What Uber Can Teach Us About Feedback #ILTAG21 #ILTACON

Session Description:

Contemporaneous customer feedback has become an integral component of the economic model for many service industries. From restaurants to ride shares, a wide array of companies leverage this feedback to improve their offerings, connecting them more meaningfully to what their customers value most. Why has law not implemented a similar feedback loop between firms and clients? Are there structural impediments to real time feedback? How might we go about constructing a system where such feedback is encouraged and used to improve legal services? Come hear a law department leader, an AmLaw executive, and an itinerant futurist share their thoughts on the availability of feedback in law today, the type of contemporaneous information we should be collecting, how it presents opportunities to firms and clients alike, and how organizations like ILTA can play a pivotal role in fostering the collaboration needed to develop a meaningful feedback system.

Takeaways:

  • Understand the benefits of meaningful feedback for firms and clients
  • Generate ideas regarding the type of feedback valuable to improving the services firms offer
  • Identify how organizations such as ILTA can be pivotal in creating feedback standards

Speakers:

  • John Alber, ILTA Futurist
  • Michael Haven, Senior Director, AGC, and Head of Legal Operations at Gap Inc.
  • Jeffrey C. Schwartz, Head of Legal Operations Innovation at Hinshaw & Culbertson

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so 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:

  • Make sure you are requesting feedback for the right reasons. Initially, some firms undertook client feedback programs because they heard it “made the client relationship stickier.” This is not the best motivation. The better motivation is to elicit information that helps you provide better client service.
  • Make sure you are asking for the right kind of feedback.  It is tempting to ask for qualitative feedback: How responsive do you find us? How well do you think we understand the critical area of law? Rather, ask for quantitative feedback regarding efficiency. Clients invariably are more interested in the feedback that has a clear positive impact on service delivery.
  • Think about how clients prefer to evaluate. Some clients are developing internal tools to measure the service of their various external lawyers. Ask early what they are tracking, what is important to them.
  • Frequency. Don’t wait until the end of a matter before requesting feedback. Clients would prefer at least quarterly check-ins.
    • At Uber, every single touch with a customer gets rated.
    • No firm represented in the audience seeks feedback after every client interaction. There were very few in the audience who did it more frequently than annually.
    • As tempting as it might be to ramp up to requesting evaluations after every interaction, keep in mind that this may be more than the client wants or can handle. Ask for the client’s preference.
  • Granularity.
    • How granular should the feedback request be?
    • You need to calibrate this depending on (1) what’s important to the client and (2) the quality of service delivery.
    • The net effect of fairly granular and regular feedback it that it causes greater accountability and engagement on the part of the lawyers.
  • Metrics.
    • There are data science consequences and human behavior consequences to the type of metrics you track. So check the science as you are designing your system.
    • See the comments above about qualitative and quantitative metrics — and what clients care about.
  • Barriers.
    • Unlike your interaction with an Uber driver, this is an ongoing relationship rather than a transactional relationship. Therefore, if you give your lawyer a bad rating, it can be uncomfortable to work with that lawyer again. Does this lead to grade inflation. (Think about grade inflation for personal assistants in law firms.)
    • How do you create enough anonymity that allows people to provide bad feedback.
    • We need to learn how to have the “courageous conversation” in a professional, constructive way. A key to this is to make obvious that you are invested in the relationship and really want it to work well.
    • Increasing the frequency of feedback helps focus on small problems early rather than huge deferred problems. These small conversations are understood as “tweaking” a good relationship rather than upending it.
  • What if every member of the team was rated? Bryan Cave had experience with a client feedback system that was connected with a bonus structure.
  • Where to begin in your firm?
    • Michael Haven — Start by talking to your client. They probably already have an operations group that is measuring various things about your firm. So ask them at the beginning of an engagement what is important for them.
    • John Alber — Mine Your Own Data:
      • Begin by asking how sticky a client relationship is.
      • Then, ask why.
      • Then, discern the data that appear to correlate with high and low stickiness.
      • Then present these data to your firm in a way that intrigues them.
    • Jeffrey Schwartz — Increase transparency within the firm: Give the firm data that helps the lawyers ask productive questions about existing client relationships.
      • are we noticing a difference in the rate of bill payments?
      • are we noticing an increase/decrease in demand?
    • Collaborate with the Marketing group of your firm. They are voracious producers/consumers of data.
    • Pay attention to patterns of behavior in your document management system. What does this indicate about efficiency? About approaches by specific client teams?
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#ILTACON from the Bridal Suite

2016_ILTACON_logoPeople attend the International Legal Technology Association’s annual conference (ILTACON) for a variety of reasons. Whether you are looking for outstanding educational sessions, insightful conversations with your peers or informative encounters with leading technology vendors, ILTACON has it all.

In prior years, my strategy has been to attend as many educational sessions as possible so that I can drink from the amazing firehose of useful information provided at ILTACON. (I have then tweeted or blogged those sessions so the rest of you can benefit from those sessions as well.)

This year, however, I found that instead of sitting in the scheduled educational sessions, I was sitting in the Bridal Suite.

To set the record straight, I was not in the Bridal Suite for any reasons having to do with a wedding. Rather, the Bridal Suite was ILTACON TV’s studio and I was fortunate enough to be one of the interviewers. This meant that I had the privilege of participating in wide-ranging conversations with some of ILTA’s impressive thought leaders.

If time permits, I’ll be revisiting those interviews and blogging some of their key content. In the meantime, here are links to the interviews I conducted that are now available. (I’ll update this post as more interviews become available.) Plus, there is a bonus link so you can learn from the conversation between Todd Corham (CIO, Saul Ewing) and Jeffrey Brandt (CIO, Jackson Kelly).

John Alber (ILTA’s Futurist, formerly Strategic Innovation Partner at Bryan Cave):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – John Alber from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

Katie DeBord (Strategic Innovation Partner, Bryan Cave) & Jay Hull (Strategic Innovation Partner, Davis Wright Tremaine):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Katie DeBord and Jay Hull from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

Michelle Mahoney, Executive Director, Innovation, King & Wood Mallesons):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Michelle Mahoney from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

Chris Emerson (Chief Practice Economics Officer, Bryan Cave):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Chris Emerson from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

Keith Lipman (President and Co-Founder, Prosperoware):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Keith Lipman from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

David Michel (Director of Technology Services, Broad and Cassel):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – David Michel from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

Lida Pinkham (Technology Training Manager, Ice Miller):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Lida Pinkham from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

BONUS: An interview between Todd Corham (CIO, Saul Ewing) and Jeffrey Brandt (CIO, Jackson Kelly):

ILTACON 2016 – ILTACON TV – Jeffrey Brandt from ILTA on Vimeo.

 

 

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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.

Speakers:

  • 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.]

NOTES:

  • 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.
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How KM Misses the Point #ILTA12

The speaker in this session is John Alber (Partner, Bryan Cave).

[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:

  • Law Firm KM is too detached from the Business. John Alber believes that KM is introverted, introspective and far too insulated from the business of the firm. To add insult to injury, he thinks that law firm knowledge managers have created and fostered this state of affairs by calling themselves something that is impenetrable for most people, and by never properly explaining what exactly they do every day and how their work benefits the firm in dollar and cents.
  • KM is a “felt” need. Law firms invest in knowledge management because they feel they ought to. However, when the rubber hits the road (e.g., during an economic downturn), KM headcount is sacrificed. John believes that well-managed businesses invest in functions that provide proven long-term value. He would argue that law firm KM has not always produced the evidence to prove their value.
  • Start by Renaming KM in a Manner that Declares a Better Intention. Start by understanding the function. What does it do? KM doesn’t just manage knowledge. It INCREASES knowledge. It helps us understand what we do best and how we can help clients. Good KM makes good decision-making by the firm almost automatic. Most importantly, good KM is profoundly connected to profitably. John believes that if you are profoundly connected to profitability, you will not be laid off during a recession because you are critical to the firm’s financial well-being.
  • The Accenture Example. John Alber suggests Accenture is very similar to a law firm. In fact, he says they do exactly what we do: they work with incredibly busy professionals, they deliver technology, they train, they manage knowledge. What’s Accenture’s tag line? High performance delivered.
  • Key things to notice about Accenture. From the beginning, INNOVATION was at the core of their efforts and they have repeatedly been willing to take extraordinary risks in order to innovate. With respect to training, they ran that function like a business: they cut the training budget in half, but had to show measurable improvement in training results without relying on “squishy” metrics like user satisfaction. Further, they had to achieve a quantifiable return on the investment in their training business. To achieve this, they focused on increasing customer value and managing relationships with senior leaders and sponsors
  • Six Decisions IT Employees Should Never Make. John recommends that we read this Harvard Business Review book. (For a preview, see this slide deck.) It helps readers differentiate between strategic decisions the business should make and the operational decisions IT should make on behalf of the business.
  • Applying the Lessons. Rather than teaching how to use specific applications, teach people to work in the most efficient way, which will happen to use specific applications in a recommended way. In other words, don’t provide a training session on MS Word. Rather, provide a training session on how to draft a legal document using key aspects of MS Word properly.
  • Ask the Right Questions. Don’t start by asking what everyone else is doing. Rather, start by asking top firm executives what the firm is trying to achieve in the fiscal year for which you are planning. Take their concrete objectives and bring your KM efforts to bear to help make those objectives a reality. He says that asking that question led his firm to investment significantly in systems to rationally support alternative fee arrangements and project management.
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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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Breaking Strategic Groups Out of IT [#ILTA11]

The speakers in this session: (i) John Alber (Bryan Cave), (ii) Timothy Corcoran (HubbardOne), (iii) Gerard Neiditsch (Mallesons) and (iv) Jeffrey Rovner (O’Melveny).

[These are my notes from the International Legal Technology Association’s Conference 2011.  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:

  • Why is this Issue Important? Changes in the marketplace, in how infrastructure and applications are managed, changes in staffing models, changes in pricing and client expectations — all of these factors cause firms to consider new ways to achieve a competitive advantage.
  • Consider Two Extremes for Discussion Purposes. One extreme is an enormous IT department that handles everything that has any technology function. The other extreme is an extremely lean IT operation, that keeps the basic operations in order, is reponsible for architecture and basic apps, but many of the specialized functions (e.g., client-facing technology, marketing technology, litigation support, practice support, etc.) are distributed throughout the firm. Which is the better approach, or should your firm aim for a hybrid? The answer lies in the problem you’re trying to solve. Are you trying to achieve the lowest possible cost? For example, a distributed model may lead to overlaps, duplication and inefficiencies. Alternatively, a consolidated group may be monolithic and sluggish. Mallesons is optimizing for agility. This has implications for how they approach legal practice AND technology.They are doing this in order to be able to respond rapidly to changes in their clients and in the environment. As a result, they are focused on specialized initiatives that are technology-enabled. The IT department then imposes discipline to ensure that there is no duplication of effort across the firm.
  • Considerations Applicable to Both Scenarios. Nimbleness, creating/supporting and R&D function, duplicative technology, duplicative personnel, career paths, IT discipline and project management. Gerard Neiditsch reminded the audience that even if you create separate “tiger teams” or skunkworks, be sure to recognize the contributions from the rest of the IT organization (the “performance engine”). Otherwise, you run the risk of losing the best people from your performance engine operations. In a similar vein, Jeffrey Rovner reminded the audience that whether you’re dealing with a skunkworks project or a performance engine project, be sure to recognize every single member of the team who made that possible. Just like the credits at the end of a movie, it’s important to acknowledge everyone who contributed to the success of the project.
  • The Importance of Reintegration. John Alber and Constance Hoffman at Bryan Cave frequently consider whether a group that has been broken out of the IT department should be reintegrated with the main IT department to ensure the overall benefits accrue to the firm and to avoid unnecessary duplication or silos of capability.
  • Consider the Extent to Which a Group is Tied to Revenue.Timothy Cororan noted that being tied to revenue can preserve a group (and give it legitimacy within the firm), but it also changes the expectations of the group. (One panelist noted that fee-earners can go to the golf course because meeting clients on the golf course is supposed to contribute to the top line.) Gerard Neiditsch also observed that if you have a group that you intended to spin out of the firm altogether (perhaps even to sell the technology and the team to another company) you should keep that in mind when you first start planning to create the group.
  • Consider Visibility. Creating a separate team can be a means of providing viability inside and outside the firm with respect to that team and its projects. John Alber noted that when they created a group focused on alternative fee structures, members of those teams started attending client meetings and internal client meetings. Jeffrey Rovner includes IT and library personnel in his KM meetings to ensure transparency of projects across functions. Gerard Neiditsch’s project managers are involved in every project in order to promote efficiency across the firm.
  • Career Path.Gerard noted that it can be hard to attract top specialist talent if they are concerned that they are buried in a large department and won’t have appropriate visibility. Tim suggested that by encouraging personnel to work across teams and departments, you can foster a cross-pollination of good ideas and best practices. John said that when you spin groups out of IT, you create additional opportunities for people to learn how to be better managers. However, Gerard said that you most likely will have to pay more to personnel who assume additional management responsibilities. Jeff and Tim both cautioned against creating new groups just to separate personnel who are having trouble getting along. This is an issue that requires better management. Separating them just perpetuates the problem, but on an inter-departmental basis.
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Help Law Firms Deliver Value (ILTA09)

Shift happens — even in law firms. Are you ready? That’s the question that kept surfacing at the ILTA09 conference last week.

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have noticed the impact of the economy on law firms and their clients alike.  Thankfully, ILTA09 didn’t just remind us of the bad news all around.  The conference did something more helpful — it provided information and real examples of how lawyers and technologists around the world are rising to the challenges of the shifting landscape.

While I’ve provided some fairly detailed reporting of several ILTA09 sessions during the course of the past week,  I want now to take a step back and try to convey some general themes that emerged across sessions.  My first focus is on delivering value.  This theme was launched officially with a keynote address by Richard Susskind entitled, “The End of Lawyering?”.  Over the course of his keynote address and panel presentation, he made the following points:

  • If law firms are serious about addressing client concerns regarding the rising cost of legal services, those firms will have to increase efficiency radically.  In order to manage costs, clients are going to have to consider collaboration with other clients and thereby share costs.
  • The best way to reduce costs intelligently is to start by analyzing your current costs of delivering services.  Once firms break down service into its component parts and price those parts, firms can then experiment with finding cheaper ways to provide those components.  This may mean sub-contracting the work or moving it offshore, for example.
  • One way to reduce costs is to standardize services (e.g., creating model or standard form documents). Going further, you can systematize or automate those services (e.g., by using document assembly tools).  Once automation is complete, a firm can then package these services and make them available online to clients, who can use the packaged services as and when needed.  The example Susskind cited was Wilson Sonsini’s contract generator for start ups.  He described packaged services like this as a means for firms to “make money while you sleep.”
  • Central to rethinking how we deliver services more efficiently is disrupting the current business model and deploying disruptive technologies in our firms.  However, while these disruptive technologies will give a firm competitive advantage, Susskind believes that most firms don’t seek this.  In his experience, firms are more concerned about suffering a competitive DISadvantage rather than having a competitive advantage.  In other words, they are more worried about being left behind than blazing a new trail.
  • Here are the top 10 disruptive technologies  Richard Susskind identified:
    • Automated document assembly.
    • Relentless Connectivity.  (Clients expect 24/7 availability, so lawyers need to use online tools to provide a continuous online presence.)
    • Electronic legal marketplace.  (Like on ebay, clients will have better pricing information and will be able to auction/bid for legal services.)
    • e-Learning.  (Laws schools are beginning to use online simulation tools train students for modern legal practice circa 2009 not 1980.)
    • Online Legal Service. (There are many English public sector websites that offer online legal guidance, so you don’t have to hire a lawyer.)
    • Legal Open-Sourcing. (Some legal resources are now gathered and offered free of charge.  This trend will grow like wikipedia.)
    • Closed Legal Communities. (More clients will form online communities to collect and share legal know-how.)
    • Workflow & Project Management. (Automation and enhanced project management can improve margins on high volume, low value work.)
    • Embedded Legal Knowledge. (More systems will embed compliance requirements, thus removing the need for separate legal advice.)
    • Online Dispute Resolution. (Moving dispute resolution online eliminates the expense of having to meet in a physical location.)

At a later session, Fred Krebs (President  of the Association of Corporate Counsel in Washington, D.C.) spoke about the ACC’s Value Challenge, which is based on the premise that it is the clients that define what constitutes “value” in legal services.  He started by pointing out that while overall costs to corporations have increased by 20% during the past 10 years, their legal costs have risen by 75%.  In order to address this imbalance, the members of the ACC have issued the Value Challenge to counteract what they describe as the “perverse incentives of the billable hour.” The Value Challenge aims to help corporate counsel manage costs by increasing transparency in the process for setting prices for law firm services.  Their hope is that this will bring about more efficiency and cost predictability.

Moving from theory to action, we then heard from some firms that were taking concrete steps to address the new economic realities.  One firm that has moved significantly down this path is Bryan Cave.  As John Alber and Connie Hoffman told us over the course of two sessions, they have spent significant time analyzing their services and business processes and now believe they know what it really costs to deliver services to clients.  With this data in hand, Bryan Cave can model the impact on price by changing the components of service (e.g., what happens if you change the staffing?).  Along the way, they created an online tool to help with this analysis and then licensed that tool to Redwood Analytics, who now provides it to other firms.  (This is another example of what Susskind calls “making money while you sleep.”)  Bryan Cave has also rethought how to conduct a due diligence review and created an online tool that streamlines the due diligence process.  They have been able to push due diligence work down to less expensive personnel while ensuring quality through a training component embedded in the tool.  In addition, they are providing transparency by allowing clients to obtain reports on demand regarding the process and cost of the due diligence effort.

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.

If your firm would like to rethink how it delivers value to its clients, the panelists advise you to start by analyzing your business processes.  Using a simple Gantt chart,  identify the components and dependencies of your process.  Once you really understand the workflow, introduce simple technology to help automate parts of the process.  If it works, extend it.  If it doesn’t work, learn from it.  Throughout this process, however, don’t forget the advice of Steven Levy, as quoted by one of the panelists:  “Technology cannot replace thinking. Automating broken processes won’t make us smarter; it can make us stupider faster.”

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For more information on delivering value to clients, see the following resources:

My post on a prior talk given by Richard Susskind and its implications for law firm knowledge management.

David Hobbie’s Caselines posts on Richard Susskind’s keynote address and the related panel presentation.

Andrew McLennan-Murray’s summary of Richard Susskind’s keynote and panel presentation.

Susan Jacobsen’s post on the the ACC Value Challenge session at ILTA09.

ACC’s resources on Leveraging Knowledge, including specific measures taken by various law firms.

[Photo Credit:  dasmart]

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