Re-Imagining What A Law Firm Can Be: Scrapping Billable Hours For A More Client-Friendly B2B Service

Don't walk into Clearspire's D.C. headquarters and expect to be impressed. Spartan furnishings and a simple glass sign adorn the waiting room. You may not believe you are in the right place--the offices lack the posh trappings of an emerging law practice competing against the top 200 firms.

Yet they represent the new face of the legal profession. And they are winning global Fortune 500 clients by focusing not on the quality of their office trappings, but on the way in which they deliver and manage client engagements. Other B2B companies would be wise to learn how Clearspire is changing the client rules of engagement in a traditionally secretive, high touch, low-tech field.

Corporate counsel clients have the right to demand changes. Years after corporations have complained about billable hours and unnecessary fees, most law firms are still deploying industrial age business models to serve their clients. The "hours for dollars" approach to delivering knowledge work simply goes against the grain of delivering value. Professional services firms often promote rainmakers who bill the most hours.

Clients get the short end of the deal in this scenario. They are afraid to pick up the phone because the meter starts running in 1/10 hour increments.

In today's flat world, pedigreed resumes and upscale, wood paneled offices no longer cement client relationships. Value does.

Let's establish what I mean by value before we share some of Clearspire's value secrets. In today's business world, value is a by-product of several factors:  the perception of your brand, your ability to communicate your brand clearly and ethically, and how consistently your brand and delivery mechanisms align to ultimately create a positive client experience. Creating value is one part art, one part science. It takes a blend of great listening skills, the ability to think on your feet, and the courage to be provocative.

Clearspire is committed to creating more value, and putting an end to the law industry's dysfunctional behavior. Furthermore, they have the technology and commitment to prove it. Co-founders Mark Cohen and Bryce Arrowood invested their own funds and 2 1/2 years of R&D to build a technology platform called CORAL.

Since they launched CORAL earlier this year, it delivers on these promises:

  1. Fixed project fees, established in advance of the engagement--no billing surprises.
  2. A highly secure technology platform to collaborate real time with clients and team members, post questions, review briefs, and more.
  3. Clients receive a project plan that clearly outline how and when a client engagement will be completed.
  4. Efficiency bonuses are shared equally with legal team members, the client, and Clearspire (the firm) when an engagement is completed ahead of schedule.
  5. Clients are not subject to "fee padding" to support exhorbitant bricks and mortar offices.
  6. Collaboration trumps hierarchy. Clearspire's team members do not boast fancy, formal titles. Everyone is a partner.

As co-founder Bryce Arrowood puts it:

"Over the last 100 years, the law firm business model was predicated on billable hours. We felt that there was an opportunity to take that model and turn it on its head by re-aligning the incentives of the lawyers who do the work, the law firm that provides the service, and the clients who consume the work." 

Here are four Clearspire-inspired strategies that any B2B company can implement:

  1. Align your proposals and engagements around a client initiative, not your deliverables and outputs.
  2. Create services and deliverables that allow your client to re-use the content without re-engaging your firm. Inside CORAL, Clearspire provides client with templates they can re-use in the future. 
  3. Identify the thought leaders in your industry and educate them on your value-based model. Prior to launching CORAL, Arrowood and Cohen started working with the major legal thought leaders across IT, academia, and industry associations.  
  4. Look beyond your services offering to refine your value proposition. CORAL is the hub of Clearspire's culture and value proposition, not their employees' resumes and pedigrees or a fancy office.

The verdict has been reached: Antiquated "hours for dollars" business models deserve a life sentence. Clearspire's solid defense team ensures corporate client budgets and relationships receive the protection they deserve.

--Author Lisa Nirell helps companies grow customer mind share and market share. Since 1983, Lisa has worked with Sony, Wells Fargo Advisors, Adobe, Microsoft, and hundreds of entrepreneurs in nine countries. Lisa is also an award-winning expert speaker, FastCompany expert blogger, and author of the acclaimed EnergizeGrowth® NOW: The Marketing Guide to a Wealthy Company. Download your sample chapter and business energy booster survey at energizegrowth.com. Copyright 2011, Lisa Nirell. All rights reserved.

[Image: Flickr user State Library of Victoria Collections]

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