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.]
- 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.]