9/16/10

Elephant Post: What's the Next Process That Will Get 'Efficiencied'?

What do you think is going to be the next legal work process that will get 'efficiencied'? 

We are "borrowing" this question from a comment that Ayelette Robinson made on a previous elephant post. We warned Ayelette that we were doing this and she stepped up this week to answer her own question.  

Meaning as we look to make thing more efficient (in the aspirations of making them effective...), are there certain things that you just know are in the cross hairs of the efficiency rifle?

We have three contributors this week that give us a perspective from the Knowledge Management, Information Technology, and Alternative Fees areas.  We're especially happy that all are guest bloggers (less work for the geeks that way...)  



Next week's Elephant Post question is listed below this week's answers, so don't forget to take a look at it and see if it is something that you want to share your answers with the rest of us.





The Knowledge Management Perspective

The Next Efficiency Frontier
Ayelette Robinson

Increasing efficiency is a hot button in the legal industry today. Article after article, blog after blog, and tweet after tweet describe how increasing efficiency is the key to maintaining profits and impressing clients with our effectiveness. But what exactly are the legal processes that we can transform and make more efficient?
Document drafting is certainly one. Anything that can be input into a database is ripe for automation. Machines can process data, analyze patterns, and highlight inconsistencies far more quickly than humans can.

The next one is… what? Analyzing case law? Negotiating with an opposing party? Arguing in front of a judge? Advising a client? Once you move past the easy topic of document automation, it’s not at all clear what the next legal process is to be ‘efficiencied.’

Legal project management plays a significant role in smoothing out the process between and around the core legal activities, and in helping to monitor activities in terms of duration and cost to inform future estimates for clients. But it doesn’t address the more fundamental question of how exactly are we going to make legal practice itself more efficient.
Traditional content, information, and knowledge management also streamline legal practice. But while these help you get to the data you need more quickly, once you get that data you likely return to a perfectly mundane pace to analyze it, negotiate it, or argue it.

So what is our next efficiency frontier?

I posit that it’s the wild wild west of collaboration. So long as lawyers continue to practice on their own, nothing is really going to change. Even in the multi-lawyer organization, lawyers typically spend a requisite amount of alone time in their offices, thinking, pondering, modifying those auto-generated documents. And there is only so efficient an individual can be.

Enter Legal Practice 2.0, founded by our newest generation of lawyers who grew up facebooking, tweeting, and living each step of their lives enveloped in the social web. As they begin to be the attorneys responsible for matters, the world of legal practice will change – they will depend on the company and knowledge of their peers to arrive at the best analyses, arguments, and negotiating tactics. That new cultural model, of lawyers leveraging collaboration even to support individual goals, will fundamentally change the way we practice and will make us more efficient and effective professionals.

Imagine a world (and a compensation structure) where it doesn’t dawn on you to save that document on your local desktop. You naturally save it to the collabo-sphere because you know that while you grab lunch, a peer will see the document and comment on the clause that needs updating. While you’re on the phone with a client, you can tweet the client’s new question, and know that a colleague will instantly see that question in the twitter-feed along the right side of her monitor and reply to you in real-time, while you’re still on the phone. Before negotiating with opposing counsel, you can search historical status updates of your colleagues to find out who faced the same counsel within the last year.

A culture of open communication and collaboration deeply embedded into the way we practice is not as far off as we might think. And it will truly change practice as we know it, making us impressively more efficient and effective.



The IT Perspective

Document Creation and Automation Makes Workers More Efficient
Scott Preston

The next legal process to gain efficiency will be the area of document creation.  We have had document assembly capabilities for many years, but what was lacking was an ability to test the documents against a set of golden or known good documents.  The next generation of document creation tools are smart tools that not only help you assemble the documents, but also tell you whether or not you have achieved your goals.  By analyzing and comparing your documents to a set of known good documents, these tools determine whether you have included all of the necessary clauses.  Given the ever increasing pressure on rates, tools like these are providing a way for law firms to continue to produce quality work product with greater efficiency.
 

One such tool is kiiac from kiiac llc.  This product can analyze documents in very short order, condensing what would typically take many days of attorney review time into an hour or two.  


While kiiac is not the only example of advancement in the area of document creation, it demonstrates creative thinking on how to leverage technology in order to provide tools that really improve on the document creation and document vetting process.  It will be interesting over the next year or two to see how we can use similar concepts to solve other issues plaguing law firms today.



The Alternative Fees Perpective

Structural Change is Requiring Everything to Become More Efficient
Angel Garcia-Manso

Six Sigma, Strategic project management for attorneys, matter based budgeting, alternative staffing models, business process management, compensation structure, legal project planning, profitability, cost analysis …. These are some of the topics explored over and over again by the speakers at the ILTA conference sessions this past August in Las Vegas. They represent our combined response to the new pressures that the clients are putting in our industry to provide more cost predictability and service value

I believe that we all agree at this point that we are undergoing a structural change that is challenging the legal industry to become more efficient. The recession helped accelerate what otherwise would have been a certain but slowly transition away from the hourly pricing model. As a result, we have been forced to confront a new arena and what was clear to me at ILTA is that we, as part of this industry, are putting a lot of energy on trying to figure out how to improve efficiency.

Our firms are looking at any known way used by other industries to overcome their call to become more efficient. Motorola, as an example, was able to improve its product defect rate with Six Sigma, manufacturers have exploited for decades the benefits of process management to increase efficiency and engineers and the military are expert project managers and so go the examples... It is our turn now to find what it is that will make us more efficient and as it has occurred in other industries, those who are able to innovate and find the right set of processes and tools that match the culture and environment of their firm will ripe and benefit from being ahead of the curve.

With this in mind, I cannot point to any single target to efficiency. We all are targeting at a number of areas to improve efficiency and only time will be able to tell who started walking on the right direction. These are certainly challenging but exciting times for all of us.




Next Week's Elephant Question:

Tell us something that you spent a lot of money on, support and promote, but just isn't worth all the money, time and effort?

This question popped up at one of our "Curry and a Pint Nights" and the group started calling out programs, technology, outsourced materials, and even people as examples. So, if you have an example of something that just wasn't worth the investment you put in it, send me an email to let me know you're up for the challenge.



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3 comments:

Scott Preston said...

Angel and Ayelette, thanks for contributing this week. It is exciting to have more contributors. I strongly encourage others out there to join in.

On the topic of Legal Practice 2.0, I had a great discussion last night with a senior associate at my firm and his thoughts are very much in line with what you are saying. He also talked about this concept in terms of collaboration. Even when talking about his personal notes (he uses Evernote), he is looking for a way to connect his notes to others. This is an interesting idea and really underscores how he is approaching this change.

Further he talked about the opportunity for change and that this change would need to start in the middle. Not top down, because the attorneys at the top do not think in terms of technology and community and not bottom up because the young attorneys are too busy trying to adjust to law firm life and, as such, don't have the perspective to understand where and how to change things. I believe we are in a unique time with some real opportunities for positive change.

Colin Cameron said...

I would suggest there's lots more potential for moving legal work down from partners to associates and paralegals. Partners are often hoarding work due to compensation systems that reward them for billable hours. All types of legal work are being done by partners which could be far more efficiently done by associates or paralegals.

This change would address the efficiency issue full on. Firms should set leverage targets to catalyze the change, and reward partners for achieving these targets.

Chi Eng said...

Scott,

I agree with you and others in this column that fundamental changes will occur. Enabled by the latest technology, professionals across the legal (and quasi-legal) industry are enjoying and seeking new ways to efficiently produce quality work product.

In my opinion, the legal industry is quite opaque to the laymen, as there are so many professionals with varying expertise and skill sets. It's difficult for any one to locate the "right" person(s) to staff a project. Also, the value of the work product is sometimes improperly priced (i.e. over or under-priced). What the industry needs is greater transparency.

I see a world where legal teams are formed on-demand (in a firm or across multiple firms) and in close collaboration with clients. In fact, the clients should be in the driver seat to manage and pay for completed milestones. On the other hand, there should not be any more stale invoices.

My team at Neulexa has built a platform in an attempt to fulfill the vision of the commentators in this article.

The world is changing. Will we?

 

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