Sue Nash believes solicitors could gain from being forced to focus on costs. This woman knows more about litigation costs and the changing regime than anyone I know (yes even you, Mr Legal Futures Neil Rose, which is saying a lot!)
I caught up with Sue as she was preparing for the LexisNexis Costs & Litigation Funding Forum this week and as always she was rushing around like a whirling dervish, fired up with excitement and brimming with ideas. Well there's so much to do! A new mandatory Costs Budgeting Process for litigation kicks in on 1 April next year following Lord Jackson's Review of Litigation Costs, and solicitors need to make sure their time- and cost-recording systems are compliant by then. At the conference Sue was trailing the launch next February of some nifty software she has developed, Omnia, that will do just this.
"This amount of system change is painful, especially for law firms already challenged by one of the toughest markets for business most of us have ever seen. With this new software I am trying to take a large part of this pain away. But I would encourage lawyers to look beyond the pain: there are positive business benefits to be had from analysing your costs in such detail - never mind that you are being forced to do so."
My ears pricked up at this point, as I've long thought lawyers could get a lot smarter with their pricing and costing. In recent years of course the debate around Billable Hours has been a headline topic. But the issue of so many lawyers being out-of-comfort-zone when it comes to costs has been a constant theme for me, since my very earliest days in legal marketing. I was essentially brought up in law firms, from the tender age of 22. Over my 12 years in-house I accepted as normal a process of marketing planning and income projection that started with the question "How many chargeable hours do we need to bill?", then contemplated "How are we going to sell them and to whom?". It wasn't until I moved to a job outside of law firms, a small PR consultancy in the West End of London, that I witnessed people starting the process by ... wait for it ... looking at the market first, estimating likely income from clients and prospects according to their business opportunities and challenges in their own marketplaces - only then deciding the capacity required to fulfil this demand.
I asked Sue to tell me more: "I'd love to take some firms in hand and talk them through how to understand the central cost-to-revenue ratio that lies at the heart of their business. A lot of firms simply don't look at this properly - don't really have a handle on this at all. For some firms, this new Costs regime may well have a positive impact, focussing minds on this essential dynamic for the first time. Potentially, the net result is a better view of their business than they have ever had before. And in a challenged marketplace, that's got to be a good thing."
Sue has been working as a costs lawyer for some 25 years. She is the founder of Litigation Costs Services and has an unbeatable understanding of the anatomy of litigation, how it is configured and costed - and is often asked to advise on costs and funding issues. A vexed profession can be assured that with Sue onside, adapting to a new costs regime need not be so intimidating.
Now I for one would like to see Sue step outside her usual litigation niche and provide some much needed advice and inspiration on managing costs in other parts of law firm business too. But her feet have barely touched the ground in the last six months, and as she clearly won't be resting until after Spring 2013, as much as we need her I think we're going to have to wait until she has a bit more time on her hands...
If trick or treating - don’t enter houses - stay on the doorstep
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