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.


BTI Survey Shows Dramatic Growth for AFAs

BTI Consulting

BTI Consulting survey shows growth in use of AFAs for outside counsel, particularly among the largest clients.

A survey conducted by BTI Consulting Group in mid-2015 shows that alternative fee arrangements (AFAs) are experiencing a massive growth in popularity, particularly among larger clients.

A report on the survey in BTI’s blog, The Mad Clientist, indicates that in 2015, AFAs accounted for $23.1 billion in outside counsel spending in the U.S. – up 8.2 billion over 2013. “AFAs are the biggest growth market around – registering a 19.8% compound annual growth rate for the last 3 years,” says Michael B. Rynowecer, president of BTI. The survey also shows that fixed fees are the number one alternative fee structure of choice.

In his Mad Clientist post on the survey, Rynowecer goes on to say, “Top legal decision makers credit their new love of AFAs to improved client focus, predictability in budgets, a more streamlined approach to the work, and the savings — which remain well in the double digits.”

These results dispel a widespread myth among legal pundits who believe that AFAs have little future in legal practice. Not only are AFAs being adopted by the largest consumers of legal work in the U.S., they are saving these clients millions of dollars every year.

Let me know what you think about AFAs or any other matter, either in the comments below or directly via email.

April, 2016 issue of Edge International Communiqué now online

EIC Screen ShotI am pleased to draw the attention of readers of this blog to the most recent issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC).

The issue features articles on topics that range from firm culture, through the supervision of associates, to a checklist for firms that are involved with mergers and acquisitions.

Included are:

  • An article by Jordan Furlong entitled “The Four Cardinal Virtues of Law Firm Culture: Core cultural values that will reap untold benefits for your firm”;
  • “Tailored Talent Supervision: How to move from ‘standard supervision’ of associates to a more customized approach,” by David Cruickshank;
  • Sam Coupland’s post, “Due Diligence: What to look for under the hood,” a checklist for firms grappling with mergers, sales and purchases.

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.




Retaining Associates with Potential: The Coaching Circle

Coaching CirclesIn a recent article in Practice Innovations Newsletter, Jane DiRenzo Pigott, Managing Director of R3 Group LLC in Chicago, highlights a problem faced increasingly by law firms: how to retain associates with promise and potential who are likely to be courted by other firms. She proposes the “coaching circle” as a strategy to help firms avoid the loss of their valuable young lawyers.

The Problem

Pigott points out that the market for talent and expertise at the associate level is robust partly due to wide-spread entry-level hiring reductions in recent years. In addition, according to a 2015 survey of mid-level associates by American Lawyer, there is “a strong attrition rate within this group when their expectations are not being met.” She attributes this phenomenon at least in part to the increasing numbers of millennials who are now joining the ranks of law-firm associates. “Millennials value transparency in expectations and effective hands-on mentoring,” she says. (On this subject, see also the recent article in Amazing Firms, Amazing PracticesAddressing the Generational Divide.”)

A Solution

To fulfil the expectations of millennials in particular, law firms need to become much more involved in coaching and mentoring than most are today, Pigott says. Since, for a host of reasons, most partners are not willing or able to become effective coaches, she recommends that firms consider establishing “coaching circles,” in which a coaching expert from outside the firm works with small groups of associates within the firm. She sets out guidelines for such circles that are intended to help them fulfil their potential usefulness to both the firm and the associates.

What do you think? Should firms seek outside assistance in their efforts to retain associates, or does this kind of mentoring and coaching need to come from within the firm itself? I am always happy to know your thoughts on this – or any other – matter, either in the comments below or directly via email.


Addressing the Generational Divide

generation gap

Statistics show that vast majority of managing partners in law firms in America are older (and usually male) members of the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1955. Many lawyers from this demographic are hanging onto their practices well past the traditional age of retirement, and this phenomenon is leading to an age imbalance that could put the futures of many major firms at risk.

In an article in the New York Times in November, 2015, Elizabeth Olson explored the ramifications of this generational gap. She quotes the predictions of informed observers who believe that, among other downsides, the growing chasm could lead to the splintering of many established firms when senior partners finally do retire.

Olson points out that research conducted by Altman Weil in 2015, the results of which were published in Law Firms in Transition, showed that only 31 percent of the biggest firms had a formal succession plan.

Some firms have now begun to adopt strategies aimed at retaining promising associates. Olson talked to a representative from Bryan Cave, a 950-lawyer firm that has started a “business academy” to give associates more say in firm planning. She reports that other firms are taking more entrepreneurial approaches.

How has your company begun to address the generational divide to ensure that younger lawyers not only join and stay with your firm, but are allowed the room to grow? Let me know your thoughts on this – or any other – matter, either in the comments below or directly via email.


Tech competence not enough — need mastery

Adam Ziegler Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab

Adam Ziegler, Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab

In an article in Bloomberg BNA, Adam Ziegler – a lawyer who manages technology projects for Harvard Law School’s Library Innovation Lab – argues that mere competence in technology related to the law is not enough for those who purport to serve the best interests of their clients. Instead, he suggests that mastery of relevant technology should be the goal.

In explaining what “tech excellence” might look like for lawyers, Ziegler sets out the following points:

  1. Mastery of tech that is core to lawyers’ mission and values.
  2. Widespread adoption of proven tech that enhances quality and efficiency.
  3. Experimentation with new, unproven tech that might benefit clients.

The balance of the article, which explores each of these areas of focus, makes for interesting – and thought-provoking – reading.

What are your thoughts on this (or any other) subject? Let me know either in the comments section below, or directly via email.


Report warns that traditionally structured law firms could fall behind within a decade

Deloitte reportA February 2016 “Insight Report” from Deloitte takes a close look at the future of the practice of law in the UK, and urges firms to make plans immediately to prepare for changes that are likely to upend the entire profession within a decade. “Indeed, by around 2020,” says the report, “we expect a tipping point for firms which will impact the competitive landscape and the role of talent in law firms.”

The report, entitled Developing Legal Talent: Stepping into the Future Law Firm, points to three key areas where change has already affected how law firms operate: “the quickening pace of technological development, shift in workforce demographics, and the need to offer clients more value for money.” Deloitte predicts that law firms that fail to move away from traditional models in order to address these and related issues could well be out of the competition by 2025. The risk is particularly high for mid-sized firms.

The authors of the Deloitte report recommend that law firms begin to develop appropriate business strategies to ensure their continued ability to serve clients in the legal areas of their choice and expertise. (Of course, firms first need to conduct a realistic evaluation of the odds of their preferred areas of practice remaining viable into the future, given evolving client needs and technological advancements.) Identification of clear business strategies will allow firms to develop complementary strategies for the hiring and the deployment of human resources (aka “talent”) to ensure that they can move toward their goals.

The Deloitte report goes on to predict that three “talent pools” will “form the structure of front-office employees within the law firm of the future”: 1) partners and leaders, 2) traditional, permanent staff, and 3) non-traditional and transient employees, including “project managers, sales executives, deal makers, data and technology experts as well as lawyers.”

The report is thorough, and I highly recommend you read it. A great introduction can be found at Legal Futures, where Nick Hilborn has written an intelligent overview of Deloitte’s findings and predictions in an article entitled, “Law firms that fail to change ‘no longer sustainable’ after 2020, report predicts.”

I am interested to know if your firm has taken steps to adapt to the disrupted future that is closer than most of us could have anticipated even a few years ago – and if so, what those changes are. Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter, either in the comments section below or directly via email.


“Big data” and the future of legal technology

LawyeristIn a recent article in The Lawyerist, lawyer and legal writer Lisa Needham argues that when it comes to technology and the legal profession, “We think we know what we need, but we really don’t.” Her contention is that we are wasting effort on inventing and refining existing apps and software, while ignoring major opportunities inherent in the analysis of “Big Data.”

“What if you could drill down and see how a specific judge ruled on very specific arguments at the trial court level,” Needham asks, “and make some predictions about how that judge might rule in the future?” (This is only the first item on her list of intriguing possibilities.)

Citing the proliferation of case-management software as an example, Needham says that there is a wide enough range of choice already in specific areas of legal technology: instead of putting money into the “next best thing” in a specific type of software or legal app, it is time for innovators to move on.

Needham is suggesting that we should be looking at a bigger picture when it comes to envisioning what technology can do for the practice of law. We should be considering what approaches could make existing technology contribute better to our work (e.g., training business analysts to work with law firms, or improving the technological expertise of law school deans). And she points out that when it comes to mining the masses of data that are already out there and putting them to use, there is endless room for creativity.

As always I am most interested to know your thoughts regarding the future of technology and the practice of law, or any other matter. Please comment below or contact me directly via email.

Deloitte Purchases Conduit Law


Peter Caryainnis, President and Founder of Conduit Law (From CBA/ABC National)

The Canadian law community woke up this week to the news that Conduit Law – a company that Canadian Lawyer describes as a “disrupter of traditional legal services on Bay Street – has been purchased by Deloitte, the professional services firm that offers audit, tax, consulting and financial advisory services to clients.

Deloitte’s press release on Marketwired says, “The newly formed Deloitte Conduit Law LLP will offer outsourced lawyers to support in-house legal teams, meet business needs on-demand at law firms, and deliver short-term projects or special engagements.” It goes on to quote Heather Evans, Deloitte’s Managing Partner, Tax, as saying that “as the legal market continues to undergo unprecedented change, Deloitte is investing in new models through affiliated law firms to address the evolving legal requirements of clients.”

In an item entitled “Deloitte’s growing presence in the Canadian legal marketplace,” Yves Faguy, senior editor of the Canadian Bar Association / l’Association du Barreau Canadien (CBA/ABC) National observed that “Conduit Law […] has always prided itself on taking a client-centric approach, offering value-based billing and avoiding the billable hour business model. What’s more, the firm has cut back on overhead by having most of its lawyers work out of their clients’ offices.”

Faguy noted that the acquisition of Conduit Law by Deloitte “comes on the heels of Axiom’s acquisition of Cognition LLP, another champion of value-based billing.” He urged traditional law firms to “take note.”

Not in the USA

The news was noted south of the border as well, although the Accounting News Roundup pointed out that Deloitte’s CEO in the US, Cathy Engelbert, has said, “Deloitte cannot practice law in the United States, given our other businesses and how we are regulated. Therefore, we have no plans to enter into the legal market or to compete with law firms here in the US.”

It is not clear to me how the relevant regulations in Canada are sufficiently different to permit this transaction in Canada but not in the USA. At the time of this posting, Deloitte has not responded for my request for clarification on this.

What do you think about this new development in the legal landscape? Let me know your thoughts on this – or any other – matter, either in the comments below or directly via email.