Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

Awards & Recognition

Subscribe to Above and Beyond KM

Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Facebook

Recent Posts

Disclaimer

This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • reinvent law On February 27, 1860, the Great Hall of The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art in New York City, played host to one of the most important speeches in the history of the United States. That was the day Abraham Lincoln, an aspirant for the Republican presidential nomination, gave his “Right is Might” speech to a crowd of 1500 New Yorkers. According to Wikipedia, Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer called the Cooper Union address “Lincoln’s watershed, the event that transformed him from a regional leader into a national phenomenon. Here the politician known as frontier debater and chronic jokester introduced a new oratorical style: informed by history, suffused with moral certainty, and marked by lawyerly precision.”

    On February 7, 2014, the Great Hall of  The Cooper Union played host to a completely different kind of gathering: the Reinvent Law NYC 2014 Conference. Organized by Professors Daniel Martin Katz and Renee Newman Knake of the Michigan State University College of Law (along with their students), and sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, and the ABA Journal, this conference brought to one stage 41 speakers from various parts of the legal industry. The presentations included 10-minute Reinvent Law talks; 6-minute “Ignite” talks in which the slides automatically advanced, forcing the speaker to stay on task; and a conversation between Professor Bill Henderson (Indiana University School of Law) and Mark Chandler (GC of Cisco). Nearly every presentation contained an insight or useful nugget — some were replete with them. The only problem was that the members of the audience were on the receiving end of a firehose of ideas and information that was overwhelming at times.

    To manage the flow of information, I adopted my usual role of conference social reporter and tweeted nuggets from various presentations. The Storify compilation of my tweets gives an overview of the speakers and their key points. Since I was restricted to 140 characters, it was hard to convey all the nuances. That said, you should get a good flavor of the ideas presented from the compilation.

    While it will take a while for me to process fully the wide range of talks I heard at the conference, there were several standouts for me:

    • Kyle Westaway - How to Run Your Firm Like a Startup: 
      • Allocate 70% of your time to client service, 20% to improving client service delivery and 10% to experimentation.
    • Lisa Damon - Confessions of a Pyrotechnician:
      • You need passion to innovate, but it helps to have some safety glasses that protect you from the resulting sparks. When innovating, don’t think about being IN a law firm, thing about being ON a law firm. Being ON a law firm means treating the firm as a platform rather than a prison or constraint.
    • Andy Wilson - How to Build a Product in the Legal Industry that Lawyers Will Actually Buy:
      • We need to bring speed and cognitive ease to the practice of law.
    • Abe Geiger - Legal Infrastructure for the Sharing Economy:
      • His company is focusing on “Tiny Law” not Big Law. They are creating easy ways for lay people to create and execute contracts.
    • Joshua Kubicki - Legal by the Numbers:
      • After he called to the stage all of the legal tech entrepreneurs in the audience (there were many, and they were young), he announced that $258M had been invested in legal technology in 2013. There is a great deal of opportunity in this space.
    • Mark Cohen - The Legal Delivery Model: A Post-Cubist Paradigm:
      • The key trends for law firms now are unbundling services and then integrating those unbundled services into a package that is useful for clients.
    • David Howarth - Law as Engineering:
      • Of all the design professions, engineering is the closest to legal. Like engineers, lawyers make devices (e.g., contracts). The legal industry can learn a lot from the deliberate way engineers have identified in explicit terms their design processes and then used technology to fuel new creativity in the profession. Lawyers made devices that led to the global financial crisis in 2008. He believes that lawyers need to step and take responsibility for the consequences of devices they design.
    • R. Amani Smathers - The T-Shaped 21st Century Lawyer:
      • While 20th century lawyers were “I-shaped” (i.e., experts in a single legal discipline), 21st century lawyers need to be “T-Shaped” (i.e., experts in a legal discipline and another discipline such as coding, project management, design, etc.).
    • Margaret Hagan - Law By Design: Creative Approaches to Legal Services: 
      • Law needs design. This means going beyond simply using technology. It means focusing on usability in order to make law “user friendly.”
    • Nicole Bradick - Starting from Scratch:
      • When starting a law firm scratch, begin by defining the ethos of your firm. For example, if you are serious about retaining women attorneys, how would design your firm to meet that goal?
    • Susan Hackett - “It’s the Client, Stupid!”:
      • The role of the inhouse lawyer is to solve business problems, not legal problems. So they need outside counsel who can focus on business problems rather than legal issues. It is not enough for law firms to say they won’t change unless clients demand change. Since the DNA of inhouse counsel reflects their earlier experience as outside counsel, they cannot always overcome their DNA sufficiently to identify and demand the necessary change. Instead, it is the responsibility of outside counsel to do the right thing —  to take their clients by the hand and lead them to the better way of practicing law and providing client services.
    • Mark Chandler Interviewed by William Henderson:
      • Chandler’s legal department focuses 80% of their attention on the work that gives Cisco “competitive differentiation.” The other 20% is routine work that they try to automate as much as possible.
    • Martin Schwimmer - The Law of Shapes To Come: Intellectual Property Considerations of 3D Printing:
      • This fantastic talk was given by an intellectual property lawyer who has been ahead of the curve for sometime. In his talk he confessed that being ahead of the curve can be very uncomfortable: “Being early can often feel like being wrong.”
    • Basha Rubin - Everyone is an Expert: Lawyering in the Age of Self-Diagnosis:
      • The challenge for lawyers is to redefine their role in this information-rich age. When DIY clients arrive with detailed instructions (and maybe even drafted documents that they obtained online), their lawyers need to find productive ways to incorporate these third-party materials into their practice rather than fighting these incursions.
    • Jeffrey Carr - Law & Order: CCU (Corporate Counsel Unit):
      • Creating and using a “lessons learned” process is critical to improving client service.  Inhouse counsel should also provide performance-based pay and constant monitoring and feedback to their outside counsel. He believes that inhouse counsel are the single biggest point of failure in the legal industry since they have not demanded change from their outside counsel. In his view, Big Law is irrelevant. They won’t be the source of change in the industry. They are in the business of billing hours.
    • Patrick Lamb - Designing Results:
      • We need to start with the end in mind. Just like we program our destination into our GPS before we begin a journey, we need to identify a better way of delivering legal services and then use law + tech + design + delivery to reach the desired goal.
    • Karl Chapman - Customers Are the Winners:
      • The key to being a successful law firm in the current market is to have the DNA of a legal process outsourcer, not the DNA of a typical law firm. The genius in the Riverview Law approach is that they have mapped all their processes, they learn AND they are fast.
    • Ron Friedmann - Do Less Law:
      • Client interests would be better served if we collectively agreed to “do less law.” This means moving away from crisis response mode in favor of finding ways to prevent the crisis to begin with. He believes that firms that invest in R&D will find new and profitable ways to shift to prevention mode.

    Richard Susskind delivered a fantastic closing keynote: The Past, Present and Future of AI + Law. There is absolutely no way to sum up his tour de force in just a couple of sentences. That said, there were some key takeaways for me:

    • Change does not come quickly in the legal world. Look for change over the next 3-6 years rather than the next 3-6 months.
    • Why is change so slow? Hourly billing is a huge deterrent to change. Furthermore, it takes substantial time and effort to build the expert systems that could replace some or all of the work lawyers currently do.
    • The goal is to use computer technology to make legal expertise available to people who otherwise would not have access to such knowledge.
    • It  cannot be that information technology and the Internet are transforming all parts of the world EXCEPT the legal industry. Change will come to our industry.
    • Computing power is growing (while form factors are shrinking). In the face of these advances, shouldn’t we rethink the way we draft contracts?
    • The legal industry currently is in a state of denial. The next stage is re-sourcing (in which we unbundle legal services and then source them more appropriately). The final stage is disruption.
    • By the 2020s, technology will have transformed the way lawyers work.
    • What is our legacy? Have we created intelligent systems for the commercial world and access to justice for individuals?

    All in all, it was a terrific conference. I commend the organizers for putting together a schedule that was jam-packed with thought-provoking ideas. And, I especially commend the sponsors who made it possible for the conference to be free to the public. The value: priceless.

     

    1 Comment
  • This session was entitled “Profitability: Evolving Over the Long Term.” That said, the panel and audience discussion covered a range of issues relating to the financial management of law firms. The session was moderated by Anthony Licata (CFO, Dechert LLP). The panelists were Daniel Sheeran (CFO, Duane Morris LLP), Eldean Ward (Head of Revenue Practice, IntApp) and Patricia Williamson (CFO, Strasburger & Price).

    [These are my notes from the 3rd Annual CFO/CIO/COO Conference presented by The New York City Bar, the International Legal Technology Association and West LegalEdcenter.  Since I'm publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, 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.]

    NOTES:

    • What are the prospects for profitability? The panel and the audience agreed that flat profits are the “new black.” No one was able to point to data that indicate the old-style rising profits are still possible giving current economic realities.
    • On the Revenue Side, what’s the best investment a firm can make?. Dan Sheeran believes that the single best investment a firm can make on the revenue side is to invest in its future partners. They are a better bet than laterals. Patricia Williamson would invest in an overhaul of the firm’s marketing model and strategic planning model. She would bring in external experts to help evaluate the efficacy and potential of the firm’s individual practice groups.
    • On the Cost Side, what would you love to do?. Admitting that this was a hypothetical situation, the panel agreed that the single best way to cut costs in a meaningful way is to reduce the number of underperforming lawyers. Primarily, this means taking a harder look at the partners. Does the compensation model match the contribution they make to the firm? How should a firm compensate service partners versus rainmakers? Another big challenge is striking the right balance between underperforming partners and up and coming associate stars. The panel felt that they would spend their time and effort encouraging the younger lawyers rather than the lawyers in the middle tier.
    • Managing Multiple Offices. The panel believed that opening new offices for strategic reasons still makes sense. We’re in a relationship business so there’s value in having lawyers located close to their clients. Even new technology cannot substitute for face-to-face interactions. However, there are real problems with doing that strategic analysis effectively. One panelist said that it was impossible to predict how well a new office would do over the long term. [I wonder if this is more a reflection of how law firms have traditionally analyzed new office opportunities.]
    • Technology and Business Process. Eldean Ward reported that there was a real range in the appetite of lawyers and practice groups for adopting new technology or overhauling their business processes. He suggested that people who work more away from the office tend to be less interested in business process. [They are also probably more interested in the technology.] Ward also mentioned that he was struck by some of the similarities between the software industry and the legal industry. However, while his industry has adopted technology to help manage their sales, he isn’t seeing anything comparable among law firms. Ward described Salesforce as the “spinal column” of IntApp.
    • How should a firm grow? While every firm likes to grow organically, firms are equally tempted to simply “buy” laterals and their book of business. The panel discussed the real challenges in constructing compensation models for laterals that provided the right incentives and safeguards to increase lateral success and minimize risk to the firm. That said, some acknowledged that practice group leaders sometimes “fall in love” with lateral candidates and are not always willing to adopt a hard-headed approach to lateral recruitment and compensation. [This points to the huge influence individual partners/owners can have when there is insufficient shared understanding within the partnership of the right way to proceed with respect to lateral hiring.]

     

    No Comments
  • For years optimists have said that things will get better once Millennials become associates in law firms. According to these optimists, this younger cohort will bring new values and new ways of working to hide-bound firms. At this point in time, several classes of digital natives are now beavering away in law firms around the country, but we haven’t seen a huge wave of change. In fairness, they are still very junior and probably do not have the requisite power within their firms to insist on improvements. Further, in harsh economic times one could be forgiven for putting one’s head down and working hard rather than rocking the boat. Finally, and most importantly, their law school education was fairly traditional so they were not trained to buck the traditional ways of doing things within their firms.

    Does this mean that nothing will change? Not necessarily so. At least one law school is training its students to think differently about the practice of law.

    On April 17, Georgetown Law School will be hosting its second annual Iron Tech Lawyer Competition. It is the capstone of the practicum taught by Professor Tanina Rostain and Adjunct Professor Roger Skalbeck called “Technology, Innovation and Legal Practice Practicum – Access to Justice.” The focus of this seminar is to ground law students in the possibilities and practicalities of  law practice innovation enabled by technology. Here’s how the curriculum guide describes it:

    This practicum course exposes students to the varied uses of computer technologies in the practice of law. During our seminar meetings, students become familiar with various innovative software platforms that are being adopted in law practice to enhance access to justice, capture legal expertise, interface with clients, manage litigation and transactional processes, and increase the efficiency and quality of legal services. Topics include: legal expert systems, virtual law practice, automated document assembly, technology assisted document review, and electronic legal research. For the field placement component, students work in small teams for a legal service organization to develop a platform, application, or automated system that increases access to justice and/or improves the effectiveness of legal representation. These organizations include civil rights organizations, direct service providers, and government agencies. The course culminates in a design competition, The Georgetown Iron Tech Lawyer Contest, which is judged by outside experts in the field. Along the way, students learn teamwork, an understanding of the relationship among the rules and doctrines that apply within a particular legal regime, and visual literacy skills. The goal is that, by the end of the semester, each team will have built a functional app that is adopted by the legal service organization and put into use for the organization or its clients.

    This course is not about using Microsoft Office efficiently. It’s about unleashing the power of technology to unleash the power of the law.

    Wow.

    I, for one, cannot wait to see what happens when these Georgetown Law School graduates begin to practice law. They have been taught how to use technology to practice smarter for the greater good. More law schools need courses like these. And every law firm needs graduates like these.

    [Hat tip to Neota Logic for providing the expert system that was so critical for the Iron Tech Lawyer program.]

    Update from Professor Rostain on April 16: “If you want to catch a glimpse of the action, go to http://apps.law.georgetown.edu/webcasts/eventDetail.cfm?eventID=2007 or click through our home page. The link will go live shortly before 1:30 {Wednesday] afternoon.”

     

     

    2 Comments
  • Southwest Airlines - June 10, 2001 Earlier this year I wrote a post entitled, If Dominos Ran Your Law Firm. That post focused on the window on its operations that Dominos Pizza provides to its customers via the Dominos Tracker. Of course, I was drawing a pointed contrast with the lack of transparency that most law firms offer to their clients.

    In that spirit of pointed contrasts, let’s take a look at Southwest Airlines. Since its beginning, Southwest Airlines has followed a distinctive path. The company has made some choices that other companies find difficult, if not impossible, to make. As a result, Southwest has developed a unique company culture that is known as “Living the Southwest Way.” According to the post, Southwest Airlines “Gets It” With Our Culture, their culture has three components:

    • Warrior Spirit:  work hard, desire to be the best, be courageous, display a sense of urgency, persevere, and innovate.
    • Servant’s Heart:  follow The Golden Rule, put others first, demonstrate proactive Customer Service (that includes both Internal–SWA Employees–and External Customers), and embrace the SWA Family.
    • Fun-LUVing* Attitude:  don’t take yourself too seriously, maintain perspective (balance), celebrate successes, enjoy your work, and be a passionate Teamplayer. [*LUV is Southwest's ticker symbol.]

    Perhaps the most significant way in which Southwest is not like most other companies flows from Southwest’s priorities. Herb Kelleher, cofounder of Southwest, explains what he sees as the false choice regarding corporate priorities:

    When I started out, business school professors liked to pose a conundrum: Which do you put first, your employees, your customers, or your shareholders? As if that were an unanswerable question. My answer was very easy: You put your employees first. If you truly treat your employees that way, they will treat your customers well, your customers will come back, and that’s what makes your shareholders happy. So there is no constituency at war with any other constituency. Ultimately, it’s shareholder value that you’re producing.

    Putting Employees First

    Can you give me the name of a law firm that puts its employees first? If you ask most law firms, they’ll tell you that they “put the client first.” (As a practical matter, many actually put their shareholders (i.e., the partners) first.) At Southwest, the approach is quite different. In fact they express it with the following “magic formula“:

    Happy Employees = Happy Customers = Increased Business/Profits = Happy Shareholders! 

    They also express it quite explicitly as part of the mission statement posted on their website:

    The Mission of Southwest Airlines

    The mission of Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit.

    To Our Employees

    We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth. Creativity and innovation are encouraged for improving the effectiveness of Southwest Airlines. Above all, Employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest Customer.

    Imagine that? Treating employees as you expect them to treat your clients. Encouraging creativity and innovation rather than conformity and rigid adherence to tradition. Supporting employees as they find new ways to build the business and keep customers happy. The cynic in you might say that words are cheap. In fact you might question whether it is possible to run a financially viable operation in this manner. According to Southwest’s most recent “One Report,” 2011 marked the 39th consecutive year of profitability for the company. Can you name a major law firm that can match these results?

    Southwest’s website features the following quotation from Gary Kelly, their CEO:

    Our people are our single greatest strength and most enduring longterm competitive advantage.

    I suspect senior management of your firm has said that from time to time, but how have they demonstrated it? Aside from moving from the jargon of  ”professional development” to that of “talent management,” has anything materially improved for the employees of your firm? Is there a sense of teamwork and shared mission regardless of whether or not the members of the team have law degrees? Is there a commitment to mutual learning and growth? Is there explicit encouragement of creativity and innovation, not only in the practice of law but in the business of law?

    Herb Kelleher once observed that competitors can buy your tangible assets, but they cannot buy the competitive advantage your company culture gives you. Has your law firm invested in a company culture that keeps your best employees engaged and encourages every employee to become one of the best? As the economic environment becomes more challenging, your people will truly be your greatest strength. Now would be a good time to start thinking like Herb Kelleher if you’re serious about being in this game for the long haul.

    *************************

    Just for fun, here’s an example of a Southwest Airlines employee at work:

    [Photo Credit: Jim Ellwanger]

    1 Comment
  • Agile Conference , Hoofddorp, 18th June 2009 Many law firms find themselves in sobering circumstances. They are facing mounting economic pressures, more discerning clients, and a deep-seated reluctance to change a way of working that has not kept pace with science or technology.

    Something has to change.

    Unfortunately, change means disrupting all that is known and comfortable. It’s no wonder that people say: “Change is good. You go first.” In fact, the sheer challenge of innovation can be enough to keep the risk-averse from ever trying something new. And, even if they can overcome their natural tendency to cling to the status quo, a lack of knowledge regarding the most productive way to carry out disciplined experiments can mean that their tentative innovation initiative is either stillborn or severely compromised.

    Thankfully, lawyers and law firms are not yet beyond hope. At the risk of sounding like a Hallmark card, sometimes the help you need is close at hand. In fact, it may even be right under your nose. The technologists in your firm should have experience with a specific method of disciplined experimentation called Agile, which could provide the guidelines needed to help risk-averse lawyers conduct fruitful innovation experiments regarding how they practice law and how they run their business. To learn more about this, see my post What Technologists Can Teach Lawyers.

    Has your firm benefited from this sort of collaboration between technologists and firm management? Have you used Agile to find better ways of meeting client needs and responding to current economic conditions? If so, please let me know. Yours might be the precedent that shines a light on the path for everyone in the legal industry.

    [Photo Credit: Tim Difford]

     

     

    No Comments
  • 2006-7-30 Wise and Otherwise Game Pieces The post I wrote recently on Gamification for Law Firms inspired me to dive deeper into the literature and lore regarding games and game design. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I was surprised to learn through this reading that gamification is as much an art as it is a science. In fact, my reading drove home the point that good game design is relatively rare and requires more than merely attaching points or badges to a linear process.

    If this is a topic that interests you, I’d encourage you to take a look at my new post just published in the ABA’s Law Technology Today column: Improve Your Legal Practice Through Gamification. In that post you’ll find some advice on how to move beyond “pointsification” to actually designing a game that is compelling enough to keep your colleagues engaged.

    At the end of the day, that’s the whole point of gamification in the practice of law: using fun and good design to help colleagues do the things they need to do to help your legal practice (and business) thrive.

    [Photo Credit: Janet and Phil]

     

    No Comments
  • Pizza Call me a bad parent, but every so often I relent and let my child order a pizza from Dominos. To be clear, it isn’t because Dominos offers the tastiest pizza in the neighborhood.  (They don’t.)  And it isn’t because they promise to deliver in under 30 minutes. (They don’t.) The reason we order from Dominos is because my kid gets a kick out of the Dominos Tracker (registered trademark).

    For those of you who haven’t experienced this wonder of modern technology, let me explain. The tracker is an online display that lets the customer follow along as their pizza is moved through the critical stages of pizza making:

    • order placed
    • prep
    • bake
    • quality check
    • delivery

    The tracker opens a small window into the operations of a vendor, allowing the customer to participate vicariously as their order is fulfilled. You see the pizza moving down the assembly line and you know the moment it’s placed in the hands of the person who will deliver it to your door. (That’s when you get your money ready.)

    Now imagine what would happen if Dominos ran your law firm and set up a Dominos Matter Tracker? For each matter the client could check online to see at a glance the progress the firm had made to date and how much work remained to be done:

    • new matter intake formalities
    • staffing
    • background research & precedent gathering
    • retaining local counsel
    • drafting
    • negotiating
    • revising drafts
    • signing
    • preparation for closing
    • closing
    • post-closing clean-up
    • billing
    • collections

    Several years ago I wrote two posts on law firm transparency and asked if your firm was ready to open its kimono a little so that your clients could understand better what you do in exchange for the fees you charge. One early example of this is Mallesons Connect:

    On the subject of transparency, Mallesons in Australia has blazed a new trail with Mallesons Connect.  As described by Gerard Neiditsch, this new extranet application gives clients real-time information regarding lawyer activity, progress against project goals, and fees incurred.   It also provides information on billing history and outstanding invoices.  In the process, Mallesons learned that this transparency can have unexpected benefits.  Besides keeping everyone accountable, Mallesons discovered that once their law department clients saw the invoice information, they were able to expedite payments.

    Now that nearly four years have elapsed since those posts, has your thinking on transparency changed? Are you better prepared for it? If not, what are you waiting for?

    Dominos delivers. What about you?

    ****************************

    In the interest of fuller disclosure, here are some posts that provide further details on the experiences some customers have had with the Dominos Tracker:

    [Photo Credit: Matt Chan]

    12 Comments
  • achieversupermega When social media folks first started talking about gamification, I found myself skeptical. In fact, to be honest, I was downright derisive. Surely it was a flash in the pan, a trend I could ignore.

    Why was I so resistant to gamification? I had a hard time believing that points, badges and leaderboards could be enough to get people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do. Further, I had a really hard time imagining gamification in law firms.  Would conservative law firm culture embrace gamification? Above all, what use case could I reasonably propose to a law firm?

    As with many things, the longer you live with an idea, the less strange it becomes.  Once gamification became mainstream, it was difficult to ignore. In my case, a series of presentations at various conferences last year opened my eyes to the possibilities:

    All of this led me to reconsider using gamification inside a law firm. But I was still stuck trying to find a decent use case. And then it hit me. What’s the one thing many lawyers have great trouble completing in a timely and accurate fashion?

    Time entries.

    Instead of badgering them to submit their time or punishing them by cutting off their direct deposit rights (or even withholding their paychecks), what if we used gamification to encourage timely compliance?

    Of course, there is nothing new under the sun. A Google+ post by Richard Hare led me to a question and answer site with a discussion on the following question: Implement gamification on Time reporting to minimize late reports? It turns out that legal is not the only industry that has trouble getting people to submit their time records promptly. Slalom Consulting has adopted a “Promptitude” scale that uses gamification elements to help employees submit their time records on time. A key part of Slalom’s approach is the judicious use of “shamification.” Meanwhile, a Harvard Business Review Management Tip encourages readers to “make the job more like a game.” Is this the piece we were missing in legal?

    Do you know of an organization that has successfully used gamification to encourage the prompt submission of time reports? If so, please let me know — there are law firms that desperately need this information!

    The Gamified World:

    *******************************

    If  you’d like more information on gamification, here are some resources for you:

    [Photo Credit: Stephen L. Johnson]

    1 Comment
  • 1-2-3-4 cakeNo matter how careful you are when you eat, you inevitably create crumbs.  Do you know who is snacking on your crumbs?

    According to a recent LegalFutures article, Professor Richard Susskind includes a warning for Big Law in his new book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future:*

    Professor Susskind accepted that there is some force in the argument from the largest ‘elite’ global firms – which he numbered at about 20 – that for bet-the-ranch deals and disputes, clients will still want the services delivered, more or less, as in the past.

    `However, they should not be overconfident… If one leading firm breaks rank, or if a major new force (such as a “Big 4″ accounting firm) emerges, and brings a new proposition to the market – a credible brand at half the price of its competitors, for example – then this could fundamentally and irreversibly change the market; and not just for the elite firms but across the entire profession.

    `Leaders of the elite firms should suspend their likely incredulity at this scenario, if only because major clients, as never before, are commonly saying that they are now actively looking for alternatives to the traditional ways of some of the great firms whom many regard as too costly and sometimes too arrogant.’

    After reading this quote, curiosity led me to the websites of the largest international accounting firms where I discovered some interesting things. While I didn’t find anyone there explicitly hanging out their shingle to offer legal services, I did see materials that could be viewed as coming close to offering advice on issues that lawyers have handled for years:

    • Compliance and Regulatory Risk Management
    • Financial Services Regulation
    • Privacy and Data Protection
    • Governance

    Admittedly, Big Law doesn’t have a lock on either these issues or on the general counsel of their clients. Nonetheless it’s instructive to see the ways in which the accounting firms are talking about these issues with Big Law’s clients. Here’s a small sample of what they are offering:

    When you dig into the financial regulatory offerings of accounting firms, you find content that could easily have been distributed in the form of that favored Big Law communication tool — the client alert:

    And that’s not all. At least one accounting firm has gone far beyond the traditional legal alert memo. PricewaterhouseCoopers now offers PwC’s Regulatory Navigator: a mobile app available through the iTunes store that purports to provide

    everything you need to know about how the changing regulatory environment is impacting your firm and the rest of the financial services industry. With a primarily US focus, this app provides access to PwC’s insights on the latest regulatory changes and links to key original source information, such as proposed and final rules.

    In case you’re wondering how accountants are able to do all of this, the answer is pretty simple.  The accounting firms are hiring Big Law veterans to do the legal analysis and counsel clients. The ones I’ve talked to take great pains to emphasize that they are not practicing law.  Even still, they are finding lucrative ways to make their understanding of the law available to clients and in the process are offering a service at a price clients seem to find tolerable.

    The crumbs from Big Law’s table may not be sufficient to feed another large law firm, but they might provide a lucrative snack for a host of uninvited guests from other professions. One day soon there may be enough crumbs for a veritable feast.

    [Hat tip to Donna Seyle for pointing out the LegalFutures article.]

    [Photo Credit: looseends]

    *Disclosure: This link is through my Amazon affiliate account and may generate income to me.

    No Comments
  • We sometimes joke in our family that the moment  you think you have everything organized and on an even keel — watch out! Something is bound to occur suddenly to upset that equilibrium:

    • a key member of your team decides to relocate to be closer to family
    • a strategic vendor goes out of business
    • the bottom falls out of the economy

    In the face of these often uncontrollable events, it can be hard to maintain your equilibrium. To be honest, the key may be to strengthen your resilience so that you can cope with these stresses and prosper.

    Whitney Johnson takes all of this one step further. She suggests that it’s important not to let your equilibrium lead to complacency. Her prescription for the complacent is straightforward and slightly unnerving: Disrupt yourself.

    What does she mean by this? She borrows from the work of Clayton Christensen when she suggests that a better path to success is to seek out territory in a new market (or the low end of an established market) and use that as a base to disrupt your industry. She also borrows the notion of the S-Curve to explain how we should propel ourselves from one area of mastery to another:

    The S-curve mental model makes a compelling case for personal disruption. We may be quite adept at doing the math around our future when things are linear, but neither business nor life is linear, and ultimately what our brain needs, even requires, is the dopamine of the unpredictable. More importantly, as we inhabit an increasingly zig-zag world, the best curve you can throw the competition is your ability to leap from one learning curve to the next.

    If you’re prepared to accept the challenge and are willing to disrupt yourself, Whitney Johnson has five suggestions for you:

    1. Assess. Assess where you are vis-a-vis where you want to be. If your current path will get you there with gradual improvement, you should stay on that “sustaining innovation path.” If your path won’t get you to your goal, try going where no one else wants to play (or hasn’t yet thought to play) and look for opportunities there.
    2. Iterate. “Disruption is a discovery-driven process.” We need to iterate, iterate and iterate again until we get the model right. Often the strategy that leads to success is different from the strategy you began with.
    3. Embrace Your Constraints. “Constraints are problems to be solved.” They drive us to rethink how we do things.
    4. Be Impatient. Look for quick wins, small wins that confirm that you are on the right path. However, be aware that you’ll need to be patient as your strategy of disruption unfolds.
    5. Start Today. “Dare to disrupt yourself, your status quo. Be disruptive. Now.”

     

    This post has focused on the personal benefits of disruption, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you to consider in the context of your law firm or organization the following observation from Clayton Christensen:

    Whenever the tension is greatest and the resources are scarcest, we actually are much more open to rethinking the fundamental way we do business.

    Legal industry commentators have said that when law firms finally find their backs against the wall, they will be forced to rethink their business model. Some would argue that the time is long overdue for law firms to disrupt themselves. It will be interesting to see which ones accept Whitney Johnson’s challenge.

     

    No Comments