Questions on thought leadership, pricing, knowledge management & future challenges for lawyers were put to fellows of the College of Law Practice Management for the COLPM Futures Conference in Chicago recently and published in a special issue of InsideLegal’s Thought Leaders Digest last week – below are the questions & my responses:

Chicago - a city of art and architecture - the venue of the Futures Conference of the College of Law Practice Management in October 2011 (Photo triptych by Sean Larkan MPh)

Q1 – Thought leadership is the core theme of our Digest, but the term “thought leader” is often misused and/or overused. In your opinion, what makes someone a thought leader? [Provided by JoAnna Forshee, InsideLegal]

  • I think a thought leader (TL) is someone whose stature or the respect with which they are held is such that they are regarded as an authority, pathfinder or even futurist.
  • The most important thing about whether one is or is not a TL is that it is determined by what others think not what one thinks oneself. The key is “have they led your thoughts?”  If so they will be regarded as a TL.
  • It seems a universal characteristic of TL that thought leaders share their views and ideas – by writing, speaking, or doing.
  • Most become TLs because they become to be regarded as such by others because of what they do i.e. almost while they are doing ‘other things’. However, I think one can work to build TL credentials by developing what one offers to others and then making sure they actually experience that in practice. In this respect TL can be a key component of building a personal brand.

Q2 – Which sorts of pricing strategies will prevail in the near and long term (e.g. Penetration vs Price Skimming), regardless of the fee type? See reference list of pricing approaches [Provided by Toby Brown, 3 Geeks and a Law Blog]

  • I think that most forms of pricing strategies, if they are known to a lawyer, and are ethical, will be used, depending on the circumstances.
  • Business people often resort to differential pricing strategies depending on circumstances – I believe it should be no different for a professional – provided it is conducted within an ethical framework and on the basis of value delivered.
  • I remember a story circulating when I was an Articled Clerk about a respected senior barrister who famously returned a brief with his advice which was simply “no” and a fee note for the equivalent of $10,000. He would have been horrified to hear that he was possibly guilty of “price skimming” or ‘premium billing’ and he would have felt he was simply rendering a fair fee for value delivered – the briefing solicitor happened to agree!

Q3 – Is knowledge management an oxymoron in legal? Managing knowledge assumes sharing it first. How will a profession, traditionally rewarded for information hoarding and discouraged from knowledge sharing, embrace the age of collaboration and team-work? Will firms be forced into it by technology? Client pressures? And/or the underlying necessity to work smarter and more efficiently?” [Provided by Jobst Elster, InsideLegal]

  • I do not think it is an oxymoron – it depends how you define KM. I think of KM in a broad sense in which case I’m not sure it can be said it’s assumed you have to share it first.
  • I’m not sure it’s helpful to get too hung up on definitions of KM.  I think KM covers a wide range of knowledge sources which may be stored electronically or physically and be made available internally and externally in different ways. How it is shared is a separate issue and may differ from knowledge source to knowledge source and in regard to particular external recipients.
  • Undoubtedly in the new world in which we operate, so influenced by social media principles and practices, sharing information (which seems to be the fundamental basis, for instance, of blogs) and making more information available to clients is the new basis for building trust and developing relationships. This notwithstanding we can still exercise discretion as to what information we share.
  • I think practitioners are going to be forced to share much more information than they were comfortable doing in the past. What might give some comfort is the example of a consultant/author who writes “the book” on a subject – in all likelihood even though people can simply “read the book” they will often choose to consult him or her even more. I think the same will apply in the case of professionals – those who share will build trust, respect and relationships and their practices will benefit. It’s a new way people conduct business and interactions and build relationships and lawyers need to find their comfort zone within this paradigm.

Q4 – What’s the greatest challenge facing the average lawyer in the next decade, and how would you suggest they prepare for it?”                                                  [Provided by Matt Homann, LexThink]

  • Deciding on focus and priorities in a fast changing world with so many options and opportunities available for a good lawyer, particularly a creative innovative one – new practice areas to develop or industry sectors to service and specialties to develop around those.
  • Reconciling “being a lawyer”, and all that this has traditionally meant in the past, and at the same time embracing and understanding and putting into practice many traditional business and quasi-business skills, for example building business and brand; the characteristics of high performing entities; how to build and run high performing teams; technology; social media and related communication channels; sharing information; people management given that your staff, existing and potential, through easy research means probably know more about you than you do; clients being more equal and sometimes calling the shots, and so on.