To summarize some of the positive alternatives that the Big 4 accounting firms offer U.S. business owners and executives in legal services, I’ve chosen the writings of a trusted guide — Lucy Endel Bassli.
In these writings she’s described how the Big 4 accounting firms offer choices to businesses in the U.S. that might well be more efficient — and for some jobs more highly skilled — than what traditional law firms and traditional in-house departments have to offer.
When I first heard Ms. Bassli speak on these subjects at academic and legal conferences she was Assistant General Counsel of Microsoft — a business where she practiced in-house for 13 years.
Microsoft is — well — it’s Microsoft. And Ms. Bassli until January of this year was a senior leader of its legal department.
And in addition to being an iconic company, its legal department is a leader in innovation. For instance, a year ago Microsoft’s legal department announced that it was moving 90 percent of its outside counsel work away from hourly fees — toward alternative fee arrangements. This would be up from 55 to 60 percent at the time of the August 2017 announcement.
This at a time when — despite hype about alternative fee arrangements — the vast majority of law firms still bill by the hour.
Earlier this year Lucy Endel Bassli left Microsoft to found InnoLegal Services, PLLC, with the following outlook:
“I am a licensed attorney on a mission to inspire change in the legal industry.
“The legal industry is behind, and I am here to help law firms and law departments think of new ways to deliver and receive legal services. From alternative resource models to automation of legal tasks, I’ve done it… and have been successful at it. I transformed my work from a traditional transactional legal practice to an industry-leading contracting operation. Combining the latest technology with smart risk-based approach to contract review, I was able to bring data and objective measures to the practice of law as an experienced in-house attorney in Microsoft, impacting how the whole enterprise receives legal services.”
So when Thomson Reuters commissioned Ms. Bassli last June to describe the status and roles of the various participants who collectively make up the legal industry in a series of 6 articles — I paid attention:
“It should come as no surprise that many practicing lawyers are unaware of the seismic changes happening across the legal industry all around them. It’s no surprise because they are so focused on the beloved and simultaneously loathed billable hour, making it difficult for them to look up and see what is happening outside their building, or even their floor ….
“The legal industry seems to be in crisis mode lately. On one hand, the big firms are doing financially well, but their clients are reporting in numerous surveys that they are dissatisfied with the services. The sentiment in large in-house legal departments is that their law firms are not doing enough to be creative with their fees or adding value, yet the revenues at the big firms continue to rise.
“The number of players providing legal services in alternative ways is rising, and it’s testing how far these companies can go without ‘practicing law’. Clients are buying these services in increasing volume and using those relationships to learn how services can be delivered in optimal ways.”
In Parts 3 and 4 of this analysis I review Lucy Endel Bassli’s 10 observations about services and skill sets that the Big 4 accounting firms have and — she believes — that U.S. businesses can benefit from.