It Takes a Village


Originally recorded on the Pricing Matters Podcast by Digitory Legal. Digitory Legal is now part of BigHand. Learn more here.

Aurelia Spivey, Marketing Consultant with BigHand, chats with Jenny Brown, Senior Manager of Strategic Pricing at Husch Blackwell LLP. Jenny has over 20 years of experience in law firm accounting, including Strategic Pricing, Partner Compensation, and Financial Reporting and Analysis. While currently managing Strategic Pricing efforts, Jenny and her team also partner with Legal Project Management to develop optimal client service plans.

Jenny leads the annual rate-setting process, participates in developing creative pricing arrangements for clients, and is a consistent participant in client pitches and RFP responses. Prior to her current role, Jenny served as Controller at Welsh & Katz, Ltd. in Chicago.

Top three takeaways from this episode

  • Internal marketing increases lawyer engagement: Continued education and communication of success stories to your lawyers are central to your internal marketing efforts. 
  • The evolving role of legal project management. Matter management is a key differentiator in keeping budgets on track and communicating changes with the client.
  • Collaboration is key. Professionals in pricing, proposals, and business development are working together with lawyers to scope and create deliver value pricing for clients.  
But relationships, the trust that is required for the attorneys to be comfortable, moving away from things they're not used to.

Podcast Transcript:

Jenny Brown
You know, it's just been very rewarding. There are a lot of different ways you can find that you're adding value, whether it's internal, or external, there are just so many opportunities. It's been a really great journey.

Aurelia Spivey
Welcome to Pricing Matters, a podcast by Digitory Legal. Digitory is a data analytics and cost management platform and service, bringing data-driven pricing and cost prediction to law. My name is Aurelia Spivey, and I will be your host as we speak to leaders who are making an impact in legal pricing, discuss market trends, and find out from them why pricing matters.

Welcome to the Pricing Matters podcast. Our guest this morning is Jenny Brown. Jenny is the senior manager of strategic pricing at Husch Blackwell. Welcome, Jenny. 

Jenny Brown
Good morning. Thanks for having me. 

Aurelia Spivey
You know what, I always found it really helpful to start at the beginning. For our listeners, we love to hear a little bit more about your background and what was your journey into legal pricing. 

Jenny Brown
Well, I've spent all of, about, pretty much all of my professional career, aside from two years, has been in the legal industry, in various accounting roles spanning, different accounting functions. So I started out at a large firm here in Chicago and after a couple of years, moved into more of a boutique firm. Worked there for about 10 years, and that firm then morphed into another larger firm, which is where I am here at Husch Blackwell. Not having worked through those various roles in accounting really helps shape where I am today and how I'm able to contribute to my team and the firm. The most recent position I had prior to my role in pricing was managing partner compensation. So that gave me a little bit of an inside of really how partners are looking at pricing, at a very basic level and how it works for them, and the behaviors that they tend to have when going into pricing. 

So, as to how my current position came about. I've been in it for about five years. The firm was experiencing some turnover in the accounting department at the time, and it really created an opportunity to make the pricing function more formal. When I chose to go into accounting as a profession, I liked the work because there was really always the right answer, right? Things balanced or they didn't balance. And you had a pretty clear path of how to get there, in most cases anyway, it was a path from A to B, and as I moved into pricing, it felt like all of that went right out the window. You know where you need to be, and you know where you want to be, but that path is not always clear. It's an exciting shift, but certainly, a shift in the skills that I had and really had to tap into. And it continues to evolve as the years go on. 

Aurelia Spivey
Thanks for sharing that and we're gonna talk a little bit later about, about the skills. So I think we'll come back to that and I'd love to hear a little bit more about it. But right now I wanted to talk a little bit about the elevated role of pricing. So I'd love to know from you how have you seen in the past five years the pricing function makes a real impact on the business of law. 

Jenny Brown
Again, it's been a pretty exciting evolution, really. It's changed how our attorneys interact and serve their clients. We've certainly started working with more components of the law firm where we're heavily involved with business development. And we work in collaboration with them when we're developing pricing scenarios and responses to RFPs or just flat-out pitches. It's not always about negotiating rates or that time of year when billing rates go up and we need to talk to clients about that. It's really coming together and as our clients get more sophisticated and are looking for a more specific value, it's how, I mean, the pricing function is really taking a lead there and helping develop those relationships and the perception of value. 

Aurelia Spivey
I'd love to tap in a little bit more in terms of, you talked about the RFPs and we know that vague RFPs can still be an issue. How, how do you work together as a team to deal with when you receive those fake RFPs? 

Jenny Brown
Well, I think you really need to take advantage. I think most RFPs do have that period of where they'll accept questions from the firms that they have sent the RFPs out to, and really taking advantage of that, having somebody really evaluate the RFP and find out what those questions are, and just throw 'em out there. There's nothing lost in putting those questions out there, but for those that you aren't able to really get a good sense of, there's almost always a place for you to put in the assumptions. And I think that's super critical in the responses you develop. Anytime you can clearly define what is going into your price point or the assumptions that are being made, you need to identify that and that really helps clarify. And again, if it speaks to the client, if it's something they hadn't been thinking of or if there's something that they want further clarification on, then nine out ten times they reach back out to get that clarification. But it does open the door and I think it puts an initial point out there that we're thinking about this From a lot of different angles, but as much as you can to put those assumptions in there. 

Aurelia Spivey
Oh, you know, talking about assumptions makes me think of the scoping and how important that is. Whether you are responding to an RFP or any other form of pricing that you're doing. How do you involve your lawyers in that scoping process? Because we know everyone's really busy. 

Jenny Brown
Scoping, of course, is an extremely important part of all of this and sometimes it really does take a village and you really need to be persistent when reaching out to the attorneys and really working through those scenarios. Where we can, we develop templates for matter types, typical matter types, that are really helpful in getting the conversation going. Our team really has a library of resources that captures matter plans we've done in the past, proposal responses that went into the pricing that we've proposed in various areas that the template and prior batter history should be looked at as a foundation for developing future plans. And as much as we can, we go through that process of brainstorming and determining all the what-ifs to make sure we've covered everything on a particular matter. It can be painstaking. I do find really that it just takes a couple of times working with an attorney to really get the importance of that across to them and sometimes it's reviewing a path matter that they've referenced and say, well, you know, did this happen or did this other situation pop up there? Those are the things we really need to consider. And it starts sinking in that there's always a lesson learned from a matter. They just have to be willing and dive in and capitalize on the lessons learned. 

Aurelia Spivey
I'm wondering if you have an example of a success story. So where you've had someone who was maybe skeptical or coming slow to counter scoping. How have you been able to demonstrate the success of scoping?

Jenny Brown 
Interestingly, I had a recent situation where, and I think this probably speaks to some of the challenges as well, that we have. We had a proposal come through for patent litigation and the team that would be involved in the response or covered in our response was all at trial and unable to respond. Some of the responses I would get to specific questions were yes or no, and these were questions that I needed some more details from. So it required kind of branching out to some additional attorneys and when they saw the level of detail that we needed on the scope, they were pretty resistant. And the first response is, we've done a matter like this before. We've done several matters like this before. Go look at this and go look at this. So, you have to pick up the phone at some point and explain, look we do have a good chance of doing a really good response to this, but I want you to look at the detail that we need, right?

This particular engagement required 17 scoping items required by the client and literally, it was dropping a number in a box. There was little room for any extra, including assumptions, like they told us what the assumptions were. So to get to a team estimated hours that would go into those specific tasks. Painful, but once you get that in front of them and they can understand why we need that information, I think the benefit was twofold. So we were able to work through it and it did take time. But going forward, that plants with seed in an attorney's mind, who maybe is super resistant to using task codes in their matters, and then going forward it just leaves an impression on, if we wanna be able to accurately price and be able to get through this process a little smoother, there are some things that we can do internally that are really gonna help the data. Data collection is difficult in this world and getting them to understand why it's important because we do talk about it all the time. The data that you're putting in has to be helpful in some way to get it out, in order to help you price better. So the success, we're still waiting to hear on the response of that it did come together. It came together very well. It took a village and I'm hoping that it will translate to some behaviors that would be helpful leading into pricing in future engagements. 

Aurelia Spivey
That's very interesting and you know what I'm hearing there about the data piece is something that obviously we deal with a lot of Digitory. we know that there is a lot of data in law firms, but it is difficult to get a handle on. So I'd love to hear a little bit more around your challenges with data and how you're overcoming them. 

Jenny Brown
Yeah, that's really difficult. We have, these great tools to help us out with leveraging and staffing, where the costs associated with the timekeepers, that's available and that's super helpful. But when it comes to the historical matter data, we are always trying to brainstorm on how we tap into that. Certain matters are of course litigation, it's difficult. Sometimes they require the task code, sometimes they don't. We try to point this out a lot of times when we're getting in front of them, that it would make things so much easier as they get more comfortable with pricing, and getting more creative and seeing the value in that, and how it benefits us and the clients. We're hoping to change those behaviors to where they'll be more receptive to using task codes, whether we make up some just internally that are helpful for our pricing functions or if it's something more formal, ABA codes, et cetera.

It's a constant push and for those matters that are older. It's Difficult short of going in and looking at time entries, it's really difficult to really dive in there and there's frustration from the attorney's side because they know they've done matters like this before and why can't you just look at the total fee structure on that and how it was leveraged and give me a good estimate. The fact is you still have to go in and see how that all came about and what was involved in that matter and what could be different this time around. Because they're not all gonna be the same.

Aurelia Spivey
Exactly and they're not the same. They have patterns as we like to say here, and it's being able to understand those patterns in your historical data, which you know, is a challenge that many firms are facing. I think you've covered nicely, some of the getting your lawyers engaged. I would like to hear a little bit more from you on some tactics that your team uses to get the lawyers engaged with your pricing team.

Jenny Brown
So I'm fortunate to work for a firm where we really have full support from leadership and the message of the importance of pricing and legal project management is delivered regularly from them, and that's really helpful. Of course, there's still resistance, right? Change is hard for people and it's really changing the behavior. So when the expectations are set from leadership, that's a huge step forward. It creates a really good foundation, but it still takes a lot of time for us to kind of get in and gets in front of them. So what we find works is we do a lot of education and training really, and we've put a lot of effort into that. And whether it's a workshop live we've done that before where we've taken a couple of hours out of the day and you can give CLE credit, which helps get that attendance in there. Sometimes it's a webinar and we can just take out pieces of pricing fundamentals, legal project management fundamentals, and something they can watch from their desk in an hour over lunch or something like that.

But sometimes it feels like an internal marketing campaign. Really, I've, I know for as long as I've been here at this particular firm in this pricing role for the past five, I will still come across attorneys that had no idea the resources that are available to them concerning pricing. You know how to talk to clients, we can help with that, or how to negotiate rates, we can help with that. How to manage your matters. you really do need to market what you can do and the more you can get in front of them and little bits and pieces through the webinars we do newsletters, success stories are a great way to do it because when they see somebody else doing it, they wanna do it too. So it goes a long way. The more you can get in front of it, the more you develop the relationships, because you're gonna need to get that buy-in from them as well. Leadership can say it all they want, but you need to develop that as well. That's, again, another skill set that I talked about earlier, but you establish that trust, they start seeing results, whether within their own matters or they see it happening somewhere else. Again, just a variety of platforms to get in front of them and get them more comfortable and start changing their behaviors. Getting in front of the younger attorneys as well as they're coming up and not waiting until they've got a Significant book of business to make that impression is pretty key too.

Aurelia Spivey 
Building those relationships and letting people know, and building trust is so important. You mentioned some of the tools and particularly the tools about managing matters that are available to your lawyers. So I wanted to switch gears and talk a little bit about that intersection of pricing and legal project management and how that works at your firm. Some of the wins and tips that you might give to listeners in establishing those practices.

Jenny Brown
So I think initially the function was around pricing and how we staff and get that price point on matters, and utilizing that software that brings in the cost associated with timekeepers. As we went through and evolved and we were saying these things work where we're developing alerts, right? When a matter is a new matter, is that up in the system with a budget or a fixed fee? We started tagging those to notify the pricing team, there's a new matter, let's start monitoring it. And I think initially it was pricing that was monitoring it, but then we started pushing those out to the responsible attorneys that were tied to that matter. And the frequency of those matters will vary. Some really like to see it day by day. Some aren't looking at it every day, so you switch it to weekly. Some just need to see it monthly. It'll depend on the matter type of course. And that became pretty popular, people started talking about that and, Hey, look this doesn't, it even led to if they didn't have a matter that necessarily was tied to a budget or a six fee, they wanted to see what was happening. They wanted to see the time that was going in and if it was where they expected it to be. So we're seeing these behaviors change there and evolving more into legal project management capacity where they're identifying when it's approaching a budget and maybe need to reach out to a client. When it's past the budget and they haven't reached out to a client we eyeball as best we can. And again, the volume of course is enormous now for the number of alerts that are going out or the matters that we're tracking. So there's some balance between the attorney's responsibility and the pricing and the LPM team's responsibility. But how we, it's constantly evolving on how we intersect and how we work together to keep those visible.

Again I want to stress the importance of communicating any slippage to a client. We don't want clients to be surprised at the end of a matter when they get an invoice and they had no idea that we were over budget. We really bring that one home and more and more communication is coming out as the clients are getting more vocal and more sophisticated and more demanding on what they wanna see from their outside counsel. We educate, we train, and we develop new tools and new metrics. It's just constantly keeping it in front of them and giving them the tools they need to help manage those matters.

Aurelia Spivey
I'd love to dig in a little bit about those conversations because we know that lawyers can be hesitant to have those conversations with their clients, and we agree. One of our mottos here as well is, no surprises. So having those conversations in real-time rather than three months later as you alluded to. How do you coach them to have that conversation early?

Jenny Brown
In my experience, it's been, the conversation starts with me through those alerts and through the things that we're monitoring and hopefully catching it before it gets too outta hand. But certainly, we develop reports and help them construct emails to make that initial conversation, but we always do encourage a phone call. It comes down to taking a look at the scope of the matter and identifying, what went wrong. I think there's a, I've seen a tendency to, well, we'll just eat that, we messed up, we ate that, whatever, I don't want the client to pay extra. However, there's that point where Understand you don't wanna give your work away for free, is there something that happened in the scope that wasn't talked about with the client in the first place? Was this something nobody saw coming or was it a matter of you just didn't manage it well and there was some work that really didn't need to be done? So having the conversation of what actually went wrong or just where things slip is enough to really give them the direction they need to call the client. 

Aurelia Spivey
I love the way you tie that back to scoping because you can't have that conversation if you haven't scoped well. So there's a virtuous circle in this process. I wanted to switch gears a little and talk about alternative fees. We could not have a podcast about pricing without talking about alternative fees in some way, shape, or form. So I'd love to hear from you about what trends you are seeing in alternative fees at the moment. 

Jenny Brown
So in my experience, I'm seeing a lot more in labor and employment. Being able to bundle services there and getting some pretty creative arrangements pulled together to include some value ads that are really striking a chord with clients. I think as certain practice groups become more robust and the teams become strong and cohesive within the law firm, they really get the ability to dial into specific tasks and really give some good direction and some innovation when it comes to pricing. When they're going out to pitch work they've got some really good ideas. Again, it just comes from having those strong teams working together, and talking together. Having the resources at the firm they bounce ideas off us all the time, like, did this make any sense? And we show 'em how it could work. I think the same, I'm seeing similar in IP with some of the patent litigation that's coming through. It's more difficult but certainly, again, coming from a really solid team and some ideas that they have there that they can really dial into with the client. Last, I think, higher education is another one, that we've really picked up on. And again I am repeating myself here, but it's speaking to the team and the expertise and really getting, we're focusing on industry-specific information and the things that they can do for their clients. So having them bring in the foundations that we are that we're putting out there for pricing and legal project management, it's really opening doors to them and helping them be more creative and keeping their eyes open and their ears open for what clients are asking for, and they're bringing it back here for us to help develop.

Aurelia Spivey
We know that most pricing teams are pretty small, according to the peer monitor survey, the average size is sort of two to three people. So I'd love to hear from you some advice for prioritizing with small teams. How do you do it? 

Jenny Brown
Sure, yeah. It is surprising to me that they're still relatively small Considering the demand for these services, but I can't emphasize enough the education and training that I've talked about and getting in front of the attorneys, I think that has to be a priority. Getting them familiar with the resources available to them and getting them comfortable with talking about pricing, whether it is billing rates there's a lot of need for price confidence there. We find getting them comfortable with the rates and not apologizing for their rates because a lot of work goes into developing those rates and that's just at a very basic level. But as I mentioned, being in the position as long as I have been so far, I still engage with someone that had no idea what we could do and what's available to them. I think developing a plan to tackle the bigger objective you have to break it up. When I talked about new matters being set up and having those and automatically have an alert to go to the attorney so that they automatically have some visibility as time is entered on those matters and get a sense of what's going on. Just keeping that in front of them, I think that's a really good art as well. But again, just staying visible. We do work with business development, they'll bring us in if clients are, if an attorney is coming up for a client pitch, whether it's involving pricing or not, they loop us in so that we can possibly throw out some ideas to have in their back pocket if it's not anything that we need to present formally. So just visibility is so key. 

Aurelia Spivey
When we talked at the beginning, you talked about honing or you are bringing new strengths to the role from when you moved from the more finance side to the pricing side. So I'd love to know from you, what do you think are the most important skills for this role? 

Jenny Brown
Well, I think aside from the financial analysis aspect of it, certainly having a legal background is helpful. I think that either a business or a legal background is helpful. Just understanding how law firms operate, and how attorneys operate is super helpful. But again, the relationship-building skill set is significant in this role. Creativity is another one. Just being comfortable with the uncomfortable as they, as people like to say. There's no, there's rarely a right answer right there. Just be comfortable throwing out ideas Because you never know what's gonna stick and really get some pretty fun responses sometimes, and you can develop some really interesting engagements by just not being afraid to put it out there. But relationships, the trust that is required for the attorneys to be comfortable, moving away from things they're not used to. For those that have been in practice for a long time, this is sometimes pretty foreign and scary and it'll never work. That's sometimes mindset, but just being able to kinda get in there and gain that trust and show them how it can work is really valuable. 

Aurelia Spivey
And tell me a little bit about some of the challenges that pricing professionals face and how you and your team are overcoming them.

Jenny Brown
Sure and I think the biggest thing is just changing behaviors. Again, the leadership buy-in is great and the message that they continue to push down to the firm is fantastic and it's a great start. There's a constant presence required to get in front of those attorneys and it takes a long time. Change is really hard for most people. Change is very hard for attorneys, I find, and that's not being sarcastic. It's just, this is a big shift, moving into creative pricing and all of the components that come into it. It's just really a different way of looking at things and really understanding how it drives positive results for your firm and for your clients, and developing those client relationships further is just tremendous.

Aurelia Spivey
I'd love to talk a little bit about collaboration. Because when I've been hearing you speak, talking about working with the business development team, and the project management team, I'd just love to know a bit about how collaboration has evolved in terms of pricing and the business of law really at Husch Blackwell in the past few years.

Jenny Brown
Sure. Our pricing and LPM team are hand in hand. Each of us are able to speak to those components of it, and really, one doesn't stop and the other picks up, right? So I can start somebody off with pricing and I lead them through the whole legal project management process and anyone on our team can do that, and we encourage that. It's helping us build those relationships. So we also have a proposal team that fields all of the RFPs that come in here, and they have a really great system where those come in and they will link up with somebody in pricing, LPM, they'll link up with business development, they'll link up with the attorneys. From the very start they've got the team, that core team involved and some may need to drop out at some point because it's not relevant, but everybody's there initially. It just helps get things in line and everybody on the same page. Business development reaches out to us as well in terms of, they tend to get more requests directly from attorneys, I need to talk to a client tomorrow. We're talking to a client next week about a pitch. They've got this type of business. They loop us in. What do we need to know about this? What are the questions we need to ask? It's been an interesting, certainly more involved, I'd say, even from a year or two ago. The pricing and LPM function and how we are brought into, again, coach or give some insight, RFPs, pitches, any of that. 

Aurelia Spivey
I think this rounds very nicely into my final question, which is, Jenny, tell me why does pricing matter to you. 

Jenny Brown
When I moved into pricing. I just found that there are so many opportunities. You are working for the firm, right? You're driving profitability ideally, pricing has a huge lever on that. Your internal clients, your attorneys, your business development folks, the value you bring to them in your experiences, your responses, and the things you've learned through your pricing functions. External clients, this is becoming bigger and bigger. We're seeing how much clients value relationships and the value of services that they're getting from their firms. And how do we make that work and how do we make it a stronger relationship and build on efficiencies to deliver the best product we can. 

It's just been very rewarding. There are a lot of different ways you can find that you're adding value, whether it's internal, or external, so many opportunities. It's been a really great journey. 

Aurelia Spivey
Thank you so much, Jenny. This has been a really lovely conversation. I think our listeners are gonna learn a lot and thank you for joining us.

Jenny Brown
Thank you. It's been a pleasure. 

Aurelia Spivey
Thank you for listening to Pricing Matters, a podcast Digitory Legal. To find out more about our guests please visit our podcast page. If you have any feedback or guests that you think we should feature, please reach out to me. Thank you for listening, see you next time.

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