Brandi Hobbs of Poyner Spruill named Small Firm Sales and Service Executive of the Year

Brandi Hobbs, Client Service and Strategy Director, Poyner Spruill LLP

I extend my sincere congratulations to Brandi Hobbs, Director of Client Service & Strategy at Poyner Spruill, who in early June was named Sales & Service Executive of the Year in the small firm category by the Legal Sales and Service Organization (LSSO). The LSSO’s Sales & Service Awards “salute the efforts and results from individuals/teams who have helped their firm drive revenue.” Specifically, the Executive of the Year Award recognizes “a leader who played a crucial role in retaining clients and/or growing firm revenues in [the previous year].”

The award citation reads as follows: “Poyner Spruill is a 93-attorney firm based in North Carolina, and Hobbs spearheaded a program to set strategic marketing and business development choices by focusing on ‘Clients as Advocates.’  Throughout the year, Hobbs developed new approaches to training and increasing efficiency in the firm, with a focus on client service and learning client’s businesses to deepen relationships.” LSSO expands on Hobbs’s contribution to the firm in its award-winner profiles

Knowing Brandi, this accolade comes as no surprise. She has an extraordinary and unique education that enables her to see the future of the profession as well as understand where it is now. I know that her firm appreciates her very much, and it is easy to understand why.

My advice to Brandi? Get used to receiving awards. I doubt this will be the last.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on any matter relating to the law, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

France Bans Statistical Reports on Judges

In what can be described as an incidence of the criminalization of analytics – possibly the first on the planet – the Government of France has banned the reporting of statistical analysis of the decisions of individual judges. The maximum penalty for contravention of the new law is five years behind bars.

The Artificial Lawyer notes that “owners of legal tech companies focused on litigation analytics are the most likely to suffer from this new measure.” The Artificial Lawyer believes that the law – included in Article 33 of France’s Legal Reform Act – is the first instance of such legislation anywhere in the world.

French sources contacted by The Artificial Lawyer explained that the law arose from French judges’ displeasure with an unanticipated effect of the country’s recent efforts to make case law available to everyone, specifically the opportunity this freedom afforded analysts “to model how certain judges behave in relation to particular types of legal matter or argument, or how they compare to other judges.”

In short, [judges] didn’t like how the pattern of their decisions – now relatively easy to model – were potentially open for all to see. – Artificial Lawyer

The Artificial Lawyer article, which I highly recommend as it analyses in detail the causes and specific potential outcomes of the new law, points out that judges in the UK and US – unlike those in France – seem to have accepted that their decisions can now be analyzed and modelled.

Among other points at issue, The Artificial Lawyer wonders how a legal system can forbid the use of material that is legally available to everyone. I echo that question. What is your opinion?

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

 

Lawyer Exclusivity May Erode Further if Licensing of Legal Technicians Increases

An article in the ABA Journal reports that the New Mexico Supreme Court is considering licensing legal technicians to provide civil legal services.

Los Alamos lawyer George Chandler, a member of the New Mexico Commission on Access to Justice, said, “Justice should be accessible to everybody, and lawyers are priced out of reach of as much as 80% of the population[…]. I want to improve access to justice for people who don’t qualify for legal aid and free programs but who can’t afford a regular lawyer.”

The measure is one of several ideas under consideration to address a serious shortage of lawyers in the state, where many people do not have access to the legal services they require.

The state’s supreme court has established a work group made up of lawyers (including Chandler), the state’s chief disciplinary counsel, the chair of the state board of bar examiners, educators, a representative of the state bar’s paralegal division, and a law professor who teaches in a community lawyering clinic. The group is to report on the plausibility of the idea of licensing legal technicians by January 2020. “Twenty-one percent of New Mexico’s counties have five or fewer lawyers,” the ABA article states, quoting a court press release, “and two counties have no attorneys. [….] In fiscal year 2018, 51% of new civil cases filed in district courts had at least one party without an attorney. That’s up from 36% in fiscal year 2011.”

Other states, including Washington and Utah, have already implemented measures of this nature. In addition to lawyer shortages, cost is a factor.

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My view is that if we as lawyers can not address issues related to access to justice – including cost – we stand to lose the traditional exclusivity of our rights and privileges.

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

Technology an Asset to Law Firm Competitiveness

Screen Capture: Artificial Lawyer article about Wolters Kluwer survey A study conducted by Wolters Kluwer indicates that a strong and growing record of investment and use of legal technology by law firms is associated with higher profitability.

Wolters Kluwer is a global information company that offers software, research and learning technology to the legal, business, accounting, and healthcare industries (among others) in more than 150 countries. The company surveyed more than 700 professionals in law firms, corporate legal departments and business-services firms in Europe and the U.S. to prepare its 2019 Future Ready Lawyer Survey, asking lawyers to “assess their future priorities and preparedness to identify what it will take to be future ready in the areas of: tools and technology; client needs and expectations; and, organization and talent.”

Among several other conclusions, the survey found that firms that are seen as “tech leaders” – those that have been early adopters of technology and plan to extend their technological advantage in future – report being more profitable.

As an article in The Artificial Lawyer about the survey wisely points out, “There is one possible fly in the profit ointment. Is this a case that the most profitable firms will have more money than the others, and so have money ‘spare’ to invest in exploring new technology and its uses? I.e. is this the other way around?” However, as the article goes on to say, whichever way around it is, clients are likely to benefit if their firm is a technology leader or is at least working to become one.

The study also found that there were very few firms (4%) that categorized themselves as “technology trailing” (with little technology now and few plans to improve the situation in future) compared to self-described “technology transitioning”(47%)  and “technology leading” (49%) firms.

“Of the three types of organizations surveyed, business services firms are most likely to identify as Technology Leading (56%), with legal departments at 49% and law firms at 46%,” the Wolters Kluwer report says.

Into which category does your firm fall?

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

Study of Large Companies Finds More than One Quarter of General Counsel Are Women

Image of Fenwick & West LLP officesA study conducted by the law firm Fenwick & West LLP found that in 2018, women comprised more than one quarter of all general counsel at large public technology companies such as Apple and Intel in the Silicon Valley 150 (SV150), and in major companies in the Standard and Poor’s 100 (S&P 100).

In its review of the study’s findings, Corporate Counsel, a publication of LawNow, reported that “S&P 100 companies were more likely to have a woman general counsel than their SV150 counterparts, 29.8 percent versus 27.2 percent, in the 2018 proxy season.”

The Fenwick & West Gender Diversity Survey assessed female representation at “the most senior levels of public technology and life sciences companies” from 1996 to 2018, including members of boards of directors and executive officers in a range of categories.

Among SV150 companies, general counsel was found to be the executive role with the highest percentage of women. Susanna McDonald, vice president and chief legal officer of the Association of Corporate Counsel, observed that “women’s prevalence in the general counsel role might be tied to their high departure rates from big law firms. When women face barriers to leadership roles at firms, they may choose to grow their careers in-house instead.”

Despite the fact that the percentages of women in executive positions cited in the report have been reached only gradually over the past twenty years, Dawn Belt, a partner at Fenwick and a co-author of the report with fellow partner David Bell, pointed out that with California’s new law requiring that companies have at least one woman on their boards by 2020, the number of women in the most senior executive positions will likely continue to increase.

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

EY Expands Its Reach Even Further into the Legal Services Arena

Detail from Above the Law article on EY’s acquisition of Pangea3

In early April, Ernst & Young (EY) announced that it had acquired the legal outsourcing service provider Pangea3 from Thomson Reuters, increasing the intensity of the accounting giant’s assault on the legal services industry. Robert Ambrogi at Above the Law warns that the move “does not bode well for law firms.”

Pangea3 was originally established in 2005 to provide legal outsourcing to law professionals in India. A profile on Wikipedia reports that today the company has a staff of 1000 “attorneys, engineers, scientists and professionals providing global legal outsourcing services in seven offices across the United States and India.”

EY’s acquisition of Pangea3 follows its 2018 acquisition of Riverview Law, a UK firm whose innovative practice featured such initiatives as fixed-price-managed services for in-house teams, and the use of virtual assistants.

Ambrogi reminds us that today, “calling EY an accounting firm is like calling Amazon a bookseller. EY is a global professional services firm — actually a network of member firms — that provides a range of consulting and advisory services.” With the Riverview Law and Pangea3 acquisitions, the reorganization of the company’s legal services in the UK into “EY Law,” and other areas of expansion both geographically and technologically, Ernst & Young is taking a commanding position in the increasingly popular and rapidly growing segment of the legal market known as “alternative legal service providers” (ALSPs).

Ambrogi’s article, which delves into the subject far more thoroughly than I do here and is deserving of our close attention, cites two major studies that have examined the rise of ALSPs worldwide. Ambrogi attributes their success to their facility (better than that of most law firms, he suggests) with “people, process and technology,” and particularly to their sophistication in the technology arena.

Are major accounting firms about to push Big Law out of business? Let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter relating to the law, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

First U.K. Blockchain Residential Property Deal Ever Is Now History

Screen capture: The Artificial Lawyer

The Artificial Lawyer reports on the completion of the first-ever U.K. residential property deal using blockchain technology rather than traditional property-transfer methods.

The deal was managed by the law firm Mishcon de Reva, which describes its work as “cross-border, multi-jurisdictional and complex,” and this specific deal as the first “end-to-end digitised residential property transaction.” The Artificial Lawyer explains that in effect, the deal was carried out on “a blockchain-based platform, and completed via working alongside the HM Land Registry’s Digital Street research and development group and Premier Property Lawyers.”

This is clearly a big deal. There has been plenty of talk about such blockchain uses, but this one is for real. – The Artificial Lawyer

The Artificial Lawyer points out that not only does the use of blockchain mean a dramatic difference in the length of time it takes to complete a property deal in a real-estate market that has been “famously slow, manual, paper-based and often open to fraud due to the disconnected processes it involves,” but it is also a dramatic affirmation of the blockchain technology itself, “given that the U.K. is one of the most important property markets in the developed world…. [I]f people here think blockchain is a useful method for property sales, then it certainly has legs and is operating in a very demanding environment.”

Read the details on The Artificial Lawyer site, and then consider: Are you ready for blockchain transactions at a level equal to or exceeding residential property purchases and sales? If not, what steps does your firm need to take to attain this expertise?

Please let me know your thoughts on this topic or any other relating to the law, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Miss North Carolina has an MBA and practices law with prominent N.C. law firm Poyner Spruill

Update May 3, 2019: Congratulations to Cheslie Kryst, who has won the Miss USA Pageant and will now move on to compete for the title of Miss Universe!

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A civil litigation lawyer in Charlotte, North Carolina, Miss North Carolina has been attracting media attention, as well as invitations to speak and to serve as host at charitable events, for reasons that seem at first to be unrelated to her legal practice. Not only is Cheslie Kryst, JD, MBA an associate at the prominent North Carolina law firm Poyner Spruill LLP, she is also a Miss USA beauty pageant contestant and a highly regarded fashion blogger. On May 2 she will represent North Carolina at the Miss USA pageant in Reno, Nevada.

Kryst was recently featured in a “day in the life” article in the Charlotte Observeras she ramped up preparations for the national pageant, fulfilled a commitment to one of the city’s charitable organizations, and carried out her legal responsibilities —  popping a tiara on her head at the end of her workday en route to the benefit event. The article reveals an individual with a balanced view of life, strength both personally and as a lawyer, and a spirit of generosity and philanthropy.

She knows that much of the world sees pageant girls as only pretty faces, and, on a larger scale, unfairly judges women based on appearances — especially in the workplace. She’s hustling hard to change all that. – Charlotte Observer

Women who are working to advance their careers in the law and other male-dominated, corporate endeavours tend to avoid becoming associated with the worlds of fashion and beauty. They are aware of the widespread tendency of humans to prejudge attractive women (not only pageant contestants), and to assume that they lack intelligence and vision. As The Observer article reports, Kryst has plenty of anecdotes about times when she has been taken less than seriously in legal settings due to her eye-catching appearance. But as lawyers like Amal Clooney, Marie Heinen and Kryst are demonstrating, it is dangerous to make assumptions about women on the basis of how they look.

Screen Capture from whitecollarglam.com

A graduate of South Carolina University Honors College (BS cum laude) and Wake Forest University (JD and MBA), Kryst got into the pageant business in her teens when she realized that achievements in that arena could give her a power that she could use in other contexts. Over the years, her avocation as a pageant contestant has also contributed to her public speaking abilities, offered networking opportunities, and resulted in invitations  to serve community initiatives like Autism Charlotte. Kryst launched her blog, White Collar Glam, after a female judge in a moot court competition advised her that if she wanted to win the next time, she should wear a skirt. She uses her platform to advise women on dressing for the workplace, and she has thousands of followers from around the world.

It takes courage to pursue the crown in a beauty pageant when you are working in a profession in which many women are still struggling for equal treatment and opportunity, but by excelling at both initiatives without apology (for either!), Kryst is teaching everyone she encounters a thing or two about the synergy that can by attained by following one’s passions.

Please share your thoughts on any topic relating to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

If You Are Apathetic Toward Technology, General Counsel Will Fire You

Inside E-Discovery & Beyond: Navigating Legal Digital Disruption BDO USA

A new report by professional services firm BDO USA suggests that more than 70 percent of in-house counsel “plan on leveraging technology in the next year to streamline legal operations” – and that outside counsel that are unable to adapt to the technology will likely be replaced. This information comes to us via an April 11, 2019 article in law.com, which explains that the report – based on a survey of 100 senior in-house lawyers at major companies across industries – has found that “in-house counsel are making it a priority to leverage technology and [an estimated 36%] are considering changing outside counsel in the coming months.”

George Socha, managing director at BDO, says it appears that the desire of in-house counsel to change the outside firms they work with is based in part on the unprecedented pressure to “live and die by metrics,” combined with “lack of innovation” on the part of outside firms, as well as firms’ pricing models.

It is clear that it is impossible any longer to survive as outside counsel if you are not on top of relevant technology. And not just any relevant technology: Socha says that “firms are now expected to use technology that in-house counsel has in place,” thereby allowing companies to improve their control, and reduce risk. “Control” and “risk” are major considerations, as more than half of the surveyed companies reported “data breach” as their major legal threat.

The article quotes BDO Partner Stephanie Giammarco as saying that, moving forward, “corporate counsel will not only have to deal with the increasing quantity and complexity of compliance obligations, but also greater standards of accountability and transparency of them from external stakeholders.”

The implications for outside counsel are clear: opportunities abound, but only for those individuals and firms who are fully cognizant of the legal and related technology with which their preferred clients work.

I am interested to know your thoughts on this topic or any other relating to the law, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

Changes to State Bar Rules Could Mean Trouble For Big Law

Writing in Bloomberg Law, Sam Skolnik and Amanda Iacone report that recent initiatives to lower the costs of legal services in at least three western states may inadvertently make it easier for Big Four accounting firms to enter the U.S. legal marketplace. This could, in turn, present a major threat to Big Law.

The proposed changes, which would affect state bar rules regarding law-firm ownership in California, Arizona and Utah, are intended to stimulate competition by allowing closer collaboration with “professionals in tech, data analytics, and accounting” – thereby reducing legal-service costs in civil and family courts. If these initiatives are successful, it seems likely that other state bars would soon follow suit.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002), which includes a prohibition against audit firms offering certain non-audit services, has so far prevented the Big Four from offering legal services in the U.S. – and this Act would not be affected. What would be modified are rules imposed by most state bar associations that are based on the American Bar Association’s Model Rule 4, which forbids lawyers and law firms from “[sharing] legal fees with a nonlawyer” or partnering with nonlawyers “if any of the activities of the partnership consist of the practice of law.”

If law-firm ownership rules are altered in this way, the Big Four accounting firms could open law offices in the affected states or take other steps that would allow them to expand their services into the legal arena while continuing to conform to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

If the movement for more access to justice for regular citizens winds up opening a lane for the Big Four to pursue corporate clients in the U.S., Big Law could be in trouble. The Big Four’s war chests are exponentially larger than those of even the country’s richest law firms, and their tech capabilities are often greater. – Bloomberg Law

An EY executive director told a legal-tech conference recently that the Big Four has no “secret plan” to put Big Law out of business. But plan or no plan, it is clear that Deloitte, PwC, EY and KPMG could soon have the option – and the resources – to encroach on the territory of the country’s largest law firms. If that happens, it seems unlikely that they would look the other way.

I am very interested to know 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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