Marlene (@gebauerm) and Greg (@glambert) talk with the University of Oklahoma School of Law’s Director of Technology Innovation, Kenton Brice. Kenton discusses how OU is leveraging the advances in technology to expand upon the university’s commitment to not only teach students how to think like a lawyer, but to also have a grasp of some of the skills needed to practice law efficiently.

Continue Reading Podcast Episode 9 – Getting Law Students Familiar with Legal Tech

On this episode of The Geek In Review, Tom O’Connor, Independent Litigation Technology Consultant, talks to us about his recent blog post, What in the Wide World of Sports is Going on at ILTA?
In addition to ILTA’s woes, Tom covers other issues regarding member associations, and how new entries into the legal vendor market are changing the vendor-customer relationship… and not for the better.

Continue Reading Podcast Episode 7 – Tom O’Connor Wonders What’s Going on at ILTA

Photo by Charlz Gutiérrez De Piñeres on Unsplash

What I am about to write is completely anecdotal, but I think is relevant to the current disruption that we are seeing in the legal industry when it comes to automation of legal tasks. I know, most of you are asking, “how does that vary from all your other posts, Greg?” Quite frankly, it doesn’t, but I wanted to warn the readers that this one is my experience, and your mileage may vary.

I want to paraphrase something that I heard last week from a guest speaker at the AALL conference in Austin.

Lawyers don’t like automation of tasks because it cuts into their billable hours, and thus it costs them money.

This is a good line to say to a bunch of law librarians and legal tech professionals, but it’s kind of a cheap line, and in my experience, not all that accurate. It’s a line that has been said in different forms for the twenty years or more that Knowledge Management processes have been hailed as best practices for law firms. Add to that the history of business process improvements, Six-Sigma implementation, and now Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and you’ve got a new platform to tell the story of “the attorneys won’t adopt these ideas because it will cut the time they charge their clients.”

I have to say that I have yet to talk with an attorney that hinted that this was a serious barrier for efficiency. Oh, I am positive that some of you have run into these attorneys, I’m just saying that it has not been my personal experience.

What I have seen, however, is the challenge of implementing these processes and tools into the workflow of the attorney without causing a major disruption, at least initially, in their ability to do the work. Sometimes this disruption lasts for months. Again, I’ll give you another anecdote.

When I was at ILTA last year, I watched an amazing presentation from some very forward thinking lawyers who created automation tools and machine learning techniques to process a type of transactional documents. The outcome was pretty amazing, and reduced the time to process documents down from dozens of hours down to a few minutes or hours. Plunk in the data… press the “go” button, and watch the machines do the work. The idea was to make the lawyers focus on what they are really good at, and that is dealing with the highest risks the clients face, and not waste time on no-risk, or low-risk items in the portfolio. Lawyers could then charge an alternative fee deal that still made them a nice profit, but at the same time, reduced the clients overall spend. On top of all of that, it also sped up the time spent on the matter.

Now, you might read that last part and say, “I can see why lawyers would refuse to do that. It cuts their own throats by making less revenue.” That sounds like a solid interpretation. However, let me add in one more detail to the story which I got after the presentation when I asked the presenters this question. “How long did it take you to automate this one type of deal, and how many people did it take to get it operational?”

The answer was that it took six to eight months, four or five consultants and programmers, and two or three attorneys who could test the system as it was being created, and give feedback. That was for one type of deal. I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb here to say that the cost of this was probably in the mid six-figure range or higher.

Granted, the first item brought to market is the most expensive, and it is very possible that the next type of deal would only take a few weeks to bring online, and a diminishing amount of time for the next deal type, and the next deal type. How many law firms are going to take this risk with the upfront costs in the hopes that eventually they will get a return on their investment?

So let’s get back to the idea that lawyers don’t like automation because it costs them billable hours. I think that the real answer is that most lawyers don’t like automation because the change is too costly, both in time and money. High risk can mean high reward, but it is still a high risk.

Perhaps the story I’m using here is a situation where we attempt to do too much all at once. I’m a big believer that law firms don’t lack for resources which improve overall efficiency. What they actually lack is actually applying the existing resources they have. Instead of looking at the latest bleeding-edge technology that promises reducing months of time to seconds, look to the tools you’ve already bought that will reduce ten minutes off an hour of work. It’s not as cool, but it is more likely to work.

I yielded to an unproductive urge.

It is not so much that I think ATL’s Keith Lee is wrong in The Difference and Inch Makes as I think that he succumbs to strange compulsion towards #SlatePitch pseudo-contrarianism. 
Lee beats the crap out of an ILTACON straw man. He warns readers against the “[b]reathless enthusiasm and over-the-top bombast about how legal tech companies are going to re-shape the practice of law.” Lee’s ILTACON is a place where there “is lots of talk about algorithm this or automatic that” premised on the illusion that technology “is the panacea that cures all ills.” ILTACON, it seems, is the hotbed for discussion of how robots will replace lawyers.

That’s odd. I just got back from ILTACON (it was fantastic). So did Lee’s ATL colleague Jeff Bennion. Bennion and I definitely attended the same conference. Rather than replace lawyers, Bennion accurately (in my opinion) conveys the conference’s focus in his headline: Solutions That Are Being Discussed At ILTACON To Make Law Firms Better.

“Make better” is a drastically different theme than “replace.” Instead of a “panacea”, Bennion and I attended a conference where there was much discussion about the “communication problems,” “accountability problems,” “costly mistakes,” and “security” issues associated with properly integrating technology into the practice of law. It’s almost as if technology implementation is challenging and demands user training

Pragmatism, competence, and a systematic approach to problem solving were far more prevalent than “[b]reathless enthusiasm and over-the-top bombast.” I almost get the sense that Lee did not attend the conference about which he formed such a strong opinion that he felt compelled to share on one of the most important sources of information in the legal industry. Then again, speaking from a place of ignorance is a better look for him than actually having attended and coming away with such an asinine impression.

Maybe we just went to different sessions (there was something like 400+). I have little doubt someone somewhere was being bombastic. Or, maybe, Lee was in attendance but spent all of his time on the exhibit floor. That’s kind of like watching TV only for the commercials and complaining that the programming is crap. The exhibit floor is great fun. But everyone recognizes it for the advertising it is. The point of the floor is not to close sales but to generate awareness, which it does extremely well. Awareness is followed by discussions, demos, proofs of concepts, and contract negotiations that get past happy talk in very short order.

With respect to the exhibitors, Lee offers this hot take: “My prediction? 90% of the companies at ILTAcon this year won’t be around three years from now.” This silliness is further evidence that Lee has no understanding of what ILTACON is or who attends. Most exhibitors are mature companies that have been around for years. Anything is possible, but it would take some sort of economic cataclysm to cause 9 of these 10 to close shop in the next 3 years:

  • Thomson Reuters (1799) 
  • LexisNexis (1818)
  • HP (1905)
  • Ricoh (1936)
  • Canon U.S.A. (1955)
  • Microsoft (1976)
  • Aderant (1978)
  • Nuance (1994)
  • Intapp (2000)
  • kCura (2001)
No company is bullet proof. But even the newest kid on the block—kCura, which makes the ediscovery program Relativity—has been around for 14 years, has grown 1600% since 2008, and just raised a $125M round in February.

Maybe Lee was trying to suggest that 90% of the startup companies at ILTACON won’t be around 3 years from now. Even this is suspect. Very few true startups can afford a presence at ILTACON. Or, maybe, Lee was just using ILTACON as a metonym for the universe of legal tech startups and saying that 90% of legal tech startups will fail. If so, this is not so much a bold prediction as a banal recitation of the often-repeated statistic that 90% of all startups fail.

My guess is that Lee didn’t go to ILTACON, knows little about ILTACON, and was really just using his misconceptions about ILTACON to take a swing at the “spin” and “hype” about the promise of legal technology. There is nothing wrong with pushing back against techno-utopianism. My introductory column as the technology columnist for the ACC Docket is a warning against magical thinking.

But, even giving Lee the benefit of the doubt about his true target, his piece remains about as successful as his home repair (Lee starts the piece with an anecdote about a failed door replacement). The only legal technology that Lee actually mentions is LegalZoom, which does not exhibit at ILTACON. He seems to be suggesting that clients always need to go to a lawyer and should never use LegalZoom.  

Almost every time a client walks into a lawyer’s office, there is going to be some crinkle in the situation. For example, a client says, they just need a will, they don’t have much, it’s not complicated. They’ll assure the lawyer it’s a standard situation. They almost used LegalZoom, but decided they wanted to check with a lawyer, “just in case.” Tech cheerleaders would say, “Yes! Automate this! Low level work! Perfect for tech!”

But the more the lawyer talks with the client, the more will come out. The client starts to talk about the farm they live on. Inherited from generation-to-generation. They’ll talk about abutting lands and a private road from another farm. A power line easement that is set to renew in 15 years. Their children from three separate marriages and a girlfriend they just left their wife for. Before they know it, the lawyer is knee-deep in a Whiteacre/Blackacre hornbook problem.

This is self-serving bullocks. As a lawyer, it would be nice to believe that Lee is right. But the commoditization of certain types of legal work has been a trend for decades and, on net, has been a major boon to clients. Most wills are in fact routine. Sometimes, using a form turns out badly. Just as, sometimes, people follow their GPS into a lake. Or just as, sometimes, trained lawyers make mistakes. Overall, clients are getting quality services at radically lower cost. This includes many clients who are not able to afford a lawyer.

Again, maybe, Lee himself is engaging in a bit of bombast. Maybe he is simply warning against overreliance on technology-based, commoditized solutions like LegalZoom. Sure, it works in some cases, but not all cases. Sometimes, you need a trained lawyer. I could then again agree with him while again observing that he is attacking a position that no existing, credible person holds.

There is no group of people more adamant about the fact that LegalZoom forms are not appropriate for every legal situation than the people who run LegalZoom. For five years, LegalZoom has been building out a nationwide network of attorneys to service clients who need assistance filling out LegalZoom forms or for whom the forms are ill suited. LegalZoom has built a complementary business around their recognition of the fact that unguided use of their forms is not always in a client’s best interest. Lee cites a “DUI stop” and a “immigration problem” as exemplar situations where “anomalies arise” without any understanding that in those circumstances, instead of providing forms, LegalZoom offers consultation with licensed attorneys—you know, the very thing that Lee is advocating.

Lee makes some reasonable points about tools just being tools and still depending on the user. But those points are couched as a bizarre attack on entities and opinions that seem to be figments of his imagination. If Lee wants to attend CodeX in order to have Dan Katz hand him his rear end about “algorithm this or automatic that,” I welcome the entertainment. But he does the legal industry a disservice when he attacks ILTACON on a platform so widely read by lawyers. Our profession would improve if more lawyers attended ILTACON rather than viscerally dismissed it because of their fear that technology will make them obsolete. ILTACON is about improvement, not replacement.

ADDENDUM: I am not sure if it heresy to use my perch here at 3 Geeks to declare my affinity for another blog, but I adore Above the Law (especially Mark Herrmann, everyone should read Mark Herrmann, always). I’ve checked the site almost daily for over a decade. Moreover, I know that it is silly to ascribe to the site the opinions of just one of its many authors (its not like Lee is Lat or Elie). I certainly hope that no one imputes my sophomoric ramblings here to heroes like Greg and Toby. And the ill-conceived article that prompted this post was one small part of ATL’s otherwise stellar ILTACON coverage. But I have such a high regard for both ATL and ILTACON, I couldn’t help my strong negative reaction when someone used the former to take shots at a straw-man version of the latter. 

As a funny (to me) aside, I even made ATL part of my Legal Technology Assessment. The site is referenced in the primary Word test document and is at the center of a task that combines training on hyperlinks with a warning about cheating (ATL’s role as a watchdog is often underrated):

Casey Flaherty is the founder of Procertas. He is a lawyer, consultant, writer, and speaker focused on achieving the right legal outcomes with the right people doing the right work the right way at the right price. Casey created the Service Delivery Review (f.k.a., the Legal Tech Audit), a strategic-sourcing tool that drives deeper supplier relationships by facilitating structured dialogue between law firms and clients. There is more than enough slack in the legal market for clients to get higher quality work at lower cost while law firms increase profits via improved realizations.
The premise of the Service Delivery Review is that with people and pricing in place, rigorous collaboration on process offers the real levers to drive continuous improvement. Proper collaboration means involving nontraditional stakeholders. A prime example is addressing the need for more training on existing technology. One obstacle is that traditional technology training methods are terribleCompetence-based assessments paired with synchronous, active learning offer a better path forward. Following these principles, Casey created the Legal Technology Assessment platform to reduce total training time, enhance training effectiveness, and deliver benchmarked results.
Connect with Casey on LinkedIn or follow him Twitter (@DCaseyF).

For those of you that attend the ILTA conferences, you may be aware of the (in)famous band called Legal Bytes. Legal Bytes is the world’s only band made up entirely of current and former Chief Information Officers from law firms. At this year’s ILTA conference, Legal Bytes will actually be releasing a 12-song CD of original material called “Bright Lights… Big Data.” The August 17th release at ILTA, presented by Recommind, will talk about the joys and pains (mostly pains) of managing technology in the BigLaw world. Our very own 3 Geeks’ contributor, Scott Preston, is the drummer of Legal Bytes (way to go Scott!!)

Now, it may sound funny that there were enough musically talented CIOs to actually come up with a band, but it is really not as strange as it may seem. In fact, I would say that my (anecdotal) experience with techies in the law firm world has been skewed heavily toward those techies having musical and fine art skills. Last night, I watched a Ted Ed video from Anita Collins that put the CIO and Music puzzle together for me. Turns out that playing a musical instrument is like a “full-body brain workout.” It also helps build connections between the right (creative) and left (mathematical) halves of the brain. Exactly what the creative/mathematical CIO needs to be successful. Watching the video below might help you understand how your own CIO’s brain works, and why he or she acts the way they do.

Also take a look at Legal Bytes’ first song off their new album. Make sure to pick up a copy of the new album. The first release, iPad Girl, is already on YouTube.

The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) and the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) has collaborated to create a white paper on the set of skills needed for today’s librarian and information services professionals. Whether it is Knowledge Management, working with Practice Groups, Competitive Intelligence, Electronic Books, or the evolving trends within Legal Research or Emerging Technology, “The New Librarian,” as this white paper is entitled, discusses some of the challenges facing the law library profession and how librarians are confronting those challenges head on. There should be some familiar names listed as authors in this publication (including bloggers here at 3 Geeks) Here’s a list from the table of contents:

Toby Brown sat down with Shy Alter on Monday and had a great conversation on where law firms (and clients) are in the transition to Alternative Fee Arrangements (AFAs) versus traditional Billable Hour work. I’ve embedded the video (and it will pick up right as Toby is being introduced. It is a very informative 6 minutes, and is well worth your time regardless of if you know nothing about AFAs, or you’re the expert at your firm. I quickly put together a transcript of the interview, and really enjoyed the part where Toby talked about not doing AFAs or Legal Project Management (LPM) in a vacuum. Have the conversation with the client and find out where they are really wanting to go.

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Transcript (after Shy Alter’s intro)

SA: Toby, thanks for taking the time to join me today.
TB: Happy to be here.

SA: You’ve been on board last year [ILTA TV] and we had a great conversation. You’re out there on the ground dealing with issues related to AFAs, Alternative Fee Arrangements, and even more important, Legal Project Management (LPM), which makes it all happen. Without that, it would be very, very difficult to offer clients a compelling model that actually works, and for the firm to actually remain profitable. Which is very, very important. So, maybe I’ll start with AFAs. To what extent have they actually taken hold? To what extent do you have a higher percentage of matters that deal with some type of an actually AFA model?
TB: I think that’s a good question, and I think you see some of the articles and word on the industry that “no, they’re not here” because not 100% of our deals are AFAs. It’s a constant growth. It just continues and it starts to spread out into all the practices. I’ve been at three AmLaw50 offices in the past year and a half so I have a broader sense of knowledge. If I had to put a number on what I think, at the market level, are “non-hourly,” I’ll call it — we might redefine AFAs here in a minute — fixed fees, and what most people consider to be alternative fees, I’d guess it’s around 20%.

SA: Which is a significant change over the last five years?
TB: Oh, yeah. I would say that five years ago it would have been 5%. Because then you’ve had your long-term, contingency fee work that firms did. So, 5%. It’s been around for a really long time. It’s just been growing and growing.

SA: So, clients are demanding these obviously. That’s always where it’s coming from, and the firms are actually responding. Do you have a sense of whether it is taking hold more in larger firms as opposed to medium or smaller sized firms?
TB: Yes. Definitely more so with larger firms. However, in fact, through ILTA we are forming a group of Alternative Fee and Legal Project Management people, which is growing by leaps and bounds. But, when we tried to reach into the more mid-sized firms, we’ve had a hard time finding people that do this. I know there has to be people that are touching it in some way, but not to the level that larger firms.

SA: What are the most popular modules within AFAs?  There’s all kinds of ways of slicing this one.
TB: In terms of the types of Alternative Fees?
SA: Yes, in terms of the types of Alternative Fees.
TB: You know, I did a presentation about a month ago with a guy that is very well known in the AFA world, Jeff Carr. He is with FMC Technologies which is in my hometown of Houston, and he and I have become good friends. And, he calls it a “Budget with Consequences.” And, I think that is a good way of putting it and it might encapsulate a few different types of AFAs, but that would focus more on a ‘fixed-fee’ or a ‘fee cap’ or some level where you’re saying “I’m buying whatever type of service, and this is the amount I’m going to pay.” I would say that that one is growing. However, I still see quite a mix.

SA: I’m going to jump into the Legal Project Management because I know we are spending more time on it now days. It is kind of the framework that makes AFA’s possible, to a large extent.
TB: Yes. Well, I’m going to redefine AFAs. I’ve defined it as … well, I sort of undefined it and say “What’s not an Alternative Fee?” and that is “Anything where we get to name our rate as a firm bill how many hours we think is appropriate.” — How much of our work is that?? I think a significantly diminishing number. And, so when it comes to the (LPM) Legal Project Management stuff, I see it applying across a very broad spectrum. Because if we’re in, even if you might call it a ‘soft-cap’, and we have a budget and the client has an expectation on it, we have to manage to that number. We can’t go back and say “Oh, whoops! This was twice as much as we thought it was going to be.” The client’s not going to pay that bill. So, Legal Project Management is becoming important in a very broad sense to say “Budgets with Consequences: How do we live by those?”

SA: It is tempting for me to finish this interview by saying “It is really difficult to sell Legal Project Management to law firms, attorneys and lawyers.” But, I’m actually going to flip it around and say it is probably difficult to also get your clients to really, truly understand what it means. Because it’s a two-way street.
TB: Agreed.
SA: What do you do about that?
TB: I think that, just like Alternative Fees, you need to have a conversation with the client about that. Because clients are saying “I want efficiency.” Great. What does that mean? Does it mean fewer hours? Does it mean more technology? Does it mean Project Management? So, I don’t think you do Project Management in a vacuum and then you go back to the client and go “Look, I’ve solved all your problems!” Because that won’t go over well. You need to have the conversation with the client. So, I think that the same concept, AFA to LPM, it’s knowing what your client is really trying to get to.

SA: Toby, thank you so much.
TB: Thank you for having me.

Image [cc] Fanboy30

A recent survey of law firms suggest that somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 law firms employ a “Pricing Specialist” of some sort. The report states that “the use of pricing specialists remains relatively rare in all but the largest firms.” Of course this report caught my eye since it also notes “that increasing management control over pricing decisions lead to positive pricing outcomes.” This means pricing people have a growing and increasingly valuable role within law firms.

But I digress … the first point is the real subject of this post. A group of pricing people, or more broadly Alternative Fee Arrangement (AFA) and Legal Project Management (LPM) people, has come together to form a community. We are doing this under the umbrella of ILTA. In one month’s time our group grew by 70%, which I thought was fantastic. Then I saw the survey report numbers and realized we have a ways to go to fully capture this community.

So … if you are a pricing specialist or have an AFA or LPM role at a firm or your role covers one of those functions in some fashion, please shoot me a note. I will add your name (and your firm) to the list.

The goals for our group include developing best practices and creating professional development opportunities for people in these new, emerging roles. We see the need to advance our emerging profession and look forward to expanding this group and accelerating our positive influence on the legal profession.

“Help Desk, this is Flo, how may I help you?”

[Another Gem from Guest Blogger – Jeff Ward]

At this year’s ILTA conference, I had the honor of speaking alongside Lance Waagner,  CEO of Intelliteach, regarding what makes a good technology support center (aka help desk) system. I wanted to share with you some thoughts I’ve taken away from that session.
Before you stop reading, thinking this blog will delve into technical jargon, I want assure you this is more of a human-interest story about often unsung heroes in the legal office. You see, a good system doesn’t revolve around the technology; it’s dependent on the people, and to be effective, they have to be very, very good at what they do. Obviously, not every help desk tech can score a 10 on every problem, but I’d like you to picture what it takes to provide perfect service.
When your first-class help desk tech—let’s call her Florence—assists you, she seamlessly relies on fairly deep knowledge of just about every system, on strong customer service skills, and sometimes on common sense and wits alone. I often compare the help desk to OnStar, because usually you call when you’re lost or there’s been an accident. Unlike trainers, who are tour guides showing you the best paths to take, the help desk has to figure out where you are and get you back on the road. This means Florence has to be familiar with a much larger field of problems and solutions. (Many trainers excel at this task as well, but then they’re really acting in a help desk role, aren’t they?)
But knowledge of virtually everything technical is the easy part. When you call, what mood are you in? Do you really understand your problem? Are you able to describe it? None of this is your responsibility; after all, you’re lost or have been in an accident. Florence has the responsibility to stabilize your situation, grasp your need, and even at times determine what the problem really is. Florence takes your problem seriously, no matter how silly it may seem to your coworkers. And when Florence figures out your problem, she already knows whether to fix it for you or whether you are willing to learn something new. Florence doesn’t have all the answers, but she knows the right way to inspire confidence—she knows the right people and resources that can tackle the problem. Most importantly, your problem becomes her problem, and she will do everything possible to get you the best possible outcome, and then confirm your satisfaction at the end. And then, after all that, Florence moves right on to the next call.
Not every help desk tech can be as good as Florence on every call, but from watching our help desk crew day in and day out, I can tell you it’s their goal and their passion. Do you have any praise or good help desk experiences to tell? I’d love to hear your stories.

Over a dinner with a very smart bunch of people at the ILTA Conference in Nashville an excellent question came up: What will the AmLaw 100 look like in 2020? Everyone there gave very thoughtful and reasonable predictions. We discussed ideas like more out-sourcing of work, better use of cloud-based apps, using analysis KM tools, even a shift in the current business model. When it came to me to give an insightful answer, I instead offered – I have no idea.
I had actually been thinking a lot about this issue after hearing so many interesting ideas and thoughts from a number of ILTA sessions. It also brought to mind the various predictions and concepts put forth by Susskind. As I thought through this ocean of possibilities, what stuck in my mind were two ideas.
  • First – as change (both technical and cultural) accelerates, our ability to predict the future diminishes.
  • Second, and more importantly – we do not yet know what the needs of the AmLaw 100 will be so how can we predict the shape these firms will take.
At its base, this question implies: What will the business structure of a large law firm be in 8 or 10 years? My answer is that I truly do not know. Yes – I do see significant shifts going on in the market. I may accurately predict that firms will become a profit margin business (vs cost-plus), but that doesn’t tell me what their structural needs will be.
Instead of postulating which ideas will be embraced and what the firms of the future might look like, we may want to spend some more time in front of our customers asking them what keeps them up at night. Then we can apply the solutions that fit or even develop news ones as needed to address their pain. This does not suggest we sit and wait for them to ask. That reactive approach is currently paralyzing the legal profession.
Here’s an analogy from my analogy blender. My car is losing power, so I think I should swap out the motor and maybe put in a new transmission. These ideas make perfect sense to those contemplating and building new engines and transmissions, especially when we are looking at cars with very old engines. However, this solution makes no sense when you actually assess the situation and find out the tires are flat.
Now more than ever we need to engage with our customers (the lawyers in our firms) and make sure we are solving their problems and not just offering up the solutions we think make sense. We can use our ideas as spring-boards for discussions, but charging forward with them absent serious input from our customers is a recipe for failure.