Nurture Effective Leadership Where You Need It the Most

I was pleased to contribute an article entitled “Stealth Discrimination: A Model for Choosing and Managing Your Leaders” to the December 2017 issue of Edge International Communique.

I developed the “Stealth Discrimination Model” several years ago to assist managing partners and others responsible for leadership in law firms who (like most of us) simply do not have the time to find and nurture leadership for every team or department in the firm. An elegant solution to this problem involves discrimination in terms of where you put your efforts, and the model helps to make this process straightforward and effective. Rather than attempting blanket coverage, the approach encourages firm managers to choose leaders who can in turn help the various parts of a firm succeed in the missions that will have the greatest future impact.

The article includes an explanation of how the discrimination model works in practice, and a diagram that indicates the factors that must be considered in order to create the most effective customized strategy for your firm or group. I encourage you to check it out  – along with the two other informative articles written by Edge colleagues that also appear in the issue.

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. 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 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.

 

Study Correlates Fixed Fees with an Entrepreneurial Approach to Practice

A 2016 study by LexisNexis, reviewed by Neil Rose in an article in the UK online publication Legal Futures, found that small firms (fewer than 20 fee-earners) that offered fixed-fee billing to clients were frequently ones that could be described as “entrepreneurial” for other reasons. In contrast to firms of comparable size they were, for example, “investing more in processes, technology and marketing,” Rose reported.

The study surveyed 112 lawyers and 108 clients.

“Most of those lawyers who saw the benefits of fixed fees viewed themselves as entrepreneurial,” Rose wrote. The study found that they “‘[tended] to be more progressive, open to change and customer-centric.’ These lawyers were also younger, from growing firms and their client conversion and retention rates were above or well above average.”

The impact on clients was an attractive benefit of the fixed-fee approach, the study found. “Importantly, we found fixed fees help to cement a better client relationship from the start by putting clients at ease,” Rose quoted the LexisNexis report as saying, “and [that] translates into more word-of-mouth referrals. According to our findings, clients who are serviced on a fixed-fee basis are more likely to refer the firm to others.”

Some creative approaches to the fixed-fee model were also reported, “such as offering a tiered (bronze, silver, gold) service, based on what clients want to pay for.”

Entitled The 2016 Mini-Bellwether Report: A Question of Value, the LexisNexis report will be of interest to managing partners who aspire to be more entrepreneurial and have indeed already engaged in fixed-fee approaches with firm clients.

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.

 

 

 

Keeping “Innovation” Meaningful

Early this week, law.com published a list of seven firms that its editors believe have “moved the needle on innovation in 2017.”

The leading-edge advances highlighted in the article make for interesting reading, and I encourage you to check them out.

They include:

  • Bryan Cave’s encouragement of associates to propose new technology applications that could benefit law firm business models;
  • DLA Piper’s use of data analytics to service and retain clients;
  • A new program by Simons & Simons that invites lawyers to pitch innovative ideas they would like to pursue during “billable hour breaks”;
  • A deal LA-based litigation boutique Pierce Sergenian has struck with litigation financier Pravati Capital that allows the small firm to take on major litigation cases against far more affluent adversaries.

While acknowledging that “innovation” has become a buzzword in the legal field in the past few years, law.com’s editors rightly point out that seeking new approaches and welcoming new ideas is a key to becoming, and remaining, a successful competitor in the global legal marketplace.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email. In the meantime, I wish all of my readers a very happy and successful new year.

 

 

 

 

Should your Firm Be “Baking In” Legal AI?

The informative legal automation news site Artificial Lawyer reports that major international business firm Addleshaw Goddard (AG), based in the UK, has appointed Kerry Westland head of its new 150-member Innovation and Legal Technology team. The firm has been incorporating technology into its operations increasingly since 2010, when it established a group with responsibility for improving the firm’s efficiency to clients.

AG’s approach to the use of artificial intelligence and other legal technology nurtures its permeation of all work that the firm does, rather than employing it on an ad hoc or departmental basis. AG’s commitment to legal technology is apparent from a quick glance at its website, where it promotes its “Intelligent Delivery” approach to all of its legal services.

Artificial Lawyer refers to AG’s approach as “baking in” legal tech. Westland says that increasingly, “RFPs from clients ask firms to outline how they are using AI, how they will handle project management and how will clients benefit from better service delivery design.”

She says that the firm’s strategic incorporation of legal tech means that AG has “moved on significantly from a business model where each piece of work was treated as a one-off and rarely project-managed, or analysed to see where efficiencies in legal production could be found for the client.”

The work of Westland and others who are looking at how to “bake in” legal tech is facilitated by such companies as Kira Systems, “machine learning contract analysts,” a company that is now being used by many of the world’s largest law firms – including DLA Piper, Torys LLP, Baker Donalson and many others.

For these major law firms, the “baked in” approach to legal tech is today’s reality, not a vision for tomorrow. How far away from that approach is your firm? Don’t all of your clients deserve the most efficient and effective legal services they can find? Can you promise to deliver the best service without incorporating AI and legal tech into all aspects of your practice? Increasingly, the obvious answer is “No.”

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

Failure to Encrypt Email Can Put Lawyers at Risk

An editorial in the Akron Legal News reminds lawyers of the urgency of securing their law-related email. In May, 2017, the American Bar Association issued Formal Opinion #477R, which suggests guidelines for “Securing Communication of Protected Client Information.” The ABA opinion points out that:

A lawyer generally may transmit information relating to the representation of a client over the internet without violating the Model Rules of Professional Conduct where the lawyer has undertaken reasonable efforts to prevent inadvertent or unauthorized access. However, a lawyer may be required to take special security precautions to protect against the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of client information when required by an agreement with the client or by law, or when the nature of the information requires a higher degree of security. (ABA Formal Opinion #447R, p. 1)

While acknowledging that offering specific recommendations on how to secure one’s email is beyond the scope of an ABA ethics opinion, the document does offer some guidelines (see pages 6 to 10).

Akron Legal News reporter Richard Weiner gets more specific, setting out a course of action if you are using regular email services, suggesting resources, and listing some companies that offer protected email services – including ProtonMail, Tutanota, and Hushmail (about which I wrote in a recent issue of Edge International Communiqué).

As Weiner says, “At this point, best data security practices — the ones that keep you from getting sued or losing your law license – now include email security, so time to ramp up awareness of same.”

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

Listen to Microsoft’s Assistant GC for Two Minutes

Watch this video, featuring Lucy Bassli of Microsoft, which I ran across while researching a recent article about Addleshaw Goddard’s approach to legal technology. The topic: “Can a law firm drive innovation or is it up to in-house counsel to do this?” (Just click on the image.)

First of all, note that two minutes is all you need to make a great point!

Secondly, note the point itself… which is that matching the right law firm lawyer with the right member of the in-house legal department produces innovation.

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

Social Media: The Biggest and Most Mysterious Phenomenon of our Time

There are some surprising statistics in the video I am posting here. Have you considered, for example, that “Today’s college students have never licked a stamp”? Did you know that “The fastest growing demographic on Twitter is grandparents”?

Like much other information on the Internet, “Socialnomics 2017” – a 2.5 minute video by digital guru Erik Qualman – offers an intriguing few minutes of diversion. It also provides the latest statistics on the world’s population (more than 50% of people alive today are under 30), our buying habits (93% of buying decisions are influenced by social media), and what technology is doing to human attention spans (it now averages about seven seconds, Qualman says).

Perhaps more importantly, however, after watching the video those involved in professions such as the law that have traditionally depended on “word of mouth” for referrals may find themselves asking, “Can we afford any longer NOT to be involved in social media?”

I don’t think we can.

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

 

 

 

Smart Contracts and Crowdsourced Juries

A new start-up company, appropriately named jury.online, is planning to crowdsource juries for the arbitration of contract disputes.

The company, which is based in Estonia, describes itself as “The Future of Dispute Resolution,” although an article on Artificial Lawyer points out that its approach to jury selection raises a number of legal questions, among them: “Is a ruling by a group of anonymous jurors assembled online to rule on the disputed outcome of a smart contract legally compliant and legally binding?”

In a video “explainer,” jury.online states that it is a “blockchain-based platform for carrying out all-purpose deals, executed via smart contract.” Using the platform, entities can enter into a smart contract (e.g., to book a hotel room with an online travel agency), and place the agreed-upon remuneration for the service or product in an escrow account, from which it will be released when the contract is satisfactorily completed. If there is a dispute, jury.online convenes a group of volunteers selected at random on a blockchain system to arbitrate the disagreement and come to a decision.

However – again as Artificial Lawyer points out – the issue at hand is really not the viability of this particular venture (see jury.online’s “Terms and Conditions” for a long list of warnings, caveats, and disclaimers) but rather the avalanche of new platforms and apps that are intended to replace or complement work that has traditionally done by lawyers – without any input from the legal community. For the legal industry, jury.online is simply one more visible peak of an iceberg that is growing underwater by the day.

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

Will Technologies like 3D Printing Erode Intellectual Property Laws?

A recent post on TechCrunch featured the story of a seven-year-old girl who threw out the first pitch in a recent World Series final game with her new prosthetic hand –one that had been created on a 3D printer.

There is no doubt that 3-D printing is evolving into a significant force for both good and evil (I’m thinking in the latter case of the potential for reproduction of undetectable weapons and even drugs). However, even when the facsimiles are truly beneficial, as in the case of this little pitcher’s hand, advances in 3D printing force a host of rhetorical questions upon the legal community that relate to intellectual property law.

Back in the day, if a person or an entity believed its intellectual property was being compromised, investigations would likely have led to a manufacturing facility and to contractors who were paying to create the copied product. With 3-D printing, it will become much more difficult to enforce IP rights. I wonder if, in the long term, IP rights themselves will become diluted, as opportunities increase to emulate products without a license.

What are your thoughts on where this and similar technologies are going, and the possible legal implications? I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Mills Oakley Succeeds with Management from Business Sector

John Nerurker, CEO (Management), Mills Oakley

In my previous post, I addressed the issue of whether law firms should be managed by lawyers or by business experts – and noted that while many lawyers resist the notion of having non-lawyers direct the operation of their firms, the basic principles of business management are essential to law firm success.

This week I would like to introduce you to John Nerurker, who for fourteen years has brought his background in accounting and business to the job of CEO (Management) of Mills Oakley, a commercial practice firm with offices in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Canberra and Perth.

Mills Oakley, which was established in 1864, today has more than 90 partners and 670 staff, and “a client base of ASX-200 listed companies, mid-sized corporations, the public sector and not-for-profit organisations.” The firm was recently named “Australia’s Fastest Growing Law Firm” by the Australasian Lawyer.

Nerurker works closely with Mills Oakley’s partners to lead the firm’s overall direction and strategy, but of course has no direct input on legal matters. In an article that appeared in the Australiasian Lawyer in 2010, Nerurker explained that Mills Oakley originally hired him because it wanted to break from its traditional approach to management, bringing “new skills and a more business-oriented approach to the table.”

Nerurker believes that “remaining relevant in the delivery of value to clients” is a major issue facing law firms today, and says that “in practical terms, this means prioritising innovation, because the business models in our sector are now evolving so rapidly. The most astute firms will always be looking for ways to refresh service delivery.”

In 2017, Mills Oakley received the prestigious GlobalX Australian Law Firm of the Year Award (101-500 lawyers). With its successes, accolades, and record of growth, the firm has clearly demonstrated that, in its case, choosing a non-lawyer to manage the team has been a wise decision.

In the spirit of disclosure, I have had the honour of serving the firm.

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

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