Category: Legal Consultants

Popular Legal Network staffing firm moves into management consulting

“It’s not my grandfather’s law firm anymore,” a law firm partner recently joked to Karl Schieneman, managing director of Legal Network.

Legal Network had just helped that firm — whose identity it cannot disclose — staff a short-term project and obtain space fully equipped with computers and a high-speed modem, a capacity the firm didn’t have. It did so in a matter of days.

Until recently, Legal Network has primarily been a provider of temporary lawyers, helping law firms manage and staff short-term projects. It’s been a sorely needed service as a sluggish economy has law firms fighting to keep overhead low by keeping permanent employees at a minimum.

But now Legal Network, which was formed in 1995, is branching into a whole new area, launching a consulting practice to help firms manage their own businesses more effectively.

Schieneman believes the time is ripe for such a service as fluctuations in the economy, advances in technology and increased competition for clients have all conspired to force lawyers to think like business people. It’s a role they’re not trained for and one many are uncomfortable taking on.

“Lawyers are not taught business or management principles in law school,” said Jim Jarrell, who was just brought in to head Legal Network’s new consulting practice.

“Lawyers are generally not encouraged to develop business knowledge,” he said. “This lack of exposure has definite consequences. Law firms often miss opportunities to build and maintain their client base by failing to fully understand business processes.”

Formerly general counsel of Columbia Gas Transmission Corp., Jarrell had revamped that company’s legal department, saving it more than 12 percent in legal costs by, among other things, carefully selecting outside law firms, choosing those that operated most efficiently.

Jarrell also streamlined the company’s in-house legal department, involving his legal staff in the company’s business so that lawyers were not seen as impediments to business, but rather as active participants in the shaping and building of the business.

This is the crux of Legal Network’s consulting service: to teach lawyers that they need to understand the intricacies of their clients’ businesses. The consulting practice also will help law firms operate more efficiently, helping them maximize profits and generally operate in a way that will give them a much-needed edge in an increasingly competitive legal marketplace.

“Clients will, given the choice, choose firms that demonstrate an understanding of business,” said Schieneman, 37, a University of Pittsburgh Law School graduate who also holds a master’s degree in industrial relations from Carnegie Mellon University.

As consultants, Legal Network won’t be just foisting a business model on law firms but will be working within a law firm’s corporate culture.

“A distinguishing feature of our consulting division,” Schieneman said, “will be to offer focused and specific advice for regional clients as opposed to leveraging similar solutions to a large number of customers.”

Even when its business primarily was legal staffing, Legal Network enjoyed a first-rate reputation in the Pittsburgh legal community, representing 23 of the city’s top 25 law firms.

“Legal Network has a very innovative approach to the problem of obtaining lawyers for particular projects,” said Fred Egler Jr. , president of the Allegheny County Bar Association, which has endorsed Legal Network as a provider of temporary legal help.

“They understand economics,” he said, “and the difference between throwing large numbers of people at a project as opposed to structuring a project in a way that benefits the client and the lawyers.”

Even before it formally launched its consulting practice, Legal Network had already begun advising law firms on economic matters. Among other things, Legal Network developed software known as StaffRite, a program that enables law firms to measure the economics of using temporary workers vs. hiring additional permanent staff.

“It ties into my CMU geek-side that has been a bit undernourished,” Schieneman jokes.

Legal Network knows how to manage its own business: It’s been ranked No. 204 on the Inc. 500, a list of fast-growing companies compiled by Inc. magazine that ranks firms that are “notable as exemplars of financial fitness in a fitful economy.”

While many companies are laying off personnel or filing for bankruptcy, Legal Network is thriving.

“If we closed our doors today,” Schieneman jokes, “we’d still have had our best year ever.”

Rent-a-lawyer: Upstart grows by helping law firms fill staffing needs

Four hundred rejection letters forced Karl Schieneman to think differently about his law career — and the legal industry overall.

Schieneman, who graduated with honors from the University of Pittsburgh law school in 1992, came away from an exhaustive job search empty-handed.

The ordeal forced him to get creative in order to find a job: He worked first at an accounting firm and then as a contract attorney before he found a permanent job as a lawyer. The experience also made him think twice about how law firms cope with economic downturns: What could they do differently in order to survive tough times and thrive in better times?

A decade later, Schieneman not only remains preoccupied with the question, but he’s also making a living trying to answer it. Six years ago, he co-founded and serves as managing director of Legal Network, a Downtown placement service and temporary employment firm for attorneys that helps law firms and companies fill staffing gaps. More recently, he’s developed a software program that he says will help law firms better run their businesses — and, he hopes, result in more work for his firm.

Promoting contract attorney services is an approach that has proved successful so far for Legal Networks and Schieneman.

Late last year the company, which has four full-time and two part-time staff members and 2,300 lawyers on call, landed a spot on Inc. magazine’s list of the nation’s 500 fastest-growing companies, with four-year revenue growth of 1,500 percent to $3.3 million. It also formed partnerships with both the Allegheny Bar Association and the Philadelphia legal consulting firm Altman Weil — moves that are expected to bring in a lot more business.

But Schieneman isn’t comfortable resting on laurels. He hasn’t forgotten the recession of a decade ago that cowed even the mightiest law firms and left him jobless.

“I had 400 rejection letters coming from law firms up and down the East Coast. That made me realize you can’t protect against market risk.”

That’s a key reason he came up with his firm’s new software, StaffRite. Schieneman said the software should help diversify and buffer his business against tough times, while at the same time helping law firms that may be struggling in this tougher economic environment.

StaffRite helps law firms do a quick analysis of the economics of hiring full-time workers vs. contract attorneys. Industry trends suggest more local law firms — perhaps timid about adding staff during the recession and seeking ways to compete nationally — are using temporary legal services such as Legal Network, said David Blaner, executive director of the Allegheny County Bar Association.

“I’ve seen an increased use of independent contract attorneys in the past three years,” he said. By allowing law firms to add workers as needed — and also let them go when a big project is finished — contract attorneys help law firms adapt to fluctuations in project loads, he said.

“And the independent contract attorney gets a chance to show his or her skills, and in some cases, it has resulted in offers for permanent employment,” said Blaner.

With StaffRite, law firms can compare their workers’ performances, using such measures as the number of workers or hours necessary to complete a project, against what it would take to perform that same task using contract attorneys. The savings for law firms can be in the tens of thousands of dollars, said Schieneman.

Of course, it’s understandable why Schieneman would draw such a conclusion — his firm could benefit enormously from such a finding. But Schieneman insists law firms that use the software benefit, too, because they translate those savings into lower bids that could win business from potential clients.

The program will be offered free to clients in Pittsburgh first, and, eventually, Schieneman hopes to sell it nationwide.

It might seem odd that a legal services firm is moving into peddling software. But Schieneman, who has a master’s in business administration from Carnegie Mellon University, said it’s really not that much of a stretch.

His business studies at CMU focused on operations and efficiency, so, “I’ve been able to take those concepts and apply them to a law firm environment.”

Developed with the aid of neighbor Jim Gephart, an information systems specialist, StaffRite also “ties into my CMU geek side that has been a bit undernourished,” Schieneman said.

Raising the Bar for Legal Staffing: Legal Network sets high standards in a constantly changing industry

A provider of legal staff for particular projects or on a permanent basis, Legal Network, Downtown, is growing by tapping into the changing work environment.

Corporations and law firms look to control costs by using contract employees, rather than in-house counsel, for certain work; and, as in many other professions, some lawyers are looking for more flexibility in their careers instead of tethering themselves to one agency.

Karl Schieneman, one of Legal Network’s three original shareholders, says his company builds its credibility by drafting articles and making presentations applicable to the legal community.

“There is no one like us anywhere as far as I can tell that analyzes legal staffing trends to the degree we do,” Mr. Schieneman said.

Karl Schieneman, one of Legal Network’s three original shareholders, says his company builds its credibility by drafting articles and making presentations applicable to the legal community.

Temping in the workplace is common in many industries and has also seeped into the legal profession now that many firms are controlling costs associated with in-house counsel. As growing number of attorneys opt for alternative work situations, the trend was bound to have a major impact in Pittsburgh, which boasts more attorneys per capita than anywhere in the United States, except for Washington, D.C.

As Legal Network has grown, it has built an impressive client list. Customers who use the firm include PNC Financial Services Group, Inc., Allegheny Energy and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, as well as a number of other large publicly traded and privately held companies. A number of large law firms have also worked with Legal Network. The firm also works with Altman Weil, a prominent legal consulting company based in Washington, D.C.

Since Mr. Schieneman joined Legal Network full time as managing director in 1998, the form has grown dramatically. It tripled in size in 1999, and then doubled again in 2000. Its staff includes four internal employees, three of whom are attorneys. Last year, Legal Network employed several hundred attorneys on projects and found full-time placements for 50 others.

Developing the business means going through resumes and a careful screening process, making sure a lawyer’s license is in good standing and ascertaining whether the attorney has been the subject of any disciplinary actions. Legal Network meets at least three times with an attorney before matching the lawyer with a client. Legal Network sets the pricing parameters and roughly five days after receiving a request, an attorney arrives at the client’s office.

“People are always amazed at how broad our services are,” Mr. Schieneman said.

“We literally work with the entire legal community and have been innovators in both staffing organizations (and) as developing new products, such as in the document management field, for legal organizations to implement.”