Two massive barriers to good value storytelling (series recap) are:

  1. It requires hard work, taking time we don’t have
  2. Even if we have the time and do the work, our current chapter might prove unflattering

Herein, I focus on #2. Ego is often the enemy and, thus, we must frequently first edit the stories we tell ourselves.

I give short shrift to #1 only because it lends itself better to books, coursework and practice than a brief blog post (or even a long blog post).

In the beginning, there was the current state. We start by mapping existing processes, capturing meaningful data, and (eventually) using that data to craft a story (last post) that resonates with our business stakeholders.

Per usual, easier said than done. The rigor and effort required to overcome inertia consume finite resources (almost no one has strategic reserves of time and attention). Mapping and measuring is often labor intensive because we don’t just need to know who does what and how, but why. And not just the surface why but the root-cause why.

It is astounding how often we dig into long-established processes and the reasoning behind a particular step turns out to be ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Vestigial activities are endemic, as are kludges and compromises born from expediency (the need for speed). We are awash in technical, process, and cultural debt.

The status quo, however, rarely bears any evidentiary burden whereas proposals to improve on the status quo are often subject to strictest levels of scrutiny. We need to get our story straight, including being prepared for one troubling angle of inquiry: how did you let it get so bad? Identifying an opportunity for improvement can be flipped on its head as an indictment that persists whether or not we secure the resources required to remedy the issue. Volunteering for additional accountability is not an appealing option.

Early on, our story is rarely a happy one (and that’s ok). As discussed last post, we often default to vague stories because we have no other choice. We lack the details, data, and insights to paint a compelling picture. Resource constraints are, as always, a primary culprit—which is why we must be selective in the stories we aim to tell well. But another blocker is the forgivable fear of what we might uncover.

The excusable ambition is to tell a story in which everything legal does is awesome—with even more awesomeness bound to result from earmarking additional resources for legal. But this narrative will usually ring false. Because it is not true. Which creates a conundrum. Maximizing throughput at current resourcing levels would, at first glance, seem foundational to a persuasive story of how incremental resources will be deployed to benefit the business—i.e., use what’ve you got wisely before asking for more.

Unfortunately, there is likely considerable waste embedded in our current operating model. Even if we prefer to believe our initial design decisions were impeccable (no) and our execution thereof flawless (also no), we are confronted with the harsh reality of entropy as the world moves faster than our department ever could. The endless pursuit of optimal requires regular recalibration. True transformation requires much, much more. But telling a story in which a pivot results in a positive outcome is almost invariably an admission that, at some point, our choices and behaviors were suboptimal.

We do not like to look bad. But we probably need to look bad before we can get good.

The first step is admitting imperfection. Take, for example, this fabulous case study from my friend Alex Hamilton’s must-read book on contracting, Sign Here (reprinted with permission, of course):

That’s four very different stories.

The common Why is “because the government said so.” This Why is not fun—money spent to preserve, rather than create, value in response to increased legal complexity. But, as Whys go, sufficiently clear and compelling. More intriguing are the divergent Hows.

The companies resemble one another, from a distance. Each company is partnering with the same New Law company to tackle the same problem. Each has sufficient rigor around process and metrics to the point of being able to identify specific bottlenecks. Yet, despite superficially similar levels of sophistication, there are material differences in outcomes.

The Department of Slow. By attempting to insert a provision, not required by the new legislation, to materially increase their counterparties’ potential liability, Dept B moved 4.5x slower than Dept D. This delay cuts right to the heart of the relationship between legal work and business outcomes and why divorcing legal considerations from business value can diminish the legal function’s standing with business stakeholders.

(h/t Alex Su)

According to Gartner, when legal guidance is too conservative, business decision makers are:

  • 2.5 times more likely to forgo business opportunities that legal recommendations have made less attractive
  • 2.5 times more likely to suffer delays in capturing opportunities as they work through legal guidance and requirements
  • 4.25 times more likely to scale down the scope of opportunities

What lawyers consider “conservative” can put a company into an “aggressive” posture vis-à-vis counterparties with whom they are trying to do actual business. Consider this entire thread  about a lawyer costing an individual client millions of dollars by taking maximalist negotiating positions in a genuine effort to protect the client’s interests.

With the thread in mind, the questions prompted by the case study include: was the attempt to contractually increase the other side’s overall liability a net positive to the business? Did it merit the increase in cycle times, and the attention costs associated therewith? Was the resulting friction in the commercial relationship worth it?

I don’t know.

I can’t know. The answers are context dependent. Maybe an inciting incident or leadership change altered the business’s risk tolerance and this repapering exercise presented an opportunity to redress their risk profile. Not my circus, not my elephants.

Facts are annoying that way. So in a display of internet courage, I will hazard a guess that this business’s raison d’etre is not to maximize its counterparty’s potential liability. Just as I am fairly confident the business’s primary objective is not to minimize its own liability (winding down operations would be the surest route to unlock this dubious achievement).

From personal experience, telling a businessperson “well, there’s a risk” is essentially a content-free statement. Every business decision, every action and inaction, balances a variety of enterprise risks, only some of which are legal in nature. Attempting to eliminate risk, or minimize risk in a way that ignores net business impact, is one way the legal function becomes labeled the Department of No and the Department of Slow, with the primary complaint among our stakeholders being that in-house lawyers “don’t understand my business.”

It remains incumbent on the legal function to identify legal risks and characterize those risks properly. We need to intelligibly translate legal risk into potential business impact (probability, frequency, severity). Indeed, the dream is to price risk properly and integrate it directly into the business calculus. Which is another way of saying, our role includes helping to advise the business on taking smart risks.

Inevitably, we will still have to tell the business that which they would rather not hear—like new privacy legislation requires us to update many existing contracts. But we will find a much more receptive audience if we have consistently demonstrated we are allies invested in helping the business make money.

A credible (rather than incredible) bearer of bad news. The legal department needing more resources will be among the unpalatable truths that almost no one will be eager to accept.

Informing the business that legal has been wasting money for years will not endear us to our audience in the right way—savings-centric narratives are a dead-end path of least resistance that reinforce the attractive fiction that the company should be spending less on legal. On the other end of the spectrum, pretending like legal is eternally perched at the apex of resource optimization and operational excellence is (likely) transparently laughable.

The middle road is to do the best we can to optimize the resources we have while also asking for the resources we need. Pick the low-hanging fruit (i.e., patent, preventable waste) identified in the process mapping/measurement exercise and present the resulting improvements to support the case for more resources to move beyond incrementalism. In the case-study example, reform the delay-inducing contract language and then cite the already improved cycle times in the petition for (i) the resources and (ii) cross-functional collaboration necessary to address the delays caused by slow approvals and signatures, the topic to which we will return next post.

I know. I remain a citizen of good standing in Obvioustown. But the middle path is rarely chosen because it requires being bold (asking for more money) while also being prepared (putting in the work to get the story straight), including being prepared to recognize where we are falling short (looking less than perfect). Most departments are situated near one of the extremes—too shy to ask for the resources we need (no value stories to tell) or too quick to do so without any meaningful effort to get our house in order (our stories are vague and incredible).

Some level of humility is an important part of credibility. But not too much. Technical, process, and cultural debt are not unique to legal. The law department’s ways of working are unlikely to be the most inexplicable part of the collective goat rodeo. It often seems like the business makes money in spite of itself. Humility paired with competence and tangible progress towards improved business outcomes should be enough to convince persuadable stakeholders that additional resources will be put to good use.

Likewise, we should not apologize that increasing legal complexity drives up the costs of doing business. That’s the problem we’re responsible for addressing, not responsible for creating. Instead, we need to clearly articulate the business value at stake in a manner that reflects our roles as allies in driving superior business outcomes, including advising the business on taking smart risks. This does not guarantee we will secure the requisite resources (expect legal to still be chronically underfunded) but it does improve our chances substantially as we change perceptions about being the Department of Slow/No.

With Thanksgiving falling on a Thursday this year… wait, I’m being told that it does that every year… we decided to release a panel discussion that Greg moderated with the General Counsel from McDonald’s, Fannie Mae, Western Union, and Tyson Foods. The discussion ranges from where these GCs are expanding their search for talent, to truly increasing diversity both in their outside law firms as well as looking at their own diversity ranks, to retaining talent by improving the overall structure of the workplace.
Speakers
  • Desiree Ralls-Morrison, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, McDonald’s
  • Terry Theologides, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary, Fannie Mae
  • Caroline Tsai, Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Western Union
  • Amy Tu, Executive Vice President, General Counsel, and Corporate Secretary, Tyson Foods
Special thanks to Reuters Events for allowing us to share this discussion with our listeners. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

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Twitter: @gebauerm or @glambert.
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Music: As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.
Transcript

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 138 – Cultivating and Retaining the Next Generation of Legal Talent

Alex Babin, CEO at Zero, says that the beautiful part about automating processes is to make the machines work the way the lawyers work so that you get a Return on Invest starting the very first day. For many of us, Alex brings up what we might think as the Holy Grail of implementing change in a law firm, and that is to allow the attorneys to continue working the same way and have the technology do the administrative tasks in the background. With little to no interaction from the attorneys. He says that the best product is the product that doesn’t have to be implemented. The best software is no software so that you don’t have to teach them how to use it. Babin’s product Zero for email compliance, along with the new mobile time capture Apollo is designed to reduce the time spent on these non-billable, administrative tasks for lawyers.

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Information Inspirations
Brittany Luce and Eric Eddings have returned to their podcasting roots after finally leaving The Nod and the mess at Gimlet Media, and their video version of The Nod after the collapse of Quibi. After seven years, they resurrected their original podcast, For Colored Nerds (FCN) on Stitcher/SiriusXM where they discuss Black culture from their own nerdy perspective. Brittany and Eric are great and vulnerable storytellers and their return to FCN, as more mature adults, is a great place to tell and listen to their stories.
Sometimes hardcoding tech gets better results than what you might find with AI, machine learning, or neural networks. BRAIN was developed in the 1980s and is still around today using the idea of “weaving” to identify objects like pastries. The accuracy of this established technology is very good and shows that not all shiny new things are better than the tried and established processes. The New Yorker has a great article on the use of BRAIN.
Contact Us
Twitter: @gebauerm or @glambert.
Voicemail: 713-487-7270
Email: geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com.
Music: As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.
Transcript

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 137 – Zero’s Alex Babin – Getting the Machines to Work the Way You Work

Start with Why. Value storytelling is essential (series summarized here). But, as storytellers, we’re not experimenting with the form. We should tell simple, compelling stories with no mystery as to the What, How, and Why.

What is outputs. How is inputs/process. Why is purpose, outcomes, and value.

What, How, and Why all matter. But, for our business audience, legal’s What and How are inherently uninteresting. Always start with their Why.

Why is the subject of the previous post. Business value is the one true Why. The call to action. The hook. The propulsive force. But the framing of Why is context dependent. The way we talk about business value will often need to be calibrated to our subject matter and our target audience—identifying our target audience and understanding what messaging resonates with them is quintessential to mastering our own context.

The stories we tell must cohere with the stories our audience tells themselves about their own starring role in the business’s journey. We must present ourselves as allies in the same cause. Which we are. This sense of shared purpose is most crucial when we are engaged in productive disagreement and accountable for persuading our allies of unpalatable truths—whether seeking to rejigger their perspective on value preservation (e.g., refining their legal-risk/business-reward calculus) or recommending that finite resources be allocated to the legal function despite the very real opportunity costs. Continue Reading Value Storytelling (#4) – Start with Why

Matthew Coatney, CIO at Thompson Hine, and author of The Human Cloud sits down and talks about what he sees as the transformation of how we work. According to Coatney, freelancing and project-based work (The Human Cloud) combined with Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (The Machine Cloud) will soon disrupt the way we deliver work. Law firms will not be exempt from this disruption. Matters are really just projects.  Contract attorneys are freelancers. According to some experts, 80% of work to be done by organizations in the 2030s will be project-based work. And AI and ML will eat into the other 20%. Coatney says that we are missing out on an opportunity if we are not preparing for this reality.

We asked how life as a CIO has changed over the past couple of decades for a CIO in a law firm and Coatney says that a CIO of 2000 would have culture shock if they were to be transported to today. CIOs are still the brand ambassadors of the IT departments, but Chief Technology Officers and Chief Data Officers are making their way into the fold to help offload some of the overwhelming responsibility that many of today’s CIOs find falls on their shoulders.

Matt also co-hosts The Human Cloud Podcast with Matthew Mottola where they put out twice-weekly episodes diving deeper into these topics. Go check out “The Matthews” on their own pod if you’re curious about how the structure of work is going to change.

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Information Inspirations
You may have noticed that we took last week off from this podcast, but we were busy recording other podcasts to fill the void.
Greg went on the Legal Value Network’s “Off the Clock” podcast and talked with Keith Maziarek of Katten and Percipent’s Chad Main about the recent increase of available APIs from a number of legal information vendors. These APIs may very well open the door to a much easier method of pulling data in from vendors directly into internal law firm databases to better prepare firms to handle clients’ needs.
Marlene hosted an ILTA podcast panel on How Virtual Hearings Altered the Fabric of Dispute Resolution with Florida Circuit Judge Christopher Sprysenski, Trial Consultant with Paul Hastings, Jeremy Cooper, and Partner at Jackson Walker, Richard Howell. The three give their personal experiences on how they handled virtual trials over the past twenty months.
Contact Us
Twitter: @gebauerm or @glambert.
Voicemail: 713-487-7270
Email: geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com.
Music: As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.
Transcript

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 136 – Matthew Coatney – The Human Cloud: The World of Projects and Freelancers

I interrupt our regularly scheduled programming—the continuing series on value storytelling—with a rant inspired by my pending Continuing Legal Education deadline.

Despite the temptation to satisfy everyone’s daily outrage quota by taking on a soft target, I consider our collective (and my personal) annoyance with CLE a minor symptom of a major problem. Our culture of learning is broken. This has all manner of downside implications, including for innovation.

But, first, a little rantastic fun. Can you spot what’s missing from this ad I received in the mail?

I am getting CLE right now. While typing these words, a CLE audio file is playing in the background on mute. I felt compelled to acquire hard evidence before launching into a tirade.

What’s missing from the advertisement is any suggestion I might learn. No mention of quality or relevance. Rather, the repeated, bolded promise of “no final exam” struck me as an assurance there would be no requirement I pay attention—i.e., I could avoid learning anything at all. A promise made; a promise kept. Continue Reading CLE is Broken (as is our approach to learning/innovation)

Back in May (ep. 117), we had Bloomberg Law’s Molly Huie on the show to talk about the Bloomberg Law DEI Framework survey she and her team created and were pushing law firms to contribute. So we close the loop on this conversation by asking Molly to come back and talk about the results of the survey. There were over 30 firms who participated in the survey with 28 of those firms making “the cut” to be included in the 2021 DEI Framework results. Molly walks us through why these firms jumped onboard this inaugural survey, what issues they may have had in collecting and answering the over 90 questions in the survey, and what reactions they had to the results of the survey.
The survey results are free to download from Bloomberg Law’s DEI Framework page, and the 2022 edition of the survey will be out in the first quarter of next year for any firms who want to see if they make the cut for inclusion in the DEI Framework.
 

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If you like what you hear, please share the podcast with a friend or colleague. Or, reach out to us and let us know what you think.
Contact Us
Twitter: @gebauerm or @glambert.
Voicemail: 713-487-7270
Email: geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com.
Music: As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.
Transcript

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 135 – Results of the Bloomberg Law DEI Framework with Molly Huie

Legal expertise is valuable to the enterprise. Demand is on steep upward trajectory. Budgets are failing to keep pace. We must optimize resource allocation and innovate—enhance productivity through process and tech. But, while innovation and optimization are key elements in our value story, we are still likely to need more money for the legal function to drive better business outcomes at scale and pace. Service levels are inextricably tied to resource levels—including the resources required to invest in innovation and optimization.

It is, literally, our job to ensure the legal aspects of business needs are met. Thus, it is also our job to secure sufficient resources for the legal function. Obtaining finite resources inside an enterprise carries substantial opportunity costs (other value the business could pursue with the same money) and therefore requires expert value storytelling, a learned skill in which few legal professionals are practiced.

The business defines “value.” Yet the number one complaint among the legal function’s business stakeholders is in-house lawyers “don’t understand my business.” Understanding—mastering our own context—is essential. We should be capable of framing our ask for incremental resources in the language and metrics of the business. Centering the creation, and preservation, of business value in our narrative is the core of value storytelling.

Business value is context-dependent, not unknowable. Conversations around the business value of, say, accelerating speed-to-revenue demand a different framing, and often has a different audience, than conversations around the business value of complying with new privacy regulations. We should know our audience and develop the attendant abilities to calibrate messaging for maximum resonance with specific sets of business stakeholders.

Being aligned with the business, however, does not spare us from making hard choices and engaging in hard conversations as to what constitutes value. Though it pains our service-loving souls, it incumbent upon us to prioritize activities by business impact and artfully say “no” when asked to handle deprioritized work. We should, however, capitalize on each “no” as an opportunity to build our story that additional legal resources are required to address unmet business needs.

Yet, instead of a more-with-more value proposition, we too often default to savings-centric tropes valorizing more-with-less heroics reliant on extraordinary effort and improvisational ingenuity to bridge resource gaps (excess MacGyverism). Stories about savings are easy because they are counterproductive—reinforcing the attractive fiction that the business can, and should, spend less on legal. Good value storytelling is anything but easy for the same reason it is necessary—the hallmark of successful advocacy is not a penchant for combative argumentation but, rather, our ability to persuade those who need persuading.

We must start with Why but need to supplement this with a compelling vision as to How business value should be delivered. We need a strategy that resonates with our business stakeholders. Target operating models. Technology roadmaps. Metrics. We have to be able to move upstream to address the business drivers of legal workloads, presenting a systems-oriented view of how legal supports better business outcomes. Doing this well requires work sorting because we are bandwidth constrained. We can only tackle so many projects, let alone programs, at once.

In addition to limited bandwidth, we are constrained by a fear of looking bad and a myopic perspective on riskLegal is often labeled the Department of Slow or the Department of No, which undermines our value storytelling. We need to shift these perspectives among our stakeholders, in part, by understanding when and where they are grounded in some level of truth—candid self-assessments of being bottlenecks because of (i) bad processes or (ii) an acute focus on legal risk that ignores net business impact. This candor extends to our business case: fix what we can, admit where we are falling short, and request the resources we need to serve the business better.

Richmond Law School professors Jessica Erickson and Josh Kubicki join us to discuss how they are teaching law students not only the critical skills to “think like a lawyer” but also the understanding that they are entering the world of business. Whether that is in BigLaw, non-profit, in-house, public interest, or solo practice, they need to have a baseline of business acumen to practice and thrive.

Prof. Kubicki runs Richmond’s Legal Business Design Hub that delivers leading-edge competitive skills to the law students and is part of a one-two punch created by Richmond Law Dean Wendy Perdue who also hired Prof. Janice Craft to lead the Professional Identity Formation program which focuses on interpersonal skills needed to be a successful, yet healthy legal professional.

Prof. Erickson runs the Law and Business Forum which connects Richmond Law Students with the local business community and teaches students a better understanding of what it means to be a business lawyer.

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Information Inspiration

Our inspiration this week comes from someone who we met (virtually) at the HBR LINKS conference. This fellow legal information professional mentioned that he’s listened to all 133 (now hopefully 134) episodes. That is amazing! You inspire us!!

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If you like what you hear, please share the podcast with a friend or colleague. Or, reach out to us and let us know what you think.

Contact Us

Twitter: @gebauerm or @glambert.

Voicemail: 713-487-7270

Email: geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com.

Music: As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca.

Transcript

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 134 – Teaching Law Students Business Design Skills – Jessica Erickson and Josh Kubicki

As we move toward the end of the year, or as in Texas, the end of a lawyer’s birthday month, there becomes a mad scramble for completing Continuing Legal Education (CLE) courses. Has CLE become more about checking the box than about enhancing/maintaining a lawyer’s skill? Why is it that CLE credits are based on time, rather than knowledge? Is there a better way? Our guests this week certainly think so.

Ian Nelson, co-founder of Hotshot, a company whose business model is based on short instructional videos, originally without CLE… is now offering CLE credit with some of their packaged videos. This is a crack in the foundation of the traditional CLE model, and one that Sarah Glassmeyer, Legal Tech Curator · Reynen Court Inc. and Margaret Naughton, CLE Manager · McDermott Will & Emery hope continues.  Margaret did point out that not all CLE is boring, especially if you can kayak and learn.

Join us for a roundtable discussion on the potential for the next generation of CLE where the focus is more on true education, learning, and skills. Perhaps we can look outside the United States at places like the UK, Canada, Australia, and others where there is more focus on an educational plan than there is on the rigid structure of sitting in a seat and listening to a “sage on the stage” talking for 30 or 60 minutes.

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Information Inspirations

Jessica Gore, 3L at University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law has an attitude of “if nobody else will do it, allow me”… And she proved that by producing a better design for understanding the Federal Rules of Evidence.  She joins us, ironically on the same day as her Evidence mid-term, to talk about how she knew she could design a much better rules book than what was on the market. Her method of using Twitter to gather feedback and improve upon the prototype is exactly what we discussed in last week’s episode, so she is definitely our inspiration this week. Check out Jessica’s IP Illustrated tools website as well.

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If you like what you hear, please share the podcast with a friend or colleague.
Contact Us
Twitter: @gebauerm or @glambert.
Voicemail: 713-487-7270
Email: geekinreviewpodcast@gmail.com.
Music: As always, the great music you hear on the podcast is from Jerry David DeCicca who 4th solo album just released a vinyl edition this month!
Transcript

Continue Reading The Geek in Review Ep. 133 – Ian Nelson, Sarah Glassmeyer, and Margaret Naughton on the Next Generation of CLE