A Virtual Legal Assistant for GCs from Riverview Law

Screen capture from Riverview Law's KIM website

Screen capture from Riverview Law’s KIM website

The battle to outfit lawyers with useful virtual assistants is heating up. A few weeks ago we reported on the evolution of IBM Einstein for use in legal settings. Now, Riverview Law, one of the largest legal-services and private practice law firms in the world, has introduced a new virtual legal assistant named KIM (the name is an acronym for Knowledge, Intelligence and Meaning).

Gabe Friedman, who wrote about KIM’s debut for Bloomberg BNA, says that Riverview’s CEO Karl Chapman compares the new virtual assistant to Uber and Siri, “connect[ing] to a broad trend toward automation of services across all industries, and increasingly the legal sector.”

Friedman quotes Chapman as saying that “KIM could do things like understanding contracts more efficiently. There’s a way it can extract information from contracts and give them to a lawyer in a way so they can make better decisions.”

Although Friedman points out that, at this stage, “In general [Chapman’s] descriptions of KIM’s applicability tended toward the abstract,” and although KIM is currently targeted for placement with GCs rather than lawyers in private practice, there is no doubt that the application of artificial (or augmented) intelligence is moving ever closer to the practice of law in all its forms and manifestations.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on the future of AI in legal settings, or on any other matter, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Empathy Key to Success with Business Clients

In a recent article in Bloomberg BNA: Big Law Business, Susie Lees, Executive Vice President and General Counsel at Allstate Corporation, gets specific about how Allstate selects and retains outside law firms for the work its massive legal department can’t handle internally.

Lees’s comments about how Allstate works with outside counsel makes interesting and valuable reading, but I believe the message we need to take away from this interview relates to how necessary it is for us to listen to GCs, and not treat them like the enemy: we need to empathize, understand and then negotiate from there.

[Today] when I have [conversations about attorney fees] with business people, they talk about my budget. The more the law firms charge, the less I might have to pay my folks, or to do my training, or whatever it is that I want to spend in general. My business folks, whom I’m answerable to, are looking at this holistically. – Susie Lees

In other words, even a powerhouse like Susie Lees, sitting at the helm of the legal department of Fortune’s #89 company – with 650 inside lawyers – has to be sensitive to the inside business pressures.

Do you know what Lees’s pressures are? If you don’t, you don’t deserve to do her legal work. The same holds true for any client you hope to serve.

I welcome your feedback on this or any other matter either through the comments below, or directly via email.


Will greed spell doom for the world’s largest law firms?

Most of the largest and wealthiest law firms are run by senior lawyers with no real incentive to change how they do business.

Most of the largest and wealthiest law firms are run by senior lawyers with no real incentive to change how they do business.

Legal-issues writer Elizabeth Olson tackled the subject of the legal profession’s generational divide in “Graying Firms Wrestle with Making Room for Younger Lawyers,” an article recently published in the New York Times.

“If any discipline is a window into the debate about balancing short-term profits over long-term survival,” Olson wrote, “it is the legal profession, one of the most traditional businesses in the world.”

By interviewing a range of practitioners and observers from the field of law, and drawing on legal-industry research, Olson found that while the majority of firms (two-thirds of the largest ones in the U.S., she estimates) continue to operate in very traditional ways, and despite the fact that there is mounting evidence that the status quo is not sustainable in the new digitally-based world, change is not likely to occur in the near future. This is in part because senior partners are making too much money.

“There’s not enough pain to make them change of their own volition,” said Bruce MacEwen, who writes about legal economics at AdamSmithEsq.

Among those Olson interviewed was William Henderson, professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, who says that firms that stick to the old ladder-climbing model of partnership structure – rather than exploring new approaches to billing, technology and client relationships, as more future-minded firms are doing –could face their own demise when their senior lawyers do retire.

How pressing is the need to offer new associates a greater degree of free rein and entrepreneurial initiative than has traditionally been available, and to find new ways of compensating them? Let me know what you think about this (or any other) matter, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Working from a virtual desk

A YouTube video from a company named Switch demonstrates how business people and professionals are increasingly able to do more of their work remotely or at various different sites interchangeably – releasing them from the historic shackles of an office desk.

For better or worse, it is hard not to agree with the core message of this video:

We know that today, work is not a place you go, but a thing you do.

Anyone who is trying to balance two or three major life activities (e.g., a law practice and a family) will welcome any advances that allow a seamless transition of work from one location to another – not least a feature that allows you to turn it off completely when you are finished for the day.

Switch is just one of many companies that are working to increase our capacity to get work done no matter where we are, and perhaps even to take some guilt-free non-work time when we – or our families – need it.

I welcome your feedback on this or any other matter either through the comments below, or directly via email.

Making Difficult Decisions

Tough DecisionsAn article by Peter Bregman in the Harvard Business Review will interest anyone faced with making a decision from among a range of equally appealing (or unappealing) options  – which, of course, happens to most of us all the time. Such deliberations can range from the relatively trivial, like deciding what to have for lunch, to the significant, such as determining how best to broach a difficult situation at the office.

In “Three Timeless Rules for Making Tough Decisions,” Bregman points out that assessing the positive and negative attributes of various choices that face us every day can be time- and energy-consuming, diverting our attention from the ongoing work we need to achieve as well.

Bergman recommends three strategies, depending on the type of decision that needs to be made: 1) using habits as fall-back positions for routine decisions; 2) using an “if-then” approach for unpredictable choices; and 3) giving ourselves (or our teams) a time limit for decisions where there is no clear-cut solution. He offers examples for each of these approaches, and these examples are useful in deciding which (if any) strategy is most applicable to a reader’s particular set of circumstances.

If you find you have been mulling over a problem for longer than you feel is necessary or useful, you may find a route through it by applying one of Bregman’s strategies.

I invite your feedback on this or any other issue, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

December, 2015 issue of Edge International Communiqué now available online


Edge International Communiqué, December, 2015

I 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 by two of my colleagues at Edge International, as well as one that I wrote. Nick Jarrett-Kerr offers advice on choosing effective law-firm leadership teams, and Mike White discusses some “closing” strategies that may help you give any “waffling” client prospects a bit of a nudge that could bring them into your fold.

In my article – “A Business Development Reality Check” – I imagine a world in which you could simply push a button and new clients with deep pockets would walk in off the street and offer you their business. Of course, that is just a fantasy, but the good news is that we all have the skills and power at our fingertips to bring about equivalent results –  as long as we are prepared to do the work. My article explains how.

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.




Your Near-Future Legal Assistant: the Robot


IBM Watson training for its appearance on Jeopardy (link is to YouTube)

Fresh from defeating its human opponents on Jeopardy, IBM Watson has now begun to demonstrate its artificial-intelligence capacities in the real world. Watson and its counterparts are already being used in such fields as medicine, education, security and defense intelligence, and now work is underway to develop “brand new baby versions of Watson” that will be suitable for use in legal settings.

At a recent Legal Futures Innovation Conference in London, Kyla Moran, a senior consultant from IBM’s cognitive computing team, said that law-specific AI platforms are only a few years off, and that apps relevant to legal practice can be developed “‘immediately’ by any interested legal services provider, via IBM’s Bluemix platform.”

In reporting on the session, Dan Bindman reports that IBM projects a “massive potential” for use of its new cognitive computing technology in legal contexts, starting in the very near future. Moran described to session participants several possible legal applications that ranged from the mundane (keeping lawyers updated on changes to legislation, advising them on best options for individual clients, and dealing with paperwork) to the “slightly creepy” (“[deciding] which arguments in court might play well or badly with a particular judge at a given time of day”).

According to Ms. Moran, Birdman says, “Businesses purchasing Watson technology for a specific purpose could be up and running within six months [… although] the first generic ‘Watson for legal’ type application could take a year or more to develop.”

IBM describes Watson as “a technology platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data.” Bindman’s article about IBM Watson’s potential legal applications (and its legal implications), is interesting and thorough. Since you probably don’t yet have a robot that can read the article for you and let you know how AI may impact your particular practice, I encourage you to check it out yourself.

Let me know what you think about the future of artificial intelligence at the law (or any other matter), either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

“Daring to be human” in job interviews. What do you think?

Lars Dalgaard

Lars Dalgaard

Lars Dalgaard is a venture capitalist with a track record of entrepreneurial success. He sold his last company, SuccessFactors, for $3 billion.

In recent interviews, Dalgaard has set himself apart from his peers with his emphasis on establishing a personal connection with employees. In a Business Insider article, Eugene Kim quotes Dalgaard as saying, “We could all be so much more human, but we don’t allow ourselves to do it.”

Kim reports that when Dalgaard – now a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz – owned his own businesses, he always asked one question during employment interviews that was intended to take interviewees out of their comfort zones. The question was this: “What did you learn from your mother?”

Dalgaard described the question to The New York Times as “incredibly powerful…. Basically I’m testing them to see, ‘How human are you ready to be with me?'”

What do you think of Dalgaard’s approach? Does the question blur boundaries that should be left untouched, or open doors to greater workplace trust and collegiality? I invite you to share your thoughts on this and offer any other interview questions you favour, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.




Cybersecurity: A Growing Area of Practice

Safety concept: opened padlock in cyber space.In June, Bloomberg BNA reported that Akerman had become the latest law firm to venture deeply into the field of data security and information governance when it established an 18-person group specializing in data law.

Martin Tully, co-chair of the new Akerman group, told Bloombeg that “while the breaches at Target make national headlines, smaller breaches occur on an almost daily basis.” He said that “Akerman is working with outside technology vendors to help the firm’s clients install better security systems, and make plans in the event of a data breach.”

In the area of information governance, the Akerman group helps clients determine what data they can safely get rid of, and what they need to continue to store for legal reasons. Tully also expressed his opinion that eDiscovery is becoming an important focus of growth in the field.

As others have pointed out as well, Tully believes that law firms need to demonstrate their capacity to deal with data issues and knowledge in the field of data security in part to avert client concerns about their own firms’ data security systems.

Has your firm begun to address this area of practice? Let me know your thoughts on the subject, or on any other matter. You can contact me via the comments section below, or directly via email.

“Focus on Forever” and Other Rainmaking Skills

BCI BlogA survey conducted by BTI Consulting Group, as reported recently on its Mad Clientist blog, shows that rainmakers book five times more business than the average law firm partner.

In answer to the obvious question, “How?”, BTI president Michael B. Rynowecer proposes possibilities that range across such areas as self-discipline, relationship management, communications skills, values and focus.

Among other behaviours Rynowecer theorizes that rainmakers have developed to a greater extent than have other lawyers is “The ability to focus on forever.”

“Rainmakers say there is no such thing as one and done,” he says. “They work at figuring out client needs and finding the right firm resources—this includes skills, chemistry and bringing these resources up to speed. The focus is on filling a broad range of needs seamlessly with the right resources so the client need not look elsewhere—ever.”

In his post, Rynowecer discusses four other behaviours that distinguish rainmakers, stressing his observation that building relationships is the key to business growth for law firms. He has expanded on what he has learned about successful rainmakers in his new book, Clientelligence: How Superior Client Relationships Fuel Growth and Profits.

As always, I invite you to share your thoughts on this or any other matter. You can contact me via the comments section below, or directly via email.