If Southwest Airlines Ran Your Law Firm

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.

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

[Photo Credit: Jim Ellwanger]

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What Technologists Can Teach Lawyers About Innovation

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]

 

 

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More Guidance on Law Practice Gamification

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]

 

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If Dominos Ran Your Law Firm

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?

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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]

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Gamification for Law Firms?

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:

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

[Photo Credit: Stephen L. Johnson]

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Snacking on Big Law’s Crumbs

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.

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Disrupt Yourself

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.

 

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It’s Time for a Law Firm Hackathon

Yahoo! Hack Day In the world of law firm blogging there is Bruce MacEwen…and then there are the rest of us. Writing as Adam Smith Esq., Bruce has just completed an extraordinary series of posts entitled “Growth is Dead.” In his final installment, The S-Curve, Bruce says that if law firms wish to survive the current economic headwinds, it’s critical that they identify the next S-Curve and jump on it. The problem is that for all the hand-wringing we’ve seen since 2008 (usually accompanied by dire mutterings about the “New Normal”), there don’t appear to be many well-considered, internally coherent proposals for that new S-Curve.

For those of you coming to the conversation late, S-Curves illustrate, among other things, life cycles (of technology, for instance) and the diffusion of innovation. Clayton Christensen showed us in The Innovator’s Dilemma how upstarts can enter an industry with disruptive innovation that creates a new S-Curve and lets them eat the lunch of more established players in their vertical. The challenge for those more established players is to innovate sufficiently so that they don’t become footnotes in history.

If only innovation were that easy.

In reality, innovation can be extremely hard work. To begin with, organizations are too often rather hostile towards innovation. Further, individuals within those organizations sometimes lack the right mindset for change. (If you’re interested in learning more, read Why Innovation Fails.)

So how do you work around these problems in order to find the disruptive innovation that is right for your organization? As far as the legal industry is concerned, we don’t have the luxury of waiting until the stars are aligned. We need answers fast. It’s time for a Law Firm Hackathon.

What’s a Hackathon?

Hackathon is a portmanteau of hack + marathon, and is used to describe a brief, intense period of hands-on collaboration to solve a specific problem. Invented in the world of software development, hackathons initially were used to develop usable code by pooling the efforts of many over the course of a short period (e.g., a day, a weekend, or a week). Since then, hackathons have been used to re-imagine everything from a better New York City government website to social justice in Africa to the world’s sanitation crisis to improved management practices and reinventing business itself.

Here are some key elements of a hackathon:

  • Issue an open invitation so that you involve people who might otherwise be trapped in organizational silos — this event has to be more than the same old folks talking about the same old things
  • Frame the problem clearly at the beginning of the hackathon
  • Be sure to provide for creature comforts — food, drink and work space

The critical thing is to move past brainstorming to creating a workable prototype within the time period of the hackathon. The result need not be a final product. However, it should be something tangible or concrete on which you can build.

How to do a Law Firm Hackathon

  • Read Late Night Pizza: Extending Hackathons Beyond Technology (see the “hackathon-in-a-box” materials)
  • Recruit widely from across the firm, but ensure that the firm’s senior leadership participates fully
  • Follow the good advice from the Mix Management Hackathon:
    • Be radical — the hack should make a discernible difference in your firm
    • Be practical — the hack should be easy to implement
    • Be simple — if the hack is too complicated, it won’t gain traction
  • When the hackathon is over, don’t waste time before you implement the winning hacks. In the words of Frans Johansson, the key is to “start with the smallest executable step.”

Start planning your law firm hackathon now. Time is running out. As Bruce MacEwen says: “We have no idea yet what BigLaw will look like in the future, and the only way to find out is to invent that future.”

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Here is some additional reading regarding hackathons:

[Photo Credit: Scott Beale]

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The Law Firm Infographic Challenge

fresh and direct We’re hosting a dinner party on Friday night.  To maximize our chances of delivering a delicious meal, I’ve already determined the menu and drafted a work plan that will allow us to prepare ahead for the dinner. We are organized!

However, there is a small potential problem. Since I’m fully committed with work and extra-curricular activities this week, I don’t actually have time to go to the grocery store before our dinner party. Not to worry, we’ve got FreshDirect. Those of you who don’t live in New York City may not be familiar with this amazing gift to working folks.  FreshDirect has a fabulous website that offers food, drink, household items and recipes.  All I have to do is place my order and choose a delivery time.  Then I simply sit back until the food arrives almost magically at my door.

While the transaction may seem like a magic trick to me, The New York Times published an infographic that shows exactly what’s involved in delivering a food order placed with FreshDirect. To be honest, my initial reaction upon seeing the infographic was amazement that the process was so complicated. My second reaction was profound relief. The infographic illustrates the degree to which FreshDirect has analyzed its business and set up its processes to ensure that its service levels keep customers like me delighted.

Taking a page out of Freshdirect’s book, here’s the challenge for you: would your law firm be able to generate a comparable infographic that shows with reasonable accuracy all the steps required to deliver services at levels that consistently delight your clients?

Try it. You might be stunned to discover how little you actually know about how your business really operates.

[Photo Credit: Adrian Duckett]

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The Lawyer’s Role is Changing. Are You Keeping Up?#ILTA12

The speakers for this session are John Alber (Partner, Bryan Cave), Jim Jones (Senior Fellow, Georgetown University Law Center and Principal, Legal Management Resources) and Michael Mills (CEO, Neota Logic).

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2012 Conference 2012. 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’s the Fundamental Change?.According to Jim Jones, in the last 4-5 years, the legal market has changed from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. This means that while law firms used to be able to set the terms, today it’s the client that sets the terms. Further, there was a great deal of stability in the relationships between law firm and client. While law firms may struggle with this change, it’s reality. As part of this change, risk has shifted from the client to their law firms, especially through alternative fee arrangements. The breadth and depth of these changes are enormous. John Alber reminded us that we should learn our lessons from other industries that have undergone similarly deep changes. One example he gave was that of the trucking industry. He described them as having shifted from transportation companies to information companies with trucks.
  • Lawyers are being Disintermediated. Jim Jones noted that as escoteric legal information becomes widely available, lawyers lose their role as guardians of that information. Therefore, they can’t charge for the information or rely on its existence to solidify a client relationship. Similarly, other organizations are finding ways to provide services that formerly were the exclusive purview of lawyers. Michael Mills observed that these organizations are not only competitors, but co-creators of legal services. The problem is that law firms and law firm technology are really not designed to “play nicely with others.”
  • The Tipping Point. As far as Jim Jones is concerned, it’s hard to predict a tipping point because it is easier to identify in retrospect. Events build on each other and then suddenly there is enough change to reach a tipping point. Michael Mills says that lawyers, like all humans, are inertial. However, if look around you carefully, you can find enough examples of change that you can get a glimpse of the tipping point.
  • What’s the Challenge for Lawyers & Technologists?. Mills and Jones agreed that the key is to focus on those aspects of the practice of law that are most prized by lawyers. For example, many lawyers want to be free to practice law, to problem solve, to help clients. If technologists can find ways to make the real business of lawyering (counseling, problem-solving, strategizing) better and more enjoyable (despite the current drive to AFAs, project management, etc.), then they will have made a huge contribution.
  • Law Firms Are No Longer Monolithic. Law firms are becoming a collection of activities. And each of these activities have different requirements, risks and economic return. Accordingly, it’s important to tailor a matter so that the activities involved closely match the client’s expectations and those activities are priced in order to make them economical for the client AND the law firm. Further, there is a role for technologists to play. In addition to providing the basic platform technologies (e.g., email, word processing, etc.), technologists also need to provide specially-tailored tools that meet specific client needs.This a real opportunity for technologists.
  • Disaggregation of Services. Michael Mills warned the audience that just as clients have been disaggregating legal services and asking legal process outsourcers to provide services that formerly were provided solely by law firms, we should expect that technologists within law firms be prepared to outsource services to external providers if that makes more sense.
  • Advice to Young Lawyers & Technologists. Jim Jones said he is asked to advise lots of law students and he always tells them that this is a great time to enter the profession because the turmoil presents so many opportunities. Further, as lawyers get better at focsing on core, high-value legal services, they should find more professional satisfaction in their work. Michael Mills also encouraged young lawyers to be far more tech-savvy than they are. This means they need to know more than how to operate their smartphone or move their thumbs quickly while texting. Instead, they should get smarter about the technology that automates business processes and workflow, understand databases, etc. Finally, John Alber noted that technologists should look for ways to connect their work directly to the business. This means understanding what drives the business and how it operates. It may mean getting an MBA or some other business training. [To be honest business-savvy is critical for lawyers too.]
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