Pope Francis on Law Firm Management

Pope FrancisPlease excuse the poor quality of the photograph in this post. I snapped it quickly as Pope Francis’ Fiat turned the corner onto Fifth Avenue, enroute to St. Patrick’s Cathedral earlier this evening. Despite the blurry photo, you can see the Pope in his distinctive garb and you can see his Fiat. And that’s good enough for the purposes of this post.

So what does the world’s most popular Catholic have to do with law firm management? It’s not that he has made any particular pronouncements on the subject. However, he does model behavior that would be very beneficial in law firm management:

1. He is unpretentious.

Pope Francis makes a very loud statement every time he steps into his Fiat. Aside from showing loyalty to an Italian product, he is shunning the trappings of world-class achievement. It is as if he is saying he has not forgotten where he came from. It is as if he understands the realities of life for the people he leads. This demonstration of empathy and solidarity makes it easier for devoted Catholics to accept his leadership. And it makes his leadership attractive to even disaffected Catholics and non-Catholics. In short, his lack of pretension makes his leadership extraordinarily effective and downright powerful.

Now, think about your firm’s leadership. Are they unpretentious? Have they stayed in touch with their roots? Can they still connect with the rank-and-file? Can they win over the disaffected?

2. He is accessible.

Aside from the considered ordinariness of the Fiat, its size puts him within reach of everyday people. He is not cloistered within a limousine. And then he stops the car to give a blessing to someone others might easily overlook.

Apart from his choice of vehicle, Pope Francis pursues accessibility to a degree that concerns his security staff. He is known to interact directly with visitors to St. Peter’s Square, “embracing and chatting with pilgrims, and kissing babies and children.”

This type of accessibility means that he is more likely to connect with people who have different perspectives than those of his inner circle. And it is more likely that he will meet people who are prepared to speak truth to power.

Is accessibility of this sort the norm in your firm? Does your managing partner find ways to be available to the people of the firm? What about your executive director or CXO? Can anyone speak truth to their power?

3. He does not cling blindly to past practices.

Over the millennia of its existence, the Catholic Church has had ample opportunity to develop and maintain traditional practices. Pope Francis, however, has shown a willingness to question some of those practices in light of modern realities. One cannot imagine him holding back change by using the favorite incantation of administrators the world over: “But we have always done it this before.” (Or its close cousin: “But we have never done it this way before.”) Given his mindset, it is easy to imagine the opportunity for thoughtful innovation within the Catholic Church.

Does a similar opportunity for thoughtful innovation exist within your firm? Or is innovation stillborn because of an unwillingness to examine and possibly put aside past practices that are no longer effective?

4. He is willing to adjust policy to respond to changing times.

In the short time since he took the helm, Pope Francis has indicated repeatedly that even some sacred cows may need to be sacrificed in order to keep the church relevant in the 21st century. To the consternation of purists, this has meant that he is willing to take another look at established church policy and, perhaps, amend it to reflect modern times.

How adaptable is your firm administration? Are they responding appropriately to recent changes in the business environment and the needs of clients? Does firm policy reflect a sense of confidence in the maturity, professionalism and commitment of staff?

What if Pope Francis ran your firm?

Can you even begin to imagine the difference it would make if Pope Francis ran your firm? Consider whether you can achieve some of those differences without papal intervention. It could result in a much-needed miracle for your firm.



Yogi Berra on Law

Yogi Berra empirestatebuildingOn September 23 the Empire State Building sported pinstripes in honor of the pinstriped Yankees uniform worn by Lawrence Peter (Yogi) Berra who died this week at the age of 90.

Over the course of his storied career, Berra attained both professional acclaim and cultural stardom. The professional acclaim was due to his extraordinary record of achievement:

  • He played on 14 American League championship teams.
  • He won 10 World Series titles.
  • He was voted most valuable player of the American League three times. (He shares this accomplishment with the likes of Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle.)
  • He was an All-Star every year from 1948-1962.
  • As a manager, he led the Yankees to the 1964 American League title and then led the Mets to the 1973 National League title.

His status as a cultural icon had less to do with his athletic prowess and everything to do with his distinctive manner of speech. Berra is famous for things he said and, possibly, for some things he didn’t say. What may be less well-known is that many of his witticisms were directed at the legal industry:

  • “I always thought that record would stand until it was broken.” When he said this, Berra could have been speaking for law firm partners throughout the United States who sincerely believed in 2007 that the sky was the limit to the unprecedented growth in rates and profits they were enjoying.
  • “The future ain’t what it used to be.” This was the reality law firms faced at the end of 2008. Their future did not seem nearly as rosy it had been just a few months earlier. In fact, at that time the future of many firms was completely unclear. Even today, the situation is challenging. According to the Citi Private Bank’s Law Firm Group, growth this year is possible but will not be stellar: “While we remain optimistic that revenue and profit will both grow, we believe that they will now fall short of 2014’s results.”
  • “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” This has been the so-called strategy of some firms that have tried desperately since 2008 to find a winning formula. De-equitize partners? Done. Throw associates and staff overboard? Done and done. Alternative pricing arrangements? We’ll do it. Legal project management? We’ll try that too.
  • “If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Strategy has been a real challenge for law firms. In 2013 I asked a large group of law firm managers how many of their firms had a business strategy. Only a handful responded positively. Fast-forward to the autumn of 2014 when I asked a large group of law firm knowledge managers the same question. In this instance almost everyone responded positively. That’s great news for the industry, isn’t it? Well actually, no. When I asked that same group how many of their firms had agreed metrics by which they measured progress against their strategic goals, almost nobody raised a hand. So there you have it — strategy without true accountability for implementation is merely window dressing.
  • “We made too many wrong mistakes.” When you consider the way some lawyers have attempted to run their businesses with little or no management training, it isn’t altogether surprising that they’ve made some “wrong mistakes.” What is more frustrating is that even in the face of these errors, some partners remain reluctant to turn over the management of their businesses to professional managers, much less accord those “non-lawyer” managers the courtesy of professional status within the firm.
  • “A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.” A change in value changes everything for law firms. Consider the change in the way clients value the services firms once provided. Increasingly, clients are moving legal services in-house or to special service providers. And they are demanding that their external counsel demonstrate the value of the services they continue to provide. At the end of the day, the one thing that holds its value is intelligently calibrated business advice informed by legal knowledge and judgment. That is something clients will still pay for.
  • “You can observe a lot just by watching.” If you are looking for examples to emulate, don’t limit your observations to the firms with the highest profits. Look for the firms that are doing the tough structural work: establishing a strategy that guides operations, implementing internal disciplines to manage costs in both the practice of law and the business of law, revising roles and responsibilities to reflect the reality of client needs in the 21st century, hiring world-class managers and then giving them the authority to run the business in a rationale way.

As you can see, Yogi Berra had a lot to say about the legal industry. Yet despite the doom and gloom, his optimism still shines through. After all, “it ain’t over till it’s over.”


Implementing Business Practices That Foster Shared Interests — #ILTACON #ILTA103

ILTACON 2015 LogoSession Summary: Many organizations are adopting “best business practices,” but they would be most effective if they intersect, bringing together the shared interests of law departments and law firms. Where do you begin? Let’s start the conversation with a panel of representatives from law departments and law firms who will discuss how to come to agreement on best business practices.


  • Lisa Damon, Seyfarth Shaw
  • Katie Debord, Bryan Cave
  • Mike Haven, NetApp
  • Peter Krakaur, Solar City
  • John Alber, retired strategic innovation partner, Bryan Cave (moderator)

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2015 Conference. 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.]


  • The Rise of Legal Operations. Mike Haven explained the legal operations function within law departments, especially departments with 50 or more in-house lawyers. In the 1990s companies like GE, Bank of America, Prudential, Cisco, HP and other Silicon Valley companies inaugurated this role.  Initially, the role focused primarily on cost savings. In the early 2000s, the role evolved beyond cost management to technology implementation. Since the global financial crisis of 2008, legal operations professionals have been charged with the task of reducing legal spend. Now legal operations professionals are responsible for a variety of functions including cost management, alternative support models, data analysis, vendor management, communications, strategic planning, litigation support, data governance, records management, knowledge management, etc.
  • First Audience Exercise. You are a partner at a law firm and have a client who recently moved to a new company, Acme Corp, to become its general counsel. Your client has discovered that Acme’s systems cannot provide a general understanding of the company’s overall expenditure on legal matters. As part of a broader RFP for transactional and litigation work, your client has told you that it intends to implement an eBilling system and has asked you for an opinion about eBilling platforms. Additionally, Acme more broadly has asked for help in identifying ways to track engagements, manage conflict waiver requests, monitor fees, streaming accruals and billing, and track overall legal spend.
    • What is the challenge for Legal Ops?
      • Define for itself the management problem it is trying to solve (e.g., matter and financial management) and what it needs internally and from external counsel to enable the law department to meet it’s own goals.
        • what shared expectations?
        • what individual and share business processes?
      • Then think about what tools (e.g., eBilling platform) would be most helpful and must external counsel must provide the necessary data?
      • Throughout this process, keep in mind the company’s own tolerance for risk and ambiguity.
      • Haven:
        • the first thing you need to do is put a team in place to manage the process. You may need to engage a consultant to help drive the effort.
        • Get a handle on the range of technology.
        • Understand what your budgetary constraints are for the project.
        • Find out what your external counsel typically use. This may save money spent on the learning curve.
        • Should you involve procurement in the RFP process?
        • Get IT involved early — especially if you are looking at cloud solutions.
        • What geographies are ou looking at? It is more complicated to deploy eBilling platforms in Europe because of taxes.
        • Have a project manager to drive the implementation
        • Prepare eBilling guidelines and then train your external counsel regarding those guidelines (e.g., when to submit forecasts, bills, etc.)
          • CLOC has prepared some sample eBilling guidelines. You can find this via ILTA in the downloads connected with this session.
        • Put a team in place to monitor the tool, support use of the tool, push data to dashboards, etc.
    • What is the challenge for the law firm? The main challenge for the firm is provide help that is valuable to its client.
      • Review the firm’s historical matter billing records and share those with the client.
      • The firm can analyze its historical billing records.
      • The firm can research eBilling platforms internally (with finance, even though they may be fundamentally hostile to the various eBilling platforms) and externally (either with other clients who might be able to provide direct advice to Acme, or with consultants).
      • The firm can provide an eBilling solution as part of the entire engagement.
      • The firm should consider its own ability to support the business process improvement necessary internally for the firm to help the client’s aspirations regarding cost management.
      • Ask: what’s the clients essential problem and what assets do I have to help the client?
      • Caveat: Haven noted that it would surprise in-house counsel if many law firms have been asked this question since most law departments handle this on their own. That said, Debord reported that Bryan Cave often gets this request — especially when there is a new general counsel.
      • Haven: “I love the idea of collaborating on matter data.” Getting [external counsel] involved upfront on the types of eBilling features that would be helpful for both parties to manage a matter would be great.
      • Damon: If these conversations happen, it is usually between the client’s finance function and the law firm’s finance department. The partners don’t usually see anything except information on receivables.
  • Second Audience Exercise: “The Axe”.  You are in the legal department of Acme Corporation. The new general counsel has received a clear mandate from the board to cut expenses dramatically. The GC has set a goal of reducing overall spend by 30% over a two-year period. The GC is looking for at least a 10% reduction in 2016 and has asked you to present a high-level plan for the reductions by October 1, 2015.
    • What should the legal operations function do?
      • Assemble a team and then create a process map for the cost reduction effort.
      • Gather ideas: What are the low-hanging fruit? What work can you eliminate?
      • Then get historical data on legal spend to test your ideas/theories AND expose additional options
        • what do the types of legal work cost?
        • what do the various external firms charge?
        • what’s the relative efficiency of the firms?
      • Gather ideas: What types of work can you eliminate?
      • Consider reducing the size your panel of external counsel
      • Solicit cost reduction ideas from external counsel
      • Implement cost reductions.
      • Monitor ongoing work and costs to measure efficiency and quality. Have the lower costs led to lower quality?
  • Mike Haven.
    • The key is to spread a mindset that the world has changed. Clients are being pressed by their organizations to improve their service while cutting costs. The client’s objective is NOT to put the law firm out of business. However, the client has a deep interest  is working with efficient firms. The more the law firm understands the client’s needs, the more the firm can help.
  • Katie Debord.
    • There is a huge investigation stage to many matters. However, before jumping into this, take a step back and make sure you understand exactly what the client needs and how the client defines success.
  • Peter Krakaur.
    • Know your client. Understand the client’s business model. Have conversations with the clients. Don’t just get lost in the data. The client rarely has the luxury of time, so the firm needs to move quickly to support client decision making.
    • Invest more in process mappers and data analysts than in business development people. This change will ultimately bring the firm more business.
    • The client actually is looking for business advice, not just legal advice.
  • Lisa Damon.
    • Collaboration between a law firm and its client is critical. Eliminating 10% of cost is easy — firms do this all the time. The tougher challenge is to create a sustainable way of working together over the long term.
    • Start by listening carefully to the client.
  • John Alber.
    • Law firms need to change their attitude. Their “expert” attitude (e.g., we know all the answers) is highly toxic. Instead, firms need approach these challenges from an attitude of openness and collaboration.
    • Law departments are lean in resources, and they believe that law firms are relatively rich in resources. Yet the clients do not see firms bringing those resources to the relationship. Firms need to take a fresh look at their own assets and think in new ways about deploying them to improve the client’s situation.
    • Some law firms are training their associates to reforming attitudes and approaches. But 95% of firms are not.
  • Key Takeaway: Law firms cannot provide the ultimate value to clients until firms change their approach and then reorganize their processes and staffing to support the client the way the client wants to be supported.

Working with Special Snowflakes

snowflake-310071_1280We were taught as children that no two snowflakes are alike.  Some of our teachers went so far as to suggest that we were like snowflakes, each possessing unique characteristics, each to be valued in her own right.

Isn’t that lovely.

This kind of affirmation is helpful in the right time and place, but at some point in our education most of us learn that there are a lot of characteristics that humans share. Moving beyond crude stereotypes we discover, for example, a shared fight-or-flight response and nesting impulse. And that’s just the beginning.

There are, however, some people who are rarely pushed to look beyond their particular circumstances to understand how much they share with the rest of humanity. Who am I talking about? Lawyers.  Yes, the work they do is different from the run of the mill. Yes, they do need a special education to undertake this work. Yes, their work can have enormous consequences for others. But the same could be said for doctors, engineers, architects, etc. Yet lawyers persist in believing that they are a breed apart, a group of special snowflakes.

Unfortunately, too many technologists enable this point of view by telling lawyers that tools can and should be adapted to accommodate lawyer preferences. Thus you have technologists larding up standard software such as MS Office with customizations and embellishments meant to placate the special snowflakes in our firms. And then we act surprised when we calculate the cost of implementing new technology or upgrading existing technology. At what point do we say that the system performs reasonably for 80% of the work lawyers do and we should think twice (or thrice) about customizing for the remaining 20%?

As you consider the decisions you make about your law firm technology or knowledge management systems, consider the extent to which you are enabling special snowflake syndrome. Codependency is unhealthy for all involved.


Why Your Firm Does Not Innovate

barrier roadsign-30907_640What is holding your law firm back?

You hear about exciting things happening in other industries. You hear about exciting things happening in other law firms. Meanwhile you and your colleagues are told to keep your heads down and just work harder. Do what is expected. Don’t rock the boat.

Innovation is not on the menu.

What is keeping innovation off your firm’s menu? In 2008 I wrote about Claudia Kotchka, an extraordinary business executive who helped lead the revitalization of Procter & Gamble. She did it by using design principles to understand better how P&G’s customers lived their lives and how P&G’s products could make those lives better. In my earlier post, Why KM Needs Good Design, I borrowed from Kotchka’s work to suggest ways in which law firm knowledge management professionals could use design thinking to improve their products and services.

Clearly my focus was too circumscribed. In fact, not just KM departments, but also the businesses that house them can benefit from this approach to innovation. None of this is news. So why don’t more firms try it?

In Kotchka’s view, there are three major barriers to innovation:

  • Complacency. Success makes a company very resistant to trying new things;

  • Risk-aversion. Many big companies have what Roger Martin calls a tension between validity and reliability. The punch line is that companies are very reluctant to take any risks that would upset the profit that flows from reliably making a high quality product that lots of people want to buy; and

  • Functional silos. Kotchka observes that when required to work in cross-functional teams, different functions — such as marketing, finance, and manufacturing — look at problems only from their functional perspectives. However, she noticed that when those team members take off their functional hats and take responsibility for solving the business problem — as start-up teams do – the results are much better.

Chances are you will find at least one of these (or, more likely, all three of them) in your law firm. That is why your firm does not innovate.

Which leaves me with one question: what will you do about this?

[Photo Credit: Nemo]


Back to School

harvard law school logoTuition at Harvard Law School is not a trifling matter. At a price tag of $57,200 for the 2015-2016 academic year, it is worth asking from time to time if students are getting good value for their money.

In this spirit, three members of the HLS faculty recently surveyed 124 practicing lawyers at the law firms that hire the most HLS students*:

The survey had two main objectives: (1) to assist students in selecting courses by providing them with data about the relative importance of courses; and (2) to provide faculty with information about how to improve the curriculum and best advise students.

The first question they asked had to do with which law school “business-methods” courses would be most beneficial for current law students. The responses were quite consistent across transactional lawyers and litigators:

  • Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Corporate Finance
  • Negotiation Workshop
  • Business Strategy for Lawyers
  • Analytical Methods for Lawyers
  • Leadership in Law Firms
  • Statistical Analysis/Quantitative Analysis

When asked which of the courses in the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance were most useful, transactional lawyers and litigators all agreed that Corporations and Securities Regulation were key. In addition, the transactional lawyers recommended Mergers & Acquisitions, while the litigators recommended Securities Litigation.

With respect to courses outside the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance, the courses judged most useful fell along practice lines:

  • Litigation: Evidence, Federal Courts, Administrative Law
  • Transactions: Intellectual Property Law, Patent Law, Copyright Law

The next area surveyed was the skills and knowledge bases that law firms considered to be most important for students to acquire:

  • Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis
  • Teamwork
  • Financial Markets/Products Negotiations
  • Business Strategy/Industry Analysis
  • Statistical/Quantitative Analysis
  • Legal Services Industry

It is interesting to note that the lawyers surveyed viewed Teamwork to be almost exactly as important as Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis. In the words of the authors of the study: “Taken together, these results suggest that law firms value softer skills and institutional knowledge as well as rigorous analytical skills.”

So why does any of this matter to your law firm knowledge management department? The respondents to the survey are your current colleagues. The student beneficiaries of the survey will be your colleagues shortly. This survey identifies the subjects they find most useful. This leads to some important questions for you:

  • Are these subjects and skills well-supported by your KM program and resources?
  • Are your KM personnel trained and able to assist practitioners in these areas?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, isn’t it time you took a leaf out of the HLS playbook and started to realign your program, resources and personnel?

* The law firms surveyed were “the 11 largest employers of HLS students over the last several years: Ropes and Gray, Davis Polk, Skadden Arps, Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, Cravath, Cleary Gottlieb, WilmerHale, Covington Burling, Gibson Dunn, and Sidley Austin.”



Who Needs to Know?

Who_is_it“Who needs to know?”

This is a question we ask often. Unfortunately, it is a question we do not always answer correctly. Sure, we might identify the obvious people, based on our personal experience or knowledge. However, we occasionally forget some key people, and there may be yet others of whom we are completely unaware.

As a result, we share knowledge with the smallest possible group. But that group may not even be the right group. We may explain our approach as well-intended efficiency or even a bid for security. However, at the end of the day, by failing to ensure that information reaches the right people, we have ensured that any decisions we make will be made on the basis of incomplete information.

Is it any wonder so many organizations make so many mistakes?

These are real questions in the context of law firms and law firm knowledge management departments that are trying to thread the needle between firm-wide knowledge sharing and concerns about protecting confidential information. While I do not want to minimize in any way the importance of protecting client-confidential information, I wonder if in our zeal to limit access to information we are actually depriving ourselves and our clients of the ability to make decisions and provide advice based on complete information.

It is instructive to see how another organization faced this challenge of holding knowledge tightly versus sharing it widely.  The organization I have mind plays for stakes that are very high indeed. It is the US military. In his TED talk (posted below), General Stanley McChrystal explains how he came up through the ranks in a security-conscious, need-to-know organization and yet came to understand the importance of sharing knowledge beyond the small group he initially identified as those who need to know. He describes the need for information security as something that was “in the DNA” of the military. He speaks of the organizational silos that served the purpose of ensuring information was kept safely contained.

Despite that security-conscious DNA, General McChrystal came to a startlingly different answer when he asked the question, “Who needs to know?” He discovered that “in a tightly coupled world, that’s very hard to predict. It’s very hard to know who needs to have information and who doesn’t.” So they changed their approach. They started asking “Who doesn’t know, but needs to be told as quickly as possible?” In fact, they went so far as to start knocking down organizational silos physically by having cross-functional teams work together in “situation awareness” rooms in which they could share, discuss and disseminate information quickly.

The results were impressive:

…as we passed that information around, suddenly you find that information is only of value if you give it to people who have the ability to do something with it. The fact that I know something has zero value if I’m not the person who can actually make something better because of it. So as a consequence, what we did was we changed the idea of information, instead of knowledge is power, to one where sharing is power. It was the fundamental shift, not new tactics, not new weapons, not new anything else. It was the idea that we were now part of a team in which information became the essential link between us, not a block between us. [emphasis added]

Admittedly, the army does not serve financial services companies who insist on rigorous data security audits and will withdraw their business if you do not meet their demands. The army does not have clients who refuse to allow any of their information to be shared within the firm even as they expect that they will have the benefit of learning and experience derived from the firm’s other clients. The army does not have owners who have grown up with a need to protect confidentiality that goes beyond professional obligation owed to a client, to cover even the most basic information about the health of the firm.

On the other hand, the army does make life and death decisions on a daily basis. And in this context, the army has learned that if it wishes to have effective teams that make good decisions, it must share information so that information becomes the “essential link” and not a “block” to team effectiveness and good decisionmaking.

Given the army’s example, isn’t it worth thinking harder about how to share knowledge safely and efficiently within law firms? At a minimum, it must mean moving beyond simply asking “Who needs to know?”


[Photo Credit: Wikipedia]


Law Firm IT Whiplash

Head and Neck - Gray1194The Mayo Clinic staff describe whiplash as,

a neck injury that can occur during rear-end automobile collisions, when your head suddenly moves backward and then forward — similar to the motion of someone cracking a whip. These extreme motions push your neck muscles and ligaments beyond their normal range of motion.

Whiplash is what I experienced this weekend. The backward movement happened when I read early reviews of the newly released ILTA 2014 Technology Survey. The forward movement occurred when I read Riverview Law’s announcement of its new Software-as-a-Service offering entitled “In-House Solutions.”

Without a doubt, the ILTA survey is an enormous undertaking that provides a real service to the legal industry by shining a light on current IT practices among law firms. As Jobst Elster of Inside Legal reported, the survey results reflect the input of “454 law firms (33% of the ILTA membership representing more than 106,000 attorneys and 217,000 total users) responding to almost 200 questions about what technologies they are using to run their firms.”

Legal IT for the rest of us

While ILTA provides this incredible resource to the legal industry, it is not responsible for the data. That responsibility lies at the feet of law firm technologists and the senior partners of each firm who make the technology decisions. In reviewing the survey’s findings, Ron Friedmann of Prism Legal noted the following:

  • Social Networking and Collaboration Tools: “The results here disappoint but do not surprise.”
  • Legal Project Management and Budgeting: “The survey did not ask about  legal project management, pricing, or budgeting software. … As clients demand value and as more firms respond, demand for LPM, budgeting, and pricing software surely will grow. So I hope the survey will cover this area in the future.”
  • Contact Management and Marketing: “Corporate CMOs looking at these results, if they understood all the software listed, would undoubtedly chuckle.”
  • Predictive Coding / Computer-Assisted Review: “…I was surprised to see what I consider fairly low percents of larger law firms using what I thought was a well-established (if not universally accepted) technology and process.”
  • Document Assembly: “Less than half of responding firms report using any document assembly.”
  • Chargebacks to Clients: “Many firms continue charging for items that many clients likely consider overhead.”

There may be good news inside the survey, but the items noted by Ron Friedmann, Randi Mayes (ILTA’s executive director) and Jobst Elster suggest that, among survey respondents, law firm IT is constrained externally by client concerns about security and internally by partner concerns about cost.

Legal IT for the best of us

What’s behind the new Riverview Law product? According to their website, they are responding to a clear client need:

Having met our people and seen what we do, visiting General Counsel and In-house lawyers often ask whether we will license our technology. Whether we can help them design, implement and roll-out processes, workflows, and data analytics tailored to their in-house function. As one General Counsel commented “If I had your systems, if I could tailor your model to my function, it would help my team make quicker and better decisions.”

In the words of Karl Chapman, Riverview Law’s CEO,  they are “taking the Riverview Law model and enabling general counsels and legal teams internally to actually tailor it to suit their business.”  This means that corporate legal departments that purchase these tools get the benefit of the technology platform that gives Riverview Law a competive advantage in delivering managed legal services. Their SaaS customers can now use the Riverview expertise embodied in a collection of modules to

  • manage the flow of matters,
  • manage “new contract creation from start to finish via multi-channels (desktop, tablet, mobile)”, and
  • manage their processes and productivity through the analytics module that “provides detailed management information and business insight” to help GCs “preempt risk and reduce future cost.”

As Katy Robson, Riverview Law’s head of IT, observed: they have built these tools from the bottom-up, from the lawyer’s perspective and reflecting lawyer user requirements. Equally, they have built these tools from the top-down to ensure the tools provide the necessary data and analytical capability to run a legal business more efficiently.

 Treating whiplash

So what happens after you suffer from whiplash? According to the helpful Mayo Clinic staff:

Whiplash injuries can be mild or severe. Treatment typically begins with over-the-counter pain relievers and ice applied to the painful neck muscles. If pain persists, prescription medications and physical therapy may be helpful.

Most people recover from whiplash in just a few weeks, but some people may develop chronic pain after a whiplash injury.

While most people recover within a few weeks, I suspect the denizens of the legal industry will take much longer. However, all is not lost. Karl Chapman has kindly offered to license their technology to in-house counsel who do not use Riverview Law’s managed services. I wonder how other law firms will respond when their clients purchase Riverview Law’s In-House Solutions? The contrast between a client’s new software-enabled efficiency and their external counsel’s approach could be quite striking.

[Photo credit: Wikipedia]



A Law Firm Lesson from Apple

Apple_gray_logoOkay. I’ll admit to a fangirl moment (or three) as I watched the much-anticipated Apple announcement. Apple had lots of good news for device junkies: bigger and better phones and a gorgeous new watch.

Wedged between the announcements about new devices, however, was an interesting introduction to an innovative service: Apple Pay. In brief, Apple deploys near-field communication technology to allow us to use phones and watches to make contactless payments. Apple’s vision is to replace the wallet altogether, beginning with payments.

According to Apple CEO, Tim Cook, credit and debit payments are a huge business in themselves — 200 million transactions each day totalling $12 billion per day and $4 trillion each year, just in the United States. However, this business is built on a precarious foundation: thin pieces of plastic that use magnetic strip technology that is five-decades old and security codes that are not terribly secure.

None of this is news. In fact, we’ve known for some time that this business was ripe for disruption, yet that disruption never materialized — despite the evident dangers of the current system.

Enter Apple and Apple Pay. Granted, Apple has the technology, reach and audacity to reform a business so different from its core business. (After all, we’ve seen Apple make this move before in the music industry and the telecoms industry.) Yet, what made it possible for Apple to take on the financial services industry when others have tried and failed? Here’s the answer in Tim Cook’s words:

It’s no wonder that people have dreamed of replacing [credit cards] for years. But they’ve all failed. … Why is this? It’s because…most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.

We love this kind of problem. This is exactly what Apple does best. So we’ve created an entirely new payment process and we call it Apple Pay.

In case you missed it, here are the critical words: “most people that have worked on this have started by focusing on creating a business model that was centered around their self-interest instead of focusing on the user experience.” When I heard these words, I sat up and took notice. I couldn’t help but wonder: was he talking about law firms? How many firms are built on a business model that privileges the self-interest of partners instead of focusing on the client experience?

While every law firm claims to put its clients first, does it really? Does your firm?

If you’re wondering what the client-first approach would look like in practice, consider Riverview Law. This firm claims to have built its business model “from the client up” as opposed to “from the partner down.” According to Karl Chapman, Riverview’s CEO, putting the client first has a direct impact on the type of people they recruit, the systems they use, and the way they reward and compensate people. Above all, it means developing a firm culture that is markedly different from that of most firms you know.

Apple is considered the most valuable company in the world. Riverview Law is tiny compared to Apple, but it shares Apple’s focus on the client experience. And, like Apple, it has created an entirely new process to serve that client focus. How does your law firm stack up?

[Photo Credit: Wikimedia.org]


What ever happened to?

optimizing book cover.main_image Every so often magazines will run a feature that begins with the words, “What ever happened to…?” Sometimes, the question they ask is “Where are they now?” Often their curiosity is focused on child stars who once seemed ubiquitous but now have all but disappeared. There are even websites devoted to these critical questions.

For those of you who have been loyal readers of this blog over the years, you might be justified in wondering what ever happened to Above and Beyond KM. After all, the activity on this site has declined quite noticeably in recent months. The reason behind this is quite simple. Over the course of the last year I was immersed in two substantial projects: (1) building a business and (2) researching and writing a book. I’m delighted to report that things are going well on the business front. As for the book, it has just been published.

The book is entitled Optimizing Law Firm Support Functions and it studies all the parts of a law firm that are not populated by fee earners. In some firms there are as many (or more) folks working in support functions as there are practising lawyers. These departments ran the gamut from Accounting and Administration to IT and Knowledge Management. But what does firm management really know about how to optimize the work of support departments? In fact, what does an optimized support function look like?

To answer these questions, I conducted over 50 interviews with senior law firm managers, as well as some managing partners, executive directors, consultants and clients. Through these conversations, I was given a behind-the-scenes look at 33 firms in Australia, Canada, England and the United States. While there are admittedly many support departments that are struggling to meet basic requirements in the face of reduced staff and budgets, my research turned up several departments that were able to achieve much more than merely getting by. In fact, their performance was so good that they were well on the way to optimization, if they had not already achieved it.

What is optimization? To optimize is to make something as good or as effective as possible. Optimization means operating at peak performance. For the purposes of the book, I looked for the outliers: the support departments that seemed to be achieving more than their cohort on a consistent basis. They are not flash-in-the-pan successes, but have developed a way of working that yields steady and growing progress.  Through careful hiring and training, as well as wise management and thoughtful internal processes, these support departments routinely produce results that impress. In short, they have transformed themselves from mere cost centers into strategic partners for their respective firms.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing more here about what I learned while researching this book. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this link to the book’s executive summary. For those of you who are interested in reading more, please contact the Ark Group for purchase details.