Womble Bond Dickinson is a transatlantic law firm, employing approximately 1,000 lawyers located across 27 offices in the UK and the US. Formed in 2017 following a series of mergers and strategic alliances, the firm prides itself in delivering intelligent, grounded and pragmatic advice to its clients.
This ethos is reflected in the firm’s approach to pricing and commercial development with the recent integration of BigHand Matter Pricing, a PMS-integrated matter budgeting, pricing and tracking tool.
From ensuring that its client matters are structured and modelled with accuracy and transparency at the ‘opportunity’ phase; to managing changes in scope with clarity; and providing insight that facilitates an in-depth understanding of client needs, BigHand is helping to create a firm-wide culture of support. This philosophy ensures that Womble Bond Dickinson’s clients get the best value - at a time when tackling the challenges of today while rebuilding for the future matters most.
Client expectations of professional services providers continue to change. With unprecedented levels of competition, traditional profit models have come under huge pressure in recent years, a situation that has been exacerbated by the global pandemic of 2020/21.
There is no doubt that law firms have embraced an increasingly commercial business model, but this remains an industry in transition. Ensuring that the right people have access to key financial data is now imperative – not just to influence profitability and reinforce corporate goals, but to provide client transparency and quality of service.
As Chris Oddy, Head of Pricing & Commercial Development, Womble Bond Dickinson, explains: “Everyone looks for value for money, but never more so than during a recession or exceptional circumstances such as those we have experienced recently. As a firm, we have a responsibility to both our clients and our staff to make sure that things are as efficient and transparent as possible.”
Chris joined Womble Bond Dickinson to take on the pricing role in 2019. At that time, the firm had a strong modelling capability, although it was largely manual and demanded a lot of administrative resource. Having a tool that could add automation to the process was considered a significant step towards a best practice approach that would provide firm-wide visibility of matter value – for fee earners, partners and clients alike.
Womble Bond Dickinson selected BigHand’s Matter Pricing tool as the most intuitive and easy-to-use; for its ease of integration with the firm’s other IT systems; and for the strong cultural fit with BigHand.
“BigHand demonstrated a strong collaborative and partnership approach that very much appealed to us,” Chris says. “We knew this would be a tool we would learn a lot from and want to develop; BigHand shared our broader thinking.”
Out of Adversity…
Womble Bond Dickinson started the roll-out of the Matter Pricing tool in late 2019, to a select group of advocates across the teams it had identified as benefiting most. This included partners sponsors as well as a board member sponsor.
While the pandemic initially side-tracked the further roll-out of BigHand as people adjusted to new, remote ways of working, Chris and his team kept generating templates for new proposals coming in – and soon realised that the tool was a massive enabler for ensuring client matters were being managed well.
Chris explains: “On the one hand, we were receiving a lot of very competitive public sector tenders and used BigHand Matter Pricing - actually in combination with my offline modelling - to give us confidence that the system was generating the right answers and to ensure that our bid was both competitive and provided added business value.
“In addition, though, it helped us to make sure that our teams had visibility of the financial status of any large and ongoing matters. We could provide reassurance to the team that we were prioritising those of most importance to the business and that we were doing so in the most efficient way with the right resources. It actually accelerated the use of the tool.”
Advocating Best Practice
Over a year on, everyone in the firm now has access to BigHand Matter Pricing, with 70% of team members having received training – from the firm’s billing team - to make sure matters are being scoped well with the clients, and that any change in scope is managed through the tool, to provide transparency and clarity.
Moreover, with support teams and junior lawyers also using the tool, Womble Bond Dickinson is saving a significant amount of administrative time; time that can be spent speaking to clients. As Chris says: “It’s about knowing what’s keeping them up at night and actually, informing a debate around small things we might have charged for previously that we don’t need to because of the time we’ve saved elsewhere. It’s really helping us to focus on our clients’ specific needs.
“Our ambition is to have the whole team using the tool all the time for most things, unless it is an extremely bespoke matter.”
Womble Bond Dickinson is also establishing a ‘Commercial Hub’: a virtual team that comprises members from bids; risk; legal project management and pricing & commercial, who will work together to look at the firm’s strategy and its clients’ needs – and establish how it can add further value. As Chris says, “It’s about developing one single team that supports our client teams who then support our clients, so that they get the best from Womble Bond Dickinson.”
Building for the Future
Womble Bond Dickinson now has a number of ‘cradle to grave’ matters that it has managed with BigHand Matter Pricing since February 2020, that have given conclusive evidence of the value of the tool.
“It’s very obvious that the matters we have tracked with BigHand have had better recoveries than those we have not,” Chris says. “We also know that we are making a better margin on some matters that otherwise would not have been economic for us as a business; using the insight from BigHand, we’ve been able to change the delivery model to make these matters viable, while ensuring client satisfaction. Ultimately, BigHand allows us to have better conversations with clients.”
Most recently, Womble Bond Dickinson has purchased BigHand Workflow Management to integrate with Matter Pricing. This task delegation solution allows work to be automatically routed to the right staff at the right cost to the firm, and monitored throughout the process, further ensuring that not only are matters being scoped and managed efficiently from a financial perspective, but also operationally.
Chris concludes: “Ultimately, as a firm we are proud of our client service delivery and we want to be able to give the best value. But we also need to run a business as well; it’s got to be right for us as well as the client, and BigHand provides us with that end-to-end insight.”