Law Firms — The Final Frontier

leonard_nimoy_william_shatner_star_trek_1968We interrupt our ILTACON blogging to mark a significant occasion in the history of humankind: The 50th anniversary of Star Trek.

This iconic television show premiered on September 8, 1966, and since then has changed the way several generations think about technology and space. In fact, it has changed our lives. According to Elizabeth Howell, several Star Trek technologies that seemed far-fetched when first seen on TV are now an indispensable part of modern life:

  • communicators >> cellphones
  • tricorders >> MRIs
  • tablets
  • global positioning systems

While I am an enthusiastic fan of the franchise, I cannot claim to match Marshall Honorof in his devotion. He has watched every single Star Trek movie and television show. In his account of his personal space odyssey, he makes the following observation about Star Trek:

Something about the show’s optimistic message stuck with me. Technology can improve our lives. We can conquer our deeply held prejudices. There is other life out there, and it is willing to cooperate with us. And, importantly, no matter how far we come as a society, there will always be room for adventurers.


While it’s not a novel observation, the reason ‘Star Trek’ feels unique, even in a world of more ambitious sci-fi properties like ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and ‘Black Mirror,’ is because it alone asserts that technology will make our lives better, not worse.

So it seems that others have figured out something that eludes too many inhabitants of law firms: technology can make our lives better, not worse. The challenge is whether we can “conquer our deeply held prejudices” and use our Vulcan, Bajoran, and Betazoid abilities to leverage technology to make something better of a woefully underperforming industry. We have underserved clients, unhappy lawyers, and unappreciated allied professionals. Isn’t it time for a change?

Go boldly!

[To learn more, see the great infographic on The Evolution of Star Trek.]

[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]


#ILTACON from the Bridal Suite

2016_ILTACON_logoPeople attend the International Legal Technology Association’s annual conference (ILTACON) for a variety of reasons. Whether you are looking for outstanding educational sessions, insightful conversations with your peers or informative encounters with leading technology vendors, ILTACON has it all.

In prior years, my strategy has been to attend as many educational sessions as possible so that I can drink from the amazing firehose of useful information provided at ILTACON. (I have then tweeted or blogged those sessions so the rest of you can benefit from those sessions as well.)

This year, however, I found that instead of sitting in the scheduled educational sessions, I was sitting in the Bridal Suite.

To set the record straight, I was not in the Bridal Suite for any reasons having to do with a wedding. Rather, the Bridal Suite was ILTACON TV’s studio and I was fortunate enough to be one of the interviewers. This meant that I had the privilege of participating in wide-ranging conversations with some of ILTA’s impressive thought leaders.

If time permits, I’ll be revisiting those interviews and blogging some of their key content. In the meantime, here are links to the interviews I conducted that are now available. (I’ll update this post as more interviews become available.) Plus, there is a bonus link so you can learn from the conversation between Todd Corham (CIO, Saul Ewing) and Jeffrey Brandt (CIO, Jackson Kelly).

John Alber (ILTA’s Futurist, formerly Strategic Innovation Partner at Bryan Cave):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – John Alber from ILTA on Vimeo.


Katie DeBord (Strategic Innovation Partner, Bryan Cave) & Jay Hull (Strategic Innovation Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Katie DeBord and Jay Hull from ILTA on Vimeo.


Michelle Mahoney, Executive Director, Innovation, King & Wood Mallesons):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Michelle Mahoney from ILTA on Vimeo.


Chris Emerson (Chief Practice Economics Officer, Bryan Cave):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Chris Emerson from ILTA on Vimeo.


Keith Lipman (President and Co-Founder, Prosperoware):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Keith Lipman from ILTA on Vimeo.


David Michel (Director of Technology Services, Broad and Cassel):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – David Michel from ILTA on Vimeo.


Lida Pinkham (Technology Training Manager, Ice Miller):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Lida Pinkham from ILTA on Vimeo.


BONUS: An interview between Todd Corham (CIO, Saul Ewing) and Jeffrey Brandt (CIO, Jackson Kelly):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Jeffrey Brandt from ILTA on Vimeo.




When Clients and Law Firms ACTUALLY Collaborate #ILTACON

2016_ILTACON_logoSession Title: A New Approach to Aligning the Objectives of Outside Counsel, In-House Legal, and Corporate Business

Session Description: The past few years have brought a lot of discussion about how to better align the interests of law departments and their outside counsel through alternative fee arrangements, but the discussions generally end there. What if there was an approach that aligned outside counsel and legal departments in their pursuit of better business outcomes that extended beyond pricing? How can the strength of that relationship help demonstrate the value that the legal department brings to the organization as a whole? Come hear a case study exploring how one legal department and its panel of law firms have partnered differently and how their holistic approach to solving legal problems has the power to transform the way the department delivers value to the business.


  • Chris EmersonDirector, Practice Economics Bryan Cave, LLP
  • Bryon KoepkeSVP, Chief Securities Counsel Avis Budget Group, Inc.
  • David A. RueffShareholder and Legal Project Management Officer, Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz

Session Slides: Available through the ILTACON website

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • The Avis Story.  They undertook a convergence effort to reduce their legal panel from 700 law firms to seven firms globally. The winning seven firms are guaranteed work, provided they maintain expected quality levels. In addition, these firms work within a “target” (or fixed) fee structure. This convergence provided several benefits for the Avis legal department and their related business clients:
    • reduced administrative burden
    • cost certainty
    • legal risk mitigation
    • increased efficiencies in legal services
    • improved business outcomes
  • The New Way in which Avis wanted to work with its panel firms:
    • focus Avis resources on tiers of work that were created based on business risk and complexity
    • foster collaboration between Avis and its panel firms, as well as among the panel firms themselves
    • provide incentives to panel firms to invest in innovations that result in better business outcomes for Avis
  • The Work. Avis did a wide-ranging risk assessment and then asked their panel firms to bid on the work. Avis identified 3 categories of work:
    • Cream — high-risk work that requires high levels of legal expertise
    • Core — moderate-risk work that requires moderate levels of legal expertise
    • Commodity — low-risk work that does not require much legal expertise
  • Activities in Preparation for RFP. Avis asked 130 law firms to complete a “pre-qualifer” (PQ) that was quite similar to a law school exam. The questions in the exam reflected the real issues Avis faces. Each question was multi-disciplinary.
    • Law firms had a tight timeframe (about 10 days) within which to respond. Plus Avis sent this challenge out during Spring Break, which put added pressure on the law firms. This was a way of gauging responsiveness.
    • Of the 130 firms invited, only 80 responded.
      • 50 firms did not respond. Some thought Avis was trying to get free legal advice. They were wrong; Avis already had the answers to the questions in the PQ.
      • Some of the firms that did not respond thought their relationship with Avis was so solid that they did not need to go through these hoops. They were wrong; they were eliminated from the Avis panel
    • Some of the firms provided responses that simply were wrong.
    • All firms were asked to tell Avis how they would staff these matters and what they would charge.
    • Avis also asked how they answered these questions, whom they involved?
  • The RFP. They invited 45 law firms to participate in the RFP. (This was 45 out of the 80 firms that responded to the PQ.) There were three areas of emphasis:
    • Legal expertise
    • Pricing
    • Universal Requirements (Operations) — focused on actual examples of innovations these firms had developed to better the firm or outside clients. According to Avis, they were looking for Jetsons firms (firms that were innovative on behalf of themselves and their clients), not Flintstones firms that are stuck in the Stone Age.
  • How did the Firms respond to the RFP?
    • They researched the business goals of Avis so they could align their responses better to Avis’ needs
    • They managed tight turnarounds on drafts of the RFP as they involved a wide range of firm personnel in the RFP process in a very short period of time
    • Bryan Cave took a divide-and-conquer approach. They put the legal questions in the hands of the lawyers and kept the Universal Requirements in the hands of the legal operations team. The Bryan Cave legal ops group had the expertise to discuss the range of technologies they had invested in (or were contemplating) to improve firm and client outcomes, as well as completed or contemplated process improvement efforts.
  • The Semi-finals. During the semi-finals, Avis invited 17 firms to meet with the company. Each firm was asked to bring four partners of their choice and their legal operations person. During the interviews, the partners expected to lead the conversation. Instead, Avis said they would review their slides later. Then Avis asked to begin the conversation with the most important person in the room — the legal operations person.  (Partner jaws dropped!) Avis started with legal ops because they were serious about understanding the technology and innovation potential of each firm.
  • The All-Star Team. Avis invited the final seven firms to a Summit at which they met with business and legal department leaders of Avis. At that meeting, Avis made it clear that the chosen firms were stars that now had to find ways to work together as if they were on an All-Stars Team. This meant not just solo excellence, but collaborative excellence as well.
  • The Legal Ops Bounce. Crucially, the legal ops folks from the law firms met with the legal ops folks from Avis. This combined client/firm legal ops group has unleashed powerful tools and methodologies for the benefit of Avis (and the panel). Further, the emphasis that Avis has placed on legal ops gave the law firm legal ops teams greater confidence and enthusiasm in the work they do.
  • Avis Success Factors. Panels are graded on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are assessed on a matter-by-matter basis and, in the aggregate, feed quarterly and annual performance assessments. Here are the KPIs:
    • how well a Matter Assessment Form (MAF) was filled out. (The MAF helps the firm and Avis scope out a potential matter very quickly.)
    • submission of MAF in 3 days
    • the number of changes in scope requested per matter
    • the firm’s ability to accurately predict legal spend and outcome
    • the ability of the firm to avoid surprises to business units
    • how the firm uses technology to improve accountability and efficiency
    • value-adds the firm provides to the Avis engagement
  • How Baker Donelson revised its processes to meet the Avis KPIs:
    • They created an intranet Client Site that tracks the Avis engagement
    • They created workflow to ensure they can turn around an MAF within the required 3 days. This workflow is managed via their  Avis client site
    • They use budget and project monitoring tools internally so that they can notify Avis before something happens. This allows them to meet the critical KPI of avoiding surprises.
    • They created workflow to manage changes in scope and budget
    • They developed an external communication plan for the Avis engagement
      • monthly case management updates
      • quarterly reports to in-house counsel
      • annual reports
      • how to deal with emergency issues
    • They developed an internal communication plan for the Avis engagement
      • phase and task code requirements for matters
      • training regarding the initial budgeting, MAF and change processes
      • training regarding regular updates on budgets and contingent liability
      • training on and communication of Avis’s outside counsel guidelines
  • How Bryan Cave has invested to improve the Avis engagement:
    • they developed new internal processes and technologies
    • they trained attorney teams on this new way of working
    • they created and provided to the Avis legal department training on alternative fee arrangements (AFAs):
      • how law firms construct AFAs
      • the types of AFAs and their typical uses
      • how to frame AFA requests to obtain responses that support business objectives
    • they worked with the Avis legal department to build a dynamic technology platform that
      • facilitates the MAF process for Avis and for all panel firms
      • capture critical data points in structured format
      • leverage workflow tools to enforce operational standards
      • integrate with Avis’ e-billing system to automatically open matters
      • display actionable information to all users via flexible dashboards
      • provides dynamic authoring tools to create/update forms within minutes/hours rather than days/weeks
      • stores information in structured databases, but can generate documents in formats attorneys are used to reviewing (e.g, Word or PDF)
    • Who reviews, tests and suggests improvements to the technology?
      • Bryan Cave engineers, business analysts and other operational professionals do the initial work
      • Avis attorneys and legal ops professionals advise on integrating the panel’s technology with Avis’ e-billing, advanced workflow reporting and alerting, dashboard structure and key metrics
      • Baker Donelson (and other panel teams) provide recommendations on U/I enhancements and how to integrate the shared technology with the proprietary technology platforms of the panel firms — this eliminates duplication of effort and strengthens their shared common sources of record
  • The Collaboration is Growing.
    • Now panel firms share Avis work with each other if they believe this approach will benefit the client.
    • If Bryan Cave creates new technology, Baker Donelson  will do acceptance testing. When Baker needs automated data feeds, Bryan Cave provides it. Both firms confer with each other (and the other firms) to find solutions that benefit the client.
    • The collaboration among the panel firms has generated new ideas and approaches to matter intake and AFA construction
    • The technology used by the panel firms has improved because these firms now have a reason and the ability to share ideas as never before
  • Next Steps. Both Avis and its panel firms have ambitions for growing and improving their collaboration.
    • On Avis’ list of next steps: Creating metrics to measure and dashboards to communicate progress in key strategic areas of operations.
    • On the panel firms’ list of next steps: Creating metrics to measure and dashboards to communicate progress by the panel firms in helping Avis manage its legal issues.
  • Results. This collaboration has been an unqualified success for  Avis and for its panel firms.
    • Avis: Thanks to the collaboration, the Avis legal department has now established itself as a critical business partner of the larger organization. Through its pioneering work in this collaboration, the legal department has modeled better ways of managing liability and expenditures that can now be applied across the company. Further, the work of the legal department has become a source of competitive advantage for the company.
    • Panel firms: Their experience with Avis has demonstrated how non-attorney professionals can be critical to the selection of the firm for a legal panel, as well as the on-going relationships between the firm and its client. The panel firms now have clear confirmation that their investments in innovation, project management, and process improvement have enabled them to differentiate themselves in a competitive market. Finally, these firms now see the benefits of not only collaborating with the client but also with the other panel firms. The Avis collaboration has become a significant win-win situation for these firms.

Law Department of the Year Nominees #ILTACON

2016_ILTACON_logoSession Description: And the nominees are…Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Prudential Financial, Inc. and RBC. Watch as the short list of nominees for ILTA’s 2016 Distinguished Peer Award for Innovative Law Department of the Year present their innovations. Attendees at this session will vote for their favorite, and the winner will be announced on Tuesday evening at the Awards Dinner.


  • Robert Bell, Assistant General Counsel and Legal Knowledge Officer at Royal Bank of Canada
  • Molly Perry, Chief Operating Officer, Office of the General Counsel at Hewlett-Packard
  • George Chiu (IT) and Brian Burlew (Legal Operations)

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
    • RBC is the largest bank and the largest company in Canada.
    • Their CEO is a former programmer — he speaks digital.
    • Their General Counsel Group has several sub-groups, two of which are:
      • Their eDiscovery team has significantly improved turn-around on discovery work and savings.
      • Their external counsel group has meaningfully improved their monitoring and measurement of external counsel, leading to significant savings.
    • RBC Connect
      • RBC Connect is their social enterprise network, powered by Jive
        • early adopters of this social tool have experienced a dramatic reduction of email traffic
      • In April 2016, they logged 50.4K monthly users. This represents 2/3 of all potential users in the company.
      • The General Counsel Group has a vibrant presence on RBC Connect
        • they provide private and open communities so they can collaborate with their internal business clients
        • they provide  for a wide range of
      • They have a new role of “knowledge anchor” each of whom is a legal subject matter expert who works to promote key team knowledge and post it in relevant places (including their knowledge hubs).
      • They have a knowledge and meeting hub:
        • The knowledge hub contains key resources that may be hard to find in the DMS
          • Substantive Law Primers
          • Materials from preferred external law firms
        • The Meeting Hub stores meeting agenda and resources in a single place for each group that holds meetings
      • They use the search tools in RBC Connect to see the materials that their business clients use on a daily basis. This allows them to develop and enhance strategic relationships with their business partners.
      • They also create communities that involve both members of the legal department and the various business groups they serve
  • Hewlett Packard Enterprise. They are focused on bringing legal work in-house because they have been able to generate substantial savings by doing so
    • Strategic Framework
      • Smart Solutions
        • MitraTech TeamConnect for matter management
          • Outside counsel have access to this
        • SalesForce for IP sales management
        • Project management for M&A transactions
        • Dealflow — extends their project management tool to other uses
        • they use HPE predictive analysis and coding in their discovery work
        • they use the HPE records tool and have created significant cost savings by digitizing ahead of schedule
        • Business clients have self-service access to create confidentiality agreements
      • Inside Game — tools & processes that help their team most efficient and effective so they can bring more of the work inside the legal department.
      • Game Changers
      • Talent Factory
    • They had a massive challenge when they had to use their resources to help manage an enormous corporate separation. This involved separating assets and allocating people
    • Their Innovation: Time reporting made simple — used by more than 650 professionals worldwide
      • During the corporate separation, they monitored their internal time reports. These data revealed that they were spending too much time on low-value contracts. Consequently, they implemented an internal time recording tool and protocol to continue creating and gathering time data.
      • They use business intelligence tool that shows external spend data, internal time data, and internal pro bono hours. The connections between internal time and external spend have been a “goldmine” of useful information.
        • Managers can generate the reports the need on a self-service basis
    • Contracting Metrics:
      • They handle virtually all their contracting in-house.
      • They are able to track  internal time spent on contract type, value and geography.
      • They now can see if their time is spent on the most important tasks. They have used these data to reduce time and expense
      • Managers have dashboards and can generate reports on a self-service basis
    • The Litigation “Inside Game”
      • They can correlate internal time to the time spent by external counsel. This helps them see where their use of external counsel is efficient and where they should increase staffing internally.
  • Prudential Financial.
    • They have a “solid and flexible platform” = MitraTech TeamConnect. It supports
      • Matter management
      • Spend management
      • Integration
      • Collaboration
    • It was originally intended for matter management and e-billing. Since then, they have built suites for several compliance groups. In addition, several operations groups are using TeamConnect’s workflow tools.
    • TeamConnect required very little staffing. They do some configuring (and a little customizing, as necessary). Both IT and the Legal Operations Group work together to support TeamConnect.
    • Internal and External Partnership
      • Internal
      • External
        • Mitratech — leader in Enterprise Legal Management (ELM)
    • Their Innovation: a very close and dynamic working relationship between legal operations and legal IT.
    • Any innovative technology is only as good as the people who design it and the people who use it.
    • Their work has been speedy and extremely cost-effective.

Keynote: Measure Twice, Cut Once: Solving the Legal Profession’s Biggest Problems Together #ILTACON

2016_ILTACON_logoSession Description: Clients and law firms need to work together to solve the biggest problems facing them both, including the optimal overall data strategy for collection, hoarding, preservation, measurement and metrics; data we should collect today to help answer the questions of tomorrow; leveraging current technologies to improve data measurement and regularization and overall collaboration; measuring the performance of and determining fair value for legal work; how to create appropriate micro-incentives to further innovation; startup technologies being developed that are worthy of consideration; and where we’ll find the staff to manage it all. Together, we’ll measure twice, cut once and start solving legal’s biggest problems.

Speaker: Daniel Katz, Associate Professor of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law.  Dan is a scientist, technologist and law professor who applies an innovative polytechnic approach to teaching law, meshing litigation and transactional knowledge with emerging software and other efficiency-enhancing technologies to help prepare lawyers for today’s challenging legal job market. His forward-thinking ideas helped earn him acknowledgement among the Fastcase 50, which “recognizes 50 of the smartest, most courageous innovators, techies, visionaries and leaders in the law.” He was also named to the American Bar Association Journal‘s “Legal Rebels,” a prestigious group of change leaders in the legal profession. Professor Katz teaches civil procedure, e-discovery and entrepreneurial lawyering at Chicago-Kent and spearheads new initiatives to teach law students how to leverage technology and entrepreneurship in their future legal careers.

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2016 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]


  • How to build a more perfect supply chain.  This requires that we move more parts of legal practice from the “art” column to the “science” column. This, in turn, requires that we measure our work more rigorously.
  • Economics of the law.
    • What’s a lawyer’s value proposition? What do lawyers solve for? If you get too far from that value proposition, you become irrelevant.
    • the value proposition:
      • help people manage complexity
      • help people manage enterprise risk
    • Lawyers as Complexity Engineers: In the face of growing legal complexity, we have applied greater and greater numbers of human experts to solve problems. (We throw more and more labor at the problem.) This, in turn, creates a huge opportunity for disruption. Do we really need all these people? Can some of what they do be done by a machine. Better yet, can we remove some of the complexity?
    • Where are the large-scale complexity-filled opportunities in law? Banks! They do very complex transactions and need increasingly efficient ways to cope with the legal complexity of their transactions.
    • Paul Lippe’s insight on three types of lawyers:
      • Mediocre lawyers play whack-a-mole, seeing legal risk around every corner
      • Clever lawyers find solutions to those legal risks
      • Great lawyers help design systems that can balance risk and then price risk correctly.
    • Why do we have law firms?
      • Every client has to decide whether to make or buy.
        • Law firms help offset peak load by helping law departments from having to staff up when unusal issues arise.
        • Firms provide high value by providing expertise that is rarely used or hard to acquire
    • The problem of agency costs:
      • If I am the principal and hire an agent to act on my behalf, the agent often has more information than the principal. This creates agency cost. Therefore, this relationship is always slightly antagonistic.
  • Moving from Artisinal to Industrial.
    • Across many industries, we are moving things from the artisan column to the industrial column. This requires standardizing and measuring business processes. The result is reliable and repeatable.
    • This does not need to mean a loss of quality. We do not need to move from being Sal’s artisanal pizza to Dominos. We need to produce artisinal- quality pizza with the economies of industrial processes.
  • Creating a Data-Driven Enterprise.
    • Our understanding of our processes is imperfect. We rarely appreciate how complicated they really are. We rarely see how simple they really should be.
    • The first step is process mapping. When process mapping, don’t make it so granular that it turns into a #ridiculogram.
    • Don’t merely aim for understanding the average cost/effort. Focus on the variability. Understand what moves things out of the left tail and into the right tail.
    • Transparency is the glue that builds relationships. But in the legal industry, we hate transparency. If we want real change in the industry, the transparency has to work both ways. Both law firms and clients must share their data. Only then will we have a clearer understanding of actual opportunities and risks.
    • Data-driven outcomes = using data to underwrite legal risk.
    • Data-driven transactional work = using data to determine the value of particular negotiating and drafting approaches. If we don’t know how much risk is being avoided or created, how can we choose the right approach?
    • We need a better understanding of the actual drivers of risk. A mediocre lawyer sees risk everywhere. A great lawyer has the data to explain the actual risks.
    • Human are good at pattern detection. A high-frequency trader may take only 60 seconds to identify a pattern, but in that minute the arbitrage opportunity will disappear because computers are faster.
    • Predicting case outcomes using data. When it comes to forecasting, there are only 3 ways to predict: experts, crowdsourcing, and algorithms.
      • However, “experts” don’t really need to be expert in law in order to predict well. Take the example of Jacob Berlove, an actuary who lives in Queens, New York, who is one of the best predictors of supreme court case outcomes.
      • Yet there is something that can outperform a high-performing individual. A Human + a Machine always outperforms either a Human OR a Machine.
  • Legal Analytics & Machine Learning as a Service (MLaaS). Law is a relatively small vertical. And it has a great diversity of expertise. Therefore, it is unlikely that the big players such as IBM will focus on the legal vertical. However, we can take IBM’s general offerings such as Watson and conquer the last mile, which is to figure out how to adapt it to the legal industry.
  • Fin(Legal)Tech.
    • If you are offering alternative fee arrangements, you are self-insuring because you are assuming the risk. However, most firms do so without the necessary data or models. Crazy!
    • Fintech is about removing socially meaningless friction and then characterizing and pricing exotic risks. Once we understand the data under the legal system and use that data to characterize and price legal risk, we will create Fin(Legal)Tech.
  • Practical Steps You can Take:
    • Improve your early case assessment. Collect and understand the data your have in your firm regarding litigation cases. Then build a predictive model.
    • Improve your transactional predictions. Collect markups on every deal document. Understand what they are and why they are done. Then you can predict the next negotiating/drafting tactic of opposing counsel. And you can assess the costs of every move.

Your Clients Want Trilingual Services

foreign dictionaries - guidebooks-1425706-1600x1200Law firms are like professional sports teams in one critical respect: they pay a premium for top talent. Until now, that premium has gone to new graduates with the best grades and lateral lawyers with the best books of business.  Unfortunately, this overly narrow view of talent has been a costly mistake. Instead of focusing on academic pedigree or client numbers alone, firms should be focusing on a specific capability: being trilingual.

While speaking a variety of languages is life enriching, SmartLaw* has clear business reasons for requiring its personnel to speak three specific languages:

  • Law
  • Client
  • Technology

A command of the language of law is the one capability for which law firms have always hired. This one is obvious if you actually want to deliver legal services. However, speaking “legal” is not enough. It equips you to create legal services, but it does not help you do so cost-effectively or in a way that actually connects with clients. That’s where the other two languages come into play.

Speaking “client” means the ability to hear what your client is telling you and to interpret those words from the perspective of that client rather than merely from the perspective of that client’s outside counsel. This empathetic knowledge goes way beyond Google Translate (if, in fact, Google Translate could handle it!) to a deep understanding of the needs and aspirations behind the words. This is a language you learn best by being the client or by walking in the client’s shoes for many miles.

Speaking “technology” means more than just operating digitally. It means understanding the array and logic of the digital resources available. It means an openness to rethinking the way you work so that you can take advantage of the rich possibilities of those digital resources. And, above all, it means being willing to create safe-fail experiments that allow you to try new things as you explore novel ways of working. Without this willingness to experiment, you can never improve and you most certainly will not speak technology well.

It should go without saying that this trilingual capacity is not a requirement limited to lawyers. In a SmartLaw firm, all personnel will be trilingual and respected for it. When everyone in the firm has native ability in these three languages, then your firm is ready for the future of legal services.

*This post is excerpted from HighQ’s ebook: SmartLaw: Expert insights for the future of lawDownload the whole ebook here.

[My thanks to Rick Krzyminski and Richard Robbins for the conversation that led to this article.]

[Photo Credit: Dog Madic]


No Free Tech Ride

I_VotedFor the last few decades, we have been like children let loose in a candy store, never stopping to consider the negative consequences of stuffing our faces with sweets.

What is this candy store? The Internet.

For the last few decades, we have been on a deliriously fun tech ride. We have come to take for granted the ease, the convenience, and the sheer joy of immediate gratification the Internet provides. All of this and more can be yours with just a little connectivity.

Of course, we know that if you consume too much sugar you destroy your teeth and set yourself up for diabetes and a host of other bad health outcomes. And, as we have come to learn, all that consumer tech convenience sometimes come with a very large price tag: hacker convenience.

That is the reality. There is no such thing as a consequence-free candy binge. And, there is no such thing as a free ride on technology.

I was reminded of these realities when I saw Bruce Schneier’s recent article in The Washington Post with the scary title “By November, Russian hackers could target voting machines.” According to Schneier,

Over the years, more and more states have moved to electronic voting machines and have flirted with Internet voting. These systems are insecure and vulnerable to attack.

But while computer security experts like me have sounded the alarm for many years, states have largely ignored the threat, and the machine manufacturers have thrown up enough obfuscating babble that election officials are largely mollified.

For years cyber security experts have warned about “walking talking security threats.” By this they mean you and me — the people who use ridiculously easy-to-guess passwords or do not lock our devices or refuse two-factor authentication or surf the web merrily over insecure public wifi. These reckless behaviors can lead to a host of terrible outcomes, including identity theft or breaches of an employer’s firewall.

If this were not bad enough, Schneier suggests that people with the ability to harm society have indulged in even more reckless behavior.  Schneier is talking about a whole other level of tech-ignorant behavior that has resulted in an insecure electronic voting system could imperil our democracy. If he is right, we should be angry and terrified.

At every level of society, starting with you and me, we need to take a serious look at how our negligent use of technology can have disastrous consequences. The party has been fun, but now it is long past time we grew up. After all, we now know there is no such thing as a free tech ride.

[Photo Credit: Denise Cross]


How to Make your Clients Happy

smilies-110650_1280It turns out that the formula for making your clients happy is pretty simple: First, make your employees happy. As the video below from Harvard Business Review reports, there is a correlation between customer satisfaction, on the one hand, and engaged and motivated employees, on the other hand. Businesses with strong company cultures and positively motivated employees tend to have the highest customer satisfaction ratings.

So how do you make employees happy? Use positive rather than negative means to improve their motivation. It turns out that the traditional quantitative factors such as compensation and performance reviews don’t help improve employee motivation as much as we thought. Factors that have a much greater positive impact on employee motivation are well-designed roles, the mission and impact of the organization, clear career ladders, and a sense of community.

Why people work is actually central to how motivated they are. In “How Company Culture Shapes Motivation,” Lindsay McGregor and Neel Doshi report that there are six main reasons why people work: “play, purpose, potential, emotional pressure, economic pressure, and inertia.” Of these, the first three have a positive effect that tends to improve performance, and the last three have a negative effect that tends to diminish performance.

  • Play — you work because you enjoy it
  • Purpose — you work because you value the impact of your work
  • Potential — you work because it increases your potential
  • Emotional pressure — you work because some external force threatens your identity (e.g., guilt, shame, fear, etc.)
  • Economic pressure — you work to gain a reward or avoid a punishment
  • Inertia — you work because that is what you always do, even if you do not know why

Company cultures that emphasize play, purpose and potential yield better employee motivation and performance. Company cultures that use emotional pressure, economic pressure or inertia to spur employees on do not create happy, engaged, and positively motivated employees.

The takeaway from this research is that it is worth investing in an inspirational company culture. But, as you are pursuing that grand goal, be sure that you pay attention to the practical things that make your employees glad to get out of bed and come to work.

[Photo Credit: RSunset]


Training Your Backwards Bicycle Brain

Thanks to the generosity of a friend on social media, a video posted on YouTube over one year ago finally caught up with me. (Or, more properly, I finally caught up with it.) And that video got me thinking hard about how difficult it can be to change the way we work.

The video in question is The Backwards Brain Bicycle and it has a simple premise. People say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. In this video, we discover just how hard it is to unlearn how to ride a bike. By using a bike that was deliberately designed to operate in a strange way, the rider was forced to struggle between his newly acquired knowledge of the redesigned bike and his ingrained way of riding bikes. And the struggle was real.

But here’s the thing: No matter how difficult it is, we need to develop our ability to unlearn in order to develop our ability to learn. While we may not ever have to ride a backwards bicycle, there are lots of things we confront daily that require us to look at things differently or think about things differently. There were things that were standard when I first began my legal career (e.g., hard copy treatises, pocket parts, IBM Selectric typewriters, dictaphones, etc.) that are now extinct or irrelevant. As a result, I have had to unlearn my old ways so I could master new tools and techniques to get my job done.

Even if you were not practicing law in the dark ages when I first started working, I am certain you have had a similar experience of seeing old ways of doing things slip away, to be replaced by new ways that you have to learn quickly.

Margie Warrell calls this “learning agility” and says that it is now “the name of the game”:

To succeed today you must be in a constant state of adaptation – continually unlearning old ‘rules’ and relearning new ones. That requires continually questioning assumptions about how things work, challenging old paradigms, and ‘relearning’ what is now relevant in your job, your industry, your career and your life.

Learning agility is the name of the game. Where the rules are changing fast, your ability to be agile in letting go of old rules and learning new ones is increasingly important. Learning agility is the key to unlocking your change proficiency and succeeding in an uncertain, unpredictable and constantly evolving environment, both personally and professionally.

As you head out for a well-deserved long weekend, consider what you are being asked to learn and then think about what you will have to unlearn to make that learning possible. You cannot do one without the other.

If you don’t believe me, then believe Yoda:  “You must unlearn what you have learned.”



When Scope Creeps Like Kudzu

1024px-Kudzu_field_horz2 Japanese arrowroot is the name of a group of plants in the pea family. Sounds innocuous, right? What if you learned that these plants are “climbing, coiling and trailing perennial vines”? Still sound innocuous? What if you were then told that these plants are more commonly known as Kudzu and are considered noxious and invasive? Now are you concerned?

You should be. On his website Jack Anthony has some astonishing photos of what happens when kudzu is left to creep unchecked. These photos are accompanied by equally astonishing commentary:

Kudzu vines will cover buildings and parked vehicles over a period of years if no attempt is made to control its growth. A number of abandoned houses, vehicles and barns covered with kudzu can be seen in Georgia and other southern states.

Even if you don’t work in landscape design, I am certain you have experienced the encroaching nature of kudzu at the office. It is most commonly seen in projects that lack firm direction and a disciplined team.  While the project may start out with a clear purpose and agreed budget and schedule, over time the budget, schedule and even purpose can get blurry as well-intentioned people start adding items to the project’s scope. In extreme cases, scope creep (like kudzu) can obliterate the landscape, while totally demoralizing team members and tarnishing their professional reputations.

If you are ever tempted to turn a blind eye as project scope creeps around you, consider the extreme case of the Bradley armored personnel carrier (see below) and think again. Would you ever want to be associated with a mess like that? If not, then be sure to curtail the kudzu around you.



[Photo Credit: Galen Parks Smith, Kudzu covered field near Port Gibson, Mississippi)