In One Court in China, The Future is Now

Artificial Lawyer, October 28, 2019

Since 2017, the Hangzhou Internet Court in the People’s Republic of China has been breaking new ground in disputes relating to online transactions. The matters that come before the court relate to such areas as online shopping and services, small loans, domain-name ownership and copyright.

A year ago, the court established a judicial blockchain system that, among other features, allows it to keep track of evidence. Now, The Artificial Lawyer reports, it has become the first court in the world to embrace smart contracts.

The Hangzhou Internet Court, located in the capital of Zhejiang Province in eastern China, was established as a court of special jurisdiction – specifically, online disputes – in 2017. According to China Daily, it handled more than 11,000 cases in its first year.

“After setting up a blockchain database within the court,” reports The Artificial Lawyer, “the next logical step for its organisers [apparently was] to find a way to integrate smart contracts – i.e. legal agreements with computable elements, which can be self-executing – into the judicial process.”

The details of the “three intelligent model” (intelligent filing, intelligent trial, intelligent execution) used in the Hangzhou Court’s blockchain smart contract is described in a news item posted on hangzhou.net. In that post, Wang Jiangqiao, deputy director of the court, explains that “A smart contract can compile the terms of a contract into a set of computer code that runs automatically after the parties to the transaction sign.”

The Artificial Lawyer article explores the advantages and potential challenges of this first-in-the-world initiative, and discusses some of the other innovative strategies the Wangzhou Internet Court has introduced.

It appears that in at least one court in the Republic of China, what many of us think of as elements of future judicial systems are already contributing to the resolution of disputes.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this – or on any matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon Enters the Legal Marketplace

Amazon recently took its first steps into the legal marketplace, introducing a service that connects small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with law firms so that they can secure trademark and brand protection.

In an article posted at Global Legal Chronicle, Dominic Carman explains that the Amazon Intellectual Property Accelerator is an online network of law firms “which provide trademark application and registration services at pre-negotiated rates. Amazon says that [the Accelerator] ‘helps brands more quickly obtain intellectual property (IP) rights and brand protection in Amazon’s stores’.”

The U.S. law firms in the IP network (the names of the 11 firms approved so far appear in Carman’s article) have been vetted in advance by Amazon. Amazon makes it clear that it is offering only information: businesses that retain the law firms on its list will contract with them directly. In addition to trademark applications, these firms offer SMEs other IP services, such as patent design and copyright registration.

Amazon has taken up this initiative in part to reduce instances of fraud on its platform. Carman notes that “After engaging a firm, businesses can then access Amazon’s suite of fraud prevention tools.”

Amazon’s new IP Accelerator, announced in a blog post dated October 1, 2019, currently offers trademarks and other IP advice to those selling in the U.S. Carman says that the company has expressed interest in rolling out the program in other countries in which it does business. Given Amazon’s global reach and its highly popular rating-and-review option for verified purchasers, Carman imagines a future in which Amazon offers not only pre-vetted law firms in the field of intellectual property, but in other areas such as incorporations, real estate, and wills and estates. Ultimately its reviews option would make it a competitor with other legal directories.

Many people are already concerned with the extent of Amazon’s reach into the lives of its customers. Others, such as Dominic Carman, welcome the idea of applying Amazon’s existing customer-service capacity and brand recognition to legal services. “Think ahead over the next 23 years,” he says, “and it is not too hard to envisage Amazon being the natural port of call for anyone needing a lawyer to sell a house, draft a will or claim against an insurance company.”

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

Chambers and Partners Upbraided for Gender Imbalance in Ratings

An article on law.com explores one of the many ways in which gender imbalance is increasingly being noted and addressed by members of the legal profession.

In mid-October, Chris Arnold, a partner at Mayer Brown who was named by Chambers and Partners as one of the year’s top corporate derivatives lawyers in the U.K., protested the lack of women on that and other ranking lists. Overwhelmed by the online support for his protest, he decided to take it one step further, and asked that his name be removed from the 2020 list.

“All but one of the brilliant and inspirational women derivatives lawyers have been excluded from the Ranked Lawyers,” he wrote in his original post, “and the position across the other capital markets practices is not much better.”

A few days later, Arnold updated his position, stating that he had “written an open letter to the editors [at Chambers] asking them to remove me from their rankings until women represent at least 25% of the list (i.e. just 4+ more women!).”

He also invited “the 16 other brilliant male ‘Ranked Lawyers’ below to join me, and I ask colleagues, clients, peers and friends to show their support by liking this post.”

While the named lawyers had not yet responded to his challenge by the time the law.com article appeared, the protest did produce a response from Chambers and Partners. The company posted a list of its recent diversity initiatives on its website, and invited Arnold to “continue the conversation.”

While this may fall short in Arnold’s view of the steps that need to be taken to address the lack of recognition accorded to talented female lawyers, and to encourage all women in legal careers, the entire incident – from the fact that the Linkedin post went viral to the subsequent coverage of Arnold’s protest by law.com and several other publications – suggests that the issue has (at long last) risen to the surface of mainstream consciousness, and can no longer be ignored by law firms and the companies that work with them without fear of public backlash.

As Arnold also said, “And, no, redesignating ‘Senior Statesmen’ as ‘Senior Statespeople’ does not make up for it (especially when they are all men). Women lawyer role models should be recognised.”

What is the status at your firm of initiatives to improve gender balance, not to mention other kids of diversity? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to law-firm management. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

Non-litigious Litigator Set a Powerful Example

A recent article in The American Lawyer, written to honour the memory of A. William “Bill” Urquhart of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, caused me to reflect on what we can learn from the examples of those who make a lasting mark on a specific firm, and on the legal profession in general.

The article relates that after joining the then-new litigation-only firm in 1988, Urquhart “quickly became the firm’s unofficial recruiter-in-chief. In [his] 31 years with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, it grew from a 15-lawyer litigation boutique to an Am Law 50 firm with more than 800 lawyers in 23 offices worldwide.”

This is an impressive record by any standards. But the achievement seems particularly notable in light of a quote from Urquhart’s long-time parter, John Quinn, who said, “Unlike a lot of litigators, he didn’t relish being overtly adversarial. He was great at resolving disputes and bringing people together.”

This seems a remarkable statement about a lawyer who helped to build a firm that specializes exclusively in litigation, and whose own clients included, among others, IBM, Hughes Aircraft, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Urquhart clearly combined his dispute-resolution skills with a number of other strengths that increased his effectiveness. According to Kathleen Sullivan, former dean of the law school at Stanford, now also a partner at the firm and one of Urquhart’s recruits, these included “remarkable legal insight” and “an ability to see around legal corners to spot the next legal trend.”

For those still in career-building mode, one of the greatest sources of guidance can be the examples set by those who preceded them. The external appearance of the legal profession may change but basic and sometimes counterintuitive strengths – like being a seeker of resolutions in a litigation firm  – continue to be the keys to long-term success.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of law firms. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

The Focus Challenge – Part 2: Your Clients

Note: This article first appeared in the October, 2019 issue of Edge International Communiqué (EIC).*

1. The Legal Matter

Here are some of the essential lessons I have learned after several decades of listening closely to clients, conducting my own research, and reading a myriad of surveys and research studies by others:

a) Clients do not have legal problems. They have personal or business problems that may require them to seek the services of their lawyer.

b) Clients do not want to be treated as though they were stupid, nor do they want to relinquish control. Clients want choices, not answers; specifically, they want choices that they would not be able to generate without the expertise and assistance of their lawyers – ones that will help them to level the playing field in finding a resolution to their problem.

c) Lawyers often believe that the only thing clients care about is results, but research shows that this belief is wrong. Clients want a lawyer who cares and exerts effort… and since most of the expended effort is invisible, lawyers must project that effort so that the client is aware of what is being done on their behalf.

2. The Business Affected

All clients want a lawyer who understands their situation; in the case of business clients, this means understanding the industry and the client’s place in it.

Understanding the industry and the business are essential to resolving related legal problems in an optimal way.

Many lawyers are unconsciously incompetent in this regard. They believe that their knowledge of the typical legal requirements of a specific business or industry reflects an understanding of that business or industry. For example, they think that knowing how to manage the legal requirements of aircraft leasing makes them an airline industry expert when, in fact, understanding terrorism, fuel prices, political stability, etc. are key to the executive suite of the airline.

3. The Satisfaction

Clients are satisfied with lawyers who listened to them.

Clients are satisfied when their expectations have been managed and shaped in such a way that they are capable of appreciating what the lawyer has helped them to achieve. When lawyers fail to shape the expectations of their clients (and most lawyers fall into this category), they set up a losing game in which they are never able to measure up to what the uninformed client naively imagines is possible.

Footnote: People judge everything they encounter in their lives on the basis of experience, and your clients are no different. We must not lose ourselves in the substantive elements of the practice of law such that we forget for even a moment to care about what our client is experiencing in the moment. Many organizations now recognize that this issue is so important that they have created a position called “chief experience officer,” or CXO, who is responsible for making every piece and part of the encounter between the consumer in the organization a positive, meaningful and hopefully memorable experience.

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* In the previous part of this series (Part 1), I challenged readers to focus on their practices. In the final segment (Part 3), I will talk about focussing on families. 

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 EIC site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

I’d be happy to discuss any of the component pieces of this article in greater depth. 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.

Flexibility a Key to Employee Satisfaction – Even in Law Firms

Writing in Inc., leadership specialist Marcel Schwantes predicts that traditional companies that want to hire and retain “the best” will need to adopt a principle set out by Microsoft founder Bill Gates several years ago: they will need to get more flexible.

As we discussed in a previous post, many valuable employees are looking for opportunities to work remotely from the physical locations of their employers’ companies, either at home or in other places of their choice. Schwantes expands on this idea, pointing out that “Remote work options will attract top candidates tired of the financial burdens that come with long commutes, train/bus fares, onsite childcare, and expensive housing in large metro areas. […. T]he average person can save $7,000 per year by working remotely, according to TECLA.”

Employees are not the only sector that can save money with flexible working arrangements: employers can as well. These employers also enjoy greater productivity from their personnel, which further improves the bottom line.

Traditional companies (such as many law firms) are failing to take advantage of the cost benefits and improved rates of employee satisfaction that are increasingly shown to result from flexible work arrangements. I recommend not only Schwantes’s post, but that you follow the TECLA link he provides: there you will find some interesting statistics about the benefits of remote work in the IT industry.

What are the up- and down- sides of creating a less traditional and more flexible work environment at your firm/company? I would be interested to know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of your law firm. You can contact me either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Tech “Incubator” for Smaller Law Firms Launched in Austria

The Artificial Lawyer reports that a group of smaller firms in Austria – most with fewer than 100 lawyers – are applying a “business incubator” approach to the technological growth of their legal practices.

Smaller law firms often do not have the time and money necessary to accelerate their firms’ technological expertise. But The Artificial Lawyer reports that “By pooling resources between seven firms, and then bringing in the support of local universities and other bodies, [Austrian law firms] which include major local brands such as Dorda, Schönherr and Wolf Theiss, have been able to put together what they may not have been able to do on their own.”

Their group, called the Legal Tech Hub in Vienna (LTHV), recently completed its first “incubator cohort,” which involved working with companies from around the world that specialize in such areas as contract management and tax information technology, case preparation tools, and “access to justice” (A2J) platforms.

The Artificial Lawyer interviewed members of the group regarding what they have achieved so far, and their plans for future cohorts. If you can envision working with other law firms to accelerate your firm’s proficiency in legal technology, efficiency or other areas related to legal practice, I highly recommend the article.

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

 

Make Greater Use of Technology, Lord Mayor Advises UK Legal Sector

Screen capture: The Artificial Lawyer, July 3, 2019

Earlier this summer, the Lord Mayor of the City of London reminded those gathered for the City’s annual judges’ dinner that ‘The Law Society has found that adoption of technology amongst UK legal firms remains limited, meaning that the capabilities and benefits of these technologies are yet to be fully harnessed.”

Peter Estlin noted that while many firms have begun to adopt new technology in specific areas, more was needed. “We must ensure our legal sector matches [the] global trend, driving innovation and modernising our infrastructure to enable our judiciary to cater for the clients of the digital age,” he said.

His speech included an announcement of a new Combined Courts facility. “[T]his new court will be dedicated to tackling cybercrime, fraud and economic crime, demonstrating our ability to deal with the changing nature of crime in the 21st century,” the Lord Mayor said.

In writing about Estlin’s speech in advance of its delivery, The Artificial Lawyer (UK) pointed out that “at present the UK appears to be doing all it can to support the adoption of new legal technology, including at a regulatory level, but it never hurts to have the City of London and its Lord Mayor fighting your corner.”

A note to readers not based in the UK: The Lord Mayor of the City of London is the elected head of the financial and business sector of metropolitan London that is known as “The City,” or more accurately, “the City of London Corporation.” This is a different position than the one entitled “Mayor of London,” which refers to Greater London and is currently held by Sadiq Khan.

As always, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of your law firm, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Riskin’s “Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices” Named a Top Blog to Follow

13 blogs legal marketers should followI was recently honoured to find Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices on a list of “13 blogs legal marketers should follow.” The list was compiled by Steven Gallo, content-marketing manager at Reputation Ink a content marketing and public relations agency for legal and B2B companies – and writer/editor at the InkSights blog.

Gallo argues that “if you want to be a better legal marketer and produce results that get noticed by your supervising attorneys, don’t stop learning. Stay current by following thought leaders and reading blogs that share what’s new and what’s next in legal marketing.”

Ours is one of the blogs he suggests you read, but it’s certainly not the only one. Check out the post and find out who else you should be following.

As always, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts relating to the management of your law firm – or law firms in general – either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

The Value of Intellectual Humility

In his most recent Pinkcast, Daniel H. Pink says, “Intellectual humility is in short supply today. And that is a big big problem.” He defines intellectual humility as “the willingness to recognize that what you think, what you believe, might be wrong.”

In the video, Pink poses four questions from a book he admires by Warren Berger: The Book of Beautiful Questions: The Powerful Questions That Will Help You Decide, Create, Connect, and Lead.

These are the questions:

  • “Do I think more like a soldier or a scout?
  • “Would I rather be right, or would I rather understand?”
  • “Do I solicit and seek out opposing views?”
  • “Do I enjoy the pleasant surprise of discovering I’m mistaken?”

I believe this very short video might contribute a lot to executive teams, management teams and to each of us individually. An executive committee might watch this together and then take five minutes to discuss the four questions Pinker poses.

As always, I encourage you to contact me with your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the management of your law firm, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

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