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.

Change is hard, change is slow but it is happening and that is no zero by any calculation.

I have said in the past that my job as a blogger is to get the conversation started.  By that measure, my last post was extremely successful.  Three bloggers, that I know of, felt compelled to write follow up posts to The Myth of Disruptive Technology,  and at least one commenter went so far as to “not suggest this post is without value”.

I think I agree with all of them, but I’m not sure I said anything they think I said.  🙂

Sam and I had a good laugh on Twitter about starting a conference to rival ReInvent Law called the Slow-Evolving Practice of Law Conference. Although, to be honest, I’m not against the idea of reinventing or disrupting law, in fact, it’s probably going to be the most outrageous and outlandish ideas coming out of ReInvent Law that will eventually be watered down and whittled away until they become the small incremental change that adds up over time. Big ideas most often lead to incremental change, while incremental ideas get swept away.

And I agree with Nina, Disruptive Technology and Innovation absolutely exist! The myth that I refer to in the title is “that you can buy, build, or imagine [a technology] that you can simply drop into your existing workflow and reasonably expect it to disrupt anything other than your existing workflow.” And I stand by that. I draw a distinction between technology that by its very existence will disrupt an industry (which does not exist) and a company that uses such technology to great effect in order to disrupt an industry (which happens all the time). Netflix, and other video streaming services, are the latter and, as Nina rightly states, they are continuing to disrupt other industries like cable television.  But again, it’s the business model that is disruptive, not the delivery mechanism. The delivery mechanism may make the business model possible, but on its own it’s of little additional value. It’s not the technology that’s disruptive, it’s how you use it.

And Steven’s post is fantastic, I went back and reread it three times. There’s some great stuff in there and some fascinating analysis, but my thesis was not that Blockbuster “failed by not responding earlier to Netflix”, but that Blockbuster “had no way to adopt streaming video without completely undermining the rest of their business.” They weren’t willing to undermine the good thing they had going, which was a rational, if ultimately fatal, decision.

When I first published the post on the LexisNexis Future of Law Blog, my good friend Ron Friedmann gave me a hard time on Twitter.

I joked that I couldn’t give everything away for free, but I actually alluded to the answer in the next sentence. “Now is the time to build a legal service delivery engine that can accommodate project management, automation, artificial intelligence, and extreme transparency to clients.” While that is definitely not a comprehensive list of the next great innovations in law, I think it’s fair to say that those four innovations are already happening. And those four innovations all point to one big historical change for the practice of law, process efficiency now matters. 

Maybe I should have said that efficiency is to law what streaming video is to the video rental industry?  I didn’t want say anything that concrete in the last post, because let’s face it, it’s ridiculous. Although, I can’t help but think there’s a parallel between Blockbuster not being able to stream video and remain profitable and some firms not being able to increase efficiency and remain profitable.  After all, profit has been based on inefficiency in law firms for a long time. Technology may be able to help, and some of those technologies could be called potentially disruptive, but technology alone will never make you disruptive, or efficient, or profitable.  I think my original point was something along those lines.  Although to be honest, this has been interpreted in so many different ways, I’m not entirely sure what I meant originally.

Still, I can take some solace in the fact that at the very least my original post made Byron think. And that’s good enough for me.

vipezz 631
Image [cc] vipezz 631

We asked… you answered. Law firms are not exactly known for being the epitome of efficiency, but there are still some basic operations and tasks that law firms simply do very poorly. Many of you chimed in with your own personal observations and gave some candid answers on what processes you think law firms need substantial improvement.

Enjoy the responses (or cringe because they hit a little too close to home.) If you didn’t get a chance to submit your own answer from the original question, please add your thoughts in the comments section and share your pain and frustration with your peers. It’ll make you feel better.

We’ll be back next week with a fresh Elephant Post question for you.

(1) Anonymous 
Maintaining Practice Group Forms

One of the things that firms still struggle with is managing forms. It was something that has been discussed for years (decades?), but we still have problems assigning responsibility to maintain standard forms and best practices. The main issue revolves around getting the attorneys to review the forms from time to time. Even when a system is set up, it quickly gets out of date because of the lack of action on behalf of those that benefit the most by having a good forms database. So simple, yet still not happening.

(2) Anonymous
Budgeting Processes

Budgeting. Holy God, budgeting. I came to law firm IT from 20 years of experience in other industries (from manufacturing to software development to finance to medicine) and I have never had so many problems creating and maintaining annual budgets. It’s not just my firm, either – I’ve now worked in two large firms with similar issues, and talked with IT directors and CIOs in other firms who’re running into the same problems. No one talks about next year’s budget until September, and they want it finalized in October. Which means they won’t even talk about it until the depths of the annual summer slump, then when it pulls out in the fall they want to add a dozen projects and have them fully planned and budgeted in six weeks.
Then they wonder why they’re inaccurate…”

(3) Ron Friedmann
Work and Business Processes

The set of processes for legal and business support that a lawyer should do on her own versus delegate to staff. Many firms have cut back on secretarial support. The theory is that lawyers need less support. Few firms, however, have carefully analyzed the set of processes lawyers and firms require to do their work and to ensure that each step of each process is conducted by the right resource.
Daniel Myers “Within our firm, that’s simple – document production and management.
We have electronic storage space for PDF and MS documents that are redundant to ALL physical documents which are printed and stored on- and off-site.
It is a struggle to have all stakeholders (shareholders) to agree on either moving toward any form of document management as it took them 7 years to agree to replace the 20 year old copiers and upgrade server drives.

(4) Anonymous
Effective Employee Interaction

360-degree feedback. Grassroots input / employee initiatives. Really any standard concept of business management predicated on the idea that “non lawyers” add value.

(5) Scottish Big Firm
Remembering What We’ve Done

We struggle to have an effective database to set out all of the transactions we have done. This would enable staff to see if anyone had done something similar to avoid re-inventing the wheel and either over-billing or under-recovering time accordingly. In my department, we now have access to a central deals database (a good thing, but only to be used ofr “big” transactions) but one of the partners also wants to operate a department specific deals database (all deals) and we are to run our own sub-file separately. The three do not join up so to do this properly, lawyers are doing three times as much work as is needed.

(6) Peggy Gruenke
New Matter and Client Intake

I think they struggle with implementing basic forms and processes around client intake – which is the foundation of the engagement. They get written and developed but used inconsistently or incomplete. That bad data in, bad data out phenomenon. Which circles back to maybe the problem centers on understanding how to collect client information, setting up a good database to store it and having a way to easily retrieve the data. Sorry, kind of threw 2 ideas into one steam of consciousness.

(7) Amy
Sharing Work Product

We have about 90 lawyers and it is frustrating to me that everyone lives in their own silo in terms of sharing work product. If I need to write a Daubert brief, for example, I start from my own past work product, from scratch, or I directly contact people who I think recently did one. We have tried “brief banking” both in paper (years ago) and electronically, but compliance with putting research and briefs in the bank is very poor and the organization/file structure is horrible. It seems so wasteful to me.

(8) Anonymous
Controlling Expenses in a Smart Way

There is a disconnect between firm upper management attempts to control expenses and the granular decisions that firm librarians have to make. For example, firm management often does not understand how the negotiation of an online contact impacts what must be kept in print and what can be discarded in favor of the online versions. Does user preference for one of the other matter? How does the shrinking physical library space affect the decision? Does anyone really decide or are the end results just what happens inadvertently.
Like it or not, most firms are pregnant with these contracts, recoveries are or will be soon a distant memory and the librarian is left to hold the pieces in place often without management understanding of long or short term impacts

(9) Anonymous
Obnoxious Distinction Between Lawyers & Non-Lawyers

Law firms usually cannot let support staff at any level participate meaningfully in decision making even when the staff people have a much better understanding of the issues. Full participation is not possible in most cases and this denies firms the benefit of what these staff people know.
What other profession describes others at various levels in an organization as NON something. There are no non doctors, non dentists etc. Why are there NONlawyers? The pejorative nature of this classification shows the failure of law firms to understand their nearsightedness.

(10) Anonymous
Bureaucracy Limits Innovation

In our AmLaw 200 firm, implementing a way for librarians to be part of the C-level decision making process has been really difficult. The hierarchical structure that has been in place for decades discourages innovation in our library. The newish librarians have been told not to bother the attorneys, not to go above one’s supervisor’s head, and not to contact the C-Level people. It ends up with a lot of ideas that never get beyond the head librarian, who just doesn’t understand the value of getting a seat at the table. It leads to our being in a silo while other departments (eg bizdev) are moving forward and are being included in strategic planning.
Our firm is pretty innovation and is working hard to become more so, but the hierarchy does get in the way of getting work done in a collaborative fashion.

(11) Anonymous
Not Calling Out Bad Vendor Practices

CCH is pulling indexes off the print they sell and forcing our hand to electronic.
Lexis is tripling the price of Law360 now that they own it. (We assume to ultimately secure a their place against the single provider-Westlaw option). Perhaps the only affordable or available interface will ultimately be Lexis for Law360– we’ll see.
PLC keeps splintering off subsets of their product and selling at ridiculous prices.
As you know, once in electronic– clearly vendors can charge and sell product ANY WHICH WAY. Pricing for electronic is not publicized and not standardized (unlike print).
For example, even if the firm doesn’t need practice group coverage– they often are required to pay for a ridiculous number of seats. You know the score– the larger law firms are particularly vulnerable.
Is anyone watching? Can we rally the ABA step in– I doubt most lawyers are aware of what is going on in the publishing world — although the librarians are watching it unfold.
Can we do more to expose these trends?
Why aren’t there consumer laws to protect us?

(12) Anonymous
Bad Document Management

Documentation is such a HUGE part of the practice of law yet so many firms still struggle with templates and forms. They start with “Should we even bother to use templates?” when meanwhile hours are being wasted with dupe and revise documents gone corrupt, or the user who *wants* to use styles but builds them piecemeal into each document, individually. Or the firm invests in a really nice template suite but no one uses it. These documents are the bread and butter, the work product, the piece de resistance if you will; yet so many firms (eh hem, decision making attorneys) put next to no effort into knowing how to create, edit and manage them.

(13) Karen Lasnick

Putting a correct matter number in anywhere.

(14) Anonymous
Budget Cuts Without Strategic Reasoning

Random edicts from on high telling librarians to cut. Yes, our stuff is expensive, but look at:
-work flow interruption
-effect on billable hours

(15) Mark
The practice of a law.

Legal advice is largely given differently every time it is requested, even if the request comes from a repeat client. A lawyer may approach a task differently on many different occasions and not necessarily improving efficiency each time. Different lawyers within a same firm will respond to the similar requests for legal advice in different ways.

Jane:  I recently read a short book by Nilofer Merchant called 11 Rules for Creating Value in the Social Era. In this lovely little tome she draws some powerful conclusions about the impact of the Social Era on business and the opportunity it provides to promote the Onlyness of individuals.  Onlyness is the concept that each and every person brings a unique set of knowledge, intuition, and experience to the workplace.  When done correctly, social media allows the organization to tap directly into an individual’s Onlyness and to leverage the vast knowledge and experience that typically goes unnoticed by the enterprise. Take for example, Rosanne, a legal secretary with 25 years of experience supporting litigation lawyers. Rosanne is a great resource for the few lawyers that she supports directly, but her Onlyness is almost entirely unavailable to the rest of the firm. Through social media, her Onlyness could be become a firm-wide resource, easily tapped by anyone and everyone who wants a piece of it.

Dan: Put away the love beads and go wash your Birkenstocks, Jane. The halcyon days of free love have been over for more than 40 years and, last I checked, tapping the Onlyness of a secretary is generally frowned upon in our more enlightened era.  I don’t deny that law firms have plenty of underutilized resources within their employee base, but there is no way that social media is the answer.  Most of the interactions on social networks revolve around gossiping with Facebook friends, or Tweeting your cat’s latest hi-jinx. Spreading around that kind of Onlyness does absolutely nothing to help the business, it is just another distraction from the work that employees should be focusing on.

Jane: Dan, by that logic — and I always use that word loosely when talking about you —  we should brick-up all of the windows in the office. I’ve seen plenty of attorneys and managers (the rest of us don’t have windows) while-away the hours gazing absent-mindedly through the glass.

Dan: It’s not surprising that you would confuse deep thought with absent-mindedness, Jane. Knowledge workers, like attorneys and managers, often focus deeply on a problem. Granted, to the ignorant, such focus could easily be misunderstood as “whiling away the time”.

Jane: Leaving aside you’re “ignorant” jab for the moment (pun intended),  you don’t consider secretaries and other staff to be knowledge workers?

Dan: Not in the same way that attorneys are, no.

Jane: You care to dig your own grave on that one?

Dan: There’s no digging my grave about it. The fact is, most employees in a law firm are task-completers, not creative types like attorneys and managers.  Their access to knowledge is simply, by any measure, not as important as…

Jane: You know what, I think we’ve just hit on another Dan and Jane topic.  Let’s table this for now and come back to it later.  Regardless of whether employees are “knowledge workers” there is clearly value in better connecting people within the enterprise.  It’s important to create relationships where there would otherwise not be any; between offices, regions, practice areas, etc.  It is about building community, Dan. Surely, you don’t deny that it’s important for IT personnel, for example, in various offices and at every level throughout the firm to communicate effortlessly.

Dan: Jane, why in the world would I want IT people to talk to each other?  I, as a partner, am not paying them to talk, I’m paying them to fix things.

Jane:  Wow. I’m speechless… Let me give you an example you might understand, Rumpelstiltskin.  Back in your day, people would congregate around the water cooler. This would provide a connecting point for employees and allow them to discuss ideas, some of which related to work and many that didn’t.  More importantly these conversations, work related or not, created connections between people, and those connections allowed them to more easily work together to solve work related problems.  The water cooler conversations allowed the individual to share their Onlyness with their colleagues. Today, we are too dispersed and everybody is moving too fast for a water cooler to provide that kind of informal and serendipitous communication, however, social networking can accomplish the same thing on a global scale, instantaneously. Social Networking is the new water cooler.

Dan:  I remember the water cooler. We got rid of it because people like you would stand there all day talking instead of getting their work done. You’re suggesting we should now make it possible to achieve that same level of inefficiency from the comfort of your own desk chair?  Your social “tools” will only make it harder to tell when someone is wasting the firm’s time.

Jane: Speaking of wasting time… The point here is not which “tool” we use, Dan, it is that we must unleash the potential knowledge and expertise of ALL of our employees. Law firms have a very strong caste system, and it does not serve the enterprise well. There are many problems to be solved and many long time employees have a much better understanding of the inner workings of the firm, and the legal business in general, than young associates, or even many partners do. In the traditional social model of the law firm, there is no mechanism to incorporate the vast experiences of the lower caste employees into the eventual solutions that will propel the firm to new heights. Social networking levels the old system and makes it possible for little old Roseanne to contribute to the ultimate success of the firm.

Dan: Roseanne?

Jane: Roseanne…uh, Dan!….uh… never mind.

Image [cc] Alistar McDermott

Ryan McClead’s post on THE Knowledge System has made me think of the way we ask others to work, and how effective, or ineffective that process is. In watching the TEDx video, there was a different part that stood out to me as Michael Idinopulos discussed the Disembodied Work process and how most of our work is now a series of “one-off” requests rather than a structure process. Idinopulos discussed the idea of putting Wikipedia-style knowledge system in place and encouraging people to transfer their knowledge from inside their heads onto a discussion board. The process started out fine, then dwindled, then incentives were offered (iPods, champagne) to promote sharing, but as the incentives went away, so did the effort to add information into the knowledge system.

The basic problem to these types of processes are actually very simple to explain, but difficult to fix. The overall problem is that these processes are viewed as “outside the normal” flow of work. If a person has to stop what he or she is doing (practicing law, answering reference questions, responding to RFPs, etc.) and go do some data entry so that someday in the future the results will make it easier for someone else to do their job, then these processes are doomed to fail. We try to make adjustments for this outside-of-the-normal-work-pattern by giving incentives for data input (back to the iPod, champagne ideas) or, even worse, by hiring people to be data stewards to do the work for them because we simply know the person that should be adding in the knowledge, won’t do it.

Now, this brings me to a story that I heard at lunch last week with a vendor. He said he was talking with his boss about a new product launch and they wanted to define what they would consider to be a “success.” Do they look at dollars as a benchmark? Do they look at usage? Do they look at market share? All of those are pretty definable goals and easy to track. Or, do they look at ease of use? Do they look at how the product helps attorneys do their jobs better? Do they look at whether current customers tell others about how great the product is? Not as definable, but probably a better indicator of how good their product really is. At the time, we didn’t really come up with which of these questions would actually help identify what would be a success. Then he mentioned another story, and that’s when I realized what the answer should really be.

While in the UK, he mentioned that he surveyed a number of attorneys about a product and what is would take to get them to move off of that product and on to his alternative platform. One of the responses he got went something like this:

If you take this away from me, I will quit my job. I cannot effectively do my job without it.

That, my friends, is what everyone wants to hear. That is the definition of success.

Now, this answer related directly to a product, but the same concept can be applied to almost any type of process that should be included in the normal flow of how we conduct our work. Take for example, the library:

If you take the library support away from me, I will quit and go somewhere that has it. I cannot effectively do my job without the resources and support the library provides.


If you take the knowledge base that KM (or IT or __) provides to this practice, I will quit and go somewhere that has it. I cannot effectively serve my clients without it.

The key is that the product or service has become so ingrained into the normal work flow of the person, that they would be less effective without it. The PC, email, and ‘the network’ have already become success stories in the modern work flow. Can you say the same about the Client Relationship Management system? The Document Management System? The Firm Wiki? The After-Matter Review process? Probably not.

As long as those systems are viewed by the worker as processes that require them to stop doing their normal job, and input data into something that they may, or may not see any return on their investment of time and effort, then those systems will never be successful.




image [cc] jo.marshall

Legal Project Management (LPM), perhaps THE legal buzz-phrase of 2012 continues to increase in popularity. The basic thinking behind it is centered on efficiencies. Many clients are asking their firms to become more efficient. As I have noted in the past, they might want to be more specific about what they mean by efficiency. However, LPM will likely be an effective tool for firms to use in providing legal services for clients at lower costs.

Recently I met with some project managers (PMs) to learn from them and increase my knowledge on the subject. These were project managers involved in commercial real estate building projects. What is unique about their business is that they represent clients, versus general contractors or architecture firms. My first question for them was: Why Clients? I assumed the project managers working with the building contractors would be more than sufficient. Why would a client pay more for their own project managers?

The reason was made clear by some of their comments. They said architects were focused on building the most functional and attractive buildings. Construction contractors meanwhile were focused on delivering on spec and under budget. Neither of these goals were entirely focused on the client’s agenda. Therefore the role of the client-side PM has the potential to bring significant value.

I saw a direct analogy to project management in the legal space. Here the law firm functions as both the architect and the contractor. The law firm agenda is delivering the most effective legal service with the best possible outcome. Or in other words, they want to be the best lawyers they can be. It’s not that they don’t care about the client’s agenda; it’s just that they can never fully appreciate it. Added to that situation – the client’s agenda can shift over time.

As a pricing guy, I am always focused on developing fee options that align law firm and client interests. Yet even the best fee deal is not a full alignment of agendas. In fact that full agenda alignment is unattainable. Two people will differ on agendas, so we can’t expect two organizations to ever come close to that ideal.

The project managers shared with me a number of examples where their involvement increased value and lowered costs. One of their clients I know commented that they easily saved more on their project than the cost of the extra PMs. And the client was happier with the results.

Obviously not all legal matters will benefit from a similar client-side PM resource. However, there are likely savings for clients to realize in many practice areas. And beyond savings, the client will realize more effective legal services. (This comment should make Ron Baker happy.)

Of course I am crystal-balling here a bit. The LPM space is embryonic at best. I predict a bit more evolution will be needed before a client-side LPM option is embraced. Either way, it was interesting to learn from another industry and see that new ideas are being employed in other industries as well.

Image [cc] J. Paxon Reyes

Dear Client,

You have been pretty clear about wanting to save money. AFAs, bigger discounts and all sorts of ‘cost savings’ messages are being sent to firms. Law firms have responded with an array of pricing proposals, which are often set aside in favor of bigger discounts. Whether this saves you money or not, no one is sure. But at least you are being specific about what you want and accepting nothing less.

As an extension of those cost savings messages, you have also talked about wanting more efficiency. Here’s where we are running into a problem. What do you mean by efficiency? Law firms assume you generally mean doing things with less hours. But you could also want firms doing things with cheaper hours. Or doing things with technology instead of humans. Or maybe even to stop doing certain things. Which is it? Or is it some combination? Are there certain approaches on the list you don’t want firms to employ?

You are starting to see the problem here.

Absent specific instructions to your law firms, they are not sure what to do. Most firms believe they are already being efficient. From their perspective, they do things with the least amount of hours they can. There you go. Efficiency achieved.

But its likely you are not satisfied with this answer. Which leaves law firms a bit confused or at a minimum ignorant of your needs. So, as a favor to your firms, be a bit more specific about what it is you want exactly the next time you ask for more efficiency. 

Waiting For More Guidance

UPDATE: To our good fortune, John Wallbillich over at WiredGC, was gracious enough to respond with “My Lawyer, He Wrote Me a Letter.” If only more clients would respond like this.

Sound crazy? Yes and No. Yes – in that a provider of a service isn’t already laser-focused on efficiency  No – in that this reactive approach is the mantra of the legal profession.

Lawyers are really responsive. They are great at doing whatever the client asks. But not until the client asks. Law firms don’t show up on the client’s door and suggest they need to sue some other company  They wait until the client calls them with a lawsuit and asks them to represent them before they do anything. That’s the paradigm of the profession. Unfortunately, this mind-set has put law firms in a passive, reactive relationship with their clients on many other fronts, including efficiency.

So … my guess is that until clients specifically ask for some type of efficiency  law firms will continue to wait for more direction. Lawyers do know how to file motions and write great contracts. Efficiency? Not so much.

Of course the smart lawyers will shed their passive, reactive ways and go engage in efficiency conversations with clients. But equally likely, there won’t be enough of that. Thus the letter to clients.

Image [cc] Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Recently Lexis released its findings from a new survey on Non-Billable Hours. Lexis had previously done a survey on Billable Hours and their curiosity lead them to the second one. Both surveys focused on the solo / small firm market with firms of 20 or less lawyers. I was able to talk with some of the Lexis people to get a better sense of what they found.

First they shared an interesting finding: Lawyers spend their non-billable time on practice management and admin tasks. And they do this over and above efforts on client development. Why is this interesting? With all the talk about LegalZoom and threats to the legal market you would think lawyers would be refocusing their efforts, but alas, they are not.

Years back when I did presentations on law practice management 101 I would hammer on the theme of focusing on revenue instead of expenses as the Path to Profitability. All these years later, lawyers still devote too much time to admin tasks. My advice – hire someone to perform these tasks (or outsource it). Your time is worth a lot more than that.

Lexis also shared with me the rankings of which practices have the least amount of non-billable time per day – averaging about two hours. The top three: Insurance Defense, Labor and Litigation. As well, they shared those with the most non-billable time per day – about four hours: Personal Injury, Criminal and Immigration. I then shared my perspective on that list. The practices that ‘waste’ the least amount of time on non-revenue generating activity are those most driven by the billable hour. All three of these ‘efficient’ practices have rate pressures and bill primarily by the hour. The most inefficient practices bill with Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) using contingency and fixed fees.

Now this may appear to be counter-intuitive as you might think AFAs should drive efficiencies, but I think it makes perfect sense. Lawyers wearing a billable yoke around their neck constantly fill the need to respond with billable hours. Those without it are much less compelled.

So I guess the lesson here is that making people’s income subject to them working harder seems to work. Now we just need to help lawyers understand that there is a bigger reward for working smarter.

Which brings me back to where lawyers spend their non-billable time. My advice: If you are a lawyer with two to four hours a day to spend on non-revenue generating activity, spend it engaging clients.

[This experience advanced my appreciation for Jeff Carr’s frustration. He is tired of talking about the need to utilize AFAs. He’s been doing it for years and no one seems to be listening. I’m feeling much the same way. Jeff, Next time we meet – I’m buying.]

image [cc] Eva the Weaver

We have been asking Elephant Post questions for a little over a year now, and we just had a first for this week. No one answered this week’s question.

To refresh your memories, the question was “How are you implementing ‘efficiency’ at your office?” We had hoped that some would jump in and talk about adding structure to how attorneys are assigned matters, or how Legal Project Management programs have helped streamline the process of practicing law, or how changes in management structure have allowed employees to make local decisions rather than running everything through a committee or supervisor. That’s what we expected… we really didn’t expect to only hear the sounds of crickets chirping in the otherwise silent response.

In a way, getting no response might be telling. As Brian Rogers (aka @theContractsGuy) tweeted about the lack of responses:

lack of elephant posts re efficiency question must indicate a large audience of lawyers–not really an efficient bunch

Perhaps it was just a busy week for the readers of 3 Geeks and no one had the time to come up with a thoughtful answer to the efficiency question. Maybe there are a number of efficient processes that have been implemented across the legal practice spectrum that have truly revolutionized the way we do business, but these processes are kept as trade secrets by each of the firms that have instituted these revolutionary processes. Or, are we simply nibbling at the edges and giving lip service to efficiency because we really don’t want/need to be efficient?? I’ll let each of you decide which of those three options lead to the lack of response.

In all honesty, there was one answer submitted this week. It was from me, and was put out there to help get the ball rolling. I’ll go ahead and post it here. Maybe it will spark an idea or two and you can comment below on some processes that you’ve done that makes your workplace more efficient.

Also, don’t forget to look at next week’s Elephant Post question where we ask what trait (out of a list of 24) do you think is the most important in your profession.

Greg Lambert
Library/Records Guy
Getting people out of the process by going to Hosted or Cloud-based systems  

Bringing on an FTE is near impossible in any law firm these days. However, projects get requested (and approved) but we simply cannot put more of a burden on a group of people that are already doing the jobs that used to be assigned to two or three people. Now we look to hosted applications where the support is built into the price and no FTEs are required. Granted there are some drawbacks (we can’t simply modify things, and asking for reports or other one-off projects usually costs $$$) However, in the long run, it works and keeps existing staff from bolting out the door because they are being asked to take on one more task.

Next Elephant Post:

What Trait Do You Believe Is The Most Important To Have In Your Profession?

New York Times writer, Paul Rough, wrote an amazing piece a couple weeks ago called “What if the Secret to Success is Failure?” Although it focuses on the educational system in the US, the main theme that runs through the article is there are many factors in what makes someone “successful” and that the person’s IQ or how well they do on standardized tests doesn’t equate to automatic success. I really encourage you to read this article and think of how the story it tells can be transposed into your place of work.

There are 24 traits that are listed in the article, and they were all taken from Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman’s 2004 book Character Strengths and Virtues. Take a look at these 24 traits and think of which one you think is the most important to have in your profession and let us know why that is.

Zest: approaching life with excitement and energy; feeling alive and activated
Grit: finishing what one starts; completing something despite obstacles; a combination of persistence and resilience.
Self-control: regulating what one feels and does; being self-disciplined
Social intelligence: being aware of motives and feelings of other people and oneself
Gratitude: being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen
Love: valuing close relationships with others; being close to people
Hope: expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it
Humor: liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing a light side
Creativity: coming up with new and productive ways to think about and do things
Curiosity: taking an interest in experience for its own sake; finding things fascinating
Open-mindedness: examining things from all sides and not jumping to conclusions
Love of learning: mastering new skills and topics on one’s own or in school
Wisdom: being able to provide good advice to others
Bravery: not running from threat, challenge, or pain; speaking up for what’s right
Integrity: speaking the truth and presenting oneself sincerely and genuinely
Kindness: doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
Citizenship: working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group
Fairness: treating all people the same; giving everyone a fair chance
Leadership: encouraging a group of which one is a valued member to accomplish
Forgiveness: forgiving those who’ve done wrong; accepting people’s shortcomings
Modesty: letting one’s victories speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlights
Prudence/Discretion: being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks
Appreciation of beauty: noticing and appreciating all kinds of beauty and excellence
Spirituality: having beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe

Post ILTA, I’ve been meaning to share an idea along with a practical example of how lawyers might gain efficiencies – efficiencies being one of the new, hoped-for goals of the legal profession.
At ILTA I had the opportunity to meet Ian Levit of Levit & James. In addition to being a fellow Mel Brooks fan, Ian is passionate about his product offering: Best Authority. Now you might be thinking – so what. Creating Tables of Authorities is bread and butter work for firms. Where’s the efficiency in that?
The answer: There’s not a ton, but definitely some.
We tend to look for the game changer technologies when we talk about change and efficiency. These types of technology are what Greg would call “Awesome.” They are definitely fun to think and write about.
The trouble with game changing technologies is they have a high likelihood of falling into the “InterAction Trap.” InterAction was/is a potentially game changing type of tool for law firms, but its adoption rate has been less than impressive. Why? Because game changer systems require significant change from lawyers. And we all know change is not the lawyers’ mantra.
In contrast, tools like Best Authority fit within a lawyer’s current effort work process, requiring only slight changes, and they deliver modest but measurable efficiencies.
So when looking for opportunities to enhance and expand efficiencies in the practice of law – don’t overlook the small stuff.
And if you ever meet Ian, ask him what is favorite Mel Brooks lines are.