Internal Client Management

Harvard: Mastering the in-house legal services continuum.

2 min • 15 Nov 23


In 2010 I was sent by my then-current law firm to a week-long Harvard Business School Executive Education program for law firm partners. The course was only a week long but boy did it pack a punch!  I often think what would happen if you spent a full year there engaged in HBS’s mental gymnastics!

Amongst the countless pearls of wisdom that HBS shared was their notion of the “legal services continuum” and its application to the pricing of law firm services. Yes – my firm had sent me there to get better at making money!

HBS advocated that in law - what typically starts off as being “complex” on the right-hand side of the legal services continuum will, in the ordinary course, move to the left of the continuum and become merely “simplistic”. And as such, the approach to pricing needed to change.

Their theory posited that clients are more willing to pay expensive hourly rates for work that sits on the righter most end of the spectrum (e.g. interpretation of new laws and “bet the farm” litigation/advisory). However, as the services offered moved to the left of the spectrum (e.g trademark filings, employment contracts etc.), clients would demand lower rates and more flexible fee arrangements.

HBS was unquestionably correct. Their model pointed to the different “levers of profitability” amongst partners operating on the same platform. Litigators (on the right) profited through high hourly rates and conveyancing/trademark filing type practitioners (on the left) profited through high volume at lower rates. So – a one-size-fits-all approach to managing and remunerating different places on the spectrum was not an easy task.

The model actually explained the management challenges (read levels of hostility and resentment) that can easily exist within partners operating at different points of the legal service continuum. Their approach to the same client can frequently be incongruent. But that’s for another day.

At GLS we believe that the application of the HBS model is not just limited to law firms – it also holds true for the in-house community and has great application for department planning and individual-level career planning. The fact that what is complex today is quite likely to become simplistic and procedural in nature tomorrow, has implications.

If the in-house community wants to be valued by the Business, then it too must be aware of its own legal services continuum. It must respond to what the Business values (i.e. the right) and become increasingly active in those areas. And, to achieve that – it must get far more efficient in dealing with work types that are on the left of the spectrum. It must perpetually strive to free up “strategic” capacity.

Put simply – the in-house legal team needs to stay on the “right” by mastering the “left’. If you want to add value through your advisory genius – then you need to clear your desk of “left-spectrum” work types through transformation efforts that leverage process (e.g. through process optimisation, automation, standardization, legal tech, etc).

So, our challenge for you is to really understand what the legal services continuum looks like inside your organisation. If you are to succeed then you need to be present on “the right” of that spectrum by remaining on top of and demonstrating mastery of what lies on “the left”.

Peak performance is not just about being good at the stuff on the “right” …. its foundations actually lie in being able to do the simple stuff well and as efficiently as possible (i.e. – mastery of the left). 



Please check out the GLS solutions on the right of this page – they might assist your legal team with the issues explored in this Blog. 

Of course, if you would like to book a 30-minute free consult with GLS to discuss your transformation needs – please book here.

In the interim, here are 7 resources and tools that may assist you as you transform the performance capabilities of your legal team:

1. GLS's Ultimate Guide to Legal Operations: download this here, and read it thoroughly and regularly. It is a wonderful transformation companion.

2. GLS Transformation Boot Camp: sign up for our hugely successful 10-week email-based boot camp on how to effectively transform your legal team - sign up here.

3. GLS Legal Ops Opinions: click on GLS Opinions and access lots of informative and instructive white papers, blogs and training resources etc., - all of which focus on how to help you improve your legal team's performance.

4. GLS Legal Operations Community: join the GLS Legal Operations Community and collaborate with other in-house leaders as they seek to tackle many of the same performance issues that you face, click here to join now.

5. Visit GLS Connect: visit the GLS Connect page and select the information you would like to receive from the GLS Legal Operations Community.

6. GLS Legal Team Transformation Plans: mitigate the risks of transformation failure by taking a transformation support plan from GLS - learn more here.

7. Register: GLS Legal Operations Centre: register here to access the GLS Legal Operations Centre for free and to enjoy more than US$20,000 worth of legal team performance resources for free.

© The GLS Group - Law Rewritten

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