A Chat With Allens Pricing Chief Pier D'Angelo

In this monthly series, legal recruiting expert Amanda K. Brady from Major Lindsey & Africa interviews law firm management from Am Law 200 firms about how they navigate an increasingly competitive business environment. Discussions delve into how these key management roles are changing and introduce the people who aspire to improve and advance the business of law.

Next in this series is a conversation with Pier D'Angelo, chief pricing and practice officer at Allens, an international commercial law firm based in Australia, in alliance with Linklaters LLP. D'Angelo began his career as a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at Allens before transitioning into business development and later, the pricing role. D’Angelo has served in his current role since January 2013.

Q: Explain what you do in your role as chief pricing and practice officer.

A: I've been at Allens in Australia for a long time, and I've been really fortunate to wear many hats over the years. In my current role, I work with our leaders to develop strategy for our practice groups and for the firm overall. This involves thinking about the change that is going on in our market, where we want to be in five years and what we need to do to get there. In addition to leading the pricing function, I work with business managers to help proactively manage the financial health of each practice group. This involves being proactive about identifying ways to improve the business. I also sit on the firm's executive committee, operating committee and our innovation working group.

I have a broad role, but I've found that the blend of strategy and practice economics go very well together. It's fantastically challenging and interesting at the same time. What’s special about Allens is that it gives its people the opportunity to find their full potential, and I have lived that experience firsthand.

Q: What are the key challenges you face in your position?

A: My greatest general challenge is navigating all of the daily demands to ensure that I spend time on the things that have the most impact. Many pricing professionals find themselves sitting with a team of two or three people, perhaps more, in firms with hundreds of partners each making a number of pricing decisions every day. It’s impossible to be a part of all of those decisions. You have to stay focused on where you can add the most impact.

Another key challenge for pricing professionals in the legal industry is maintaining a focus on value. It is easy to be diverted by many voices wanting to talk about alternative fee arrangements and the like, but the core focus has to be about optimizing our value. At the end of the day, clients hire firms to come up with solutions — it is about help firm and client strike a fair price for those solutions.

Finally, a much written about frustration that clients have with law firms generally is around their ability to provide pricing transparency and predictability. A core focus on any pricing team worth their salt has to be around helping lawyers to deliver on this promise.

Q: How does the Australian market compare to the U.S. and U.K. markets?

A: What’s surprising is how similar they are. We're dealing with the same issues: how to communicate value; how to handle alternative fee arrangements; how to address the pressure for discounting and the rise of procurement; and how to provide more value. These are all ubiquitous challenges that reflect our globalized world.

There are some key differences, though, especially due to the scale in the Australian market. I can count on one or two hands the number of clients that have in-house law firms or legal departments with 100 lawyers or more. In the United States, hundreds of corporations tick that box, which means there are important differences in the way they approach the procurement of legal services.

One area of divergence is in the use of analytics. Given the scale of spends in the U.S., there seems to be a much greater focus on analytics. I think that I have more freedom here to focus on a broader range of pricing issues such as understanding the value we bring in the particular matter that we are pricing, who we're competing with, and what are our business objectives. Taken together, all these elements should inform pricing advice.

Q: How do you calculate value?

A: I find it helpful to think about value as what you bring to an organization and to the individuals in that organization. Understanding value is the key to successful pricing. It is also the most subjective element of the pricing equation, as it is driven by client perception.

I believe our modern RFP process makes it more difficult to collaborate and gets in the way of working with clients to create value. The best way to truly innovate with clients is to work alongside them. We need to think much more about the processes that allow us to collaborate rather than processes that were designed for the acquisition of products and transposed into professional services. I don't think anyone's yet designed a good procurement process for professional services that helps us to optimize and fair share value.

Q: If you could bring one innovation or best practice from Australia to the U.S. and the U.K., what would it be?

A: As a relatively young country, we benefit from the different perspectives and experiences of a diverse population. At Allens, there's an appreciation for the expertise and diversity of thinking that each individual brings to the table. When that's embraced, real value is added to the organization. In the absence of that, firms don't get the best out of their people. That's an attribute I would export from Australia.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your work?

A: I enjoy the opportunity to work with really smart and hard-working people who are committed to excellence. Coming into work and collaborating with my peers is a privilege. It makes life interesting and keeps me sharp. That's a core benefit of working at Allens.

I also love that I have a very broad business focus in my role, and it creates many opportunities for learning. It’s fascinating to see how the whole system is interrelated. For example, you can't talk about a go-to-market strategy without talking about the people that you would go to market with and the pricing strategy you’d use. The complexity is enormously challenging, but I find the work very satisfying.

Q: If you weren't doing this, what would you do?

A: I’d probably be a builder. They get to create really tangible things, and I think I’d find that very satisfying.

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