9/5/16

I'm a world famous legal blogger. Almost no one cares.

A couple months back, I was giving a talk in a far off land  (Canada) and the moderator introduced me as "the most internet famous person [he'd] ever met." This was genteel nonsense, all the more endearing because it was absurd on its face.

He was doing obvious violence to the concept of fame. Googling "D-List Celebrity" returns an image of the prop comic Carrot Top, who has 63.4K followers on Twitter. As you can see from the panel to the right, my follower count establishes me 4% as Twitter famous as Carrot Top who himself is only 5% as Twitter famous as Emergency Kittens.

Further, the moderator's puffery doesn't hold up even if "fame" is being used in the local sense--i.e., widely known among the tiny subset of people who read about changes in the legal market. As the panel to the right also indicates, I am one of the least followed Geeks. There were several people in that room who are Lambert-like in their audience reach. I was not even the most famous person the moderator encountered that morning.

Rather I think what he was commenting on my ubiquity. It may be dreck, but there is no denying that my production is prolific. If you are one of those people (he is) who actively engages on the topics I cover then I am downright Kardashian in terms of saturation. Repetition has a substantial impact on perception.

In a similar vein, after a few drinks, one of my fellow presenters complimented me on my ability to "stay on message." That was his polite way of noting that every time he sees me, which is often, I am spouting a slight variation on the same themes. But that's the thing, I am generally not directing my talks to the people with whom I share the stage, fellow bubble dwellers who see me too often. I'm talking to an audience where 99% of the people have never heard of me and are almost completely unfamiliar with my message.

These fine gentlemen read a huge percentage of what gets written on changes in the legal landscape so they encounter me all the time. They are not alone. There is a cadre of people who are similarly engaged. But how many? My anecdotal answer: not many

True Story 1. I used to write the legal tech column for the ACC Docket. For two years, a magazine sent to more than 35,000 inside counsel had my ugly mug opposite the coveted back inside cover. But when I would attend the ACC Annual Meeting--filled exclusively with people who get the Docket--my name/face recognition was de minimus among the people I did not already know (from the internet and other conferences). Mind you, I only got that writing gig after a fair amount of publicity elsewhere. Still, the people I met for the first time had no idea who I was, let alone anything about the ideas I espoused on the back page of the magazine they received every month.

That they did not know me was not all that surprising. Even today, I'm a niche player. But in trying to explain my interests to them, I would invariably make reference to important ACC initiatives like the Value Challenge or prominent ACC figures like Susan Hackett, Jeff Carr, and Ken Grady. Blank stares all the way around. So I would move onto 'common' concepts--AFAs, LPM, KM--and still elicit no spark of recognition or interest. Eventually, the conversation would turn to anodyne topics like the weather or the venue before we politely parted ways.

It was evident that attending the ACC Annual was the sum total of their engagement. If a topic was not covered in a panel they attended, they were not going to hear about it. And, of course, these were the self-selected individuals willing to make the extra effort to attend the ACC Annual (a great conference). The majority of their peers got their CLE's online or for free from local law firms. I was interacting with the most active subset of in-house counsel. And most of them had no frame of reference for topics I consider fundamental to legal service delivery.



True Story 2. Last week, I was talking to a friend who was preparing an internal presentation on his firm's successful use of alternative fees [slow clap]. He mentioned the presentation to a partner whose response was, "What's an AFA?" That a partner at any law firm is not familiar with the term is surprising. The AFA conversation is older than I am. Such ignorance from a partner at a firm that was already broadly and successfully using AFAs is even more astounding. Except it isn't. It is pretty easy to imagine a successful partner navigating a lucrative career without being confronted with the alternative fee concept frequently enough to internalize the abbreviation.

Most Lawyers Don't Read, Most Clients Don't (Seem To) Care

Imagine a conversation between an in-house counsel from Story 1 and the law firm partner in Story 2. The exchange might very well contain substantive brilliance that furthers a vital business interest. Neither story suggest that their subjects are anything other than true domain experts who render valuable client service.

But once the topic moves beyond discrete legal issues to the business aspects of the relationship, they probably struggle. Discounts would be about the long and the short of it. Regular writedowns of invoices. Annual rate-increase theater. Discounts serving as the fallback whenever the conversation veered into nebulous topics like efficiency, staffing, responsiveness, etc.

It's not that they would fail to recognize that there were problems. It's that they would not really know where to start with remedial action. So they would apply the discount bandaid and try to get back to their comfort zone, substantive legal issues. That is, until the in-house counsel became frustrated enough to shop elsewhere, leaving the outside counsel to wonder why the phone stopped ringing.

Most lawyers don't often pay a penalty for their lack of curiosity in these areas. And when they do, it is not obvious, especially to them. They can still be wildly successful themselves and make invaluable contributions to the success of their clients. Lack of broader interest in the process, technology, and business of law (T-shaped) rarely makes them bad lawyers. It just limits their effectiveness when more lawyering is not the optimal solution to a particular problem.

I don't blame anyone for not reading me. Indeed, I don't blame anyone for not reading the people I read (who are much better than me). Lawyers spend all day reading. It is natural that the little time they have off the clock is spent parenting, socializing, exercising, drinking, sleeping, or consuming popular culture. Despite some evidence to the contrary, lawyers are human.

Nor do I expect the reading habits of lawyers to change much. I expect an incremental increase in general awareness of the New Normal and an attendant increase in comfort with process and technology as necessary appurtenances to expertise in the delivery of legal services. Beyond some baseline improvements, I don't really expect most lawyers to add much process/tech acumen on top of their domain expertise. Rather I see the continued increase and integration of legal operations, legal engineers, allied professionals, process/tech nerds, etc. The integration point is key. It's not like these people don't already exist. But the caste system is resilient.

I'm not exactly the first person to point to the superior returns from the division of labor supported by proper management (i.e., making people capable of joint performance). If only we had a group of people whose job required them to keep abreast of changes in the legal market and who were then empowered to modify behavior at law firms.

You'd think that "managing partner" fits that job description. On recognizing shifts in the market, you'd be right. These fine people are acutely aware of what is going on. But managing partners rarely have the unilateral authority to do that much about it because their partners are so focused on autonomy that many of them would choose it over money:



So who do the partners listen to? Clients.

A return to that topic in the next post.

_______________________________________
D. Casey Flaherty is a consultant who worked as both outside and inside counsel and serves on the advisory board of Nextlaw Labs. He is the primary author of Unless You Ask: A Guide for Law Departments to Get More from External Relationships, written and published in partnership with the ACC Legal Operations Section. Find more of his writing here. Connect with Casey on Twitter and LinkedIn. Or email casey@procertas.com.


ADDENDUM: At ILTAcon (amazing conference), my friends mocked me for writing so frequently and so long. Deservedly so. I can't let go of ideas until I get them on paper. This is my scratchpad, which some of you seem to enjoy.

This was supposed to be the final installment in my series on why law firms are not doing more to change the way they deliver legal services.


In Part 1, I made the case that managing partners were well aware of the shifts in the legal landscape but were becoming more pessimistic about their firms' ability to adapt. In Part 2, I suggested it was rational for powerful partners to resist change efforts because their success validates their approach. In Part 3, I explained the clients tend not to ask for change (voice) because they seek alternatives instead (exit). In Part 4, I cautioned that client's signalling (exit) was too incremental to materially affect near-term behavior and therefore expressing their dissatisfaction (voice) was imperative if they want more/faster change than they are getting. Here I tried to dig a little deeper into why partners might be unaware of what they might do differently.

Because it is so important (and repetition matters), I want to conclude with some more thoughts on the role clients can/should play. Hence one more post than originally planned.

Six posts out of a single survey question serve as Exhibit A that I write way too much.



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3 comments:

Dan Currell said...

Casey, you are completely famous in my mind. Only in my mind, perhaps, though I have a few good friends who also appear to know who you are, and at least two I can think of who mention you often. So there are three of us! And I'm pretty comfortable saying that all three of us know what an AFA is. The partner you met was frantically scanning this webpage in his mind: http://acronyms.thefreedictionary.com/AFA

It does not include our AFA.

dgc

Jeffrey Carr said...

Casey, I care, I truly care. But like you, I feel like I'm beating my head against a brick wall -- and I've been doing so for about 20 years now.

As you've written so frequently, change in the legal industry is slower than molasses running up hill in the winter time (Ok, so that's a Texas saying, but I consider you an adopted Texan). But that said, it doesn't mean it isn't happening. Sure, it's not fast enough for me, for you, for Susan Hackett or for Ken Grady, or for the growing numbers of fellow travelers leaving OldLaw and seeking fundamental and deep transformation.

At my heart, I am a revolutionary, a grenade thrower. And sometimes firing for effect, or using the two by for upside the head does indeed spur others to action. More often, however, it's the seeds we plant that yield fruit. It's the patient farmer rather than the heroic, but tragic, warrior, that creates sustainability. The germanation process may be extended, and the maturation process may take far too long in our view, but make no mistake, change is afoot. The tipping point has been breached. Resistance is futile. There is no turning back. Unfortunately, some in BigLaw and even in NewLaw don't know it yet.

It used to feel incredibly isolated out on the radical fringe. There's still a great deal of room out here, but at least it's not quite so lonely. It's tough to be on the point of the spear -- and it's often painful. But visionaries like you are the "follow me" types that the "lead me" and "take me" types need to move from their place of comfort, statis, and resistance. After all, it takes a village to start. And start means tossing the "not me" types off the island. They aren't bad people, they are just not right for this island. They are welcome to stay on their own island nation, the one that becomes smaller and less relevant day by day. They can stay on LawLand and they can be happy, indeed even successful for quite a while. But make no mistake, the "not me" types are a cancer -- at least to progress -- and for their own good, as well as that of the other three types (leaders, followers, converts), they must be left behind. The village that can do so needs only a leader to move forward. In time, a village can grow to a city state and then a nation. Sure, "in time" might not be in our lifetime, especially not in LawLand. But as fissures develop in the thick walls of LawLand, the citadel will indeed crumble. So keep creating those cracks, they will expand and contract with the changing seasons. And that, my friend, is a good thing. A thing we can be proud of.

Just remember, a visionary is simply a crackpot that history proves correct. If we're wrong, well, then we're just nuts.

At the end of the day only the customer can drive the changes we see as oh so evident. It may well take the visionary with the new legal service delivery model to wake up that sleeping giant -- at least, I for one hope so.

Bowe Kurowski said...

I always love reading your posts! Your articles are like articles on "good parenting"... only good parents are searching up those articles and reading them, just like many of the people that read your articles are people who are already adapting to technology... not the ones that really need it! You are brilliant in how you present your material and wish more people would take the time to read and discover the man... the myth... the world famous legal blog poster. I actually just wrote a post with a similar conclusion but from a psychology perspective of what's holding up change in the legal profession. You're right on the money, but you already knew that.

 

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