“Chat Bot” Offers Free Legal Advice to Refugees

business robotThe Telegraph reports that a university student has developed a way to provide free legal advice via Facebook Messenger to refugees who are looking for asylum in the U.S., U.K. and Canada. Joshua Browder, who has been named a Forbes’ “Thirty Under Thirty” for his entrepreneurial prowess, first attracted attention last year for the legal-assistance bot DoNotPay, which has helped overturn more than 160,000 parking tickets in the U.K. and U.S.

Now the DoNotPay bot, which responds to written queries on Facebook’s Messenger app, is answering questions posed in Arabic and English about qualifications for asylum claims, and even advises asylum seekers how to fill out necessary forms.

Browder, who is not yet 21, developed the bot in his spare time while completing an undergraduate degree at Stanford. He calls DoNotPay “The World’s First Robot Lawyer,” and states on its website that his bot “can talk to you, generate documents and answer questions. It is just like a real lawyer, but is completely free and doesn’t charge any commission.”

Other legal matters the bot has addressed include compensation for flight delays and landlord-tenant issues.

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 Success Depends on Success of Firm’s Lawyers

TLOMAI was pleased to be invited by The Law Office Management Association (TLOMA) of Ontario to create an article based on my book, The Successful Lawyer: Powerful Strategies for Transforming Your Practice, for the February, 2017 issue of the association’s publication, TLOMA Today.

The article I submitted, “Drive Law Firm Success by Helping Each Lawyer Succeed,” offers guidelines on how law-firm leaders can help individual lawyers create personal action plans, and then put them to use to develop legal practices that are deeply satisfying on a personal level, as well as financially rewarding. Here are a few of those suggestions:

  • Provide lawyers in the firm with the leeway to create a vision of the kind of clientele and the practice they want within the scope of the firm’s initiatives;
  • Offer professional development sessions that will facilitate their moving closer to their goals, by honing skills in such areas as courting prospective clients, cross-selling services, asking for referrals, and transferring clients within the firm;
  • Conduct workshops in areas relating to client interaction that many lawyers find difficult, such as handling telephone inquiries, requesting retainer fees, and managing files where fees exceed estimates.

The article goes on to talk about the importance of leading by example, and involving senior lawyers in the training process. All of these points, among many others, are explored more deeply in The Successful Lawyer.

Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.


Shift from “Case” to “Task” Approach Will Impact Law-Firm Management

Ratner,A recent article in Corporate Counsel draws our attention to a paper published by Morris Ratner, associate professor of law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, on the impacts on legal practice of cost-management initiatives by both clients and the courts. Paramount among these, the paper says, is a move by in-house departments toward “unbundling” legal work.

Ratner’s paper, which appears in the Fordham Law Review, is entitled “Restraining Lawyers: From Cases to Tasks.” In it, Ratner discusses amendments to the Federal Rules of Court Procedure in the US that encourage trial court judges to “dissect, assess the value of, and sequence case activity, including discovery,” as well as moves by “sophisticated” clients to break down legal work into “tasks” that can then be outsourced to lower-fee providers in order to manage costs.

While Ratner welcomes changes that will require litigators to consider managing costs for both the judicial system and the client, this trend should also be noted by, and serve as a warning to, law firm leaders: in the years to come, the line between law-firm management and case management is likely to blur increasingly.

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.


Legal Support Staff Need Training to Adapt to New Roles

Brad Smith, Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft

Brad Smith, Chief Legal Officer, Microsoft

On a panel entitled “Governing Globalization” at the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Microsoft’s Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith reminded his audience that thirty years ago, legal secretaries typically worked for two lawyers; today, each supports the work of about ten. A range of new technology has dramatically reduced the need for support staff at law firms, and those who will continue to be employed in future are those who are strongest in the “soft skills” that make them essential to a law practice.

A Bloomberg Big Law article on the panel, “Microsoft’s Top Lawyer Toasts Legal Secretaries,” describes the skills that distinguish successful support staff personnel – those who can work with ten lawyers at a time – as “not only interpersonal communication, but things like the ability to work collaboratively, to adapt to a new set of demands, and to solve problems on the fly.”

As the role of the secretary continues to evolve from clerical worker to administrative assistant, ongoing training and feedback are clearly vital. Without it, the legal support staff person is the most endangered species in the legal profession.

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

ROSS Intelligence Update: How IBM Watson App Helps U.S. Lawyers with Legal Research

Medium article includes a video about the ROSS Intelligence app

Medium article features video about ROSS Intelligence, and how lawyers can use it

A recent article from Medium’s Cognitive Business section explains how ROSS Intelligence, an IBM Watson app, conducts searches to help U.S. lawyers answer legal questions.

The article explains that a question in plain English from a lawyer is what triggers the search by ROSS. The application then goes to work to “[read] through the entire body of law and [return] a cited answer and topical readings from legislation, case law and secondary sources to get you up-to-speed.”

The app is not simply based on key words and phrases, as is the case with traditional searches on Google, for example. Instead, it applies its “artificial intelligence” to return answers that are most likely to fit the required legal context, and it also indicates how confident it is in the answers it provides.

The article includes a video about ROSS Intelligence for non-techies, and links to other resources related to the app. It also offers reassurance to those who need it that ROSS is a tool for lawyers, and not a replacement for them.

Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.

J+O Firm: Where Start-Ups Utilize Legal Counsel in New Ways

Get closer than ever to your customers. So close that you tell them what they need well before they realize it themselves.  ~ Steve Jobs

Rachel Johnson (l) and Christina Oshan

Rachel Johnson (l) and Christina Oshan of J+O

Rachel Johnson and Christina Oshan spent the beginning of their careers at large firms. They noticed that startups and emerging growth companies engaged with their legal teams using a different approach than that used by established companies – one not often aligned with the antiquated protocols of conventional law firms. They set out to build a law firm that was more transparent, efficient and approachable, and the result was J+O.

Oshan and Johnson realized that the evolving way in which startups use their legal teams meant changing the way in which they, as attorneys, needed to deliver service in return, and they saw that this evolution was a match for their experience and professional style. At J+O, every decision is “gut-checked” to ensure it advances the sentiment that the firm’s attorneys feel like internal company team members versus outside counsel – a notion that, they point out, is not common in the legal field.

J+O uses the latest technology to connect and collaborate efficiently, including tools such as Slack and Asana, which reduces their overhead and makes it cost effective for their clients to work directly with their legal team.

Also to promote efficiency, they forego the common practice of keeping legal documents locked up behind brick and mortar doors. Instead, J+O sets up digital technology processes to ensure corporate documents are organized and readily accessible, to facilitate seamless transactions (such as due diligence) and day-to-day operations.

While technology plays a big role in their evolved legal industry approach, Johnson and Oshan also credit the fact that they are selective about the type and volume of clients they work with, so they can give them the attention they need. This enables them to successfully steep themselves in their clients’ businesses so they can anticipate their needs as the company grows – and with “luck” (which they define as “experience, sweat and commitment”), J+O grows right along with them.

While the J+O approach may not be right for everyone and every area of law, more traditional firms would do well to consider the major change in mind-set it represents for lawyers and their clients.

As always, I invite you to share thoughts on this or any other law-related topic, either through the comments below or directly via email.

Manage Space as Well as Time to Increase Productivity

Gerry Riskin Amazing FirmsAn article entitled “10 Simple Productivity Tips for Organizing your Work Life” by David Lavenda, published appropriately early in the new year by Entrepreneur, offers ten tips on improving your work-life productivity.

Lavenda points out that all of us have too many things demanding our time and attention, and we need to establish protocols, habits and mindsets that will assist us in using our resources effectively. Although acting on any of Lavenda’s tips is likely to bring positive results, one struck me as particularly useful because most of us rarely think about it: “6. Consolidate the number of places you need to go for information.

Lavenda points out that it is not only over physical space that we need to gain control in order to work effectively, but also over virtual space. Most of us consult with many apps and platforms during a typical day – from email to databases to social media utilities to our calendars. He suggests that we “Make notifications from each application appear in one place” – using an SMS reader or email subscriptions, for example. This will help us to avoid touring around from one app to another throughout the day, often becoming increasingly distracted as we go.

Let me know your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.

Client expectations: Modify, don’t “manage”

In my most recent contribution to Edge International Communique (EIC), I argue that working to modify client expectations – rather than merely manage expectations – is a “license to print” client satisfaction.

I encourage you to check out the entire January issue of EIC; in the meantime, here is a summary of my article:

  • Conventional wisdom says that we should determine client expectations, and then surpass them. However, for a variety of reasons, the expectations of our clients are often flawed in the first place.
  • In the world of expectations, processes seem to occur almost instantaneously. Clients may think a particular process should take a week, when it might in fact take three weeks… or three months.
  • When clients think that a process should take only a few days, after a week or two they will think that we have dropped the ball. They may begin to resent us, and have a negative predisposition towards our fee even before the work is done.
  • A client’s unhappiness is often created by the dissonance between the artificial expectation and the reality, not by the actual reality. Professionals have the opportunity to shape and mold clients’ expectations, making them more realistic. 
  • Problems often begin with a basic, grave misconception: we assume that what we believe and know, others believe and know as well. We need to learn to take advantage of opportunities to modify expectations.

The next time you are in the role of serving someone else, whether a client outside your firm or one of the other professionals within it, take a few moments to explore their expectations, and then help them modify them to fit better with reality, so that the “ruler in their heads” will realistically measure your effort and anticipate the results that are possible to achieve.

If I’m allowed to shape the ruler, I can almost always meet or transcend the expectations of the person in whom that ruler resides. That way I can preclude the outcome of falling short on impossible expectations.

As always, I invite you to let me know your thoughts on this or any other law-related subject, either through the comments below or directly via email.

Note: This article first appeared in a slightly different form on LinkedIn Pulse.

Complacency about artificial intelligence: A silent law-firm killer?

AI to replace human managers at Bridgewater Associates – The Guardian

It is tempting for law firm leaders to assume that what they do is simply far too sophisticated to be seriously threatened by artificial intelligence. Anyone feeling complacent on this subject would do well to read a recent Guardian article entitled, “World’s largest hedge fund to replace managers with artificial intelligence”  – and then extrapolate to our profession.

I grant you that Bridgewater Associates – the hedge fund to which the article refers – has very deep pockets and can invest a fortune in making this initiative work. Even the largest law firms in the world have nowhere near those resources. That said, IBM is underwriting experimentation with AI application with a growing number of law firms. When the offering gets sophisticated enough, I expect it to become pervasive in the legal profession.

The law firms that are participating with IBM’s research are some of the finest firms in the world, including the likes of last year’s global gross revenue leader Latham and Watkins.

I leave you with this thought: Beware of complacency… it could destroy your future.

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

Should Managing Partners Structure Their Days like Multimillionaires do?

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 12.49.46 PM

Screen capture: Larry King talks about his daily routine to Kelsey Humphreys.

In the past two years, Kelsey Humphreys, a contributing writer at Entrepreneur.com, has interviewed successful individuals from a range of fields for her podcast and video series The Pursuit. Her interviewees have included, among many others, real estate mogul and Shark Tank regular Barbara Corcoran, authors Seth Godin and Michael Hyatt, self-help guru Tony Robbins and broadcaster Larry King. From those interviews she has now compiled a brief (7-minute) video in which some of these individuals talk about how they structure their days in order to get their work done, and avoid letting themselves get bogged down and overwhelmed.

Their answers range widely: from putting the kids to bed before starting a night of writing to getting up before anyone else does in the morning. Among the responses, however, there are also common elements. Many remark on the importance they place on looking after their health, and finding quiet times. They all depend on closely structuring their time. Humphries summarizes the common denominators in a brief wrap-up at the end of the video.

For anyone struggling to figure out how to get everything done, given the challenges we all face – family commitments, business meetings, lengthy waits in traffic, etc. – Multimillionaires Share 7 Steps to Structure Your Day for Success may provide some techniques that are worth trying. There is no guarantee they will turn any of us into multimillionaires, but they may make our lives a little more manageable.

As always, I welcome your thoughts, either in the comments section below or directly via email.