What We Need In This Firm Is An Investigative Reporter On Staff!

Image [cc] Cory Holms
A couple of weeks ago, I sat in on a webinar with a number of Alternative Fee Arrangement folks, including consultants and General Counsels from a few major companies. The talk was the typical discussion of change in the industry, need to adjust the billing structure, AFAs… yada yada yada… the legal industry is saved from itself. However, there was one little nugget of information that came out of the discussion that made me think about how we in the law firms communicate with our clients, and how that communication frustrates clients because we are reactive in our approach to our clients' needs, rather than proactive. Although I'm paraphrasing, here is the gist of what was said on the webinar by the General Counsel:
One of the things that really frustrates me when dealing with my outside counsel is when we get sued and over the next few days I start receiving a steady stream of emails from those outside firms, as well as other firms that aspire to do work for us, saying:
"Hey, did you know you've been sued in 'X' Court by 'Y' plaintiff?? Please contact us to help you with this case."
First of all, HELL YEAH I KNOW WE'VE BEEN SUED!! This type of communications of after-the-fact issues doesn't help me as a General Counsel.
What I really want to see one day in my in-box is this from my outside counsel is:
"Did you know that your direct competitor, 'X' Company, was sued in 'Y' court for the following issues, because they were exposed the the following risk factors, and if you think you and your company may be exposed to those same factors, let's sit down and talk about what we can do to mitigate those risks before you are sued for the same issues."
That's what I want to see!
It's similar to what I heard Richard Susskind say at the AALL Conference this week about the fact that law firms need to be acting as guardrails at the top of a cliff, and not as ambulances at the bottom of that cliff.
As a librarian, and as someone that thinks about how we can get the right information to the right people, at the right time, I started to think about ways that we could help our attorneys get that type of information and can become a risk guardrail for their clients. I thought of all of the Business Development and Competitive Intelligence resources and tactics that we use, and in a way, we are set up to do this very type of proactive communications, and we can be there to help the attorneys spot issues that affect specific clients, their competitors and their industry. However, there is one area that I think we could actually use help with when compiling this information, and I've been bouncing an idea around in my head (as well as bugging anyone at the AALL Conference in Boston who would listen to me.) The idea is that what we really need on staff is a reporter.

There are a couple of reasons why I think a reporter would be valuable. First of all, reporters are great at fact gathering, but they are really good at analyzing those facts and coming out with a clear story at the other end. They are also not afraid to pick up the phone and call people to verify issues and obtain additional details that aren't laid out in the fact set. The second reason that I thought about bringing reporters in on staff is the fact that they are suffering, as a profession, probably on a greater scale than any other information professional, and there are some great experienced reporters out there that are needing work. 

Here's my rough idea… feel free to poke holes in it, or add your own ideas if you think I've missed a few other opportunities to bring into the fold of a law firm.

I'd like to put a reporter on a project that covers four or five practice groups and have them create a weekly update that covers the important issues that face the clients of those groups. The practice groups would need to narrow the focus of which clients, industries and issues they would like to follow, and they would need to be willing to work with that reporter to make sure he or she stays on top of any new issues that pop up from time to time. The Library staff could also work with the reporter to make sure news alerts, case filings, and other timely information is fed to the reporter throughout the week. At the end of the week, an article (or articles) are written and edited, and then sent on to the practice group. This type of proactive, narrowly focused, reporting can help alert the attorneys on issues that affect their clients, and help them craft a few of those "guardrail at the top of the cliff" emails that the General Counsel said he would like to see.

In a way, this would be like a Law360, or industry specific news type of articles, but crafted specifically for the practice group and its clients. In my discussions with a number of vendors this week, we tried to think of ways that we could purchase this type of narrowly tailored information from vendors, but really couldn't think of ways that they could serve the large pool of law firms and attorneys, and scale that down in a way that gives them actionable information specifically focused on their practice group, their clients, and their clients' individual risk exposures. In order to have that, firms need that expertise on staff… and that type of expertise is exactly what a reporter could bring into a firm to help them build proactive guardrails for their clients.

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Steven B. Levy, author of Legal Project Management said...

In effect, isn't this what Google's query engine does - not the search algorithm itself, but the one that figures out what you're most likely looking for, based on:
1) what you've typed, plus
2) what zillions of other people have typed, plus
3) what "answers" (data) it has?

In other words, I don't think we're that far from being able (technologically) to automate this function.

That said, I'm not sure it's cost effective to automate it; I'm just noting it's technically feasible, given the large and growing corpus of legal information plus relatively standard terminology.

I agree that clients prefer the value at the top of the embankment. I think that value will come not just from providing information but from interpreting it and providing proactive guidance ("counsel," in one of its original meanings) about it.

(BTW, your robot-detector is getting way too hard for these aging human eyes to read!)

Anonymous said...

I am pretty sure Google is not very good at creating a narrative at the end of the week.

This is a good idea, especially the reporter's ability to create a narrative out of the information. However, I think there are ethical considerations. Part of the reason reporters feel they can pick up the phone and call anyone on any side of any debate is that they are the press in theory they are unbiased toward a particular outcome. Working for a law firm there is a built in bias toward the firm and toward the firm's clients. It is still a great idea and would love to see how it works out. I think PR people often have these kinds of skills as well.


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