyone said yes. They disagree wildly on what that percent is now, and on what it will be in the future. But they all agree it is going up. Way up.
I will review the exact figures in this blog in October. I don’t want to get specific now, because we are still conducting interviews, and I don’t want to influence the results.
On December 10, after we’ve had a chance to fully analyze all the data, I will describe our major conclusions in a West LegalEdcenter webcast, and I’ll publish a book with the complete survey results. Between now and then, I will provide occasional updates in this blog, in talks at DRI’s “Best Practices for Law Firm Profitability” conference in New York, at the 4th Corporate Counsel Exchange in San Diego, and in a webinar soon to be announced by the Legal Marketing Association.
Now that the interviews are well underway, I must admit that when I announced the survey in June, I felt I was going out on a limb. It was a little like announcing a party for Fortune 500 CEOs before I invited anyone. How would it look if no one came?
These days, many surveys are based on questionnaires which are sent to hundreds or thousands of people, and filled out quickly on the web. We wanted to accomplish something much more ambitious: to conduct in-depth interviews with some of the most knowledgeable people on the planet, leading experts on alternative fees at the largest law firms in the US.
Many of these experts shun publicity, and don’t like to be quoted publicly. So we promised to give participants complete editorial control over what appears in print. After each interview, we send a summary or transcript. Every statement is confidential and proprietary until it has been edited and approved. All quotes are anonymous, and not linked to any particular firm. This process has allowed people to speak frankly, and has revealed details of a number of significant programs that I had never seen mentioned in media reports.
When the time came to recruit participants, we started at the top by contacting the chair or managing partner of every AmLaw 100 firm. We emailed an explanation of the survey, then called a few days later to ask for a 30 minute interview with the firm’s leading expert on alternative fees.
Have you ever tried to contact the chairman of an AmLaw 100 firm? They are a little busy. Their assistants are extraordinarily competent and helpful, but in many cases it still took weeks and months of gently persistent calls and emails to get a decision about participating.
Fortunately, the topic of alternative fees is on the front burner with many AmLaw 100 chairmen, and so far 32 firms have completed or scheduled interviews:
Alston & Bird
Chadbourne & Parke
Fish & Richardson
Foley & Lardner
Haynes and Boone
McDermott Will & Emery
O'Melveny & Meyers
Shook, Hardy & Bacon
Steptoe & Johnson
I’m still not sure what our final number of interviews will be. Some of the top 100 firms have declined due to lack of interest in alternative fees and/or in our research. (We’ll give them a chance to reconsider before our final interview deadline of September 18.) The rest have not yet decided.
In October, I’ll publish the final list of firms in this blog. More importantly, I’ll tell you what the world’s leading experts are saying about how they are using alternative fees, and what they predict for the future.