Six for the road

I’ve been an active contributor lately to a number of other blogs and periodicals, so I thought you might be interested in checking some of them out. Here are six articles I’ve written at other legal sites recently.

1. “Letting the client decide,” Slaw: Brand new this morning, my newest column looks at a UK firm whose portfolio of alternative fee arrangements includes an offer to give the client the right to set the final price.

2. “Rethinking the case law update: who are you talking to?“, Law Firm Web Strategy: one of two recent columns at Stem Legal‘s blog, this one asks why we still rely on that old legal publishing standby, the case law update.

3. “Talk to me: putting an end to canned conversations,” Law Firm Web Strategy: My second Stem Legal column continues the recent theme of “lawyer communication” issues by examining voice mail in law firms.

4. “Associate compensation meets the merit system,The Lawyers Weekly: The first of two recent columns at The Lawyers Weekly reviews the latest developments on merit-based associate pay systems.

5. “Law schools and the risk of irrelevance,The Lawyers Weekly: This column generated a lot of Twitter activity and direct emails, which tells me the disconnect between law school and law practice is hitting a nerve.

6. “The 21st-century law firm,” CBAPracticeLink: Finally, an article published at CBA PracticeLink pulls together several diverse strands of lawyer innovation and marketplace evolution into a model of the future law firm.

Pieces of me

There’s now textual and videographic evidence that I’ve been kind of busy the last few weeks. If you’re interested, here are some links to assorted content I’ve been producing or helping produce elsewhere than Law21:

1. Two blog posts in the last month at Stem Legal’s Law Firm Web Strategy blog have focused on social media in the law firm enterprise context. Here’s what I had to say about Facebook for law firms and Twitter for law firms.

2. Also at Stem Legal is an announcement about our new Media Strategy Service, under which I’ll be providing communications, media and social media consulting to law firms and legal organizations.

3. Over at The Lawyers Weekly, my new column — a primer on legal process outsourcing and what its impact on the legal services marketplace will look like — has now been posted.

4. Christopher Hill at Construction Law Musings kindly invited me to provide a guest post on how to be an effective construction law client, but it applies to clients in any area of law practice.

5. Shortly after addressing the ABA’s Bar Leadership Institute in Chicago last month, I recorded a series of very short interviews with ABA Now, in which I talked about new mentoring approaches, the evolution of preventive law, and the importance of relationships for bar associations.

6. Before my presentation to a symposium at Georgetown Law School last week on the future of law practice, I recorded a brief interview with Greg Bufithis at that talked about some of the changes now underway in the legal services marketplace.

Calendar of events

The next few weeks are booked solid for me, as I prepare for a series of presentations and workshops throughout March. So in exchange for fewer posts over the next month, I thought I’d let you know what I’ll be doing, where I’ll be doing it, and what I recommend you look into doing as well. (Only public events are noted here, of course.)

On March 11, I’ll be in Chicago to deliver a plenary speech and moderate a roundtable discussion for the American Bar Association’s Bar Leadership Institute, an annual gathering of more than 350 new bar leaders from across the United States. The subject of the address will be the rapidly evolving nature of legal practice and its impact on bar associations. I’ll be fortunate to share the stage with two people whose work I admire: Edward Adams, editor and publisher of the ABA Journal, and Carole Silver, executive director of the Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University and a member of the ABA Commission on Ethics 20/20. Here are full details of the event.

On March 18, I’ll be returning to the ABA, but this time by phone. I’ll be co-hosting a webinar on alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) for the ABA’s Law Practice Management Section, along with my Edge International Consulting colleague Rob Millard and Valorem Law Group founding partner Patrick J. Lamb. The webinar, titled “Rethink Legal Billing: Align Your Firm to Alternative Fee Arrangements,” will open with an assessment of what AFAs are and why they’ve suddenly emerged as the hottest topic in lawyer-client relations. The discussion will continue with an in-depth look at the project management and business process engineering aspects of successful AFAs, and close with first-hand experiences with AFAs in real-world situations. Watch the ABA LPM home page for registration information.

And on March 22, I’ll be in Washington, D.C. at the afore-mentioned Center for the Study of the Legal Profession at Georgetown University, which is sponsoring a symposium titled “Law Firm Evolution: Brave New World or Business As Usual?” I’ll be part of a panel discussing new lawyer training methods at some innovative U.S. law firms and contrasting them with Canadian law firms’ articling programs. But the real draw will be the luminaries at the podium throughout the event. Check out this partial list of panellists: Richard Susskind, Stephen Mayson, Dan DiPietro, Bruce MacEwen, Susan Hackett, Leah Cooper, Mark Chandler, Jeff Carr, Aric Press, and managing partners or senior partners from several global law firms. Here’s a downloadable PDF of the agenda.

(Also in Washington, on March 17-18, my colleagues Gerry Riskin and Karen MacKay will be hosting the first of a series of Law Firm Leaders Development Workshops designed to help managing partners and practice group leaders grow their leadership skills and perfect profitability and change management. Highly recommended.)

Finally, although it’s a few months down the road, I’ll also let you know that I’m speaking at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s 5th Annual Solo and Small Firm Conference and Expo in Toronto on May 14. Since I’m appearing there in my dual capacity as an Edge partner and a Stem senior consultant, I’ll speak once on strategic/future of law matters and once on social media opportunities for lawyers.

These sorts of events are always extremely interesting for me — speaking both with other panelists and with attendees is a great opportunity to take the profession’s pulse. If you or your organization would be interested in having me speak or facilitate at an event, by all means please drop me a line or read more about it. And if you’ll be attending any of the foregoing events, please let me know!

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.

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.

Law21 makes ABA Journal Blawg 100

Just a quick note to pass on some good news: Law21 has made the ABA Journal‘s Blawg 100 list for the second straight year! My thanks to the Blawg 100 committee for including this site in its listings — it continues to be an honour to be in such excellent company. Check out the other blogs in the Careers category and in all the categories, and please cast votes to show your support for all the sites you like. And thanks, as always, to you for continuing to tune in!

On the road

If you happen to be in Winnipeg or Toronto over the next few days, look me up. On Friday morning, I’ll be delivering the keynote address at the 2009 Isaac Pitblado Lectures, sponsored by the Law Society of Manitoba. The theme of the conference is the future of law; I’ll be sketching out the likely landscape of the legal services marketplace in the 2020s and identifying five emerging catalysts taking us there. It’ll be a terrific event — the Saturday morning keynote will be delivered by Richard Susskind, while other panellists and speakers include Karen Mackay, Dan Pinnington, and Don Douglas. If you can make it, I highly recommend it.

I won’t be speaking at the Canadian Bar Association’s annual Law Firm Leadership conference in Toronto, which starts Monday, but I’m absolutely going to attend. The theme is change management, and the roster of speakers is remarkable: Richard Susskind again, Bruce MacEwen, Paul Lippe, David Allgood, Les Viner, David Corbett, Dale Ponder, Patrick J. Lamb, and many others. You won’t need to be a managing partner to derive value from this event — the trends and best practices under discussion will benefit anyone who wants to know about transformative law practice in the decade to come. If you’re in the neighbourhood during these events, please drop me a line.

Carnival of Trust – November 2009

Carnival of Trust

Regular readers will be familiar with Blawg Review, which encapsulates the blawgosphere’s best posts over the previous week (and which I hosted earlier this year). In a similar vein is the Carnival of Trust, the brainchild of Charles Green of Trust Matters, which highlights the best posts about trust in the business and professional workspace over the previous month. Charles invited me to host the November 2009 edition of the Carnival, and I was more than happy to accept.

Trust lies at the heart of successful lawyer-client relationships. The term “trusted advisor,” made famous by the title of one of legal consulting’s best-known books (written by Charles and co-authors David Maister and Robert Galford), remains the gold standard that lawyers and law firms want to achieve for themselves. I’ve written about trust here at Law21 on a few occasions, and you’ll probably find this edition of the Carnival to be perhaps a little more lawyer-heavy than some past versions. But there was no shortage of good candidates from numerous fields this month, and it wasn’t easy whittling them down to this final list of ten. In no particular order, here we go:

Adam Smith Esq., “The billable hour debate is not about the billable hour.”

I’m cheating a little on the first entry, since this post by Bruce MacEwen appeared in September and is therefore outside the range of this Carnival. But the post was so appropriate that I think it demands inclusion here. Bruce discusses the storms raging around the question of how lawyers bill clients, specifically the age-old practice of selling legal services by the hour, and reaches this apt conclusion:

Sadly, for too many of us, clients don’t trust us with their money and we don’t trust them to reward us fairly. If you hark back to those old-fashioned typewritten bills “for professional services rendered,” didn’t they positively reek of a close, trusting relationship? The lawyer would no more exploit the client than the client would expect (hope?) the lawyer would price representation at bargain-basement levels.  This seems to me to be the enormous unspoken issue in today’s debate over the billable hour. If you don’t trust someone, you want something quantifiable.  And you want the “most favored nation” rate and 10% discount on top of that.  If you don’t trust someone, it’s all perfectly understandable.  And uneconomic.  Is this what we’ve come to? So perhaps more than anything else, I find the seemingly perpetual debate about the billable hour sad.  Because I can’t think about it without thinking about forfeited trust.

Legal Business Development, “An AmLaw 100 senior executive talks about the implications of alternative fees.”

Continuing this theme is consultant Jim Hassett, who is compiling an unprecedented survey of law firm leaders on the subject of alternative fees. If hourly billing is a substitute for trust, then shifting to predictable, fixed, or value-based billing systems necessitates the development of trust — and that starts with transparency and a willingness to engage in actual conversation. Here’s what one managing partner had to say on the subject:

[When we are] able to sit down in a very open dialogue with our clients regarding their needs, what works best for them, and what works best for us – including how staffing impacts our economics and how we focus on trying to put the right person on the right task at the right cost – we believe that we can tailor a fee arrangement that will work for our clients and will work for us.

Legal Ease Blog, “Are you alienating your best potential clients?”

The theme of honest communication also runs through this post by Allison Shields, who reminds lawyers that trumped-up claims, fear-mongering tactics and generally aggressive marketing can undermine efforts to build business. Accidentally or otherwise, over-promising — either from overconfidence or insecurity, both of which are not uncommon in lawyers — can have disastrous results.

[T]he essence of the lawyer-client relationship is one of trust. If the client feels that your marketing efforts amount to a bait and switch, or if you’re hiding behind what your potential clients feel are ‘fake’ offers or false promises (whether that’s your intention or not), that trust will be lost – and trust lost is difficult, if not impossible, to repair.

The Greatest American Lawyer, “What’s wrong with the merits? How gamesmanship has taken over the courtroom.”

If there’s anything more important than a client’s trust in his or her lawyer, it’s the citizen’s degree of trust in the institutions of justice. Although this doesn’t get a lot of attention in the blawgosphere, the whole idea of “access to justice,” which lawyers prize so highly, assumes the reality and trustworthiness of both access and justice. Here are two posts that address this issue. The first, by Enrico Schaefer, is direct and to the point:

Except for the contingency fee lawyer who may choose to represent a person without any financial means, America’s civil courtrooms are dominated by wealthy Americans and wealthy companies.  If that were not bad enough, many lawyers simply get paid to play games in court.  Their goal is to keep cases from reaching the merits of the action, even when they’re the plaintiff.  In many instances, the courtroom is simply another business tool to exert economic leverage over a competitor.  Private arbitration has not proved to be much competition to the near-monopoly that federal and state courts have over dispute resolution.  Until true alternatives to the courtroom become available, civil justice will remain a constitutional right primarily for the rich.

What About Clients?, “Is that an elected judge in your pocket?”

The other post, by Dan Hull, raises an issue that has long puzzled many of us in the Canadian legal system: the election of American judges. A fundamental right upon which many people rely is “their day in court,” when they can present their case before an impartial judge who will decide the matter before her on the merits. But can you trust the judge’s impartiality? Although there’s plenty to question in a strict appointment system too, Dan points out the flaws of making judges run for office:

The popular election of state judges–permitted in some aspect in a clear majority of the states–gives the appearance of justice being “for sale.” Elected judges can be especially “bad” for good clients who do business all over the U.S. and the world. Even when elected judges are “good”–and, to be fair, there are some great ones–state systems of popularly-elected judiciary will never inspire much confidence. Elected jurists who hear and decide business disputes are steeped in a taint. The point: Judges should not have “constituents,” i.e. law firms, and their clients, who make campaign contributions. Right now, in most American states, they do. And there is no way to dress that up.

Simple Justice, “The meaning of referral.”

Scott Greenfield is a criminal defence lawyer who’s never reluctant to challenge the justice system’s institutional failures. But this month, he touched on a topic that every lawyer can relate to and that goes directly to matters of trust: referrals. Enormous numbers of clients, having no other way to find a lawyer, request referrals from other lawyers. This is a tricky business, Scott writes, one that poses difficulties for the lawyer who receives the request:

When I refer someone to a lawyer, it’s a personal endorsement.  I am saying to that person that I vouch for the competency and ethics of the person whose name I give them.  It means something to me, and I feel responsible. Sure, I’m not my brother’s keeper and can’t do the other lawyer’s work myself.  Sometimes things go wrong. Sometimes things just don’t work out well, or the fit isn’t there.  But I cannot, and do not, send clients to just a name.  Names are easy to come by. I can get you a name pretty much anywhere, but getting a name means nothing.  … I would require far, far more to have the requisite faith to entrust them with a client.

Buzz Machine, “The collaboration economy.”

Shifting gears slightly brings us to my former profession, journalism. Jeff Jarvis, crusader for new and better approaches to news coverage, focuses on the myths that struggling news media leaders tell themselves and others about how journalism “ought to” work. In a collaboration economy, Jeff says, traditional scarcity disappears and new relationships develop among crowd-sourced reporters and their readers. Not surprisingly, trust is at the heart of these relationships:

All those “extra” people add new value and efficiency – if you see the opportunity in it and enable them to. They’re us. That’s how Google sees us, capturing our links and clicks to discover the value of those million – no, trillion – flying pages. That’s how Wikipedia and Craigslist created their value, dealing in trust and membership as a new currency. That’s how I want next-generation news organizations to look at us, as the people who will create news while the news orgs add value to it: vetting, correcting, organizing, training, promoting, selling. The news orgs and their journalists then become so much more efficient because they work collaboratively with the public. That’s how they become sustainable and profitable again. But this happens only if you trust and value the others and understand the economics of collaboration.

Innovation Tools, “The critical connection between trust, collaboration and innovation.”

Another topic I’ll never tire of discussing is innovation, something lawyers are still grappling with but that other professionals have long since recognized the value of and adopted. Put innovation together with collaboration and you have my full attention, as does this post by Ruth Ann Hattori, which draws the connections between trust and innovation. How would these questions be answered in your office?

The first step toward high collaboration is trust-building. … But what does that really look like in your workplace?

  • Who can you trust and how do you know it?
  • Will your colleagues “have your back,” no matter what (short of something criminal or unethical)?
  • Does management give credit where due?
  • Who can be relied on 100%?
  • Do you keep/manage your promises?
  • Are people really competent or faking it?
  • Do your colleagues truly care if you are successful?
  • Are you happy or jealous or envious for their success?
  • Does everyone truly keep confidences… even when it doesn’t matter anymore?
  • How open and honest is competition for promotion?
  • Who is trying to gain favor of others?
  • Do people admit what they don’t know?
  • Do people ask for help without insecurity?

A-List Bloggers Network, “Starting with trust.”

None of the articles I’ve highlighted so far, nor indeed any of the candidates for this Carnival, suggest that trust is a bad thing. Obviously, we proceed in any discussion of trust on the basis that it’s a virtuous and beneficial thing. But that’s not to say it’s easy. Trust, in fact, is hard, and that’s an important point that doesn’t get noted often enough. This post does us a service by reminding us of the risks of trust:

If you start from a position of trust, you are starting from a position of risk. There is no trust without risk. When you trust someone, you are putting your interests in their control. They have the ability to muck things up for you, and you are trusting them to take care of you (think about it: if they can’t really do anything that affects you negatively, then it’s not really trust). So it’s not just starting with the belief that your people want to do the right thing. That’s too easy. It’s easy to assume people have good intentions. Trust is about counting on them to behave in a way that is consistent with your interests, intention or not. There is, of course, a huge benefit to this kind of trust…. But it’s hard work for people in authority to give up that kind of control and accept that kind of risk.

Heavy Machinery Agency, “The case for basic instinct: why trust counts for more than contracts.”

The editor in me likes to start an article with a good anecdote, but in this case, I think I’ll use a good anecdote to finish this post. Jonathan Weber’s small-business blog makes the case for trust in business, and uses a small but powerful success story to make a very important point: trust works.

When we started NewWest, the domain name was owned by a furniture store in Wyoming, and the owner was not inclined to sell it. We worked out an informal arrangement where he would put a link to NewWest.Net on his site, and we would run advertising for his store. We checked in every now and again and had a few glitches with the link not appearing properly, but it was all friendly, and neither of us worried too much about the exact value of the trade. A few months ago, the owner of the store got in touch and said the domain name might be for sale, as he was closing the company. He said he’d sell it to us if I made a reasonable offer. I made an offer, he countered, we agreed on a price, and then his wife transferred the domain name to us, and we put a check in the mail. I hesitated briefly on this—should we have some kind of escrow arrangement?—but decided that, based on our previous dealings, I trusted these folks, and they felt the same. Frankly, I think if we had not had this kind of friendly, informal business relationship, we might not have been able to acquire the domain so readily.

So there you have it — ten excellent blog posts about trust from the last 30 days. But if those entries aren’t enough, here are ten more that will reward further reading:

– Build A Solo Practice @ SPU, “Social media platforms becoming the new content portal – lawyers included.”

– Cultivating Creativity, “Whole-hearted leadership.”

– Ecademy, “Trust is the foundation for both successful networking and business.”

–, “How important is the spirit of the organization?”

– Legally UnBound, “How to trust: It requires common goals and personal disclosures, among other things.”

– New York Law Blog, “Review of Chris Brogan’s Trust Summit: Be a priest and build a church.”

– Strategic Legal Technology, “Deconstructing O’Melveny chair’s remarks on BigLaw.”

– Seth’s Blog, “Notice me.”

-The Business Ethics Blog, “Should consumers trust Big Pharma?”

– The Small Business Blog, “Trust makes  a comeback in business.”

My sincere thanks to Charles and to Ian Welsh for asking me to host this month’s Carnival and for all their assistance throughout. For more information about the Carnival of Trust, a list of past hosts and entries, and information about how you can host a future edition, visit the Trust Matters site.

Charting a new course

There’s big news at Law21 today — some major announcements that I hope you’ll find as exciting and energizing as I do.

After more than ten great years with the Canadian Bar Association, I’m stepping down next month from my position as editor-in-chief of National magazine and executive editor of CCCA Magazine. This was anything but an easy decision, because the CBA has been a fantastic employer and my colleagues have been terrific since day one. I’m immensely grateful for such a valuable experience with one of the world’s best bar associations. But after a decade editing the CBA’s and CCCA’s magazines (and two years prior to that editing The Lawyers Weekly newspaper), I’m ready for new challenges — and here they are:

I’m joining global advisory firm Edge International as a partner. I’ll be offering both strategic and tactical advice to lawyers, law firms and legal organizations, centered around my very clear vision of a legal service marketplace undergoing massive and irreversible change. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to work with world-renowned colleagues like Gerry Riskin and Robert Millard, and we’re looking forward to the services we can offer together.

I’m also joining the dynamic team of rising stars at Stem Legal as a senior consultant and principal of our new Legal Media Strategy service,  providing media and communications advice to lawyers and law firms across the U.S. and Canada. It’s going to be a tremendous experience working with the talented Stem team and with one of the leading thinkers about the emerging science of lawyer SEO, marketplace identity, and client communication in the online world: Stem founder Steve Matthews.

Throughout all this change, I’ll continue to post here at Law21 and outline the unfolding nature of the new legal profession. I aim for Law21 to be even better in the months and years to come, thanks in no small part to my new colleagues and the new client opportunities to come. I’m excited and incredibly positive about what the future holds — and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

My podcast with Charon

I had the great pleasure this morning of recording a podcast with Mike Semple Piggot, better known as Charon QC, the well-known UK-based lawyer, law professor, raconteur, and indispensible member of the blawgosphere. I’ve listened to many of Charon’s podcasts with lawyers I admire, so it’s an honour for me to be asked to join that club. We had a great time during our 40-minute conversation, which touched on private equity in law firms, fixed-fee billing, legal education, outsourcing to India, and other subjects.

You can  hear the podcast at the Insite Law Magazine page, or connect to it through the Charon QC blog. My sincere thanks to Mike for the invitation — I hope you enjoy the podcast as much as we enjoyed recording it.