Alternative Legal Providers: A Warning to Law Firms

Friedrich Blase, Thomson Reuters

Friedrich Blase, Thomson Reuters

Friedrich Blase, Global Director in Legal Managed Services at Thomson Reuters, is warning traditional law firms – especially the larger ones – of the potential threat to their existence of alternative legal providers, including the growing range of legal-market ventures and forms of disruptive technology. Blase believes that alternative legal providers could present an “existential threat” to law firms as early as 2020.

Blase says that large firms tend to dismiss the threat because alternative legal initiatives are currently estimated to occupy less than one percent of the market, and to be growing at a rate of 20% per year. Such figures may seem insignificant over a ten-year period, but Blase points out that the growth in market share of alternative providers is more likely to be exponential than linear: he predicts that it will be closer to 50% by 2020. In addition, he says, the “displacement effect” of revenue that alternate providers take from law firms will have an unanticipated impact, and the whole formula ignores the fact that law firms need to grow, not shrink, in order to keep their stakeholders happy.

Blase explores each of these factors in depth, and his points are well worth reading. His message for the long term – particularly for larger firms? Start collaborating with alternative delivery providers sooner rather than later. “Today,” he says,  “25% to 50% of the revenue of most large law firms is already squarely under attack. And that portion will only grow over time.”

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


AmLaw 100 firms embrace IBM’s ROSS (based on Jeopardy-winning Watson)

Screen Capture from ROSS Intelligence website

Screen Capture from ROSS Intelligence website

The website has announced that the first “artificially intelligent attorney,” ROSS, will be employed by the law firm BakerHostetler “to handle their bankruptcy practice, which at the moment consists of nearly 50 lawyers.” I have recently learned that another AmLaw 100 firm, Latham and Watkins, has also signed up, as has Wisconsin-based von Breisen & Roper.

ROSS is built on IBM’s cognitive computer Watson, a development we discussed in a previous post. In an article in Forbes about the newest “employee” at BakerHostetler – an Iowa-based firm that has been working with ROSS developers for several years – Amit Chowdhry explained that “ROSS will be able to quickly respond to questions after searching through billions of documents. Lawyers can ask ROSS questions in plain English such as ‘what is the Freedom of Information Act?’ And ROSS will show users what the citations are for its responses. The more ROSS is used by lawyers, the more it improves its responses.”

For now, ROSS’s expertise lies primarily in the area of bankruptcy law, the basics of which the computer learned in ten months, Chowdhry says. Other areas of the law are now being added to the computer’s knowledge base.

I am interested to know your thoughts on this and all other matters related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.

Economy Class, Business Class, and Air Rage: A Podcast

Dan's blogI got a shout-out from my elder son Dan Riskin on a recent episode of his podcast Recent Paper, Decent Puzzle. I’ve enjoyed listening to this new series of podcasts – and I’m not saying that just because I am the father of the podcaster. Each episode starts out with Dan (aka Daniel Riskin, PhD, whose day job is co-host of Daily Planet on the Discovery Channel in Canada) explaining a scientific paper that intrigues him, in language that the rest of us can understand. Each concludes with a mind-boggling puzzle – usually involving math and logic – that is almost impossible to solve. At least for me.

The paper to which he calls my particular attention (at about 1.02) is called “Air Rage and Class Warfare.” In it, Dan discusses a paper by two professors who have studied the causes of air rage and come to the conclusion that one major contributor is the awareness by people sitting in economy class that there are people on the plane who are having a much better experience than they are – namely those in business class.

I’m not sure how to take the shout-out, since I am a regular user of business class myself, but I have to admit that the paper presents some very interesting points that the airline industry might find it worthwhile to consider.

You can subscribe to Recent Paper Decent Puzzle. Previous episodes have included discussions about secretary birds – which kick snakes in the face. Who knew? – the resonance of the solar system, and whether animals are adapting to the radiation near Chernobyl.

And with that bit of nepotism out of the way, next week I shall return to regular programming. In the meantime, I invite your comments about this or any other matter, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

June issue of Edge International Communiqué now available online

JuneEICI am pleased to point out that the June issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC)  has now been posted on the Edge International website.

My colleague John Plank leads off the issue with “Charisma: The Quintessential Learning Skill,” in which he explains that while most of us know that charisma is an essential attribute of great leaders, not all of us are aware that charisma is a skill that can be learned. John points out three myths associated with the concept (e.g., that charisma is related to status) and then offers three keys to charismatic communication.

Next, in “Eight Reasons for Optimism,” Neil Oakes gives us an opportunity to consider recent positive indicators of change in legal services, such as the increasing stability of prices and the stabilization of mid-tier law firms. This is a wonderful and energizing relief from what we have been reading and hearing in a lot of other places.

The issue concludes with an article by Mike White that encourages readers to get to know their buyers and their clients better than most of us typically do. In “Know Your Buyer, Know Client’s Internal Clients,” Mike points out the range of increased opportunities for cross-selling and other business development that comes from knowing more about our clients.

Each month, EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. In addition to the most recent edition, the Edge International site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on both Edge International Communique and Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Lisa Kirby joins Diversity Lab

Lisa Kirby

Our congratulations to Lisa Kirby, JD, who was a consultant with Edge International from 2012-2016, on her appointment as Director, Research and Sharing at Diversity Lab.

Diversity Lab is a think tank and ideas-facilitation organization that “creates and invests in innovative talent and diversity initiatives to help organizations find and keep the best talent.” Three of its recent initiatives are “” and the “Onramp Fellowship,” both of which focus on women in the law, and a judicial diversity initiative. The Lab’s Talent Think Tank Blog is a valuable resource for those who are looking for creative ways to enrich the legal talent pool on a personal, corporate or profession-wide basis.

Lisa Kirby has been a practicing attorney, a talent management professional, and law firm consultant. Her knowledge and experience were much appreciated while she was with Edge International, and we know that they will be great assets to Diversity Lab as it carries out its very important work.

As always, I am interested to know your thoughts on all matters related to the law, either in the comments below or directly via email.



“Thank you” can be hard to say


An article in Fast Company provides an excellent reminder to those of us who feel awkward when someone offers us a compliment: Simply saying “Thank you” is often the most gracious and most appropriate response.

In her discussion of The Power of Receiving: A Revolutionary Approach to Giving Yourself the Life You Want by Amanda Owen,  Fast Company writer Laura Vanderkam reflects on the ways in which many people inadvertently mismanage compliments. They may negate them (saying, for example, “This old tie?” or “It was nothing”), use them as an opportunity to talk at length about marginally related matters (“Well, my mother started me off on paisley ties. She had a thing for paisley. She also baked an excellent cream pie”), or even take them too seriously and allow them to influence their behaviour.

Vanderkam points out that you don’t need to agree with the compliment to receive it well – i.e., with a brief expression of gratitude. “You do not have to feel great about yourself in order to thank the person for introducing some positive vibes into the universe,” she says. “Nor do you have to change any boundaries, or change any decisions you have made about what to do because of this moment of positivity.”

Compliments are positive experiences and most of us enjoy receiving them. Owen and Vanderkam suggest that by responding simply and graciously, we increase the likelihood that we will receive them more frequently in future.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter. You can contact me either through the comments section below, or directly via email. If your feedback includes a compliment, I promise to say “Thank you.”



Jorge Carey receives the Latin Lawyer Lifetime Achievement Award

CareyI extend my heartiest congratulations to my friend Jorge Carey who has received a lifetime achievement award from Latin Lawyer. During his formative years Carey, who is chairman of the largest law firm in Chile, completed a Master of Comparative Law as a Fulbright Scholar and worked for the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. His achievements since are too numerous to mention, but you can read about them on the Carey website. Currently, he is president of his firm’s executive committee, president of Moneda Chile Fund, vice-president of Minera Quebrada Blanca, Enaex, AFP Provida and director of Cemento Melón, Masisa, and Instituto Libertad.

Jorge Carey is an ongoing inspiration to me, both in his personal and his business life. He appears to believe that the lowest acceptable rank is #1, and I am certain that it is this quality in part that has led him to this award and the numerous others he has received over the years.

Congratulations, Jorge!

As always, I am interested to know your thoughts any matter related to the law. Your comments are welcome below and you can contact me directly via email.

May Issue of Edge International Communiqué now available online

May EIC cover

May, 2016 issue of EIC

I am pleased to draw your attention to the May issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC), recently published on the Edge International website.

The issue leads off with a welcome to the newest principals at Edge International, Sam Coupland and Neil Oakes, both of whom are also directors at FMRC, Australasia’s leading professional development consultancy. Their expertise combined with that of existing principal Sean Larkan provide Edge International with an unmatched ability to provide outstanding legal-services consultation to Australasian law firms.

In addition, the May, 2016 issue of EIC includes my article, “Five Things Lawyers Hate to Hear Clients Say.” Originally published in Attorney at Work and recently republished as part of the Attorney at Work “Friday Five Classic” series, “Five Things” offers a short course in avoiding prickly conversations with clients on topics that can often turn into hot spots – such as obtaining retainers, delegating work, talking about bills that are higher than estimates, etc. (By the way, Attorney at Work publishes “one really good idea” for lawyers every day, and I highly recommend that you subscribe to it.)

In third article in the May issue, Edge International principal David Cruickshank outlines some approaches large firms use to maximize the potential of associates who are on partnership trajectories (and also those who aren’t), and discusses how the same strategies may be adapted for use in small- to medium-sized firms.

Each month EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. In addition to the most recent edition, the Edge International site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on both Edge International Communique and Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Predictive Coding: Document Searches for the Courtroom

predictive coding

A recent decision by the UK High Court means that litigation lawyers in Great Britain will now be allowed to present evidence based on automated searches of documents, rather than traditional searches conducted by human beings.

This decision follows similar ones in the US and Ireland, and it can only be a matter of time before Canada, Australia and other countries follow suit.

The technical term for the types of key-word searches, filtering and sampling to which the UK High Court has given judicial approval is “predictive coding” or “technology assisted review” (TAR). In an article about the ruling, Michele Lange of Kroll Ontrack wrote in JDSupra, “Summing up his decision, Master Matthews stated that predictive coding is just as accurate, if not more so than a manual review using keyword searches.” She says that “Master Matthews also estimated that predictive coding would offer significant cost savings in this particular case and that the possible disclosure of over two million documents done via traditional manual review would be disproportionate and ‘unreasonable’.”

Lange acknowledges that judicial approval of the use of predictive coding is not universally welcomed by the legal community. She lists some of the objections raised by UK lawyers in a survey conducted by her company, most of which related to risk aversion, fear of loss of revenue, and lack of understanding of the technology.

While lawyers may continue to object to the digitization of legal work on principle, the demonstrated costs savings and increased effectiveness of such technologically based tools as TAL, and now their approval by the courts, means that their use is likely to become standard procedure before much more time has passed.

Is your firm embracing or resisting the new forms of technological assistance that are available to lawyers… or are you somewhere in between? As always, I am interested to know your thoughts on this (or any other) matter, either in the comments below or directly via email.


Edge International Welcomes Two New Principals

I am very pleased to welcome two new principals to Edge International: Sam Coupland and Dr. Neil Oakes of FMRC, Australasia’s leading professional development consultancy.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.05.04 AMSam Coupland has worked exclusively with the legal profession for 15 years, assisting firms in strategy development, practice planning, equity valuations and equity transfers. Sam is also a frequent presenter on practice-management-related topics, delivering dynamic presentations through FMRC programs and professional conferences in the areas of financial management, business development, succession planning, strategy, and people management to hundreds of lawyers every year.

Screen Shot 2016-04-30 at 11.04.51 AMNeil Oakes, PhD has been a director of FMRC for 20 years, assisting law firms with strategy and profit growth, partner/director management and profit sharing, key talent management, management structures, and succession management consulting. He regularly conducts law firm planning retreats and helps large and small, private, corporate and government legal organizations to function optimally.

Our newest principals join Sean Larkan, Edge International’s first Australasian principal, allowing us to further extend our market-leading reach in Australasian legal-services consulting. We are delighted to have them on board.

The full announcement regarding these new appointments appears on the Edge International website.

You are welcome to contact me either through the comments below, or directly via email.