This is the third talk from the the ILTA Session – Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession. This is from Michael Mills, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Neota Logic.

Clearing Department, woman sorting cheques and using adding machine - 1960s

I decided to come at the technology question from the human side, to speculate about what humans are still good for in a technology-saturated world of legal services.

I concede. I am obsolete. The robots are winning.

Fastcase is a better legal researcher than I am—despite a University of Chicago law degree, a federal court clerkship, and a hand in hundreds of briefs and memos.

Recommind Axcelerate is a better document reviewer than I am—despite tutelage by demi-gods of the American bar, and years of experience, some of it in unheated warehouses and abandoned salt mines.

And of course Google is a better driver than I am.

Nonetheless, for a while, I have work to do.

Kira is not a better contract analyzer than I am—my pattern-recognizing brain is more precise, more adaptable, and faster than Kira’s algorithms. And the algorithms need training, so I can have a job as an algo trainer—like a dog trainer, but without a whistle or a biscuit.

But … Kira’s algorithms are getting better and its computers are getting faster. My brain is not, alas.

So, one day . . . poof! ZMP for me—that’s Zero Marginal Product, the economists’ term for adding no value at all.

As Harvard professor Bill Bossert said many years ago—“If you’re afraid that you might be replaced by a computer, then you probably can be—and should be.”

Or, as I say to law firm partners who worry that Neota Logic expert systems will cannibalize their billable hour work—“If your business model is to do work that my software can do … you’d better get a new one.”

So what’s left for me? For us? We went to law school, we’re nice people, we’re pretty smart.

Fortunately, there are some things for us humans to do:

Geoff Colvin of Fortune Magazine just published a book with a great title “Humans are Underrated.” (In some contexts, one might argue that he has that backward.)
He writes that the right question is this:

“What are the activities that we humans, driven by our deepest nature or by the realities of daily life, will simply insist be performed by other humans, regardless of what computers can do?”

He then says that the foundation of all the other abilities that make people valuable as technology advances is … empathy.

Yes, empathy.

Discerning what some other person is thinking and feeling, and responding in some appropriate way.

We have evolved to do that—collaboration was essential for survival, in hunter-gatherer and then in agricultural economies.

As Colvin puts the point:

“We want to work with other people in solving problems, tell stories to people and hear stories from them, create new ideas with people. We want to follow human leaders. We want to negotiate important agreements with people, hearing every lilt or lament in their voices, noting when they cross their arms, looking into their eyes.”

We, both individually and as members of groups and organizations, keep changing goals, purposes, understandings, directions, conceptions of the problem, interests—software simply can’t keep up.

People can, groups can.

One might say, then, that what humans will continue to do, so as not to drown in the rolling wave of technology, is what we do best in groups:

  1. Idea-generation, problem-solving, strategy
  2. Persuasion, argument, storytelling
  3. Collaboration

So … if groups are essential to our economic survival in a world eaten by software, to use Marc Andreessen’s phrase, how do we know an effective group when we stumble into one?
Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen developed in 1997 a simple test, the RME—Reading the Mind in the Eyes. Participants are asked to choose a word that best describes people’s thoughts or feelings based only on photos of their eyes.

Group members’ average score on RME has proven to be an excellent predictor of group effectiveness.

More recent research supports a much simpler test—no advance testing required. Just count the number of women in the group. More women, more effective. Period.
Another reason for diversity in STEM disciplines!

MIT professor Alex Pentland invented the sociometric badge, a little tag that hangs around your neck and tracks how you work with others—the amount of face-to-face interaction, conversational time, prosodic style, physical proximity to other people, and physical activity levels.

After sociometrically measuring many groups with his little badges, Professor Pentland found that groups do their best work when the participants:

  1. Generate many ideas in short contributions to conversations. No one natters on.
  2. Constantly alternate between talking and listening, encouraging, and reacting.
  3. Take turns.

It does sound a bit like the prescription for a good kindergarten, but it works. These 3 factors are as important to group effectiveness as all others together—individual intelligence, technical skill, personalities, and so on.

Interestingly, and here we technophiles should take note, this research suggests that online, technology-mediated collaboration is far less effective than we think.

Apple agrees—their new headquarters is gigantic, in order to bring people together, physically, to do the empathy thing, to do the human thing.

Google agrees—they engineered the cafeteria (it’s a metrics-driven company) – optimum wait time in line 3–4 minutes, table spacing to encourage bumping, long tables to encourage sitting with people you don’t know.

So, even at Google, there is room for us humans.

But … and here I think we come to the rough reality of the legal services industry (and others too, which raise profound long-term questions about the civic compact)—technology is pushing the performance bar for humans ever higher, chopping off the bottom tail of the bell curve, shrinking the space in which “just OK” is OK, in which being “pretty good” is good enough. It isn’t any more.

This is the second talk from the the ILTA Session – Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering and Destroying the Legal Profession. This is from Joshua Lenon, Lawyer in Residence at Clio.

Technology is No Threat to Lawyers

A while back, NPR’s Planet Money show issued a nifty interactive tool indicating whether or not certain employees would be replaced by technology in the future.  If you looked up lawyers, you’d see the following result:

(Image from

The calculations that determined this statistic included such issues as:

• Do you need to come up with clever solutions?
• Are you required to personally help others?
• Does your job require negotiation?
• Does your job require you to squeeze into small spaces?

It turns out that lawyers rank high in each of these categories in favor of not being replaced by robots.

This result was pretty shocking, as most online discussion list the chances of a robot replaces lawyers as somewhere between “I, Robot” and “The Terminator.” Both movies have robots taking over, but one follows the Steve Jobs’ school of design.

Research the matter further, I delved into the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic’s (BLS) historical data on employment for providers of legal services.  Did the history of technology development result in a decrease in jobs for lawyers?

When plotted from 1997 to the latest data in 2014, both paralegal and lawyers showed substantial growth in employment over that period.  Lawyer employment grew 42% and paralegal employment great 111%! This represents an expansion of 320,000 jobs.  Even if you only look back to 2006, the last great year of legal hiring by Big Law, you still see 10% growth in lawyer jobs since then.

Why is this growth during this time period important? It’s because it happened during one of the great expansions in human productivity in the workplace.  The Bureau of Labor provides the following chart that shows the years 2000-2007 to be the second highest increase in productivity in the work place every recorded.

While the BLS did not publish productivity gains specifically for the legal service industry, other industries tracked alongside legal in the professional services category, like bookkeeping and accountants, saw productivity improvement from 2.1 to 5.0 percentage change.  That’s huge, with the only greater period being the post-WWII boom that industrialized most of North America.

If lawyers and paralegals can still grow their employment levels during huge rises in productivity, that means that technology is not replacing these employees, but instead is supplementing them.

How do we know that technology is supplementing lawyers, rather than replacing them?  Because the same BLS tracking data shows that other employees in the legal sector are being replaced.

Legal secretary employment has fallen from 277,000 jobs in 1997 to 212,000 in 2014. This is a 23% change, and not for the better. Legal Support Workers, Other is currently growing, but only after losing 30,000 jobs from their high in 2005.

Technology is not replacing lawyers, but is replacing the employees that support lawyers. This is akin to the change in the Industrial Revolution when plow horses were replaced with tractors. Farmers continued to exist, just now with tractors doing a lot of the hard labor for them. Lawyers continue to exist, but they are not using the tools of the past.

This change is creating large changes in the way law firms hire as well. In ALM’s  2015 report, “Law Firm Support Staff: How Many are Enough?”, 62% of law firms surveyed have decreased legal support staff levels.  At the same time, 47% of firms increased their spending on staff. One conclusion is that these firms are hiring more highly trained and specialist staff.

Much like the industrial revolution decreased jobs for farriers and increased jobs for tractor engine repair specialists, law firms are now looking for support specialists in legal technology. Law firms are ditching employees that no longer fit into the new economy operating around law firms.

That’s why I think lawyers will work with robots, but will not be replaced by them.

Two weeks ago I spoke on a panel at ILTA in a session entitled, Legal Technology Innovation – Bolstering AND Destroying the Legal Profession.  Interestingly, the original title was Bolstering and Destroying Legal Work, which didn’t seem nearly as wimpy when we submitted it, as it did after the revised title was published.  We kept the new title.

The panel was a reunion of the Do Robot Lawyers Dream of Billable Seconds? panel I spoke with last year that included Joshua Lenon from Clio, Noah Waisberg from Kira Systems, Stuart Barr from HighQ, and Michael Mills from Neota Logic.

Rather than post the recording of the session as I did last year, I’ve asked my fellow panelists to submit their short talks in blog post format.  I’ve received a few of them and they will be published in turn over the next few weeks.

Today, I’ll start with a synopsis of my own talk:

The Napsterization of Legal Services.

The record labels used to sell plastic discs with data on them.

Today they sell nearly that same data over the internet, without the plastic discs.

On it’s face that seems like a relatively straight-forward, if not easy transition to make.  It’s the kind of transition from one media type to another that you would expect a mature business or industry to be able to navigate with minimal disruption.  But as we know, that transition was anything but straight-forward.  In fact it wreaked havoc on the recording industry for more than a decade and they are just now beginning to get back on track.

Why was this such a difficult transition?

I suspect there are many reasons that the record labels found it difficult to move from plastic discs to no plastic discs, but I think one primary reason is that in the late 90s, they were in the business of selling plastic in pretty packaging, more than they were in the business of selling the content on that plastic.  They could charge premium prices for discs and packaging and they had to to cover the manufacturing and distribution costs of discs and packaging. They were certainly aware of the internet, and probably knew that digital distribution was the future, but they had no urgency to change a model that was still largely working.

And then Napster exploded on the scene. 

Napster wasn’t a rival record label, or an upstart looking to upend the industry, in fact it wasn’t even a company originally.  Napster was a kid in his dorm room using technology that was widely available at the time to do something that kids had been doing for decades: sharing their favorite music with their friends. In my day we used cassette tapes.  Napster was the ultimate mix tape, and in a very short time, that mix tape was available all over the world.

This highlighted a clear discrepancy between what the record labels were selling (discs and packaging) and what their customers actually wanted and cared about (the music). Whenever such a discrepancy exists, technology will step into that gap.

What this has to do with legal services?

I think law firms, in particular, are in much the same position today that the record labels were in the late 90s.  We even have our own version of the ‘discs and packaging’ problem.

We sell our lawyers time – and that is true whether we’re talking about billable hours or fixed fees. We sell the time it takes our lawyers to manually perform various tasks, and produce outcomes for our clients.  When what the client actually cares about is the outcome, not the hours.

Historically, this discrepancy wasn’t a problem because the best way to deliver those outcomes was to have our lawyers manually perform the work and then bill for their time.  But today that is not necessarily true.  With machine learning algorithms, reasoning tools, and automation software, we can begin to replicate the work that our lawyers have always done manually with technology.  We can deliver a better, faster, AND cheaper solution to our clients.

Our lawyers are still compensated, and our firms are still structured, around ‘selling plastic discs and packaging’ (lawyers hours).  And yet the technology to give our clients the outcomes they want, with minimal manual labor is becoming widespread.  We are ripe for our own version of Napster.

We have an ever-shrinking window of opportunity from today until the Legal Services Napster Event takes place, when we can begin to manage the transition from one media type to another.  If we actively and intelligently manage that change, then it will be a bumpy ride, but we’ll come through it.  The alternative is to do nothing, keep selling our discs and packaging, and hope that nothing ever changes.

And thanks to the record labels, we have a good idea of how that will turn out.

We constantly make fun of the lack of innovation in the legal field, but there are a number of highly talented people out there that battle the constant resistance to change, and make a difference for their own organizations and profession. For the past five years, Ed Walters, CEO of Fastcase, has recognized those whom he lists as innovators, visionaries, and leaders in the law through his Fastcase 50 Award Winners. I was honored to be a part of the inaugural Fastcase 50 back in 2011, and I’m even happier that my fellow Geek, Ryan McClead, received the award this year. (In fact, Ryan is so good, that when the list was initially displayed, he showed up twice!)

Here’s the write-up on Ryan:

Ryan McClead
Legal Technology Innovation Architect, Norton Rose Fulbright

Ryan McClead leads Norton Rose Fulbright’s Global Legal Technology Innovation initiative, solving information supply-chain problems in one of the world’s largest law firms. Ryan is a regular contributor to the popular 3 Geeks and a Law Blog (perhaps the most prolific contributor recently). According to Original Geek (OG) Greg Lambert: Ryan’s writing is “pure genius.” Lambert adds: “The Exponential Law Firm series, and The Myth of Disruptive Technology are instant classics and not only show Ryan’s ability to talk about current trends in legal technology, but also to peer into the future, all in a funny, imaginative, and thought-provoking way. Ryan’s projects at Norton Rose Fulbright also expose his creative side. Pushing out technologies directly to the firm’s clients and other consumers across the globe, Ryan is turning the concepts of what we think technology can do within a law firm on its head. We could all use a Ryan or two at our firms, to enable us to break out of our groupthink mentality and see things from a completely different perspective.”

Ryan is just one of those people that sees things in a different way, and finds ways of making things work, sound, and look better. Much of that comes from his creative background of working in the fine arts and applying his ability to tell a story in a way that makes us all sit up and say “ohh, I get it.”

Congratulations to Ryan and the other 49 recipients of the Fastcase 50 award.

I read Nick Milton’s Must you fail in order to learn? post on Friday with trepidation.  I have written of the importance of failure a few times (In praise of failureRyan’s rules for projects) and I talk about it all the time.  I often say my philosophy is ‘to fail quickly’ and after reading Milton’s post, I stand by that.

It’s not that I strongly disagree with anything he says, I don’t really.  He’s right about nearly everything. Personal failure is absolutely NOT necessary in order to learn, but he tacitly concedes that knowledge itself always comes from failure; either your’s or someone else’s.  

As Milton says:

Learn from the failures of others, not your own failures.

Now, I could be pedantic and argue that learning from the failure of others constitutes true opinion rather than knowledge. But that’s silly. There is a very good argument to be made that in everyday life, true opinion or belief is just as valuable as personal experiential knowledge.

Milton continues:

Learn, try, succeed (then learn again) is a far better approach than try, fail, learn (then try again).

Again, I generally agree, however this approach presupposes that others have failed before you in a similar task and have published or recorded their failure so that you may learn from it.  One should always begin a new task with research to determine if others have attempted what you are trying.  There is no sense reinventing the wheel if it’s already been done, and there is no sense in recreating other’s failures, unless you are looking to confirm their findings.

Milton closes:

Let’s sever this implied link between learning and failing. Let’s embrace “learning to avoid failure”. Let’s not punish failure if it is the result of informed risk taking, but lets not expect it either.

It’s the second sentence that bothers me most.  Embrace “learning to avoid failure”.  In my experience, most people already do this instinctively. They take the route they believe is least likely to fail and avoid the one with the highest potential reward. This is risk aversion causing sameness, stagnation, and a near total lack of innovation. Or, in other words, the legal industry for a long time now.  If you only build on the failure of others, then you will only go so far as they have already gone.  Worse yet, and more relevant to the legal industry, if you only attempt to replicate the success of others, you will undoubtedly fail. Situations are always unique and success is rarely replicable in different environments.

When I say my philosophy is ‘to fail quickly’ it doesn’t mean I am actively trying to fail so that I can learn something, it means I recognize that any project looking to do more than simply maintain the status quo, will have the odds stacked against it.  People will actively try to kill it, unknown unknowns will rear their ugly heads, and sometimes I’ll just screw it up. If that is going to happen, I would rather that happen as quickly as possible, so that I can learn from what went wrong, try to fix it, and go again. To that end, yes, I will try to stress my projects, push them harder than I should, break them if I can, because if I can’t break them, then the partner in the corner office won’t be able to either.

People who are concerned with avoiding failure, do not think this way.  They sweep inconsistencies under the proverbial rug.  They ignore new information that doesn’t fit their current hypothesis.  They rarely admit when they fail, let alone learn anything from it.

Let’s sever this implied link between failing and incompetence. Let’s embrace the ‘learning opportunities that failing can offer’.  Let’s not expect failure, but let’s not fear it either.

Let’s do our research, plan our path, and go confidently into the unknown to learn new things.


We can “embrace ‘learning to avoid failure'”.

Image [cc] Vyperx1

We very often hear from bloggers on this site regarding the struggles associated with change and innovation.  Fear of failure, lack of inertia, protecting territories—all seem to be stumbling blocks that many firms face when initiating change.  It seems, however, some organizations have found a way to successfully encourage and nurture new ideas internally. 

I had the pleasure of speaking to Karl Florida, Managing Director of Small Law Firm Business Segments and Innovation Champion, at Thomson Reuters, about a new innovation program the company has instituted.

For many years (as many of us are well aware), the Thomson Reuters model has been to acquire business units and manage their growing portfolio.  More recently, the model has shifted, with a focus on knitting the units together to drive more organic growth between them. 

One way Thomson Reuters is accomplishing this is by establishing a cross-unit Innovation Task Force (ITF) and a Catalyst Fund to support new ideas.  Thomson is looking for great ideas from within and establishing a system that rewards creative thinking to further serve their business goals.  How it works is this:  On a monthly basis, ideas can be informally submitted across the company via a home-grown tracking system (no business plan is required, but there is a template to gather certain information).  There are a small number of administrators who collect the proposals and submit them to the ITF.  The ITF prioritizes the ideas, develops Proof of Concept (POCs) and sends the top 5 to a C-level suite of decision-makers. They, in turn, determine if any will move forward into the funding stage.   The appropriate business units and a business sponsor are chosen, and a prototype is created and tested in-house and in the market.  If successful, the product goes to market based on a timeline.  The entire process is tracked through each stage of the pipeline process. 

While the program is only a few months old, it is already gaining in popularity.  Some of the areas where ideas are being generated are Big Data analytics in relation to law, scientific, tax and financial sectors, data visualization tools, regulatory compliance and (wait for it), wearable tech! 

Karl tells me Thomson Reuters is finding the most opportunity in the space between units.  He compared this to the genius of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.  You have chocolate, which is awesome on its own, and you also have peanut butter, equally wonderful.  But put them together, and well, then that is where the magic happens. 

While Thomson Reuter’s program appears mostly devoted to product development, law firms could certainly take advantage of this sort of model to solicit and promote ideas from within regarding client service and delivery, along with development of administrative efficiencies.  The model, along with variations, allows and in fact, encourages a small, but safe space (with funding!) to experiment with new ideas without the associated pressure and demands to be “the right” solution out of the gate.

FYI, if you want to learn more about innovation tournaments, I highly recommend the book, Innovation Tournaments:  Creating and Selecting Exceptional Opportunities, by Christian Terwiesch and Karl Ulrich (hat tip to CCH, for giving me the opportunity to see Karl Ulrich in action).  Because don’t we all need some more peanut butter cups?

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.

Image [cc] Austin Kleon

As I caught up on my professional reading through the slow week between Christmas and New Years, I came across a Forbes article by Ruth Blatt called The Remarkably Simple Technique Behind These Innovations In Music and In Business. To boil the article down to its core concept, businesses and music bands created innovative ideas and practices by removing something that was essential to the product. Blatt pointed out a few examples of where companies or music groups succeeded by stripping out something essential:

  • Southwest Airlines removed seat assignments
  • The Beatles stopped making music based on the need to play them live
  • Removing the backup battery out of an Emergency Room piece of equipment
The idea of removing something deemed essential and discovering something unique dovetails with with my article from 2012 where I asked “Now, Why Am I Still Doing This?“, but it goes further by not just removing processes that are no longer needed, but by eliminating critical (or at least what we think are critical) components of our overall processes, products, and services. In the firm law library world, some of these ideas are already happening:
  • Remove the researcher from the library (embedded librarians)
  • Remove the books from the library (virtual library)
  • Remove the word “Library” from the service description (notion being discussed by PLL)
 Perhaps there are other things we could do as well. How about:
  • Shifting minor routines to Secretaries or Word Processing departments (pulling cases, statutes, Shepardizing, cite checking, monitoring dockets, etc.)
  • Stop setting up alerts
  • No more clipping services (or whatever you call it these days with the online variations)
  • Stop billing researcher time
  • Stop providing personal copies of books to lawyers
  • Rotate Associates into the Researcher role

Again, these are more than the typical “Sacred Cows” that are brought up at budget time each year. These are essential services that are typically provided by the law library and should cause a collective gasp whenever discussed. Sometimes it is only by turning ideas and processes on their heads that you can see things differently and come up with unique innovations.

I’ve challenged some of my friends in other departments to think of ways they can add to their own team’s value by subtracting essential services. I’ll extend that challenge to the 3 Geeks’ readers as well. Think of something essential in your process… and remove it. What would happen?

Image [cc] Ozzie Davis

At the recent (and extremely successful) P3 Conference last week, a comment really stuck in my head. There was a panel on Show Me the Practice Innovation and the final question to the panel was to point out any true innovations in legal services over the past 25 years. The panel included three of the smartest people I know: Kingsley Martin, Keith Lipman and Michael Mills.

The consensus from these big brains: What innovation?

Michael Mills from Neota Logic said online legal research was one innovation, which he acknowledged did improve efficiencies some, but it didn’t really change the core delivery model.

So where am I going with this? Not where you might expect.

Many of the next-generation law firms (and non-law firms) hold themselves out as “innovative” and in fact win awards for said innovation. But when you peel back the covers, where is the innovation? Are they using next generation technologies like Neota and KM Standards? No. Are they building out process maps and reengineering how matters are managed and handled? Not that I can see. Are they employing project management people, principles and tools across the board? Well .. some are using them in document review, but otherwise – not so much.

What they appear to be doing is hiring BigLaw trained lawyers and utilizing significantly lower overhead. Some do it via onsite client secundments. Others do it with less expensive office space. All seem to do it with lower lawyer compensation. But this is merely doing it the same way – only cheaper.

Is this approach a smart idea? Absolutely. Many times I kick myself and Number 1 for not thinking of it first. But is this approach a real transformation to the way legal services are delivered?

Judge for yourself.

(This is part 4 of a 4 part series. You can download the entire series below.)

Just as the NCQA established standards and elements for evaluating and regulating PCMH applicants, any number of alphabet soup entities could fulfill the same type of role in legal: the ABA, the LMAILTAAALL, or my personal favorite the ACC. It doesn’t much matter who is evaluating or what authority they have, just that they are evaluating consistently and publishing an updated list of CCLP qualified firms and their associated levels achieved.  We could even create a new not-for-profit organization with CCLP certification as it’s sole purpose.  (Hint, hint.)

Once one firm is certified using an open standard, how long before large clients begin asking outside counsel why they aren’t certified?  If a first level certification is relatively easy to achieve, as it is with the PCMH, then what excuse will firms have for not doing it?  Of course, a level 1 certification begs the questions, “Why are you only a Level 1?  Which elements don’t you adhere to? And why not?”  A well-defined and open set of standards and elements, if evaluated fairly, should lead to an all-out arms race for firms to achieve a top-level CCLP certification. Which, if done correctly, should correlate to a better all-around experience for clients.

The hardest part will be defining those standards and elements.  Here again, I think we can look to the PCMH as a guide.  Of course the individual elements to achieve will be wildly different for legal, but the standards will have some overlap. The 6 PCMH standards are to: 1) Enhance Access and Continuity, 2) Identify and Manage Patient Populations, 3) Plan and Manage Care, 4) Provide Self-Care Support and Community Resources, 5) Track and Coordinate Care, and 6) Measure and Improve Performance.

Adjusting for legal specific terminology, these all kind of work as is.  We would want a CCLP certified firm to meet the minimal obligations to Enhance Client Access to firm resources, Identify and Manage Client Populations (Business Intelligence), Plan and Manage Matters, Provide Self-help Legal Support and Resources, Track and Coordinate Matters, and Measure and Improve Performance over time.  There are probably better ways to phrase these standards and there may be more or different standards we should add, but even with this simple translation a proto-CCLP could begin to take form.

My intention is not to say that the legal industry should immediately adopt this concept as pioneered by the medical industry and run with it, but to suggest that maybe a more holistic approach to imagining the future of law is called for.  Here on the 3 Geeks blog we each have our areas of interest and we all attend our separate conferences to discuss the roles of technology, knowledge management, library and information management, project management, pricing, competitive intelligence, and on and on and on… But maybe we need to think a little bigger.  Rather than trying to fix the law firm model one discipline or one system at a time, maybe we should put the client in the center and rebuild the firm around them.  If we can imagine and define that type of firm, then we can give firms a path to follow and a goal to strive toward, and we can give clients a series of metrics with which to evaluate the quality of the legal services they are receiving.

For more information on the Patient Centered Medical Home concept
see the following articles and resources:
Rittenhouse DR, Shortell SM. The Patient-Centered Medical Home: Will It Stand
the Test of Health Reform? JAMA Vol. 301, No. 19 May 20, 2009 
Nutting PA, Miller
WL, et. al. “Initial Lessons From the First National Demonstration Project
on Practice Transformation to a Patient-Centered Medical Home” Annals
of Family Medicine Vol. 7, No. 3 May/June 2009
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