Why Mega Firms Will Win

A few recent news posts have changed my thinking about the future of mega firms. This thinking was also influenced by knowledge from colleagues working with some of the big ones. Which mean this is one of my usual puzzle-piece ideas, but I think I may be on to something here.

Previously I have ranted about how these mega firms may not do well. Too many ethical conflicts, cultural conflicts and too few incentives to cross sell across the various components of each firm are significant barriers to success. However, I think they have one, more interesting asset.

By being large, these firms can rise above the individual influences of power partners. Effectively their size forces them to act like a business. Decisions about technology and other changes are made by "the mother ship" greatly limiting partners' role in such decision making. Or in other words, the business people are actually doing what they were hired to do. They assess needs, source solutions and execute.

One example that recently came to my attention was the Clifford Chance "Continuous Improvement" effort.
Continuous Improvement is more than just process mapping; it is a collaborative approach where an expert in the tools and techniques of Continuous Improvement helps a group of people familiar with the relevant task to analyse what they are doing and to find ways of doing it better. Put simply, it involves applying scientific rigour to determine the best approach to carrying out a piece of work.
Now even if you apply some level of a BS filter, Clifford Chance is still engaging in a very "corporate" sort of activity. And of course, some partners (for a period of time) can evade such an effort. But the point is: They are actually pursuing this. They have committed significant resources and are implementing new processes and tools.

Many have argued that law firm size does not bring economies of scale, but what size does bring is the ability (or perhaps I might say necessity) to act more like a business. For firms in this realm, size matters in respect to being forced to make decisions based on the business instead of the needs and opinions of partners.

Admittedly. this idea is based on only bits and pieces of market evidence. In any event, I will be keeping a watchful eye on how the mega-firms embrace and utilize this opportunity.

Who knows - the recent Dentons Dachung merger may well move beyond the known risks, and actually embrace the future.

Stay tuned ...

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Lexis Gains Exclusive Legal Information Provider Status of The New York Times

LexisNexis representatives are sending out notices that they are now the exclusive provider of The New York Times content for the legal market. For those of you that are keeping score, this adds to LexisNexis' exclusive content with Factiva (which includes The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones News Service), and ALM content. It would seem that LexisNexis is doubling-down on the news content area.

Here is the message that went out earlier today.

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive legal information provider of The New York Times® content to the legal market!

This agreement extends LexisNexis’s position as the leading provider of premium news content to the legal market. Highlights of our unmatched collection of news and current awareness sources include:
  • LexisNexis is the exclusive legal information provider of The New York Times content to the legal market.
  • Law360® is exclusive to LexisNexis, providing breaking news and analysis.
  • LexisNexis is the exclusive online third-party provider of ALM® news publications—including titles such as The American Lawyer®, The National Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®—and the only provider of its publication news archives (more than six months old).
  • LexisNexis is the exclusive provider of Factiva® content to the law firm market, offering access to North American English sources, including The Wall Street Journal® and Dow Jones News Service.
  • LexisNexis provides more than 26,000 News & Business Sources from 4,000+ Publishers, with many exclusives, in over 150 countries and 21 languages.
The New York Times, as well as our other news exclusives such as Factiva, The Wall Street Journal, and ALM, will continue to be available through LexisNexis® Publisher and via our Moreover/Newsdesk product (releasing in Q2). Newsdesk is the only aggregator/monitoring tool that will be able to deliver this content in full text.

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Marketing a Law Firm As If It Were A Music Festival

If you've seen any concert festival posters over the past few years, you'll notice that the bigger the band is, the bigger the font is. As I was thumbing through some of my reading yesterday, I saw an article on "Top 10 font size shockers from the Coachella 2015 lineup." Some bands were given inappropriate font sizes based on their current popularity (at least according to the author.) Font is power!! Imagine if font size and font type were given out to these bands? Imagine the horror of being a 9 point Comic Sans font! Oh the humanity!!

As usual, I just couldn't let this stay as a typography and music collaboration. So I got to thinking how law firms could market their representations using a little Coachella type marketing poster. I went to the Create a Lineup site, and created my own power legal festival. I'm wondering if a law firm annual report could have a few of these printed up as centerfold posters??

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To Be CI or Do CI - That is the Question

On December 23rd,  Arun Jethmalani, Founder & Managing Director at ValueNotes Database Pvt. Ltd. in India, published an article to LinkedIn entitled 5 Debates about Competitive Intelligence that will never be resolved.  The article essentially lays out five of the canonical questions that are a constant dialogue in the CI community. I won't share his insights, you'll have to read the article for that, but the five questions he puts forward are:
1.     Should CI be strategic or tactical?
2.     Where should CI reside?
3.     Insight versus information?
4.     How to calculate RoI on competitive intelligence?
5.     What exactly is competitive intelligence?

I would add two questions, that may be a bit more controversial: Is CI a profession or a set of competencies?   And does it even matter? 

There are several comments on the article, including one from me where I suggest that the answers to all the questions are blowing in the corporate culture.  For law firms especially, I think the existential question of what CI is or should be – a library function, a marketing role, a KM/BD hybrid is fun to think about in your spare time, but analysis paralysis (hat tip to Fleisher and Bensoussan) gets you nowhere.  As we usher in 2015, I think the article and its underlying questions is a great reminder to know your clients, know your audience and anticipate their needs – be they intel – or otherwise.  The ability to deliver answers, insights, and whatever else is needed on time, just in time, and in advance, is the ultimate factor for CI success and happiness.  However you define it. 

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The Irrational Fear of Artificial Will

Image [cc] - agsandrew 
A lot has been made of Elon Musk's recent comments about Artificial Intelligence being "a greater risk than nukes." And no less an intellect than Stephen Hawking recently echoed that sentiment. I've seen two examples of this fear showing up in popular television shows; a recent episode of Elementary had Sherlock Holmes administer an extended Turing test to a doll to see if it possibly killed a person, and this season of Person of Interest centers around the battle of omniscient and seemingly omnipotent computers with ridiculously capable and attractive people fulfilling their every desire. (On the other hand, maybe it's just a CBS thing.) It strikes me that all of this sturm und drang has nothing at all to do with artificial intelligence... it's an irrational fear of Artificial Will.

Most computers today do not exhibit Artificial Intelligence, at least not in the way that we generally imagine it, but they are tools that expand and supplement human intelligence. As such, they do provide a type of "Will-less Artificial Intelligence". One that we embrace wholeheartedly. This Will-less AI makes it possible for fewer humans to achieve what would otherwise require many, many more humans, and the additional corresponding costs and resources that the presence of those additional humans would necessitate. In other words, the Will-less AI that currently exists allows us to do much more, with much less, much faster and we're all for that.

At it's base, the popular fear of AI is not that computers will become more intelligent than us, but that they will become willful and that they will exhibit ill will towards us. Today this fear manifests as  a disembodied, internet-enabled, artificially willful intelligence, that will somehow bring about the end of humanity, but 30 years ago it was an unstoppable robot from the future that looked a lot like Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 1921 it was Karel ńĆapek's play about a robot factory uprising, called Rossum's Universal Robots (from which the term Robots originates).  In 1818, it was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus, in which Dr. Frankenstein reanimates life in a bunch of cobbled together body parts that ultimately turn against him. In each century the technology changes, it always reflects the latest advances in science and industry, but the feared outcome is always the same: the creator is attacked, or destroyed, or overwhelmed by it's creation.

Shelley references the Greek myth of Prometheus in her title.  Prometheus was a god of old, a Titan, who sided with the new Olympic gods, and helped to bring Zeus and his cadre to power.  But poor Prometheus was a true egalitarian and gave the lowly humans the power of fire, for which he was punished for all eternity by his newly installed rulers. Even in a tale of triumph for the contemporary gods, one who seeks to bring about change must be punished for his sins! This is an old story, continually reinvented throughout human history to spread Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt about change itself.

What hope for those of us seeking to innovate in law firms?!

Now, I don't know what Elon or Stephen actually think about AI, or why it's dangerous, or what concerns they actually have.  I've only seen what's been covered in the media, and that has mostly been sensational click-bait.  Personally, I don't subscribe to the theory that humans have free will, so my fear of machines somehow miraculously acquiring it is probably more limited than most. We are as much a product of programming and development as any computer application, and equally as incapable of defying our code. Our programming derives from our environment, education, and experiences. We grow and develop and change over time, but our actions are still the collective result of our ongoing development. I do not have a choice whether or not to go to work each morning, I have a calculation that weighs the consequences of going against not going.  It's a complex calculation involving my remuneration and my ongoing expenses, but also my sense of pride and self-worth, my camaraderie with colleagues, and my desire to complete ongoing projects. I may not even be consciously aware of all of the variables that go into this calculation or that the calculation is happening at all, but I retroactively apply the term "choice" to the result and say that I have "freely" chosen to go to work today.  Interestingly, if we attempt to calculate this same equation for someone else and come to a wildly different result, we don't say "Oh, well, they've exercised their free will." we say they're crazy, or something is seriously wrong with them, and if we care about them, we try to get them help.

There is little reason to believe that a "willful-seeming" artificial intellect will be any different than a "willful-seeming" biological intellect. If it does not exhibit something that we would call Will, then we will not recognize it to be intelligent and we will not fear it. But no program is likely to exhibit behavior that we would recognize as Will unless it has been raised and educated as any other child-like intellect, to understand the world largely as we see it.  And that particular experiment has been ongoing for hundreds of thousands of years with billions of biological intellects. It has resulted in some phenomenal successes and many truly horrific failures, and the same will continue to be true whether the intelligence is silicon or carbon-based. For those unfortunate silicon-based intelligences that come to wildly different results than we, as a society, deem acceptable, we will say they are crazy and that something is seriously wrong with them, and if we care about them, we will try to get them help.

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