Peruvian law firm Muñiz was founded in 1981 and started its activities with 10 lawyers. Thirty five years later Muñiz is the largest Peruvian law firm and one of the fifteen largest in South America, with 47 partners in Lima, nine in the Regions and a total of 260 lawyers. But not only is it Peru’s largest firm, it is also the only one to have an office in Ecuador and decentralized offices around Peru. In addition it is the firm with the highest turnover. The key factor to understanding this success story is that partners have always managed it as a company.
Founding partner Jorge Muñiz is considered a visionary in the management of his firm, always innovating and breaking the model of what a usual law firm is. Since its inception the concept of the firm was closer to that of a company than a traditional law firm with administrative positions such a CEO or CFO granted to professionals other than lawyers. Today the firm has seven different administrative departments the more original for a law firm being, customer service and sales.
THE FIRST MILESTONE
This approach, of thinking the firm as a company, developed a particular empathy coming from entrepreneurs and allows partners to better understand their clients’ business. One of the first milestones during the evolution of Muñiz was the establishment of a retainer fee, an unknown concept in Peruvian legal market in the 90s. The retainer fee changed client behavior because they felt more comfortable with the possibility of anticipating legal expenses, and started to request preventive advice instead of only coming to see their lawyer when the bomb had already exploded or was about to. The business model of a retainer fee firm was one of the reasons for this amazing growth. In the 90s they had only 10 lawyers. Partner Mauricio Olaya says “We decided to break the inertia of legal services billing and many law firms were upset but for us the new model was fairer for our clients and efficient for the firm taking in consideration our budget.”
DIVERSIFYING THE OFFER
Continuing with its strategy of being a partner for their clients and a one stop shop for all their needs, the firm started to diversify its offer proposing different legal products. It was one of the first firms to set up legal newsletters for clients explaining regulation changes in understandable language for an entrepreneur. It also organizes a monthly breakfast for clients in order to touch on labor, tax or any other new law that can affect a client’s businesses or organization. Another informative initiative is Columnas, Muñiz’s legal bilingual magazine which has been in existence for more than twenty years. But its offer’s diversification goes further. There is Muñiz Transfer Pricing, a sister entity devoted to transfer pricing technical studies and advisory, and Semigra, a company providing migration consultancy and handling administrative procedures for expatriated workers. On the accounting side they launched the MLV Group.
INNOVATION, ONE OF ITS PILLARS
“Innovate or die” says partner Mauricio Olaya, the Muñiz law firm follows this motto not only with the creation of the afore-mentioned satellite enterprises but also concerning its internal organization. The firm was the first – and is probably still the only one - with a quality control and customer service department. This area is in charge of staying in contact with clients after each important trial or big deal to know how satisfied they were with the service. Team members also permanently work on ways to improve the relationship with customers. Another organizational novelty is that the Peruvian legal giant has a sales department which might sound strange in a world where intuit personae relations predominate. How could non-lawyers sell legal services? In fact, several services proposed by law firms such as trademark prosecution, migration administrative procedure, do not even need complex legal knowledge to carry out. The commercial team also sell retainer fee packs and this seems to work well. According to internal sources, 30% of retainer fee contracts are found by this team.
HAND IN HAND WITH TECHNOLOGY
True to their motto, the firm innovates hand in hand with technology. To do this a brainstorming group, made up of partners, exists. One of the problems in big companies is the lack of communication and sharing the information. Trying to minimize this problem they have set up a special software tool available to every member of the firm which collates information of all kinds, that they have about a client. The result: when someone at Muñiz is contacted by a client and needs to know more about them, the lawyer will find all the information on the person or the company at the click of a button. Other technological innovations include an app that they are currently developing. The app is in beta testing and non-disclosable. We will have to keep tabs on Muñiz in the coming months to find out more.
A MISUNDERSTOOD BUSINESS MODEL
Domestically, other law firms seem to misunderstand the “enterprise” model. They usually stress their lawyers are completely diverse. But Muñiz is like a department store where customers can do their shopping. If you need a sophisticated lawyer with the associated price tag, you will find him or her. But, if you need an advisor for a day-to-day questions or to prepare your shareholders minutes for example, you don’t need to pay top dollar for the service.
This approach to legal services seems to be fair for the clients. “As our model is designed for entrepreneurs and completely different from those of traditional law firms, traditional lawyers have some difficulty in understanding it,” says partner Mauricio Olaya.
Difficult to comprehend or not, the model has proven its worth as the firm continues to grow. Sometimes betting on a risky and different positioning pays off.