In about 10 days, I will be presenting as part of a panel at the Thomson Reuters 24th Annual Marketing Partner Forum. The session I will be presenting will be focused on differentiation in a highly competitive market. Aside from being a hugely important topic at this moment in time generally as we usher in 2017, the topic is a reaction to the 2017 State of the Legal Market Georgetown/Peer Monitor Report which is now available. The report tracks firm financial and other performance metrics in the US over the course of the last decade since the “Great Recession”. Not surprisingly, the report paints a somewhat bleak picture of the current state of legal services – from an operational point of view. I will leave you to read the report, but the Coles Notes (Cliff’s Notes) version indicates that:

  • demand growth is flat;
  •  there is declining productivity;
  • firms are experiencing growth in expenses, and
  •  increasing cost of leverage; despite
  •  ability to raise rates 2 to 3 percent a year, which is countered by;
  • steadily declining realization rates. 
Much of which can be attributed (in whole or in part) to:
  •  a buyer’s market;
  •  death of the billable hour pricing;
  •  erosion of the traditional law firm franchise;
  •  declining effectiveness of traditional leverage; and
  •  growing segmentation within the market for law firm services

It’s a bleak and scary picture, one that in my mind doesn’t even take into account the effects and affects of technology on the profession, in practice and in operation. 

 
The report, does offer a couple of rays of sunshine – the silver linings if you will for those of us not on the practicing side of the equation. The first quote that animated me was this:
 
“If the large firms in the middle cannot offer sufficient differentiation for their services, clients will have little incentive to change this behavior.”
 
Differentiation is largely the work of marketing to articulate, even if KM, Pricing, Library, and others are doing the executing. This provides huge opportunities for marketing departments and agencies who work in this space. It is getting harder and harder for firms to differentiate themselves in any meaningful way, but we know that each firm is special or unique in some way. The challenge is in figuring out how to illustrate each firm’s unique value proposition in RFP responses, pitches, branding efforts and pricing mechanisms. The crucial bit for people like me, is how do we use this statement as a catalyst to bring about the cultural and operational changes required for firms to make a discerning mark. Defining what a firm does differently is a hugely difficult and exciting task, one that requires those in firms who are not necessarily practicing law to break silos and work together to shape a new reality to law firms (see the last 3 Geeks post on libraries-marketing-money-credit). Which brings me to the second point in the report that buoyed me. 
 
“broader reimagining of the overall model for legal service delivery, one that includes paraprofessionals, technologists, information specialists, process managers, and others – in addition to lawyers – as part of an integrated system for the delivery of legal services
 
 Law firms, much like many other businesses from insurance to retail, education to food services are being forced to rethink their way of earning profits. The industry is under pressure from clients, suppliers, and staff to meet technological, social, financial and other impacts head on. Law firms have been long insulated by established protocols and relationships, both of which are now vulnerable to market conditions. Its time, as the report says to lean on others in a truly collaborative partnership to boost client service and in turn, revenue/profit. There are all these fabulously smart people in firms who are limited in their ability to contribute by virtue of their non lawyerlyness. Imagine the impact a firm could have with all of its intellectual capital playing a more active role, that could (should!) be the new road to competitive differentiation.
 
So while growth is relatively flat, and realization rates may be low, the opportunity to find new roads, and new open spaces to drive the legal business in 2017 are endless.

It has been a busy time for our illustrious Mr. Toby Brown over the past few weeks. In the past few weeks, he has co-written a book with Vincent Cordo on Law Firm Pricing: Strategies, Roles, and Responsibilities, conducted an interview with Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia about the challenges of implementing a pricing strategy at a large law firm and the recent efforts to utilize Legal Process Management software, and last, but not least, been named as a Trailblazer and Pioneer by the National Law Journal (pdf, page 16). The only thing he failed to do this month was be named People Magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive… (maybe next year, my friend.)

Congrats, Toby on being recognized for all your hard work and forward thinking.

A couple weeks ago, Michael Robak guest blogged about his experience on Why ReInvent Law Was Not Just a ‘Preaching to the Choir’ Conference. There was, and still is, a lot of discussion on this Silicon Valley conference, both with the presentation model, and the content. Now you can see for yourself what all the buzz is about. The ReInvent Law Channel now has many of the six and twelve minute videos available for you to watch for free. Here are a couple of my favorites on the concepts of visualizing law (Joe Kelly), and who owns the law (Ed Walters.)

[Ed. Note: I had a great email conversation with my friend, Michael Robak, Associate Director of the Law Library and Director of Technologies at UMKC School of Law and all-around geek like me, about the Reinvent Law Silicon Valley 2013 conference. Long story short, I bluntly mentioned to Michael that the twitter feed was so full of the usual buzz words, and the usual suspects preaching to the usual choir that’s been going on for the last four to five years. Michael’s response was very thoughtful when he, and I’m paraphrasing here, said “Greg, you are stupid.” Well, if I had tried to rewrite his response, that’s all I would have remembered, so I asked him to guest post and elaborate on what he found valuable. So, thank you Michael for taking me up on the offer. -GL]

I attended the March 8, 2013 Reinvent Law Silicon Valley 2013 conference held at the Computer History Museum.  Once the conference started, I realized that my good friend, and premier Geek, Greg Lambert, was absent.  After the event, I could not resist sending Greg a note asking why he missed, what I thought, was one of the best events I’ve attended about the changes in the legal profession and  needed changes in both the profession and legal education.
Greg immediately responded, because I swear he is the model for some of William Gibson’s cyber protagonists, that he had followed the conference twitter feed and thought it seemed one of those events where it was kind of just preaching to the choir, and then the choir folks get all excited, and then….nothing would come of it…  And, to this, I responded that Greg…was wrong…. this was not one of those events.  What follows is a cleaned up version of that response: (in which I leave out references to certain past and future events which may, or may not, involve… good scotch, gin, wine, or other such things)…
Greg,
Sorry you missed ReInvent Law Silicon Valley 2013.  You raise good points about this appearing to be an event where the faithful speak to each other, shout hallelujah, and then…nothing happens.
But I really must disagree.  Dan Katz  and Renee Newman Knake, along with Dean Joan Howarth of Michigan State University College of Law are, in my humble opinion, leading some game changing stuff. Have you had a chance to talk to Dan and Renee?   Dan and I share an Illinois connection, the late Larry Ribstein, whose work in the area has been incredibly influential to Dan and others.  I have been an ardent follower of Dan’s blog, Computational Legal Studies, and admire his works generally.   When I came to the University of Missouri – Kansas City from Illinois, I wanted, on some level, to create a niche like Dan had, but with a slightly different emphasis, from a 21st century librarian’s perspective. At last year’s ABA Tech show I connected with Dan and we had a great talk about how only a handful of law schools get this stuff.  And, as I told Dan, I am fortunate because my Dean, Ellen Suni, is one of that handful (and Bill Henderson will affirm!).  Plus, she understands my pitch about librarians as COO’s of Information for the Law School Enterprise.  And this is good stuff actually, very much “blue ocean” material.
I think what made this event different is that it brought clarity for a way forward for both legal education and for law. In my view, there is still confusion about how we discuss the “technology of law” and what it means exactly.. especially when you throw in legal research and associated tools.  And, it becomes even more confusing, when you throw in the whole discussion of Rule 5.4 as an inhibitor to the delivery of access to justice. 
This event had wholly new kinds of conversations about educating and practicing.  You are right on some level, there were people there who were reinforcing each other’s views,  but Aric Press was there and not someone I think of as necessarily part of that group. He tweeted about the vibe in the room and only 5 people wearing ties……I was one of the five and so had to seek him out and ask if that made me to cool, or counter cool, or …  I will say he was kind in his response…
Having said that, and speaking as a Law Librarian who sees a much bigger and important role for Law Librarians in both legal education and law practice,  this conference was huge.  Richard Susskind was our AALL keynote last year and that was awesome.  He outlined things we librarians can and should be doing to be not just relevant to the places we work but to actually take the lead in the changes happening in the legal ecosystem.  This conference completely underscored that and, to me, made it even clearer that we law librarians have a mega opportunity, to be at the center.

I think Marc Lauritsen and Oliver Goodenough’s book (Educating the Digital Lawyer, and free from LexisNexis) is a start, as is Susskind, but I have a different view on how law schools can move forward. Ken Hirsh is close with his course on teaching technology, but what I will have in place at UMKC in Spring 2014 is much more in line with Jerome Frank’s expression of experiential learning in “Why not a clinical lawyer school?” in his seminal article by that name.  But mine is “Why not have legal information professionals teach how to use technology in practice?”  (not quite as pithy, but I’m working on it…)

All I’m saying here dude is, I think there is a real opportunity for us (law librarians) to be at the forefront on shaping real change to both legal education and law practice. The twitter feed was ok but there was a palpable energy in the room relative to the potential opportunities, and not just folks coming together to sing amazing grace.  But my real take away here is that the “technology of law” is law librarian space.  It follows completely Thomson “re-branding” Westlaw to be Legal Solutions.  As Joe Hodnicki has declared (and, yes Joe, you owe me a drink in Seattle), it is all about Legal Research Plus.. and the plus is the “technology of law”.

Thanks for your update and congrats on the new job! We do need to meet at ABA Tech and talk, there are changes a coming and I think AALL and SLA folks really don’t understand. Actually it was Kingsley Martin’s talk that made it most clear why things haven’t happened with technology yet because of the need for machines to catch up. He had a great talk.

Look forward to seeing you in Chicago!!

Michael
Post script to the original email:
Have you heard about LegalForce (formerly Trademarkia) and their store front operation in Palo Alto? I had a chance to visit on Saturday, March 9, 2013 and  man, oh man, it is amazing.  A bookstore, a DIY law place, a place you can compare tablets (since, according to Calvin, the “legal concierge” who gave me a tour, LegalForce believes legal content will be delivered on these platforms, so why not try and compare).  All they need is a coffee bar.
Aric Press has written a terrific review of the event.
Bill Henderson, whose talk at Reinvent Law was amazing, has a terrific post.

Image [cc] libraryman

I know that others in the library world have talked about Seth Godin’s “Stop Stealing Dreams” book, but I just read over his section on The Future of the Library, and although it reads a bit like Seth is bipolar on some of the issues, there was one paragraph that stood out for me:

Want to watch a movie? Netflix is a better librarian, with a better library, than any library in the country. The Netflix librarian knows about every movie, knows what you’ve seen and what you’re likely to want to see. If the goal is to connect viewers with movies, Netflix wins.

Putting aside the “librarian” part, this made me think of some of the resources we use that could actually benefit from this type of knowing what you’ve done, and what you’re likely to want to do next…

Let’s take something like Westlaw, Lexis and even Bloomberg as an example. Could they adopt a more “Netflix” style of interaction with the user? They keep statistics on what the customer has already looked at; could they start offering additional user services like:

  • You Might Want To Read X article, case, law review, blog, etc., or 
  • Others who have read this, also read these… 
  • Here are the popular new items that others in your firm/office/city/practice are reading

Perhaps WestlawNext or Lexis Advance does this already (anyone that’s using either of them know if they do??)

Of course, this would come up against the old way we use these resources and how it affects recovery. If the Netflix-like services improve the lawyer’s ability to locate relevant resources for his or her research, and they were able to bill back for those resource, then we’d be happy to see them. However, if the Netflix-like services merely improve the lawyers ability to keep up with his or her area of law (practice development) and it caused a drop in recovery, then we’d be screaming to have them take it down.

When I talked with Bob Hopen from Bloomberg this week, he mentioned that the Bloomberg Law platform was supposed to be, not quite a Netflix style site, but more of a Google or Yahoo! News type of site for the user. Although I applauded him for that type of thinking, perhaps that should be the type of model that these types of resources become. I did mention that most of our users that access these services still use them in the old way of “get in, get what you need, get out” style of managing cost by limiting usage. Perhaps a new player, and a new pricing scheme like Bloomberg Law is attempting to do, may break that cycle of usage? I’m not sure. As long as we librarians have to focus on recovering costs from the clients, I don’t think so.

Sorry… I got a little off topic there. Anyway, my initial thoughts on this were that it seems very likely that online services and research tools will go the way of the Netflix like services.

In addition to that, what about our internal services? Could InterAction be tooled in a way to offer Netflix style services? Imagine the ability for a lawyer to look up a person in InterAction and see a picture and some type of bio, and then be given suggestions on “people who connect with Bob also tend to connect with Jane of ABC Corp.”

Or, how about services like a Library Resources Portal where it can pop up a “cover flow” set of “New Resources Available” or give the user suggested resources based on their previous usages (or the usages of others in their Practice Groups.)

Many of these services are what Librarians used to do, but may not do (and may not need to do) anymore because our clients are much more into self-help when it comes to striking out on their own and finding things. Some librarians will see this as eating away at the profession, while the creative librarians will see this as a way to restructure what they do and adapt to this inevitable change and take on the role that Godin suggests by becoming a “producer, concierge, connector, teacher, and impresario.”

I was getting my morning fill of Twitter updates this morning, when I saw a tweet from Emily Clasper go by that made a simple, yet intriguing statement:

I know most librarians have no clue about the ideas at #sesnyc but how are we supposed 2 b info experts if we don’t know how the info works.

Emily is Manager of Systems Operations and Training at Suffolk Cooperative Library System (SCLS) up in New York. The #sesnyc that she mentions is a Search Engine conference that discusses many topics including Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM) techniques, along with a number of other topics. “The Clue” she is talking about is understanding how things that we use everyday in our research strategies actually work. These are topics that Emily is passionate about, and that we’ve discussed here on 3 Geeks before. It is also this passion that makes Emily a “Mover & Shaker” in the library world, especially in the Tech area of libraries.

I love Emily’s passion. I think that she is a valuable asset in the library community, and that she has a lot to offer any of us that will listen to her. But we can’t all be Emily Claspers. Luckily, we can all learn from Emily and others out there that have similar passions. Whether it is through Social Media resources like Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., or through conferences, or even through old fashion emails, we can communicate, learn, teach, and gain experiences from experts that know a lot about specialized areas of knowledge information, and are happy to share their expertise.

There’s a saying in the library field that we may not always know the answers, but we know where to find those answers. Traditionally, the “finding” has been through books. In the past 30 years, it has shifted to online resources. In the past couple of years, I see a trend that some of those answers lie within people, not print or electronic resources. The access to “people” has exploded with all the instant communications (email, Twitter), and the archives of past experiences that these experts have shared with us (Google, LinkedIn, Blogs.) That is a very powerful expansion of knowledge. In addition, that expansion doesn’t just apply to your specific field. If you notice, Emily is not a law librarian like I am. Perhaps in the past, we would have never known about each other because our “analog-selves” run in different circles. However, our “digital-selves” cross paths quite often.

Although I consider myself a tech geek, I don’t think I’m close to the expert in the field as the Emily Claspers of the world. Fortunately, I don’t have to be. There are those that know a lot about a niche part of the profession… and there are those that know a little about a lot of areas. Both have their uses. Generalists can learn pieces of knowledge from the experts, and in return, experts can learn practical applications from the generalists. That can be a powerful combination as long as we are all willing to share and to listen.

When I was in law school, some of my favorite classes where titled “Law and _____.” The blank was filled with things like “Economics” or “Religion” or “Psychology” or “Order.” The idea of taking two different concepts and seeing how they affected each other was absolutely fascinating to me. While each idea stood on its own, putting “Law” in front of the other concept made you take a different look at it, and in the end helped you better understand them both. In a time when it seems that we are all pushed into “specializing” in our professional lives, sometimes we need to step back and challenge ourselves to bring in something unusual to our routines to break our tunnel vision, and in the end, make ourselves better.

Over the past weekend, I saw something that reminded me of this idea. My youngest daughter (pictured above, top row, second from the left) competed in an Odyssey of the Mind competition and reminded me of how taking two or more unrelated ideas and making them work together, and create something that is better than its individual parts.

The Odyssey of the Mind competition was special because it asked students to do two very different things:

  1. Perform a task involving something you’ve engineered (my daughter’s task was to create a vehicle that someone could ride back and forth across a gym floor.)
  2. Tell a story and make the vehicle change emotions as you are telling the story (the vehicle had to go from happy to sad and then from envious to in love.)
Here’s the part of the description I love:

The emphases will be on the technical risk-taking and creativity of the vehicle’s engineering for travel and change of emotional appearance.

The kids had to come up with all the ideas on their own (I made the mistake of attempting to explain how a broken piece of the vehicle could be fixed, and before I could say anything the kids all started “shushing” me and telling me not to say anything because they could be disqualified… I took my cue and left the room at that point.) The process they took was pretty ingenious… they used a clear plastic dung beetle head and rigged up a mouth on a stick that they could manipulate to make it smile or frown. Same with the eyes to go from happy to sad. My favorite was when they threw in a green glow stick to represent being envious. All of this while telling a story of how a dung beetle fell in love with a can of RAID spray that was wearing an Elvis wig (I’m still confused about the Elvis reference… but, I’m perfectly fine with the love story.) Long story short… they won their division and get to travel to the State Competition, which is only about 5 miles away this year.

The thing that struck me most, however, wasn’t the actual eight minutes of competition that the students performed. What struck me was the excitement in the hallway as all of the different groups were preparing for the competition. The Principal of the school made a great comment to us as she looked up and down the hallway. “This is how school should be conducted everyday.” Meaning that instead of the traditional method of drilling for state sanctioned standardized testing, the kids should be challenged to think for themselves and apply what they are learning in ways beyond traditional test taking skills.

Here’s the reaction from the students when they heard they won their division (suggestion: turn your speakers down, cause it gets loud!!)

Now, you may think that only the winners screamed this loud. Not true. The schools that placed sixth in the competition screamed just as loud… actually I think the school that sat right behind me actually screamed a bit louder.

The whole thing just reminds me of how I get inspired when I bring in non-traditional concepts into my daily routine in a law firm. Applying IT concepts in a library project, or suggesting to others how a project they are working on would be better by adding something completely outside their normal ideas. Too often we get bogged down in hashing out the same old ideas and talking to others that think exactly as we do. From time to time get out of the “group think” and take a chance to see if you can find someone that can suggest throwing in a proverbial green glow stick into your project. You may not find yourself screaming down the aisle to accept your award, but you may find yourself feeling something that you haven’t felt in your profession in a while… a sense of excitement.

My recent series on Staying Relevant suggested bar associations as a potential source of innovation and change in the industry. On the heels of that suggestion, the bar association of clients (a.k.a. the ACC) is announcing their new Contract Advisor system, developed in partnership with KIIAC.
Most readers know the 3 Geeks are fans of KIIAC as a next-generation KM tool. Well Kingsley has really out-done himself with this partnership. This new member benefit basically brings the full power of analysis KM right in to the hands of ACC members. Starting today, members will have access to ten document templates, which are contracts and agreements that in-house counsel would use on a regular basis. Kingsley has taken volumes of sample documents for each document type, analyzed them and made standardized versions available. Not only that, members can view alternative clauses within each document, enabling them to custom build documents, utilizing any clause components they chose. Finally, members can take documents they have received and compare them against the standard document types to see if any clauses are missing or highly variable from the standard.
As I understand it, new document types will be added over time, increasing the value of the service.
This is truly a next-generation, change-enabling member benefit. This is a quantum leap ahead of how things are currently being done. These are not forms being occasionally updated by someone you don’t know. This is dynamic content based on a wealth of knowledge that evolves as it is used.
Normally I would say check it out, but you need to belong to ACC for that to happen. So maybe I should say, join the ACC. Or maybe talk to your bar association and get them to follow suit.
Well done ACC and KIIAC.
image [cc] Mike Licht

In Part 7 of the series we noted the backward looking nature of the legal profession and how that handicaps lawyers needing to embrace change. In this final segment of the series, a bit of hope is brought to the table in the form of bars.

The Bar’s Role
Saving the best for last – bar associations are in the best position to drive change in the legal profession. Via their CLE groups, publications departments and member services options, bar associations are in a position to upend the Paradigm of Precedence. First and foremost, bars can lead by example.
Some specific examples of what a bar might do:
Actively adopt new technologies. Turn websites in to e-commerce, interactive destinations. Utilize cloud-based technologies in business operations. Enable mobile access to all services. Embrace social media platforms.
Partner with vendors who can bring technology and business knowledge to members in affordable ways. Be the one who stays on top of change on members’ behalf. Take some chances and invest money in technology relationships.
Include forward-thinking components in CLE programs and publications. Many topics can benefit by including forward looking technologies and business ideas. Ask speakers and authors to include those in their topics. Maybe require them as appropriate (e.g. Annual Conventions).
Provide CLE directly on adapting to change. With the right topics and speakers, CLE programs directed at meeting these challenges will have a strong appeal for members.
Provide practice management services to give members more direct advice and services.
Push to revamp the Bar rules. Too many rules are built on the billable hour model with a guild mind-set. Think about the innovators among the membership and make sure bar rules are not overly inhibiting them. As an example, check out the Legal Services Act in the UK. It goes so far as to allow non-lawyer equity participation in firms.
In Closing
Every facet of the legal industry is under intense pressure to change: every institution and every participant. No one is protected from the compelling market and technological forces. Surviving in this industry, let alone prospering, means shedding old ways and actively embracing new thinking.
I coined a second phrase in my 1999 presentation by applying precedence thinking to operating a ski boat. The phrase: We’re driving the boat by watching the wake. Our perfect storm presents an opportunity for the profession to turn around, look out over the bow, and face the future head-on.
So I’ll add yet another phrase to my holster: Precedence is a legal philosophy, not a business model.
My final suggestion: Become a voice for the Paradigm of Change.
Thank you all for following this series. It was fun and interesting to write. It made me think a lot about how all of the forces are coming together in a new picture. Although I can’t predict the future, this exercise gave me a less-fuzzy view of what’s in store for the legal profession.
image [cc] Flicker Clicker

Part 6 of this series demonstrated how the pressures for change are being felt by all corners of the legal market.

The Paradigm of Precedence
The name of this series is taken from a presentation I gave back in 1999 to a group of bar leaders. At that time I coined the phrase, The Paradigm of Precedence. To illustrate this concept, I suggested lawyers are driving the boat by watching the wake. Lawyers are deeply trained in looking at the past to determine the present. The future only becomes interesting once they know today’s precedence. A running joke in the industry is that whenever an innovative concept is proposed, the first question asked is: Are other firms doing this? This paradigm, this way of seeing the world in the rear-view mirror, has become a significant handicap for the profession.
Prediction
Lawyers left to their own devices will hold to the Paradigm of Precedence. They prefer to wait and see what precedents develop in the market and then attempt to copy them. The big problem with this tendency is that new breeds of competitors will take the opposite approach, preferring to innovate ahead of the market, actually setting the new precedents. And once these providers are established in the market, it will be very difficult for lawyers to displace them. Lawyers in this scenario will be forever playing catch-up in a market that is gaining speed ahead of them.
Attempts to fight this tide with lawsuits over UPL will have little impact. Fighting in court will further expose how lawyers are not actively working to lower costs and improve their services. The public (including legislatures) will see a guild fighting to retain its monopoly when other providers have come in and met the public’s needs at lower costs. For instance in the LegalZoom example, this company is getting legal help to thousands of people who were not getting it before. Lawyers will rightly argue some people will be harmed in this environment. These lawyers will essentially be arguing that it is better to not have this access to justice than to allow any potential for harm from non-lawyers. I think the recent success of LegalZoom demonstrate the likely outcome of such fights.
A Bit of Hope
As with any community, there will be some participants who shed the Paradigm of Precedence. After one or two times of being beaten in the market, these lawyers will embrace new thinking, employing new business structures and innovative technologies. Our best hope will be encouraging and enabling these agents of change.
Although my prediction is admittedly a bit of doom-and-gloom, I hope to be proven wrong. Lawyers are the best people to provide legal services. They have a noble obligation to protect the rule of law. If the provision of legal services primarily falls to those without this duty – the rule of law will suffer.
Part 8 – the final in the series – provides some hope and ideas for how the profession can embrace change, focusing on the role of bar associations as logical and likely agents of change.