A Different Way to Practice Law

Session Description:  Lyman Thai will give us an inside look at the business model, KM, and legal tech approach of Atrium, a full-service corporate law firm that uses modern technology to give startups a legal experience that is fast, transparent, and price predictable.

[These are my notes from a private gathering of senior knowledge management professionals from large law firms. The participants come from law firms around the world.]

  • Atrium’s Mission. To accelerate our clients’ growth through world-class legal advice and frictionless transactions.
  • Atrium’s Structure. They have a lawyer-owned, lawyer-run law firm that complies with ethical requirements regarding law firm ownership and management. They have a separate limited liability company, LTS, that houses their technology and product development operations.
    • LTS is a Delaware corporation and has venture capital funding.
    • Their practicing lawyers are encouraged to invest in the tech company so they are all aligned.
  • How they are different from other firms.
    • Two-entity structure
      • The law firm and LTS are independent but aligned.
      • Economic arrangements: Partners enjoy the economic upside of the law firm’s operations. All employees enjoy the economic upside of the operations and success of  LTS.
      • Parity of Personnel: the lawyers are not subordinated to the technologists; the technologists are not subordinated to the lawyers.
      • Lawyers tend to practice the way they were taught. This often includes inefficiencies. When lawyers have to explain their processes to their software developer colleagues, this tends to expose inefficiencies that now must be fixed.
    • Fixed-price model.
      • this is forcing model that helps expose inefficiencies. Once fixed, this gives the law firm a competitive advantage
      • it creates a friendlier working environment for clients
    • Tech to streamline legal services
    • Role specialization
    • Starting with startups
      • Startups tend to provide rapid and frank feedback, which helps Atrium improve.
      • Atrium has adopted shorter sales cycles for legal matters and legal tech.
  • Atrium’s Values. These guide who they hire and what they do.
    • Win with Integrity
    • Elevate the game = this focuses on mentoring and feedback. No one is too high or too low offer and receive feedback so they can improve their performance.
    • Rethink the cake  = question assumptions, reason from first principles not just from precedent.
    • Own your own role, own the whole
    • A-team or fail = regardless where you sit, you are part of a single team (One Atrium) so everyone values and supports “their togetherness.”
    • Delight every client
  • Rethinking the Cake Leads to Process Improvements.
    • The cake story:
      • little girl is baking a cake with her mother and notices that the mother cuts off the edges of the baked cake in a particular way.
      • little girl asks why and the mother responds: I don’t know. It’s how grandma always did it.
      • little girl then asks grandma why. Grandma responds: when your mother was a little girl I had the wrong-shaped cake pan so I had to cut the baked cake into the right shape.
      • moral of the story: question assumptions, keep asking why.
    • Specialized business units
    • Standardization galore
    • Project Management — they use Asana to manage products
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS)
    • law firms typically have an NPS of 25
    • tech firms typically have an NPS of 35
    • super-tech firms typically have an NPS of 60
    • Atrium’s current NPS is 61 and they are working to improve this
  • Their Approach to Products
    • Legal Apps (Workflow) — their engineers develop apps built around common legal workflows
    • Core (Collaboration) — they have created an SaaS platform for internal and external users
    • Data Platform (Documents) — Data services layer for processing documents, extracting metadata, and make the resulting insights available to their lawyers.
  • Build/Buy Decision
    • they are happy to buy tools that solve 80% of the problem
    • they build tools when these tools would give them a competitive advantage — actually, an unfair advantage!
  • Client Facing
    • They want to be as client facing as possible. So they solicit a lot of client feedback and suggestions.
    • Last quarter, several clients asked for a way to simplify and expedite their internal hiring processes. So they created a client-facing legal app that satisfies this client request.
    • They are creating a “single source of truth” for legal documents — a way of storing documents for clients and allowing clients to search within documents
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