In a ‘time is money’ focused legal market, cluttered with tech solutions driving efficiencies, it’s no wonder GC’s are seeking more cost efficient solutions from their legal service providers.

BigLaw continues to ‘over service’, while NewLaw is cutting their grass (not to mention harvesting some of their profits). In Altman Weil’s 2018 Chief Legal Officer (CLO) survey, they highlighted 31% of CLOs had already shifted work to lower priced providers, even though 62% of them had received price reductions from their external counsel.

I’ve often said clients are predominantly after 3 things:

  1. Good quality legal advice;
  2. Cost certainty; and
  3. Their problem solved.

Cost certainty is the Holy Grail when budgeting in-house legal spend, and one day – within my (legal) lifetime – the billable hour will be all but a distant memory. In the meantime, discounting standard rates, merely erodes law firm brand value and turns the legal profession into an ugly commodity service.

I agree standardised repeatable work should be commoditised, however, bet the farm rocket science matters should definitely not. Which reminds me of astronaut John Glenn speaking about his feelings before launching in to space as “exactly how you would feel…sitting on top on 2 million parts – all built by the lowest bidder on a government contract“. No client wants the ‘cheapest’ option when everything is at stake; they want the ‘best’ option.

The best option to solve client challenges should go hand in hand with providing good quality legal advice. However, the solution delivered doesn’t have to mean every option covering all potential scenarios being presented to the client in a neatly tabulated lever arch file.

Clients often don’t need – or want – such comprehensive advice.

As Pierre Naude (CEO, nCino Bank) says nirvana is great, but sometimes ‘nearvana’ is enough. And he’s not the only one:

  • Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”
  • Confucius: “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.”
  • Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.”

Who am I to argue with those guys?

In the legal context, a client solution should be assessed in relation to the complexity, the client’s risk appetite, the budget and time available and importantly – what they’ve asked for.

The last thing we should be doing when time is of the essence is miss a client deadline or lose profitability having written off work because we’ve ‘over engineered’ a solution the client didn’t want. Lawyers with solid client relationships and keen industry insight should be able to deliver ‘Goldilocks’ advice: not too much, not too little, but just right based on the circumstances.

One forward thinking partner said he can provide clients with advice in any sort of time frame: within one minute, one hour, one day, a week, a month, or a year. Of course – like that impulse midnight internet purchase – you get what you pay for. Advice after a minute may be useful for a quick urgent assessment on a pressing question over the phone; the quality of advice will largely be based on the skills and past experience of the lawyer providing it. (Choose wisely).

On the other hand, advice delivered after a month, will clearly be more considered, researched, weighed up and potentially more accurate and consequently more valuable to the client. After a year, more so, if the client is still hanging around waiting for it…

In the changing market we find ourselves, lawyers would be wise to go against their inbuilt perfection instinct striving to deliver nirvana, and instead, deliver nearvana within the timeline, risk and commerciality framework the client provides.

Sometimes legal advice that is ‘good enough’ is, in fact, enough.


Alison Laird is currently the Head of Innovation and Project Delivery Asia Pacific for global law firm Pinsent Masons.

She always wanted to be an astronaut, but somehow ended up in the legal industry without being a lawyer. Fast forward 10 years and she is still in the legal profession enjoying the seismic shift as innovation in law becomes ‘normal’.

She has worked in a range of legal strategy and change management roles in Dubai, London, Brisbane and Melbourne. Before joining Pinsent Masons, she ran a management consultancy company demystifying legal innovation and improving operational efficiency for law firms and in-house corporate counsel.

Now resident in Australia, her role includes regular travel throughout Asia including Shanghai, Beijing, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.