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January 15, 2020

Case Study: An Integrated Approach to Providing Clients with Greater Value (Part 1 of 2)

By Tim Batdorf and Jim Hassett

This post is based on a recent interview with Melissa Prince, the Chief Client Value and Innovation Officer at Ballard Spahr, a nationwide firm with more than 650 attorneys in 15 offices. She oversees the firm’s award-winning Client Value and Innovation Program, which focuses on creating a customized client experience centered on value, cost predictability, and efficiency. Under Melissa’s leadership, Ballard Spahr was named to the Financial Times’ “Most Innovative Law Firms: Business of Law” list, a BTI Consulting innovation “Mover and Shaker,” and a finalist for the American Lawyer Industry Awards for best law firm/client team and best business team.

Q: Let’s start with a 10,000-foot view of how your group is organized, and your role.

A: I head Ballard Spahr’s Client Value and Innovation Program, and oversee the pricing, matter management, practice technology, and data management teams at the firm. Our group includes more than 20 business professionals with legal, finance, technology, data science, and project management backgrounds and certifications.

Q: And how does the Client Value and Innovation Program fit into Ballard Spahr’s organizational chart?

A: We are a stand-alone department that reports to the Executive Director and works closely with the firm’s Chair, Managing Partner of Finance and Operations, Strategic Planning Partner, Board, and Executive Team. The degree of support we have at the top is a key factor in the department’s success. We engage in rigorous planning when we take on new clients and engagements. We perform detailed scoping exercises, select diverse team members to handle each matter, prepare budgets, and provide clients with fee arrangement options. Each new arrangement is reviewed and approved by our Managing Partner and legal department leadership. Since we started our program several years ago, the team has earned the respect and trust of our attorneys. They understand that the process has leadership support and is tied to the firm’s long-term goals and strategy. 

Q: Before we get into the details of how this works, let’s briefly jump to the bottom line: Has your group been able to produce clear evidence of financial success?

A: Absolutely. One of the easiest places to see this is in our role in growing existing and new client partnerships. For example, several years ago one of our clients—a Fortune 500 company that was working with several hundred law firms at the time—decided to increase efficiency and cost predictability by consolidating all of its legal work with just a few firms. It put out a request for proposal (RFP) to select the firms that would handle all its legal work.

Ballard Spahr was chosen as a finalist. The client selected us not only because of our legal experience but also because of our sophisticated capabilities in pricing, matter management, and client technology, which other firms did not have. Much of what we talked about in the client interview meetings was how we intended to price and manage matters, because that was incredibly important to the client. We made a commitment to budgeting and managing the client’s matters and thinking innovatively about the service we could deliver.

The client named Ballard Spahr to a panel of just three firms to handle all its legal work. At the time we responded to the RFP, we had done a limited amount of work with this client. Within the first year after the RFP, however, the work quadrupled. It is a huge success story for our group and the firm. And it is one of many success stories I can point to that demonstrate the value of what Client Value and Innovation is doing.

Q: Did the process of working with this client change your approach in any way?

A: We customize our approach to each client’s needs, and the experience with this client definitely helped us realize that we need to focus more heavily on managing client relationships for larger firm clients.

The problem with law firms is that administrative functions often are siloed, and it’s hard to get everyone to work together closely and communicate about what’s happening. When we started to onboard new matters for this client, we quickly realized that we needed a single point of contact at our firm to ensure that matters were set up properly, to develop budgets, report on monthly accruals, and to help with matter management.

Our matter management team stepped in and now plays a central role in overseeing this process. We understand what’s going on in every matter. We work with the lawyers to manage each matter to make sure we stay within budget, comply with the client’s outside counsel guidelines, and bill the matter the right way. We developed real-time budget-to-actual reporting so that the client can see exactly what's going on at all times, and can be proactively involved in making decisions about its matters. We also worked with the client to develop a quarterly financial report template used by all of the client’s law firms, which provides portfolio- and matter-level details and compares financial performance and cost savings. The client also can see the value-adds that firms are providing, such as secondments, CLEs, pro bono work, advice and counseling, and technology.

The matter management group has direct contact with the client and has, in essence, become the client relationship manager on the business side. We also work directly with the attorneys managing the legal work to ensure that we are doing everything we can to develop the client relationship.  

Q: Do you think that this kind of client-facing role for Legal Project Management (LPM) teams will grow at your firm and at others?

A: I do. In the world we live in, clients are driving change at law firms. Clients with larger legal departments now have legal operations people who expect law firms to have business people in similar roles who speak their language and help manage their matters. Clients with smaller legal departments or “teams of one” that don’t necessarily have a dedicated legal operations function also appreciate that firms like Ballard Spahr have invested in resources, like our team has, to provide support. Our team is much more client-facing than we were even a couple of years ago. I now meet with several clients a week to hear about their needs and work with them to develop pricing, matter management, and technology solutions. I think the importance and the client-facing nature of my role and others like mine will only continue to grow.

In part 2 of this blog series, we will spotlight how the matter management team and other teams at Ballard Spahr operate to provide award-winning client value and innovation.

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