For many years working in the realm of law firms I have been described as a Non – a non lawyer. It is a rather strange predicament to define yourself and your skills based on what you are not, rather than what you are. I remember when my husband first graduated from university and wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life, he took a series of jobs to try things out only to come to the conclusion a year later that he learned what he didn’t want to do. So he went back to school, twice, in pursuit of being a something. I on the other hand, graduated from grad school and shortly thereafter started on my almost two decade journey of being a Non.
I am writing this blog post on the plane as I fly back to Toronto from Halifax, having just spent the last three days at the CALL/ACBD annual conference. The conference was fantastic, highlights for me included an opening session with Jordan Furlong who suggested we are entering an era of Legal Intelligence – a topic near and dear to my heart, a stellar lunch keynote from Janet Maybee on the wrongful conviction of Pilot Francis Mackey in respect to the 1917 Halifax explosion, and of course a meet up with fellow 3 Geeks blogger Greg Lambert. I think my colleagues from Thomson Reuters Canada showed him just how the vendor client relationship can actually be quite strong and positive. But all of that pales in comparison to the many great one-on-one conversations that I was able to have with people about the state of the industry, the position of law librarianship, the influence of legal tech – AI, Machine Learning, predictive analytics and what the (very exciting) future holds for all of us.
Earlier this month, we were debating how to approach a client problem. There were two differing points of view, both had merit and either could be right. Either would get us to the finish line, solve the problem, score the run – insert your analogy of choice. But each position also had its drawbacks. Someone wisely said to me “its not a zero sum game”
I realize it is not dissimilar to the recent white paper published by TR Canada put out to the market about Building vs Buying a KM Solution. Which, was one of the first thought leadership pieces for TR Legal Canada that I have been involved in since I started working here, having left the law firm. As it happens, I also had a conversation today with a new employee – a customer solutions success consultant who has come to TR after working in consulting, start up and technology environments. He mentioned to me that he notices the legal industry is changing, and it is all very exciting.
As I reflect on all three of these interactions I realize that all too often we look for dichotomy to measure success. What’s happening in the market is exciting, and there is lots of change but we also know there is a great deal of resistance as well. Just last week, we learned that The Old Boys Network Is As Strong As Ever — Study Finds Male Clients Prefer Male Attorneys, so any strides we may have made in the arena of diversity are tempered and every step forward can feel like two steps backwards. It is not a zero sum game.
We know law firms are inefficient, and while some firms have adopted and use AFAs, the hourly rate still prevails though of course every buyer of legal services would like to see a lesser hourly rate. We know firms are closing their libraries as a result of expensive lease rates in downtown buildings and a perception that everything is online now. But firms do need legal research resources and people need a quiet and collaborative space to read and connect. Shutting libraries negates that opportunity. As people, we are wired as Billy Joel suggests to go to extremes. We see progress only in the face of disruption or complete change. We don’t like to be in the middle where some things are working but others are not – we want it all, and we want it all to be efficient, properly priced and still market savvy and smart.
As I write this, and notwithstanding my wish for 2018, I can’t help but wonder if this changing legal market thing does not need to be a zero sum game. We are waiting for the moment we can say the legal market how now changed. But like the Big Bang, I am not sure that moment will ever come in a way any of us will see or recognize. Neither Lexpert nor American Lawyer is going to print a headline that reads: The Evolution is Complete – Law firms run like businesses as of X Date, X Year.
We won’t see an effective end to the partnership model, or the complete death of hourly billing, any more than we will see robot AI enabled lawyers doing all the commodity work while business and legally trained lawyers are doing the bespoke transactional and bet-the-company litigation work on an annualized flat fee basis. No, I think the change that is upon this industry is more grey – it’s happening in fits and starts, it’s suited to some practices and not others, it jives with the way some lawyers work but not others. And ultimately, I think that’s ok because it’s not an industry but a profession that needs to change. The legal profession is a profession that is deeply rooted in public service but has become something much different over the course of the last century or so. I think it may also take that long for us to really see its next iteration.
I am not suggesting that we should stop trying to make it better – I certainly won’t – but I also think we need to be patient. We need to see what is working, celebrate those achievements and use those small scale wins as fuel for the next fire. Maybe the answer is take out the “but”, replacing it with an “and” so that we don’t look at things in a zero sum way. We need to think about the hourly rate and some alternatives, partnership models and other kinds of firms – the same can be true of diversity, legal research tools, efficiency plays and any of the ways in which the legal industry must change. This makes it very difficult to provide service to an industry that is changing – to help firms weather the change while also maintaining the practices that are not changing. You have to be innovative, while also being traditional and the one size fits all model really doesn’t work. In this non zero sum game, we all have to be more creative with the way we approach our markets and our clients, regardless of which side of the legal services delivery fence we make our gardens.
are closing, in Canada, a prospective new one received
preliminary approval in late December 2017 by The Federation of Law Societies of Canada, Canadian Common Law
Program Approval Committee on its application to create a new law school. This is the
next step in the school’s bid to establish a law school. What is interesting
and unique about this school, is that they are not exclusively focused on the
letter of the law nor traditional legal studies as with other law schools. Instead
they are taking a more progressive applied, approach to the discipline as has become a hallmark
of the Ryerson University brand.
In describing its program,
Ryerson proposes to create a “different kind of law school that trains lawyers differently”. It
emphasizes a program that has an “innovation-focused approach”that will equip graduates with
real-world skills and competencies required to meet the present and future needs of consumers of
The courses that students will be
required (my emphasis not theirs) to take include:
The Business of
Innovation and the Law
The courses will be taught by
professors of course, but also include an element of practical experience and
working with mentors from within the program itself. Courses are described in the application as:
“the course-based component is
divided between a morning session in traditional lecture format, and an afternoon session
where students will be separated into seven-member “student law firms” where they will engage
in practice-based assignments. The afternoon sessions will be overseen by mentors.”
Also contemplated are three one
week workshops in each of the three years of law school, I’ve pulled the descriptions here from the application documents:
School Bootcamp: focuses
on career planning, networking, mentoring, leadership
and personal development [Mandatory 1L]
Innovation Bootcamp: focuses
on the current edge of legal technology,including
data analytics, artificial intelligence, and quantitative legal prediction,
etc. [Mandatory 2L
on accounting, taxation and financial analysis [Optional 3L]
students to HTML, cascading style sheet computing and Python, while requiring them to
apply data analytics to devise a solution to a specific legal problem. [Optional 3L]
Quotient/Cultural Quotient (EQ/CQ) Bootcamp: includes an implementation project that aligns with recent
shifts in thinking about the core competencies required of licensees in Ontario. [Optional
exciting and refreshing while also scary. It points to a very deliberate shift
in what practising law can and should be about in the future – a future that can start with mandatory shifts in education in the next couple of years if not sooner. We have certainly been
talking about this impending “future of the legal profession” for long enough.
Last week on 3 Geeks, Greg
blogged about the importance of Professional
Development for library and research staff, in firms. I think learning
some of the non-legal skills Ryerson wants to introduce in law school, can and
should be sought out by lawyers, not just admin staff in firms. Lawyers
and not just the student kind, need to be thinking about the business of law
and the practice of law right from school and otherwise. Lawyers and law students, along with law firm administrators need to
attend the very conferences Greg suggests are important to learn about everything
law school doesn’t teach or is just beginning to teach as mandatory.
2018, I would like to do something different, and make a wish for the industry
instead. I wish that 2018 be the year
of the business-of-law tipping point. I wish for the coming year to be the one
where we finally “get it” , where clients push firms of all sizes to act like
businesses, where lawyers of all practices, years of call and diverse of
backgrounds begin the slow but necessary step of getting trained on new ways of
thinking about practising law with a robust business acumen either from formal
education, continuing education/professional development or industry conferences. I wish that
Ryerson’s law school (if it gets final approval), and other similar mandatory and elective
courses at all law schools is just the beginning of what’s to come for
the future of the profession and that 2018 ushers in a new wave of legal professionals who have the skills and abilities to integrate legal know-how with
business, technology, and access to justice – with a smile.
Best wishes for a successful 2018!
- Friday, October 27 / 9:00 a.m. (CDT)
- Sidley Austin LLP / Chicago
- Members $450 / Nonmembers $675
- Register today
- Limited to 40 participants
- Competitive Intelligence Concepts and Methodology
- Establishing and Organizing a Competitive Intelligence Function
- Leveraging Information for Action
- Competitive Intelligence Analysis Process and Frameworks
- The Law Firm Difference: How is Competitive Intelligence Different for Law Firms?
- Implementing a Competitive Analysis Intelligence Program
- Integrating Competitive Intelligence into Strategic Practice and Firm Goals
Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Nancy
Jessen, SVP at Legal Business Solutions at UnitedLex about a survey recently
completed with ALM on legal department insourcing, entitled “Build or Buy? The Evolution of Law Department
Sourcing”. Our chat was really interesting, different
than what I expected. Here’s what I learned.
firms – the rise of competitive pressure, rate
squeezing, the need for better project management so as to be able to
not only price and staff matters effectively but also turn a profit. We also know of the impact of legal
technology in the e-discovery space, in contract drafting etc. and all of the
many AI applications that are threatening to take jobs away from lawyers. We
think of these issues and many others as law firm issues rather than legal industry
issues and look to the alternative model law firms, and outsourcing as the
answer or at least on the path to legal market euphoria. Nancy, and some of the ALM survey findings,
point out, however, that legal departments face many of the same issues.
pressures and expectations that almost every other corporate function faced — cost
management, return on investment, justification for new resources, and
technology-driven efficiency to name a few. Then, 2008 hit and everything changed. Not
just for firms, but for in-house departments, too. In-house teams were also
being forced to demonstrate value, provide legal recommendations that supported
business objectives, create internally efficiencies AND strategically direct external
counsel. A difficult task for
in-house counsel, just as it is for law firms trying to make sense of the new
world order in legal.
litigation software, supervising external counsel and overall legal spend is
table stakes for in-house departments. Like their firm counterparts, today,
almost 10 years later, General Counsels are focused (or trying to focus) on
demonstrating value by increasing operational efficiency of the in-house team,
from balancing high-cost/low-value staff against low-cost, inexperienced staff;
dealing with the constant fear of the next budget cut – something Nancy referred to as “death
by a thousand cuts;” or the hardest part of it all, insourcing/staffing
strategic lawyers who can sit with the C-Suite, make business decisions, help
the company grow, avoid risk and support initiatives with the highest and best
Intelligence 2016 Corporate Counsel Insourcing and Outsourcing Survey, highlight
some of these moving parts:
In 2017, only
26% of law departments expect their annual operating budgets to decrease, while
32% expect an increase, and 42% expect it will stay the same.
In 2016, 34%
of respondents said the number of full-time, in-house lawyers stayed the same,
and 52% plan on maintaining that level in the next 12 months, indicating that
increased insourcing within law departments may be slowing down.
In 2016, 39%
of legal departments surveyed decreased their overall use of outside counsel,
and 43% estimate they will do the same in 2017. Similarly, those who said their
utilization of outside counsel would not change increased from 43% in 2016 to a
projected 47% in 2017. Only 4% said they would increase the use of outside
counsel in 2017.
Alternative Service Providers, 57% of respondents send work to ASPs. Of those,
25% said they plan on increasing the number of ASPs they use in the next 12
months, and 28% said the amount paid to ASPs will increase in the next 12
budgets, doing more with less, engaging technology, and resourcing efficiently.
their paradigms, it seems the in-house departments are also looking to shift
the paradigm. We see this in some small ways, with bold statements from in-house
departments wanting firms to increase diversity. In-house departments can do
more to change the archetype, but whereas firms have to deal with the
complexity of the partnership models, in-house teams face obstacles around
C-Suite buy-in, and personal reputation.
question is, how can you best be strategic, deliver value, increase
efficiencies AND operationalize all of it?
Would you buy it, or build it?
All too often in law firms when we talk about marketing failures or look for new marketing successes, we look to see how “other industries” are doing it. We look at the marketing spend of consumer goods companies which make our budgets look like a small child’s allowance. We bemoan not having enough money to really make a difference or we lament the time and energy spent on directory submissions for minimal tangible ROI, yet we still participate in these things marketing activities since we are bound by the street rules of the legal marketing game. When we think about legal marketing, I think we would all agree, that despite the smaller budgets that our B2C counter parts, we have evolved beyond pricey tickets to sporting events, and are focused on content or account marketing. Yet, despite the laser focus on true client development we still struggle.
In about 10 days, I will be presenting as part of a panel at the Thomson Reuters 24th Annual Marketing Partner Forum. The session I will be presenting will be focused on differentiation in a highly competitive market. Aside from being a hugely important topic at this moment in time generally as we usher in 2017, the topic is a reaction to the 2017 State of the Legal Market Georgetown/Peer Monitor Report which is now available. The report tracks firm financial and other performance metrics in the US over the course of the last decade since the “Great Recession”. Not surprisingly, the report paints a somewhat bleak picture of the current state of legal services – from an operational point of view. I will leave you to read the report, but the Coles Notes (Cliff’s Notes) version indicates that:
- demand growth is flat;
- there is declining productivity;
- firms are experiencing growth in expenses, and
- increasing cost of leverage; despite
- ability to raise rates 2 to 3 percent a year, which is countered by;
- steadily declining realization rates.
- a buyer’s market;
- death of the billable hour pricing;
- erosion of the traditional law firm franchise;
- declining effectiveness of traditional leverage; and
- growing segmentation within the market for law firm services
It’s a bleak and scary picture, one that in my mind doesn’t even take into account the effects and affects of technology on the profession, in practice and in operation.