Totum’s recent report, Developments in the Legal Pricing Function, featured an in-depth discussion with Adrian Avanzato. The commercial side of pricing is explored, taking the practise from an operational perspective to a highly strategic outlook. 

Adrian Avanzato, Global Commercial Director at Ashurst, has worked in the commercial space for 25-plus years. He brought to law a different perspective, one that is taking the pricing function to the next level.

Adrian Avanzato’s background is more commercial than strictly pricing as he spent the early years of his career working on the ‘honed pricing strategies’ of the airline industry and the high-value, highly-complex pricing solutions of the telecoms sector. Both prioritised the kind of commercial thinking he has introduced to law – as he was one of the first pricing professionals globally to join the sector from outside industry.

‘In telcos, you’re managing the whole commercial lifecycle, dealing with contract issues, negotiation, sales, pitching. The commercial person is there from the start, ensuring that risk is mitigated and that we are creating a value proposition and making sure internally we have the operational set up to deliver what we say we will deliver. That’s how it works outside of legal,’ says Adrian.

With this commercial experience he first joined the legal sector as Head of Pricing at Norton Rose Fulbright (2011), then Pinsent Masons (2017) and, most recently, in his role as Global Commercial Director at Ashurst. ‘I could see the massive opportunity in law. There was a shift in client buying behaviour, law firms were beginning to recognise that pricing is much more than an hourly rate, you can create value with price,’ he says.

In his time in law, he has started pricing functions from scratch, and brought in more people from outside industry, including more professionals from the telecoms industry. But perhaps his most exciting contribution is in shifting pricing to a more commercial function, something that is a priority for him now in his current role.

He always saw the potential to go further with the pricing function at Ashurst, not just setting it up from scratch, which he did, but giving it a commercial dimension. ‘We are more entwined with the commercial life-cycle, not just pricing but looking at the engagement piece: value propositions, trying to improve commercial outcomes of all aspects of Ashurst. I have far greater reach across the business,’ he says.

With that comes a focus on commercial terms: how the firm negotiates with clients, how it defines value propositions, practice economics, matter management and operational processes (tools and platforms). Although the function sits within finance it is a separate commercial function including pricing and business management. ‘Rather than just talking about pricing, we also focus on efficiency, how we get our data, internal process improvement, identifying opportunities, defining what value is and how that fits into pricing – how do we get the firm to do the right things in the right way? We are effectively acting as change managers and we have to be plugged into everything,’ he says.

The function is also moving to become client-facing. ‘It’s a slow process requiring change from us and the business. But it is beneficial – clients like the idea of us being involved as well as others, like BD. It’s about moving from a single one-to-one relationship to a wider, more cohesive and dynamic approach,’ he explains.

‘It’s easy for the function to be very niche and it gets stuck quickly,’ he adds. ‘But by having a broader commercial function we are in a position to try different things – around partner value-adding activities, providing education and advice, and support all around the commercial space. There needs to be a change in thinking about the purpose of pricing – what do you want it to achieve in the long term?’

For Adrian, pricing has to be connected into the whole business as well as plugged into clients and what they value. ‘Solutions is where it’s at, bringing it all together,’ he says. ‘How do you price those different elements up? How do you communicate the value of them? How do you use systems and tools? How do you bundle multi-line item solutions? This is akin to how it’s done in other industries.’

Adrian and his ilk are bringing into law firm pricing a broader commercial focus that takes pricing from an operational to highly strategic outlook. It’s an exciting path that puts pricing at the heart of serious innovation in thinking about what constitutes a modern legal business that truly understands the meaning of value.

This piece featured as part of a larger report on pricing, including a detailed pricing survey analysis and other interviews. If you would like to receive a PDF copy of the full report ‘Developments in the legal pricing function: Totum report 2022’, please contact [email protected]