“What you measure, you can manage. What you manage, you can improve.”
In our first #ThinkTank, we asked a panel of our world-class Faculty to share their uniquely valuable insights on the State of the Legal Industry. In this case, we asked them to describe what is the #1 thing the legal industry could do to improve the delivery of legal services for clients? No holds barred. The richness and diversity of their thinking makes for timely, compelling reading. We hope you enjoy it.
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High Performance Counsel
#TopFix: What is the #1 thing the legal industry could do to improve the delivery of legal services for clients? No holds barred.
The #1 change the legal industry can make to improve delivery of legal services for clients is better teamwork.
Collaboration is universal. Every type of legal matter involves people working together. All industry players – in-house counsel, law firms, service providers, legal technology companies, contract staffing providers – have internal teams. Legal professionals and their administrative and technical support staff are interdependent. Clients collaborate with their lawyers, law firms with providers and so on down the line.
Even more important than collaboration’s universality is its value proposition. When people work well together they typically produce better quality results. Successful teams are efficient and productive, while dysfunctional teams drive costs up. Teamwork is also a key factor in employee morale. Job satisfaction leads to improved retention rates for experienced and knowledgeable lawyers and staff. This benefits both the organization and the client.
This isn’t an easy fix. Managing teams takes effort and skill. At the macro level, it requires cultural change. It asks law firms to reorient from solo competition to team play and clients to be more hands-on. As an industry we weren’t trained for teamwork and we’re not especially good at it.
Better collaboration is necessary nonetheless. Professional specialization, big data and legal tech are only putting more people on the team. It’s not a question of if, but of how well you collaborate.
In a word, standardization. One of the biggest challenges in creating alignment between law firms and their law department clients is a common language around which to categorize and evaluate the work being performed. In the same way that the LEDES standard provided a common taxonomy for the industry to submit electronic invoices, there is a need for additional standards to drive consistency in key categories of data. Two specific areas where standardization efforts have begun and could drive greater efficiency in service delivery are 1) the categorization of legal matters into specific types and subtypes for consistent classification; and 2) the categorization of qualitative metrics for evaluating law firm performance. If adopted (and that’s a big if), common standards for matter types could be implemented across the matter management platforms and enable true apples to apples (or at a minimum a significant improvement to the current state) comparisons of historical matter costs, staffing mix, and outcomes, among other metrics. A common standard for evaluating law firm performance would provide greater clarity for law firms often left with limited understanding on how (or if) they are being formally evaluated. “If they keep paying the bills, they must be happy” should not be the criteria law firms use to engage client satisfaction. This standard would also provide law departments with the ability to compare performance across firms, and even benchmark among other law departments. The true “Yelp for Legal” would drive more data-driven approaches to evaluating and rewarding performance, and might even introduce another metric against which law firm attorneys could be evaluated when determining year-end bonuses. As an aside, SALI (sali.org) has worked to develop a matter categorization standard, and CLOC (cloc.org) has published a recommended standard set of 10 categories for law firm performance evaluations, developed in a collaborative effort among law departments, industry consultants, and law firms. The challenge with any kind of standardization effort is driving adoption, so time will tell if these worthy but as yet nascent efforts to drive a common taxonomy for both matter categorization and law firm performance will gain the traction needed to truly enable more data-driven decision making.
Abolish the business model based upon billable hours. While we rely on alternative fee arrangements regularly, sometimes the billable hour model seems to be the best option for our clients and the firm. At the moment, I unfortunately think it would be difficult to stop using it altogether.
The number one thing the legal industry could do to improve the delivery of legal services for clients is to create a more cohesive relationship with legal technologists that enable them to provide seamless legal services to their clients. Just as lawyers rely on experts for assistance on matters, legal technologists are also experts on electronic evidence and technology. When true collaboration occurs, a legal team can be a force of nature and deliver the service that clients desperately want and deserve.
This follows what is top of mind. I think the top fix would be the profession moving to a system of buying and selling legal products instead of services. Yes, service would be a part of the product, but it would all be wrapped up in one package. Yes, I get that every case and every matter and every deal is different. But, we have mountains of data we have not harvested in this profession. Data that could tell us the averages. We have to start somewhere and if we start, eventually we’ll get to where we want to be. Experience and intuition could supplement the data. If we found enough courage to be wrong every now and then, we could upend the billable hour dynamic by changing our legal service delivery model.
Stop writing memos in legal speak. Start writing them in plain English. Start counseling clients “live” through real-time video (like e.g. FaceTime or some other mechanism) or 2 minute YouTube videos on certain topics. We are no longer readers. We are “viewers.” You can learn anything from YouTube today. Why can’t you get your legal advice that way too? So deliver guidance to the desktop, not the inbox where people struggle to read all the email they get every day. Say “watch me” on the RE: line. Believe me, it will make more of an impact.
Well usually I’d talk about how legal tech has a long way to go and what vendors could do to make it a better experience for clients. But truly, no holds barred, the best thing the industry can do is to make legal services affordable. It should be of great concern that 80% of individuals and small businesses who need legal services can’t afford them. And while corporations typically don’t fall into this category, it is a societal problem affecting us all. The traditional leveraged law firm model fueled by the billable hour keeps legal services unaffordable for the average person and small company, as does the hard and fast rule that bars non-lawyers from delivering legal services or running law firms. The access to justice gap is so significant the pro bono work done by firms and corporations doesn’t even come close to bridging it. However, with a combination of disruptive technology, the liberalization of legal services to include other types of professionals performing the work cheaper and more efficiently, and with corporations demanding change, we might actually move the needle.
Molly L. Pease
Providers of legal services – whether it be law firms, legal technology providers, or legal financing partners – need to better understand the businesses of their clients. In house counsel often lament that lawyers aren’t business-minded enough and have a single focus on pursuing a certain legal strategy regardless of the financial or risk implications to the business. The legal industry needs to understand and consider the business goals of any client, whether it be to remove litigation risk from the balance sheet, close a deal to satisfy a business relationship regardless of certain legal challenges, or streamline a process to keep costs down. By sitting in the shoes of the in-house decision maker and thinking more creatively about how the legal industry can help to achieve business goals, clients are more likely to think of legal service providers as true partners.
Digital Transformation! In both running the business of law as well as serving the clients. This includes adoption of latest technology such as the next generation electronic signature, security and privacy tools and practices, security tokenization and tamper seal, and Digital Transaction Management systems, paperless office, mobile-first is going to be the differentiating factors for the law firms of tomorrow. There are vendors who are doing some great innovative work in AI, ML, Blockchain, and Big Data to deliver next generation technology solutions for law firms and their clients.
The axiom “money matters” holds true when it comes to the delivery of legal services. To be sure, more expensive isn’t necessarily tantamount to better advice or a superior product, but far too often corporates must contend with suboptimal legal services because of cost constraints. Litigation finance can address this threshold budgetary impediment by unlocking the asset value of litigation to secure capital to fund a suite of high-impact people, process and technology solutions for the legal department. Litigation finance can, therefore, provide a path to the receipt of more efficient and effective legal services, which could include funding not only preferred counsel and a preferred litigation strategy, but also more people resources, next-generation contract management systems and billing tech, centers of excellence, etc.
- Corporate counsel clients have more: (a) sophistication because they often come from senior positions at law firms; and (b) economic leverage because there is less legal work to be done.
- Break work down into segments, and assign a price to the completion of each task: (a) the price should be reasonable; and (b) if additional complications arise, then reasonable adjustments should be made.
Rapidly accelerate the adoption of new deal structures, legal tech, and data and analytics solutions by law firms and in-house groups. Leverage available capital to drive growth for law firms and as a means for firms to develop and retain talented lawyers. Leverage AI in order to enable clients to create relevant documents and find answers to straightforward recurring questions rather than having to engage directly with counsel.
The industry has to call out the false prophets that are deriving income from product sales or are self-designating themselves as experts without experience. Many of the “expert” opinions out in the legal orbit are being offered by people who have never advised clients or been held accountable for the outcomes of their advice. It is a privilege to be a client advocate for the calibrated use of technology solutions and improving the delivery of legal services. But without experience working with clients substantively, it is impossible for those consultants to have an appreciation for nuance or the ramifications of their abstract advice. What is going on in the legal services space is analogous to the Instagram Influencers syndrome. Instagram is rife with “life experts” and “fitness guides” that lack the proper qualifications, seek to benefit by endorsing products and never have to show tangible results from the “advice they offer.”
Law departments and law firms remain targets of determined and increasingly sophisticated cyber criminals. We will continue to read unfortunate headlines about hackers who have jeopardized troves of confidential client information. As a top fix, we recommend battening down the hatches now and rolling out proper defenses to continue to keep confidential data safe. Strong, complex passwords are no longer enough of a defense. Implement two-factor (aka multi-factor) and other secure authentication mechanisms based on risk profiles. Go offensive and run continuous searches across your networks and endpoints with the assumption that you’ve already been infiltrated. The future will require a new mindset and appropriate security resources to fend off these incoming attacks.
Develop and adopt technology
At some level the legal industry does two things – it fills out forms and it makes predictions –
This may sound like an over simplification and I’m exempting the theater and art of actually trying a case – which is decidedly human.
Predictions often involve what form to use and which words to use when filling out/drafting those forms.
In terms of the process of filling out/drafting the form, digitize those services – leverage technology –reliably deliver high quality services, on time, on budget.
Leverage technology to drive accurate outcome predictions (think AI)– reducing the number, size and scale of disputes –
For high value cases of issues of first impression or unique contract negotiations – human wisdom will continue to be the gold standard.
A virtuous cycle- unless your economic model happens to benefit from friction.
How many of those cases are there?
Perhaps clients should help themselves and drive their providers to adopt technology.
She who pays the piper calls the tune.
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