Law21 2.1

It’s not quite the iPad launch, but for me, it’s still a momentous occasion. If you’re reading this post via an RSS feed, then you might want to click on the originating link, because Law21 has a new look today.

With the indispensable help of Jesse Collins of Moxy Webworks and Tony Delitala of Delitala Design, I’m very proud to show off Law21’s new design. You’ll see that while many features remain the same or similar, you’ll find many more are new and, I hope, interesting. In addition to a cleaner, more open feel to the site, we’ve added these elements:

  • The tabs across the top of the page – which will always stay on top of the page; try scrolling down and see – will bring you to information about the consulting services I’m offering through Edge International and Stem Legal. You can also access this information by clicking the Stem and Edge icons at the top of the right sidebar column.
  • My five most recent Twitter updates are now featured continuously just below those icons, and they’ll constantly refresh whenever I make a new Twitter post. If you want to join the 1,300+ people already following the micro-blogging and micro-publishing service I’m operating on Twitter, a simple click of the Twitter icon will do the job.
  • I’m making a lot more speaking appearances these days, so we’ve installed a feature that tells you where, when, and to whom I’m giving a presentation in the upcoming months. If you’re interested in having me come speak to your firm or organization as well, click on the “Consulting Services” tab at the top of the page for more information.
  • I also thought it was time to provide some links to articles I’ve written and podcasts or teleseminars I’ve recorded. So again, down the right-hand column, you’ll find lists of both types of publications and links to where they can be found online.

As is the case with every blog and website redesign, the form is only a point of entry into the content. So I’ll continue to strive to provide you with the very best articles I can at Law21, to justify and provide real return on the investment of your time and attention here. Thank you, as always, for reading.

Georgetown University Center for the Study of the Legal Profession Symposium, Washington, D.C. – Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business As Usual?

I’ll be co-presenting on a panel titled “Rethinking Legal Education and Training” on Monday, March 21 at the Georgetown University Center for the Study of the Legal Profession’s Symposium Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business As Usual? in Washington, D.C.  For information about how to register for this free conference, visit the event registration site.

The lamp and the laser

When you set up a home office, as I’ve recently been doing, you begin to notice lighting in a way you hadn’t before. It quickly becomes apparent that fixed overhead lights and large floor lamps, no matter how bright they might be, don’t illuminate desks and laptops very well. For close-range work, helping you navigate the nooks and crannies of keyboards and file folders, you need more focused lighting — portable, flexible, easily angled, with small super-bright halogen rather than rounded regular bulbs. These light sources are smaller and carry less wattage than the big lights and lamps — but they serve a specific need much better, and many of our illumination needs these days are pretty specific.

I used this analogy — high-wattage lamps that cast vast amounts of light in a wide circle, contrasted with smaller, sharper, focused sources that put only the light you need exactly where you need it — in a recent discussion about the future size of law firms. My theory is that most things being equal, the future belongs to smaller firms and solos, because the large-firm model ultimately suffers from an over-reliance on volume and an inability to finely focus resources. Continue Reading

Solo Practice University guest lecture

After all these years, I’m going back to law school. I’m happy to announce I’m making my first appearance as a Guest Lecturer at Solo Practice University on Tuesday, January 12 at noon ET. After having numerous great conversations with SPU founder Susan Cartier Liebel by phone and email over the years, it’ll be tremendous fun to exchange our ideas with the whole Solo Practice community. Here’s the agenda we’ve prepared — we might not get to all of these topics, but we’ll cover as many as we can:

  1. Why the billable hour’s not dead — just irrelevant.
  2. Why process and systematization will change how legal work is done.
  3. Why “access to justice” no longer has to mean “access to a lawyer'” Will we see the demise of “Unauthorized Practice of Law” restrictions?
  4. How and why client collaboration will affect your practice.
  5. Are we finally ready for preventive lawyering, becoming full-time holistic legal health professionals?
  6. How will the introduction of Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia and China (BRIIC) into the global legal marketplace affect you and your practice?
  7. Why solos and small firms are the long-term future of the practice of law.
  8. Why law schools won’t change, but legal education will.

All the details of the Guest Lecture can be found at the SPU website. If you’re not currently enrolled at Solo Practice University but would like to access this event, log in to Facebook (or create an account) and become a fan. Hope you can make it next Tuesday!

Update: A recording of the teleseminar is now available by becoming a fan of SPU’s Facebook page here.

The trusted advisor

My collection of prized possessions is extremely small — the feature item is probably a ticket stub from Game 6 of the 1993 World Series (Joe Carter’s home run off Mitch Williams). Among that narrow collection, you’ll find a personally inscribed copy of David Maister’s last book, Strategy and the Fat Smoker, and if your passion is making the legal services marketplace better for both lawyers and clients (as mine is), you’ll understand why. A remarkable number of very successful lawyers and law firm leaders have a copy of one of David’s groundbreaking books, such as True Professionalism or Managing the Professional Services Firm or The Trusted Advisor (co-authored with Charles H. Green and Robert M. Galford), on their bookshelves. His status in law practice management circles can fairly be called institutional, and unfortunately for us, the new year has brought word of the institution’s closure: David is retiring from consulting, speaking and writing on professional service delivery.

My own interactions with David Maister have been only glancing — he contributed a fine article to a College of Law Practice Management e-zine on innovation that I edited in 2006, and he generously gave me a credit in his last book for some very slight suggestions I contributed. But his influence on me and his impact on a generation of legal professionals have been profound — not only through his practical guidance and his contributions to a rational law practice business model, but for the principles he constantly advanced as essential to excellent professional service. David exhorted lawyers and accountants to stay true to the highest standards of trustworthiness and ethics and to focus relentlessly on serving the client’s best interests. Continue Reading

Ready or not, here come the clients

What’s left to say about the 2000s? What the legal profession (and the marketplace in which it operates) have just gone through was, as Brad Hildebrandt points out, unprecedented in almost every way. I won’t recap the changes — as Law21’s second full year draws to a close, you can read about them in many of the 274 previous posts here. But at a glance, we’ve seen astounding technological advances (primarily online) that change how legal services are accomplished and delivered, the rapid development of service providers outside the confines of national borders and the legal profession, and two recessions, the latter serious enough to trigger a long-overdue shift in the balance of power between lawyers and their clients. By the decade’s end, we saw the first signs that fundamental change in the marketplace, talked about for so long, was finally, really happening.

I don’t know about you, but I couldn’t be happier about what’s taking place in the law right now. That’s because virtually all the changes we’ve seen in the legal services marketplace over the past few years — and most of those to come in the next decade — operate to the benefit of clients and of the public generally. Legal services are gradually becoming more comprehensible, more accessible, and less expensive. Clients (both consumer and corporate) possess more knowledge of and more influence over legal services delivery than they’ve ever had, and both will grow. In sheer numbers, more people figure to have real access to justice in the 2010s than at any time in history. That’s an amazing development, well beyond what anyone could have anticipated as recently as 2005, and justifiable cause for celebration.

The question is, are lawyers attending this party? And if so, are they chatting away at the punch bowl or grumbling in the corner? These advances are coming largely at the expense of the traditional lawyer business model, one that was quite profitable for many years and seldom more so (especially at large firms) than in the early part of this decade. That model is now in its dying days, and whatever eventually replaces it will be more market-sensitive and client-intensive than the command-and-control model lawyers have enjoyed for so long. Not only that, but more sources for legal services, more automation of those services, and more sophisticated buyers all will cut into the profit margins that traditional legal practice generated. In the result, for the next several years at least (and maybe longer), law figures to become both a more challenging and a less remunerative career than it used to be. Continue Reading

The hyperlocal lawyer

You’ve seen plenty of references to the decline of traditional news media here, usually in the context of similar struggles in the legal marketplace. Instead of dwelling on that industry’s problems, however, here’s what looks like one of its future successes, and how it might have potentially profound applications to the law. It’s the rise of hyperlocal news.

Maybe the best way to define “hyperlocal” is to cite new media commentator Max Kalehoff’s question in his blog post: “What is hyperlocal? Can someone please tell me?” We all know what “local” means, he says: content and advertising focused on a specific location or area, rather than on a state, provincial or national level.  City, town, and community newspapers, TV stations, and radio stations all fit the definition of “local,” as do the organizations and subscribers who support them. So what does “hyperlocal” media mean, and how does it differ in a meaningful way from these local media that are dropping like flies all around us? A good answer comes in a comment from Mark Josephson, CEO of hyperlocal news provider Outside.in:

Historically, “local” was defined by city, town or zip. It was very “top down” and assumed that everyone who lived in a certain city, town or zip was interested in the same thing. Now, hyperlocal has come to mean “smaller than city, town or zip” and usually refers to neighborhoods or small town blogs. I think hyperlocal is defined by the individual, built from the ground up; that is, local media, news or information that is personalized by you and YOUR location. Hyperlocal is unique to everyone: what are the places, locations and neighborhoods that are important to you. Continue Reading

Law firms on demand

What if you could take a law firm, carve away all the parts of it you don’t like, and keep all the parts you did? What if, from the client perspective, you could get rid of high and rising prices, time-based bills, gratuitous overhead costs and unfamiliarity with your business? What if, from the lawyer perspective, you could do away with brutal billing targets, inflexible work schedules and long commutes into the downtown core? But what if in both cases, you could keep the high quality of talent and the brand-name assurance that comes with a respected legal services provider — what would that be like?

It’s an intriguing question, but not because of whether it would be feasible — it already is. Firms following this model are blossoming across North America and Europe. They offer corporate clients the services of lawyers with pedigreed credentials (large-firm and law-department experience) who will work from the client’s office or from home, for limited periods of time, at much lower rates than traditional law firms charge. The selling point for clients is the services of an excellent lawyer on the client’s terms, at a competitive price that excludes traditional firm overhead costs and revenue expectations; for lawyers, the challenge of high-end work on a short-term, flexible or even itinerant basis.

Maybe the best-known of this new breed of firms is Axiom Legal, which is closing in on the 300-lawyer mark, but there’s a growing collection of similar operations like Virtual Law Partners, FSB Corporate Counsel, Paragon Legal, Cognition LLP, Virtual Law [UK], The Rimon Law Group, and Keystone Law. They’re often called “virtual firms,” but that’s a little confusing, in light of the growing number of small cloud-based law practices. I prefer VLP’s self-description, a “distributed” law firm, or Keystone’s, “dispersed.” Concerns about these firms usually focus on the scope of their expertise, their value for money, and their KM and quality-control systems, all reasonable worries.  There doesn’t seem to be much question, however, that these firms are sustainable and are already legitimate players in the marketplace.

No, what’s really intriguing about these firms is the fact that they developed at all — that the traditional law firm has become sufficiently unpalatable to the people who retain it (and to some of the people who work inside it) that something new and different can flourish. Dispersed law firms directly challenge the traditional law firm model, presenting themselves as at least a complementary service to what traditional firms offer, and at most, a full-fledged alternative provider. These new firms question the fundamental nature of traditional firms, arguing that the physical concentration of legal talent in a high-priced centralized location with a rigid hierarchy and pyramidic revenue structure is outdated and self-serving. Flexible, project-based, techno-savvy, client-focused law firms are the way of the future, they contend: they’re more efficient, more accessible, and more rational. Continue Reading