Selling On Price (+ Quality) – What the UnitedLex, Polsinelli Deal Means

What would you prefer? Product A that costs $100, or product B that is of exactly the same quality, but costs $120?

Naturally, you’d choose A, because if you can get the same quality or better at a lower price then you’d do it. In fact, if you were spending money on behalf of a corporation, one could argue you have a moral obligation to the company’s shareholders to make such a decision. And this is why the Am Law 100 firm Polsinelli partnership deal with ALSP UnitedLex is important.

So, what have they done?

They have launched a new Litigation Solution Center called PolsinelliPLUS in partnership with UnitedLex, which ‘will expand upon the firm’s current litigation support offerings’. Now, law firms have been working with external providers in the area of litigation support and e-discovery for a long time. But, this is not the most interesting part.

The relevant bit is this: ‘Polsinelli’s work will be enhanced by UnitedLex’s industry-leading approach to controlling total litigation spend. Powered by Questio, UnitedLex’s proprietary early case assessment tool, Polsinelli and its clients gain an immediate advantage by increasing speed to intelligence and reducing the number of documents that attorneys must review by 90 percent,’ they state.

And let’s just unpick that a little.

In their marketing pitch as to why this is something the clients should pay attention to is that working with the ALSP UnitedLex, and making use of its homemade software Questio, clients will be able ‘to control…..spend’.

And that’s just a polite way of saying reduce the costs you might otherwise have to incur. Or, to be explicit here, they are offering the chance to pay a lower price for the same work project that other firms would do for you. Same thing, less money. I.e. Competition on price.

How is this achieved? Artificial Lawyer dug up an explainer that UnitedLex put out in 2013. It said:

‘Questio empowers in-house legal teams and law firms to identify and eliminate non-responsive data at a far earlier stage in the eDiscovery process, which results in material cost reduction – more than $2 of downstream cost per document eliminated and six to seven-figure cost savings for a typical data collection of 1TB. Questio allows legal teams to focus solely on responsive data relevant to the current case.’

In short, Polsinelli is selling to the market on lower prices and quality. And the funny thing is, you don’t often hear major law firms shouting about how they can do things cheaper than their peers.

Is Selling On Price a Big Deal?

The price of legal services – as we all know – is something of a taboo subject.

The legal sector is happy to talk about sky high associate salaries and bulging partner profits – which is ironic as it seems to be a subject guaranteed to annoy clients. But openly talking about the actual price that the clients have to pay for things and where they can get cost savings? Well…..we don’t talk about that…..cough, cough…..rapid change of subject.

But, actually, let’s talk about the price of legal goods and services.

One reason why law firms don’t like to talk about price is that the more people do that, the more data will seep out into the market. With more data floating around out in the open there will begin to be some element of objectivity. With objectivity comes price and outcome comparison.

And that leads to the thing all professional service firms fear the most: price competition.

Godzilla – standing in as a visual metaphor for price competition. (Photo credit: RT, Tokyo.)

Large commercial law firms are more than happy to fight furiously to prove they have better quality lawyers, have more expertise, can work faster, can work harder, are more diligent, more fanatical about serving you, plus are more caring about pro bono, more innovative, more diverse, and now commercial lawyers are even starting to talk about empathy….(whatever next…?)

….but lower prices? Nope.

‘Use us, we are just as good as those other lawyers, but we cost less,’ is not a tagline on most law firms’ websites.

Partners at large firms don’t end their mini-sales pitches during a networking event with the words: ‘And remember, we’re not only a great firm, doing great work, we’re cheaper than the other ones!’

But why not?

When did explicitly offering good quality at competitive prices become a taboo subject? In the rest of the economy it would seem to be a winning formula.

The reason relates to something that is often quite unconscious, but also that is always implied in professional services, which is the cliché that high prices must equate to high quality. Therefore, conversely, lower prices must equate to low quality, goes the dualistic logic.

Yet if that was so, why do law firms have associates, or paralegals? Or a tiered partnership for that matter? Or why do they use ALSPs, LPOs, law companies, and lawyers on demand services? Why do they refer work out to regional firms? Why do inhouse legal teams hire so many young lawyers to help handle the company’s needs, rather than go to external counsel?

Of course, the answer is: the cost. And they presumably don’t believe that all the above is lower quality because it costs less. It’s different human resource approaches to getting the client what the client wants – legal products and services at a price they think is reasonable.

It’s just that the legal world, as noted above, feels nervous about explicitly talking about this subject – even though it’s right in front of everyone.

Times Are Changing

Thankfully, times are changing. As seen with the Polsinelli deal, they are not saying: ‘Come to us, we are cheap as chips and don’t care how we do stuff.’ They’re simply saying: ‘We do great work, but with UnitedLex we can save you money.’

This is the direction of travel now. The legal sector’s fear of explicit price competition for equal quality output will erode.

As more technology comes into play which can automate process work, or simply better support the work of the right division of human legal labour to complete specific tasks, then talking more openly about price competition will happen as well.

This does not have to mean less profits for a law firm. Law firms can structure themselves in such a way as to cut prices for clients and make more Profits Per Equity Partner. Every other part of the economy manages to deal with price competition for equal quality services and products, lawyers can do it too.

Let’s give the last word to Polsinelli Chairman and CEO, Chase Simmons:

‘Polsinelli understands the physical and economic burden that clients experience with eDiscovery and legal data management. We are committed to continuous innovation that reduces cost and drives value for the companies we serve. This new solutions center will provide the highest level of customer service across the eDiscovery spectrum.

‘We’re excited about this partnership and the new opportunities that AI integration into our delivery models will provide for client service and case management.’