Bringing Blockchain Transactions into the Legal Domain

The Artificial Lawyer reports on a new system that is intended to ensure the legality of contracts based on tokens that are used on the Ethereum blockchain platform, rather than on established legal tender.

Ethereum is “an open-source, public, blockchain-based distributed computing platform featuring smart contract (scripting) functionality” (Wikipedia). Its tokens, called “ether,” may be used like currency or represent other real-world assets such as “a virtual share, a proof of membership or anything at all” (Ethereum).

Ethereum’s smart contracts have until now been created by individuals who are more familiar with technology than with the law. The new system – created as part of OpenLaw, a “smart contract” project being developed by lawyers in the US and Switzerland – is intended to provide legal constructs that will offer lawyers more confidence in such contracts.

“The OpenLaw purchase contract seeks to provide legal contracting norms that any commercial lawyer would recognise,” the article states, “adding in key transactional clauses and provisions, as well as the ability to modify the terms as needed.”

Please note that while I am not yet comfortable recommending that lawyers deal with contracts of this nature – the head of the IMF, among others, continues to warn of the volatility of cryptocurrency – I do think we should know enough to speak intelligently about on-chain transactions with our clients. It is probably wise to assign a lawyer or lawyers in the firm to keep an eye on developments related to cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, and to provide internal updates to fellow lawyers on a periodic basis. The Artificial Lawyer article is thorough and balanced, and is a good place to start to acquire knowledge in this area if you haven’t done so already.

I invite you to share your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.


Virtual Reality and the Law Firm

An article by George Khoury, Esq. on the FindLaw legal technology blog reports on digital advances that could ultimately lead to the existence of entire augmented- or virtual-reality law offices – where our colleagues appear as 3-D images and our documents seem to be suspended around us in thin air.

Khoury invites us to imagine “showing up to court as a fully suited up lawyer hologram, while really just eating cereal in our pajamas on the couch.”

Such visions are not likely to become viable realities for another decade or so, Khoury acknowledges, but bringing them to life is already the focus of such companies as Meta, a start-up founded by Meron Gribitz, who studied neuroscience and computer science at Columbia, and Envelop VR of Bellview WA, whose headset-accessible platform already runs applications – from YouTube to Excel worksheets – in virtual reality.

Khoury predicts that the use of augmented or virtual reality will be “a real boon” for law offices, although significant refinements to both hardware and software will be required before the technology will appeal to most of us. Still, while the VR law office may still be a vision for the future, that vision is certainly within reach, and it is of more than diversionary interest to keep an eye on developments in this field.

I invite you to share your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

PwC’s U.S.-based Law Firm to Advise on International Matters

Accounting Today reports that accounting giant PwC is about to open a law firm in the U.S. The article, compiled from various sources by Daniel Hood, points out that this constitutes a significant new development in what many see as an increasing encroachment by accounting firms into the legal services marketplace.

The firm, to be called ILC Legal, will operate independently of other PwC interests, and according to the article will not offer clients advice on U.S. law, but rather on international legal matters – “such as international corporate structuring, M&A, immigration, and tax controversy.”

The Accounting Today article reports that “69 percent of law firm leaders view [accountants who are moving into the legal-services market] as a major threat.”

I welcome your thoughts on this matter – or any other issue related to the law – either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Adaptability a Key to Lowering Project-Related Stress, Says Logistics Company CEO

If you have ever become flustered or agitated under pressure –  and who hasn’t? – you might want to read the profile of Franz-Joseph (FJ) Miller that was recently published on Inc. Miller is the founder and CEO of the time:matters Group, a “high-stakes logistics company” that prides itself on “perfect delivery, every time.”

Kevin Dunn, who interviewed Miller for his podcast and the article, describes time:matters as “a business dedicated to providing emergency assistance with over 500 destinations in 90 countries to companies like Siemens, Volkswagen and DHL [Express]… delivering everything from jet engines to stem cells under conditions of huge uncertainty.” Obviously, the mandate of this company practically guarantees that stress will be part of every transaction.

So how does Miller avoid the debilitating downsides of the pressure-based anxieties that characterize so many business encounters? Dunn shares a few of Miller’s “secrets,” which include “Create a culture of adaptability, not perfection,” and “Plan to manage. Don’t manage to plan.” A “culture of adaptability” requires flexible team members who are willing and able to change their approaches depending on the circumstances, and adaptability is also the key to “planning to manage” because, as Miller says, “You can’t plan every situation” in advance.

Although managing legal matters is very different from delivering spare parts to Moldova on time, the human response – stress – that often accompanies such undertakings is likely to be the same. Check out Miller’s five strategies to see if there is something you can add to your own approach to stress-management.

I invite you to share your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.


Law Firm Senior Management Underrepresented at CLOC Conference

Patrick Fuller of Neota Logic

At its second annual conference in Las Vegas in May 2017, the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) offered professional development sessions on a range of topics to more than 1000 attendees – twice the turnout of its first conference, which was held a year ago.

CLOC describes itself as a “non-profit organization consisting of legal operations professionals providing education, sharing best practices, networking, establishing a professional organization and community, and driving positive change across the corporate legal services ecosystem… deliver[ing] corporate legal support to small, medium and large businesses ….”

A review of the CLOC conference by Patrick Fuller, vice president of business development at AI software producer Neota Logic, makes interesting reading. He notes that attendance at all of the educational sessions was high, especially those dealing with AI and analytics. However, Fuller also observes that law firm management was inadequately represented at the conference – a fact that does not bode well for firms that want to be in the forefront of legal operations technology.

Fuller said that he had never seen so many senior management representatives from industry vendors at a conference before, demonstrating the growing interest not only in legal operations but also in CLOC. He also noted that “the automation of repetitive legal tasks is increasing,” and that legal operations professionals are having a significant impact “on their legal departments and the business of law as whole.”

Fuller predicts that attendance at the 2018 CLOC symposium will double again, which means that this conference is one that law firms – and especially their senior executives – cannot afford to miss.

You are welcome to share your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.


Help for Stressed-Out Lawyers

Are you anxious? depressed? chronically stressed? Jeena Cho, who with Karen Gifford has co-authored a book for the American Bar Association entitled The Anxious Lawyer, has some reassuring news that may not come as much of a surprise: your mental state is common among lawyers.

In an article on their anxiouslawyer website, Jeena Cho argues that these mental conditions are attributable to “cognitive distortions” – statements we tell ourselves that are not actually true. Cho says that these misstatements are based on three basic misconceptions: 1) that we are not “enough”; 2) that “more is always better”; and 3) that “I must sacrifice myself and my well-being for others.”

Cho goes on to explore why each of these statements is counterproductive as well as being false. She and her co-author believe that mindfulness and meditation are the keys to less stressful and more productive law practices, and they offer guidance to those who are interested in helping themselves attain a more consistent state of calm.

I invite you to share your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.


Microsoft’s Lawyers Told to Swap Billable Hours for Alternative Fee Strategies

According to an article on Quartz, Microsoft will require all of the law firms with which it works to move to a retainer or other billing approach for most legal matters, rather than billing by the hour, within two years.

As the article points out, the billable hour may be traditional and standard procedure for law firms, but it is costly for clients and inconvenient for lawyers. Billing by the hour, and especially the practice of “rounding up” all tasks no matter how small into six-minute blocks (or whatever the metric may be), is often the source of unhappiness and disagreement between lawyers and their clients.

The demand that lawyers move away from the billable hour by a major corporation like Microsoft, which – as the article points out – “spends hundreds of millions of dollars on litigation annually” and is therefore in the driver’s seat when it comes to its legal services, may well herald a major shift across the board.

Are you prepared to offer alternative fee structures to your clients if they want the same treatment as Microsoft – or to get ahead of the game by offering creative fee options to your major clients before they start demanding them?

Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.


The Legal Profession: Will It Be Caught in the Headlights?

On the blog site of the Montage Legal Group, Kandy Williams – an attorney in Orange County CA – evaluates the recently published report of the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services and wonders whether the legal profession in the U.S. is “on the cusp of Uber-like disruption.”

“Many of the Commission’s findings paint a bleak picture of the legal landscape,” Williams writes. Not only do the poor and many middle-income Americans have no access to legal services, but “lawyers would have to provide over 900 pro bono hours per year in order to make a measurable dent in assisting all households with legal needs.” The state of legal services in the U.S. is contributing to delays, disruptions, and backlogs in the courts.

Williams goes on to list some of the Commission’s recommendations, including greater diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, and an overhaul of the justice system. The report is particularly critical of the fact that lawyers in general lag far behind other professions when it comes to technology, and that the profession is so resistant to change. It is at this intersection that Williams wonders whether “like taxi drivers caught in the headlights of Uber,” BigLaw may find itself confronted by a new generation of legal innovators who bring entirely new approaches to the practice of law. One of these is the “accordion company” like the Montage Legal Group of freelance attorneys, “that provide[s] networks of trained, experienced lawyers to law firms to shore up firms’ staffing needs.”

Williams points out that there has been criticism of the Commission’s report, and that the ABA has not yet adopted it. Nonetheless, the report – like Williams’s article – raises issues that cannot be ignored.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Law Firm Pairs with Cybersecurity Company to Help Businesses with Data Breaches

Bloomberg Law reports that the law firm Jackson Lewis has formed an arrangement with the identity-theft and data-breach management firm Merchants Information Solutions to provide legal advice to businesses that have experienced data breaches.

Gayle Cinquegrani at Bloomberg quotes Merchants’ vice president of marketing, Robert Ward, who says this is “the first program in the country” to offer legal services as part of “a bundled program” in data-breach response.

“These small businesses don’t have the financial resources to reach out to a firm,” Ward says.

Cinquegrani reports that Merchants “will pay up to a specified amount for its subscribers when legal assistance is necessary. After that, a subscriber can choose to pay for more legal services.”

With rapidly developing legal implications that vary by country and even by region, the need for legal advice for those who experience data breaches is likely to be a growth area in the legal-services field. Offering to partner with cyber-breach management firms to offer legal assistance as part of a “bundle,” or via another fee system, may become a popular option for connecting businesses with the legal advice they need.

Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Could Regular Interviews Help Law Firms Retain Valuable Staff?

A brief article in Canadian Business suggests a way that businesses and professional companies like law firms can help to identify areas of concern among valuable legal and support staff before they lead to major problems.

The article is based on a book co-authored by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Evans. In Hello Stay Interviews, Goodbye Talent Loss, the authors suggested that interviewing “star employees” on a regular basis can help companies identify and then work to resolve issues that are standing in the way of success for these employees. The article also suggests some questions that might be part of such interviews, such as “What do you want to learn in the next year?”

Although the book is intended for business managers in general, the strategy would find a valuable place in the toolkits of law firms that are determined to keep their best and brightest lawyers and support staff working for them – rather than looking for greener fields with the competition.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.