My newest column for Slaw is up and running at the must-read site and ABA Journal Blawg 100 finalist. Even though I’ll also reproduce the article here, I recommend you read it there, in order to get a close-up look at the tremendous content, links and insights available to its readers every day. As law blogs go, Slaw is as good as it gets, folks. Continue Reading
This is kind of a roundup post — a few things I thought might interest you on the theme of innovative information for lawyers.
First, if you haven’t checked out JD Supra lately, you might have missed this handy new feature: a Facebook application for streaming your legal documents. JD Supra Docs allows legal professionals who publish their work on JD Supra to make their documents and professional qualifications automatically available to their friends and contacts on Facebook. Every time you post a new document on JD Supra, it will automatically stream to your Facebook profile. Steve Matthews nicely sums up what JD Supra is doing here with the term “social legal documents.” That’s a concept worth leaning back and thinking about for a while — it represents an important part of the law’s future in a wired world.
And speaking of wired lawyers, Richard Granat of the eLawyering blog dropped me a line to let me know about the ABA Law Practice Management Section’s James I. Keane Memorial Award for Excellence in eLawyering. James Keane founded the ABA’s eLawyering Task Force, which looks at ways lawyers can use the Internet and other electronic resources to deliver legal services to the “latent market” of people of moderate means. One of my core beliefs is that latent legal services represents the future of the profession — lawyers will lose much of their traditional work to technology, commoditization and new competitors, but they’ll gain much more through the innovative provision of proactive or constructive services to currently unidentified and untapped client markets. So I’d like to help encourage the kind of service recognized by this award, about which you can learn more right here.
Finally, Susan Cartier Liebel of Build a Solo Practice LLC, a very deserving ABA Journal Blawg 100 finalist, decided to provide her own “Best of the Blawgosphere” list, on which Law21 is humbled to appear. Then she challenged all of us to do the same: create a list of recommendations of those blogs you believe others should learn about and publicize on your own blog. Let’s take the idea behind the ABA 100 and expand it. Let’s make December of every year the month we introduce our readers to new blogs of note. Let’s give everyone who blogs for education or love of writing and who does so with consistency and quality a pat on the back for a job well done.
Victoria Pynchon of the Settle it Now Negotiation Blog was first out of the blocks with this great list, so I thought I’d give it a shot as well. To paraphrase Susan, this is by no means an exhaustive list, just a sampling of blogs that are doing great work and that deserve and will repay your time and attention. All these blogs, to my mind, merited the ABA’s notice, but not all made the final list; I’ve provided a link where you can cast your “people’s choice” vote for those that did. In no particular order, here they are:
the [non] billable hour — Matt Homann has a gift of seeing the legal profession from exactly the right perspective to make us think differently about how and why we practise law.
3 Geeks and a Law Blog — For my money, the best new law blog out there. Greg Lambert, Toby Brown and Lisa Salazar are thinking years ahead about lawyers and technology.
What About Clients? — You don’t throw around a word like “fearless,” but that’s exactly how to describe Dan Hull and Holden Oliver’s blog, which demands unapologetically that lawyers put clients first. Vote here.
Build a Solo Practice LLC — Already mentioned above, but Susan’s blog has joined Carolyn Elefant’s touchstone blog My Shingle as absolute must-reads for solo and small-firm lawyers. Vote here for both.
Strategic Legal Technology — Legal process outsourcing isn’t about lowering costs so much as it’s about rethinking how legal services are produced. Ron Friedmann is quite simply the LPO thought leader.
KM Space — What I just said about LPO applies equally to knowledge management, the key to the profession’s future. Read Doug Cornelius and you’ll get why KM matters.
Law Is Cool — To my mind, a glaring omission from the Blawg 100’s Student list. I’m politically distant from this student-run blog, but its voice and perspective, especially on social justice issues, is irreplaceable.
In Search of Perfect Client Service — Patrick J. Lamb’s Valorem Law Firm walks the talk on client-oriented legal services, and his blog is an invaluable resource for lawyers who want to follow.
Finally, I’ve been remiss in not yet drawing your attention to three Canadian blogs that made the Blawg 100 cut. You should go vote for them, and you should definitely read them. (Update: please also consider this to be their 2008 Clawbies nominations.)
FP Legal Post — Jim Middlemiss’s team at the Financial Post‘s blog tracks corporate law developments in Canada and worldwide, often irreverently. Maybe the only example anywhere of mainstream media getting the blawgosphere. Vote here.
Precedent: The New Rules of Law and Style — Welcome to the future of legal publishing. Precedent is also a young lawyers’ magazine, the rare one that authentically possesses that demographic’s voice and perspective. The online columns are terrific. Vote here.
Slaw — The talent on this roster, led by Simon Fodden, is unbelievable. The contributors’ list is a who’s who of Canadian (and increasingly, global) law bloggers. It’s not just the best law blog in Canada — it’s one of the best law blogs, period. Vote here.
I’m delighted and honoured to report that the editors of the ABA Journal have included Law21 in their 2008 listing of the 100 best law blogs. It totally caught me off guard — I didn’t even know they were handing these things out this month — and I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s an honour to appear on the same list as many of these other blogs that I’ve been following for years. I’m deeply gratified, just as I’m gratified every time you tune in to this blog to see what’s new.
The Blawg 100 includes a Reader’s Choice portion, whereby people can vote for their favourite blog in each of various categories. Here’s the complete list of voting categories and nominees, and here’s a link to the voting page for the Careers blog section, where Law21 resides.
Now, this is emphatically not a suggestion that you cast a vote for Law21; but it is emphatically a suggestion that you vote for one of these great blogs, because it’s important that all this fantastic writing be recognized. I’m likely to cast my own vote for one of the other blogs, because I so much admire the tremendous quality and insight of what their authors produce.
If you simply must cast a vote for something I recommend, please click here. And thank you, as always, for reading. Your time is the most valuable recognition Law21 receives.
Two of the smartest people writing on the web these days are Seth Godin and Scott Karp. They have an important message that everybody in the legal services marketplace, especially lawyers, needs to hear.
First, this is what Seth had to say in the course of a short but eye-opening interview about the book publishing industry, which is staring at hard times because of technology-driven upheaval:
First, the market and the internet don’t care if you make money. That’s important to say. You have no right to make money from every development in media, and the humility that comes from approaching the market that way matters. It’s not “how can the market make me money” it’s “how can I do things for this market.” …
The market doesn’t care a whit about maintaining your industry. The lesson from Napster and iTunes is that there’s even MORE music than there was before. What got hurt was Tower and the guys in the suits and the unlimited budgets for groupies and drugs. The music will keep coming. Same thing is true with books. So you can decide to hassle your readers (oh, I mean your customers) and you can decide that a book on a Kindle SHOULD cost $15 because it replaces a $15 book, and if you do, we (the readers) will just walk away.
Scott picks up this theme in a post about the newspaper industry, which is already deeply mired in Internet-induced hard times and has no clear way out:
[T]he web and the market don’t care. The web is the most disruptive force in the history of media, by many orders of magnitude, destroying every assumption on which traditional media businesses are based.
But the market should care, you say. What would happen if we didn’t have the newspapers playing their Fourth Estate watchdog role? Here’s the bitter truth — the feared loss of civic value is not the basis for a BUSINESS.
The problem with the newspaper industry, as with the music industry before it, is the sense of ENTITLEMENT. What we do is valuable. Therefore we have the right to make money. Nobody has the right to a business model. Ask not what the market can do for you, but what you can do for the market. …
I’ll repeat Seth: The lesson from Napster and iTunes is that there’s even MORE music than there was before. We’ve got highly entrepreneurial, creative, and driven people … working hard outside of newspaper company walls to invent new models for journalism. Journalism will find a way. Even if the industries that once supported it do not.
You can probably guess where I’m going with this: the legal services marketplace doesn’t care if lawyers make money. The irreversible changes that our industry is going through, the steady advancement of globalization and technology, the growing legions of competing products and producers — the earning expectations of lawyers and the atrophied business models of law firms mean nothing to them. What lawyers want is about as relevant to these forces as the farmer’s crop is to the tornado bearing down on him.
Let me rephrase some of what Seth and Scott have said specifically in the context of lawyers:
First, clients don’t care if you make money. That’s important to say. You have no right to make money from every problem or opportunity clients face, and the humility that comes from approaching clients that way matters. It’s not “how can the client make me money,” it’s “how can I do things for this client.”
The lesson from offshored lawyers and document management companies is that there are even MORE legal service providers than there were before. What will get hurt is law firms and the guys in the suits and the unlimited budgets for entertaining. The legal services will keep coming.
The web is the most disruptive force in the history of law, by many orders of magnitude, destroying every assumption on which traditional legal businesses are based. We’ve got highly entrepreneurial, creative, and driven people … working hard outside of the profession’s walls to invent new models for legal service delivery.
But the client should care, you say. What would happen if we didn’t have lawyers playing their role to uphold standards and protect the rule of law? Here’s the bitter truth — the feared loss of civic value is not the basis for a BUSINESS.
The problem with the legal industry, as with the music and newspaper industries before it, is the sense of ENTITLEMENT.
Virtually all the talk these days in client circles is about the cost of legal services. It’s well established that institutional purchasers of these services are under great pressure to reduce costs by, for example, “taking bids, asking for discounts, shopping around for lower-cost options.” Patrick J. Lamb points out that many in-house lawyers don’t care what rates are charged, so long as they can bring back to corporate HQ the trophy of a 10% discount. One of the most popular discussions at Legal OnRamp right now is under the heading “Top Ten Ways for Clients to Save $” — and the list has grown well beyond ten.
What’s interesting is that most conversations about “reducing costs” are one-dimensional. They focus on the client getting the same kinds of services from the same kinds of law firms at a lower price; or, more concisely, the same-old same-old for less. They don’t envision rethinking the source of the services, or more importantly, the ways in which those services are produced. Ron Friedmann points out that when looking at ways to control costs, in-house counsel tend to focus on pricing elements — rate freezes, flat fees, discounts, alternative fees, and so forth — while ignoring the potential savings of reforming the process by which legal services are provided:
Where, for example, are efforts to require matter budgets, application of best practices, automation, risk analysis with decision trees, document assembly, and proper use of KM systems?… Real costs savings mean changing the process, focusing on how lawyers practice. The profession needs to overcome its “I am an artiste” attitude and develop better ways of working.
Both lawyers and clients have succumbed to the long-standing lawyer assumption that the price of legal services is directly connected to its cost. Lawyers produce work today pretty much the same way they produced it 60 years ago: through the individual-focused, time-insensitive application of principles and formulas to fact situations. Some time back, they figured out how much it costs them to do that, built in a percentage for profit, and arrived at a selling price for clients. And every year or so, to reflect both inflation and inflated earning expectations, they raised those prices. It’s an insulated, self-sustaining system in which price = cost + profit margin.
Here’s the really important thing that’s happening right now: the price of legal services is finally becoming uncoupled from the costs lawyers incur to produce it. Continue Reading
When Dennis Kennedy contacted me a few weeks ago, to ask if I’d like to participate in an online roundtable on the impact of the economic crisis on lawyers to be published in the ABA’s Law Practice Today e-zine, I of course said yes on the spot. But when I logged into the site and realized who my co-panellists were, I was floored. Check out this lineup: Tom Collins, Patrick Lamb, Bruce MacEwen, Patrick McKenna, Edward Poll, Allison Shields and Merrilyn Astin Tarlton. This was an all-star roster, and I suddenly felt a little like the lone representative of the Kansas City Royals.
In the event, the panel delivered some extraordinary insights about the incredibly challenging times directly in front of the legal profession. If you’re going to read only one article this week, make it this one: go to the November 2008 issue of Law Practice Today and hear what the roundtable had to say. It’s a tremendous resource, and I was honoured to be a part of it.
Here’s the contibution I was happiest about. One of Dennis’s questions was: “[W]hat changes to the legal profession will we attribute to this crisis when we look back in the near future – two to seven years?” This was my response.
Probably we’ll see a few changes we’ve been expecting and a bunch that we weren’t. I wouldn’t count on the billable hour being a casualty – I’ve come to conclude lawyers will be billing by the hour until shortly before the sun goes supernova. The biggest change will be the competitive environment – financially squeezed companies will use outsourced and offshored lawyers for 60-70% of their outside work, and recession-battered individuals will be encouraged to self-represent or hire “non-lawyers.”
The result will be that within a decade, there’ll be a lot of “legal process companies,” fewer “law firms,” and hardly any such thing as the “unauthorized practice of law.” A new class of law firms will emerge that make no pretensions to excellence — blue-collar lawyers who pointedly sell legal work that’s “good enough” will become remarkably popular.
Clients will gain more power in the relationship, but not outright control – while process work will become commoditized, high-end work will go even higher, because good legal advice will become more valuable when “bet the company” situations arise once a month, and good legal advisors will be able to name their terms. Outside investment in firms will accelerate in the UK and premiere in North America in part because law firms will require monetary injections to satisfy lenders and cash out partners.
Basically, the state of suspended animation in which law firm business models have existed for decades will come to a jarring halt.
I’m very satisfied with the status of my investments. The reason I’m very satisfied is that I haven’t opened a single RRSP update from my bank since mid-summer. I already have a pretty good sense of how ugly things are inside that envelope, and I don’t feel up to having it confirmed just yet.
But even if I knew the first thing about investing (and I don’t), I doubt I’d be spending my days moving cash out of this fund and into that one. Noreen Rasbach at the Globe & Mail doesn’t, and cites some studies in support of that approach. What it comes down to, she says, is that the stock market gains and loses most of its value in very short bursts and at completely unpredictable intervals, so you might as well hold steady and look to the long term. Then she quotes an expert who makes an interesting point:
“What most people do is, when the market goes up, they want to get in. When the market goes down, they want to get out. And when fluctuations are large, that turns out to be a terrible strategy.” … During turbulent times like these, “part of the market discount is to provide additional rewards for staying in the market when a lot of other people just don’t have the guts to do so.”
It strikes me that this analysis applies quite nicely to law firm associate layoffs. Late last week came word that Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has joined the parade by cutting 40 lawyers and 35 staff, making this a very bad autumn for lawyers in the Bay Area. The list of large firms tossing young lawyers overboard keeps growing — and the really alarming thing is that we’ve only scratched the surface. We’re still in 2008, and the recession is only just starting to settle in; the first few months of 2009 figure to be brutal.
[Let me sidebar here for a moment: if you’re an associate who has recently suffered one of these layoffs from a big firm, or you know someone who is, go to Legal OnRamp, a fantastic invitation-only online community for corporate counsel and private-practice lawyers. LOR is extending invitations right now to young lawyers who find themselves in these straits; request an invite at OnRamp’s front page and identify your former firm. Take it from me: this is a great community and an extremely valuable forum for networking and collaborating.]
Now, you don’t have to try very hard to unearth the cynic in me, and part of me can’t help but think that every time a law firm lays off associates, its rivals give a little smile. I can think of four reasons why. Continue Reading
Malcolm Gladwell has written a new book about the factors that most influence the likelihood that you’ll achieve (traditionally defined) career success. Outliers: The Story of Success posits that much of what affects our success is out of our control, and that arbitrary or even trivial factors play a disproportionate role in what we end up doing and how well we do it. As part of the book promotion tour, he spoke with the Globe & Mail the other day and made an observation that I think resonates deeply with the legal profession.
Giving an example of arbitrary success factors, Gladwell noted that a huge percentage of professional hockey players have birthdays early in the year. That’s because the standard cutoff date for hockey programs is January 1, so when all-star teams and other squads are recruited, the players who seem most talented are invariably picked — but in fact, they only seem more talented because they’re older and more physically capable. But then these players get special attention, more coaching, more opportunities, and by the time they hit their teens, they actually are more talented. The same applies in school — Jan. 1 cutoffs mean kids born later in the year are younger and therefore farther back on the learning curve. His point is that arbitrary dividing lines can have huge unintended consequences.
Then the interviewer asked Gladwell, at the end of their conversation, why anyone should care enough about this to actually do anything about it. His reply made me sit up straight:
Because we squander talent. Even in a country like Canada, where hockey is a priority, an obsession, we’re squandering a huge amount of hockey talent without realizing it. We could have twice as many star players if we just changed the institutional rules around finding talent. To me, that’s such a powerful lesson. Because it just says, look, in a simple area like hockey, in a country that cares more about it than almost anything else, if you’re still squandering 50 per cent of your ability, how much more are we squandering everywhere else?
I’d go further and say that squandering talent actually has two components: failing to realize the potential universe of talent at your disposal, and then failing to maximize the talent that you do choose. When you apply that analysis to talent identification, intake and management in the law, you come to realize just how arbitrary and undisciplined we’ve been. Look at it in these terms: Continue Reading
Here’s something interesting: the consultancy Kerma Partners recently conducted an in-depth study of more than 1,300 current and past “timekeepers” on behalf of an AmLaw 25 law firm. The study identified which personal qualities and attributes of lawyers correlated most strongly with firm success factors such as productivity and longevity. Lawyers possessing the best of these attributes, it turns out, doubled or even tripled other lawyers’ showings in terms of profitability. The authors don’t reveal what these “best” attributes are — presumably, the firm will keep that information close to its vest – but lawyers’ law school rank and GPA were not among them.
Those results are in themselves serious food for thought. What’s significant about this study, though, is that it happened at all – a very large and successful law firm set out to rationally reconsider all of the assumptions it makes and criteria it uses in its lawyer recruitment process. It’s part of what I’m coming to think is the quiet but very real advancement of empirical analysis in the process of how the legal profession understands itself.
Of course, rational, evidence-based analyses of legal education and legal practice have been around for a while. There are excellent blogs that examine empiricism in the context of law schools (Best Practices in Legal Education and Law School Innovation, to name two) and law firms (Empirical Legal Studies and Adam Smith Esq., to name two more). But just last month, I flagged some emerging studies that cast serious doubts on, respectively, the utility of the LSAT, the traditional criteria for law professors, and the importance of law school grades in identifying and shaping good lawyers.
There are also academic institutions that study how we train our lawyers and run our law firms. Georgetown Law’s Center for the Study of the Legal Profession is probably the market leader. But again, last week also saw the arrival of William Mitchell College of Law’s Center for the Empirical Study of Legal Practice, which aims to “research the daily realities of the work of a lawyer and the business of the legal profession.” The new center is led by political science professor Herbert Kritzer, who quotably describes himself: “I am to lawyers what Dian Fossey is to gorillas.”
Some smart and dedicated people are putting the profession’s habits and assumptions, particularly those relating to who should be a law student and what makes a good lawyer, under the microscope. Not a moment too soon, I say. And at this moment, the magnification is being turned up especially high on that old standby, the LSAT: the increasingly maligned test that figures prominently in many law school admissions systems (and in the equally maligned US News & World Report rankings of US law schools). Continue Reading
It’s not often I can derive a blog post from a tweet, but Debbie Weil‘s recent Twitter entry sent me to this thought-provoking post at CopyBlogger, and got me thinking about the purpose of the legal blogosphere. Brian Clark’s entry talks about the phenomenon of “social proof” — people’s tendency to judge the quality of a thing, in the absence of other reliable indicators, by its popularity — in the context of social media. Among other things, social proof is the fatal flaw behind Digg’s claim to be a useful news filter, and to my mind at least, connects up with Jeff Jarvis’s recent admission that editors are necessary after all. (HT to Nick Holmes on that one.)
But as Clark points out, social proof is also dangerous because “[s]ometimes, your message inadvertently convinces people to do or accept the opposite of what you want…. [S]ocial proof tells us it’s okay to do what we already want to do. This isn’t all bad, especially when it involves the acceptance of your message. But it can also result in negative social proof, in that it motivates people to do the opposite of what you want because you’re trying to change behavior already supported by social proof.” He cites examples like littering statistics leading to more litter and suicide coverage leading to more suicides.
This got me thinking about law blogs, particularly those that, like this one, want to encourage positive change in how the legal profession views its role, manages its business and serves its clients. You might have noticed, if you read (or write) these blogs or are familiar with the whole LPM genre, that a common tone in these conversations is frustration, if not exasperation, with the irrationality and immovability of the status quo. More hair has been pulled out over the billable hour, the alienated client and the overworked associate than any of us care to think. I now wonder if we haven’t been part of the problem.
If social proof operates in the legal blogopshere, then we run the risk that by constantly returning to the foibles and failings of traditional lawyer business practices, we actually reinforce them. Your average lawyer who happens upon a blog post railing against the billable hour, and promoting all the competitive benefits that would flow from changing your approach, probably doesn’t think, “Ah! You’re right! There’s a better way to go, and I can profit from following it.” That lawyer probably thinks, “See? Most lawyers, like me, still bill by the hour and keep their clients waiting. I’m not the odd one out, and I’m in no danger of being left behind.”
What can we, who write about these subjects, do to avoid reinforcing what we’d prefer to erase? Our options are admittedly limited: when most lawyers are doing it one way, and human nature is to do what most people do, we’re kind of up against it.
But I think we can refocus our efforts to find examples of lawyers thinking differently and acting innovatively, and to broadcast those examples with sufficient frequency and volume so as to disrupt the notion that “everyone’s doing it the old way.” The Financial Times’ innovative lawyers list is a good example, but I’m especially proud of the College of Law Practice Management’s Innovaction Awards (which I’m chairing this year), which specifically seek out the pioneering innovators in the law and promote their achievements. We need to accentuate the positive, to shake the perception that it’s okay for lawyers to walk the old ways because they have lots of company. We should do all we can to make the traditional road feel a very lonely one.
And this gives me a segue into responding to a meme I received a few days ago (on my birthday, no less) from Mary Abraham at Above and Beyond KM, asking a simple question: “How do you decide how/what/when to blog?” The “How” is: at a keyboard, with coffee, whenever I’ve got a story I need to tell. The “When” is: whenever an opportunity presents itself, which I can tell you is not nearly as often as I’d like.
But the “What” is the most important: I want to write articles that help advance the day when the power of social proof works to benefit lawyers and their clients, not hinder them, because the old ways of doing business have fallen into disuse. I want to write about the legal profession as it should be, as it could be, and as, increasingly, it is.