The history of medicine is filled with all sorts of interesting lessons for lawyers and law firms. Consider the science of blood transfusions. According to the Wikipedia article on blood transfusions, the first recorded transfusion allegedly occurred in 1492 when an innovative (or perhaps desperate) physician suggesting reviving a comatose Pope Innocent VIII by giving him the blood of three young boys. Since this was in the days before the circulatory system and intravenous access had been discovered, the blood was administered through the patient’s mouth. The pope died, as did the three boys. In this case, the delivery mechanism proved to be not just ineffective, but fatal.
Fast forward to the late 17th century when Richard Lower performed the first human transfusion in Britain by introducing the blood of a sheep into the arm of one Arthur Coga. (Mr. Coga was described as “the subject of a harmless form of insanity.”) According to the Wikipedia article,
Sheep’s blood was used because of speculation about the value of blood exchange between species; it had been suggested that blood from a gentle lamb might quiet the tempestuous spirit of an agitated person and that the shy might be made outgoing by blood from more sociable creatures.
Blood changing personality? This is yet another flawed theory that has proven to be completely false. Today, not only do we not try cross-species transfusions, but medical science has taught us the dangers of trying to transfuse across blood types:
It was not until 1901, when the Austrian Karl Landsteiner discovered human blood groups, that blood transfusions became safer. Mixing blood from two incompatible individuals can lead to an immune response, and the destruction of red blood cells releases free hemoglobin into the bloodstream, which can have fatal consequences. Karl Landsteiner discovered that when incompatible types are mixed, the red blood cells clump, and that this immunological reaction occurs when the receiver of a blood transfusion has antibodies against the donor blood cells. His work made it possible to determine blood type and allowed a way for blood transfusions to be carried out much more safely. For this discovery he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 1930, and many other blood groups have been discovered since.
To recap, not only does the delivery mechanism need to work properly, but you also need to be sure that the blood you are transferring matches perfectly with the blood of the recipient.
So what does this have to do with law firms and their clients? Consider the various types of work product that law firms push at their clients. Legal alerts, current awareness, research memoranda, draft documents, billing statements — the list is endless. Now, imagine that each is a blood product. How do law firms ensure that these products match the blood type (or preferences or working style) of their clients? Do they ask clients beforehand what their preferences are? Or do lawyers imagine that a cross-species transfusion from law firm to client will work better for them than the history of medicine indicates?
Consider also the delivery mechanism — email blasts, law firm websites, extranets or the occasional tweet. Are clients even paying attention? Wouldn’t it make more sense to deliver these materials in a way that fits neatly with the technology platform and information flow of the client? Clients have figured this out. That’s why some are demanding that billing information, for example, be delivered via an electronic platform chosen by the client. And yet too many law firms persist in the old-fashioned blast or broadcast method of marketing and client communications.
Sending out an alert memo via email to a client who doesn’t have a reliable system to store, retrieve and share it for later use is as pointless as trying to do a blood transfusion via someone’s mouth. Imagine how much better it would be if your memo were seamlessly received by and stored in the client’s knowledge base, together with clear contact instructions so that the client could reach you when a related issue arises. As I wrote in a post entitled Dino, Dodo, Extranet,
We’ve heard in-house counsel express the desire for law firm content without having to hunt for it. They would like it in an environment of their own choosing and design. So instead of providing content access tools like extranets, should law firms be thinking harder about better content delivery tools?
Imagine a virtual umbilical cord stretching from a law firm to its client’s knowledge management system, providing a regular supply of helpful resources? Imagine being an in-house lawyer who doesn’t have to go to a thousand places on the internet to find information, but rather can simply surf a single familiar internal platform? Imagine that in-house lawyer’s delight when they can find easily the information appropriate to the decision at hand, and can identify and follow-up with the lawyer and firm that made the retrieval so pain free? Imagine the impact of these experiences on the relationship between that law firm and its client?
Now that’s the type of transfusion that actually promotes better health for the client and the law firm.
[Photo Credit: CarynNL]